Is 90 Like Dying

By Michael FechterMay 16, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
As the Ambassador of Fun for the Malibu Country Club and other holdings of Greenway Golf, there are certain expectations when I play a round. My job is to make the game of golf more enjoyable and more accessible to the average golfer. Happy golfers play more rounds of golf. Happy golfers eat and drink at the 19th hole. Happy golfers spend more money and keep golf courses in business.
In theory.
So far, my game sucks. And I'm not much enjoying it. But I've got a path, a design, a grail...
In my quest to rediscover the golfer within who won the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational, Ive been taking lessons to try to hit the ball longer and straighter, so I can get back to being that kid who was happy to be teeing it up six, sometimes seven days a week. And, so far its been an unmitigated disaster.
You see, there's a comfort we develop with our swings, and with life. We may be doing everything wrong, but for some reason, it feels right to us -- no matter how ridiculous and inadequate it appears to an outsider. I used to think my ex-wife did a thorough job of pointing out my shortcomings. She could learn a thing or two from my swing coach.
And now, thanks to my swing coach, I know what it is like to not break 90 from the white tees on the very same course where I once shot 1 over par in 54 holes to win my only Junior Golf tournament.
Or, I would know that feeling if I hadnt walked off after No. 13 to go enjoy a sugary and delicious Coca-Cola. I simply saw no reason to stay on the course when I was 13 over par, by myself, dealing with 35-mph wind gusts and just plain not having any fun. Golf is a game of confidence and my tank had run empty. Trudging the extra five holes for the sake of posting some 'number' would be counterproductive and miserable.
For all of you who dream of someday breaking 100, I bequeath you this round. Do with it what you will. I recommend wrapping walleye.
Life is too short to be in high winds, unhappy, alone and absorbed by the fact that I could neither motivate my mind, nor my body, to propel that little white sphere on a consistent, predictable ballistic trajectory.
So into the parking lot I moseyed from the furthest reaches of the course on No. 13, tipping the cart girl a dollar for my 75-cent Coke because there was no reason to take my lack of hand-eye coordination, strength and flexibility out on her.
To be honest, my 90 could have been higher. I was 1-putting most every other green. It's like the old golf joke 'How in the world did you make a 13 on No. 2?'... 'I made a downhill 9-footer '
My playing partners, David and 71-year-old John Davis, decided that they had enough blustery weather after nine and packed it in. I wanted to finish 18 so that I could post a score and track my progress in this quest to play like I was 17 again.
Yet, after shooting a combined 8 over on holes 10 to 13, and just not enjoying the day, I began my long walk of shame back to the clubhouse.
It would have been some sort of self-flagellation to have stayed on the course. It would have been as mindless as W continuing with his Iraq position. We are both too smart for that.
There are days where you just need to pack it in or you will simply develop too many bad habits and bad thoughts. Keep a shred of dignity and get back to work another day. ' these are the things I told myself as I walked toward my car.
Wandering past the pro shop, my pal, the assistant pro and my very reluctant swing coach, Brian Ferguson said, 'Have you been to see Chris Hunt?'
Chris was the 13-year-old golf prodigy who almost beat me out to win the Al Esposito Junior Invitational. While he never broke all of Nicklauss records, as he proclaimed he would when interviewed by the local newspaperman after the final hole, from what I hear, Chris, a former University of Georgia scholarship golfer could still nail it 300 yards straight down the fairway.
I had been meaning to call Chris, to let him know that I was gunning for him. Every superhero needs an arch-nemesis, no matter how contrived. In my mind, this year-long journey could only end with Chris and me replaying those 54 holes on a hot summer weekend here at the muni. And, may the better golfer win.
Consumed by the shame of packing the round in early, and perhaps a bit pissed at Brian for starting my swing on this terrible downward spiral, I offhandedly said 'No, what's up with Chris?'
Looking down just slightly, avoiding my eyes, Brian said, 'Chris had a massive stroke. He's been at the hospital in ICU the past few days. He's lost his ability to speak. Tubes everywhere.'
Brian went into more details, but I couldnt help feeling that something was wrong with his words. Because, in my mind, Chris is still in eighth grade. Hes that 13-year-old kid who was going to beat Nicklaus.
But now, in this twisted thing called reality, Chris is 41 and lying in a hospital bed. Hes got a 6-year-old daughter, fighting for his life.
My problems, like whether the Ambassador of Fun was truly a happy golfer as he struggled to break 90 at the muni, seemed rightfully unimportant and self-involved.
What I needed to do was clear, and it had absolutely nothing to do with keeping a wide stance, adjusting the plane of my swing, or eliminating what Brian refers to as my false finish. I needed to go see Chris.
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
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  • Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes