The Dog Had a Badge
I was standing among the television trucks in the main parking lot at Augusta National Golf Club, just across the path from one of the entrances to the grounds. Beside this service entrance was a tent that a few Richmond County sheriffs deputies used as their base for the week. A deputy arrived, holding the leash of a handsome German Shepherd. As police officer and police dog walked by, I noticed a familiar, credit card-sized object pinned to the dogs collar.
Discrediting the evidence of my eyes, I strode over to the deputies and asked if I could admire their canine colleague.
Sure enough: The Shepherd wore a Masters badge with a violet stripe along the bottom, for tournament support staff. Such badges show the name and photograph of the bearer, and so did this one. This badge belonged to Schnapps, and his fuzzy headshot adorned the upper right-hand corner.
Schnapps, who Im told was polite because his handler had not identified me as a perpetrator, let me examine the credential. When I was done, I stared at him for a moment. I blinked. Schnapps blinked. He licked my hand and shifted where he sat. No one knew what to say.
Finally, a deputy piped up:
Yknow, they check his badge every time, too. Run it through the little card reader. He cant get in without it.
I then had a nice conversation with one of the deputies about what magnificent animals dogs are. But I dont remember much of our talk. I was wondering if the dog could maybe use his connections to get me Super Bowl tickets.
Knowing what I do about the Masters and the singular club that sponsors it, I found my thoughts at an interesting fork. Either 1) the folks at the National have a pleasantly quirky sense of humor, or 2) they are so serious about security that they plan to start issuing badges to other animals who may come on the grounds, such as the raccoons that surely hang out behind the media center, looking for half-eaten egg salad sandwiches.
Ive met some of the club members who work on the tournament, and Im betting on the sense-of-humor route. But what if its not? What if they put Schnapps picture on his badge to make sure some other German Shepherd didnt try to sneak in?
Sir, Im sorry, but this isnt you. See, the caramel portion of your ruff doesnt blend into the black part of your face this way.
There is an unusual balance about this place. Augusta National is one of the most beautiful, calming places on earth. Yet it is a closely regulated mini-society, in which everyone has a place and the genteel atmosphere depends on folks following the rules. The club was patiently developed by a man who consorted with presidents and had a reputation for being absolutely unbending. Yet Clifford Roberts had such a finely developed sense of humor that he would go to the trouble to make a film (for the clubs use) in which he appeared to walk across water, specifically the pond on the 16th hole. The popular film poked fun in a number of directions, including back at its director.
People love to come back every year. Few run afoul of its many rules, written and unwritten: Attendees are not fans, and they are certainly not a mob. They are patrons. Players seek to nestle their shots close to hole locations, never pin placements. Never call a mound anything like a body bag, even in jest ' not if you ever want to come back.
At a cocktail party this week, I heard recounted a story in support of the notion that every time things look sweet at the National, they may not be. A player agent, a member of a class not revered by the National, was lunching with his player in the clubhouse after midday. The dining room was not crowded; in fact, hardly anyone was there. Neither the agent nor the player was making more than conversational noise. Nobody was dressed in anything alarming.
Nonetheless, after awhile, one of the few members in the room came over to the table and said, Gentlemen, youve been here long enough. Time for you to move on.
The agent was dumbfounded. Did he just say what I thought he said? was all he could think to say to his companion.
The identities were kept secret, so there is no way to determine whether this story was more than apocryphal. Doesnt really matter. True or not, it is a symptom of the envy that sometimes arises in situations involving haves and have-nots. Its the toughest ticket in sports, the club everyone secretly wants into (or at least wonders what it would be like), the golf course best represented over the years as what Heaven must be likeof course tales get told.
Fact is, its their club. When things get inconvenient, the men in the green jackets can sometimes be heard reminding everyone that they could, at any time, pull the rug out from under the whole enterprise. They organize this tournament out of love; they owe the world of golf exactly nothing. And if they ever owed anything, they have long since paid in full.
As inconvenient as some people sometimes find the maze of rules surrounding the Masters, those rules deserve a lot of credit for making the Masters what it is. As a ticket-taker and I concluded Tuesday while watching a patron get into a lather over slow badge checking, the secret this week is to be patient.
So next time I have to wait in line, Ill gladly find a way to pass the time. Perhaps Ill bring a box of Milk-Bones. Heeere, Schnappsnice doggiethats a boy
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back
Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.
At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.
Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.
Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.
“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”
In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.
“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."
Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.