Golf

Stuck In A Rut

Sometimes golf can take you to unbelievable highs, but mostly it knee-caps you off that higher precipice. You can make 2 or 3 birdies in a row and be sitting in the fairway with wedge in your hand, licking your chops, and then walk off the green with a double. That’s GOLF as a friend of mine would say. That’s a recurring nightmare I would say.

Lately however, I seem to be stuck in a rut. I’ve played eight (8) times in October and shot between 76 and 79 six (6) times. I did shoot 74 mid-month, but also posted an 81. I guess the range is reasonable given my current index of 5.0, but I can look back on every round and see where I’ve gotten things going only to be knocked down a peg by an untimely double, a 3-putt, or a big right miss OB. Gotta clean that up.

Today is our Closing Day (officially) Member/Member Tournament at Cripple Creek. I’ll post a write-up tomorrow, but let’s talk about yesterday’s round. We had 16 guys in our group for our regular Friday afternoon match. I was teamed with Nooch, Mr. Robel’, and the Sheriff (Glenn Hudson) and we were playing 1 gross/2 net team score against the other 3 groups. Somewhere around even to 2-under is a good score in this game.

We finished the front 2-under and felt reasonably happy with our position. Mr. Robel’ and I both shot 37 on the front, Nooch had his typical issues with our lush rough and the Sheriff was steady. On the back nine, Nooch began hitting fairways with a passion and the Sheriff decided that his putter really did work as intended. While Mr. Robel & I added a birdie here and there, our other partners provided the sauce and we ended the round 6-under – good enough to beat the field and take the money. The other teams ended at 2-under, 2-over and 10-over.

I posted another 78 which featured 2 birdies, 2 vicious lip-out birdie puts, and a chip-in on 18. Unfortunately, it also featured 2 missed four footers, a 3 put, and 2 balls blown way right into hazards. The driver remains an issue as I only hit 3 fairways. However, 30 putts were better than my “normal” 34-36 putts per round.

As I said earlier, the Closing Day Member/Member Tournament is today. The Sheriff is my partner and we lost by one last year. This year will be different I think. I’m planning to hit 3-wood off more tees to find the fairway – we’ll see how it goes.

Watch for a tournament summary tomorrow and note that I will be blogging during my 100 Hole Hike on Monday – stay tuned.

Golf

Playing Golf With This Guy

Because the Cripple Creek clubhouse was closed over the weekend due to an employee testing positive for Covid-19, only 4 of use showed up to play on Sunday. The clubhouse has been professionally cleaned and employees tested, but the staff was not working. Walking only, no carts and no club pull-carts. Planning for my 100 Hole Hike, I only carried 8 clubs and left the driver at home. If I’m going to walk 100 holes playing golf, I need to lighten the load as they say.

On the first tee, we decided to play a better ball Nassau match, Dr. Gerard and myself against Fran and Steve. Unfortunately on the first tee, I also lost the match. Fran hadn’t played in a month and I agreed to give him 6 shots – oops! Steve got 5 and Dr. Gerard got 7 shots.

Off we went with zero warmup as there were no practice balls on the range. My partner and I bogeyed the first two holes and were lucky to remain even. Over the next four holes, Steve was everywhere on the planet. He’s just come back from 4 days down south at golf school and he’s a poor student. He told us he couldn’t “just concentrate on one swing thought.” I parred the next 4 holes and we were one down, as Fran made a series of pars and bogey/net pars and on #6 made a 4 net 3 to win the hole against my par. Dr. Gerard and Steve were both struggling, leaving me to hold off Fran who’d evidently found his game after a month off.

I won 8 with a par to bring the match back even, but 3-putted the 9th for bogey to lose the front – 1 down. After making what I think was his first par of the day on #10, Steve looked me in the eye and said something about a 36 coming on the back to go with the 45 he shot on the front. Sure Steve, you do that all the time. Although, with his music blasting from the iPhone in his back pocket, I might have not heard him right.

Well, I was wrong again as he ground out 4 pars in a row to match me and the back nine remained even through #13. My partner was also beginning to come alive and he won the 14th hole when I made a mess with a double. That put us 1 up on the back and even on the overall match. A win on 15 with a par, put us 2 up and even on the first press of the day.

Hole 16 is a tough par 3, long and into the wind on Sunday. Steve hit is drive into the front left bunker (the pin was back) and his partner yanked a shot left into the water – out of the hole. My partner was short right, while I hit a 3 hybrid through the wind onto the middle of the green. Dr. Gerard hit his chip a little too hard and ended up 20 feet beyond the pin, while Steve hit a really good bunker shot to about 8 feet – I guess he found his swing thought on the back 9! I rolled my birdie putt about 4 1/2 feet beyond the cup and my partner – who was getting a stroke on the hole, missed his par net birdie attempt. Steve calmly, well as calmly as Steve can act, knocked in his bending 8 footer for a great sandy par. Both my partner and I made, so the matched remained 2 and 0 on the back.

Everyone, except your Golf Hack, stroked on 17 and 18 which are the hardest holes on the course (#1 and #3 rated holes). Hole 17 is a long par 4 with the approach shot over water. I hit the green in regulation and was about 25 feet below the cup for birdie. My partner hit two into the drink and was out of the hole, while our opponents were both on in regulation and would surely make a 5, net 4. I hit my birdie putt at full ramming speed – luckily it hit the flagstick dead square and dropped in for birdie. My partner and I remained 2 up and even on the back.

As you might have guess, the scenario was similar on #18 – everyone stroked except me. I hit my 3 wood in the middle of the fairway and was 182 from the front flag. My 5-iron was right at the pin, but hit “a groove low” as they say and ended up about 2 to 3 yards short of the green. Our opponents made bogey, net par, while I make a poor chip and then missed an 8 footer over the left edge of the hole.

The overall result, we lost the front, won the back, tied the overall and lost the press 1 down – $10 out of my Venmo account to Steve and a reminder that he’s just a better gambler than I am.

(Steve, Dave and I at Casa in 2019)

Steve wasn’t right about shooting 36 on the back nine, but he was close enough. The whole round was classic. After a miserable front nine, he found his game and gave me fits on the back. He picked the right partner on the first tee and Fran won the front and kept them in the match. It’s one of the reasons I love playing golf with this guy. He’s got a big heart.

As I said at the beginning, I left driver home. Using my 3 wood, I hit 64% of my fairways and the “big right miss” was nowhere to be found. Although I hit 56% of green, I had 35 putts and ended the day shooting 77. A double bogey, 5 bogeys and only one birdie – 6 over.

Golf

Playing Golf With A Bum

My Pal Bumly (last winter)

I played a round of golf with a Bum yesterday, more specifically “Bumly”. Mike is referred to at the club by various nicknames – Bumly, Judge, The Atomic Bum, The Atomic Judge, or simply Bum.

A retired administrative judge for the NRC, Bumly used to play the game fairly well. A single digit handicap in the early days of the “Group”, time has shorted both his length and attention span. At 80 years of age, our Bum now carries a 17 handicap playing from the Gold (senior) Tees. Playing with him as a partner is always interesting and fun. We paired together in the recent Chowder Cup alternate shot match last Saturday afternoon and were able to barely obtain a tied match after a parade of snipped drives, missed short putts, and approach shots that always seemed to come up short.

Somewhat depressed by his self-perceived sub-par performance, Mike wanted to partner up again yesterday and take on Cookie and the Mister Robel’ in a 2 point match – one point for the better ball each hole and one point for the lowest team total. As befit his cheapskate image, our Bum was attired in a 2002 Chowder Cup vest and proudly announced the stakes at $5.

While he may not be much of a strategic partner in a match, Mike is a truly authentic and genuine person. But, as we like to say on the practice tee, he has a big brain, but there’s not always a lot between the ears. Poor Mike takes quite a bit of good natured “abuse” from our golf group, but he takes it well and is quite often quick with a response that can strike the heart of the matter with precision.

Graduating at the top of his class from Notre Dame law school, our Bum is very intelligent. I like this because he counts my dual Chemistry/Philosophy major wife -Susan – as one of his few friends that can hold up her side of a conversation with him. Mike adores Susan, which makes me very happy. He is also the kind of person that will go out of his way help anyone in need, showing a high level of empathy toward others. I like that as well.

The Bum started our match with a heeled drive that carried at least 75 yards. He uses a white ball on the 1st and 9th tees because these holes straddle the practice area, which is commonly filled with his preferred yellow colored golf ball. It was a good thing, because his drive ended in a spot in the thick left rough surrounded by at lest 15 yellow practice balls. He then proceeded to top a 3 wood about 30 more yards, before floating another shot that landed, and stopped, about 30 yards short of the green. Ultimately, he got up and down for Bogey which allowed us to tie the total score.

Unfortunately, that terrific chip and one putt, was not an indicator of his future play as my partner. Luckily, our opponents played worse on the front nine and we ended up taking the match – a heady $5 for my piggybank. Cookie was so disgusted by his poor play, that he went home halfway through the 10th hole, ending the team match.

Unburdened by the weight of carrying his partner for 9 holes, Mr. Robel’ decided to go on a heater, birding 10 with a downhill 10 footer and then birdieing 11 with a chip in from the fringe. After missing 2 makable birdie opportunities on 13 and 14, and a bogey on the tough par 3 16th hole, Robel’ birdied 17 and finished the front nine with a sterling 35 – 1 under par.

Unfortunately, it was paired with a 43 from the front nine and resulted in $0 in winnings for the man who always cashes in our Group games. Your Retired Golf Hack was his usual 3 over par through 13 holes and then proceeded to bogey 14, 15, and 16 and then blow his drive out of bounds on 18. The resulting double bogey 6 ended the round at 79. Two double bogeys, 35 putts, 10 GIR and only 9 fairways hit. I couldn’t expect anything more these days.

A final note: 1 or 2 employees at the Club tested positive for Covid and the clubhouse is now closed through Sunday for a professional cleaning and employee testing. No carts will be available for the next fews days, but the course will be open for walking only. We are rained out today, but have a game planned Sunday – wonder how many of the guys will show.

Golf

The 2020 Chowder Cup

Hurricane Delta threatened to cut short the Sunday singles session, but we got it in! The weather was actually great – calm winds and moderate temperatures – which lead to some strong play. The forecasted rains did not arrive until after play was completed. By then, players and spouses were enjoying the awards dinner.

Let’s get something out of the way first. Congratulations to Mike Cummings who is the Mens Senior Net Champion Golfer Of The Year for 2020 as a result of his stellar play this past summer in the Senior Club Championship. (He also won 3 points for my team in the Chowder Cup – thanks Mike.) The ridiculous trophy, complete with netting, was presented to Cummings today by the 2019 MSNCGOTY, one Mike Robel. Congrats Mike and well deserved.

Mike Cummings – happy with his new trophy. Standing with Paul Dillon, the real Senior Club Champion in 2020

Back to the ChowderCup. The Red Team, captained by Tom Fallon and Mike Robel, jumped out quickly in the Scramble Session 4 1/2 to 3 1/2. OT Gibbons and I halved our match, while Cummings/Donnelly and Statter/Decker both pulled out victories for my White Team. My guys came back in the Better Ball session, winning 5 points to 3. Our session victory was highlighted by OT making 3 birdies in a row on 11, 12, and 13 en route to a 4 and 3 victory over Dewey & Dillon. Robel/Hudson and Sunderlin/Valesse added victory points for the Red team, but were offset by victories from Varasco/Farrar, Boteler/Benson, and Statter/Decker for my White Team.

TeamNameHandicap
TeamNameHandicap
RedPaul Dillon5
WhiteOT Gibbons0
RedSteve Dewey7
WhiteJeff Baxter (Captain)5
RedMike Robel (Asst. Captain)9
WhiteMike Cummings8
RedGlen Hudson9
WhiteJimmy Donnelly10
RedNick Stanisic9
WhiteDon Boteler10
RedDoug (Councilman) Hudson12
WhiteMatt Bensen11
RedTom Fallon (Captain)13
WhiteMark Decker14
RedTim Hastings13
WhiteSimon Statter (Asst. Captain)15
RedDrew Sunderlin14
WhiteDon Dzedzy14
RedFrank Vallese15
WhiteMark Browne15
RedNeil Leary16
WhiteHarry Stokes17
RedJoe Donnelly18
WhiteDoug (Condo) Hudson18
RedMike Sasada20
WhitePaul Schaffran19
RedFrank Miranda20
WhiteTom Hunsberger26
RedDick Moore13
WhiteRandy Varesco14
RedClaude Bernier17
WhiteMike Farrar16
2020 Chowder Cup Roster

My Team White held a slim 13 to 11 point lead at the conclusion of play Saturday, winning 2 of the 3 sessions. Pairings were made for Sunday Singles and we hoped we’d get it in before the weather arrived.

The Sunday matches started at 9AM with my Assistant Captain, Simon Statter, playing Tim Hastings and Don Dzedy playing the Red Team Captain, Tom Fallon. Both Simon and Don were victorious. Simon played strong – 5 up after the front 9. My match was 2nd off. Paul Dillon, our current Senior Club Champion shot 1 under on the front to have me 1 down after I missed a 4 foot birdie putt on 9. Unfortunately for me, Paul continued his stellar play and was 2 under par when he closed me out on 15. I was 2 over. My partner, OT Gibbons, beat Steve Dewey with a combination of long drives and steady putting. Steve put up a good fight, but was closed out on 15 as well.

Mike Cummings and Don Boteler both added victory points for the White Team and played great over both days. Mike added 3 points to our White Team total and Don added 3 1/2 – congrats to both. They were my players of the Cup for sure.

On the Red Team side, Mike Robel played exceptionally well defeating Jimmy Donnelly. Glen Hudson held off Matt Benson while Drew Sunderlin, Frank Valesse, Niel Leary, Mike Sasada and Joe Donnelly each added needed victories for the Red Team.

In our Gold tee grouping, both of my guys – Mike Farrar and Randy Varesco defeated their opponents to keep us in the overall match.

The final match of the day pitted Tom Hunsberger (White) against Frank Miranda (Red). We held a small – lead 20 points to 19 points – as this match entered the 17 hole with Tom 2up. Frank won 17 to narrow the margin. After both players made a mess on 18 and were each lying 5 just off the green, Frank magnanimously offer a “good-good?” to Tom. Of course, Tom accepted and my White Team won the 2020 Chowder Cup 21 points to 19 points for the Red.

Congratulations to all the players and especially to Tom Fallon and Mike Robel, captain and assistant caption of the Red Team. Special thanks to my assistant captain, Simon Stater, who helped guide our selection strategy and pairings which resulted in our ultimate victory.

And so ends the 2020 Chowder Cup. We are all looking forward to playing The Hootie, the final major of 2020, which will be held November 7-8, the weekend prior to this year’s Masters.

Read a history of The Hootie by clicking here

Golf

The Chowder Cup Primer

The 2020 Chowder Cup at Cripple Creek Golf & Country Club starts tomorrow (Saturday) morning. I thought a brief review of the original match would be of interest to all.

Lary Larson, “the Commish”, and I created the Chowder Cup in 2002 as one of the “majors” for The Group at Cripple Creek. The other two (2) are the Closed and The Hootie (click here for a short history of The Hootie). We missed The Closed this year because of COVID-19 and The Hootie will be contested this year the weekend prior to the Masters.

The Chowder Cup was envisioned as a Ryder Cup style tournament pitting two (2) teams of Hack golfers against each other. We struggled through alternate shot and better ball matches, followed by Sunday singles matches to determine the winner of the non-existent “cup”. We alternate the Cup, matching the Chowder Cup against the year the Ryder Cup is played and the Peasant’s Cup opposite the President’s Cup. The Ryder Cup was scheduled for this year, but ultimately postponed. We’ll have to see what we do next year.

The original Chowder Cup in 2002 featured 28 players. The Corn (Chowder) Team was captained by the infamous Chris Nacrelli and featured appearances by professionals Bob Crowther and Mark Kopp. The Clam (Chowder) Team was captained by your Retired Golf Hack and featured the pros, Sean Fishbeck (may he rest in peace) and Eddie Quick. The full team rosters are shown below, nicknames included.

Inaugural Chowder Cup Teams

I was fortunate enough to captain a team with character disorders galore, including the Dog, Doc and Gonzo, so I rightfully was awarded an outright victory based on their awesome play. We were men back in the day and played 18 holes of Better Ball, followed by 18 holes of Alternate Shot on Day 1. Day 2 featured the 18 hole Singles matches. Sadly, 18 years have passed and there are few of us left, both physically and as members of the Creek.

The current version of the Chowder Cup has been watered down to 9 holes of Better Ball, 9 holes of Alternate Shote, and 9 holes of Scramble on Day 1. The full 18 hole Singles matches remain a fixture (thank goodness!). It is interesting to note that the 2020 version of the Chowder Cup include only 4 members of the original match – Mike Cummings, Mike (Bumley) Farrar, Claude (The Frog) Bernier and Jeff (Retired Golf Hack) Baxter.

Captain’s Prize 2002

I’m proud to Captain a team for the 7th or 8th time over the past 18 years. We no longer name the “chowder” we are playing for . . . we use colors. I captain the White Team and my opponent, Tom Fallon, captains the Red Team. Shirt colors are much easier with white and red compared to corn and clam. We completed our team draws last Wednesday and the matches are all set. 32 players this year and I’m proud that both Mike Cummings and Bumly from the original group are on my team. I’m even partnering with Mr. Farrar in the Alternate Shot game on Day 1. The Frog is on the Red Team this year, but I wish him the best regardless.

Looking forward to a fun and competitive weekend, I’ll be updating the blog with results as we play, and I hope you all found this reminiscence of some value.

Keep it in the short grass.

Golf

My 100 Hole Hike

It’s been a while since I updated the blog . . . so here goes.

For the last couple of years, I’ve played “marathon” golf on my birthday. For example, I turned 65 last year on October 25th and played 65 holes at my club – Cripple Creek Golf & Country Club. It was a blast and our pro, Brian Trout, and superintendent, Glen MacDonald, went out of their way to let me enjoy the full experience.

My Birthday Cart – 2019

This year, I decided to change things up a little. Well maybe a lot, to be honest.

With the support of Cripple Creek and the Delaware State Golf Association (DSGA), I’m going to play (walking) 100 holes of golf from dawn to dusk to raise money for Youth on Course (YOC). This is called the 100 Hole Hike and I’m attempting to raise $5,000 for YOC. Team Delaware has four (4) participants and has raised a little over $10,000 currently, including the contributions to my Hike. Two (2) of our members completed their Hike at Bear Trap Dunes in late September.

Why is Youth on Course important? Amid this COVID-19 pandemic, YOC is providing a much needed boost to young people across the country. Golf is one of the few sports kids can safely play–and they are really playing. Subsidized rounds are up 65% compared to the same date last year (more than 270,000 rounds so far this year!) and membership is up 55% to over 98,000 boys and girls. Now in its 14th year, YOC serves over 98,000 youth members by providing them subsidized rounds of golf for $5 or less at more than 1,400 facilities, meaningful employment opportunities as caddies and interns, and access to college scholarships.

The big question is how to do this? I’ve been walking for exercise for the past year – losing 50 pounds in the process – and currently walk 4 to 5 miles daily, 6 days a week. I also walk when I play golf about 95% of the time. So physically, I think I’m good.

Daylight is my concern. I’m planning to start at 6AM on the 26th and go for at least 12 hours. That means I have 720 minutes to pay 100 holes – about 7 minutes per hole. Can I do it? Let me know what you think . . . .

If you are interested in making a donation toward my 100 Hole Hike, click on the link below. And, thank you for all the support.

Donate to the Retired Golf Hack’s 100 Hole Hike

Golf

A Love Letter to Golf

One of my favorite golf “follows” on YouTube is Erik Anders Lang. Erik only started playing golf 7 or 8 years ago, but it’s changed his life. Funny thing is . . . his approach to golf and his videos have changed mine. I’ve been playing golf for about 56 years and this young man, through his filmmaking, has helped me appreciate something I love even more. And, I hope he’s making me a better person.

Here is my favorite video – Dear Golf, I Love You. He just published it yesterday on his EAL channel on YouTube. It’ll only take a few minutes to watch.

This next, shorter video Is a great watch before your next round of golf. Enjoy and think about it.

Let me know what you think and subscribe to Erik’s YouTube channel for more great content.

Cripple Creek, Golf, Hootie

The Hootie – A Short History

We play our first Major at the club this weekend and I thought it would be fun to write a short history of the tournament – The Hootie.

On April 13, 2003, a Cripple Creek tradition and a tournament like no other began.

“The Dog came out growling with a sandy par on the first hole and never looked back. Chipping in twice for birdies and taking only 24 putts, he rolled up a remarkable, we will not report the remarks that were made, 43 points [modified Stableford scoring] and ran off with a bone of $120. When asked how his knee held up, he responded with a blank look, “WHAT KNEE?”  A 73 is a sure fire cure for whatever ails you.”

And so ended the first Hootie at Cripple Creek Golf & Country Club in Bethany Beach, DE.  Our “Once and Former Commissioner” – one Lary Larson – was eloquent in his description of the Dog’s “historic” victory. Continue reading

Golf

Tiger and Time

This is perhaps the best thing I’ve read about what happened on Sunday.  Tip of the hat to my friend John Pearson who sent it to me yesterday.  I still shake myself at times . . . did it really happen?
People still look past me. It baffles me that still happens after all these years. Yes, I know I am petite and pretty and, if you will allow a modicum of immodestly, I ooze with Southern charm. If I was in Hollywood, I am sure I would be Doris Day. I apologize if that’s an old reference. I am old. I fear that I have not kept up with the times.
People sense my friendliness. That is good. I am friendly. I welcome everyone. My bridge is always open. I optimistically set the table for 2 every time.  But I am not to be underestimated.
My name is Golden Bell. I am the 12th hole at Augusta National.

 

I am 155 yards long, and I am surrounded by azaleas and sand and water and trees. I am less a golf hole and more a vacation spot. My likeness hangs in offices and living rooms around the world. I look as innocuous and dreamy as a postcard from Hawaii.
But I am to be taken seriously. The winds swirl unpredictably around me. They say I was built on an Indian burial ground. I do not talk about my past. But I can tell you that I have broken many hearts.
I broke Arnold Palmer’s heart. That was in ’59, I guess. I revered Arnie, and over time he came to revere me, but he was still young then, full of spirit and too much certainty. He led when he arrived at my door. He then hit his ball into the water and made triple bogey and lost the tournament. I felt heartsick for him. But I am not easy.
Time after time in the years since then, they have come to me with a sparkle of glory and a touch of arrogance reflecting in their eyes, and they have looked beyond me, to opportunities that await, to a dream they have had had since they were children, to a jacket that they long to wear. And they have left my green broken. I have crushed so many hopes. Seve Ballesteros. Gary Player. Greg Norman. Jordan Spieth. I cannot remember them all.
It happens every year.
On this Sunday, the hopers and dreamers began arriving much earlier in the day than I expected. They don’t usually show up until late afternoon, as the sun falls behind the Magnolia and Juniper trees, but on this Sunday they started marching up in groups of three in the morning. I believe the weather brought them out early.
The names change. The faces don’t. In the early afternoon, a powerful man named Brooks Koepka showed up. There is no doubt in my mind that Brooks has the strength to hit a golf ball miles over me. But I watched instead as he hit the ball without assurance. I could tell instantly that his shot would land short and roll back into the water. I tried to stop it. I always try to stop it. But there is not much I can do … once, I recall, I was able to stop the golf ball for a friendly sort named Fred Couples. But ever since then the groundskeepers have kept my grass shorter.
There was nothing I could do to save Brooks Koepka’s ball.
The same was true for Ian Poulter’s golf ball. Poulter is English, from what I can tell, and he also hit a high, equivocal shot that bounced well short and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. Later, the same thing happened to a tall fellow named Tony Finau. Each time the ball dropped into Rae’s Creek, I heard those familiar groans that have always tormented me.
I am haunted by waters.
Then the next group, the last group, came up. A man with a beautiful name, Francesco Molinari, walked to the tee. What a name. I have grown to love beautiful names — Ian Baker-Finch and Seve Ballesteros and Gary Player and Jose Maria Olazabal and Jimmy Demaret.  And standing next to him, there was an older golfer wearing red, he had a familiar face, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
There are only a few who have ever turned this place inside out. Arnie was one of those; he was so captivating and fetching and affable. The fans at Augusta loved him so dearly, so fervently, that they called themselves “Arnie’s Army.” I often thought of myself as a member of Arnie’s Army.
Then there was Jack Nicklaus. I will not lie, he was my favorite. I don’t know if the fans loved Jack with quite the same zeal and warmth that they loved Arnie, but I know they admired him. He was so admirable. He kept his head. He never beat himself. He played the right shot again and again.
And Jack always made me feel seen. I’ve heard that he called me the toughest little hole in the world. That is the most meaningful thing anyone has ever said about me. I have been called beautiful so often that it has lost its meaning. But tough! Yes! It’s true. Jack used to say that he always aimed for the same spot — to that safe space of land between my front and back bunkers — even if it meant aiming away from the flag.
I loved him for that. Jack respected me.
There were others too who inspired ear-shattering roars, Sam and Tom and Seve and Phil and so on.
But Tiger Woods is different from all of them.
I remember when he first came to Augusta. He was only an amateur then, a teenager, but full of unimaginable promise and talent and skill (I heard Jack predicted Tiger would win as many green jackets and he and Arnie had won combined). I’m told that when they asked Tiger what he hoped to accomplish his first time around at the hallowed Masters he said, without hesitation: “Win.”
It was a brazen and presumptuous thing for a young man to say — the correct answer apparently being something to the effect of “I’m just happy to be here” — and I am sure some of the older men harrumphed and grumbled. But modesty didn’t fit Tiger or his talents. He came to conquier and when he was 21, he did. He thundered through this golf course like no one ever had before. When he was done, records were shattered, imaginations detonated, and I overheard people say that they would need to change Augusta National just to accommodate Tiger’s prodigious abilities.
They did change Augusta National considerably, lengthening some holes, adding contours and rises in various places, reworking various parts of the course. But they did not change me — if you will allow me to speak immodestly again, I am timeless — and they did not prevent Tiger Woods from winning again and again.. He had won four times before he turned 30.
And the roars for him were unlike those even for Arnie and Jack. I think that’s because Tiger wasn’t adored like Arnie, and he wasn’t lionized like Jack. No there was something else about him, something more aspirational. I am not sure I can describe it — I am no poet, I am the subject of poetry — but as I understand it, Tiger offered to take the crowd to a place where golf had never gone. He was an astronaut. He hit shots no one had ever hit. He saw possibilities where others saw tree branches and double bogeys. He brought order to a disorderly game.
Anyway, that’s how I have heard it described.
Then, one day, something with Tiger Woods changed. One hears things, but I am not one to partake in rumors. But I could see that Tiger no longer commanded the game the way he had. The crowds still shouted for him, but their cheers were less confident and more nervous. He grew older. He seemed to have a different swing every time I saw him. And then, some years, he did not show up at all.
I did not expect to see Tiger Woods compete again.
The cycle doesn’t often go in that direction.
When the last group of Sunday approached, I glanced at the little walking leaderboard and saw that the Italian with the beautiful name, Francesco Molinari, had 13 red. And Tiger Woods had 11 red. The Masters was in the balance.
And I waited with hope.
Molinari hit first. He reached back with his club, and I offered a silent prayer for him, like I do for every golfer. But as soon as he hit the ball, I could see that he had made the mistake that has wrecked so many. He aimed toward the flag. And he had lacked conviction. The ball fluttered in the wind, and landed short, rolled back into the creek and those agonizing groans came. I saw the crestfallen look on Molinari’s face. I have seen that look so many times. I never get used to it.
Then Tiger Woods stepped to the tee.
I looked at him closely. Was this really Tiger Woods, the bold and impertinent kid who believed that nothing was beyond his powers? I could not tell. I began to say my silent prayer for him … but then I stopped because I noticed something. He was not that Tiger Woods. He moved more gingerly. His face was wider. His weather-worn face suggested that he had seen things.
And as he began his swing, I caught something in Woods’ glance, something unusual, something I had not seen in, well, in a long time.
Deference.
He aimed his shot away from the flag.
He hit it to that space between my front and back bunker. The ball landed and settled 40 feet from the hole but dry and safe. It was the shot that young golfers feel too proud and too strong to hit. It was Jack Nicklaus’ shot. And now, it was Tiger Woods’ shot.
And I knew right then that Tiger would go on to win the Masters.
I could tell from the roars that he did go on to win. I settled in and just listened for those roars like I do ever Masters Sunday. And they were louder than any I have heard in more than 30 years. I have since heard that as he walked off the last hole, Tiger was seen hugging his children, who were not born when he won here the first time. And I heard he took a look up to the sky to think about his father, Earl, who passed away a dozen years ago.
I am not capable of tears. Or at least I didn’t think I was capable for tears.
If there’s one thing I have learned as a most famous golf hole, it is that time, like Rae’s Creek, rushes in one direction. You cannot expect it to stop for anything or anyone. And yet, I’ve been around Augusta long enough to know that every now and again, on special days, time does stop, or at least it pauses. On Sunday, it stopped for Tiger. I think that means time stopped for all of us too.

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Golf, Personal

Tiger’s Back and I’m Back Too

Have you missed Strokes Gained Retired?  It’s been almost a month since I was heading to the Tour on the Shore opener at Bay Creek in Cape Charles, VA ready for the first big tournament of the year.  I got the practice round in that Friday and never played the weekend.  In fact, I’ve only played a few rounds of casual golf over the past month.  Sometimes life just comes at you from all sides at once.  We (Sue & I) been through a series of personal and family issues that have basically sidelined everything else so that we could focus on more important things.  With that, I’m happy to say that we’re back and optimistic about the future.  There’s still stuff going on on – as there is with every family – but it seems the worst is over.  

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