Much More Than A First Time Winner
Really? We pretend to know whats inside an athlete, what makes him go, but we truly know so very little. Most of the athletically gifted'and thats pretty much all who play any sport professionally'closely guard their inner feelings. We know only what we see.
I saw Len Mattiace in the San Jose Airport two weeks ago on our way home from Pebble Beach. His young daughter alternately cuddled with Mom and bounded into our conversation, where shed be gleefully scooped up by her father. Len and I chatted about the chase for more distance, how everyones tinkering, searching and scratching for a new shaft or ball or head just to tack on a few more dizzying yards in the modern homerun derby that is professional golf.
Len was in the pack of hungry dogs still fighting to taste victorys prime cut. A decade of scraps didnt dull the desire, though, because Len rejoiced in just being around the dinner table.
I love this game, he told me simply. A short time later hed get on a plane and go to the next stop. Still winless. Still resolute in the quest.
I saw a nice, decent man. But knowing so often only what we see, I didnt yet see a champion.
Sunday at Riviera, 13 days removed from our encounter at Gate 73, I saw Len Mattiace break down and cry streams of tears before a roomful of people. In an interview I did with Len for Inside The PGA Tour, I asked him how his mother, Joyce, a victim of cancer in 1998, would have reacted at his long-time-in-the-making first Tour win. Hed addressed a similar query in his post victory press conference with 20 or so writers. He spoke lovingly, but remained composed.
Finally, the champion of the Nissan Open could hold back no longer. I always feel like shes with me, he sobbed. Im very thankful and lucky to have had her. And the tears fell, one after the other. Ive never heard a press area so quiet.
Joyce Mattiace died three months after she watched her son at The 1998 Players Championship. There, in the final round, Len stood tied momentarily at the jittery 17th hole with Justin Leonard. He made a clean, bold pass at the high iron and the shot looked to be true. But hed caught it too flush, and the ball bounded long into the water. Before the gasp from the gallery had even finished echoing, Len teed up another and found the bunker. From there he found the water once more.
Hed made an eight on the penultimate hole of what could have been his greatest moment. Television didnt miss a single, painful second. With his dying mother watching from a wheelchair, a very powerful, bittersweet and profoundly human drama had played out for so many to see.
That spring day four years ago, we did get more than a glimpse of Len Mattiace. We saw a man handle fates cruel blow with dignity. There was a fundamental niceness to him, with pleasing features and an easy smile to go along a slender, unthreatening build, like Jimmy Stewart.
Unfortunately, sports being what it is, Len would disappear to a degree, only in the sense that he failed to consistently contend after The Players. So he simply fell from our consciousness. It happens all too frequently.
And so when Len finally stepped out of that pack to win at Hogans Alley, I wondered how many people truly remembered the measure of the man we saw at Ponte Vedre. Or would he be viewed as just another first time winner, a relatively non-descript journeyman whod be quickly forgotten? I thought about our encounter at the airport just two weeks prior. And then, long after CBS had signed off, he broke down.
My wife and I talk about how if we can just be half the parent that my mother was, he said haltingly, wed be grateful.
Now I saw much more than a golfing champion. In a world where we really know so little about those whose exploits we cover and watch as fans, it was a startling and breathtaking moment on The PGA Tour.
Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.
The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.
There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates. And click here for the full collection of articles.
No. 1: Dec. 18
Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.
With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.
Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.
The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.
In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.