Friday, May 15, 2009

What we missed at The Players...

Sorry for the delay this week good people. The final round of the Players Championship left me comatose. Henrik Stenson put the pedal to the medal and the rest of the field emulated a bad NASCAR driver and turned right and piled up on the wall.

I will, however, give NBC immense credit for not bowing to temptation and putting Tiger Woods on the screen every time. It’s just a shame that they didn’t have anything better to replace him.

Sunday’s viewing reminded me of golf last year post—U.S. Open. We got to see some interesting players and learn more about them than we would if Tiger had been able to keep his ball on planet Earth.

There were a couple of things that we missed over the weekend that could have been interesting to see.

On Saturday, the cameras could have caught the utter disgust Masters champion Angel Cabrera showed towards playing partner Kevin Na. It seems Cabrera took exception towards Na’s pace of play. Granted, you might not want Na as a pace car, but he’s certainly gets the ball in the air quicker than noted lava flows Ben Crane and Sean O’Hair.

Reports from someone who was there said the atmosphere turned nasty. Although not able to convey his message in English, Cabrera got his point across via body language. At times it appeared that the pair might come to blows. Unless Na is proficient in Korean martial arts disciplines, the odds favor the Argentinean in less than one round.

Gee, you don’t think that the fact that Cabrera was en route to a not so smooth 77 had any bearing on his demeanor do you? The fact is, as so often happens on the PGA Tour, there was no where to go. They were in place on the course and no PGA Tour official warned them as they did Ian Poulter and Brian Davis on Sunday.

Reports from colleagues who cover the South American Tour as well as the European Tour have, “he has a great game when he’s putting good,” as the response to the question, “what type of guy is Angel Cabrera?” Reading between the lines, one can assume this is what Sergio Garcia will be like when (or if) he grows up.

Speaking of pace of play, I’ve heard some complaints about Aaron Baddely’s tour of TPC Sawgrass on Sunday. Many were shocked that it took him three hours and five minutes to shoot a 66 while playing alone.

First of all, he was playing with a marker who attested his score on every hole. Secondly, and this is perhaps the most telling reason, it’s an unspoken response to an incident that occurred a few years ago.

Mark Calcavecchia and a fellow player were to lead off the final round. They decided to see how fast they could complete their round. They walked off the 18th green one hour and 20 minutes after striking their first tee shot and almost four hours ahead of the second group, which in all fairness was a threesome.

According to reports, in an outburst of incredible hypocrisy, they were fined by the PGA Tour for making a farce out of tournament play. The result is why we now have an unwritten rule concerning the minimum amount of time to be taken to complete a round of golf under these circumstances.


Sometimes it’s nice to be old enough to have flashbacks. A great occurred yesterday when I read that Christy O’Connor was selected by the veterans committee for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The flashback didn’t include any of his 24 European Tour victories or his 10 Ryder Cup appearances, including a winner in 1957.

The flashback was to a Monday in June 22-years ago. It was the week of the Irish Open at Portmarnock Golf Club just outside of Dublin. In those days, the driving range wasn’t open on Monday of a tournament week for some reason, but there at the far end of the range was Christy O’Connor hitting balls while his caddie shagged them for him. O’Connor, at the age of 64, had been given a sponsors invitation to play. Surprisingly to everyone but himself, he went on to make a serious run at making the cut. But his quest was denied by the raging winds from the Irish Sea.

A month earlier, I had read an article in which Sam Snead was quoted as saying that Christy O’Connor may have been the best ball striker ever hit a golf ball. I ambled over to where Christy was hitting balls and waited for an opportunity to introduce myself. When I did, I quickly mentioned the Snead quote and asked him what he thought constituted a great ball striker.

He stopped for a second and said, “He’s a man who can control his golf ball in any conditions.” When pressed farther, he added as he looked at his clubs, “you have to be able to hit every one of those 140-yards.” I asked if he could do it. He looked at me and looked at his clubs and waved his caddie in and had him walk 140 paces out on the range.

He started at the driver and worked his way down through the bag. The caddie never moved more than three paces. I thought he might have a problem hitting his wedges that far, but he deftly hit the equator of the ball with the leading edge of the blade and it went 140-yards.

As he reached for his putter and raked a ball into address position, he looked and said, “What do you think, Jack?” I quickly replied, “Christy, its good, pick it up.”

We headed to the bar in the clubhouse where we were joined by Christy’s pal, Harry Bradshaw, the former Ryder Cupper and Pro Emeritus and they regaled me and those around us with wonderful tales about golf before we knew which end of the club was which. It was a day I never want to forget. That day, Christy entered my Hall of Fame and I’m happy the rest of the world finally got the message.

Bartender, a tall glass of gin, one ice cube and a tonic on the side, no lemon or lime (“If I wanted a fruit salad, I’d have asked for one,” says C. O’Connor) for the man known as “Himself”, World Golf Hall of Famer Christy O’Connor. Also a glass of water to wash down the mood elevator of your choice for SeƱor Cabrera. Me? Just a chair at Mr. O’Connor’s table. I know he has more stories to tell and I don’t want to miss one.

See you on the first tee,


Monday, May 4, 2009

Kelly wins, The Players Championship looms, Daly makes cut, and Quail Hollow

Jerry Kelly wins in New Orleans. The Players Championship is on the horizon and John Daly makes the cut in the Spanish Open. Let’s not forget that the people who run the Quail Hollow Championship (nee Wachovia Championship) get it right.

Kelly’s win at the Zurich Championship may not have been one for the ages, but you can score one for the good guys. Kelly had been on a seven year hiatus from the winner’s circle before winning last week. He had become what is known as a “field filler.” That’s the type of player who may not have the chance of a snowball in hell of winning, but in order to have a full field for the tournament, you hope he enters. His biggest plus for the tournament sponsor has always been that he gives good Pro Am. You never have a bad time in Jerry Kelly’s company and that’s a very big deal in the eyes of tournament sponsors.

In addition, he’s also immensely popular with his fellow pros and that can’t be said about everyone on any professional Tour. In fact that can’t be said about more pros than you might think.

The only downside of Kelly’s victory was that it pointed out Charles Howell’s lack of ability to finish the job. Howell should have won. He’s technically the better player, but Kelly has the heart of a hockey player (which he was in college) and he never stops grinding. You have to believe that if he had to do it, he could miss hitting all 18 greens in regulation and still post a sub par round.


It’s a wonderful thing that the PGA Tour has stopped trying to force feed the media and the public that the Players Championship is really the fifth major. Yes, they draw a tremendous field. Yes, the purse is fantastic. Yes, they’re trying to build tradition by holding the championship at the same venue. That might work, but not in our lifetime and that includes the infant in your lap to whom, as a dutiful, parent you’re reading this wonderful piece of golf writing. It just won’t work.

The Stadium Course is like an aging starlet. While it all may look great, the truth is, nothing is real. The land was a swamp before Pete Dye saw something no other human being could have seen and turned it into a quirky, unconventional golf course.

The Players Championship is what it is. It’s a wonderful tournament with three diverse, if not weird finishing holes (there’s really no flow or rhyme or reason why they’re there). Having written that, I fall in line with those who want a three-hole playoff in case of a tie at the top on Sunday. In that context these holes would work.


John Daly, Loudmouth pants and all, made the cut in the Spanish Open. Could this be the start of a comeback for Daly? It could be only if he gets through the next month without incident. Never forget that he’ll always be a train wreck in progress. He’s the next Miller Lite away from disaster and he’s two words (I do) from starting a marriage destined to be his fifth appearance in divorce court.

Much has been said about JD dropping 40-plus pounds after having the Lap Band procedure. However, according to a source who should know, there was no procedure. If this is correct, that’s the best news ever. It shows that somewhere along the road, Daly has acquired a modicum of self control. Who cares what the reason is. The fact he’s done it is a big step towards regaining his life.


May all tournament sponsors take note of the strategy employed by the tournament committee of the Quail Hollow Championship. Maybe it was the fact that until this year the event was known as the Wachovia Championship, but the committee was looking at the added pressure on the discretionary dollar.

They felt that the public would rather cheer for golfers making birdies than golfers sweating out pars. Thus, they reduced the rough from four to two inches giving players a chance to reach greens from the cabbage. In turn, however, they did quicken the pace of the greens and make the putting surfaces firmer, so a birdie still had to be earned but was attainable.

Kudos to a tournament committee that remembered that to the spectators, a golf tournament is still entertainment. By the way, combining the greens of this year and the rough of years past and there sits a U.S. Open course begging to be played. USGA, please take notice.

Bartender, back up an ice cold beer with a shot of brandy (a Cheese Head state favorite spirit) for Mr. Kelly. Please take a can of Slim Fast from the cooler for Mr. Daly. Add a magnum of champagne for the Quail Hollow Championship tournament committee. Also, if you could, reach back into your earlier hippie days and grab a tab of acid for Mr. Dye and maybe he can envision another version of the Stadium Course. Me? Make that two cans of Slim Fast.

See you on the first tee,