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,


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