Random musings of a gray-haired man

By Brandel ChambleeJuly 1, 2011, 12:23 am

Perhaps I am too young to reminisce but the gray-haired man that stares back at me in the morning thinks otherwise, so what follows are the ramblings of a broken-down pro in no particular order.

My rookie year on Tour I was paired with Jeff Sluman in the third round of the Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic. Jeff was an established player having his best year and I had been struggling but was having my best week. During the round, our scorer – a very attractive woman – was at every chance talking to Jeff, who is enormously clever and funny, but was understandably more concerned with his golf.

When we were done and in the scoring tent, Jeff and I were checking our scorecards as the scorer called out each hole. While she was calling my scores, I saw her slide a note to Jeff which had her phone number written in the top right hand corner. After reading the note, Jeff held up his left hand which had a gold band on the ring finger and using the thumb of his left hand pushed the inside of the band up and down so as to make the band move and said quietly, “You see this? It means commitment, but thanks for thinking of me,” and then he got up and walked out of the trailer.

In April of 1986, I was playing in an obscure mini tour event in Savannah, Ga. run by a shady group of investors. On Tuesday night of that week, I was in the lobby of my hotel playing a game of pool with a friend when a tall, dark-haired man whom I recognized immediately walked in. He ordered a beer from the waitress who gushed at him and then he leaned against the wall and watched our game of 8-ball. He didn’t say a word but he might as well have been screaming at the top of his lungs. Seve Ballesteros, the best player in all of golf, was in town tuning up for The Masters.

Over the next few hours we played several games of pool as he lamented how it was that he came to be in Savannah and playing in an event in which the total purse wouldn’t pay his typical appearance fee anywhere else in the world. Banned from playing the PGA Tour because he didn’t play the minimum number of events in 1985, Seve could only play in New Orleans as the defending champion and the majors as bodies other than the PGA Tour governed them.

In preparation for the year’s first major he was trying to get acclimated to the time change and in need of competition because he had been tending to his ill father and not his golf game. The next day his father would pass away hastening his exit but not before it occurred to all of us in the event how silly the impasse was between him and Ponte Vedra Beach. Ironically, the Tour is currently on the cusp of facing a similar standoff from this point forward owing to the international laden world rankings.

On Sunday morning of the 1987 British Open, I was standing in the breakfast line in player dining when an old man, dressed handsomely, asked me to join him at his table. Strained for time and consumed with thoughts of my upcoming round, I thought about declining with apologies owing to time constraints but alas, I sat down.

The man was three-time British Open champion Henry Cotton whose last victory in the Open came in 1948 at the very course I was playing that day, Muirfield. He talked about the need to control the ball through “training the hands” and he explained the proper hand action and then, picking up the club beside him, went into greater detail. I was the best, he said, because I could hit it here every time, as he pointed to the dime-sized worn spot on the center of the face of the 4-wood. He then showed me his grip and he talked about the placement of the fingers and the proper pressure needed to bring the club into the ball.

A few months later, on December 22, 1987 I read of Henry Cotton’s passing and the world of golf mourned one of its greatest and most influential players.

At the 2000 U.S. Open on Saturday, the wind blew how it can on any course by the sea and how you pray it doesn’t. Paired with Nick Price, I played miserably. My fortune would change around dinner time, as my best friend Jack Harden, his wife Nancy and I were able to get Greg Norman’s unclaimed table for dinner because he had missed the cut and understandably left town. After a great meal, I headed to my room, which was at the Lodge overlooking the first tee.

Around midnight I heard a knock on the door and slumbering over to the peep hole, I saw Jack standing at my door with a few clubs tucked under his arm, scotch in one hand, a cigar in the other. I opened the door smiling because I knew what he was up to. “Pro,” he said, “come keep me company as I play the 18th.”

A few minutes later Jack, Nancy, and I were standing on the 18th tee and Jack was hitting one tee shot after another into the night, over the ocean and hopefully onto the fairway. After Jack hit 10 or 15 tee shots, we ambled to the fairway talking about golf, golf swings and the not insignificant fact that Tiger was decimating the field in this, the national championship.

We found most of his tee shots and then he launched another volley of shots at the green where there stood maybe 40 people with similar, but not nearly as well-thought-out plans on how to toil away the night. Upon arrival to the green, we were greeted to applause and some comical commentary and then we all stood enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves and the sight of the moonlight reflecting off the ocean.

The next day Tiger, would of course win by 15 but as my second shot sailed across the ocean and jumped up on the 18th green, I looked at Jack and Nancy and we all smiled like I had just won the U.S. Open.

I can’t remember what I shot at Westchester, the British Open or the U.S. Open but I can tell you why I always pull for Jeff Sluman and pulled for Seve Ballesteros, what Henry Cotton’s hands looked like on the club and what Pebble Beach looks like at midnight. I know these memories – and others like them – don’t fill a trophy case, but they keep me company like trophies never could.

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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner

On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray

On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard

On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”