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Punch Shot: Behind the scenes in 2013

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The 2013 season provided golf fans with many controversies and storylines, but some stories are always left untold. GolfChannel.com writers take you behind the scenes providing us with their best tales from the road this past season.


By JASON SOBEL

Two of my lasting memories from covering the game in 2013 include the (almost) first shot of the year and the (almost) last shot of the year – and both involve Matt Kuchar.

As you probably recall, the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions was delayed for a few days due to heavy winds around the Plantation Course. At one point, officials attempted to begin the event with a two-tee start, so I trekked up to the 10th teebox, where it’s usually breeziest. Prior to the first shot of the year ever being struck, I watched Kuchar place his ball on a tee, only to have it blow off before he ever swung at it.

It was a tweetable moment if there ever was one, considering I was one of about seven people in attendance when it happened. So I took out my phone and began thumbing a tweet, but within seconds was reprimanded by a marshal. This came despite the sticker on my credential allowing a phone, despite anyone being allowed to tweet from the course and despite the season not even having begun yet. A scolding about tweeting before the first shot was ever hit? That’s gotta be a record that will never be broken.

Eleven months later, I stood just off the 18th green at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge as Zach Johnson improbably rinsed his second shot, then holed out with a wedge for par to force a playoff with Tiger Woods. Amidst the chaos that ensued, I ran into Kuchar, who had played in the group in front of them, as he was leaving the scoring area.

The usual irrepressible Kuchar smile was even bigger than normal – not because he was rooting for Johnson or against Woods, but because he had just witnessed the same thing that everyone else around the 18th green had seen. “Wow,” he said to me. “What a par!” It was a cool reminder that despite the impeccable golf swings and the multitudes of zeroes in the bank account, the world’s best players are still fans of the game and love seeing the improbable take place. Just like the rest of us. 


By RANDALL MELL

Hearts swell around the 18th green late on Sundays in major championships. No heart swells there quite like a parent’s with a competition ending.

I’ll remember the elation hovering in the wings in majors this past year. I’ll remember it in the hearts and faces of the parents of all three major championship winners in the women’s game.

I’ll remember Dale and Carol Lewis watching their daughter, Stacy, overcome five bogeys in the final round to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open with a birdie-birdie finish at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf. There are few sights as heartwarming as watching parents marvel over their child. We saw it there in Dale’s eyes and heard it quivering in his voice, emotion springing up from all the memories of his daughter’s battle with scoliosis.

“Today was like her whole life,” Dale said under the shadow of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews clubhouse. “She is never down. She always has a chance.”

That same sense of parental wonder was in the eyes of Sung Kim as she watched her daughter, Inbee Park, hoisting the U.S. Women’s Open trophy at Sebonack in her historic third consecutive major championship triumph. Sung Kim shared a story that surprised us there, a story about how on the eve of the final round her restless daughter confided to her that she was worried about letting down her family and her country with so much at stake. Inbee struggled to sleep in the house the family was renting with the weight of history pressing down.

“Don’t worry,” Sung Kim said she told Inbee. “If you win, it’s OK. If you lose, it’s OK. We are just so happy either way.”

With that, Inbee found the sleep she needed.

I’ll also remember the pride in Mona Pettersen’s eyes as she watched her daughter, Suzann, draped in their native Norwegian flag, hoisting the Evian Championship trophy. Mona saw a life’s thread running through the moment.

“She’s always been so determined,” Mona said. “When she gets her mind on something, there’s no stopping her.”

Parents have their blind spots with their children, but nobody sees through to the core quite like they do. I'll remember that from the 2013 majors.


By REX HOGGARD

After 186 tries the scoreboard, and a beaming smile, said it was Ken Duke’s turn.

The veteran had toiled at nearly every level of professional golf with varying degrees of success, but a PGA Tour title had eluded him at every step.

Having finished runner-up three times on Tour he knew how quickly fortunes can change on a championship Sunday, but after a closing nine of 32 for a final-round 66 at last season’s Travelers Championship there was a hint of anticipation etched into his face as he entered the scoring trailer.

At 12 under, there was only one player, Chris Stroud, who could catch him, and his only spoiler had missed the green at the last hole and needed to chip in to force overtime.

Before Stroud’s downhill birdie chip reached the cup, Duke was already out of the scoring trailer. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he smiled as he made his way to the first playoff hole in a mixture of appreciation and anticipation.

Duke outlasted Stroud in the playoff, making birdie at the second extra hole, to claim that elusive Big League victory and immediately endear himself to the media masses.

Journalists are taught to root for the story, not the player. With Duke, however, it was hard to separate the two.


By WILL GRAY

There are several memorable moments that stick out for me from my travels in 2013, but the scene that created the widest array of storylines came at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.

With spots in the season’s second major on the line, well-recognized professionals lined up toe-to-toe with otherwise anonymous amateurs. Rory Sabbatini stood on the putting green at The Lakes Country Club in the early morning hours, one of many PGA Tour pros to go with shorts for the day’s 36-hole journey. He practiced next to Justin Thomas, at that point still an amateur, whose plane had landed just hours earlier after he helped lead the University of Alabama to a national championship. His father was with him on the putting green, coffee in hand, still wearing the smile from the day before.

Scott Gardiner drew much of the morning buzz that day by showing up to the course without his clubs, which were lost in transit. The subsequent scramble led to the Aussie playing with a mixed set of sticks from the staff collection and using balls emblazoned with “SNAP,” since the assistant in the shop that had a few eggs to spare tends to move his shot from right to left. Remarkably, he used the rag-tag assortment to shoot an opening 65 without hitting so much as a single ball on the range.

As morning became afternoon, future Presidents Cupper Brendon de Jonge could be seen sitting alone in a corner of the course’s outdoor patio. He was eating a to-go burger from the grill before being shuttled to Brookside Golf & Country Club for the day’s second round, appearing very much like a club member grabbing a quick bite before resuming his $5 Nassau match.

As the sun began to fade, an 11-for-7 playoff included veteran Steve Flesch, whose teenage son, Griffin, served admirably as caddie, despite the fact that it seemed at times the weight of the golf bag might be enough to send him sideways.

Such are the sights of a sectional qualifier – easily one of the more memorable days I spent on the course in 2013.

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