JACKSONVILLE, Florida – Framed photographs large and small hang in every room and adorn the walls of every corridor inside the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, memories of Arnold Palmer and more than a half-century he devoted to golf.
He is flinging his visor after winning the Masters. He is posing with one of his best friends, Dow Finsterwald, and his longtime rival, Jack Nicklaus. In one picture, he is wearing a Chinese hat during his first trip to China to design a golf course.
Unmistakable in nearly every photograph is a smile.
In his design company office one day in December, he was asked why he was always seemed happy.
“I loved what I was doing,” he said. “I got to play a great game. I have a great life, a great family, all the things you could want. I love the feeling of getting out of bed each morning.”
Golf featured its share of unpleasant moments this year—Tiger Woods, leaning back against his locker at Sawgrass with his eyes closed after pulling out of The Players Championship, perhaps the low point on the golf course in a year filled with them; Dustin Johnson, erasing his scorecard to change a 5 to a 7 after being told he was in a bunker on the last hole of the PGA Championship; Paul Casey, facing reporters who wanted answers he didn’t have as to why he was left off the Ryder Cup team.
The photos of Palmer are a reminder that it’s a great game, and a great life. As always, there were plenty of poignant moments from a year on the PGA Tour that go beyond birdies and bogeys and bunkers:
Lee Westwood shot 68 in the final round of the Honda Classic, and when he signed his card, he was in a seven-way tie for 15th.
He retreated to the bar with his agent, Chubby Chandler, and watched the follies unfold as one player after another dropped shots coming in at PGA National. When it was over, Westwood was in a three-way tie for ninth, the difference of about $87,000.
“The best drink we’ve ever had,” Chandler said.
Paul Goydos didn’t want to wait for officials to stop play, not when he was facing a tough tee shot on the 11th hole at Riviera in a cold rain that was starting to come down sideways.
That’s when he declared that the tee box was in casual water and someone would have to call for the maintenance crew. He figured that would take enough time for the tour to decide to suspend play. What he didn’t realize was the maintenance shed was right behind him.
In less than a minute, three workers arrived carrying squeegees.
Goydos was startled, finally breaking the silence by saying under his breath, “Well, that didn’t work out too well.”
Tiger Woods was in the second-to-last group at the U.S. Open, five shots behind Dustin Johnson. He was playing with Gregory Havret. The final group was Johnson and Graeme McDowell, none having ever contended in a major.
Before leaving the putting green and walking up the steps to the first tee, Woods hit a 50-foot lag putt toward the hole at the far edge of the green. He left it 5 feet short, then settled over that putt.
He missed. Woods reached with his putter to bring the ball back to him, stood over it, and missed it again. He pulled the ball back and missed a third time, then missed a fourth time. With that, he handed the putter to his caddie and headed to the tee.
On the first hole, he three-putted for bogey. Within an hour, his U.S. Open hopes were gone.
Phil Mickelson walked off the 10th tee at St. Andrews during a practice round and saw the concession stands. His eyes lit up, not just because he was hungry, but it was an opportunity for one of his favorite treats. Mickelson is known to walk up to a food stand at tournaments and announce he’s buying for everyone in line.
He took his wallet from his bag and told his caddie and coach he would be with them in a few minutes. It didn’t take long for Mickelson to rejoin them, however, and he wasn’t happy.
It was Sunday. The concession stand was closed.
For the last several years, Ryder Cup officials have arranged for the U.S. captain to make a tour of the big cities leading to the matches. That stop includes Los Angeles in September, and it was a natural for Corey Pavin. He grew up in Ventura County and starred on the UCLA golf team.
The media turnout was strong, but Pavin seemed an afterthought midway through his news conference. He noticed several reporters stepping outside to answer cell phones. One Ryder Cup official thought it extremely rude.
Only later did they learn Joe Torre had announced he was retiring as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Ryder Cup charter to Wales was either oversold or there were not enough seats. Whatever the case, two caddies were bumped from the charter – Frank Williams, the caddie for Stewart Cink, and Steve Williams, who works for Tiger Woods.
Not only are they close friends, but Frank Williams doesn’t like traveling to Britain and Steve Williams doesn’t like the Ryder Cup.
“You know why Stevie hates the Ryder Cup so much don’t you?” Frank Williams said. “Because up until this year, he wasn’t used to working for a check that small.”
One of the most entertaining nights of the year is when European Tour caddies are feted – and roasted – at the HSBC Champions. Fanny Sunesson won an award for “misclub of the year.”
Turns out her boss, Henrik Stenson, hit a 3-wood on the 18th hole at Dubai that not only failed to clear the large pond fronting the green, it barely made it to the water.
For her honor, Sunesson won two bottles of fine wine. Stenson, with mock anger, marched onto the stage and took one of the bottles before returning to his seat. He came back on stage as Sunesson explained what happened.
It dates to the previous year at the Masters, when Stenson wanted to hit 3-wood for his second shot on the 15th. Knowing that the Swede tends to hit his 3-wood low and hard, she reminded him he would have to hit a high, soft cut. Stenson instead drilled it over the green, almost into the water behind the green.
“So we get to Dubai and he wants to hit 3-wood to the green,” Sunesson explains. “Now this was the right shot for his 3-wood. And tell them what you did, Henrik.”
Stenson, slowly bowed his head and leaned toward the microphone.
“Soft cut,” he said.
After the third round of the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, some 200 fans stood behind the railing outside the clubhouse after Woods walked by to sign his card. One man in the middle of the pack led a chant in Chinese that, based on the cadence, most likely was, “We want Tiger! We want Tiger!” This went on for a few minutes until a lone voice in broken English called out, “Tiger, where are you?”
The chant started again, but he had left through a back door to meet with sponsors.
A month later during the pro-am at the Chevron World Challenge, Woods had to walk along a cart path toward the 13th fairway. Three times, he stopped and posed for pictures with fans, something he has never done.
Something old, something new.