A Fine Mess and Other Ramblings

Observations . . .

The decision by the R&A to not allow Muirfield to host future Open Championships because of its male-only membership policy has predictably elicited howls of indignation on a number of fronts. Let’s recap:

  • “It’s a private club! It can do what it wants!”
    1. Yes, this is true. And Muirfield can continue that policy and function as a private club. But since the R&A decided a few years ago to (finally) enter the 21st century, Muirfield will have to pay the consequences of that policy.
  • “The members of Muirfield are pig-headed chauvinists!”
    1. 64% of the membership at Muirfield voted to allow women as members; unfortunately, changing the bylaws there require a 2/3 majority. Apparently, there was a core group of 33 members who circulated a petition to vote against the bylaw change.
  • “Royal Troon (who is hosting this year’s Open) is male-only! Why are they allowed to host?”
    1. Troon’s turn on the Open rota was established before the R&A’s own decision to allow female members and to establish this policy. The club is currently taking up the matter and will take a vote this year. If it chooses not to change its policy, one assumes it will suffer the same fate as that of Muirfield.
  • “How can the R&A NOT have Muirfield in the rota? It’s legendary!”
    1. Yes, it is. Names like Vardon, Hagan, Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Faldo, Els, and Mickelson have won there. Muirfield is by almost universally acclaimed as the best Open venue, with its unique clockwise/counter-clockwise routing for each 9 that challenges players with a different wind direction on every hole. It will most certainly be missed.

Having said that – the R&A has already added Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush and could conceivably look at classics like Royal County Down, Royal Aberdeen, and (a long shot logistically but still) Royal Dornoch. Castle Stewart, while a newer track, has hosted a Scottish Open and has all the earmarks of a classic links. These are all strong alternatives.

In any event, it’s a fine mess.

[POSTSCRIPT: This may be reconsidered. Stay tuned.]

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The month of April was an embarrassment of golfing riches for the Golf Nerd Goddess and me. Sharon went on an all-women’s  trip (no action from the R&A on that one) to Cabo San Lucas and teed it up at the Cabo del Sol Ocean Couse and Pamilla. Golf in Cabo is surreal; imagine playing in a desert landscape (a la Scottsdale or Tucson) that borders the ocean.

Meanwhile, in addition to my day at Augusta, I had the opportunity to play two noteworthy tracks – East Lake (the final PGA Tour stop of the year) and Atlanta Country Club. East Lake has a very historical vibe to it, being the course where Bobby Jones learned the game. Its clubhouse has the characteristics of a museum, with cool artifacts present everywhere. The course itself is not a pushover by any means, but is very playable for the average golfer. And its walking-only policy is to be commended.

Atlanta Country Club at one time held a Tour event, and for my money is a stronger test than East Lake – and aesthetically, it’s a beauty; with it’s tall pines, beautiful azaleas, and elevation changes, it’s a poor man’s Augusta – although with what I am told regarding its initiation fees, there’s nothing poor about it.

But the biggest surprise was the trip Sharon and I took to Sedona, AZ. There are three courses in the immediate city, and we played two of them. Oakcreek, a Robert Trent Jones design, was rather pedestrian, but the Sedona Golf Resort was a real winner, with views of the famous red rocks in abundance on every hole. Plus I swear we had a vortex experience on the 5th hole – the wind suddenly began to swirl vigorously in a circular pattern to the point where we thought some sort of Native American ghost would appear from its eye. It stopped after a few minutes, and my ensuing 7-iron approach shot landed about 5 feet from the hole. I am now a believer.

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Our favorite LPGA player and house guest, Julie Yang, stayed with us for the North Texas Shootout. Alas, she did not make the cut, but she is faring much better on the tour this year. Even though she did not play on the weekend, I watched her Thursday and Friday, and she seemed much more at ease on the course than she did last year. She’s made three cuts and has much more confidence. I love this kid.

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Finally – we’ve enjoyed an unusually nice Texas spring, which has left our two courses (and most of those in the area) in magnificent condition.  Right now, we’re as green as Ireland. Although Lone Star doesn’t compare to Guiness.

Hit ‘em straight, y’all.

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With Apologies to the Winner . . .

It was the roar that got me.

It emanated from one of the deepest parts of the golf course; the 16th hole, in fact. It was a sound that reverberated through the tall Georgia pines, a cheer that might be in response to a Jack or an Arnie or a Seve or a Spieth making a Sunday charge.

In fact, it was a big name – Rory McIlroy had made a hole in one on 16. But it was during a practice round. A Monday practice round.

Non-golfers and cynics like to poke fun at The Masters, and some of it is merited, particularly from the broadcast perspective. The schmaltzy music, the forced lingo (there are no spectators at the Masters, there are “patrons”), and the hushed commentary (particularly from Jim Nantz, who often sounds like he’s reading from a papal encyclical) often seem over the top. The tournament’s racist past is not easily dismissed – and it shouldn’t be.

And the TSA could take some lessons from the Masters as far as security measures are concerned – there are black-suited Pinkerton agents in abundance, one must pass through metal detectors far more sensitive than those found at airports, and there is a long list of prohibited items posted. My friend Dave Weisman, a retired 3-star general and former member of NATO’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a 2-inch pen knife confiscated when he checked in for Wednesday’s Par-3 event. The General has no love lost for Phil Mickelson, but I doubt he planned on using said weapon on Lefty.

But all that aside – one would be hard pressed to find a better way of spending a spring day in Georgia than walking the hilly grounds of Augusta National during a practice round. The course is dizzying in its assault on one’s senses. The turf is an almost impossible shade of green – unlike most courses in the deep South that feature Bermuda or zoyzia, Augusta is turfed with cool weather grasses that do not go dormant in the winter and is offset by the pure white sand in the cavernous bunkers. Virtually every kind of flora and fauna can be found on the course (there’s even a palm tree near the 4th green).  When asked by friends in the DFW area what it’s like there, the best description that I can muster is to imagine if someone has placed a golf course in the midst of the Dallas Arboretum. And even that’s not adequate.

My friend Chet (who had secured tickets for us) and I paused along our trip around the course to imagine some of the shots we’d witnessed on TV (or in Chet’s case, in person – he’s attended the tournament many times and played the course, a benefit of his friendship with Charlie Yates, the son and namesake of one of the greatest amateur golfers of the 1930’s). When we got to the 10th (which resembles the upper portion of a downhill ski course), we sought out the spot from which Bubba Watson pulled off this incredible shot. All we could do is laugh.

I had to do all those things one does at Augusta – eat a pimento cheese sandwich (still only $1.50 and ludicrously delicious), buy souvenirs, sit in the stands in back of the 12th tee which gives one the opportunity to view play on different parts of Amen Corner, watch players skip shots across the pond at 16. And what struck me the most was how downright happy people were to be there. There were a group of Argentines clad in blue and white shirts inscribed Vamanos! Fabian – a tribute to their countryman Fabian Gomez, who they cheered during his practice.  Asians, Indians, and yes, a fair number of African Americans were mixed into the gallery. Spouses and significant others marveled at the azaleas.

And that roar from 16.

Sorry cynics. I’m a believer.

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This year’s Masters will undoubtedly be remembered as The One That Jordan Spieth Gave Away, which is unfortunate for Danny Willet. He is hardly a flash in the pan, coming into the tournament as the 12th ranked golfer in the world and the winner of four events internationally. His final round 67 was pretty much a flawless piece of work – the closest he came to being in trouble was when he missed the green with his approach on 17 and was left with a pitch-and-run shot that had more twists than an Adam Sworkin plotline. He made it appear much less difficult, the sign of a true champion. But if anyone mentioned the Englishman as a pre-tournament favorite, it was the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project.

Willet almost didn’t make it to the Masters. His wife was due to deliver their first child this past weekend, but agreed to be induced two weeks early so that her husband can make it to Augusta and is the unofficial heroine of Danny’s victory.

And while he was lighting up Augusta on Sunday, his brother PJ was doing the same on Twitter.

There were plenty of roars from 16 on Sunday, as three competitors holed out for aces, including the ever-popular Davis Love III and the irrepressible Louis Oosthuizen, whose ball was tacking toward the hole before striking that of J.B. Holmes – and then continued on to its final destination.

The cheering was certainly welcome, as the playing conditions for the first three days of the tournament were nothing short of brutal, with winds gusting over 25 mile per hour and turning Augusta’s back nine – usually a source of exciting play – into a chamber of horrors. The 15th is a hole in which par usually gives back a stroke to the field; on Friday and Saturday, it was a pretty damned good score.

For the first three rounds (and the first nine of the finale), Jordan Spieth held off the field, which was somewhat surprising. It was Jason Day who, among the New Triumvirate, was a heavy favorite, having come off consecutive victories at Bay Hill and Austin. Adam Scott and Ricky Fowler were also bandied about as possible victors; others felt that Phil Mickelson was, at age 45, ready for one final charge. As it turned out, Fowler and Lefty missed the cut, Scott was far back in the field, and Day could never quite get it going.

Spieth came into the tournament as a bit of a puzzlement. Aside from a comfortable win at the Tournament of Champions in Maui, his play had been somewhat indifferent for most the season. Some observers felt that with the opportunities presented to him by virtue of his sensational 2015 season, he had spread himself too thinly among international tournaments and endorsement appearances. His ball striking was rather pedestrian and his putting alarmingly inconsistent.

But he fashioned an opening round 66, a remarkable round given (by his own admission) some ragged iron play. At the same time, one could sense that this was not going to be an easy week for Spieth, as each time he separated himself from the field, he inexplicably let it back in – particularly on Sunday, when he saw a four shot lead evaporate to one over the spectacularly named Smylie Kaufmann. Meanwhile, Willet lurked three shots back at even par.

Spieth was adequately concerned to fly in his swing coach, Cameron McCormack, to oversee his warm-up for the final round. And it seemed to work, as Jordan fashioned a front-nine 32 (including four straight birdies to close out the side) and opened up a 5 shot lead on the field. But a careless bogey on 10 and another (caused by a poor tee shot) on 11 were disconcerting.

Anyone who’s played the game has experienced the wrenching events that occurred on #12 for Spieth; however, watching it in real time was equivalent to seeing the wide-open receiver drop a perfectly thrown pass or the 90% free throw shooter clank two important attempts off the rim.  The difference is that when it happens to a golfer, no matter what the stage, there is no place to turn, – no apologies or excuses to be rendered. Dumping a second shot into Rae’s Creek left most of us – including the golfer himself – saying to ourselves, “Are you [fucking] kidding/shitting/yanking me?”

It’s to his everlasting credit that Spieth, after that quadruple bogey disaster, came back to birdie 13 and 15 while parring 14 (the latter two despite a couple more wayward drives), and had a chance to close to within one on 16 after a good tee shot. He missed the slippery downhill putt, however, and when his approach on 17 caught the front bunker (the microphone picked him up moaning, “That’s not nearly enough!”), that effectively shut the door on any chance he had of coming back.

How damaging this is to Spieth in the long term remains to be seen. It’s evident that there’s some work to be done on his swing, and perhaps even more so on that 6-inches of space between the ears about which Bobby Jones so famously talked. My take is that he’ll be heard from again, but it won’t be an easy process.

Congratulations, Danny Willet. And my apologies. I’ve seemed to have spent more time on the runner-up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

Another year without a hole in one. But golf has other rewards and foibles . . .

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Travel Tales . . .

In January, The Golf Nerd Goddess and I trekked to the Diamante Resort in Cabo San Lucas, home to Davis Love III’s acclaimed Dunes Course and Tiger Woods’s initial foray into course design, El Cardonal. It was the latter that proved to be a pleasant surprise, as Woods has created a linksy track that is both playable for the high handicapper while presenting a challenge to better players, particularly around its wildly contoured greens. This takes nothing away from The Dunes, which features holes that play along the Pacific, and its magnificent par 3 11th – an uphill beast whose green is carved into a dune – provides a breathtaking vantage point.

Beyond all of that, golf at Diamante has a vibe all its own – after checking in, one heads for the smoothie/slider bar for a pre-round snack, and then proceeds to the practice range, which features salsa music and comfortable lounge chairs. Once on either course, one can enjoy margaritas or mojitos, black bean soup, outrageously delicious tamales, and other local delights at various stations – all of which are included in the greens fee. Add to that a mountainous desert landscape that dips into the ocean – which, during January, features frolicking whales – and it’s hard to imagine a more unique setting for golf.

Quite the opposite was our trip “up nort” to Eagle River, WI, the most aptly named town in the US.Flocks of eagles flew overhead as we navigated our way through a couple of modest but thoroughly enjoyable tracks, one in the host town and another in nearby St Germain.

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We hosted and became friends with Julie Yang, an aspiring LPGA player. It was a tough year for her, as she failed to make a single cut, but she returned to Qualifying School and achieved full status for the 2016 season. Look for a much better year from this talented (and wonderful) young lady.

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I weighed in on erstwhile Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foray into the world of golf. Things have not gone particularly well for The Donald on that particular front, as the R&A has removed his recently acquired Turnberry from the Open rota in reaction to his rants regarding immigration and refugees in the US. He also lost a court case in an effort to block a proposed wind farm that would overlook his course in Aberdeenshire, and had his name (briefly) removed from the signage for his course in Dubai. The PGA tour is considering moving its World Golf Championship away from Doral (also owned by Trump), which would be roughly akin to having the Kentucky Derby being run at Aqueduct. Stay tuned.

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While Spieth and Day dominated the news on the PGA Tour, the most exciting event of the year was The Presidents Cup, an event I admittedly decried for its seeming irrelevancy. The teams were separated by a point going into Sunday’s final day singles play, in which 7 of 12 matches went to the 18th hole, including the final decider, which was contested between the home country’s instant national hero and the American team captain’s son.  I was one of perhaps dozens in the US who stayed up to watch the live overnight coverage from Seoul, and it will likely be forgotten by the time the 2017 match rolls around.

And for some, the most poignant Tour moment may have been what might be Tiger’s last stand at The Wyndham tournament in Greensboro. Records crowds turned out as Woods seriously contended for three rounds before fading on Sunday. A month later, he was undergoing yet another surgery, this time for his back. His press conference at his own tournament in December was downright painful, as for the first time, he seemed to acknowledge his own mortality – at least as a golfer. If he is able to come back, I hope it is with realistic expectations from everyone concerned, and that he can make his way to some tour stops that he’s not frequented in the past so that all golf fans can pay tribute to this remarkable player.

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And finally . . .

Readers may recall the seemingly unrequited romance between the Golf Nerd Goddess and a certain golf club. Happily, Santa heard her urgent pleadings and delivered said club under the tree Christmas morning. The GNG tried it out that afternoon; the resulting tee shots were impressive. That trip to Pebble Beach may be forthcoming, after all.

Also on Christmas Day, I got to play golf with my sister Lisa and her boyfriend Chad.  Lisa’s interest in the game has been somewhat recent, and Chad (despite my concerns) has been a willing enabler. I was wowed by her tee shots; she drove the ball over 200 yards a couple of times. Moreover, despite some major work required on other game skills, she truly enjoys playing – and is actually watching golf on TV. If nothing else, this has made Christmas shopping for her a helluva lot easier.

Weather Delay, Part 2

8 inches of rain the past 4 days. Some wayward thoughts . . .

If you get paired up on the first tee with a guy dressed to the nines and has his name emblazoned on his over-sized golf bag – and it’s a name you’ve never heard of – and has a collection of bag tags that resembles a custodian’s key chain, don’t be afraid to engage him in a friendly wager. Chances are, he’s a poser.

On the other hand – you show up at your local muni looking for a game and a scruffy-looking guy with an old set of blades shows up and want to wager, do so at your own risk. Chances are, he’ll hustle out of a few bucks.

A club pro once told me: However long you hit your 5-iron, multiply that by 36. That’s the total course yardage from which you should play.

A strategically placed tree can make or break a golf hole.

On the other hand – many a good golf course has been hampered by well-intentioned members planting too many trees. This can cut down air circulation and cause fungus issues, particularly around greens. Personally, I like open vistas with trees being the spice, rather than the main ingredient.

A blind shot off the tee is tolerable as long as there is an aiming point like a stake or building.

On the other hand – I once played a course in Williamsburg, VA where a pond was not visible off the left side of the fairway. There was no indication that it was there from the scorecard or hole signage. Note that I said that I “once” played the course.

My friend Brian Robin claims that the long par 3 is the most boring piece of course architecture. Generally I agree, although the 17th at Cyprus Point or 16 at Augusta prove that every rule has an exception.

In Denmark, one must pass a test of basic golf etiquette and rules before setting foot on a golf course. I think that would be a great idea in the US. I also think there’s a better chance of passing stricter gun control laws than ever seeing that happen.

The ideal number for a guy’s golf trip is eight. Any more than that becomes an exercise in herding cats.

Your golf group should include the following:

  • A guy who reliably makes tee times
  • A guy who can come up with creative bets
  • A guy who can come up with creative nicknames
  • A guy who can tell outrageous stories that have an element of truth (and that you wouldn’t repeat to your significant other)
  • A guy who is generally quiet but once every two rounds comes up with an observation that is so fresh, you can’t wait to share it with someone

Your golf group should, by any means necessary, avoid the following:

  • The chronic club-thrower (I think everyone gets one toss a year. Anything after that is subject fpr eviction)
  • The high-handicapper who wants to advise everyone else in the group about their games
  • The low-handicapper who doesn’t want to engage anyone else
  • The needler who can’t take it when it comes back at him
  • The slow player. ESPECIALLY the slow player.

At least once a year, I will hear a sport-talk blowhard argue that golf is not a “sport.” Now, I’ll admit that for most of us who play recreationally, what we do equates to beer-league softball. But to succeed at the highest level, one must be willing to hit 500 to 1,000 balls a day and be ready to walk between 5 – 9 miles each round over oftentimes uneven terrain. Professional golfers do have longevity, but the wear and tear that one puts on the back, knees, and hips while executing swing after swing is fierce. Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller have had hip replacements, and Tiger Woods has all kinds of ailments. And those are just the famous guys.

And – if you don’t make the cut, you don’t get paid.

My two favorite golf destinations are St Andrews and Pinehurst. They literally reek of golf, and yet you could bring your non-golfing spouse/significant other to either location and both of you would be happy.

And finally, two pieces of invaluable advice:

Playing golf requires a balance between ibuprofen, Gatorade, and alcohol. If any one of those elements get out of whack, all bets are off.

If you go big on a Friday night (or any night on a golf trip with the guys), the best hangover cure is Pedialyte. No joke. The electrolytes hit your body like a B-12 shot. Plus it’s a decent vodka mixer.

A Bump or Two In the Road

[Author’s note – earlier this year, the Golf Nerd Goddess and I hosted LPGA tour rookie Julie Yang when she played in the North Texas Shootout, which I recounted here. I had a chance to catch up with her today.]

You’re 20 years old and just finished your maiden voyage on the LPGA tour.

Up until now, you’ve enjoyed success at every level – junior, amateur, college – but it’s been a frustrating year. No cuts made. It’s a new town and a new course each week. Your game’s just not quite right, and neither is your back. It’s hard to maintain any kind of consistency.

You watch as girls your age are enjoying success, knowing that your game is certainly on the same level.

For most of the season you’re traveling on your own, with your caddie your only companion to rely on. Mom was there for the first four or five weeks, but she had to return home to South Korea to be with your dad, who is having heart surgery.

And through it all, you go out and do your best each week. There are signs of life in your game but something’s just not clicking.

This is your dream, Julie Yang.

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It’s late season here in DFW; I’m working on my second cup of coffee and trying to endure a Monday of conference calls and IT project issues. The phone vibrates, and there’s a text message from . . . Julie Yang.

“Hey Gary and Sharon! I’m in DFW! What’s up?”

She had just made a 12 hour flight from Seoul, on her way to her stateside home in Stillwater, OK, and had a lengthy layover, and was wondering if one of us would have time to “hang out” a bit.

Well – Sharon’s at the office, but hell yes, I can!

We met up at DFW and I took her over to our club for a late breakfast. We talked about her rookie season a bit.

“It was frustrating,” she admitted, “and hard.” Some of it was the mundane – having to find where she was staying, how to get laundry done. And some of it was loneliness – some of which, she acknowledged, might have been self-inflicted. “I was so overwhelmed by the experience; it was pretty much all I could do to get myself to the practice range, to my tee time . . . “ Then she smiled. “But I learned a lot.”

When her season ended, she returned to Korea to visit her family and to undergo surgery for a herniated disk; the latter seems to have turned out for the best. She’s pain-free and played very well in a couple of invitational tournaments. “I made enough money for the trip back to Q-School,” she grinned.

Ah yes . . . Julie will have to go through that grinder again, but she’s really upbeat. “My parents are coming out,” she said, almost as if they were driving from Tulsa to Stillwater for an Oklahoma State homecoming weekend. “We’re going to drive to Florida together. I’ll play in a tournament and then be ready for Q-School on December 2nd.”

“And . . . “ she continued happily, “They will be will me all next year when I’m on tour.”

“Damn!” I replied, “We’ll need a bigger house for all of you when you play here!”

We had shown her and her mother around the area the last time they were here, and she said that this area would be a great location for her to make as a base of operations, what with its proximity to both of the airports. She’s been inquiring to local clubs about memberships; I mentioned that tour player Danny Lee (a native Korean who is now a naturalized New Zealand) is a member at our club.  I also told her the story of Danny’s plaintive plea for a girlfriend (which set off a firestorm of tweets and practical jokes among his fellow tour players). She laughed and shook her head – “You know, Danny and I attended the same golf camp when we were younger. He’s got a good heart, but he’s a real goofball!”

We reminisced about the Presidents Cup, which of course was held in her homeland and turned out to be one of the more exciting golf events of this past year (despite some blogger’s suggestion that it had perhaps grown a bit too one sided), and then she brought up our “match” that we played last May. “You played really great that day!” she gushed, which brought a big smile to my face.

It came time to get her back to the airport. We spoke of the somber events that had occurred over the weekend in Paris and a few weeks back during at Oklahoma State, and it made me realize that for all the maturity that Julie possesses, I forget that that she was a child when 9/11 occurred and that she hasn’t been hardened to some of the realities of the world that we live in.  At the same time, in her brief life, she’s traveled a good part of the world, and has a sense of place that I wish more of us had.

I got her to her gate and suddenly felt very paternal (“This is curb-side check-in, you have to tip the agent,” I admonished her. “I know, I know,” she laughed). She handed me an envelope that she had planned to mail Sharon and me, and hugged me good bye.

I opened up the envelope when I got home; inside were three “fan cards” of her, one of them inscribed with a lovely note from her on the back. Which brought another smile to me face.

But that’s what Julie does. And after going through the trials and tribulations of her first year on tour, she said to me, ‘You know, Gary? Each time I’ve taken it to another level in golf, I’ve had my problems at first. But once I’ve gotten comfortable, things have worked out pretty well.”

How can you not root for this kid?

 

Is This Really Necessary?

The first round of the Presidents Cup starts tomorrow (Thursday, October 8th), although since it’s being played in South Korea, it will actually be broadcast on The Golf Channel tonight (Wednesday, October 07). This is just one of the many incongruities of this particular competition.

The Presidents Cup was first played in 1994, and was created primarily at the behest of Greg Norman and Nick Price, who at that time were two of the biggest names in golf. As this was around the time that the Ryder Cup had become truly competitive (and dramatic), Norman (an Australian) and Price (from what was formerly Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe) clamored for the opportunity to play in a similar sort of team competition against American golfers.

The PGA thought this was a swell idea, putting aside that fact that the pretense of constructing the noble opposition was at best flimsy – “hey, let’s put together a team from the rest of the world except for Europe!” This year’s team features players from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Thailand, and Japan. Previous teams included representation from Fiji, Canada, Paraguay, and Argentina. These guys probably can’t figure out where to go out for dinner, much less coalesce as a team.

And it’s shown in the results – unlike the Ryder Cup, in which the Europeans have all but retired the trophy in recent years, the good ol’ USA has made itself the Internationals’ (yes, that’s what the opposition is called) proverbial daddy, having compiled a spiffy 8-1-1 record in Presidents Cup play. Price, now the International Team captain, successfully lobbied for a format change which reduced the total number of points being contested in the match from 34 to 30, which may reduce a perceived US team depth advantage.

But beyond the one-sided results – the biggest drawback to the Presidents Cup is that there’s no good old-fashioned animosity between the two teams. Once Seve Ballesteros and Tony Jacklin arrived on the Ryder Cup scene,   the European team didn’t just carry a chip on its shoulder; it took every slight (perceived or otherwise) against its tour as a personal affront. Players like Collin Montgomery, Sergio Garcia, and Ian Poulter became anathema to US golf fans, while Paul Azinger, Tom Lehman, and now Patrick Reed are considered villainous to the Europeans.

[The US / European rivalry has boiled over to the LPGA as well, most recently in this year’s Solheim Cup, where Suzann Pettersen’s denial of a conceded putt fueled a US comeback and even had Laura Davies, a longtime European stalwart as both a player and captain, steaming at her actions.]

None of this ill-feeling manifests itself in the Presidents Cup, save for the 2000 event, in which Vijay Singh’s caddie chose to wear a “Tiger Who?” cap when his man matched up against Mr Woods in singles play on Sunday. As one might expect, this did not go particularly well for Singh. But generally speaking, the atmosphere can be best described as “friendly competition.”

And why wouldn’t it? For one thing, most of the Internationals are full time PGA tour members and spend the majority of time in the United States. We’ve certainly seen plenty of Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, and Charl Schwartzel this season. Steven Bowditch has won two tournaments in my current home state of Texas, including this year’s Byron Nelson Classic, and is married to a local gal.

And then there’s Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee, who plays out of my home club (although we rarely see him, given his proclivity for playing nearly every week on tour). Danny is a native Korean, a naturalized New Zealander, and pays dues to the same neighborhood HOA that the Golf Nerd Goddess and I do. After emerging victorious at this year’s tour stop at The Greenbrier, Danny, upon receiving the $1.2 million winner’s check, lamented about his lack of female companionship. This struck several tour players as somewhat amusing – Pat Perez started a campaign to find Danny a girl, and Rickie Fowler has started a prank war with Danny (see here and here).

I’m not quite sure how to feel about all this. I’m torn between loyalties to country vs neighbor. And that, friends, is the problem with The Presidents Cup.

Guys and Dads

An enduring image of Jack Nicklaus’s improbable Masters victory in 1986 was his embrace of his son, Jack II, on the final hole of the tournament. Jack II had served as his caddy for the tournament and watched as the Golden Bear fired a 30 on the back nine to surpass Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros to capture his 6th green jacket. As they walked arm-in-arm to the scorer’s hut, all he could muster was, “That was awesome, Dad.” While I couldn’t hear him say that at the time, the visuals packed an emotional wallop, and I definitely felt a bit misty as I watched this scene.

The father/son dynamic in the game of golf is a major part of its history and romance, going all the way back to Old and Young Tom Morris of St Andrews. During the 1860’s and 1870’s, the two of them captured the Open Championship four times each.

Besides his prowess on the course, Old Tom left his mark as a course designer, building links courses throughout Scotland, England and Ireland. And while the Old Course in St Andrews claims no original designer, it was he who was instrumental in crafting the course into its current look by building new greens on the 1st and 18th holes and creating the huge double greens that are its distinguishing feature. The location of his home and shop remains on the street (named after him) that parallels the 18th fairway.

Young Tom (“Tommy”) was a golfing prodigy, winning the Open for the first time at the age of 17. His skills for the times were ungodly; he had the ability to hook or face the ball on demand, as well as to make it spin and stop on the green using a “rut-iron” (carriage tracks being a common hazard at the time), skills that were unheard of in his day. He was also a deadly putter.

Tommy and his father made for a formidable team; they played high stakes challenge matches against the best golfers in Scotland. Their biggest rivals were the Park brothers, Willie and Mungo, who hailed from the East Lothian town of Musselburgh and were both eventual Open champions in their own right.

It was after one such match against the Parks in North Berwick that Tommy received a telegram stating that his pregnant wife had taken ill during delivery; he and Old Tom caught the earliest ferry that they could to make their way back across the Firth of Forth to return to St Andrews. By the time they reached their destination, both wife and infant has passed away.

Four months later, Tommy would join them, the victim of a pulmonary aneurism. He was 24 years old.

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Milt and Brian Robin will likely never be confused with Old and Young Tom Morris, but their bond resulting from their love of golf remains strong, even in the aftermath of Milt’s passing. Brian, a sports marketing executive base in Los Angeles, talks a lot about his father, Milt, who, it is safe to say, could best be described as “colorful.” For example, Brian routinely refers to his dad as “The Stud Puppet,” a sobriquet foisted upon him by one of Brian’s friends who marveled at Milt’s prowess with the ladies.

On weekend mornings, Milt would pack up the then-young Brian, bring him to the course and have him ride in his cart as he played rounds with his friends. Brian’s recollection of those days was, “I was curled up in a ball on the seat, complaining about how cold it was” (NOTE: As this was taking place in Southern California, “cold” is a relative term).

When Brian was about five years old, his mother passed away from complications caused by a brain tumor. Soon afterwards, Milt met the widowed wife of an old friend and remarried – only to learn shortly after their wedding that she had colon cancer. She, too, died by the time Brian was eight.

At that point, Milt put down his clubs and stayed away from the game, until one day when Brian, now in college, called and asked him if he wanted to play. Brian had been bit by the golf bug.

This begat a long-running series of rounds involving father and son, largely played out on an executive course called Colton Golf Club, with the occasional foray to Palm Springs and other SoCal golf destinations. Brian marveled at Milt’s putting (“I could beat him to the green, but he would always catch up to me with that damned putter”), while Milt would offer encouragement and gentle admonishment when Brian’s game went south:

Milt: Do you play this game for a living?

Brian: No.

Milt: Then why are you getting angry?

Milt died two years ago at the age of 99. He was 91 when he played his last round with Brian, but would ride in the cart with him after he had stopped playing, continuing to consult with Brian over club selection and how to manage the course.

One day, the topic of Pebble Beach came up. It turns out that Milt had played there before Brian was born.

“You know, Brian, I birdied a par 3 there. A short one.”

“Hmmm – the 7th hole, Dad?”

“Yeah, I think so. The 7th.”

Brian turned 50 this year, and gifted himself a round at Pebble Beach. In his bag that day was a Tommy Armour 845 lob wedge, a club that had belonged to Milt (“I was visiting him and found it in his bag. I was playing a media day at Riviera the next day and knew I’d need this for that course, with all the bunkers. I asked him if I could borrow it and he said ‘Take it.’ I had it in my bag ever since”).

Brian, his caddy and the other players with whom he was paired arrived at the 7th. He pulled the Stud Puppet’s lob wedge out of his bag, teed it up, and knocked his shot about 12 feet away from his hole.

He was the only person out of his foursome to hit the green; he waited anxiously as the others hit their chips and/or pitches until it was his turn to putt. And . . .

“You know,” he told me, “that putt never left the line, Gary. Never left the line. And I almost lost it right there. I could just see The Stud Puppet somewhere in a bar, holding court and telling his friends about how he and I both birdied the same hole at Pebble Beach. That was his birthday present to me.”

One that will last for a lot of birthdays, no doubt.