Death and Moving On With Life
“Aesthetically,” he said of the restored Pinehurst No. 2, where he now lives, “it’s much prettier than it was.”
Ken Eichele savors pretty. He’s seen ugly.
“I had to do field surgeries at Ground Zero,” he recounted. “We were crawling on our bellies, trying to remove the dead.”
Justice may not have been swift, but it was served Sunday night in the presidential announcement that bin Laden had been killed by U.S. action.
“Am I jumping up and down?” Ken asked. “No. “I’m relieved they finally got bin Laden. But it took a little away knowing he was living a life of luxury after they lead you to believe he was living like a rat in a cave.”
Now 60, Ken walked away soon after Sept. 11 following 30 years on the job – a job that entailed walking into burning buildings while other people were running out.
Don’t question. Don’t falter. Don’t hesitate. Don’t pontificate. Don’t relent. Just go. Get people out. Go back in. Get more people out. Get everyone out.
When you sign up you know full well that you could start a day peacefully, on a golf course, and wind up in hell on earth.
That 9/11, under crystal blue skies, Ken stood even par through 14 holes at the U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier at Bedford Golf and Tennis Club in Westchester County when he learned of the attacks.
With all the bridges into the city shut down, Eichele and several other firefighters, who were attempting to qualify, could only watch on television in the locker room as the towers crumbled.
“I turned to my friend and said, ‘We just lost 200 men.’”
Nine men from Eichele’s own Engine Company died. A battalion chief who commanded seven companies over the course of his career, Ken personally knew 100 firefighters who died.
He spent 72 consecutive hours at Ground Zero, digging, crawling, searching and hoping. He lost friends and colleagues. He lost some lung function. He never lost a desire to live fully.
“Most of my brethren are doing pretty good these days,” he said. “Some aren’t so good. A few just couldn’t handle it.”
Living well for Ken has always meant golfing. He grew up in Queens in the ‘50s across from Kissena Park Golf Course.
“When the staff went home at 4 o’clock,” he said, “we’d be over the fence, under the fence or through the fence every single day and play.”
Ken won the New York City Amateur as a kid, later played U.S. Golf Association Mid-Ams, the Public Links and more recently finished runner up in the North-South Senior.
“The great thing about being a fireman,” he explained, “is that you could switch days off to play tournament golf. You could ask a buddy to work for you on Thursday and Friday and pick up his days on the weekend.”
These days, Ken’s battling a bad back. He and his wife, June, live off the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 6. “If you’re a golfer, it’s paradise,” he said.
Ken’s played the famed No. 2 (re-opened March 1) 10 times already.
“I would expect the pros to shoot lower scores at the U.S. Open because the fairways are much wider than they were,” he said, becoming animated. “Personally I don’t have a problem with a guy shooting 10 under to win a U.S. Open. I certainly didn’t have a problem watching 14 under win the Masters in April.”
Ken says he'll volunteer when the men’s and women’s Opens come to Pinehurst in successive weeks in 2014. He did at Bethpage in 2002. That’s where he played most of his golf when he lived in New York, helping to form the Nassau Players Club with a hundred low handicappers.
Joe Rehor has been the director of golf at Bethpage for 35 years. I reached Joe in the pro shop Monday morning as people buzzed about bin Laden.
“We have a large contingency of cops and firemen who play here,” said Joe. “That’s who we cater to.
“Everyone’s been rah-rah. A couple of my boys said they wish there were the Navy Seal that pulled the trigger.”
Joe gave lessons to cops and firemen who died on Sept. 11.
“It was devastating,” he said. “But the wounds seem to heal over time. It’s not blocked out, but people move on with their lives.”
Ken Eichele has. He was home in Pinehurst, watching television when news broke that the president was about to make a major announcement.
“They didn’t say what it was,” he said. “I woke June and said, ‘They must’ve killed bin Laden,’ and it turns out that’s what it was.
“I’m glad he’s gone, though I don’t like to dwell on what happened. But I don’t ever want to forget. I look at the poster in my office with all 343 firemen who lost their lives. I knew most of them.”
Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead
Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.
Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.
"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."
Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.
While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.
"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."
Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am
Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.
In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.
Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.
Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”
Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”
On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.
Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”
Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.
Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”
“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”
Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”
Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.
D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.
''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.
The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.
Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.
Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?
''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''
Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.
Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.
Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.
The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.
Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.
''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''
Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.
She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.
Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.
She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.
If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.
''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.
Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.
Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.
''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''
Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.
''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''
Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.
Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.
One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.
McCarron won the Senior Players Championship last year for his first senior major.
Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.