When I first sat down to write this column, I spent about an hour trying to write it using the style of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Needless to say, I couldn’t pull it off.
Instead, here are some of the memorable moments I experienced in 2013, in no particular order:
• I covered my first NCAA Championship this year, and what a tournament it was, as Alabama won its first men’s national golf title. I remember witnessing Bobby Wyatt’s holed flop shot from behind the 14th green at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Woodstock, Ga. I even took a couple of pictures of the divot. But that wasn’t the only cool moment from that event. I also watched Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans sink a birdie putt on the first playoff hole to win his match against UNLV’s Kevin Penner and seal the quarterfinal victory for the Jackets. After the putt dropped, the other members of the Georgia Tech team stormed the green to congratulate Schniederjans.
• My first trip of the year was to cover the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. Like NCAAs, it was my first time covering this event. Golfweek sent a team of reporters, videographers and editors, and it was nice getting to spend time with everyone on the road. Sage Valley, located in Graniteville, S.C., about 15 minutes from Augusta, Ga., is an incredible course. The houses where the players stayed were equally impressive, and overall, this tournament really earned its nickname as the “Masters of Junior Golf.” Aside from the tournament, which was won by Carson Young, a very humble champion, we also got to listen to Jack Nicklaus speak at a pre-tournament banquet. At our table that night: Matthew Fitzpatrick, who would go on to be low amateur at the Open Championship and win the U.S. Amateur. We stayed in Augusta, a cool city for any golfer to visit, and also a spot with several options for karaoke. It’s safe to say I entertained my co-workers with my singing – and dancing – during that week. Oh, and very thankful for the opportunity given to us by Tom Wyatt to play Sage Valley the day after the tournament. Amazing course, even if it did kick my posterior.
• Another amazing course I visited this year was Martis Camp in Truckee, Calif., site of the U.S. Junior Amateur. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, Martis Camp was simply stunning with its elevation changes and clubhouse, which towers above the 18th green atop a large rock formation. Scottie Scheffler won the tournament in what was his coming-out party. I remember talking with him earlier in the year about how he had finished second so many times in big tournaments, yet never could get that victory. He finally got his championship at Martis Camp, and even more memorable was the emotion he showed afterward when talking about his friend James Ragan, who was battling cancer. Scheffler would go on to make a deep match-play run at the U.S. Amateur and win the AJGA Rolex Player of the Year honor. I expect big things on the amateur stage in 2014 from Scheffler.
• It was also a big year for another junior golfer: Brad Dalke. Dalke won two AJGA invitationals in 2013, and competed in several other big tournaments including the U.S. Junior, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying. Even cooler was that Dalke was able to share his experiences throughout the year by writing a blog for Golfweek.com. I want to give a big thanks to Brad for being a guest blogger, and I think I speak for everyone when saying he’s becoming a pretty good writer, too. Hopefully, we’ll get to read more from him in 2014.
• One more memory on the junior-golf side for 2013, and it deals with attitude. Golf can be a serious game, but you wouldn’t know it by watching Doug Ghim. The future Texas player competes with passion and joy, and you’ll never see him without a smile on his face. His dad, Jeff, is the same way, and is always in Doug’s gallery cheering his son. A great example came at the Junior Players when Ghim was facing a par putt at the final hole to wrap up a bogey-free round. He had played his way out of the tournament the day before, but after Ghim sank the final par putt, his dad let out a big cheer and congratulated his son as if Ghim had just won. Ghim didn’t win any big tournaments in 2013, but if I had to give out a sportsmanship award for 2013, he’d win it.
• I got to cover two Golfweek Collegiate Series events in 2013: the Golfweek Program Challenge and Golfweek Conference Challenge. The courses that host these events – Caledonia and True Blue for the Program Challenge and Spirit Hollow for the Conference Challenge – are pretty cool places. Also neat is the place where everyone stays during the Conference Challenge in Burlington, Iowa. The hotel has a casino and a fun center complete with go-karts, arcade games and more, and the food during the week is pretty good. I enjoyed seeing all the players and coaches have a little fun after each day at the course. Oh, and it was fun beating Lance Ringler at Pop-A-Shot, too.
• I didn’t just cover junior and college golf, but I also went to a handful of pro events, as well. My first PGA Tour event of 2013 was the Tampa Bay Championship, won by Kevin Streelman. That was also the first time I got to talk with Jason Dufner. Of course, this was before #dufnering and his PGA Championship victory. My next stop was the next week at Bay Hill, where I witnessed a Tiger Woods victory – the first of two that I would see – this year. The other came at the Players Championship, always a fun event because of the location, the course and the level of competition. The day after Bay Hill, I followed Woods for 18 holes at the Tavistock Cup. The access at this event is unreal. There is nothing like being that close to the action, especially when it’s Woods. Sure, it has been a while since he has won a major championship, but his 2013 season – five Tour victories – was very impressive. My last Tour event of the year was the AT&T National in Bethesda, Md. I’m a big fan of history, so getting to spend a week in the nation’s capital was pretty incredible. I also took in two baseball games, one in D.C., the other in Baltimore. Bill Haas may have won the golf tournament, but this was the event where many first acquainted themselves with Jordan Spieth. The youngster contended for much of the week. He eventually would go on to win a PGA Tour event and earn a spot on the Presidents Cup team later in 2013. It will be fun to see what’s in store for Spieth in 2014.
• I’m a big fan of inside jokes. Here are a couple from 2013 that I’ll share. Around the Golfweek office, I am known as the Elf on the Shelf because of my resemblance to Santa’s helper. Also, ask anyone at Golfweek, including Adam Schupak, who my sleeper pick is to win a PGA Tour event in 2014, and they’ll tell you: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, affectionately known as The Barn Rat.
• I was able to play close to 100 rounds in 2013 . . . and nearly every shot was memorable because I have so much fun playing the game.