New Twist to an Old Classic

By Adam BarrDecember 18, 2005, 5:00 pm
Yeah. Scrooge here.
So I'm tryin' to get out of the office to make a tee time at Dickens Hills, just me, just a practice round. I got phones goin' off here, e-mails there, Cratchit bitchin' about a day off tomorrow to work on his short game for the club was a mess.
So I finally get everyone calmed down, and I'm almost out the door, and Marley shows up. Dead Marley. Guy's a ghost. Got all these chains hangin' off him, and each one is trailing some new club or teaching device. Looks like hell.
'Marley! Listen, man; I'm runnin' here. Can we set something up for next week? Call me, dude.'
Guy starts moanin'. Like this: 'Ebenezer!'
'My name's Bill. Ebenezer was my great-great-great-y'know, over-and-over-again grandfather.'
'Whatever! I come to warn you!'
'Is this about the ground under repair on 14?' I had my clubs on my shoulder, and I was heading for the door. He just kept up with the overacting ghost thing.
'No! You are sucking the fun out of golf!
'It's your attitude!,' Marley wailed. 'You're crushing yourself to perform when you should be enjoying more!'
'Oh, fer...'
'Witness the chain I wear! Yours was as long these seven club championships gone by, when I keeled over at the turn. You have labored on it since!'
'Yeah, right. Can I go now? I want to finish before dark.'
He ignored me.
'You will be visited by three spirits! The first, on the first tee. The second at the the turn. And the third on the 18th tee.'
'Couldn't I just meet them all in the men's grill and have it over?'
'Look for me no more,' he moaned. And he flew out the 60th floor window. That's gonna cost me.
I had to weave in and out of a lot of traffic on the 405, but hey, the old ladies are used to being cut off out of the right lane anyway. I got to the first tee, got over the ball, and up floats this little glowing dude holding a first-generation Big Bertha.
'Who are you?' I said, restarting my pre-shot routine.
'I am the Ghost of Distance Blast,' it said.
'Don't you mean Distance Past?'
'No, I said Blast,' it said, annoyed. 'Although it's true you used to bust it farther. But it's not just your age. You're using out-of-date technology.'
'I am?' I said.
'Yes. And you're not optimized.' He snapped his fingers, and a launch monitor appeared.
'Your drives are just shadows of what they could be,' Blast said. 'Give me ten swings for a base line of data. And don't steer it!'
I did as I was told. Within minutes, we went for a stiff shaft with a soft tip, plus another degree of loft. He touched the new titanium clubhead with his finger, and there was a flash of light.
'What happened?' I said.
'I have put a little more weight in the heel, so the toe can catch up. You won't leave it out to the right as much.'
With that, he put the new war club in my hands. I swung: the ball went high, straight and forever. I turned around, beaming.
'Hey! That's great! How did you...?' But I was alone on the tee.
All through the front nine, I busted it with the new driver the ghost had fitted me into. I was four under and all I had into the ninth was an easy 8-iron. I swung, I steered -- I got in the bunker and ended up making double.
I was pissed. And the turn house was closed. Not a soul in sight. I banged my fist on the plywood panel over the counter. Suddenly, the panel flew open, and some guy with a very calm face looked out at me.
'I hope you're the Ghost of Not Three-Jacking,' I said.
He looked at me funny.
'No,' he said softly. 'I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present. As in keeping your mind in the present. If you hadn't been thinking of five under back in the fairway, you'd have made that birdie.'
'O.K.; listen, Buddha. I was just trying to be positive. What was I supposed to do, drop into a Zen trance?'
'Well, yes, almost,' said the ghost, sipping on a cup of green tea. 'Just clear your mind and stay in the moment. Make a good swing, the way you know you can. Just let it happen.'
'Psychobabble,' I spat. 'Just gimme a hot chocolate with a double shot of Hennessy and I'll carve one into the green on 10 and make it up.'
But the plywood panel suddenly slammed shut, and Mister Zen was gone. I shrugged and headed to the tee.
On the tee at 10, I figured, what the heck. Maybe Buddha Boy was right. I picked a line, then set up and forgot about it. I loosened my grip pressure. I chucked the mental steering wheel. I swung.
Eureka! A sweet draw that found the speed slot down the left side, and I had a perfect angle into the green and 7-iron in my hands. To 10 feet! I put a Brian Hammons on it ('Drano!'), and the world shined.
Zen Man was right. I dropped the grinding, and things started happening. I got to 16, and I was five under. I think. I didn't care. I had a rhythm going. I was having a great time.
Dusk was gathering. I stood on the tee and watched the bare branches of the trees move in the cooling breeze. Dead, dried leaves blew across the tee, making a sound like rattling old bones. I remembered some of my solitary end-of-season rounds when I was a kid.
I can't say how, but as I was about to start my backswing, I was aware of someone watching me. It was Michelle Wie.
'Michelle?' I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Now it was Paula Creamer.
'I am the Ghost of Golf's Future,' she said, just before changing into Hunter Haas. While I looked, amazed, he morphed into Morgan Pressel.
'How come you can't stay...y'know, one person?'
'No one person owns golf's future,' said the ghost, who was now Camilo Villegas. He became Natalie Gulbis, then Erica Blasberg.
'Wait! Stay like that!' I said. No luck. I resigned myself to the morphing as the ghost became Tiger Woods.
'O.K. Why are you early? You weren't supposed to come until 18. And what do you want?'
'There is no time to lose. A golfer's spirit is required to walk among its fellow players,' said the ghost, now Luke Donald, 'or it will be condemned throughout eternity to review its old scorecards and agonize over missed four-footers.'
'Humbug,' I said.
'What?' the ghost said.
'Never mind.' There was a long pause. I brushed my club back and forth over the turf. The ghost became Jack Nicklaus, the young Jack, then the older one, then the old Byron Nelson, then the 1942 version, then Bobby Jones. It went on and on.
'Why did you play alone so much as a kid?' the ghost asked.
'I liked it,' I said, not so sure. 'I dunno.'
'How can this game grow,' the ghost said, 'unless we all take up some of the task of convincing people -- especially kids -- that the time, expense and difficulty are worth it? That sports, golf in particular, is worth putting the XBox aside from time to time?'
The ghost was Old Tom Morris now.
'Looka there,' it said.
Up by the 16th green was a boy, perhaps 10 or so. He was by himself. He set up over a 40-yard pitch and swung. The ball landed by the hole. He jumped up and down, then stopped and looked around -- and seeing no one there, he seemed a bit ashamed. He went up to tap in the putt, then moved toward the 17th tee, looking a little sad.
I rushed up to the tee.
'Uh...can I play in with you?' I said.
The kid beamed.
So we did. We played 17 and 18, and four more holes after that. Had a basket of french fries in the grill. Talked about golf, school, work, sports, girls, stuff. Laughed and laughed and laughed.
At the end of it, we shook hands.
'We'll have to do this again soon,' I said. 'It was fun.'
He pumped my hand and smiled up at me.
'Thanks, Dad.'
I woke in my bed with a start. Was it....was it all a dream? I rushed to the window, threw it open, and looked through the palms. A boy was running by.
'You there! Halloa!'
(Halloa? Did I actually say that? I forgot about it and addressed the boy, who now looked up at me.)
'Tell me, boy....what day is it?'
'It's the final of the club championship, sir.'
I haven't missed it! The spirits did it all in one round! Well, of course they can. They play golf; they can do anything they want, can't they?
'Boy! Do you know the bank of lockers in the clubhouse, the next row over but one?'
'I should think I do, sir.'
Bright boy, brilliant boy. Probably never three-putts.
'Well then, my lad, stick a note on Mr. Cratchit's locker and tell him I'll be there! And if you're quick about it, there's a box of Pro V1s in it for you!'
He dashed off, and I went rushed to get dressed.
Well, you probably know the rest. I looped for Cratchit, and he got up and down five times to win the scratch flight by three strokes. He and his boy, Tim, play golf with my son and me pretty regularly.
Oh sure, I still work on my game, and I still try to play well. But there's a lot more match play, and a lot more smiling, laughter and....well, fun, which was the whole idea, I've come to realize.
And that was on my mind the other day when the Cratchits and my boy and I shook hands on the 18th green and went into lunch, with Tim saying, 'Thanks for the game.....and God bless us, every one.'
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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.