Editor’s note: For our entire “My Year in Golf” series, click here.
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It was in late January at the Waste Management Phoenix Open when Bubba Watson declared 2014 was going to be his year of rejoicing. Now we can debate all day how well he did – not so good when he pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational after the first round with an 83 and allergies – but it was a beautiful moment when he carried his son, Caleb, up the steps to Riviera Country Club after winning the Northern Trust Open, and you couldn’t help but like Bubba when after winning the Masters he said, “I’m going to cry, because why me? Why Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla.?”
The guy is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but he seemed to be on to something with what he termed his “attitude of gratitude.”
Here’s to the golfers who most personified that attitude of gratitude in my comings and goings on the golf beat.
In February, Jason Allred, a 34-year-old journeyman pro went from Monday qualifier to finishing tied for third at the Northern Trust Open. He cashed a check larger than his career Tour earnings, which included two full seasons on Tour. As he reached the summit of the hill at 18, Allred slowed his pace to savor his moment as golf’s latest Cinderella story. The crowd stirred to life for Allred and he saluted the outpouring of affection by tipping his cap. Afterwards, he described the wonder of it all.
“That moment, that scene out there, I can’t imagine a more beautiful place, and to get to be a part of it was really special,” Allred said.
He is a serious contender for “Nicest Man in Golf” and Allred spoke with a modesty that verged on grace, blinking back tears when he mentioned the real priority in his life.
“I’m a rich man,” Allred said, and he wasn’t referring to his bank account. He was talking about his wife and two young children and a third that was born the following week.
I spent a stretch of July in America’s heartland. It began with my Golfapalooza to Northern Michigan. I started at the University of Michigan Golf Course, an Alistair MacKenzie track that made me wish I applied early decision to the maize and blue. On to Treetops Resort, which debuted “Man Vs Golf,” an Iron Man competition for the golf junkie. Challenge accepted. I played 63 holes in one day, but it was a few days later at Belvedere Golf Club in the charming town of Charlevoix that I felt I stepped back in time and enjoyed my favorite round of the year with good friends. I could even rejoice in breaking 80.
On to the John Deere Classic, where two of the best talkers in golf filled my notebook with damn near poetry as they bid adieu to the PGA Tour. I walked down to the 18th green on Friday afternoon knowing that Joe Ogilvie was going to miss the cut and I might not see him play again. (He called it quits two starts later after the Wyndham Championship, but I wasn’t there.) Afterward, we sat in player dining, had some Whitey’s ice cream, and I listened as he talked less about golf than life. When he graduated from Duke in 1996, Ogilvie didn’t know if he was cut out for the Tour. “I would have never thought I’d be out here for 15 years. It’s kind of incredible to me,” he said. “But I’m ready to go. I couldn’t be any luckier to have been out here for 15 years. I’ve played horrific this year but strangely I love golf more now than at any time. I like it more now. I understand it better and the challenges.”
Two days later Paul Goydos, 50, finished with a double bogey in what likely was his final Tour start. The one-time substitute teacher stopped to chat, saying he never expected he would play 22 years on Tour. “We’re the luckiest guys on the face of the earth,” Goydos said. “There is a movie called ‘The Lords of Dogtown’ and it’s about these guys who become professional skateboarders. One guy says to another, ‘You know what this means, boys? We’re going to be on summer vacation for the rest of our lives.’ That basically sums up my life. I’ve been on summer vacation for the past 22 years.”
A few weeks later summer vacation recommenced as Goydos made his Champions Tour debut in Minneapolis. But first I stopped in Kansas, where I met Jess Bonneau, 43, of Houston, who earned a bronze medal for reaching the semifinals at the final rendition of the U.S. Amateur Public Links. Bonneau, an area manager for a food distribution company, had to take vacation to compete. When asked before his semifinals match if he had exceeded his expectations, he answered, “By about two days.”
Not only that but he had exhausted his vacation time. When the last working stiff was eliminated, Bonneau, who termed himself a weekend golfer, made the 9-½ hour drive home so he could play in a three-man scramble the next day.
“You can bet I’m going to drink a beer and take a cart,” he said.
For good measure, he tweeted me a picture of him and the boys on the first tee the next day.
Last but not least, there was Micah Fugitt, caddie for Billy Horschel, at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. All week long, as I thanked Fugitt for his time, he repeated the same refrain: “I hope I keep talking to you.”
The implication being that reporters only have time for a caddie at the top of the leaderboard. On Sunday, tucked between the 18th green grandstand and player scoring at East Lake, a circle of reporters surrounded Fugitt to be enlightened on his boss’s 3-stroke victory. “He played awesome. What can you say?” was all he could muster at first. Then there were no words, only tears of joy. Fugitt backed away as the water works opened, a gush of emotions that he fought all afternoon as Horschel withstood challenges from Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk. Breaking a long silence, I asked, what he and Horschel talked about as they walked up to the 18th green?
“He’s telling me that since he was a kid he had these dreams,” Fugitt said. “When he was 10 years old he dreamed he was going to get hit in the eye with a baseball bat and it happened.”
Then came the biggest bombshell of all: “Earlier this year he had a dream he was going to win the FedEx Cup,” Fugitt said. “It was a faint dream so he didn’t know if it was real.”
You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Horschel clinched the FedEx Cup trophy with an impressive three-week run and the $10 million bonus that comes with it. Fugitt got his cut, bought a new house, and said he set aside money for his two kids to go to college someday. He was still rejoicing the next time we talked.
I got a card in the mail recently that read, “Thank yous are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled.” Bubba wasn’t the only one rejoicing in 2014. Here’s hoping more golfers adopt an attitude of gratitude in 2015.