With my duties as a senior writer for Golfweek and a contributor on Golf Channel, notably the “On the Range” show, I attended 30-plus tournaments in 2013.
One thing I’ve learned over time is that each event is different and offers its plusses and minuses. As I write this yearend wrapup, I am planning to enter my 19th year covering golf.
The 2013 PGA Tour season started like most: in Hawaii. Many think that making the trip to Hawaii in January is a great perk of the job – and it was for the first two or three times – but now it’s a long trip, and in 2013, unfortunately, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was one of the worst weather-affected events of the season.
The last time I remember attending a tournament at which one of the rounds was called off was in the 1988 Open Championship at Royal Lytham. That year, Seve Ballesteros won the Claret Jug with a final-round 65 on Monday to defeat Nick Price by two strokes.
In 2013, Dustin Johnson won the Hyundai TOC on Tuesday. What a mess.
But conditions improved the next week in Hawaii as Russell Henley won the Sony Open. The funniest thing that week was after his round; Henley came in to speak to the media. Now you have to understand that this was his first real time in front of all of us and when I say us its generally three or four national media and a couple reporters from the Honolulu and Maui newspapers.
After his press conference I was sitting with Doug Ferguson of the AP as Henley was leaving and he turned back to the two of us and asked if that was ok and started soliciting pointers for the future.
With most of the remaining West Coast and Florida a blur, I will talk about one of the perks of covering golf.
Every Tuesday in the Palm Springs desert, a group of 20 to 40 play skins at the par-three course at Indio.
The uniqueness of this skins games is that it is played under lights, and the 20 or so participants play in one group, usually starting when the sun sets and finishing after 18 holes or when the city turns off the lights: precisely 10 p.m.
To say it a blast is an understatement. Luckily, I got to play twice this year: once while covering Humana and once during the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The majors are always special, and the 2013 season was no exception. With almost every major championship, the winner rarely is apparent even with only a handful of holes to play.
Two weeks before the Masters, at the Shell Houston Open, Charlie Epps, Angel Cabrera’s coach and biggest supporter, said to me that the Argentine was playing well and to watch out for him at the Masters.
That kind of optimism is prevalent on a PGA Tour practice range, so I always consider the source. Epps, a longtime acquaintance, is not prone to hyperbole, so I stuck it on the back burner until Augusta.
I talked to Cabrera before the Masters and after every round. By Sunday night, I obviously wasn’t the only one interested in the Argentine.
On Sunday afternoon, I was near Augusta National’s clubhouse and the iconic oak tree, talking with others when I saw Epps come in at the turn with Cabrera. I recall asking Epps what was up, and he said he was making a pit stop before going out to finish the back nine.
At the time, Cabrera was in the thick of it, and I wondered whether it would be a good story to follow Epps for the final nine, should Cabrera win. However, that would put me on the golf course and miss talking with a lot of the finishers.
A more practical problem: rain seemed to be coming, and I didn’t have time to get a rain jacket, hat or umbrella before Epps was off on the back nine.
I knew I wouldn’t find him if I went back to the media center, some 200 yards away, so I headed out with Epps.
The homeward nine proved to be uneventful until Cabrera made a charge on the Nos. 15-18. Epps became more and more animated and started recalling similarities in Cabrera’s 2009 charge at Augusta to win against Kenny Perry.
Rain had been falling since about the 13th hole, so I was getting soaked. With long lines for every bathroom, there was no refuge.
It would have been a great story if Cabrera had won, but Adam Scott’s ultimate victory proved historic for Australia and was well deserved.
Spending some of my Mondays and all of my Tuesdays and early Wednesday on the practice ranges for Golf Channel’s “On the Range” show provides unique insight.
On the Tuesday in New Orleans, I spent some time talking with Billy Horschel. He had been playing well and was close to breaking out. We talked about his game, his equipment and a few non-golf things.
I remember walking away thinking he had a good chance that week. Of course that week I was right, but a lot of the time if you play in any of the fantasy golf games, you also know that those hunches don’t pay off that often.
All I can actually say about the U.S. Open, looking back, is that I’m glad it’s over.
Merion is a great golf course, underrated by everyone, including the USGA, which spent a lot of time Tuesday and Wednesday of Open week apologizing for the wet conditions and hoping it wouldn’t be a repeat of Congressional in 2011.
One man who believed that the golf course would stand up, wet or dry, to the rigors of the Open was superintendent Matt Shaffer. I talked with him at length at his office on Wednesday morning, and he never backed down from his position that Merion was a great test – period.
Well, Shaffer was right and the naysayers were wrong.
Outside of the intolerable working conditions for the media that week, the memory that sticks with me was Phil Mickelson’s play.
If anyone had said at the end of that week that Mickelson would lose U.S. Open because he couldn’t hit three wedge shots – none more than 112 yards – no one likely would have believed it.
My trip to the U.K. was planned in advance for a month stay, covering the Scottish Open, Open Championship, Senior British and Women’s British Open, which was played at St. Andrews.
As part of that trip, I blogged about my month, which included playing 20 courses and pro-ams with Paul McGinley at the Scottish and Tony Jacklin on the day after the Open Championship at Muirfield.
It was one of the best months I ever had in golf. Everyone in the U.K. was great, and I didn’t want to leave.
I got to spend some time with Henrik Stenson at the Scottish Open and with his coach, Pete Cowan, and talked about him in the “On the Range” show that week.
I also spent time with Mickelson and was so sure that he would play well that I put a tenner on him at the Open Championship that was a great Monday afterwards at 20-1.
One memory from Sunday’s final round: I was standing about 20 yards from the left bunker on the 18th green as Mickelson approached in the fairway. Next to me was his longtime agent, Steve Loy, and he was as nervous as I’ve seen him in a while.
We talked a little, and then Mickelson hit his second shot, which was heading toward the left side of the green, dangerously close to a bunker.
The ball landed short, hopped right toward the green and ran behind the hole for a birdie look of 15 feet, which Lefty would drain. Loy looked at me with a big grin on his face, knowing Mickelson had gotten one major closer to a career Grand Slam.
Francesco Molinari played next and hit almost the exact shot. Instead of the ball bounding right, it found the bunker. That is championship golf and that is the type of luck required to win or lose a major.
Two final thoughts on 2013. I play a lot of golf during a typical year on the road, especially this past year – 100-plus rounds. I love playing at certain courses because of the pure joy that the venues provide.
Trips to the Old Course and Bandon Dunes bring me back to some semblance of sanity, so I thank Old Tom Morris for St. Andrews and the cadre of architects responsible for the courses at Bandon.
The fact that I got a chance to visit both venues again in 2013 and the hospitality shown at both places was amazing, and I want to thank everyone at both places.
Lastly, one of the fondest memories of 2013 was playing Elie Golf Club, about 20 miles from St. Andrews. I had never been there before, and Alistair Tait, a Golfweek colleague, set it up.
We played with two good friends, and it was a glorious morning that included some pretty good scoring. Unfortunately as the round progressed the rain seemed to be making its way toward us. None of us had anything close to proper gear for a rainstorm, and as we got to the 10th tee, it was raining and blowing a gale.
The 10th was the farthest point from the clubhouse, so we tried to press on, but it was no use. Even the Scots in the group agreed as we turned and slowly walked toward the clubhouse, thoroughly soaked.
After the 30-minute walk to the parking lot, the rain stopped and the sky turned blue and beautiful. We, of course, were too wet to go on and never saw the back nine.
We also learned when we got back to the clubhouse that a rain shelter sat off the 10th fairway.
That would have been nice to have known 45 minutes earlier.