Tragedy Denies Augusta Trip
I started playing golf about the age of 13. I am now 69 years old and am more enamored with the game now than I ever was as a youth. During the intermediate years I continued to play on a somewhat regular basis but took a hiatus for 28 years, starting in 1973 and lasting till 2001. The reason for the hiatus was I had elected to resign my commission in September of 1973 and return to college to finish my education which I had started years ago. Going to school on the GI Bill, I did not have the time or the money to continue with my golfing career and just quit the sport all together.
In 1999 I bought a lake house on Lake Lanier which is just north of Atlanta, GA. The house is about a hundred yards from a brand new course that had been built in Dawsonville, GA that same year. Even though I almost lived on the 18th fairway I did not take up the game again as I was more into water skiing than golf. My brother in law, Jack, an avid golfer, admonished me quite often about not taking up the game again. I finally gave in when he got me up to the range and had me hit a few balls. The results were about the same as when I was playing regularly years ago. Enter, the Golf Channel. I started watching all the infomercials and was utterly amazed at the changes in equipment. They must have seen me coming. I bought just about every gimmick I saw. Some good, some bad. I will say this, I was a 18-20 handicap years ago and now have reached single digits. I am still amazed at the transition. But on with the story.
After returning to the game, I would hold a mini tournament on my brother in law's birthday which occurs the on the 5th of July. One particular year after the tournament, we were celebrating the '19th hole' at my house when his daughter, Robin, brought a new boyfriend to the event. His name was Howard. We all welcomed Howard into the fold and suggested that he needed to bring his clubs the next year to take part in the tournament. Howard accepted but only on the premise that we would play at his club. Of course we all asked Howard where his club was and he responded.... August National!! Well immediately we all became Howard's best friend. Howard could do no wrong the rest of the evening.
Howard, true to his word, confronted his father, Howard Sr., a well known surgeon in the Augusta area and a member of Augusta National, that he had committed him to inviting us for a round of golf. Soon thereafter Jack notified me that we were invited to play on February 19th, 2005.
On Friday the 18th I packed my bags and clubs and went to work. I had a hard time concentrating on my work as all I could think of was the up and coming golfing experience of my life. I was giddy to say the least. Then our receptionist said I had a phone call. It was my sister. She said our mother was not doing well and I needed to drop everything and come home (Birmingham, AL). I informed my sister that I had just left our mother on Monday and she was fine. She had serious advanced dementia but her physical health seemed fine. I also asked my sister if she knew where I was going and she said she knew I was going to Augusta to play golf but that I needed to come home. All I could think was, this can't be happening! Well I knew I had to do the right thing so I got my business associate to take my place and reminded him that he would owe me forever. I got in my car and headed west to Birmingham while my brother in law and my replacement headed east to Augusta. As it turned out I am so glad I made the right decision as my mother passed away that evening about midnight. I would have never gotten over it if I was not there. I thought life was pretty cruel at this point and if this wasn't the definition of a 'double whammy' I don't know what is. How often does someone forfeit his chance to play Augusta National and lose his mother on the same day? However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel here.
Howard, with the help of his mother, petitioned the good doctor to re invite us to play on January 20th, 2007. This time Jack and I were really on the road to play August National. We left a day early and checked into a motel to make sure we would make our tee time. I got up early the next morning and sauntered up to the lobby with a feeling of great exhilaration to have some coffee and doughnuts. My cell phone rang. The voice on the other end identified himself as the good doctor. He asked to speak to Jack but I told him Jack was in the shower but I would have him call back as soon as possible. The doctor said he had to go to Atlanta to perform some emergency surgery on Billy Payne's son and doubted if he could get back in time to make our tee time but he would be in touch. I was devastated. I thought again, HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING???!!!
As I have previously mentioned, my business associate had taken my place on the first invitation but what I didn't mention was he is about the biggest practical joker I have ever met in my life. He had pulled numerous practical jokes on me over the phone that I will not go into here but this one was the product of a very evil mind. He did his best impression of the good doctor on the phone when he called me on my cell phone and I failed to recognize his voice. I've only known him for 18 years but he has gotten me every time. After he finally fessed up to who was on the line, I dog cussed him for about 20 minutes after which Jack and I got in my car and took probably the slowest ride down Magnolia Lane that has ever been taken. After what I had been through to get there I thought I deserved it.
We had lunch with the good doctor at the clubhouse then went and played our round. Its hard to put into words playing Augusta National for the first time so I won't bother. All I can say is it was like being in a twilight zone that you never wanted to leave. I just thought the journey was more of a story than the actual round itself. And on a real positive note, Howard and Robin were married last weekend. Bot Jack and I are looking forward to the party that is forthcoming. Hopefully another round of golf is in the offering.
George, Dawsonville, GA
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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.