Peete worked to achieve a miracle career

By Joe PosnanskiApril 30, 2015, 1:09 am

Picking fruits and vegetables day after day in the Florida sun will make a man think about the future. Buck O’Neil was out there for a time as a young man. One scorching day he was out picking celery on a farm near Sarasota when he stopped and shouted to the skies: “Damn, there’s GOT to be something better than this.”

For Buck O’Neil that something was baseball. He would spend his life around baseball.

Thirty years later, the young man in the field was Calvin Peete. He was an eighth-grade dropout with a permanently bent left elbow after a childhood accident. He had no sport to fall back on the way Buck O’Neil did, but Peete shared the same overwhelming hunger to find something else. Anything else.

And so he somehow got his hands on a used Plymouth station wagon, filled the thing up with clothes and cheap jewelry, and began driving north, peddling all along the way. He made it all the way up to New York. Buyers called Peete the “Diamond Man” because he’d had diamond chips situated in his dental work. Well, Peete knew how to get people’s attention.

12-time Tour winner Peete dies at 71 | Career

He also knew the meaning of work; throughout his life he would come across people who simply admired his work ethic and wanted to help him succeed. One such admirer put Peete in the apartment renting business back in Florida. Another took him to a golf course to try out the game, a game Peete had long thought dumb. The first time Peete swung a golf club, he was 23 years old. And he was smitten.

There was not one logical reason for Calvin Peete to believe that he could succeed at golf. He was not a big man – he would be listed at 5-foot-10 but that was probably an exaggeration – and he could not hit the ball very far. His slightly mangled left elbow made it impossible to follow the cardinal rule of the game (“keep your left arm straight”). And, yes, he was African American – this at a time when most country clubs were segregated, when the Masters had never had a black player, when the rare black professional golfers (Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford) were often told to change their shoes in the parking lot rather than enter the clubhouse.

But Peete fell hard for the game. No, he became obsessed with it. Everything about golf fit his ordered mind. He would go out to a small public park in Fort Lauderdale every single day and just hit golf balls, collect them, hit them again, collect them. He hit golf balls so late into the night that, on occasion, people called the police.

Nobody taught him golf. He had never seen a tournament so he did not learn from watching others. He looked at some books, set up a camera that would take a few photos of his swing, and then invented a grip and a swing the felt right to him. One of my favorite Calvin Peete stories is that after hammering a million golf balls, he went to a golf shop to buy a glove (for a long time, he did not even know about gloves). The guy at the shop saw the calluses all over Peete’s hands and, in sympathy, showed Peete the proper way to grip a club. The grip that nameless salesman showed Peete was the one he would use to win 12 PGA Tour events and more than $2 million in earnings. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Golf is a game famed for its obsessives. Ben Hogan toiled in the dirt for countless hours before he found what he would call the secret. Stories about the work ethic of the young Tom Watson are everywhere; Lee Trevino remembered once noticing Watson hitting golf balls out of a practice bunker on pro-am day. Trevino found that odd; none of the professionals practiced on pro-am day. He didn’t think much more of it and he went to play his round of golf. Five or six hours later, he happened to be walking by the same bunker. He saw Watson still in it.

But it’s likely that none of them worked as hard or with as much obsession as Calvin Peete. He practiced all day and well into dark. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night with a thought about his swing, and he would get dressed and go hit golf balls in pitch blackness. He never stopped thinking about the game, never stopped trying to improve his swing. The first full round of golf he ever played, he shot 87. That’s a remarkable achievement. It was not nearly good enough for Peete. Within two years, he was regularly breaking par.

His strategy for playing golf was simple: Hit the ball straight. That was it. He didn’t hit it high, and he didn’t hit it far. But he hit it straight again and again and again. The rough did not exist for Calvin Peete. Trees were mere scenery. In the long history of golf, it is likely that no man ever hit a golf ball straighter. There are numbers to back up that claim.

Five years after he hit his first shot, Peete turned professional. For four years after that, he hacked around on various mini-tours and special African-American events. In 1975, he made it onto the PGA Tour. He missed the cut in his first four PGA Tour events. He did not have a top-five finish in his first 60 events. He would play one tournament, often make no money, revive his car, drive to the next event, play in it, often make no money and repeat. He ate so little during those years and worked so hard, that he lost 25 pounds and looked, as one friend said, “like he would collapse at any moment.”

But that drive of Peete’s was unique. In 1979, at the U.S. Open at Inverness, he tied for 11th and less than a month later – three days before he turned 36 years old – Peete won the Greater Milwaukee Open. He won it in style, too, birdieing six of the first 12 holes and finishing with a final-round 65. In winning, he became the second black player (after Lee Elder) to qualify for the Masters. The next week, he finished second at the Quad Cities Open, which pushed his earnings to more than $100,000 for the year.

“There was no way I thought I could do that,” he said in wonder.

It was just the beginning of a magnificent run. He won four times in 1982, won twice in 1983, won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average in 1984, and he won the Tournament Players Championship in 1985. He won more than $200,000 five years in a row. He also played on two Ryder Cup teams, compiled a 4-2-1 record, and combined with Tom Kite to defeat teams with Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer. He finished third in scorching heat at the 1982 PGA Championship and fourth at the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont. In all, he had more PGA Tour victories than Payne Stewart or Fuzzy Zoeller and just three fewer than Hall of Famer Fred Couples.

He achieved all this basically armed only with that arrow-straight swing. Look at these driving accuracy percentage numbers:

1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990
81.9 81.3 84.6 77.5 80.6 81.7 83.0 82.5 82.6 83.7

Yes, look at those numbers because you will never see any like them again. Peete led the Tour in driving accuracy every single one of those 10 years. Not only that, the highest percentage of drives in fairways since 1990 was Doug Tewell in 1993 – he hit 82.5 percent of his fairways in 63 rounds that year.

Calvin Peete over 10 YEARS hit 81.9 percent of his fairways. Repeat: Over 10 years.

And he did that with 1980s equipment. I once talked equipment with Peete at a Champions Tour event and he said, with all due modesty, that with these new clubs and new balls he would have NEVER missed a fairway. He certainly had the numbers to back up such a claim. Since 1980, Peete has the PGA Tour’s five highest driving accuracy percentages.

He got those numbers because he sacrificed all sorts of distance for accuracy. It wasn’t really a sacrifice … Peete simply could not hit the ball as far as most of the others. His weapons were straightness, solid long irons and an ability to make some long putts. The other golfers marveled that someone with such limited golfing talents could play the game so well. Jack Nicklaus meant it as the highest compliment when on Wednesday, in the hours after Calvin Peete’s death, he said: “He was very much an overachiever.”

He was even more than that. Calvin Peete was something of a miracle. There have been few people in America over the last half-century who were less likely to become a professional golfer. Calvin Peete became a great one. I once asked him about the motivation of being a picker in the field under a red hot Florida sun. He said, “I think that was my advantage. People would say to me, ‘Why do you work so hard on your game?’ I thought that was funny. Golf ain’t work."

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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”