VERONA, N.Y. – A dozen PGA and LPGA touring pros showed up this week at Turning Stone Resort to express their support for a good cause. And when Wednesday’s play was over, Tiger Woods, speaking on behalf of his male and female colleagues, stepped forward to present the Notah Begay III Foundation with a check for $500,000. It was a thoughtful gesture that capped off a two-day gathering of Native Americans from throughout the country seeking to promote health and wellness and end Type-2 diabetes in their respective indigenous communities.
The timing was good, what with a Friday start to the Deutsche Bank Championship allowing the likes of Woods, Charlie Wi, K.J. Choi and Rickie Fowler to play in the Wednesday event along with Begay, Danny Lee, Gary Woodland and Y.E. Yang. With the LPGA on one of its off-weeks, Cristie Kerr, Se Ri Pak, Lexi Thompson and Yani Tseng also could make it. The competition, pitched as an East-West showdown, pitted the six Americans against the six Asians. They went out in three four-person groups, each one comprising a two-person better ball, with the U.S. team ultimately prevailing. But this was more about the cause than the competition, and it made for a fan-friendly exhibition over the Tom Fazio-designed Atunyote Course at Turning Stone Resort.
It also gave me a low-pressure chance to come out of caddie “retirement” to loop again, this time for Tseng, the world’s No. 1 female player. It had taken a few emails back and forth with tournament organizers and the resort to arrange, but as I had figured only about half of the players brought their regular caddies with them, so I was hoping for a chance. We were paired with Wi, Thompson and Fowler, and while Fowler had a local caddie and did his own yardages with a range finder, Wi and Thompson were both fine with their regular caddies helping me out on distances. I’m not sure if they were amused or alarmed at my seemingly out-of-date reliance on a yardage map and pin sheet. I certainly didn’t begrudge Tseng for wanting to be sure.
Tseng, it must be said, has been struggling of late after winning three events earlier in the year. But if she’s missed three cuts lately, it certainly wasn’t evident in how she hit the ball Wednesday, with drives averaging her seasonal norm of 270 and hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation. But of all the shots she played, there was one stunner that reminded me again of how strong and imaginative these players can be – and it was the one shot she hit without even bothering to get yardage. She had badly pulled her drive on the par-4 seventh hole, a 405-yard dogleg right. Her tee shot bounded down to the left into the darkest recess of some woods. Using my trusty calculus, I had figured she had 182 to the flag – 149 to the front plus 33 for the pin.
There are times and places like this when volunteering yardage without being asked is the wrong thing to do because it only reinforces the trouble your player is in. You figure she’s trying somehow to get the ball out. Then, without asking, she pulled out a 4-iron and said, “Just line me up and make sure my head is lined up to that opening” – and she pointed to a small gap between two trees that didn’t look wide enough to walk through, much less aim at.
Finally, I figured, she’s relying upon me. And so as she stood over the ball, I checked her alignment, in the process almost stumbling into the trees that stood behind us. I approved her stance, moved away, but still could not see the point of this little exercise since there were more trees ahead of her intended escape route. But she took this crisp swing and clipped the ball with a powerful slap that seemed to echo off the tree trunks around us. All I could see was the flight path of the ball as it escaped from the woods, then nothing – until whoops and hollers up at the green as the ball landed just short of the flagstick and rolled out to 12 feet away. After she sank the birdie putt and handed me her putter, I said, “That must be one of the best birdies you’ve ever made.”
“Yes. Well, one of them,” she said.
It was quite an exhibition.