Golf, perspective and the memories of 9/11

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 7, 2011, 3:02 pm

In episode 156 of “Seinfeld”, George Costanza receives a 90-day severance package from the New York Yankees and declares the following three months, “The Summer of George.”

By the end of the show, he’s is in a hospital learning to walk again, lamenting what could have been.

The 2011 months of June, July and August were supposed to be “The Summer of Tim.” In April, Minors protagonist Tim Hegarty was “jacked.” He was moving back home to New York with his girlfriend, Amanda. He was going to be working more with his swing coach, David Glenz, who teaches out of New Jersey. He was excited to put into practice the lessons learned from his new mental coach. And he had a host of area events on familiar courses he was excited to play.

Along the way, he didn’t lose the ability to maneuver on two feet like Costanza, but he did lose a feel for his swing and lost some love for the game. It wasn’t “The Summer of Tim.”

It’s been 47 days since we last caught up with Hegarty. In June, during the week of the U.S. Open, he was working on Operation Left-to-Right, trying to hit nothing but a fade. Early enthusiasm ultimately gave way to frustration as he struggled with consistency and missed cuts. The low point came when he failed to qualify for the Metropolitan Open held at his home course of Sleepy Hollow.

“It’s been so bad,” Hegarty said Tuesday evening. “I’ve been kind of glad we haven’t talked for a while. It’s been an unbelievable struggle so I was glad there haven’t been any articles for people to read about how I’ve been doing.”

Changes have been made; Operation Left-to-Right has been scrapped. Hegarty has also started working with instructor Kevin Sprecher, out of Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y.

“Trying to change my ball flight was a mess. Never in my life have I been a bad driver of the golf ball, but I became horrible with my driver,” said Hegarty, who places no blame on his friend and former coach. “It’s totally my fault. I’m the one who wasn’t able to hit the shots. Glenz is a great coach. We’ll probably work together again. I just needed to go back to what I know works for me.”

Despite the disappointment and the feeling of a summer lost – professionally speaking – Hegarty was upbeat as we talked. “Life is good,” he said. “I’m trying to keep an upbeat attitude, thinking: What you shoot on the scorecard doesn’t really matter.”

His dog encourages a positive frame of mind. He and Amanda recently got a 1-year-old lab-pit bull mix. “It’s nice to come home to people [and pets] who love you and don’t care if you shot 65 or 75,” Tim said.

Perspective is never far removed from Hegarty’s conscious. As the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 near their 10th anniversary, he sees the images on the TV, in newspapers, on magazine covers, and in the recollections of his mind.

He was 18 that Tuesday, attending an economics class at Iona College in New Rochelle, about 10 miles from the World Trade Center.

“It was a picture-perfect day. I remember thinking that morning how beautiful of a day it was. I also remember my professor coming into class and saying, ‘America is under attack. School is asking that you get home or get somewhere safe,’” he recalled.

“It was really frantic. My old man was in the city, at the Met Life building. I tried getting in touch with my mother, but no one was home. I went to a friend’s house and watched it [on TV].”

Hegarty was born in New York. It lives inside him. Wherever he resides, New York is home. Three months prior to the acts of terrorism, he attended his high school senior prom at Windows of the World on the 104th floor of the North Tower. He was a union ironworker who tried in vain to assist at Ground Zero in the immediate recovery. He read the New York Times daily, the stories of those who perished, helping to keep their memories alive.

“It stays with you, even after all these years. I still go onto YouTube and watch videos,” he said. “Amanda and I will go to Ground Zero and there is still this intense feeling.”

Perspective is a harsh find. Its gain is usually accompanied by some level of pain. But it’s a necessity of life, allowing us to comprehend that which affects us isn’t always that afflicting. What you shoot on a scorecard doesn’t really matter, not when you’re talking about life’s importance.

But we each have a life to live, one to enjoy. And we can’t do the latter believing the things we do on a daily basis, those which have no affect on the world outside our myopic own, are insignificant.

Tim Hegarty is a professional golfer. A very good one. Shooting 65 or 75 might not make the world a better place, might not change the way he is perceived by those around him – human or canine – but those numbers do have meaning.

There was a time, during this oppressive summer, that Hegarty doubted his future in the game. Then he watched Keegan Bradley win the PGA Championship.

“I’ve played golf with him. He was a mini-tour guy, just like me,” Hegarty said. “I’ve played matches with him, and my buddy, Jesse Smith, and I beat him [and his partner] several times. Seeing him do that – I know how hard he works and how talented he is – but I feel it’s doable, what I’m trying to achieve.”

It’s been a tough few months for Hegarty. “The Summer of Tim” never materialized. But he’s not one to sulk, not one to feel sorry for himself. Quite the contrary. He’s an empathetic New Yorker who recognizes the struggles of others. He’s a wide-eyed 28-year-old who can breed confidence – not harbor jealousy – from the success of another. He’s a young man with perspective.

“I’ve got Q-School pre-qualifying coming up in Nebraska,” he said. “Sean [his brother] is going to be on my bag. I’ve got some good thoughts going through my mind.”

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”