Golf in the Middle Ages

By Michael FechterApril 19, 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.
 
This is tough for the winner of the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational to admit, but I suck at golf. On August 24, 1980, Tom Watson collected 100 grand at the World Series of Golf, the biggest single-day payout in golf history at the time, but it was my win at the 'Al' that led the television sports report of two local stations in Charleston, S.C. Lets just say there were a lot of sluggish news days in 1980 South Carolina.
 
Now, on the rare occasions that I get to play, I hit a few good shots and the rest are embarrassments. When I nail a ball, I mean really nail it, I'm lucky to out drive my early-morning octogenarian speed golf playing partners. The thrill I get from out-distancing three men nearly twice my age is tempered by the fact that one guy, Mr. Davis, literally has an oxygen tank hidden in his golf bag.
 
While these guys are serious about their 30 cent-a-hole rounds, I tell them how nice it is to not care about the score. How I just enjoy their company, the weather and the connection between the earth, my body, the club and the game. I get all 'Gandhi of golf' on their ass, and it really fries them. They say I should take it 'serious.'
 
So, then, why have I set a goal of shooting the best scores of my life nearly 30 years after that steamy August weekend when my 71-71-75 beat the posterboy of 13-year-old local golf prodigies across America in the 'Al'. Because I'm a dumbass.
 
As my body gives in to middle age and atrophy, I know exactly why my golf game depresses even the best club manufacturers. I hardly ever play and my back can lay me out for weeks after a rousing game of ping-pong or an ill-timed sneeze. In a world filled with 18 million Orphans and various other calamities, why should I care about my golf score?
 
Because, I am a man. And, with that cruel onset of diminishing testosterone and dwindling clarity of mind comes the conviction that IF I just start practicing and playing and IF I put my mind to it, I can be 17 again.
 
So, here I sit at 45 with some vague memory after high school graduation when I would shoot 73 to 77 every day from the white tees at almost any course. At 5'11' and nearly 125 pounds, I was the Manute Bol of sub-6-foot suburbanites. Only, I doubt Manute had my excellent short game.
 
And as for my nonexistent long game, when I hit it on the screws of my father's old persimmon, I'd lay 210 yards straight down the middle. With today's technology, my extra 25 pounds and a pushup or two, I've gotta be good for 212. Hell, give Mother Theresa a Callaway X9 driver and a Pinnacle Gold and she's sitting 250 ' even a decade dead.
 
Thanks to the South Carolina summer sun, the Charleston Municipal Golf Course was playing short and fast for the 'Al.' At only 6,100 yards with lots of baked-out fairway roll, I was cranking the ball 230, and hitting the par-5s in two. Well, one par-5. According to my yellowed scrapbook news clipping, I had four birdies and an eagle in the second round to put me three shots in the lead.
 
I showed up three minutes before my tee time for the final round because I was up until 3 a.m. doing whatever it was that non-alcohol drinking college kids did while Carter hopelessly tried to keep Reagan out of the Rose Garden. Back then, there were no Ipods, text messaging, or Starbucks. We were living in the technological stone age and didn't even know it.
 
Certainly, I was feeling better than John Daly on his typical morning after sleeping in the parking lot outside Hooter's. Any way, there's a certain serenity that comes when you're 17 and riding on three hours sleep. I wasn't even bothered when my opening drive was a dead cold top. Thanks to fairways so hard you could land a C-17, the ball rolled to where I had a 7-wood -- yes, a 7-wood -- into the green.
 
After my 100-pound playing partner and nemesis, Chris Hunt, chipped in for birdie on No. 6, my lead was down to 2. On No. 9, a very long par-4 ' well, long for the Muni at 440, and really long for me -- I drilled my 3-iron second shot to 10 feet and missed the putt with my usually trusty Bullseye blade. I say 'usually' trusty because on this day, I had not made a single putt over 4 feet. Unlike Tiger Woods, but like most of humanity, the 'pressure' was getting to me. Who wants to get beat publicly by a kid three years your junior that barely pushes 3 digits on a bathroom scale?
 
Chris and I both made all pars until No. 12, when I missed a 2-footer -- a freakin' 2-footer -- for par, and my lead was down to 1. The gallery of 100 let their allegiance show, and it wasn't for me.
 
The hardest thing to do in sports is to 'right the ship' when you feel confidence draining. Harder still when every move is being covered by two camera crews.
 
Pars on Nos. 13 and 14 kept a 1-stroke lead. On the par-5 15th, I smacked a drive and felt I could reach the green with my Browning 2-iron. In 1980, Brownings were hi-tech, if mocked by everyone but me. They were low, fat, perimeter weighted and damn sweet to me. Even though I hit the ball thin, the Browning held true enough so that I had a chip from 10 yards off the green. My chip from light rough put me 8 feet away.
 
I read a 1/2 inch break to the right and told myself, 'You've been playing every day all year. Make this putt. Make this putt, you moron, or sell your clubs.' My classic, low-tech Bullseye came through. The putt slid in the right side of the cup and I had a two-stroke lead again ' a lead I held with solid pars through the final putt on 18 to win the 'Al.'
 
Later, when asked by a local newspaperman what he wanted to get out of the game, Chris Hunt said that he 'wanted to break all of Nicklaus's records.' I told the same reporter that 'I better look into getting a real job because today, I was almost beaten by a 13-year-old.'.
 
Well, Chris never broke any of Nicklaus's records and I never quite got that 'real' job. I became a comedian, an illegal golf ball maker, a father, a divorcee, the 'Ambassador of Fun' for the Malibu Country Club- get this: they pay me for ideas on how to make their golf and resort properties more fun; and a charity worker for international orphan relief.
 
These days, I am mostly confident and happy with my groovy Ghandi atitude. But, deep down, I'm never quite as happy and confident as I was during those three days of the 'Al.'
 
I want that '80 feeling back and I'm convinced that the greens at Charleston Muni are the carpet that I can ride there. That's why I've set out on what my 85-year-old mother refers to as 'your ridiculous, pointless mission'. What does Mom know? To my knowledge, she's never been a man.
 
I know my father would be proud that I'm giving golf another shot. Dad worked awful hard to support 8 kids, but also knew the value of golf, testing your limits and being free of business and family for a few hours..
 
People say that 'Life begins at 40.' Well, my golfing life begins - again - today at 45. And I no longer want to suck.
 
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
 
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
 
Related Links:
  • The Gratitude Project
  • Greenway Golf
  • Getty Images

    Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

    Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

    Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

    “While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

    It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

    “What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

    The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

    “I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

    Getty Images

    Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:







    Getty Images

    Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

    By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

    The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

    Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

    Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

    1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

    2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

    3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

    4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

    5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

    6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

    7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

    8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

    9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

    10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

    Getty Images

    Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

    By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

    It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

    Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

    "The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

    Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

    That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

    "You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

    "But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."