Golf Sometimes Quirkiest Sport

By Associated PressJuly 17, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- Golf is not just the cruelest game. Sometimes it's also the quirkiest. Hoping to scrap his way onto the pro tour, Skip Kendall used to pound balls in a field in Orlando, Fla., between working the lunch and dinner shifts at the Olive Garden, still wearing his clip-on bow tie.
Not quite 15 years later, he's shaking hands with royalty behind the 11th green at Royal Troon and leading the British Open.
'Can you imagine those people driving by on the street looking at me?' Kendall recalled. 'Black pants, white button-down shirt with a bow tie, hitting balls.'
A year after Ben Curtis shocked the golf world by winning the game's oldest championship, another relatively unknown American is in position to steal the Open. Yet their stories are very different.
Curtis was 26 last year and playing his first season on the PGA Tour. Kendall turns 40 in two months, he has already played in 310 tour events and his next victory will be his first.
'I really feel like I've been very close. I've lost in a bunch of playoffs. I really feel like I can win out on the PGA Tour as well as anyplace else. I think it's just a matter of time.
'Hopefully,' he said, 'this is mine.'
Whether or not it turns out that way, Friday was definitely Kendall's day. He holed out from a bunker at No. 3 to kickstart his round, then offset his lone bogey at the 11th with three more birdies and an eagle at the 16th by rolling in a 50-foot putt from just off the green.
Moments after signing his scorecard for a 66 that left him at 7 under - one shot ahead of Frenchman Thomas Levet - Kendall took his seat behind a table on a stage in the interview room. According to one of the more informal traditions that have sprung up at the Open over the years, the winner autographs that same table at the end of his session Sunday.
'I know that there's a long way to go and that this is only halfway done. But hopefully,' Kendall said, exercising caution once more, 'I'll be signing my name right here in a couple of days.'
A pen might be as sharp an object as he should be entrusted with at the moment. At the Memorial Tournament last year, Kendall tried to cut a frozen bagel before dropping it into a toaster and nearly sliced off his left forefinger.
'I didn't cut it completely off, but I cut a big piece of it off,' he chuckled. 'They had to sew it back on and I didn't play for, I guess, about four weeks.'
Because Kendall is one of those guys who has to play every chance he gets to hold onto his tour card, he devised a new grip in time to play last year's Open. To get into this year's tournament, Kendall played in one of four special 36-hole tournaments staged by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club around the world to give tour players a chance to qualify without having to travel to Britain.
'It was a no-brainer for me. Anytime I can try to get into a major championship, I'm going to be there,' he said. 'These are important to me - not only to test yourself, but to try and win one. And the only way you can do that is to try to get in.'
Never mind that 52 of his fellow PGA Tour players didn't even bother to show up for the qualifier. This is only Kendall's third appearance at the Open, and chances are he would have come over in a row boat if that's what it took. Because this is a guy who just seven years ago glimpsed the end of his professional life.
It was summer 1997, and Kendall came to the Buick Classic having just missed the cut in four consecutive tournaments. His best finish in 12 previous starts was a tie for 49th. He'd already lost his exempt status on the PGA Tour twice and was in danger of missing yet another cut.
Then Kendall hit his drive on the second fairway at Westchester Country Club, walked to where he thought it landed, and hit his approach within an inch of the hole. The only problem was that he hit the wrong ball, turning a certain birdie into a double-bogey.
Instead of losing it, Kendall turned all that anger inward. He birdied the final four holes.
'It completely turned my career around,' Kendall mused a while ago.
He hasn't come close to losing his tour card since. That, combined with the memory of pounding balls between shifts waiting on tables, is why big-timing anyone is hardly Kendall's style.
En route to an opening-round 69 a day earlier, he spotted Prince Andrew chatting behind the 11th green and asked an official walking with his group for some tips on protocol before daring to introduce himself.
'I went over and shook his hand and talked to him briefly, and that was pretty exciting to me. Seemed like a great guy,' Kendall said. 'I don't know. Is he? You guys tell me.'
Assured by the assembled grins that the prince was a regular fellow, Kendall sat back in his chair, and an embarrassed grin creased his lips. He didn't say why, but the expression seemed to speak for itself:
Is this a great game, or what?
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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”