Hate to be Rude: A career of off-course omens

Lee Westwood during the WGC Accenture Match Play semifinals.

Lee Westwood during the WGC Accenture Match Play semifinals.

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

Not all interesting developments in golf happen on green grass. Sometimes you bump into players away from the bermuda and bent and come away with a human-interest kernel, meaningful, ominous or otherwise.

Such a happening Saturday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Marana, Ariz., triggered memories of various off-course snapshots in a long career.

Your correspondent was dining at the Dove Mountain Grill on Saturday night, only hours before the early-Sunday morning semifinal matches featuring Hunter Mahan against Mark Wilson and Rory McIlroy against Lee Westwood. One couldn’t help but notice Wilson eating in a nearby booth.

Remarkably, just minutes after Wilson got up to leave, Westwood and a couple of his buddies sat down at the same booth.

Lucky or unlucky booth?

My Twitter-happy dinner companion whipped out his telephone and tweeted something to the effect that it seemed clear to him that Wilson and Westwood would meet in the final.

On the way out, I mentioned to Westwood that Wilson was just sitting there. He already knew. I suggested maybe it was the spot of fortune, that perhaps it meant he and Wilson would meet Sunday. Westwood later thanked me in the parking lot from about 100 yards away.

Thanks for nothing, as it happened. History proved otherwise. W&W did meet Sunday, but in the consolation match after losing in the semifinals. This was yet another lesson that omens don’t always pan out. Clearly Westwood and Wilson would’ve been better off eating at a table or at the bar or at some other restaurant – maybe wherever Mahan chowed down.

Or, better yet, playing better dew-sweeping golf.

• • •

Two days after Kyle Stanley blew a 3-shot lead on the final hole of the Farmers Insurance Open, I ran into him and his agent in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel restaurant as I was about to eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. We talked for about five minutes, about an hour before a Waste Management Phoenix Open news conference he used to inform everyone that he was over the Category 5 blowup.

As soon as I left the breakfast room and went outside, the first person I ran into was Brandt Snedeker, who had beaten Stanley in the Farmers playoff.

Bizarre coincidence? Probably. I half expected to turn the corner and run into Paul Lawrie and Jean Van de Velde.

At the time, everyone was feeling sorry for Stanley. Not sure anyone foresaw that he would win five days later. Omens often are disguised in gray clouds.

• • •

At the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, I was walking through a parking lot near the clubhouse when I encountered an elderly blond-haired man who was smiling and walking by himself.

It was Jack Nicklaus, and he seemed happier than a kid with a new bicycle on Dec. 25.

Nicklaus stopped, walked toward me, reached into his pocket and said, “Look at this.” He held up a hundred-dollar bill and said, “Just clipped (Phil) Mickelson for it (in a practice round).”

I stood there thinking, “This man has won 18 majors and he’s just giddy about beating Mickelson.” You’d have thought he had just won No. 19.

Joy clearly comes in different packages.

• • •

In 1981 at Doral, I found myself in one of the resort’s restaurants eating breakfast at a table that included Tom Weiskopf, David Graham and a young blond-haired golfer I couldn’t identify.

When Weiskopf and the blond guy left, I asked Graham about the man I didn’t recognize.

“He’s an up-and-coming player from Australia,” Graham said. “His name is Greg Norman. I think you’ll be hearing a lot about him.”

You think?

About a month later, Norman finished fourth in his first Masters and was well on his way to becoming a household nickname.

• • •

The year before, I was watching a band perform in a ballroom at Doral one night when I noticed a dashing figure sitting in the back of the room. No one was with him; no one was bothering him. Even though he represented the resort at the time, Seve Ballesteros seemed so alone, so invisible.

About a month later, he wasn’t. He won the Masters, one of his five major victories.

• • •

You come up against omens and would-be omens every year at the British Open. In 1997, I flew to Scotland on the same plane as Justin Leonard. Omen, I thought. So I bet on him and cashed a nice ticket (for a sportswriter, anyway) when he won at Troon.

The next time the Open was at Troon, in 2004, I flew over on the same plane as Todd Hamilton. The night before the tournament began, I ran into Hamilton again on the main street in downtown Troon.

Double omen.

But my imagination couldn’t envision Hamilton winning. Maybe my hard-earned cash wasn’t up for it, either.

Next thing anyone knew, Hamilton was beating Ernie Els in a playoff and I was vowing never again not to act on an omen.

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