Joining the Game Against the Odds
From all walks of life, from every corner of the globe come men and women who play the game. From the six courses of Botswana and its 1,100 golfers to Japan with its 12 million to the U.S. with more than 1,000 courses and 25 million golfers, golf has arrived. The game is played by all ' Maoris of New Zealand, Hispanics of the Caribbean and Mexico, natives of Fiji, Hawaiians and Japanese and Koreans.
Nowhere has the game been played with more determination ' and under more imposing odds ' than with the African-American population in the United States. Blacks were assumed to caddie for their slavemasters in the South in the days of slavery, and they took up the game in large numbers in the early 1900s.
The golf tee, in fact, was invented by African-American George F. Grant in 1899. Grant was a dentist by trade and he took up golf after the Civil War. The patent office gave him a trademark on his invention of the tee, but he never marketed it. He shared some with friends and playing partners, but most he kept squirreled away in his home. He died in 1910 without accumulating much wealth from the invention, leaving those who followed him to amass the fortunes from the golf tee.
John J. Shippen, Jr., was an early golfing pioneer who played in the second U.S. Open. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was only 16 years old in 1896 when the Open was played at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. His father was sent by the church to minister to the Shinnecock Indians, and young Shippen met Scottish pro Willie Dunn when he was just 12 years old.
Shippen became quite a proficient player, rising to the position of assistant pro at Shinnecock Hills under Dunn. When the Open came to Shinnecock, he decided to enter after much prodding from members.
The field of 35 was almost entirely foreign-born. When they learned Shippen, who was a light-skinned black, was in the field, a boycott immediately was planned.
Two reports are given on the solution offered by Theodore Havemeyer, the president of the USGA. One is that Havemeyer claimed Shippen was half Shinnecock Indian, which made his race of less importance. Another is that Havemeyer told the golfers that, yes, Shippen was black, and if the competition included but one player and that was Shippen, it would go on.
Regardless of what was told to the field, the tournament did proceed and Shippen played. He was tied for first place at the end of Day 1, but on the second he struggled on the par-4 13th and took an 11. He eventually finished seven strokes behind winner James Foulis. He would, however, play in four more U.S. Opens.Another prominent early African-American was Joe Bartholomew, who grew up in New Orleans and entered the caddie ranks by the age of seven in 1887. He became an exceptional player, attended college in New York to study golf course architecture, and eventually returned home to ply his trade.
He designed several courses in New Orleans, but because Bartholomew was black, many members of the courses refused to let him play what he had designed.
John Brooks Dendy was very poor as a child in the 1920s, but he wanted to be a golfer. He collected several metal clubheads. He fashioned shafts out of broomhandles and played with the clubs for several years. He won the Southern Open at 18, then won it two more times ' in 1934 and 1936.
Racism and prejudice were still rampant over the country, of course, and in 1925 an organization for black golfers was founded ' the United Golfers Association. African-Americans were not even considered for play in white tournaments. That slowly began to change, however ' with Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes, and finally with Charlie Sifford.
Spiller was raised in the Tulsa, Okla., area after having been born in 1913. He went to college at Wiley in Texas, then moved to Southern California. An exceptional player, Spiller was repeatedly foiled in his attempts to play professionally. He developed friendships with many white pros, some of whom (Jimmy Demaret, Johnny Bulla) made valiant efforts to get him into tournaments where he could compete against the great pros of the era.
Solely because he was black, though, Spiller was omitted. And not just Spiller, but also Rhodes, another great golfer. The former heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, worked his way into the white establishment because of his fame, playing in several tournaments in the 1950s. He had begun to play in 1935 and lost to Max Schmeling in 1936, many believe, because he was focused too much on golf and not enough on boxing.
The PGA of America contained a clause which was written into the bylaws in 1943, stating, Professional golfers of the Caucasian race, over the age of eighteen years, residing in North or South America, and who have served at least five years in the profession (either in the capacity of a professional or in the employ of a professional as his assistant) shall be eligible for membership.
In 1948, rumblings began, rumblings which one day would strike the clause down. Only three tournaments allowed black players to compete ' the Canadian Open, the Tam OShanter All-American in Chicago and the Los Angeles Open. Tournaments which were heretofore known as Opens, meaning tournaments which supposedly were open to everyone, often changed their names to Invitationals to exclude black players.A provision in the PGA rules stated that anyone who finished in the top 60 was eligible to play the next week. Spiller and Rhodes did so in the 1948 L.A. Open and went on to Oakland, which was the next tour stop. They were incensed when they were not allowed to play and filed suit against the PGA.
Their attorney, Jonathan Rowell, was persuaded by the PGA that the situation was about to change and dropped the case. It didnt. But Demaret, Jackie Burke and Leland Gibson constantly campaigned for the black players to their fellow pros. And in 1961, the Caucasians-only rule finally came to a head.
By now, Spiller was reduced to caddying to earn money. One day in Los Angeles, a gentleman for whom he caddied asked Spiller why did not play. Spiller told the man, Harry Braverman, about the clause.
Braverman advised Spiller to write to the California Attorney General, Stanley Mosk. An incredulous Mosk told the PGA that they could no longer play an event on a public course in California, then wrote the attorneys general of most other States with the same information.
The PGA finally bowed to the waves of negative publicity in November of 1961, canceling the clause. Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Lee Elder and many others were free to tee it up in a tournament. They endured much abuse and were refused many public services in the towns where they played, but played on regardless.
Brown was the first African-American to win a tournament when he won the Waco Turner Open near Ardmore, Okla., 1964. Sifford won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 L.A. Open. Lee Elder in 1975 was the first black to play in the Masters.
Since then, others have blazed the trail. Calvin Peete, Jim Dent, Jim Thorpe and others have joined the PGA Tour. Walter Morgan and Bobby Stroble have joined the Senior Tour, among others.
One player, though, may be destined to become the greatest player of all, black or white. The mans name? Tiger Woods.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.