Ol Sam Banters On Unplugged
I only met Snead twice. The first time was a golf date, and I have to tell you, I was excited about it. This was seven or eight years ago, when he was already a man in his 80s. And I have to say that I was not bowled over by his pleasantries. I dont even think he said hi on the first tee. Somebody introduced the foursome, Snead grunted, and play began.
Not many things stand out about the day, but I do remember one thing in particular. Snead asked me if I had played the course before. Yes, I said, Ive played it several times. Well, came the surprising question, how far is to clear that bunker?
Now, this was a second shot into a green, not a tee shot. Even at his advanced age, Snead drove it 30 yards past me. I was dealing with a yardage I hadnt seen before. I have to say, in 30 years of playing golf, not one person has ever asked me how far it is to clear a bunker. But I made an estimate ' about 160, I guessed.
Snead swung and hit the ball ' and it plopped right into the middle of the bunker, sand billowing upwards as the ball struck. Obviously it was 165 or 170, if he had hit it right. Im not a pro, dont normally consider yardages to carry bunkers, and so I didnt think a lot of it. Until ' he directed his full wrath at me.
One-sixty my (posterior)! he roared. I thought you said youve played this course! That ball was a full 10 yards short!
I made a mental note to give no more yardages to Mr. Snead.
He settled down a hole or two later and began telling a long list of risqu jokes. Most were so old that I winced, but still snickered out of politeness. Along went the afternoon, until we were on about the 15th green.
Sam had a three-foot putt. He carefully lined up it, stroked it ' and missed.
He turned around. He leaped into the air. He twisted once or twice, then began a self-directed tirade: You no-good, no-hustle, no-putting (expletive deleted, expletive deleted, expletive deleted.) He was turning the air various shades of red, blue and green with his language. And then it hit me.
Sam was very serious about his golf. This was a charity match, it meant absolutely nothing, Sams fee had already been paid by ' whomever. He had done thousands upon thousands of these exercises. But he was STILL a grinder, still trying, still adamant when he missed. And here was a man in his 80s. Suddenly, his outburst that was directed towards me earlier in the round made so much sense.
The second time we met, Sam was considerably more pleasant. I had gone to his house in Fort Pierce, Fla., to do a story for the Golf Channel. Sam was extremely cheerful. Golf wasnt involved, of course, and he was free to just ramble.
And ramble. And ramble. I had a tape recorder with me, and it was running the whole two hours. The conversation was liberally sprinkled with curse words and off-color jokes. The jokes were old, many of them were repeats of the jokes Id heard playing golf with Sam a couple of years before, jokes that Id heard many times before that.
Afterwards, I mentioned to an aide of Sneads that I had taped the conversation, that there was no need for concern that some of the quotes might be wrong. The aide shrunk back in horror, blanching at the prospect of hearing ol Sam totally unplugged.
No, no, he stammered. Dont use that tape! Dont use those curse words!
I carefully reassured the gentleman that the tape was not going to be used verbatim. After all, I didnt work for an x-rated channel, and even though it was on cable, we still have some standards.
Sam, incidentally, didnt mind what he said, or what we used. But one thing he said really struck me. I asked him about Hogan, about Sarazen, about Nelson, information about each of them to be used for future obituaries. None had yet died ' Nelson, God bless him, may never go.
Anyway, Snead gave a little speech about each one. I know a lot of the chatter was bogus, but who cares? It was good theater.
Then he leaned back and said, You know, there is a time for all of us to go home.
No cussing, no jokes, no off-color stories this time ' just an elderly gentleman talking for the moment about something extremely personal. Now the time has finally come. Sam Snead has gone home.
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.