A Fateful Day and a Bond Forever

By George WhiteNovember 14, 2006, 5:00 pm
The date ' Sunday, April 14, 1996. The place ' Augusta National. The event ' final round of the Masters. The characters ' Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.
What happened that day was quite possibly the single most remembered Sunday in Masters history. Norman had played a magnificent three rounds to build a six-shot lead going into the finale. But that was to all melt away to the man who had wormed his way into second place on the last hole Saturday of Round 3.
And by the 12th hole Sunday, it was all gone. By the 18th, Norman was in a state of shock after having shot 78 on a beautiful, calm, Augusta day. Faldo had grimly, gamely shot a 67 to win with ease, coasting home as the come-from-behind champion by five shots.
They teamed up last week in Naples, Fla., at Normans tournament, the Merrill Lynch Shootout. It doesnt matter where they finished (next to last.) What mattered was the image of them walking together, playing together, laughing and chatting together, a decade after that fateful day.
Norman denied that the pairing ' which he himself determined ' had anything to do with that spring day in 1996. But neither can deny what that day has meant in their careers.
Faldo is a private person who doesnt relish talking about the victory. But as I've said many a time, I genuinely felt for the guy on that day because, hey, that would have scarred me if it happened to me, he said. I blew a four-shot lead at Muirfield (in the 1987 British Open) and managed to clamber it back (to defeat television mate Paul Azinger by a shot.) At least I kind of knew what that felt like. Fortunately I haven't scarred myself in majors.
So that was a scar for him. I genuinely felt for the guy, and I thought he was certainly good enough (to win).
In 1996, Faldo obviously wasnt the golfer he had been he had been during his days as world No. 1, up until 1994. He knew he wasnt the same shot-maker. But what he still had was a champions mentality
That round was the best round of golf mentally I've ever played, he said, because I had to go through the process of every shot I stood over - every shot (I had) negative thoughts. The wheels are going to come off, start again. What do I want to do?
And I had to push myself through the process of playing a golf shot. It was like, Oh, wow, can I do it? I had to literally tick all the little things off to make it happen. So that for me was the best mental intensity I've ever given it.
The man renowned for his incredible focus suddenly had to focus like never before. And he had to do it while trying to defeat a Masters hero.
The whole sound of Augusta changed, Faldo said. We could sense what's going on - it's like you can't get involved with his emotion, you've got to stay in your own little world because if you pop out of your little world, you'll lose it.
Obviously few of us have been in that position in that arena where you realize that you can be so fragile between being so mentally tough and then something can happen and you just lose it. And one bad shot trickles off into the lake (as Norman's did on the 12th) and it's a snowball. You lose it for five seconds, and that can be Augusta gone for you.
Norman himself isnt the type to rehash a day like the 96 train wreck, though he found the week particularly revealing in one respect. Its interesting to hear how he (Faldo) felt, and obviously it was interesting for him to feel how I was feeling that day.

But if the two old protagonists dont particularly enjoy talking about the 96 Masters, they do enjoy talking about the skills of each other.
We had this incredible competitive rivalry, and I loved it because he was an intense guy to play against, said Norman. I said this on The Golf Channel show - he's a guy who would walk on the first tee, cut your heart out and hand it back to you at the end of the round. He was so intent on beating you.
And Faldo conceded that the popular conception of him as the ultimate loner was correct for a long time.
I always had the attitude that I held my cards close to my chest. I actually didn't want to socialize with golfers after a round because I just didn't want to talk golf. I liked to park it and leave it, he said.
So I think now 10 years on, I hope this is a great time. My golfing career is kind of winding down now, and I think if we can sit down at the end of the day and be able to shoot the breeze and take the mickey out of each other now that it's all over, why not?
For me, being a competitor was part of your life. But you move on, and I really like to live in the now time.
Norman conceded that the mystery of Faldo the Solitary Champion made him want to extend the invitation to his tournament, if for nothing more than getting to really know the guy who had been his No. 1 rival for a decade.

When I was sitting back thinking about it, I said, 'You know, life is too short. I haven't really understood Nick as a person, as a friend, and he probably doesn't know me as a person and as a friend, either.' I said, Why not? Life is too short.
I thought about that when I spoke to Chris Evert about it, and I thought, You know what, who was my greatest rival out there? It was Faldo. Why were we great rivals? We were great golfers.' Being great golfers doesn't necessarily need to make you great friends.
Now life has changed. He's off in the business world, I'm off in the business world, and quite honestly, we've got a lot to talk about. We've got a lot of time to catch up on.
So Norman placed the call, asking Faldo if Faldo would be his partner.

You could hear this pregnant pause at the end of the line, said Norman, laughing. I think he was pleasantly surprised.
Sometimes you've got to reach out, and sometimes youre - I'm glad I did it.
Faldo says hes sorry that he had to play golf the way he did, with a single-minded outlook which permitted him to play at a championship level but closed out completely his fellow competitors.
This is me now, he says. When I was a competitor, that was me then, and that was the only way I knew how to deal with it.
I wish, as we all do - wish you knew then what you know now. I wish I had the ability to go in and out of having fun if something happens, being able to respond to that and then click back into my golf. I didn't.
Obviously people got portrayed, Well, look at this miserable bugger on the golf course, he must be like that all the time. So I got that reputation, and I wasn't. Yes, I was committed to golf, but you have to be if you want anything from - if you're building a business or a sportsman, you've got to be committed.
But OK, this is me now. As you can hear me talk, that was then, this is the new lifestyle now. I love my life ... It's as simple as that, you know.
Getty Images

McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

Getty Images

Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.