Peete worked to achieve a miracle career

By Joe PosnanskiApril 30, 2015, 1:09 am

Picking fruits and vegetables day after day in the Florida sun will make a man think about the future. Buck O’Neil was out there for a time as a young man. One scorching day he was out picking celery on a farm near Sarasota when he stopped and shouted to the skies: “Damn, there’s GOT to be something better than this.”

For Buck O’Neil that something was baseball. He would spend his life around baseball.

Thirty years later, the young man in the field was Calvin Peete. He was an eighth-grade dropout with a permanently bent left elbow after a childhood accident. He had no sport to fall back on the way Buck O’Neil did, but Peete shared the same overwhelming hunger to find something else. Anything else.

And so he somehow got his hands on a used Plymouth station wagon, filled the thing up with clothes and cheap jewelry, and began driving north, peddling all along the way. He made it all the way up to New York. Buyers called Peete the “Diamond Man” because he’d had diamond chips situated in his dental work. Well, Peete knew how to get people’s attention.


12-time Tour winner Peete dies at 71 | Career


He also knew the meaning of work; throughout his life he would come across people who simply admired his work ethic and wanted to help him succeed. One such admirer put Peete in the apartment renting business back in Florida. Another took him to a golf course to try out the game, a game Peete had long thought dumb. The first time Peete swung a golf club, he was 23 years old. And he was smitten.

There was not one logical reason for Calvin Peete to believe that he could succeed at golf. He was not a big man – he would be listed at 5-foot-10 but that was probably an exaggeration – and he could not hit the ball very far. His slightly mangled left elbow made it impossible to follow the cardinal rule of the game (“keep your left arm straight”). And, yes, he was African American – this at a time when most country clubs were segregated, when the Masters had never had a black player, when the rare black professional golfers (Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford) were often told to change their shoes in the parking lot rather than enter the clubhouse.

But Peete fell hard for the game. No, he became obsessed with it. Everything about golf fit his ordered mind. He would go out to a small public park in Fort Lauderdale every single day and just hit golf balls, collect them, hit them again, collect them. He hit golf balls so late into the night that, on occasion, people called the police.

Nobody taught him golf. He had never seen a tournament so he did not learn from watching others. He looked at some books, set up a camera that would take a few photos of his swing, and then invented a grip and a swing the felt right to him. One of my favorite Calvin Peete stories is that after hammering a million golf balls, he went to a golf shop to buy a glove (for a long time, he did not even know about gloves). The guy at the shop saw the calluses all over Peete’s hands and, in sympathy, showed Peete the proper way to grip a club. The grip that nameless salesman showed Peete was the one he would use to win 12 PGA Tour events and more than $2 million in earnings. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Golf is a game famed for its obsessives. Ben Hogan toiled in the dirt for countless hours before he found what he would call the secret. Stories about the work ethic of the young Tom Watson are everywhere; Lee Trevino remembered once noticing Watson hitting golf balls out of a practice bunker on pro-am day. Trevino found that odd; none of the professionals practiced on pro-am day. He didn’t think much more of it and he went to play his round of golf. Five or six hours later, he happened to be walking by the same bunker. He saw Watson still in it.

But it’s likely that none of them worked as hard or with as much obsession as Calvin Peete. He practiced all day and well into dark. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night with a thought about his swing, and he would get dressed and go hit golf balls in pitch blackness. He never stopped thinking about the game, never stopped trying to improve his swing. The first full round of golf he ever played, he shot 87. That’s a remarkable achievement. It was not nearly good enough for Peete. Within two years, he was regularly breaking par.

His strategy for playing golf was simple: Hit the ball straight. That was it. He didn’t hit it high, and he didn’t hit it far. But he hit it straight again and again and again. The rough did not exist for Calvin Peete. Trees were mere scenery. In the long history of golf, it is likely that no man ever hit a golf ball straighter. There are numbers to back up that claim.

Five years after he hit his first shot, Peete turned professional. For four years after that, he hacked around on various mini-tours and special African-American events. In 1975, he made it onto the PGA Tour. He missed the cut in his first four PGA Tour events. He did not have a top-five finish in his first 60 events. He would play one tournament, often make no money, revive his car, drive to the next event, play in it, often make no money and repeat. He ate so little during those years and worked so hard, that he lost 25 pounds and looked, as one friend said, “like he would collapse at any moment.”

But that drive of Peete’s was unique. In 1979, at the U.S. Open at Inverness, he tied for 11th and less than a month later – three days before he turned 36 years old – Peete won the Greater Milwaukee Open. He won it in style, too, birdieing six of the first 12 holes and finishing with a final-round 65. In winning, he became the second black player (after Lee Elder) to qualify for the Masters. The next week, he finished second at the Quad Cities Open, which pushed his earnings to more than $100,000 for the year.

“There was no way I thought I could do that,” he said in wonder.

It was just the beginning of a magnificent run. He won four times in 1982, won twice in 1983, won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average in 1984, and he won the Tournament Players Championship in 1985. He won more than $200,000 five years in a row. He also played on two Ryder Cup teams, compiled a 4-2-1 record, and combined with Tom Kite to defeat teams with Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer. He finished third in scorching heat at the 1982 PGA Championship and fourth at the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont. In all, he had more PGA Tour victories than Payne Stewart or Fuzzy Zoeller and just three fewer than Hall of Famer Fred Couples.

He achieved all this basically armed only with that arrow-straight swing. Look at these driving accuracy percentage numbers:

1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990
81.9 81.3 84.6 77.5 80.6 81.7 83.0 82.5 82.6 83.7

Yes, look at those numbers because you will never see any like them again. Peete led the Tour in driving accuracy every single one of those 10 years. Not only that, the highest percentage of drives in fairways since 1990 was Doug Tewell in 1993 – he hit 82.5 percent of his fairways in 63 rounds that year.

Calvin Peete over 10 YEARS hit 81.9 percent of his fairways. Repeat: Over 10 years.

And he did that with 1980s equipment. I once talked equipment with Peete at a Champions Tour event and he said, with all due modesty, that with these new clubs and new balls he would have NEVER missed a fairway. He certainly had the numbers to back up such a claim. Since 1980, Peete has the PGA Tour’s five highest driving accuracy percentages.

He got those numbers because he sacrificed all sorts of distance for accuracy. It wasn’t really a sacrifice … Peete simply could not hit the ball as far as most of the others. His weapons were straightness, solid long irons and an ability to make some long putts. The other golfers marveled that someone with such limited golfing talents could play the game so well. Jack Nicklaus meant it as the highest compliment when on Wednesday, in the hours after Calvin Peete’s death, he said: “He was very much an overachiever.”

He was even more than that. Calvin Peete was something of a miracle. There have been few people in America over the last half-century who were less likely to become a professional golfer. Calvin Peete became a great one. I once asked him about the motivation of being a picker in the field under a red hot Florida sun. He said, “I think that was my advantage. People would say to me, ‘Why do you work so hard on your game?’ I thought that was funny. Golf ain’t work."

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.