My year in golf: Adam Schupak
Saturday, December 21, 2013
I’m going to go out on a limb and say my year in golf was better than Rory McIlroy’s.
Adam Scott? He and I probably would have to go extra holes to determine a winner. That’s how good my year was. High on the list had to be attending the Masters with my dad for the first time. What an unforgettable walk to Amen Corner. By the end of the week, I couldn’t help but think about the time two years earlier when he and I were at Mission Hills Hainan in China and got to play with Phil Scott, father of Adam, just days after Adam had finished second at the Masters to Charl Schwartzel.
For a very brief moment, the thought crossed my mind I might be able to beat Scott’s dad. That is until he poured in seven birdies using – you guessed it – a long putter, shot 67 and beat me by 15 strokes or so (I lost count). We shared an enjoyable four hours together and I mostly listened to two proud Papas of sons named Adam trade stories of raising their boys around the game of golf. So when Adam Scott won the Masters with a sudden-death birdie on the 10th hole, I waited my turn during the champion’s press conference and couldn’t help but ask him this: “The moment you had with your father by the 10th green, is there anything special that the two of you said to each other? And speak a little about his influence in your golf career.
Here’s the transcript of his full answer: “Yeah, I think that's really fair that you say that, because although Greg (Norman) was an inspiration to me and a hero as a player, my dad was the one who was always there with me right from the get‑go. He's a professional golfer himself, and my mom is a good golfer, too. But Dad coached me until I was 19 years old,” Scott said. “And when we were there down by the 10th green, you know, it was great to see him. And he said, ‘It doesn't get any better than this,’ which is true. It's a moment that I'll never forget, being able to hug him just down the back of the 10th green there.
“You know, he was the biggest influence on me. He was a great role model for me as a kid, as I think back on it, and the way he balanced everything for me so that I just kind of made my own way a golfer. Really he did an incredible job of just letting me be who I am and letting my game develop and not standing in my way at times and pushing me when I needed to be pushed. You know, he's an amazing man that is certainly ‑‑ obviously he's always there for me, the good times and the bad. He was at The Open last year and he was as positive as anyone. I'm sure he was gutted inside, but nice that I was able to kind of reward him with this one today while he was here, because he only comes to those two events (laughter).”
What a beautiful response. Fathers, sons and golf – a storyline that never grows old.
I shouldn’t single out my dad because my mom spent the week at Merion for the U.S. Open (and a weekend at the Tampa Championship). My three fondest memories from Merion: donning white gloves to handle Ben Hogan’s famous 1-iron and the dinner party where my mom was engrossed in conversation with instructor Sean Foley getting him to reveal the type of anecdotes writers drool over. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s Foley’s favorite Schupak, and I’m okay with that.
I said three and the third will also be tattooed on my brain. During Friday’s second round I picked up Billy Horschel on his second nine. He was playing beautifully, hitting fairways and greens, which prompted me to ask the scorer on the 16th hole when was the last time he had missed a green. It turned out he was perfect on the day, and no one had hit every green in regulation during a U.S. Open since they began recording the stat in 1989. At USGA headquarters, the staff stayed late to dig through the archives and couldn’t find anyone else who’d done so since David Graham at the 1981 U.S. Open (and even he supposedly hit a fringe or two). It was history in the making and I had a front row seat to see it.
Speaking of history, I’ve been chasing witnessing a 59 on Tour like Captain Ahab chased a white whale named Moby. I covered the 2010 John Deere Classic when Paul Goydos shot 59 on Thursday. I, however, arrived Friday. I was at the Greenbrier later that summer when Stuart Appleby shot that magical number on Sunday. I left on Friday. I witnessed Tommy Gainey leave his bid for 59 short – SHORT! – at the final hole of the 2012 McGladrey Classic and I was there when Phil Mickelson’s putt to break the 60-barrier horseshoed out in February at the Waste Management Open. In addition, I had detailed how ‘Mr. 59’ Al Geiberger finally got to see footage of his record-round in Memphis 36 years after he became the first player to break 60 in a Tour-sanctioned event. You can read all about it here: Tape delayed: Visual memories surface for 'Mr. 59'.
So with that setup, there I was sniffing for a potential column on a Friday at the BMW Championship. I was out watching Graham DeLaet play when I noticed on the PGA Tour live scoring app that Jim Furyk was lighting it up through his first 12 holes. The ‘59 watch’ was on. When I arrived on the front-side at the fourth hole, only a single photographer trailed alongside him. We soon had company. But until Furyk stuffed his approach on the final hole, I didn’t think he was going to do it. What a shot. What a round. He did it at Conway Farms on the north side of Chicago, the same city where he was a Ryder Cup goat a year before. It’s also where he glared pitchforks at me when I asked him a tough (but fair) question about his defeat. This time during our post-round encounter he again looked me dead in the eyes. Only this time he smiled and proudly called it “the best round of his life.” That it was.
The round of my year – in case you were wondering – took place at Shinnecock Hills. Not a bad place to have your ‘A game’ decide to show up. That kicked off playing some of the gems of Eastern Long Island -- Atlantic Golf Club, Friars Head, Maidstone, National Golf Links, and Sebonack – in a four-day span. I also teed it up with PGA president Ted Bishop in the Saturday morning game at his Indiana club, The Legends, played a few holes with Legends Tour founder Jane Blalock at French Lick Resort, and toured The Concession with its co-designer, Hall of Famer Tony Jacklin, who started calling me Bobby, for the educated draw/borderline hook I share with the great Bobby Locke. When Jacklin knocked his approach tight at the ninth hole, he said to me, “If you never see me hit another ball, you won’t forget that one.” It was close enough for a concession.
The only problem with all this good living is I practically needed to visit a tailor after a few of these trips. There was the return of the fried chicken sandwich at Augusta, the chicken salad at the Honda Classic, Sebonack’s lobster roll, asado in Argentina, jumbo shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis, oysters on the half shell in New Orleans, ribs on the range in Memphis and I could go on and on.
In a year where I had to write about deer antler spray and octopus pants, I’ll remember being there when Hunter Mahan, the 36-hole leader of the RBC Canadian Open, withdrew less than an hour before his third round tee time when his wife, Kandi, went into labor. I’ll cherish time spent with Eddie Merrins, “The Little Pro,” and Bob Toski, two of the best at teaching the game.
Who can forget Fred Couples wiping tears from his eyes at the conclusion of his induction speech, and saying, “Thanks for taking a kid from Seattle and putting him in the Hall of Fame. This is the coolest night of my life.”
Let me tell you about cool: I walked with Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at The Legends of Golf, had breakfast with David Graham and Trevino before they teamed up at the Greats of Golf at the 3M Championship, and spent 90 terrific minutes listening to Curtis Strange tell tales at the PNC Father-Son Challenge. I’ll never forget sitting with Bob Goalby in the Augusta clubhouse and in Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill office when The King held the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover aloft and told his friend Dow Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA champion, “Look who’s going to be here.”
Palmer’s face lit up as he explained that model Kate Upton would be attending his March tournament, visiting the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, and discussing their plans to do a commercial together in support of Arnold Palmer “Tee,” his refreshing drink.
That’s when Finsterwald interjected and said, "No offense, Arnold, but I think she's going to sell a lot more tea than you."
All three of us shared a hearty laugh.
If you’ve read this far, I have one last treat for you. I heard some great stories this year and I’m going to share a final one that didn’t make it into print. It’s about Jim Langley, who served his membership with grace for 34 years as the head professional at Cypress Point until his death on July 20 at age 75. He wasn’t the only good guy in golf we lost this year. Bill Campbell, Ken Venturi, and Miller Barber were three who left their mark on the game and shouldn't be forgotten either.
CBS Sports’s Jim Nantz, a friend of Langley’s since 1986, delivered a moving eulogy recounting the story of how Langley routinely visited the 15th hole at Cypress, where just a few feet in front of the teeing area, right on the precipice of the chasm, he would pause, say a prayer, and place a ball on a small metal outcropping for his late assistant caddie master Frank Shea. That was the spot where Shea used to look for stray golf balls.
On June 20th, Langley took one last 90-minute cart ride around Cypress Point. Nantz was among a small group accompanying Langley, who asked to be taken over to the front of the 15th tee. This time they had to hold onto him as he stepped down the slope and into the iceplant. “He took one of the balls that he had used to strike one last putt on the 8th green, and just as he had done for so many years in the past, he left a ball for Shea,” Nantz recalled. “The next day, I was playing the 15th hole and after our tee shots were struck I veered off on my own to see if the ball was still there. It was gone. I guess Frank found out and took it back to heaven.”
And on that note, dear reader, I’m going to declare a half point for each Adam and here’s wishing you and your family a happy and healthy New Year.