Introducing the Family to Golf
Why waste a gorgeous 80 degree, Orlando day watching meaningless bowl games and getting orange Dorito dust on the sofa?
Robin's been a dutiful driving range companion through our 15 years of marriage but has never to my knowledge played a full round. With some formal dance training, she understands body movement and has a pretty solid swing. Plenty of times I've eschewed the teachings of Leadbetter and Flick and instead leaned on the sage, living room advice from Robin, who knows what a basket case I am. I was really looking forward to her debut.
My oldest has just taken up the game and played two full rounds with me while on vacation. Like most his age, he shows flashes but isn't yet refined nor experienced enough to break 100. Like most his age, he has realistic expectations. If he doesn't shoot 71 he lapses into a pre-teen funk that usually leads to an outbreak of acne, not for him but for his parents.
At six, Jack is blessed with so many adorable and wondeful qualities. Unfortunately, patience isn't among them.
Aware that he's yet to fully develop in that area, I steeled myself before leaving. 'Remember,' I said to my leery dad within, 'you're a loving, caring, patient father and under no circumstance will you lose your temper.'
Jack broke me by the fourth hole.
But it had begun well enough. Winter Park Country Club is almost 90 years old, a tiny nine hole track that meanders through the charming town of Winter Park. At 2,470 yards, it's just right for a beginning family.
On the first hole, a narrow 232 yard par 4, a sign is posted with seven rules like 'a shirt must be worn at all times' and 'no mulligans.' I wasn't confident that we'd be able to adhere to the latter, but then again the fellow teeing off ahead of us broke a rule by wearing brown socks with black saddle shoes.
Meanwhile, I'd packed a little gym bag filled with Capri Sun juice boxes and a few plastic bags filled with pretzels and goldfish. We don't go anywhere without the goldfish. We'd sooner leave the house without a wallet, without shoes, without my contact lenses than leave without Jack's goldfish. So not only did I have my own clubs to carry, I had the gym bag over the shoulder. As I walked down the first fairway, I looked like a bell hop at the Four Seasons.
On top of it all, a woman pointing in my direction said to her friend, 'That guy's the weatherman.'
In any event, I was soon extremely busy. The questions came in bunches.
'Daddy, where's my ball?'
'Daddy, can I play in the sand?'
'Daddy, where are the snacks?'
'Daddy, can I pee?'
'Daddy, what should I hit?'
My standard reply, whether from 150 or 50 yards, was, 'Hit the hybrid.'
Off the first fairway, Jack was in tears after his fourth whiff. He goes at it with everything he has, I mean really gives it the full 'Arnie.' When he finally connected he blasted it far and straight. He busted into a huge smile and ran after his ball.
'Jack,' I yelled,'hold on sweetie you can't run in front of Jesse while he's hitting.'
And for Jack, this is how it went for much of the afternoon. Whiff, cry, kill it, smile, pee, eat, argue with his brother, play in the sand, whiff, cry, kill it, smile, pee, eat, argue with his brother and play in the sand.
Jesse, on the other hand, is fairly serious about improving his game. A chip off the old block, he's already displaying a bit of golf course self loathing. Not yet a disciple of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, he missed a short putt at the par four fifth and proceeded with a hang dog face to play putting ping pong.
'Jes,' I said, trying to console, 'don't worry, you hit some good shots here.'
'No I didn't,' he said, obviously sad, 'I just tapped in for a 23.'
The fourth hole passes by a church and then winds around an historic cemetery not far from the train tracks. I had a decision to make.
Should I go pray, lay down and die, or hop an Amtrak to Cleveland?
I'd gut it out, though my own game began to crack. Number four's a dogleg par 5 and I blew my second across the street into the plant and flower shop. I dropped and then bladed a wedge into the cemetery. After paying my respects to a Mr. Lewis and Mr. Jackson, I dropped and then chunked my next.
When I finally tapped in, Jesse said to me, 'Don't worry Dad you hit some good shots here.'
'No I didn't,' I said, obviously sad, 'I just tapped in for a 23.'
As for Robin, she'd hit enough decent shots to consider a long and happy run in the sport. Of course, ever sensible, she wasn't going over board.
'Isn't two hours of beating your brains in enough,' she said knowingly.
By five, we'd set a new modern record. We had just let a 14th group play through. Jack had had enough golf and wanted to play hide and go seek over by the gazebo. We laid in the grass in the far right rough and laughed until it hurt.
We never finished the nine. The goldfish were gone by the sixth. Darkness would soon set in. On the walk into the tiny clubhouse, my load a little lighter with all the snack bags and juice boxes now empty, Jack said one last time, 'Daddy I have to pee.'
There was no bathroom in sight, just a strand of trees off to the right.
We may have broken one of the seven rules, but Jack did learn one final lesson.
I can hardly wait for the astro physics lecture.
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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1