Enjoying the sights and sounds of golf's greats

By Mercer BaggsMay 7, 2016, 11:54 pm

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – There are days filled with words you wish you never heard. And then there are days when you keep quiet and enjoy the sights and sounds of others.

Today was a good day.

There’s Gary Player, sitting in the middle of a three-chair set; black, long-sleeve shirt; white saddle golf shoes with the big white, tasseled flap over the laces.

“I’ve been a pro for 63 years,” he says, almost triumphantly. “Traveled more miles than any man alive.

“These guys today, talking about being tired from all their travel.”

He fully spreads his arms across the two empty chairs and slides down in his.

“They get their own jet. Million-dollar appearance fees. I’d travel 40 hours, with six children, stop four times in the most unbelievable places …”

You’ve probably heard that before. But, hey, it’s Gary Player. It’s better than listening to the a guy explain why he hit a full 7 instead of a laid-off 6, a nostalgic reprieve to cliché and banality.

Player was one of nine greats who teed off Saturday afternoon at The Woodlands Country Club, a half-hour after the final group set out in Round 2 of the Insperity Invitational.

Included among them: Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Dave Stockton, Tony Jacklin, Tom Weiskopf and David Graham.

Their combined accomplishments:

PGA Tour wins: 203
PGA Tour Champions wins: 128
Major victories on the regular tour: 45
Major victories on the senior circuit: 29
Hall of Fame plaques: 7

They were even observed on Saturday by another World Golf Hall of Fame member, former president George H.W. Bush.

Of course, money is involved. These guys aren’t playing the 3M Greats of Golf for free. But it doesn’t matter what the primary incentive is – cash, camaraderie, competition –all that matters is that they have gathered again to entertain.

It's not all for fun. You can tell that these guys still want to win and beat one another, even if it’s an 18-hole, three-man, three-team scramble.

You can hear it in the, “Oh, Jack. C’mon,” on the fourth hole.

You can see it when Jacklin turns to Graham, flabbergasted that his tee shot on the par-3 eighth came up short of the green.

You can feel it when Irwin doubles over after a birdie miss at No. 9.

The golf was the golf. Team Irwin-Crenshaw-Stockton prevailed. But even they admitted, that didn’t really matter.

It was in the experience, and in the stories.

Prior to the event, two press conferences were held. One with Nicklaus, Player and Trevino. One with Crenshaw, Irwin and Stockton.

In the former, a question was asked relating to how the three players lifted each other’s games. Trevino started talking, telling a story about how in 1979, “you guys, you guys were starting to write about he’s finished, and what did I say? You know, in the wintertime when you go in a cave, you find a sleeping bear, leave the guy alone, don’t wake him up. You guys woke him up! He comes back, wins two majors.”

Then Player chimed in: “Funny enough, I was in his house. … and Sports Illustrated wrote about the end of Jack Nicklaus’ career, and I remember it like yesterday. He took that Sports Illustrated and he threw it down like that on that table.”

The story went on for a while. And then Trevino spoke again. And then Player. And then …

“A little while ago you asked a question,” Jack said with a smirk.

Seven quick minutes had passed. And no one wanted to be anywhere else. Nicklaus talked about focusing on Arnold Palmer, to his detriment at times. They talked about the current crops of players. They talked about the state of the PGA Tour Champions, and they talked about John Daly. Most of it was rehash, but it was Nicklaus, Player, Trevino rehash, which is the best thing you'll hear most any day.

When the next trio sat in the still-warm seats, the clock continued to move without notice. The topics were similar, the responses equally in depth. There was even reverence for the men who spoke before them.

“They’ve given us so much, and they’ve allowed us to do what we do, and there’s an awareness in the golfing world that those three and Arnold Palmer – they have given us this opportunity,” Crenshaw said.

“You see respect written all over the room,” added Irwin.

Eventually, the interviews had to end. There was lunch to be had – with President Bush – and golf to be played.

Word of advice: If you can only spend five minutes at a golf tournament, do so when Lee Trevino is on the first tee. And if Player and Nicklaus are there, all the better.

“First up, and arguably the best player of all time, Jack Nicklaus!” the first-tee announcer said as an introduction. Without missing a beat, Player said incredulously, “Arguably?!?” To which Trevino countered with, “Trump might have won more club championships.”

After Trevino was announced, a guy yelled, “You the man!” Trevino shot back, “A woman never says that.”

The main attraction – their following well out-numbered Daly’s for most of the round – didn’t disappoint. They poked fun at one another, shared quips, and interacted with the fans.

Waiting on the fifth tee box, Nicklaus sat in his cart. A guy started a mostly one-way chat and then brought up ice cream. He now had Jack’s attention. Nicklaus shifted his body toward the fan and began to list every flavor of his eponymous brand.

A 76-year-old man talking about ice cream in earnest. And it was great.

“Sounds like you haven’t got a flavor you don’t like,” someone said. “Can’t you tell,” Nicklaus replied.

As the day faded, Jack, Gary and Lee rolled up to the 18th green. Hale was there, and Ben, and Tom, and Dave and David. Only Tony was missing, because he had to catch a flight.

The greatest of the Greats couldn’t convert their final birdie putt. But no matter.

There must have been 50 people on the 18th green, hundreds more in the roped-off fairway and surrounding stands. Ben hugged David. Hale chatted with Tom. “Nice being with you, pal,” Lee said to Jack amid a mighty bear hug.

And then everyone stopped. Everyone.

Everyone looked up to the Jumbotron to watch the Kentucky Derby. Even the remaining eight legends.

Sometimes it’s good to be silent and enjoy the sights and sounds of others.

Getty Images

Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm