The day the Babes brought the house down

By Al TaysNovember 8, 2017, 1:05 pm

As Henrik Stenson attempts to recover from his ill-fated turn as a superhero, we are approaching the 80th anniversary of another golf "stunt" that featured two of the most genuinely colorful characters ever to tee it up.

On Nov. 14, 1937, Babe Ruth and Babe Didrikson (soon to become Babe Didrikson Zaharias) took part in one of the most bizarre charity events ever staged. The venue was Fresh Meadow Country Club in Flushing, New York, which in the previous seven years had hosted a PGA Championship (1930) and a U.S. Open (1932). But there was no resemblance between the seriousness of those two majors and the craziness that ensued in 1937.

The exhibition match, which was put on by the New York Journal-American, pitted the two Babes, Ruth and Didrikson, against golf hustler John Montague and a top local amateur, Sylvia Annenberg. According to The Associated Press report on the proceedings, 10,000 tickets were sold, costing a dollar apiece.

The New York Times compared the crowd to the one that witnessed Bobby Jones complete the Grand Slam at Merion in 1930, although its composition was entirely different; to quote the Journal-American, "Sixty percent of those present didn't know a bunker from a bung-hole."

The spectators did know stars when they saw them, though. None was bigger than Ruth, even though he was 42 and two years into retirement. He still held the records for home runs in a single season (60) and a career (714), as well as career marks for runs batted in (2,213) and slugging percentage (.690). In 1936 he had been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its "first five" inaugural members, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.


Photos: Golf's wildest exhibition match


Beyond his athletic feats, Ruth was simply larger than life, with stories of his prodigious consumption of food and drink rivaling those of his tape-measure home runs.

It was a similar story with Didrikson. Then 26, she had won two gold medals and one silver for track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. She didn't even take up golf until 1935. And like Ruth, her personality kept her in the spotlight even when she wasn't accomplishing amazing feats. Never lacking confidence, she was as quotable as she was talented. "The Babe is here," she once said upon arriving at a tournament. "Who's coming in second?" "It's not just enough to swing at the ball," she said on another occasion. "You've got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it."

Also an attraction that November day, though not quite at the level of Ruth and Didrikson, was John Montague. Born in New York, he migrated to California, where he fell in with the Hollywood crowd and became club champion at Lakeside. Powerfully built, he could belt 300-yard drives and execute trick shots with shovels and rakes with equal facility. After playing with Montague, legendary sportswriter (and Lakeside member) Grantland Rice called Montague "the world's greatest golfer."

Though Montague's on-course exploits were known, he kept the details of his past to himself. That all blew up, however, when he was arrested in 1937 in connection with an armed robbery in New York in 1930. Extradicted to New York in August, Montague admitted his real name was LaVerne Moore. Released on a $25,000 bond, he rented 17 rooms at a local inn for himself, family and friends during the trial. In the courtroom he was provided with alibis by his mother and two sisters, as well as one of the four robbers. Eventually he was acquitted. The November competition at Fresh Meadow was to be his first public exhibition match.

With no gallery ropes, the Fresh Meadow crowd was free to, well, crowd the fairways and greens. "This is worse than any World Series," said Ruth, who was knocked down on the sixth hole. "At least at the ballpark, the crowd has to stay in the stands." Balls had to be replaced after more than one shot as spectators, perhaps ignorant of the rules or perhaps just uncaring, picked them up and pocketed them. One of the spectators was former heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, who found the crowd too unruly for even his taste. "I'm getting away from here," he said after watching two holes, "before I get a foot in my face."

The match ended prematurely. Again, from the AP report: "At the end of nine holes, when everybody concerned, including the 10,000 spectators had enough, Montague and his blonde partner, Sylvia Annenberg, were approximately two down to Babe Ruth and Babe Disrikson. Approximately is the word, for Montague was unable to play out two holes and none of the quartet managed to hit the short ninth green after having hit their tee shots."

The headline: Stampeding Golf Crowd Stops Charity Contest in New York.

The end was a particular relief to Didrikson. "I don't mind sugar daddies in their proper place," she said, "but I hope I don't ever have to play chip shots again while sitting on their knees."

Her aversion to such indignities aside, Didrikson took to golf in a big way. In January 1938 she entered - there was no qualifying - the Los Angeles Open, the first woman to play in a national men's PGA event. She shot 81-84 and missed the cut, but she did come away with a significant prize. It was there that she met promoter and professional wrestler George Zaharias, and they were married 11 months later.

Didrikson regained her amateur status in 1942; four years later she won the U.S. Women's Amateur, then followed in 1947 by becoming the first American to win the British Ladies Amateur. She turned pro later that year and won the U.S. Women's Open in 1948. She would go on to compile a total of 41 wins in the LPGA, which she helped found in 1950, including 10 majors. Her last major win came in the U.S. Women's Open in 1954, the year after she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. She had undergone surgery just a month before, and played in the championship while wearing a colosomy bag.

Cancer finally claimed her in 1956, when she died at the age of 45.

Ruth openly sought a baseball manager's job, but there were no takers. His history of self-indulgence was not seen as a desirable attribute in someone responsible for managing others.

In 1938 the Brooklyn Dodgers hired his as first-base coach, but it was strictly a publicity stunt; he wasn't even asked to relay signs from the dugout. At the end of the season, Ruth resigned. It would be his last job in baseball. He continued to play recreational golf, and in 1941 he returned to the Fresh Meadow course as part of a series of exhibition matches against Ty Cobb to raise money for the USO. (At Fresh Meadow, Ruth won, 1 up, in front of only about 100 spectators.) In 1948 Ruth succumbed to cancer. He was 53.

Montague, who was 34 at the time of the Fresh Meadow match, returned to Hollywood, but had limited success trying to revive his career in golf. His health deteriorated, and in 1972 he died of a heart attack. He was 68.

The Fresh Meadow golf course, an A.W. Tillinghast design that had opened in 1923, was sold in 1946, when the members relocated to a defunct course on Long Island. Today the area is a residential neighborhood, 80 years removed from the events that put it in a brief, but bright spotlight.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.