Dwight Clark The Catch Golf

By Rich LernerFebruary 2, 2008, 5:00 pm
49ers hero Dwight Clark was on his way to play golf, again. I played like 42 charity events last year, he told me with a kids grin in the Avis garage after landing in Phoenix. Im headed to Coach Ditkas tournament.
 
Long before he elevated high over the Cowboys Everson Walls in the back of the end zone to snare what Foxs Best Damned Sports Show deemed the greatest touchdown in the history of football, golf figured into the Dwight Clark story.
 
In 1979 Niners coach Bill Walsh called a dormitory at Clemson looking for promising quarterback Steve Fuller. Clark was on his way to play golf and picked up the phone. Walsh invited Clark to run pass routes for Fuller, well enough that Walsh made Clark a 10th round draft choice.
 
Two years later he cemented the legend, describing The Catch in perfect detail for likely the 8,471st time for yet another fan.
 
It was 3rd and 3 at the 6 with 58 seconds to go and Dallas leading 27-21, he began and the picture became instantly clear, my mind pulling the 1982 NFC Championship game file card.
 
Funny, I jumped in. The play started at the 6 but it seemed like it was a much longer pass.
 
It was, he said. Joe had drifted back to between the 20 and 25 and he was off balance with people in his face.
 
One of those was 69 Ed Too Tall Jones. Accompanied by Larry Bethea and linebacker D.D. Lewis they collapsed the pocket and were chasing Montana to the sideline.
 
The play was designed for Freddie Solomon, Clark explained. Its called Sprint Option Right and it was the same play we used on the first touchdown of the game.
 
To this day, some people think it was just a busted play, a fluke. It simply wasnt. It was planned, he stated emphatically. It was in the play book and its still in the playbook for teams that use the West Coast offense.
 
The idea is that if Freddies covered, Joe looks for me and throws it high enough so that either it goes out of bounds, leaving us with at least a fourth down play, or I jump high enough to catch it, Clark said.
 
For the record, Montana has said he couldnt see the end zone. He was on his rear end, courtesy Too Tall. But he claims he knew exactly where Clark would be. Walsh thought the ball was OB and had begun to call a 4th down play. He heard the roar. Vin Scully immortalized it on television, Jack Buck on radio. The 49ers went on to beat Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI, their first of four. Dallas, dominant in the 1970s, would fail to make a Super Bowl in the 1980s.
 
Here, Clarke said. Check this out. He reached into his bag and pulled out a small, plain wooden jewelry box. He lifted the top. He had one for every finger. Count em five, five Super Bowl rings. I bring them to my appearances because people get a kick out of it. He won two as a player, three as an executive. His number 87 was retired by San Francisco.
 
Today at 51 and living in his native North Carolina, Clark maintains the same lean, athletic frame and an 11 handicap. Like any golfer, he marvels at Tiger.
 
He may be the best of all time in any sport, he said. I know what its like to have a three foot putt for two dollars and my hands are shaking. I pull for Tiger because the pressure on him is enormous and he just keeps answering.
 
Clark, ever the good teammate, wont play the Montana versus Brady game. He acknowledged Bradys greatness, but then said, I was in the huddle with Joe. He was mentally tough, the calmest guy in the stadium.
 
With Montana and Rice and Craig and Taylor and Walsh would those great 49er teams have challenged the vaunted Patriots? I think so, Clark said. But theyre well coached and they put a great game plan together. Theyre tough.
 
This is how it goes for our sports legends, forever re-creating their great moments or pontificating on the big games of the current day. Dwight Clark appeared very happy in the role, headed to play another game he loves. He was just warming up.
 
Hed no doubt be obliged to explain The Catch countless times at Coach Ditkas tournament. A day on the golf course lends itself rather well to a good story.
 
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    After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

    Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

    Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

    A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

    So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray


    On the difference between this week and last week ...

    There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

    Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

    At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard


    On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

    Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

    Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

    This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

    Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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    Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

    Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

    After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    “It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

    Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

    “Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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    Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

    At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

    Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

    Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    “I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

    Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

    Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

    “Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

    Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

    “I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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    Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

    On the other side was art.

    Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

    But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

    Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

    It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

    This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

    “His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

    Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

    “Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

    What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

    “I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

    But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

    The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

    “Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

    While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

    It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

    “The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”