Memorial notes: Pros search for balance
DUBLIN, Ohio — The world's greatest golfers seek balance in their swings. They also seek balance in their lives.
The general public, including most Sunday afternoon hacks, can't understand how a pro would ever take a week off. Travel the world? Play one outstanding track after another? For millions of dollars? Why go home?
Elite players know that they are at their best when they can occasionally get away, when they pick and choose where they play and when they have a balance between the sport they play and their family back home.
"They kept yelling at Arnold and Gary and me, 'You need to play more golf!'" Jack Nicklaus said Wednesday, a day before the start of his Memorial Tournament. "Well, they're still doing the same yelling 50 years later."
Nicklaus, of course, was also referring to Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Those three helped transform the public perception of touring pro from itinerant hustler to family man.
There was a time when pros entered almost every tournament because they had to in order to make a living. Nicklaus, Palmer and Player became so successful they were able to be more selective. After playing in 20 or 22 tournaments a year, they gradually scaled back as their families grew and they grew older.
Today's players try to find that same balance. Most play in 15 to 25 tournaments a year, across the globe. But it's still difficult to make a life when there are so many aspects of your profession that demand attention.
Masters champion Bubba Watson and his wife just adopted a child while trying to find a new house in Orlando. The strains of fitting in everything at home and on the course have opened his eyes.
"Not in a mean way (but) everybody wants something from you: Can you help with this? Can you help with that?" he said. "You've got to say no. It's not that you're being mean. You've got to have time for yourself, with your wife, with your child."
Rory McIlroy had been acclaimed as golf's next big thing even before he rolled to victory at last year's U.S. Open at Congressional. Since then, he has had his ups and downs as he learns the proper measure of a life away from the course. Dating one of the world's top tennis players, Caroline Wozniacki, he is trying to find a way to blend his public and private lives.
"This has been a big learning curve for me because I'm still trying to find a balance between being a top-class golfer and handling media commitments, sponsors' commitments, trying to have a life outside of all of that," he said. "It's hard to do all of them all at the same time. It's something I'm still figuring out how to do."
• • •
HONORED: Each year the Memorial Tournament honors players and other notables who have furthered the game of golf. Tom Watson, long a nemesis but also a good friend of Memorial founder Jack Nicklaus, is the 2012 honoree.
A visibly moved Nicklaus broke down and had great difficulty introducing Watson during Wednesday's ceremony. It was Watson who beat Nicklaus in two of the most famous head-to-head showdowns in golf history.
Watson chipped in from the deep rough behind the 17th green at Pebble Beach to defeat Nicklaus in the 1982 U.S. Open.
"I thought he was in deep rough and out of the hole," Nicklaus said. "But he didn't!"
He also held off Nicklaus in a dramatic two-man battle over the final 36 holes — dubbed "The Duel in the Sun" — to win the 1977 British Open at Turnberry.
"I had a couple of lucky breaks along the way," said Watson, who won five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open title. "I've been one of the luckiest people on earth to have friends on the course and outside the ropes who have enriched my life with laughter, joy and love."
Nicklaus did not hold a grudge for the close losses. Far from it.
"He embodies everything I could want in a friend," he said.
Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune was the Memorial's journalism honoree.
• • •
FOLLOWING A PATTERN: He learned the game at Scioto Country Club, graduated from Upper Arlington High School in suburban Columbus, Ohio, went on to play at Ohio State and became a pro golfer. After taking the same early steps as Memorial founder Jack Nicklaus, Bo Hoag hopes to also move on to a successful career.
"Similar pasts, Arlington and Ohio State," Hoag said on the eve of playing in his first Memorial Tournament.
Hoag, 23, received a sponsor's exemption to make the field in just his second PGA Tour event. He missed the cut earlier this spring at the Honda Classic.
He is the grandson of Bob Hoag, one of the founding members of Muirfield Village Golf Club, and his family has long been close to the Nicklauses. He has played Muirfield over 100 times, he said, and will be fighting his nerves when he plays in Thursday's opening round.
Hoag will now play in a tournament that he used to attend every year.
"I can't think of one event that's inspired me more to be a professional golfer, kind of growing up as a youngster, just seeing some players on the range or watching them on the course and thinking, 'Oh, this is pretty cool. I'd like to do this someday,'" he said.
• • •
NO LONGER LOST: Not so long ago, Ben Curtis had dropped off the golf map.
He had lost his PGA Tour card for the first time in a decade and had played just four times on tour this season. All of a sudden, lightning struck.
He salvaged par with a 20-footer from the fringe at the 17th and then added an insurance birdie on the 72nd hole to win the Texas Open last month. Then he tied for 13th at New Orleans, for fifth at Wells Fargo and for second at The Players.
Amazingly, he earned $2,096,730 in a span of four tournaments — more than the $2,035,126 he made from 2009-2011 combined.
His entire approach has changed.
"You just feel like when you show up you're going to do good things, instead of, OK, how am I not going to have a disaster?" said the surprise winner of the 2003 British Open. "Before, I was playing and I'm trying to do everything I can to not make bogeys and double-bogeys, where now I'm just going out there and trying to make as many birdies as I can."