2001: Perspective - Tiger’s answer restores world order
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Spraying it off the tee:
Didn’t everybody just ask, only days ago, “What’s wrong with Tiger Woods?” Funny how he seems to always answer such rash inquiries with exclamation.
So now we know what a slump is by Woods’ standards. Win four of five Tour starts. Then, for the first time as a pro, finish out of the top 10 in five consecutive starts, from 12th to 29th. Then triumph at the WGC-NEC Invitational and shut everybody up and restore world order.
In case you’re wondering what kind of professional career new National Amateur champion Bubba Dickerson might have, consider that these men also ruled the U.S. and Western amateurs in the same summer: Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Hal Sutton, Lanny Wadkins and Justin Leonard, all major championship winners, not to mention fellow Florida Gator Steve Melnyk.
Without question, the MVP of the 2001 U.S. Ryder Cup team so far is Dr. Frank Jobe. Without Jobe’s work, captain Curtis Strange picks two players besides Paul Azinger and Scott Verplank. In 1992, Jobe drilled six holes while performing right-elbow surgery that revived Verplank’s career. And a year later he ordered the bone scan and biopsy that discovered cancer in Azinger.
“Dr. Jobe potentially saved Paul’s life and he definitely saved my career,” Verplank said. “He’s a pretty valuable team member. He’s our 13th man.”
The late Payne Stewart most assuredly would have been the next Ryder Cup captain, for the 2003 matches at Oakland Hills. Now everyone seems to be focused on Sutton, 43, and Azinger, 41, as the next two captains. But Sutton, for one, would rather play than coach in two years. So here’s a suggestion for the PGA of America: Name Sutton and Azinger in 2005 and ’07, respectively. And in ’03 you can reward someone who has won a major and Player of the Year, is highly popular with fellow players, has a winning singles record in five Ryder Cups and is winding down his schedule. For sure, laid-back Fred Couples would keep his team relaxed.
OK, so maybe Bryce Molder was right after all about passing up the U.S. Amateur for his professional debut at the Reno-Tahoe Open. At any rate, in contending Molder quickly proved he belongs in the big leagues.
Sure, Tom Lehman was disappointed in not making the Ryder Cup team for the fourth consecutive time. And his recent play has been his worst of the last decade. But those hardly have been his biggest disappointments of the summer. Upon his return home from the British Open, his wife, Melissa, delivered a stillborn child after a long labor. So we learn again that golf is a mere speck in the game of life and, sadly, bad things happen to good people.
Speaking of perspective, Verplank did not go directly to the NEC Invitational after tying for seventh at the PGA. Rather, he returned to Oklahoma so he could accompany his children on their first day of school. “There aren’t many things more important than that,” he said.
One more time: As PGA European Tour chief Ken Schofield suggested in 1997, the Euro Ryder Cup team would be best supplied if it took five players off the tour’s Order of Merit and the next five off the World Ranking. Expect needed qualification changes after this fall’s matches. At the moment, the Euro team would be without Spain’s José Maria Olazábal and Miguel Angel Jiménez, both of whom have played much of the year in America, not to mention Ian Woosnam.
“It’s a bad situation,” said Jesper Parnevik, who, like Sergio Garcia, will be a pick of captain Sam Torrance. “It’s hard to imagine the Ryder Cup team without Olazábal.”
Since a captain’s strategy should not be as complicated as biochemistry, we suggest Strange send out Woods and David Duval for four matches together, as they’d like, and head to the 19th hole. “Sounds good to me,” Duval said, smiling.
The pull cart, or trolley, is a way of life for walk-happy golfers in the United Kingdom. Here the trolley seems to be looked down upon by country clubs and buggy-riding Americans. Same game, different worlds.
Exactly how far has Verplank come in a decade? His elbow a mess in 1991, he finished last on Tour in driving accuracy and distance, a deadly double. “I couldn’t hit the next fairway over,” Verplank recalled. But last year he lost the driving accuracy title on the last weekend by percentage points. From worst to almost first.
David Toms hit a layup shot with a one-stroke lead and now is known as a smart major champion, not a coward. Clearer now than ever, the same could have been said of Jean Van de Velde.