A bunch of my buddies just got back from a golf trip, and though I wasn’t actually invited, I couldn’t and wouldn’t have gone, anyway. Having not touched a club in three months, a four-day bogey bender at PGA National isn’t how I want to start my season. I realize we’re not playing for a green jacket or even a hundred bucks, at least under normal circumstances, but my competitive psyche is fragile. My self-esteem is far from bulletproof.
There’s always the camaraderie factor, but I’m not much fun when I’m waking up in the company of seven men, drinking gas-station coffee and losing three or four balls every nine holes. Besides, that camaraderie thing can be a total mirage. Everybody arrives on the first tee with high hopes and a huge smile. By the fifth green, at least one guy in the foursome is very unhappy, wondering the whereabouts of the nearest ATM and if they’re mature enough not to ruin everyone else’s day.
Of course, PGA National features numerous bodies of water and a three-club breeze more persistent than the bag-drop crew, neither of which goes well with rust or horse manure. So I’ll just wait another month and play a bunch of bad golf close to home. It’s a whole lot cheaper. And so much easier to rationalize.
MAKE NO MISTAKE, there was a Boo Weekley sighting at Innisbrook last week. Largely absent from leaderboards of any size since helping the United States to a lopsided triumph at the 2008 Ryder Cup, Weekley’s closing 63 was easily the round of the tournament – maybe the best anywhere in 2013, all things considered.
To shoot three strokes lower than anyone else on a Sunday is very rare. On a golf course that continues to prove itself as one of the best on the PGA Tour, no less, that 63 carried Weekley into sole possession of second place, two strokes behind first-time winner Kevin Streelman.
But enough on the details. Boo’s emergence as golf’s favorite folk hero six years ago was as cool as stories get – and certainly not an accident. Among the dozens of tour pros described at one point or another as “one of the game’s best ball-strikers,” nobody’s clubface produced a more effective level of percussion than Weekley’s.
I stood on the practice range in Charlotte for 15 minutes one spring, watching him hit it with such purity that he basically stopped traffic. Grown men with a lot of money and things to do were turning their heads to see where that sound was coming from – Boo was flushing long irons like a robot with a pot belly.
His low-trajectory flight would serve him very well at breeze-friendly venues such as Harbour Town, where Weekley won back-to-back titles (2007-08), but a shoulder problem and an eternally inconsistent putter would take him off the map. Perhaps the clearest sign of Boo’s demise came in 2011, when he led the PGA Tour in greens hit in regulation but missed 12 of 23 cuts and had just one top-25 finish.
We’ll find out how “back” he is in due time, but regardless of how Weekley plays from here, he secured a spot in my personal Hall of Fame years ago. I spent a day with him in Milton, Fla., his hometown, where we managed to get through a couple of hour-long interview sessions on his grandparents’ porch, when we weren’t noodling around and doing absolutely nothing.
At one point that morning, Weekley and I were standing at the water’s edge, looking out over the river abutting the family property. “I’ve seen alligators come right up out of here and go after our cows,” he said matter-of-factly, to which I immediately suggested we go to lunch. The Weekleys owned 80 acres, every inch of it traversed by Boo as a kid – he hunted and fished hundreds of times before ever picking up a golf club.
If the setting wasn’t quite a Norman Rockwell postcard, it was down-home idyllic in a lovably plain sort of way, and Boo was purely a product of that environment. Even then, he talked about pro golf as if it were fifth or sixth on his list of things he liked to do. It was a job and he was really good at it.
When you quit school to spray the gunk out of tanks in a chemical plant, as Weekley had done in the early 1990s, you find that basting 3-irons for a living can have a distinct upside.
One of my favorite moments from the seven Ryder Cups I covered for Golf World occurred in the sixth singles match in 2008, when Weekley stuck his driver between his legs and playfully galloped off Valhalla’s first tee. The burst of laughter from the surrounding throng would symbolize a week of unabashed American joy – Weekley would clobber Oliver Wilson that afternoon and claim 2 ½ points in three matches to play a key role in the U.S. rout.
Alas, the horse would soon develop a little hitch in his giddy-up. Maybe he’s ready to run again.
DAN JENKINS IS an American treasure. Sometimes, you have to rummage through the chest to find a real gem, but Jenkins is one of them, and as the recipient of the 2013 Red Smith Award – without question the highest indigenous honor a sportswriter can receive – all I can say is: What the hell took so long?
Actually, that’s not all I can say. Jenkins has been on my short list of heroes for three decades, give or take an hour, a typist of unparalleled wit and uncompromised brilliance. His work has made me laugh out loud more than that of any other person, living or dead (Eddie Murphy, primarily because of his performance in “Delirious,” ranks a distant second).
At the ripe young age of 83, Jenkins still covers golf with equal parts intellect and attitude, swerving through the happy talk and B.S. like a Manhattan cabbie in 5 p.m. traffic. He has combined humor and candor like no other in my industry, which is why his personal inscription on my copy of “Slim and None” makes the novel one of my most cherished possessions.
Jenkins’ uncluttered style has always worked particularly well in long form. “Dead Solid Perfect” and “You Gotta Play Hurt” are two of the best sports book ever written, but I have yet to find a Jenkins offering I could put down easily. If you’re a serious golf fan over the age of 45, you know exactly what I mean. And if you’re a young golf nut, you need to head to amazon.com immediately.
Back when a pack of Marlboro Lights helped me get through a 2,200-word British Open game story, I’d step outside the press tent to have a smoke with Jenkins, a man of whom I was truly in awe. “When I grow up, I wanna be half as good as you,” I said to him once.
“You got something funny in that cigarette?” he replied.
THE MASTERS IS now squarely on the horizon, just 3 ½ weeks away and, in my estimation, the finest sporting event known to mankind. Because I am so fond of the tournament, it holds a reserved spot in every Hawk’s Nest for the next month. We begin with a little recent history and how it might factor into the not-so-distant future.
For all the trigger-happy projectionists looking to dominate the office pool, let it be known: The last six Masters champions had not won a PGA Tour event that year, prior to arriving at Augusta National. Phil Mickelson was the last to do it – he demolished the field at the 2006 BellSouth Classic, then claimed the green jacket for a second time the following week.
In fact, of those six winless winners-to-be, only Bubba Watson (2012) came to the Masters as a “hot golfer.” He’d finished T-4 at Bay Hill two weeks earlier – two weeks after a solo second at Doral. It’s worth noting that Bubba took a three-stroke lead into the final round in Miami and quickly became unglued, then pulled himself together and almost forced a playoff with Justin Rose.
Here’s a killer stat for you: Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel combined for 33 pre-Masters starts in the years they won the title. How many top-10 finishes did they amass in those 33 events?
As Jenkins might tell you, put that in your pipe and smoke it.