Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back with a vengeance

Don’t pay the ransom—I escaped!!

I know it’s been a while since we last met, but I’ve been around and about for the past month, or so on business that included a trip to northwest Ireland for a week for a golf travel article I’m writing (really, it was for work). However, I have been watching what’s going on and I firmly believe there was so much more than the obvious.

Having been in Ireland during the World Cup when the country literally shut down as their boys played a quarterfinal match, Padraig Harrington’s feat was HUGE news in Ireland. When Harrington holed out on the fourth playoff hole to win the Claret Jug, he became the first Irishman to win the Open Championship since Fred Daly in 1947. Having already won the Irish Open earlier in the year, Harrington sealed his fate as a bona fide hero of every sports fan in the country for the rest of his life. There’s U2 and Padraig Harrington—Bono and Paddy. Dear God, please don’t let Paddy with his Dublin nasal twang try to sing.

Out of Harrington’s win came a very telling look at Sergio. Harrington was making an absolute mess of the 72nd hole. The air of Jean Van de Velde had sucked him in. However, as he stood over his fifth shot from under 100 yards, his thoughts weren’t about what he’d just done, they were about how was he going to win.

Following Harrington’s double bogey, all Garcia needed was a par 4 on the last to finally eject the major monkey from his back. He missed the green in two (as almost the rest of the world had done), chipped to eight feet and rolled his putt over the left edge of the cup forcing a four-hole playoff.

Harrington birdied the first extra hole to Garcia’s bogey and it was game set and match. After the playoff Garcia whined about hitting every shot perfectly and not winning and that it always happens to him.

The truth is, it will always happen to him, if he allows every bad bounce or poor shot get to him. My advice to Sergio (not that he needs it) is to take all those second place checks and buy the biggest cheese wheel you can find because you’re going to need a lot of cheese to go with all the whine your attitude is going to ferment. Remember the second place finisher is just the first loser.

Back over to the west side of the pond. Tiger, the golfer formerly known as Eldrick, Woods overwhelmed the field in the WGC Bridgestone Championship at Firestone—again. He then gave a “How to win a major” clinic at Southern Hills in Tulsa, OK—again.

Pardon me while I digress. I’ve twice visited Oklahoma and I have to say one thing about it—it’s not OK. It’s not so-so. It’s so bad. If you noticed while watching a very entertaining PGA Championship on TV, no one spoke about the beauty of Southern Hills—because there was none. You can’t find aesthetics in Oklahoma. If you asked your basic Sooner if Oklahoma has any aesthetics, the answer would be, “They all got football, basketball and maybe baseball, y’all”. If you want the worst climate in the world, just visit Oklahoma. It’s blistering hot in the summer, freezing, and snow blown in the winter. The only time Oklahoma looks good is in the rear view mirror. I’ve got to believe that the early Oklahoma settlers were sentenced there for some heinous crime. Who’d volunteer to settle there?

That aside, from the ashes of Wood’s trail blaze through the field to defend his PGA title rose Woody Austin. Old Woody has kicked around for a while. He’s 43-years old and shows the scars of a journeyman’s career. Okay, so the scars are bandaged in almost $11 million in prize money.

Woody showed guts and determination, particularly on Sunday when he shot a wonder 3-under par 67, but alas Tiger started the day with a four shot lead and finished with a 69. Unlike Garcia who descended to second place, Austin rose to it.

The world could have become Austin’s oyster. He endeared himself to the crowds. He started to win over the press until he got carried away and started to chastise the media. He remarked about how when Tiger misses a shot he bangs his club on the ground and it’s called his competitive fire and when he does it, he’s a loosed cannon. Austin’s claim was it was because Woods is a better player with a better record than his is.

Woody’s dead wrong about that one. You won’t find a film clip of Tiger missing a short putt and then walking off the green banging himself on the side of his head with his putter shaft so hard that he bent it and had to take the offending flat stick out of play. With every missed shot by Austin, there’s a chance of Vesuvian event—with Tiger, there’s a good chance for a birdie. I wish Woody would have had fun with it because he’s a good guy.

It would be criminal to omit the contributions of Boo Weekley to these two events. At Carnoustie, when asked if he knew of the history that had transpired there, he had a bit of a blank look. “I’m not good at history,” he said, “but it was fun learning about Paul Lawrie winning here and about Ben whoever that was (Hogan).”

I’ve got to believe that part of Weekley’s act is just that—an act, but based in truth. Good for the PGA Tour, they now have their own Larry the Cable Guy.

A few words about the northwest of Ireland. This part of the country features spectacularly rugged terrain with links courses the equal of just about all in the entire country at half the price. Clifden, Donegal and the like feature people and atmosphere second to none in this most hospitable country.

Having said that, I might warn you about the Clarion Sligo Hotel. It is a recently renovated mental institution. When you check in, they give you a print out of directions to your room. It’s two pages. It was literally a maze without any of Sergio’s cheese at the end. The question begged to be asked and we did.

“Why the difficulty getting from the desk to our rooms?” The answer was way too logical. “Well sir, if it were too easy, the former residents would have been able to escape,” said an assistant manager. “Now sir did you have a problem?” Hmm. Well it was a long way to the frontal lobotomy unit and a longer way back.

Sorry, but I ran out of toasts in the Castle Pub in Donegal.

By the way bartender, don’t pour me another one. I’m on the dry until the Smithwicks finishes coursing through my veins.

See you on the first tee.

Jack O’Leary

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