My Year in Golf: Jim McCabe

Rory McIlroy of Europe hugs his captain Jose Maria Olazabal on the putting green after arriving late to the golf course during the singles matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

Rory McIlroy of Europe hugs his captain Jose Maria Olazabal on the putting green after arriving late to the golf course during the singles matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

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Editor's note: For our entire "My Year in Golf" series, click here.

• • •

Some frame a photo and offer it prominent space in their memory to commemorate an entire year. No harm there. But it speaks more passionately to the grandness of this game we cherish to embrace an album of snapshots, most of them taken not inside the ropes, but on the periphery.

They may have been out of sight to most, but they are in my mind at season’s end.

• • •

You ask yourself what would have happened had Ian Poulter not done the unthinkable at the close of Saturday’s four-ball session in the biennial Ryder Cup? Making five straight birdies to steal a point from the Americans, Poulter not only gave the Europeans hope, he scored – in my humble opinion – the greatest golf highlight of the season.

But here is the question that lingers from that epic three-day event: Has anyone stopped to think what might have been had Erica Stoll and Maggie Budzar not been so professional, so proficient, so conscientious?

Erica Stoll and Maggie Budzar?

That’s right, amid a star-studded cast of golf’s greatest players in the sport’s most thrilling theater, it was the performance by a pair of unheralded PGA of America staff members that deserves a special spot in this year-end album of snapshots. They had in place a system to keep order in the chaotic business of shuttling players, caddies, captains, and team officials to and from Medinah CC and the hotels.

Trivial stuff? No question, except when on the morning of the crucial singles competition one courtesy car sat unoccupied outside the European team hotel, Stoll and Budzar proved how how attention to every last detail is crucial. “Maggie would be at the hotel, I would be at the course,” Stoll said. “I was told when cars left and so I knew when to expect them at the course.”

Checking off names against the tee sheet for the singles lineup, Stoll thought it odd that No. 3 in the European team lineup, the rather important Rory McIlroy, was not crossed off. “You kind of get to know their preparation routine,” Stoll said. “He’s not super early, but . . . “

A red flag had gone up in her mind. The matter called for inquiries. Had McIlroy snuck in unnoticed? Stoll’s check of the range and locker room proved that that wasn’t the case. So Stoll and Budzar communicated and at the hotel, it was discovered that the car intended for McIlroy was still there. Further investigation by Budzar proved that housecleaning thought it odd that only one European player’s room was still occupied.

Knock-knock. Housekeeping. Mr. McIlroy, your tee time is fast approaching.

It set off a bit of panic mode, for the game’s top-ranked player had little time to spare to make his 11:25 a.m. tee time against Keegan Bradley. Having been under the belief that he was off at 12:25 (which he was, only that was the Eastern Time Zone), McIlroy dashed downstairs to the hotel lobby, by which time Budzar and Stoll had made a crucial decision. They had 45 minutes to get the young man to the course, there was major-league Chicago traffic, and “we didn’t want a volunteer to have to be responsible for this,” Stoll said. “I told Maggie to drive him.”

Overhearing this discussion, a police officer came up with an alternative – let McIlroy go in a police car. So into a cruiser went McIlroy with officer Patrick Rollins, who got the 23-year-old to Medinah CC with but 10 minutes to spare.

“Cen-tral time zone,” is the chant that greeted McIlroy at the first tee and with a sheepish smile on his face, he shook hands with Bradley and acknowledged that a disaster had been averted. Though he had only rolled a few practice putts and inhaled an energy bar, McIlroy settled in beautifully and dispatched Bradley, 2 and 1, and on a stunning afternoon of singles play, it proved crucial.

“If he was going to be late, I wanted to push my tee time back,” Bradley said, though the truth is, that wasn’t an option. If McIlroy were more than five minutes late for his tee time, meaning he had till just 11:30, he would have forfeited. So in theory, he was 15 minutes from costing Europe a stunning victory.

Or put another way: Superb teamwork by Stoll and Budzar saved Team Europe – and McIlroy – from an epic embarrassment.

Ladies, take a bow.

• • •

Honestly, you half-expected a bellhop or someone from the concierge’s desk to wander over and ask the young man if he needed help. At 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds and wearing casual shorts and a t-shirt, he appeared to be searching for his parents or the pool or both.

Only thing is, standing in a jam-packed lobby at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Brian Harman knew just where he was. On top of the world, having just shot a second-round 61 in the Honda Classic.

Though he followed with 69-73, Harman finished T-12, earned $115,425 and was off and running on a solid rookie season.

The lefthander has game and just that right mix of personality and spunk.

• • •

Fans were heading toward the exit area near the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes – casual folks clinging to their pints, the need-to-be-seen crowd straightening their ties, blazers, and dresses.

And then there was Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A. Fighting the summer breeze to keep his hair in place, he seemed to have lost the battle of belief. The shock of what had taken place over the last 45 minutes of the Open Championship was tough to absorb. A stunning birdie by Ernie Els at the 18th hole, then four consecutive bogeys by Adam Scott, and a reversal of fortunes that was hard to fathom.

Els had raised his second Claret Jug, but Dawson looked like everyone else – still trying to comprehend what he had seen.

Then again, months later we had to wonder if the true shock of that day was not so much Scott’s collapse or Els’ charge but the fact that golf’s oldest and most flavorful championship had come down to two men who anchored putters.

• • •

Two months later, Els and Scott stood together in a different setting, to the rear of the 18th hole at East Lake GC. Their first round completed in the FedEx Cup finale, the Tour Championship, the traditional ritual was slowly being handled – tees, ball, and glove returned to bag; Sharpie, wallet, and watch retrieved – when Els was approached by a member of the British media.

To heck with an interview, he wanted flags from the Open Championship autographed.

We will afford a benefit of doubt and suggest the media member didn’t realize how cruel his timing was, but oh, how awkward it looked. Els begrudgingly took the handful of flags, shook his head, shrugged toward Scott, and signed quickly. All the while, Scott showed great dignity. If he felt a tinge of pain, having been hit with cold reminder of his major heartache, the Aussie didn’t show it.

Worse, the media member didn’t show even a hint of sensitivity.

• • •

Another case of befuddlement with the media brethren. It was a rough commute from the media hotels in Charleston, S.C., to the PGA Championship venue on Kiawah Island. No question there. But here is a question: “Who cares that the media had it tough?”

Certainly, the trip to take in the season’s final major was even more of a challenge for fans, for they didn’t have comfortable buses with wi-fi and bathrooms, yet on a daily tour of this majestic seaside course, the sight that offered amazement was how many of them came.

One fan in particular, an acquaintance who had ended his summer a little early, just to check into college because it was also in South Carolina. He and his father, up at 4 a.m., did the 90-minute drive to Charleston to pick up friends, then they made another 90-minute jaunt to Kiawah. What consumed him was not the three-hour journey there or the prospects of another three-hour trek later in the day, but the thrill of his six or seven hours touring one of the country’s most fascinating golf courses, all the while watching the sport’s best players in a major championship setting.

• • •

A sun-spashed October Sunday in Bermuda is pretty close to being heaven on earth. And when you’re there after having worked nearly 10 months of carrying a heavy golf bag over your shoulder, it must be time to soak in the fun, eh?

Well, sure, but first Paul Tesori had pressing business. Rushing out of an elevator at the Fairmont Southampton, he had time to say hello, but that was it.

What had him moving so quickly? The fact that he had never seen Port Royal GC and needed to walk it in advance of the annual PGA Grand Slam of Golf. It isn’t a major. It isn’t even a real PGA Tour tournament. It’s a four-man, end-of-year funfest, meant as a reward for something well done, in this case Webb Simpson’s U.S. Open triumph, for which Tesori deserved a good deal of credit.

Yet Tesori is the consummate professional, a tribute to his craft, and it went without saying that he’d spend this beautiful Sunday walking off yardages and mapping out greens.

• • •

Stepping outside of the media center at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., another day of the Accenture Match Play Championship was in the books.

Unfortunately, with nightfall it also meant that javelinas were on the prowl and when one moved close by on the walk to the men’s room, well, it was the fastest these feet had moved since those final days of grade school.

“Nothing to worry about,” said a security guard, a lifelong Tucson guy and thus experienced with these desert mammals that resemble pigs. “They can’t see and they’re more scared of you than you are of them.”

Not to be rude and with profound apologies, the man was told how wrong he was.

• • •

Hunter Mahan, first out in the final round of the Travelers Championship, had one hole to play. He could have been solely focused on making birdie to shoot 61, to moving from last on the leaderboard into a good check, but instead Mahan had something more important on his mind.

He and caddie John Wood waved over to David Finn, brought the young man inside the ropes, and made sure he traveled that 18th hole with them smack in the middle of the fairway.

“Happiest kid I’ve ever met,” Wood said of Finn, who is confined to a wheelchair, inflicted with a mitochondrial disorder. Yet Finn, courtesy of his family and friends, often visits PGA Tour tournaments when they’re in the northeast and his list of fans includes dignitaries such as Phil Mickelson and Mahan.

Though unable to speak, Finn didn’t have to. The brilliant smile on his face indicated he approved wholeheartedly of Mahan’s move, made even sweeter by the 20-foot birdie that completed a round of 61, which eventually enabled him to move from T-61 to T-11.

“I need you around more often,” is how Mahan signed the velcro “Mahan” name tag that had been ripped off of Wood’s caddie bib and handed to Finn.

• • •

One look at Meg Kuchar and it was no wonder where her son Matt inherited that smile. She was simply beaming in the aftermath of Matt Kuchar’s victory at The Players Championship.

While talking to a reporter, Meg Kuchar revealed that it was the first time she had been in attendance for one of Matt’s win since junior golf days. Even the 1997 U.S. Amateur triumph? She nodded yes.

“I couldn’t go. I had to perform a wedding ceremony.”

Curious look, so Meg Kuchar explained further. She was a notary public and had been signed on to do a wedding that August weekend.

“Only one I ever did, but it was the wrong time to do it,” she laughed.

• • •

Brian Gay took ownership of the bad shot that left his ball in a hazard left of the 15th green at Harbour Town Golf Links. But he wasn’t about to go near it, nut with an alligator close by.

Caddie Kip Henley tried to ease Gay’s concern, telling his player that the ‘gator was turned the other way and “they won’t come at you wen they’re turned the other way.”

Gay asked if Henley could guarantee that.

“Well, no, I can’t guarantee it,” Henley said, and everyone in the group laughed.

So with an assistance from fellow caddie Scott Tway, Henley grabbed a rake and got the alligator to move back into the water and allow Gay to play his shot.

It resulted in a bogey, which is the bad news, but the good news is, Henley was proved correct; the ‘gator had done as he predicted it would do.

“I’ve just never seen them not take off,” Henley said.

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