A personal journey through 2012

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2012, 12:38 pm

Follow me.

I’m going back through my travels in 2012, reflecting back to some of the behind-the-scenes moments that I’ll remember most in my reporting of stories from this past year.

Follow me back to a sampling of moments that made me stop scribbling in my notebook and marvel at the human spirit.

Follow me to . . .

The Thompson family’s living room

Love finds a way.

Through hardship, through heartache, through the most traumatic loss a family can endure, love finds a way.

I wrote those words after listening to the Thompsons reveal a family secret in the living room of their home in Coral Springs, Fla., back in January.

The game has rarely seen anything like the Thompson family and the potential they have to make marks on the PGA Tour and the LPGA. Lexi is just 17, but she has already won on the LPGA and Ladies European Tour. Nicholas, 29, will return to the PGA Tour next year. Curtis, 19, is a talented sophomore at LSU and winner of the Dixie Amateur.

I wrote about the family’s secret after listening to Judy Thompson tell a story she couldn’t get through without going through the box of tissues cradled in her lap. She’s mother to Nicholas, Lexi and Curtis, and she cried through the hardest parts revealing that while Scott was father to Lexi and Curtis, he wasn’t Nicholas’ biological father. Judy and Scott told me the riveting story of how their family was rebuilt from utter ruin after Nicholas’ biological father, Paul Curtis Thompson, was killed in a skiing accident eight weeks after Nicholas was born. Paul Curtis Thompson was Judy’s first husband and Scott’s older brother. The loss was devastating, but when Scott married Judy three years later, the healing would lead to their bond as one of golf’s most remarkable families. The bond is so strong Scott will serve as best man in Nicholas’ wedding this winter. The family bond is so strong Nicholas bought the house 500 yards from his parents’ home at TPC Eagle Trace.

“I think when my brother looks down, he’s happy with what’s happened,” Scott said.


The floor of the PGA Merchandise Show

I was told Meg Mallon once confided that if she were ever named the American Solheim Cup captain, she would make Dottie Pepper her assistant captain. So when Mallon was announced as the new captain during the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando back in January, I pulled her aside after the news conference for a one-on-one with LPGA communications director Mike Scanlan also there.

I asked Mallon if it were true that she had an interest in Pepper.

Mallon knew the sensitivities involved, that there were still delicate wounds among American women over the stinging criticism Pepper inadvertently leveled when she thought she was in a commercial break as a Golf Channel analyst at the Solheim Cup in Sweden in ’07. While I think I caught Mallon off guard asking this moments after her announcement, she was thoughtful and candid in ways that have made her so respected in the game’s ranks.

“I don’t know who my assistant captains will be yet, but I do believe Dottie Pepper should be a captain someday,” Mallon told me. “I also strongly believe that anyone who is captain should be an assistant captain first. Whether it’s me who names her, or another captain after me, Dottie was the face of the U.S. Solheim Cup team in the ‘90s. She deserves to be captain.”

I asked her if Pepper’s infamous “choking freaking dogs” comment might forever prevent that.

“I’m all about forgiveness,” Mallon said. “I think both sides need to step forward to kind of have that healing happen, and it couldn’t happen soon enough for me.”

I knew Pepper was at this PGA Merchandise Show promoting her new “Bogey Tees Off” children’s book, and I shot her a text message asking to meet. An hour later on the show floor, I read what Mallon told me to Pepper. Immediately, I saw just how much the American Solheim Cup still means to her. Pepper’s eyes welled up, her voice cracked with emotion.

“I don’t know what to make of it, but it’s terribly complimentary and it means a lot to me,” Pepper said.

My only reservation in writing the story that day was that it might overshadow Mallon’s announcement as captain, but the idea Mallon might open a door that seemed slammed shut for Pepper complemented the Mallon news.

Six months later, Mallon made it official, naming Pepper as her assistant captain. Mallon made the Fourth of July a red, white and Dottie day at the U.S. Women’s Open. Mallon also magnanimously opened the door to the very real possibility Pepper will one day be the U.S. Solheim Cup captain.

Pepper was in tears at the news conference. When it was over, she got a hug from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.

“Welcome back,” Whan said.

It was a symbolic embrace.


Outside the WGC-Bridgestone scoring trailer

After Jim Furyk made a mess of the 72nd hole to lose to Keegan Bradley at Firestone in August, I hustled to the scoring trailer to make sure I got a chance to get Furyk’s thoughts on what happened. It’s always a dicey proposition, catching a player moments after a crushing defeat, but it’s necessary to complete the story for readers who crave insight.

Plus, you learn a lot about the real heart and soul of an athlete in how they handle failure.

On his way off the 18th green, Furyk saw the heartache in the face of his 9-year-old son, Tanner. His boy was crying. In his own pain there, Furyk rose above the emotion. He stopped to show his boy that success is really a reward for enduring failure, for learning from failure. He showed his boy the dignity there can be in the inevitable stumbles in that upward journey. He encouraged his son to rise above it with him.

“I guess it reminds you as an adult, as a parent, that you have to act the proper way,” Furyk said. “You have to do and say the right things to give the right lessons.”

Walking back to write the story, I asked the inimitable golf writer Bob Verdi what he thought of the brutal finish.

“It’s a crazy, sick and cruel game they’ve chosen to play,” Verdi said.

Amen.


The back of the 18th green at The Olympic Club

Slipping through the crowd, I flashed my media credential at the ropes and worked my way onto the back of the 18th green to watch NBC’s Bob Costas present the U.S. Open trophy to Webb Simpson at The Olympic Club.

Standing behind a row of cameras, I was looking down and scribbling a note as Costas spoke when I heard this weird squawking noise, like some big bird. I looked up, and standing in front of the cameras was this loony looking man in a Union Jack stocking cap, looking skyward and squawking.

The police officers on the security detail must have been as dumbfounded as the rest of us, because nobody moved in on him. Enter Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director, who bolted to the “Jungle Bird” with the zeal of a professional wrestler. Davis, if you don’t know him, has a professorial nature about him. He strikes you as being so gentlemanly, with long patience, but his teeth were gritted as he put Jungle Bird in a modified crooked lariat and then flung him into a greenside bunker.

As Davis leapt to defend the honor of the game and a moment that belonged to Simpson, I kept thinking, “How chivalrous.” I know, the word doesn’t seem to fit the circumstance, but C.S. Lewis’ definition of chivalry came to mind. A true knight, Lewis believed, could be tough to the nth degree and gentle to the nth degree. As a leader, in this odd predicament, Davis showed us these knightly virtues.


The locker room lounge at Crooked Stick

After watching Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy banter like schoolboy chums through the first round of the BMW Championship, you couldn’t help wondering if they really liked each other that much. Even after listening to them stand side by side on Golf Channel to dissect their rounds together after signing their scorecards, you wondered if they couldn’t wait to bolt their separate ways. Really, can two titans battling for prizes they both covet really co-exist without some friction? Lions don’t share their turf, do they?

Apparently, they can, because when Golfchannel.com editorial director Jay Coffin and I hiked up the Crooked Stick locker room stairs after the round, we turned a corner to find Woods and McIlroy having lunch together, just the two of them at a corner table. News that McIlroy is on the verge of joining Woods with Nike makes you wonder if it might have been a business lunch, but it was clear, either way, there’s a lot of mutual respect between these two.


A Ritz Carlton ballroom at the LPGA Awards Celebration

After Stacy Lewis won the Rolex Player of the Year award, becoming the first American in 18 years to do so, she left the stage and walked into the heartfelt embrace of her teary-eyed father, Dale.

I like to call Dale one of the sanest fathers on tour.

A couple days earlier, Dale told me and two other reporters about the scene that always puts his daughter’s achievements into perspective. He told us about being there after the six-hour surgical procedure where a doctor deflated one of his daughter’s lungs and moved her aorta to make room to fix a rod and five screws to her backbone to remedy the damage scoliosis was causing. This was almost 10 years ago.

Dale and his wife, Stacy’s mother, Carol, were in the hospital room after Stacy awakened and medical staff said they wanted Stacy to get up out of bed and walk to the bathroom.

“I remember her shuffling her feet, and tears coming down her face,” Dale said. “That’s a picture I’ll never forget.”

Dale said, athletically, all he hoped for his daughter is that she might recover enough to be able to play college golf. He knew how much she loved the game and wanted to play at Arkansas. Now, he has another picture in his mind he’ll never forget. He has the picture of his daughter walking off the LPGA stage and into his arms with an award that says she was the LPGA’s best player in 2012.

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.