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
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  • Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

    By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

    Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

    Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

    What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

    Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

    Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

    Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

    Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

    Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.

    Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai

    By Grill Room TeamNovember 18, 2017, 5:20 pm

    While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.

    Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

    By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.

    The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.

    The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

    Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

    Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

    ''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''

    DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.

    Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.

    Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.

    ''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''

    The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.

    Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.

    ''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''

    If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.