Thursday, 22 June 2017

Golf Can Make You a Better Person

Arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived, Bobby Jones, said that golf was a moulder and developer of character. The game of golf made him a better person. It reinforced the need to be honest and display integrity. It taught him how to handle success and failure. And it taught him the importance of never giving up.

Those lessons, learned on the golf course, were transferable to his life. When struck with a crippling disease from which there was no hope of a cure, Bobby met with his family and told them of his diagnosis. He then told them that they should not speak of it again because, as he had learned on the links, "we must play the ball as it lies." 

It is a travesty when anyone is struck with an incurable, crippling disease. But somehow it seems even more so when the victim was the greatest golfer of his era, and so loved internationally. But Bobby Jones suffered with dignity. He simply refused to complain or allow his misfortune to sour his outlook on life.

Golf can, if we allow it to, make us better people. That is not, of course, to say that we don't have poor sports, cheaters, quitters, and complainers on our golf courses. But those people are not truly golfers. Real golfers embrace honesty and integrity, and the virtue of never giving up and playing the ball as it lies. 

And those are lessons that many other sports, where winning is so important, sometimes fail to teach us. In golf, regardless of what Tiger was taught to believe as a youngster, second place does not suck. In fact, it's a shame that Tiger was taught to think that way. In golf, it really isn't whether you win or lose that counts. In golf it really is all about how you play the game. That's why there are many stories of great, and not-so-great, players who chose to call penalties on themselves, even when to do so might have cost them fame or fortune. Golf is that kind of game. And Bobby Jones is the finest example we have ever had of a true golfer.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It Feels Good to Grind

Bobby Jones had great respect for his golfing opponents. He understood that, without great opponents, golf would not be as enthralling a game as it is, and you would never find out just how good you can be. Good opponents bring out your best as well.

I played a match with Paul today for our club's "A" flight match play championship. With all due respect to Paul, I had considered myself a better player until last year. Paul has really upped his game. And setting out today I knew that only my very best would suffice if I was going to have a chance to beat him.

Paul won the first hole with a solid par, after a terrific second shot to about ten feet. I had duffed my second shot and, after a pretty good third to about eight feet, missed my par putt. I then won the next three holes to go two up. But Paul fought back and we were all square after nine.

Paul then made a terrific par on ten, our toughest hole, to go one up. We halved eleven when I three-putted from twenty feet after Paul had hit his second shot in the fescue, but was able to hack the ball out and make bogey. Paul then won twelve with a birdie, and easily won thirteen with a par after I yanked my tee shot into the fescue and eventually made a double. Suddenly, after feeling pretty good, I was three down.

It was then that I became really determined to try to make a match out of it. I won fifteen and sixteen and Paul was one up playing seventeen. I hit a perfect drive, while Paul hooked his behind a tree, and I thought, "Game on." However, I pulled my eight iron approach, leaving myself short-sided, about fifteen feet from the pin. 

I wasn't happy, but I figured that I had a fair chance of getting it up and down and I figured that Paul was in jail, having to hit a great shot just to hit the green. Paul, meanwhile, must have been feeling the heat, because the momentum had clearly swung in my direction. He took a fair bit of time sizing up his options and finally decided to go for it, having to get the ball up very quickly to clear the tree, and then stop it on the green. Paul hit a tremendous shot to about twenty feet, easily two-putted for par and won the match when I failed to get it up and down.

I wasn't happy to have lost the match, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul forced me to really dig deep and grind just in order to stay in the match and keep things respectable. His second shot on seventeen was nothing short of incredible. I really thought he was in jail, but he dug deep and pulled it off. 

I had to run after seventeen because I was late for dinner with my daughter in Kingston, so I didn't have a chance to discuss the match with Paul; though we did briefly discuss his great shot on seventeen. I just hope he enjoyed the match as much as I did. There is nothing like match play; especially if you have a congenial opponent who forces you to really dig deep and play your best. And I had that today in Paul. He was the better man today, and forced me to grind like crazy coming in. It feels really good to have to dig deep and grind it out. That's when you learn what you're capable of.

Thanks for the memories, Paul. It was a terrific match.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Brooks Koepka Flew Under the Radar

Well, at the start of the week I don't think many were putting their money on Brooks Koepka to be the U.S. Open champion at Erin Hills. He really flew under the radar all week. 

Sure, we knew this guy could play. He is another of these athlete golfers who has the power, like DJ, to over-power a golf course. And we knew Erin Hills was going to favour the big hitters at over 7800 yards. But Koepka was able to go about his business at Erin Hills without much attention. He was just another of those young power players who we knew was talented, but had yet to prove himself on the big stage.

Koepka honed his game after he turned pro on the European tour. And I suspect his experience on that tour, playing on so many different courses, in so many different conditions, made him a better player than he might have been had he stayed in the U.S to try to earn his way onto the PGA tour in the normal way. His experience on the European tour also taught him that he was capable of winning against seasoned pros. He did it five times. It had to have helped him at Erin Hills as well, a links style course where you had to be able to handle the wind. After today, you might just see more American kids try to qualify for the European tour. 

The fact that he is a good friend of DJ undoubtedly also helped Koepka believe that he could win a Major. He had had a front row seat, watching DJ win his Open last year. And DJ had apparently texted him last night and told him he had what it takes to win. You don't win Majors without self-belief. 

Koepka's Ryder Cup experience also taught him that he was capable of handling the real heat on the grandest of stages. Let's face it, he was simply poised and ready to be a Major champion. He knew it. And, looking at it in hindsight, we should have known it as well.

Brooks Koepka was able to fly under the radar as he won the trophy most cherished by most American golfers. One thing for certain is that he won't be flying under the radar any longer. 

Johnny Miller Rains on Justin T's Parade

Perhaps it comes with the territory; I don't know. But it seems that a few great players possess an extremely healthy ego. We saw history made on Saturday at the U.S. Open when Justin Thomas shot an incredible 63. At nine under par, it was the lowest anyone has ever gone in a U.S. Open. 

It was a phenomenal round. Unfortunately, another great player in the form of Johnny Miller, who had himself fired perhaps the most incredible final round ever played--a 63 at Oakmont--couldn't resist saying that his round was better. 

Johnny's round of 63 at Oakmont was better. Although it was eight under Oakmont's par of 71, that 63 was shot in the cauldron of the final round to win the most prized Major for an American. It was also shot at a tougher course. And context is everything. Just like last year's 63 by Henrik Stenson to win the Open in that incredible duel with Phil was in reality a better round than the one Thomas shot. This is because the final round trying to win a Major adds an element of pressure that can only be imagined by all but a few who have actually been there. I suppose you could compare it to shooting the record score in your club championship on the first day to have the lead, to shooting it on the last day for the win. There's a big difference that no real golfer would dispute.

The sad thing is that Johnny Miller couldn't resist saying the truth, even if it effectively stole, or at least tried to steal, a bit of Justin Thomas' thunder. If it was just because he was being honest, I guess Johnny deserves a pass. But, unfortunately for Johnny, his honesty when it comes to telling us how good he was is sometimes a bit hard to listen to. Most of us prefer a bit more humility from our champions. We like our champions to be modest enough to just let us talk about how good they were.

Anyway, kudos to Justin Thomas. He's in the record books for a nine under par round at a U.S. Open. It's never been done before. I hope he enjoyed it. And I hope he always looks back on it as one of his best rounds. But you can bet Thomas has bigger fish to fry. He won't think that round means anything more than a footnote in U.S. Open history if he doesn't close the deal and get his first Major at Erin Hills. 

That's why Johnny didn't need to state the obvious. We all know that Johnny's round was better. But JT's round was pretty damned good and it wouldn't have hurt to just let him enjoy it without any controversy. Sometimes it's best to be just a little less honest; especially when it comes to blowing your own horn.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Shootout at Erin Hills

It's shaping up to be a real shootout for the U.S. Open tomorrow at Erin Hills. I figure, given the way the course has allowed the boys to play, there are thirteen guys in with a real chance tomorrow. That's the group who are presently minus eight or better. 

Brian Harman is in unknown territory with the lead going into the final day of an Open. Whether he can play his game and not be caught up in the madness of it all remains to be seen. A one shot lead going into the final round with that many guys in the hunt means that he will, in all likelihood, be teeing off tied for the lead the way the first hole has yielded burdies. Hell, he could even find himself trailing. And I think that will actually help him. He knows that he will have to go out there and shoot a low round to win. He won't be trying to protect anything.

Justin Thomas, after his record-setting Saturday, has to try to do the thing that seems so hard to do, even for great players; follow a great round with another great round. But he is clearly ready for the next step in his career. If he doesn't get his Major tomorrow, you have to believe that it's only a matter of time.

Rickie Fowler is poised and ready at two back. I think his having lost the lead might actually help him have the right attitude on Sunday. He's going to be chasing hard and, if the putter cooperates, he could very well get the proverbial monkey off his back. He'll finally be a Major champion. And he'll be as popular a champion as anyone could imagine. 

There are simply too many guys who could get it done to even guess at the outcome tomorrow. And isn't that really the way we want it? I want to be glued to the tube, agonizing over the putts right along with them. It beats the hell out of watching someone run away with it.

I like a lot of these guys in the hunt, so I'm not going to be rooting for any one man. But I liked Rickie starting the week, and I like him still. It's got a nice ring to it: Rickie Fowler, U.S. Open champion. 

So Far, So Good

So far, so good. The U.S. Open at Erin Hills is off to a great start. Yeah, it may not be so great for the fans of Rory, Jason Day, or DJ; but it's shaping up to be a doozy nonetheless.

I have to confess that I had started an article prior to the start of the tournament picking Rickie Fowler as the winner. I was a bit upset when he then went out and took the lead, because it might have made me appear to be smarter than I am. Then again, when I told Steve this, he reminded me that first round leaders rarely win a Major. And, he's right. Rickie has a helluva lot of work to do yet.

But, what a fantastic leaderboard we have. And it's anybody's tournament to win. Fourteen guys within a shot of the lead, Justin Thomas on a tear, a few terrific-looking Asians in the hunt, Sergio still in the game, King Louis with a chance... I mean, what more can you ask for?

Yes, they might be going pretty low for a U.S. Open. And, generally, they suggest that the USGA likes oar to be a good score. But I don't see anyone complaining so far. The winner will still have proven, come Sunday night, or Monday, that he had the right stuff and was able to grind his arse off.

Now, all I ask is that any of you clowns sitting at home with a copy of the Rules of Golf, please stay the hell off the phone, or your e-mail. We don't want to hear it!

Oh, and did I mention I was going to pick Rickie for the win? I still like him. But there's a bunch of guys in the hunt that I'm pulling for. 

Out-Grinded Again

Well, I played Carl the Grinder yesterday, using my "broke-back" swing. It was quite a match. 

I was hitting it reasonable well, except for off the tee. And Carl was pounding it! He was hitting it at least forty yards by me on every driving hole. On three, he hit it to about 110 yards--and it was in the short grass. Meanwhile I had 190 yards for my second. 

As a guy who used to be the longest hitter, this alternate reality, where 73 year old guys are hitting it forty yards past your good drives, is something I need to accept. And I thought I accepted it with relatively good humour during this match. 

I just relied on my short game to try to hang in there. And it was working so well that I had got it to two up. Carl got it back to all square. I got it to two up again. And Carl finally got his first lead after thirteen. 

I squared the match again and we came in to the par three eighteenth with it all on the line. I promptly hit another fat six iron that left me half-way up the hill short and left of the green--I'm about ready to fire that damned six iron! Carl hit a clanky eight iron and was short right of the green. It was one of those matches where it seemed that both of us were equally determined to lose it.

I had one of those shots on eighteen that would have had the announcers saying in hushed tones, "He's in trouble here, Johnny."

The ball was barely visible in the rough, and sitting well below my feet. I used my 58 degree wedge and hit an almost-perfect pitch that landed on my spot and nearly went in before finishing about eight feet below the hole. It was so close to going in that it prompted a loud response from the diners on the clubhouse balcony who saw it slip past the hole.

Totally undeterred, Carl hit a beautiful chip that actually lipped out. I gave him his putt for the three. I know Sam Snead said you should never concede the putt that beats you, but this one was stone dead. I addressed my putt, announcing to the diners, who had by now become quite interested, that this one was a must-make. I hit a good putt that was right on line, but just a hair too weak. It curled by the front lip, and Carl the Grinder had just out-grinded my sorry ass again. 

And that, my friends, is something I've also had to get used to. If you want to beat Carl, make sure you don't come to eighteen needing to win the hole, because Carl plays for two bucks like it's the Open. There just ain't no give-up in this guy. 

Oh, and did I mention that Carl shot 72 the other day to beat his age again? Well, he did. Not only that, Carl mentioned today that he feels a round in the sixties coming soon. I told him that, the way he's driving the ball, I wouldn't be surprised at all.