I’m going back through my travels in 2012, reflecting back to some of the behind-the-scenes moments that I’ll remember most in my reporting of stories from this past year.
Follow me back to a sampling of moments that made me stop scribbling in my notebook and marvel at the human spirit.
Follow me to . . .
The Thompson family’s living room
Love finds a way.
Through hardship, through heartache, through the most traumatic loss a family can endure, love finds a way.
I wrote those words after listening to the Thompsons reveal a family secret in the living room of their home in Coral Springs, Fla., back in January.
The game has rarely seen anything like the Thompson family and the potential they have to make marks on the PGA Tour and the LPGA. Lexi is just 17, but she has already won on the LPGA and Ladies European Tour. Nicholas, 29, will return to the PGA Tour next year. Curtis, 19, is a talented sophomore at LSU and winner of the Dixie Amateur.
I wrote about the family’s secret after listening to Judy Thompson tell a story she couldn’t get through without going through the box of tissues cradled in her lap. She’s mother to Nicholas, Lexi and Curtis, and she cried through the hardest parts revealing that while Scott was father to Lexi and Curtis, he wasn’t Nicholas’ biological father. Judy and Scott told me the riveting story of how their family was rebuilt from utter ruin after Nicholas’ biological father, Paul Curtis Thompson, was killed in a skiing accident eight weeks after Nicholas was born. Paul Curtis Thompson was Judy’s first husband and Scott’s older brother. The loss was devastating, but when Scott married Judy three years later, the healing would lead to their bond as one of golf’s most remarkable families. The bond is so strong Scott will serve as best man in Nicholas’ wedding this winter. The family bond is so strong Nicholas bought the house 500 yards from his parents’ home at TPC Eagle Trace.
“I think when my brother looks down, he’s happy with what’s happened,” Scott said.
The floor of the PGA Merchandise Show
I was told Meg Mallon once confided that if she were ever named the American Solheim Cup captain, she would make Dottie Pepper her assistant captain. So when Mallon was announced as the new captain during the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando back in January, I pulled her aside after the news conference for a one-on-one with LPGA communications director Mike Scanlan also there.
I asked Mallon if it were true that she had an interest in Pepper.
Mallon knew the sensitivities involved, that there were still delicate wounds among American women over the stinging criticism Pepper inadvertently leveled when she thought she was in a commercial break as a Golf Channel analyst at the Solheim Cup in Sweden in ’07. While I think I caught Mallon off guard asking this moments after her announcement, she was thoughtful and candid in ways that have made her so respected in the game’s ranks.
“I don’t know who my assistant captains will be yet, but I do believe Dottie Pepper should be a captain someday,” Mallon told me. “I also strongly believe that anyone who is captain should be an assistant captain first. Whether it’s me who names her, or another captain after me, Dottie was the face of the U.S. Solheim Cup team in the ‘90s. She deserves to be captain.”
I asked her if Pepper’s infamous “choking freaking dogs” comment might forever prevent that.
“I’m all about forgiveness,” Mallon said. “I think both sides need to step forward to kind of have that healing happen, and it couldn’t happen soon enough for me.”
I knew Pepper was at this PGA Merchandise Show promoting her new “Bogey Tees Off” children’s book, and I shot her a text message asking to meet. An hour later on the show floor, I read what Mallon told me to Pepper. Immediately, I saw just how much the American Solheim Cup still means to her. Pepper’s eyes welled up, her voice cracked with emotion.
“I don’t know what to make of it, but it’s terribly complimentary and it means a lot to me,” Pepper said.
My only reservation in writing the story that day was that it might overshadow Mallon’s announcement as captain, but the idea Mallon might open a door that seemed slammed shut for Pepper complemented the Mallon news.
Six months later, Mallon made it official, naming Pepper as her assistant captain. Mallon made the Fourth of July a red, white and Dottie day at the U.S. Women’s Open. Mallon also magnanimously opened the door to the very real possibility Pepper will one day be the U.S. Solheim Cup captain.
Pepper was in tears at the news conference. When it was over, she got a hug from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
“Welcome back,” Whan said.
It was a symbolic embrace.
Outside the WGC-Bridgestone scoring trailer
After Jim Furyk made a mess of the 72nd hole to lose to Keegan Bradley at Firestone in August, I hustled to the scoring trailer to make sure I got a chance to get Furyk’s thoughts on what happened. It’s always a dicey proposition, catching a player moments after a crushing defeat, but it’s necessary to complete the story for readers who crave insight.
Plus, you learn a lot about the real heart and soul of an athlete in how they handle failure.
On his way off the 18th green, Furyk saw the heartache in the face of his 9-year-old son, Tanner. His boy was crying. In his own pain there, Furyk rose above the emotion. He stopped to show his boy that success is really a reward for enduring failure, for learning from failure. He showed his boy the dignity there can be in the inevitable stumbles in that upward journey. He encouraged his son to rise above it with him.
“I guess it reminds you as an adult, as a parent, that you have to act the proper way,” Furyk said. “You have to do and say the right things to give the right lessons.”
Walking back to write the story, I asked the inimitable golf writer Bob Verdi what he thought of the brutal finish.
“It’s a crazy, sick and cruel game they’ve chosen to play,” Verdi said.
The back of the 18th green at The Olympic Club
Slipping through the crowd, I flashed my media credential at the ropes and worked my way onto the back of the 18th green to watch NBC’s Bob Costas present the U.S. Open trophy to Webb Simpson at The Olympic Club.
Standing behind a row of cameras, I was looking down and scribbling a note as Costas spoke when I heard this weird squawking noise, like some big bird. I looked up, and standing in front of the cameras was this loony looking man in a Union Jack stocking cap, looking skyward and squawking.
The police officers on the security detail must have been as dumbfounded as the rest of us, because nobody moved in on him. Enter Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s executive director, who bolted to the “Jungle Bird” with the zeal of a professional wrestler. Davis, if you don’t know him, has a professorial nature about him. He strikes you as being so gentlemanly, with long patience, but his teeth were gritted as he put Jungle Bird in a modified crooked lariat and then flung him into a greenside bunker.
As Davis leapt to defend the honor of the game and a moment that belonged to Simpson, I kept thinking, “How chivalrous.” I know, the word doesn’t seem to fit the circumstance, but C.S. Lewis’ definition of chivalry came to mind. A true knight, Lewis believed, could be tough to the nth degree and gentle to the nth degree. As a leader, in this odd predicament, Davis showed us these knightly virtues.
The locker room lounge at Crooked Stick
After watching Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy banter like schoolboy chums through the first round of the BMW Championship, you couldn’t help wondering if they really liked each other that much. Even after listening to them stand side by side on Golf Channel to dissect their rounds together after signing their scorecards, you wondered if they couldn’t wait to bolt their separate ways. Really, can two titans battling for prizes they both covet really co-exist without some friction? Lions don’t share their turf, do they?
Apparently, they can, because when Golfchannel.com editorial director Jay Coffin and I hiked up the Crooked Stick locker room stairs after the round, we turned a corner to find Woods and McIlroy having lunch together, just the two of them at a corner table. News that McIlroy is on the verge of joining Woods with Nike makes you wonder if it might have been a business lunch, but it was clear, either way, there’s a lot of mutual respect between these two.
A Ritz Carlton ballroom at the LPGA Awards Celebration
I like to call Dale one of the sanest fathers on tour.
A couple days earlier, Dale told me and two other reporters about the scene that always puts his daughter’s achievements into perspective. He told us about being there after the six-hour surgical procedure where a doctor deflated one of his daughter’s lungs and moved her aorta to make room to fix a rod and five screws to her backbone to remedy the damage scoliosis was causing. This was almost 10 years ago.
Dale and his wife, Stacy’s mother, Carol, were in the hospital room after Stacy awakened and medical staff said they wanted Stacy to get up out of bed and walk to the bathroom.
“I remember her shuffling her feet, and tears coming down her face,” Dale said. “That’s a picture I’ll never forget.”
Dale said, athletically, all he hoped for his daughter is that she might recover enough to be able to play college golf. He knew how much she loved the game and wanted to play at Arkansas. Now, he has another picture in his mind he’ll never forget. He has the picture of his daughter walking off the LPGA stage and into his arms with an award that says she was the LPGA’s best player in 2012.
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