20 Years of Golf: Decades' worth of memories

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2015, 1:45 pm

(Editor’s note: Golf Channel turns 20 years old on Jan. 17. In recognition, we are looking back at golf over the last two decades with a series of articles and photo galleries throughout the week.)

It’s time for reflection.

Anniversaries, after all, are the times we remember a date that something notable occurred in our personal or collective histories, or we take stock remembering how something has unfolded since its inception.

The 20th anniversary of Golf Channel is a time to celebrate our golf memories here.

In the spirit of that, here’s an accounting of 20 memories that have stayed with me since I began covering golf in 1997. They’re listed here in no particular order, because special memories can be like your own children, there’s just no ranking them:

A Devoted Mother

I remember looking up at the first tee at the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Cup at Coral Ridge Country Club early in 2003 and seeing Kathy Krickstein Pressel bundled in a winter coat and a couple of blankets on an unusually bone-chilling morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. All you could see were her eyes from beneath the blankets.

Kathy was Morgan Pressel’s mother, and she was in the midst of chemotherapy in her battle with breast cancer. She was weakened by the treatments and vulnerable to infection, but there was no keeping her away from watching 14-year-old Morgan in the semifinals. She walked the entire match. I wouldn’t see Kathy the following year at the Doherty Cup. She died in the fall of ’03. She was a beautiful lady, always kind and gracious to me as the local golf writer covering her daughter. Today, Morgan has raised more than $4 million in her mother’s memory in the fight against breast cancer.

I could list 20 memories of Morgan, alone, here. She’s probably the reason my Golf Channel responsibilities include women’s golf. I was practically her biographer as the Sun-Sentinel golf writer documenting her emergence as a teen phenom, and it instilled in me an affection for the women’s game.

20 Years of Golf: Articles and photo galleries

Judy, Judy, Judy

I remember listening to Judy Rankin’s powerful acceptance speech when she received the Ben Hogan Award at the Golf Writers Association of America dinner in 2007.

Judy was being honored for the resolve she showed fighting breast cancer, and she ended her speech telling all the women there to get tested for breast cancer because she’s living proof that early detection is lifesaving. She then told all the men there to make sure the women they love get tested.

Upon returning home, I told my wife, Nicki, about the emotional nature of the speech, and she sheepishly admitted that she had not been tested for awhile, but she would do so. And she did so. After being warned something was amiss in her mammogram, there was a biopsy. We would soon hear the terrifying words: “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.”

Judy was right, though. Early detection is lifesaving. Though my wife had gone a few years without a mammogram, her cancer was caught early. Today, she’s almost eight years cancer free.

I’ve thanked Judy for making that speech so memorable, but I’ve never thanked her enough.

The Exceptional Patient

I remember Lynn DeBruin being assigned to sit next to me in the Augusta National media center at the Masters.

By God’s providence, the Masters became a most unusual educational forum for me on the war with breast cancer. A couple years before my wife’s diagnosis, Lynn began covering the Masters for the Rocky Mountain News and was given the seat next to mine. With a few hundred reporters there and only a handful of them women, I can’t believe coincidence put her so close to me. You always get the same seat at the Masters, and so we became neighbors and friends. She was already waging her own battle with breast cancer and doing so in such a disciplined, determined way when my wife was diagnosed. Lynn would become a remarkable early resource for us. She believed in the “exceptional patient” concept outlined by Bernie Siegel in his powerful book “Love, Medicine and Miracles.” I got to see the best possible model of the concept in Lynn. She battled so nobly, fighting her cancer’s return and still living so richly a good dozen years past her original diagnosis before her death just 16 months ago.

The Ace of Hearts

I remember Erik Compton collapsing into his caddie’s arms and passing out in the middle of the seventh fairway during the second round of PGA Tour Q-School at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla., back in 2001.

As the recipient of a heart transplant, Compton’s fall sent a scare into everyone who saw it, including rules official Tony Wallin, who raced out to help. Compton lay in that fairway a good 15 minutes, waving the group behind him ahead, but he refused Wallin’s urge to call paramedics. Erik eventually got up, made par at the hole and finished the round.

“There’s no way I’m quitting,” Compton told me at the back of the 11th tee box that day.

That pretty much sums up his remarkable career.

Even Tiger in Awe

I remember the way Tiger Woods looked at the U.S. Open trophy after he winced, grimaced and limped his way to victory on a surgically repaired left knee at Torrey Pines in ’08. It was as if he stepped outside himself hoisting that trophy. For the first time, it was as if he was out there with the rest of us, looking at his achievement in awe. Through the years, he has amazed us with his feats, but for the first time that day, looking at that trophy, he seemed as amazed as we were.

“I don’t know how I ended up in this position,” he said that day.

Character Wins Out

I remember being there when Mark Wilson reminded us why golf is different when he won the Honda Classic in 2007.

In a sports world where we routinely worship achievement at the expense of character and integrity, Wilson broke ranks spectacularly. He called a two-shot penalty on himself in the second round for a rules violation his caddie committed, a violation that a lot of players might have pretended they didn’t notice. Hearing a fellow player and his caddie wonder to themselves what Wilson hit into a green, Wilson’s caddie offered up what club it was. Wilson confronted his caddie, called a rules official and accepted the penalty . . . and eventually went on to win the event in a playoff.

The Affable Terminator

I remember covering the Doherty Cup women’s amateur event in Fort Lauderdale in ’08, where all three of tennis great Ivan Lendl’s daughters were playing. I remember approaching him after he caddied for his youngest, Daniela, with all these preconceptions in my head, memories of his fierce tennis persona.

Lendl was the dour Czech in his prime, more machine than human winning eight Grand Slam titles. The man I met, however, couldn’t have been more gracious. He was witty and charming with a wickedly sharp sense of humor. His daughters, too young to see him play in his prime, told me they found accounts of their father’s cold-hearted persona quite entertaining and couldn’t stop giggling when they stumbled upon a YouTube video of Ivan ferociously slamming a forehand off the chest of a snarling John McEnroe at the net in a tense match.

“It’s pretty funny,” Ivan’s daughter, Isabelle told me. “We watch that over and over again.”

The Donald’s Tour

I remember Donald Trump giving me a one-on-one tour of his brand new clubhouse at Trump International in West Palm Beach early on a Monday before the LPGA’s ADT Championship, before most of the women had arrived.

After showing me the men’s locker room, The Donald led me to the women’s locker room, where he knocked on the door a few times, then gently peaked in announcing himself.

“It’s clear, come on inside, you have to see how nice this is,” Trump said.

So I followed, right behind him as he whisked through the entry way and turned a corner into the larger locker room. That’s where we saw a fully clothed but startled Rosie Jones nibbling some breakfast.

Jones: “Ah, Mr. Trump, do you realize you’re in the women’s locker room?”

The Donald: “Yes, isn’t it the best?”

Flags at Half Mast

I remember arriving to the news of Erica Blasberg’s suicide at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala., in 2010. I remember the shock and confusion among her fellow players, the mystery shrouding the death. I’ll never forget the pain still so palpable in her father’s voice when I followed up with Mel Blasberg last season, the pain no parent wants to know.

I’ll remember Mel graciously sharing his personal regrets, and I’ll remember him reading part of the inscription on Erica’s tombstone to me: “We feel you with us when we dream of all things special. When we take our final breath, we know we’ll be with you.”

Mel’s pain, my inability to turn it into something helpful in my writing about it, haunts me.

A Mother’s Tears

I remember Lexi Thompson’s mother, Judy, going through a box of tissues in the living room of her home in 2012 telling the story of how she fell in love with Lexi’s father, Scott, after the tragic loss her first husband, Scott’s older brother, in a skiing accident.

The tight bond this family built through their scars is admirable.

It’s an extraordinarily gifted and close golfing family with oldest son Nicholas on the PGA Tour, with his sister, Lexi, playing the LPGA and his youngest brother, Curtis, just now starting his pro career in hopes of soon joining them at the highest levels of the game.

Love finds a way. That’s this family’s story.

Even the Bionic Man Was a Fan

I remember this adorable 17-year-old blonde showing up in Fort Lauderdale in a tiny car packed full of golf equipment and luggage back in the winter of 2000. Natalie Gulbis drove cross-country with her father from California to play the first leg of the Orange Blossom women’s winter amateur circuit. She single-handedly transformed the Doherty Cup that year.

With her stellar play, and, quite frankly, her cover-girl looks, Gulbis created a real buzz around the sagging event. With her photo on the front page of our local sports section most of the week, and the stories all focused on her, giant galleries flooded in to see her in the finals. In fact, even actor Lee Majors was there, the former star of the “Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Big Valley” TV shows. Majors was so enamored with the young golf prodigy, he got her to autograph a pairings sheet after she won the title.

Tiger’s Amazing Chip-in

I remember I wasn’t down at the 16th hole at Augusta National when Tiger Woods holed that phenomenal chip shot in the final round to help him win the 2005 Masters, but my father was.

While I was up in the media center cranking notes and watching the finish on the big screen there, my papa was down beside the green roaring with everyone else when the circuitous shot took that one last improbable turn and tumbled into the hole.

My father has this uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. I jokingly call him Forrest Gump.

A Father’s Devotion

I remember sitting with fellow golf writer Craig Dolch during lunch at the Honda Classic when he shared details of how his then 14-year-old son, Eric, contracted encephalitis, and how the neurological disorder was creating seizures so severe doctors had to place his son in a medically induced coma.

I remember his eyes watering, but I remember the determination, too. I also remember how fellow writer Tim Rosaforte rallied the formidable South Florida golf community, how the Nicklaus family and so many others stepped up to support the Dolch family. Craig’s devotion to Eric, who never fully recovered, earned him Golfweek’s Father of the Year Award last year. I see Craig’s undying devotion today in his loving Facebook posts of Eric and in the foundation he helped build bearing his son’s name.

Amen Corner

I remember the soul-stirring music wafting down to the 12th hole at Augusta National very early in the final round of the ’98 Masters.

I wasn’t there in ’86 when Jack Nicklaus won the best Masters ever, but I got an unexpected echo of what it must have been like. Nicklaus, at 58, was making another improbable charge. I had never really heard a Nicklaus roar at Augusta National, but I remember sitting in the media stands down in Amen Corner on that picturesque, peaceful day in ’98 when this sound detonated up on the hill way before the leaders teed off. “What the hell was that?” I asked fellow writer Helen Ross, who had been to more Masters than I had. “That can only be one thing,” she said. “That’s a Nicklaus roar.”

We began hearing one roar after another with Nicklaus pouring in birdies early. It was dramatic waiting for the number to be posted on the old wooden scoreboard down there. Alas, Nicklaus ended up tying for sixth, but the sounds he sent echoing down toward us, it made for a magnificent symphony in that magnificent setting.

Amen Corner II

I remember the thrill of playing Amen Corner after winning a spot in the media lottery the Monday after the championship a few years ago. I remember jumping so high after holing a 10-foot putt for par at the 13th hole that I feared denting the green. I had just made pars all the way around Amen Corner. For a 13-handicap, it was the highlight of a humble playing career.

Tiger Tracking

I remember sitting behind Tiger Woods in the back of the 18th green in Sunday’s finish to the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla, looking right down the line of the putt he needed to make to force a playoff with Bob May. It was only a 6-footer, but it was mind-boggling how many spike marks that delicate putt wobbled through to find the hole. It was a virtual obstacle course, and I didn’t think there was any way it wasn’t going to get knocked off course.

Lenny’s Rough Homecoming

I remember the dignity Len Mattiace showed enduring the cruelest moment I’ve ever witnessed in golf.

In the hunt in his hometown at The Players Championship in ’98, seeking his first victory, his entire family was huddled near the famed 17th island hole. His mother, battling inoperable lung cancer, was there in a wheelchair beneath a skybox right of the tee with Len’s father behind her. We’ve watched that island hole break hearts before, but never like this. It broke an entire family’s heart that day. It broke a whole community’s heart with Len hitting two shots in the water and making quintuple-bogey 8. As cruel as the finish was, Mattiace was the epitome of grace under fire.

“Lenny walks tall,” his father told us.

A Shot for All Time

I remember standing behind the Blue Monster’s 18th green at Doral when Craig Parry holed the greatest shot I’ve ever seen back in 2004. In a playoff with Scott Verplank, on one of the toughest holes in the game, Parry holed a 6-iron from 176 yards for eagle to win.

Saturday Mornings with Woody and Rosie

I remember cozying in between Mark Wood and Tim Rosaforte in the lobby at Doral for one of our many Golf World On Radio shows. I remember how the conversations had grown so natural on our Saturday morning shows that there were times you almost forgot you were on the air. Woody invited me to be a regular part of his show when I was the golf writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and I gained so much in the experiences. Woody was a golf instructor, with no real media background, but it’s amazing what his determination brought. He built that little South Florida program into a national show before we finally had to give it up almost 10 years into it.

Best Birdie Ever

I remember taking my son, Jacob, who was 11 at the time, to the executive course (The Tooth) at Orange County National outside Orlando for maybe his fourth or fifth round ever as a beginning golfer. From about 140 yards, with his little fairway wood, he struck a pretty fade over the formidable pond at No. 8 that held the green, and ended up about 30 feet from the flagstick. It might have been the first green he ever hit in regulation. His putt was dramatic, with it slowing and dying near the hole, then making one last tumble into the cup. I became a human rocket when it disappeared, leaping into the air. The first birdie of his life was the most thrilling I’ve ever seen.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x