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
 
Related Links:
  • The Gratitude Project
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    Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

    Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

    “If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

    Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

    It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

    It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

    “I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

    It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

    Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

    That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

    That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

    A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

    Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

    “I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

    “Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

    Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

    “I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

    Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

    With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

    Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

    Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

    Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

    “We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

    “We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

    Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

    “But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

    McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

    “They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

    The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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    Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

    It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

    At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

    And now?

    Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

    A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

    “Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

    That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

    On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

    It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

    Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

    There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

    And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

    That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

    “Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

    Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

    He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

    “I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

    Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

    For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

    The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

    Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

    “That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

    If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

    “It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

    It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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    Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

    By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

    U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

    Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

    The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

    This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

    "This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

    Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

    "I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

    The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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    Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

    By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

    The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

    But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

    "Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

    Hard to argue with the result.