JERSEY CITY, N.J. – There were the 4 inches at the 18th hole.
At least, that is how much left of the hole Paul Goydos was told to roll his putt by a greenside fan who had slipped into happy hour mode – or perhaps even happy three-hour mode.
“Hey, Paul, no one has made that putt all day. It’s 4 inches left,” the fan yelled.
While playing competitor Ernie Els laughed, Goydos turned and looked up toward the gallery. He motioned with the putter, as if to say, “Here, you do it,” but in the end the PGA Tour’s most self-depracating member didn’t play enough break and finished with his third bogey in four holes.
“In one ear, out the other,” Goydos said, when asked how you focus on the task at hand and even pull back the putter after such advice. Then he laughed and pointed to another distance that had more to do with his second-round play in The Barclays.
“Twenty yards,” Goydos said, alluding to how close he was to Els on a few drives. “I mean, I could see him at least.”
Goydos was in position to smile, but he didn’t offer one. Not because he wasn’t happy with an even-par 71 at a demanding Liberty National that puts him in a tie for second, just two shots off Webb Simpson’s lead. On the contrary, he was thrilled for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was this gem: “You’ve got greens that look like my shirts after I’ve packed them.”
No, the reason Goydos didn’t smile, chuckle, or even giggle when he said how close he came to driving it out there with Els was simple. It’s been this way his whole golf life and it’s bothered him not at all.
“I’ve been dealing with it forever,” Goydos said.
But when it was suggested that Goydos at one time must have been considered a long hitter – say when he was 13 or 14 – so he probably had to get used to the other side of the picture, he held up the stop sign.
“I have never had that problem,” he said, the emphasis on “never.” This time, Goydos did flash a wry grin. “It is what it is. Know thy self. Cliches, I know, but they’re called cliches for a reason.”
One of those cliches states that everyone is playing the same golf course, but of course, that’s not always true. There were times when Goydos and Els were at different ends of the spectrum – one may trying to manage Liberty National, the other trying to overpower it.
The 288-yard 16th hole, for instance. Playing downwind, Els got aggressive and “I hit my driver straight for a change.” The 8-foot eagle putt enabled Els to share the low round of the day, 68, and hurdle 44 players to get into a tie for ninth at 2 under.
As for Goydos, he had to try and steer a 3-wood into a narrow fairway at the 16th, lost it right, punched it out of a wet area, then had to get it up-and-down from 20 feet off the green to save par.
It was the time in the final four holes that Goydos didn’t lose a stroke, as he went from 9 under and in the lead on the 15th tee to two back over the final hour of a gray, cool, wet, and windy day here in the shadows of Manhattan.
Through 36 holes of this FedEx Cup playoff opener, the stats reflect a true assessment of Goydos’ game: He ranks 68th in the 100-player field with a 262.2 driving distance and while he can live with that, he’s not naive enough to think it doesn’t mean something.
“Length,” he said, “is just hard.”
And as sure as they have toxic waste well beneath their feet as they negotiate this Liberty National real estate, the players have outrageous length to deal with.
“It was the longest course I’ve played this year, the way it was playing,” said Sergio Garcia, and he’s a guy who averages 299.2 yards driving to rank 21st on the PGA Tour. As for the guy who sits 189th at 276.3 per drive? Well, Goydos combats with a menality that has enabled him to squeeze a 16th PGA Tour year out of what can safely be called marginal skills, relatively speaking.
“It’s funny how the putter is the great equalizer in this game,” Goydos said.
The day had started with pelting ran, whipping wind, and a ferociously long golf course that presented a quirky test. Obviously, the players in the early wave were not going to enjoy it – heck, “it didn’t look like the guy parking the cars was having a whole lot of fun, either,” Goydos said.
Five holes into his afternoon round, the weather had settled somewhat. Intermittent spits of rain, but less wind and warmer temperatures. The ferociously long golf course and quirky greens? Still there, which meant Goydos would employ his standard approach.
“I’m a finder,” he said.
In other words he would figure it out as he went along and not be bothered at all by the barrage of criticism that has been directed by colleagues toward a Liberty National that they find too long and too tough.
“I think that if we didn’t have anything to complain about,” Goydos said, “we wouldn’t be able to talk.”
Short and direct. Like always.