Two lengthy flights provide much time for thinking when you return from Hawaii. Mostly, you wonder why in the heck you’re leaving the place, but beyond that, this year left plenty of bits and pieces worth poking over.
• You can’t win a golf tournament in the third round, but you sure can let it slip away. That’s why Ryan Palmer won’t soon forget his play out of a greenside bunker at Waialae Country Club’s terrific 16th hole.
At 10 under, Palmer was one stroke behind playing competitor Robert Allenby, who was safely on the putting surface. His ball having come to rest at the rear lip of the bunker, Palmer had two problems. One, he couldn’t get a wedge beneath the ball. Two, he had hardly any green to work with.
What followed was a fascinating minute of back-and-forth between Palmer and his caddie, James Edmondson.
They decided they couldn’t play any sort of explosion shot (the lip precluded that and so did the firm sand), so it was going to be a punch-out into the face of the bunker with hopes that it would skip out.
“At the worst,” Palmer said, “I figured it would stay in the bunker, and then I’d have a shot.”
He took a hybrid . . . then changed to an 8-iron . . . then told Edmondson to give him the lob wedge. Nope, he asked for the 8-iron again. “Finally,” Edmondson said, “he handed it to me and just grabbed the 7-iron.”
Back in the Dallas area, Randy Smith loved what he saw on TV.
“James and Ryan did some marvelous thinking right there,” Palmer’s swing coach said.
Smith knows a very real possibility was dangling in the air. Allenby had a good bid to go to 12 under; Palmer was in danger of making bogey, even worse.
Instead, golf happened. Palmer hit a deft shot that caught the sand, hopped into the rough, but was hot enough to skip onto the green, to roughly 10 feet. He curled it in, after Allenby missed. Two holes later, Palmer made birdie so instead of being down two or possibly three, he was tied through 54 holes.
“He had a chance to make double-bogey and he made par,” Smith said. “I think that shot did more for his psyche than probably anything else he did.”
• New face, Part I. Troy Merritt.
You don’t go wire-to-wire at the final stage of Q-School without serious game and the kid from Boise State has plenty in the tank. The good news is, he also had plenty in the gas tank, because he needed it on Oahu.
It was several years ago when Merritt enjoyed a college tournament at Turtle Bay on the North Shore of Oahu. In fact, he told folks that the next time he came to Hawaii, “I’ll be coming over for the Sony Open.”
It’s early, but we have a clubhouse leader for clairvoyance, because Merritt indeed was in the Sony Open field as promised. Seems that he wasn’t about to let go of Turtle Bay, however.
While many of the players in the Sony chose either the Kahala Hotel attached to Waialae CC or one minutes away on Waikiki Beach, Merritt and his fiance elected to stay at the other end of the island, even though the ride from Turtle Beach took him 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Rookie mistake? Easy to think that, but then again, Merritt did finish T-20 and earn $61,820 in his card-carrying debut so maybe there’s something to this Turtle Bay thing.
• New face, Part II. Martin Flores.
His new year began with new clubs. Not that he intended it that way.
“You name it, they got it,” he said of the Dec. 30 incident back home in the Dallas area. Flores’ car was stolen and gone were the golf clubs, golf shoes, and clothes he had ready for a trip to Hawaii and his debut on the PGA Tour.
One of his first phone calls went to the folks at Titleist and even though their facility in California had been shut down for the holidays, accommodations were made. New clubs were shipped to him within a few days.
“The fact that they did it as soon as possible was unbelievable,” Flores said.
Unable to play in early January because of bitter Dallas cold, Flores – a fourth-place finisher at Q-School last fall – didn’t touch the clubs until Tuesday before the Sony. Two days later he opened with a 66 and went on to finish T-59.
• New face, Part III. Aaron Goldberg.
No, he’s not a member of the Tour, so perhaps you won’t see him again in 2010. But he did put together quite a trip in his short time to Hawaii.
It began with a pre-qualifier in the rain, and no, he didn’t have a rainsuit or umbrella.
It continued with a 63 for medalist honors in the Monday qualifier, but instead of a pat on the back, Goldberg got a grizzled veteran’s pettiness. The guy asked that the kid’s clubs be checked to see if they conformed. Seeing as how he’d just got them from Titleist less than a week earlier, he was sure they would (and they did), but he conceded it was still an anxious few minutes.
What came next was a score of 3 under through 33 holes. The kid wasn’t thinking about the cut; he envisioned pushing closer to the lead.
Which is when golf entered the picture.
Goldberg’s drive was left, but being into the sun, he didn’t see what the marshals saw. “They told me it hit a cart path, bounced twice, and went into someone’s pool,” Goldberg said. Along with a rain suit and umbrella, he didn’t pack a bathing suit, either, so it was back to the tee and an eventual double-bogey. Then he made double at the par-3 17th and suddenly making the cut was an issue.
“Going up 18, I wasn’t so mad as I was saying to myself, ‘What just happened?’ ” Goldberg said.
Goldberg managed to slip home a 4-foot putt at 18 to save par and make the cut on the number (1 over), but given the turmoil he had caused himself, he hardly basked in the moment.
Others, however, did because had Goldberg made birdie, he would have knocked 10 players out of weekend play. The par let them advance into the third round.