Tag Archives: Presidents Cup

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.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

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?

 

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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.

A Belated Apology

This week’s PGA Tour event is being played at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club on the shores of Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia. It a gorgeous venue that has on three separate occasions  in the past hosted The Presidents Cup, a biennial competition similar to the Ryder Cup with the exception being that the US manages to win it most of the time.  A group of us attended in the year 2000, during which time I managed to heckle a professional golfer.

After walking the course in the morning and watching the matches tee off on #1 (these were 2 on 2 best ball matches, or “fourball”), we stationed ourselves in back of the 14th green, where we could view the matches on a Jumbotron while having close proximity to the beer tent. We also had a great view of President Clinton’s Marine One helicopter fleet landing nearby, which elicited a decidedly mixed reaction from the spectators.

So we all waited patiently for the first match to come through, which featured Greg Norman and Michael Campbell from the International Team vs. the USA’s Paul Azinger and Hal Sutton. Only it did not get that far; Zinger and Sutton thoroughly defanged the Shark and Campbell, 6 & 5, so the match didn’t make the 14th .  I have to admit to taking particular delight in this waxing, as I always found Norman to be a colossal waste of talent (looking at his record alone, he’s a Hall of Fame talent – and possibly the greatest driver of the ball who ever played the game – but his propensity for blowing tournaments and the lame denials that followed totally soured me on him).

Azinger and Sutton made their way to our area; they sat just inside the spectator ropes with their wives as we roundly cheered them. Meanwhile, the second match did reach 14; Mike Weir/Steve Elkington vs Phil Mickelson/Tom Lehman. The players strode down the fairway; accompanying Weir and Elkington was none other than Greg Norman himself. I don’t know if he went out there to inspire his teammates or to get more airtime, but it struck me as unlikely that anyone would be fired up by someone who just get blitzed in his match.

Meanwhile, the crew in back of 18 grew more rowdy as more beer was being consumed. Sutton had decided to sit behind his wife (the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Sutton #4) and wrapped his legs around her, which drew a lot of hoots from the gallery (soon-to-ex Mrs. Sutton #4 was bewildered by the reaction; I could hear her say to her husband, “Why are they yelling ‘Way to go, Sutton?’”). While this was going on, the players in match #2 hit their approach shots and approached the 14th green.

Norman strutted around to the back of the green, and I guess the alcohol and jocularity of the atmosphere got to me. As he walked by (he was maybe 15 yards away from us), I called out sotto voce, “Geez, Shark, you must be awfully tired after playing 13 holes today!” This drew a pretty good laugh from the crowd; Norman whirled his head just as I ducked.

Somehow I didn’t get thrown out, and my buddies waited to high-five me after Norman moved on. And I tell the story today – I do think it was a pretty inspired line, and I defend it somewhat by saying that Norman wasn’t actually playing at the time (the “Youdaman,”  “Gettindahole,” and “Bababooey” yappers are a pox),

Golfers needle each other all the time, at least in informal rounds. A putt that is three feet short and two feet wide will elicit mock shouts of “Nice read!” and “How did that not go in?” from the other players in the group; of course, it’s generally acknowledged that the yeller will be equally accepting of a crack from another player when he messes up.

But I don’t know Greg Norman, and however I view his shortcomings, I suppose I should have kept my comment to myself or at least just whispered it to those around me. But I got swept up in the moment.

So Shark, if you’re reading this, mea cupla. mate. But you have to admit, it was a pretty good line.