SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – With most tournaments, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Player withdraws? No worries. Go to the putting green and grab an alternate.
But the Grand Slam of Golf isn’t like most tournaments.
Fact is, it’s the most unique of all, which is why when David Charles got a call from Ernie Els’ agent last Thursday afternoon, he was off on “a whirlwind for 48 hours.”
Enveloped by Monday’s warmth and peering out at sunlight dancing on the majestic ocean, Charles looked like a guy who didn’t have a worry in the world. Bermuda has that sort of effect on a lot of visitors.
Ah, but how the situation had been so different only two days earlier, thanks to news about Els. One of four qualifiers into the Grand Slam of Golf, Els was looking forward to the chance to win this tournament for the third time. Then he turned an ankle playing tennis back home in Florida and the phone call to Charles, the PGA of America’s senior director of championships, set in motion a series of phone calls.
Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley were set and good to go, but who would be the fourth player? The first call from Els’ agent was one of precaution: The Open Champion was not sure if he’d be fit to play, but he would make his mind up within a day or two. But Charles had the green light to begin the replacement process, and he went down the points list to contact the alternates in order. First call, Graeme McDowell, but the 2010 U.S. Open champion already was en route to China for the BMW Masters. Tiger Woods was next and he, too, was in Asia.
The third alternate was Padraig Harrington, who was home in Ireland, preparing to head to the BMW Masters.
“I was interested,” Harrington said. “I was going to play (a tournament in China) anyway, and it’s easy to get (to Bermuda).”
Still, Harrington needed official confirmation that Els was out, something Charles couldn’t yet provide, so he remained in preparation mode and kept going with the calls. The next alternate, Louis Oosthuizen, was unavailable; he, too, was headed to China, but Charles got word that Jim Furyk, twice a winner in the Grand Slam of Golf, would fill in, if needed.
“No need for further calls,” Charles said. Instead, while he waited for Els’ next call, Charles kept monitoring the necessary moves that had to be made – signs, posters and various advertising materials that had to replace Els’ face with . . . well, who?
“Our graphics people actually made up two sets of some stuff, one with Harrington, one with Furyk,” Charles said. When Charles received official confirmation at 11 p.m. Friday that Els was out, he emailed Harrington’s agent with IMG, Adrian Mitchell.
“By 6 a.m. Saturday, I had an email. Harrington was in,” Charles said.
The Irishman said there were a number of reasons why he took the spot in the Grand Slam of Golf – the trip was much easier than going to China, his previous two trips to this tournament had left an indelible impression of Bermuda and there was a sense of “unfinished business.” Two appearances in this tournament, two losses in a playoff – 2007 to Angel Cabrera, 2008 to Furyk.
“I can’t remember the playoff loss to Jim Furyk,” Harrington said, “but I really remember the one I lost to Cabrera. He eagled the last hole to get into the playoff. I thought I had it won. I remember that one, all right. Hopefully this third time will be a charm.”
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TRUE TO HIS WORD: Just days after officially being passed over for a Ryder Cup spot, Harrington was asked if he would watch the competition.
He said he would be glued to his couch at home, the remote control and some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream nearby. OK, so was he true to his word?
Yes to the golf and yes to the ice cream (phish food being his favorite).
“I watched every minute of it. Every minute,” Harrington said. “I was so drawn into it.”
Harrington proved rather prophetic, for he had said at the Deutsche Bank Championship that Ian Poulter was the heart and inspirational leader for the European Ryder Cup team, and everything that transpired in Chicago proved the Irishman correct. Poulter was 4-0, and his unforgettable effort late Saturday afternoon – five consecutive birdies to lift him and Rory McIlroy to a stunning four-ball win – will go down in the books as one of the greatest Ryder Cup efforts in history.
“He loves it,” Harrington said of Poulter. “He’s hard to beat because people want to beat him. It’s very hard to beat someone when you desperately want to beat them. In some way, he antagonizes the opposition. That makes them make illogical decisions when they play him, and he does great stuff himself. He’s a brilliant match (play) player.”
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KEEPING BUSY: Where do these players go from Bermuda? The schedules of these four competitors in this 30th Grand Slam of Golf show the options are plentiful in the closing months.
Harrington has penciled in the Barclays Singapore Open (Nov. 8-11), the UBS Hong Kong Open (Nov. 15-18) and the DP World Tour Championship (Nov. 22-25), which closes out the European PGA Tour season.
“Then I have a good, sizable chunk of time off,” he said.
Harrington isn’t sure what his early schedule will look like in 2013, except to say that he’s committed to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (Feb. 7-10), where he will try to defend his pro-am victory alongside J.P. McManus. Harrington knows he will play at least once before Pebble, but he’s not sure where.
Bradley said his plans for the rest of the year revolve around dedication to a physical-fitness routine. He’ll play next week at the HSBC Champions in China, then a series of “silly season” tournaments in the U.S. – Woods’ World Challenge, the Shark Shootout (he and Brendan Steele will defend), and the skills competition, but mostly “I’m going to really try to work the hardest I’ve ever worked this offseason,” he said.
“I’ve already been working a lot on my physical-fitness side of things that I have never worked on as hard as I am right now.”
Watson also will play next week in China at the HSBC Champions, Woods’ tournament Nov. 29-Dec. 2, then he’ll travel to Bangkok for the Thailand Golf Championship (Dec. 6-9), closing out his 2012 season.
The Masters champion will have time, however, to squeeze in another “Golf Boys” video with Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane.
“We’re shooting the golf video that nobody knows about, so don’t tell anybody,” Watson said to a room full of reporters in Bermuda.
Simpson, who went from the Ryder Cup in Chicago to a tournament in Turkey to this championship in Bermuda, is looking forward to some down time. He’ll play in Woods’ tournament “and that’s it for the year.”
Bradley, Watson and Simpson confirmed that they’ll be ready to go Jan. 4-7 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the island of Maui.
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GREEN JACKET BRINGS PLENTY MORE GREEN: With a Masters victory and a second consecutive berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Watson surely can count 2012 as a success. It came at the right time, too. He likened himself to a baseball player “in a contract year,” because a lot of his corporate deals were at the end.
Oh, yeah, the Masters “helped me out a lot,” Watson conceded.
He wouldn’t reveal what was going to be new in the corporate stable come 2013, but his agent from Pro-Sport Management, Amanda Ausink, said they’ll debut at Kapalua.
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THE HOST WITH THE MOST: Port Royal Golf Course is playing host to the Grand Slam of Golf for the fourth year in a row, and the praise continues to pile up for the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design.
“I’ve never played a course with views like this,” Simpson said.
Indeed, with majestic vistas of the Atlantic, Port Royal is a mesmerizing locale. It’s also a worthy test, a golf course “with substantial holes,” Harrington said.
Specifically, the par-3 16th is a daunting challenge, what with the green sitting on the edge of a cliff. It can play as long as 235 yards and as Harrington said with a smile, “It has got to be one of the toughest golf holes we’ll ever play. I would say if you had that hole in a regular event, there would be a slight amount of moaning.”
Bradley won last year’s Grand Slam here and said Monday that “the golf course is even better than I remember it.”
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DESTINY, PERHAPS: Simpson and his wife, Dowd, and their two children have made the trip, a Bermuda debut for all of them.
Simpson said he knew his parents spent their honeymoon here, but he found out a few years ago that his wife’s parents did the same thing.
“I (guess) I was bound for this place,” Simpson said.
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QUICK FIX: Watson was paired in Monday’s pro-am with Robin Meade of HLN. Give the lady credit: she was putting her game on display in front of fans, just weeks after starting golf lessons with Suzy Whaley. Meade acquitted herself well, but Watson wanted a little bit of credit.
“My first lesson, under the gun with a camera and fans watching,” Watson said of the quick tip he provided Meade at the par-3 eighth.
And what happened?
Meade hit a 5-hybrid to about 2 feet.
“I think I did pretty good,” Watson said. “If they were all like that, I would make tons of money.”