I should clarify. His name is not really Chucky. Its Gary Freedson, though he prefers Gary Jack Freedson. When I call his office Ill ask his secretary may I speak with Gary Jack Freedson? Its grandiose, with stage quality, like James Earl Jones.
Gary Jack became Chucky about 20 years ago, named after the killer doll from the Chucky horror movies. Every time Gary Jack went into a slump ' and that could be twice in a long season ' hed come back. He was never dead. He always popped back up. Just like the Chucky the killer doll. It stuck.
I met Chucky in the mid-70s at Berkleigh Country Club in Kutztown, Pa. I was 15 and had just teamed with 60-year-old Elmer Hertzmark to win the Better Ball of Partners title after Marty Goldstein stubbed a 2-foot putt on the last hole. The victory, shallow as it was, legitimized me in a world of 12 handicap men who practiced law, sold womens dresses and owned carpet outlets. Chucky peddled stocks, and liked action. Fifteen years older, he pulled me into his game.
Chucky could sell like no one Id ever met. Single with no kids, hed egg you on to bag dinner reservations with your wife in favor of a giant late afternoon match. If you wanted to play $5 dollar Nassau, hed hound you to play 10s. Dollar skins became three-six-nine progressives. If you were done after 18 hed nag you until you caved for nine more.
On course he acted out hilariously wild mood swings. If he missed a crucial putt, he announced that he was in a state of major depression. But then as soon as he arrived on the next tee, 2 down with four to play, a bee might land on his ball. Hed stop, look to the heavens and scream, Come on bees!
If you were his partner ' and I was hundreds of times ' you played along, believing that the bees were sent to your aid, that they were now on your side and that the comeback was about to begin. Wed spot a turtle by the lake at 15, and the turtles too were on the bandwagon. It worked in countless matches. And every match he ever played was in his words bigger than big.
The swings homemade, but very effective, Chucky heaving his barrel chest down and through the hitting area. For years he was a solid 2 or 3, capable of shooting mid to low 70s.
But then age began to catch up with Chucky. He was turning 60. Wed busted his stones for the last five years ' told him it was over, that father time had him four down with five to play. He suffered a heart attack and then had hip replacement. He was forced to quit smoking. The market tanked. He couldnt break 85. A lousy chipper with a borderline case of the yips.
All he had were the memories: the 88 Calcutta when he played the front side on the last day in 3 under gross and together we won in a runaway and the club championship a year later after so many close calls.
It was over. Or was it? Remember, Chucky doesnt go away, does he?
For years, he tried and failed to qualify for the Maccabiah Games, a kind of Olympics for Jewish athletes from around the world held every four years in Israel.
He decided hed give it one more run. The hip improved. His ball striking started to come around. He worked hard at his short game and went from a 13 handicap back to a 3.
Last August at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he shot 82-77-73. He tied for fourth out of 28 players in the Masters division. But only four would go to Israel. There was a playoff. Chucky lost. He was devastated.
But last month, he received a phone call from the Maccabiah committee. They told him theyd agreed to expand the Masters division by one person. He was in. He was going to The Promised Land at the age of 62.
Its bigger than big, my old friend told me.
A beautiful sport this is that sends a guy in his 60s who looks like Marty Feldman with a better afro into the hot Florida sun banging balls and prepping for the tournament of his life.
Gary Jack Freedson, aka Chucky, will tee it up in the Maccabiah Games this July at Cesaria, the only course in Israel.
Ive been striving for this for 11 years, he said. Golfs a pretty good game, wouldnt you say, when a guy my age can finally achieve a lifelong dream? And by the way, Im killing the ball right now.
And then he began to egg me on. You should bring an entire film crew to Israel. It would be huge. Itll be bigger than big.
Im tempted. Believe me Im tempted.
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner
Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards
NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.
The awards and winners:
William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”
Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.
“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”
The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.
“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”
Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.
The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.
“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”
Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”
Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.
Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.
At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.
Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.
Fleetwood 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.
Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.
Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.
Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.
''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.
''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''
Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.
''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.
''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''
Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.
Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.
''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''
Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.
Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.
''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''
The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.
''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''
The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.
''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'
Joel Dahmen had a 64.
''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.
''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''
Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.
''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''
He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.
''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.
Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.
''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.
Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.
Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.
Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.
Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence
NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.
Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.
Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.
“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”
Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.
With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.
“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.
Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.
Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season.
“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.
Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.