My year in golf: Jim McCabe
Sunday, December 18, 2011
93rd PGA Championship: Round 4
Images from the final round at Atlanta Athletic Club.
You record golf history by watching what goes on behind the clubhouse, on the course, often times at the 18th green amid great commotion.
You get a better sense of the humanness of it all if you meander through the solitude at the front of the clubhouse not long after the final putt is holed.
That is where Amanda Boyd sat early in the evening of a warm Sunday in mid-August, perhaps the only person at the Atlanta Athletic Club who at that moment wanted to cheer the runner-up. She is Alabama Crimson Tide, but to show you how random and beautiful love is, the man for whom she sat waiting on the curb was an Auburn Tiger, Jason Dufner.
Perhaps 90 minutes earlier, Dufner had the PGA Championship in his grasp. Then something happened, something called golf. Three straight bogeys by Dufner. Back-to-back birdies by Keegan Bradley. The five-stroke lead that Dufner had while standing on the 15th tee had melted like ice in this pulsating Southern sun. The playoff also remained a part of the Bradley momentum, and so the PGA Tour rookie got to celebrate – deservedly so.
But Dufner? He got to walk the media gangplank. Hard to say what people wanted from him – answers, reaction, heartache, anguish, fears, even tears – but he stopped, talked, and held his head high. Then he moved toward the back of the clubhouse, hugged Boyd, and told her he’d meet her out front.
So there she was, sitting on the curb, just waiting.
“He played so well. It was a great week,” she said, just as another roar rang out from behind the clubhouse where the victory party continued. “I’m proud of him.”
• • •
Seve Ballesteros was dead. At least that’s what reporters thought. Because why? Something about a cryptic note sent out from the European PGA Tour to the mega sports agency IMG, prepping its clients to be ready to speak about the icon.
In another era you confirmed news, then sought reaction. But in other eras there was a greater respect for accuracy, a stronger sense of journalistic responsibility. Now? Who knows what we have now, tweeting and twittering and blogging and smart phones glued to hands.
However it all unfolded, players at the Wells Fargo Championship surmised from some reporters’ questions that Ballesteros was dead and at least one of them, Justin Rose, in turn tweeted that news and responses came rushing in to him.
The only thing is, the letter for IMG clients got out before it should have. Ballesteros was in very grave condition, but he wasn’t dead. (He would die a day later.) Rose's tweet was not accurate, and that put a layer of frost between him and some reporters.
• • •
As trips go, eight courses in seven days in seven cities is a wild and exciting way to see China. But following that up with a 'round-the-world flight to Bermuda for 36 holes of something called the PGA Grand Slam of Golf? Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing Rory McIlroy at 22 is young and seemingly oblivious to such wear and tear.
Heck, he was even on time for a Monday pro-am, and as he strolled around Port Royal GC in Bermuda, McIlroy appeared rested and in good spirits. He had been accompanied during the entire trip by his manager, the gregarious Chubby Chandler, and both of them raved about the experience.
“But it’s more time than would seem humanly possible to spend with Chubby,” a reporter playfully suggested, and McIlroy laughed.
“You’re probably right,” he said.
Nothing more was thought of such a throwaway line until three days later when stunning news was released: McIlroy was leaving Chandler’s powerful ISM stable.
• • •
Deep satisfaction arrived in early December with word that Sandy Lyle had been voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. What about his two major championships, his Players Championship victory, his 29 worldwide wins, and his trail-blazing play in the 1980s had some of the WGHOF voters been dismayed by?
Cross that off the list of golf’s most egregious oversights and slights. But one thing remains on that list and sadly always will: Larry Nelson never being a Ryder Cup captain.
Shame on the PGA of America.
• • •
With each cliche of a question, the comfort level dropped exponentially. But being one of the sport’s most dignified personalities, Adam Scott did his best to remain polite and cooperative.
At the Open Championship, the questions came in rapid-fire. What did it mean to have Steve Williams on his bag? How much value is there to having a caddie who has won major championships? Did he lean on such a veteran caddie here at Royal St. George’s?
When the exercise thankfully was over, Scott agreed that way too much was being made of his partnership with Williams, that he couldn’t understand this new-found fascination with caddie storylines. And for all the reporters who peppered him about Williams being on the bag here for the Open Championship and how that was a valuable commodity, do you think any of them considered the fact that Scott’s longtime caddie, Tony Navarro, with whom he had recently split, caddied for Greg Norman in 1993 when the Shark won the Claret Jug at St. George’s?
“He’s still a great friend. He’s a great, great caddie, so I think they should consider that,” Scott said.
• • •
Charles Howell was back at the Tour Championship for the first time since 2007, which was the debut season of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Questions kept coming his way about how these four playoff tournaments extended an already busy year and would he adjust his schedule in 2012, knowing how busy September would be?
OK, so sometimes it feels like just yesterday when he was that 21-year-old NCAA champ who turned pro and gained Rookie of the Year honors a season later. But he’s now 32, and in addition to a ton of cash, he’s loaded up on piles of humility and perspective.
“Listen,” Howell said. “This is a great job. I mean, even if you play 30 tournaments, that gives you 22 weeks off. That’s not bad.”
Cheers to that.
• • •
Golf is a game that features very few shots that approach perfection, let alone achieve it. It is how you mentally handle the many imperfect shots you play that goes a long way toward deciding how successful you are at this most infuriating game.
If you accept that thinking, then here’s a hero for you: Miguel Angel Jimenez.
At 47, he was the oldest to tee it up in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, but that wasn’t the only way he stood apart from the other 63 entrants. That’s because on a world stage filled with young, fit, super athletes who swing the same, look the same, and sound the same, Jimenez – thank the heavens – is a treasure, someone who doesn’t huddle with his psychologist, his swing guru, his putting coach, his short-game coach, his accountant, his agent, and his investment banker every time he shoots 74.
Instead, Jimenez reasons that you simply can’t always play your best and you can’t always win, as he had failed to do in the quarterfinals against then-No. 1 Martin Kaymer. So he pulled a cigar from his golf bag and explained his emotions: “We are humans,” he said. “We are not machines. It is the first thing you have to learn in this life.”
• • •
To the defeated who does not run and hide and make excuses, there is much to be gained. We’re not sure if McIlroy considered that after his final-round collapse at the Masters; more likely, it was his warm and youthful personality that kept him in front of reporters who wanted to know how something so great had turned so bad.
“Hopefully, if I can get myself back into this position pretty soon, I will handle it a little bit better. It will be pretty tough for me for the next few days, but I will get over it. I will be fine,” McIlroy said.
Truer words may never have been spoken, because McIlroy – two months after losing the Masters but winning over a massive amount of fans – steamrolled to victory at the U.S. Open.