GOLF WRITER // GENERAL EDITORIAL SPECIALIST
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Golf News & Views

Frequent commentary on current golf events on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, trends in golf in general, this week on tour, golf products, and latest golf news.

The values behind Jim Furyk made him a perfect choice for Gold Tee honoree

Whether he’s posing with a winner’s check, a trophy, his 58 scorecard, or with wife, Tabitha, Jim Furyk breaks out of his on-course stoicism with one of the best champion smiles in professional golf. It’s a smile that symbolizes someone who understands the values that helped him get to where he is as one of the most accomplished golfers of the last 20 years.

Attendees at last night’s 68th Gold Tee Award Dinner of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association were treated to a short primer on what made Jim Furyk a champion golfer, major winner and appealing Everyman figure. He was given the evening’s main award, the Gold Tee, but was actually the 69th recipient since both Frank Hannigan and P.J. Boatwright Jr. were the joint honorees in 1986.

Furyk was the final speaker of the evening at the 68th Gold Tee Dinner.

Furyk was the final speaker of the evening at the 68th Gold Tee Dinner.

I’m not as old as the Gold Tee Dinner. I’m approaching 60 so I am feeling the Gold Tee and I are close to the same vintage. But I’ve seen nearly every Gold Tee Dinner since Kathy Whitworth was the honoree in 1984 and the acceptance speech Furyk gave at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, New York, was one of the best I’ve seen at the dinner. It was heartfelt, meaningful, with just the right pace and delivery. In the early years of the Gold Tee, the dinner was held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and major figures from show business and golf across the country attended. The talk Furyk gave would have been worthy of a national audience.

Anyone familiar with Furyk knows his reputation for being a hard worker who excelled despite his unorthodox swing. But his speech emphasized values, the kind of values that can only come from learning lessons from those people who are influential in a person’s life. Furyk went through his main influences: his parents, wife Tabitha (who herself gives her husband a run for his money as the ideal spouse of a tour pro), his agent Andrew Witlieb and caddie Mike (Fluff) Cowan.

As he described the influence each person had over him, Furyk warned the attendees he’d get emotional in discussing their importance and affect on him. He clearly believes in drawing inspiration from those close to him and he learns essential life skills from them. He was especially poignant in talking about how his parents were proud of him, not particularly because of winning but because he did his best and that’s all that can be expected. He hoped that he could be the type of father who would impress that quality on his own children, of loving them for their effort and not being upset with them if they failed.

The Furyks are proactive in charity work and with the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation, which supports, among other things, needy school children and military families.

There were several other awards given out during the evening, which I attended as a guest at the Golf Digest table. I encourage you to read about them at metgolfwriters.org.

Cliff Schrock
I saw the world's largest golf tee; can't wait for the golf ball

Most of the boasting I hear from golf pals about summer golf exploits and golf trips has to do with faraway locations and grand treks to remote places that shock the system with their beauty and never-to-forget moments.

In my best Charlie Brown inflection: I got a tee.

Okay, let me write it louder: I got the World’s Largest Golf tee! Yea, that’s better!

You read that correct. My brag moment is to write that I saw and touched the World’s Largest Golf Tee. I wasn’t even looking for the World’s Largest Golf Tee, it found me. My wife, Mary, and I were traveling to her high school reunion in the Quad Cities (exact number not to be revealed upon penalty of added house chores) in July, going along I-70 in southern Illinois to first visit longtime friends near St. Louis when the roadside sign just blared out: World’s Largest Golf Tee, next exit.

Six-foot-1 me was no match for 30.5-foot World’s Largest Golf Tee.

Six-foot-1 me was no match for 30.5-foot World’s Largest Golf Tee.

Well, we weren’t in that big of a rush that we couldn’t stop to see the WLGT, so we got off at Casey, Illinois, and, because the WLGT isn’t as tall as a sequoia, we still had to follow the signs. It didn’t take long, though, to realize we were heading toward a golf course, Casey Country Club to be exact, a nine-hole course opened in 1929 that’s not a true country club. It’s open to the public.

As we headed along the course toward the entrance, it had the look of a vintage Florida resort course: narrow, straight fairways, ditch-type creeks that you could hop over, and tiny greens that were flat circles. But as we approached the entrance, there it was, sticking up over the clubhouse: the top of a tee! Man, I thought, it would take Paul Bunyan to break that tee with a driver!

I have to admit, after wondering during the drive if we were going to see some foot-tall wooden peg in a display case, I got a little excited to see what this was all about. We weren’t the only ones. There were a few cars in the parking lot with non-Illinois plates, such as some folks we later chatted with who were traveling from Texas up to Canada and who had been sucked in like we had.

The WLGT is set up in a grassy area with a circular path leading from the clubhouse to the base of it. It really is a golf tee, 30.5 feet tall, and I found out from the shop staff that the tee is built to spec. It’s a golf tee that’s all grown up. By my poor math, that would mean the golf ball would be about 60 feet tall; since tees range quite a lot from short pegs for par 3s to four inches or so for drivers, I’m just guessing this would be a normal-size tee. There are plans to put an 18-foot diameter golf ball on the top but have it open so golfers could tee off on an adjacent hole. I just learned this week that an additional plan is being thought over: to construct a golf club to go alongside the ball. Now we do need Paul Bunyan.

Casey CC constructed the tee with various widths of yellow pine wood, 60 gallons of glue and 120 pounds of screws and it weighs 6,659 pounds.. It took six months to assemble, and the Guinness Book of World Records ceremony took place in January 2013. The tee was set on May 23rd of that year.

I’m no marketing genius, but it was clear the tee was installed to bring golfers, tourism and interest to the course. Visitors are guided to go through the clubhouse to get out to the tee, and like the gift shop at the end of a Disney ride, the walkthough takes you past WLGT souvenirs, along with the snack bar. You know what, that didn’t bother me. I didn’t buy anything. Mary and I took pictures. I grabbed a scorecard, we chatted with some people and left.

As we drove away, the tall tee in the rearview mirror, the thought of a 30-plus foot tee seemed so appropriate. After all, we were just 130 miles east of a 630-foot tall arch that was grounded next to a 2,350-mile long river. It all made real good sense.




Cliff Schrock
Help from the Heartland: Alice Buckley having faith in Jordan Spieth

Like most astute golf observers, Alice Buckley is also concerned about defending Open champion Jordan Spieth’s dormant performance on the golf course. The 97-year-old third cousin to Spieth, Mrs. Buckley has never met her famous relative, but hopes to or at least speak by phone. She makes it clear she doesn’t want to interfere with his life.

I met Alice during a visit last year—after Spieth’s Open victory—with my in-laws Bill and Mary Ellen Hynd in East Moline, Ill. The Hynds are in the same retirement facility, Park Vista, with Mrs. Buckley. Alice’s mother, Maude, was a sister in Muscatine, Iowa, to Spieth’s great-grandmother, Hazel, who would marry a Spieth. Jordan’s grandfather, Don, who lives in Bethlehem, Pa., is from Muscatine and played golf as a youth, including for Muscatine High School.

Alice Buckley does her needlepoint magic in this well-stocked room.

Alice Buckley does her needlepoint magic in this well-stocked room.

In a visit with my wife, Mary, and me last week during the John Deere Classic, Mrs. Buckley spoke with concern about the state of Spieth’s game, and her motherly instinct kicked in when she said she thought he looked thinner. She’s hoping a return to the championship he won will give him a spark.

Family items from Alice Buckley's ancestors still have a cherished spot in her residence.

Family items from Alice Buckley's ancestors still have a cherished spot in her residence.

Seeing Alice is always a delight. To observe someone her age so engaged in life is remarkable. Born Alice Brei on March 13, 1921, in Muscatine, which is 40 miles west of the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River, she was the oldest of 15 children. Her life today consists of a focus on reading (she’s engulfed in the Winston Graham “Poldark” books now) and creating incredible needlepoint works of art. She makes greeting cards using needlepoint and thread in calligraphy style. The designs on the cover are exquisite, and Mary Ellen would often send them to us as encouragement after a job loss. Alice plays the organ and will regale residents on Fridays during happy hour with her skill at the keyboard. She first realized she was related to Jordan Spieth when he made his debut in the John Deere in 2013.

She said she'll be watching the Open from her room, likely encouraging Spieth while working on her crafts. She has a wonderfully resilient, confident outlook on life. When I asked her what her favorite season of the year was, she said, “Whatever season of the year it happens to be.”

 

Cliff Schrock
Hall of Fame greats Hubert Green and Peter Thomson pass away

Two World Golf Hall of Fame members—Hubert Green and Peter Thomson—passed away in a 24-hour timespan.

Alabama native Green, 71, a 19-time PGA Tour winner who won the 1977 U.S. Open and 1985 PGA, died Tuesday, no longer able to fight off the effects of throat cancer, which he’d suffered from for several years. Green was a distinctive swinger, with his hands held low and the club swung quickly and briskly. His tenacious ability was never more on display than when he won the U.S. Open under a death threat in the final round at Southern Hills.

The Australian Thomson (pictured on home page), born within weeks of Arnold Palmer in 1929, died at age 88 on Wednesday. Thomson was one of the first international stars who brought his game to several continents. He won his fifth Open Championship in 1965, tied with Tom Watson, J.H.Taylor and James Braid for second behind Harry Vardon’s six victories. The knock against Thomson was his American record; he only won once on the PGA Tour. His low ball-flight was better on links-style courses, not U.S. parkland courses. But he was more than a shotmaker. He was a cerebral man who was opinionated and worldly and sought after for his leadership on world golf issues. Three times he captained the International team in the Presidents Cup.

I met him on a couple of occasions, the most enjoyable at a Florida tour stop when I was asked to get his opinion on an architectural issue. He spoke with great articulation and intelligence and I couldn’t have been more impressed with his fervent opinions. He liked to know what was going on in the game and he wanted to be a part of its future direction.

Thomson didn’t suffer fools too well and had a great practical nature. He would talk amusedly about Palmer, hinting Arnie could have achieved more by keeping his mind on his golf rather than show so much interest in being Arnold Palmer. But Thomson appreciated talent and he himself was interested in a wide-range of hobbies and interests. He was an original, no question, and it’s a shame the golf world has lost someone of his stature who was a link to when players were admired more for being strategic and playing the game along the ground rather than the modern bomb and gouge approach. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Schrock
Remembering Doug Ford: An all-time great who played fast and lived long

When Doug Ford passed away on Monday May 14, the primary focus put on him was that he was the oldest living Masters champion. But the distinction was even greater: Ford was the oldest-living winner of any major championship.

Ford was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, on August 6, 1922, roughly a half-year ahead of fellow World Golf Hall of Fame member Jack Burke Jr. Like Ford, Burke won a Masters and a PGA, and now he is the oldest-living past major winner. Burke was born on January 29, 1923. That's Ford on the left in the photo on the home page, having Burke put the Masters jacket on him in 1957.

Ford's memorable book on the short game from 1963.

Ford's memorable book on the short game from 1963.

Ford won 19 PGA Tour events and had similarities to Billy Casper, the under-appreciated titan who played in the shadow of the Big Three of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus.

It took many years for Ford to finally be elected to the WGHOF, but he had long since been fully appreciated by his peers. He was respected for his play and opinions; he was an important player in the formation of the senior tour, and served as a Player Director on the Senior PGA Tour Division Board.

He was notable for a few on-course habits. He was one of the fastest players in tour history; sometimes he'd force the issue a bit too much, and be well down the hole ahead of his playing companions, who felt like he was trying to rush them along too much. I recall seeing it first hand at the 1985 Golf Digest Commemorative senior event on the second hole at Newport Country Club when he was a half-a-hole ahead of the other guys in the group. Granted, he was walking in the rough to leave the fairway open, but such a brazen approach went with his reputation for being a straight-talker. But his opinions helped make him a leader among tour players. And he had an outstanding short game. He authored 11 articles for Golf Digest, mainly about the wedge, in the 1960s, a time when golfers devoured instruction from the touring pros in print. He authored “The Wedge Book” in 1963 with the magazine as publisher and its information is still priceless advice.

Born seven years before Arnold Palmer, Ford was easing out of his prime as Arnold was taking the game on his shoulders. But it’s setting facts correct for posterity to say that Doug Ford was one of the golf figures who had the game in excellent shape so Arnie could take it to greater heights.

Cliff Schrock
Louise Suggs, Jackie Pung and the infancy of golf in Hawaii

I met Louise Suggs once and she made a stronger impression in that lone encounter than some people I’ve met several times over. The occasion was an LPGA Tour press conference in Manhattan probably 20 years ago, likely a promotional effort that the tour did from time to time to get their players more deeply ingrained in the minds of the New York-area media members.

Suggs did nothing that day to affect the reputation she had of being, as she was often quoted saying, “one tough broad.” She was dressed top to bottom in a black leather outfit, pants and jacket. When she spoke she exuded a tough exterior, kind of a no-nonsense manner that I didn’t take to be the real Suggs. Her reputation for being rough-hewn was definitely being projected, but I had the impression she was doing that to let people know she wasn’t a pushover. She was likely 65 to 70, long past her prime but she was a hard competitor on the course and the tough demeanor that seemed omnipresent was part of her resolve to appear she wouldn’t be intimidated.

Louise Suggs on a tour of Hawaii in 1952.

Louise Suggs on a tour of Hawaii in 1952.

Highly honored longtime golf writer Ron Sirak knew Suggs, who died in August 2015, as well as any media member and quoted her in a 2011 story as saying her strongest attribute as a player was, “When I had someone down, I put my foot on her throat.”

Suggs comes to my mind this weekend because the pro tours are hopping around Hawaii in January as they usually do, providing the majority of America with some well-needed visions of golfers on a tropical golf course while cold and snow are viewed out the window. These pictures from Hawaii, though, as I’ll explain in a bit, can be credited in some small way to Suggs herself, born a long way from Hawaii in Georgia, and who was an LPGA Tour pioneer with 11 majors in a World Golf Hall of Fame career. She made a promotional tour of the islands back in the 1950s, helping put golf in Hawaii in the mainstream as the sport slowly emerged out of infancy in the land that would become a U.S. state in 1959.

It’s been more than 50 years since the Hawaiian Open (now called the Sony Open in Hawaii) and its pineapple-shaped tee markers, blue skies, ocean waters, beaches, palm trees, and shots of hula girls has been on the PGA Tour schedule. But amateur and pro golf have been no stranger to the islands and predate this visual tour delight. Hawaii’s First Lady of Golf, Jackie Pung, the 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur winner, served as an ambassador for golf in Hawaii for decades, passing away last March at age 95.

For the record, the first Hawaiian Open was played in 1965, won by Gay Brewer at Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club, where the Sony Open in Hawaii is still played. And here’s a surprise: The Hawaiian tour stop wasn't in its present January configuration on the tour schedule at first. From 1965 to 1969, the tournament was played in November, except for late October in '66. But after the event took a year off in 1970, it went to February in 1971 and has been held toward the start of the calendar year ever since.

The Hawaiian Open had been attracting pros well before that, however, while Hawaii was a territory. Waialae hosted a tournament in 1928, attracting a group of well-known mainland pros returning from a tour of Australia. From then until 1965, a Hawaiian Open was held every year but five, spread over five venues, but mainly played at Waialae. During that time, star mainland players such as Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Horton Smith, Harry Cooper, Tommy Armour, Olin Dutra, Ed Dudley, Billy Burke, Paul Runyan, Denny Shute, Jimmy Thomson, Ed Furgol, Leo Diegel, Cary Middlecoff, Lloyd Mangrum, Lawson Little, Bob Rosburg and Jerry Barber competed along with a host of local talent, led by Francis H. I'i Brown and 1966 winner Ted Makalena.

Golf in Hawaii was promoted in many other ways, of course, over the years, with resort promos and advertising. But one clever and ambitious promotion for the time took place in 1952, when the PGA of Hawaii invited Suggs, that year's National Open winner, to spend three weeks on the islands starting October 22. While representing the MacGregor club company, she played numerous exhibitions at a number of courses, including a team match against Pung. The personable Suggs gave a few clinics as well, done in her inimitable dynamo style and flair.

Red McQueen, a Honolulu sportswriter, wrote approvingly of her, "Miss Suggs, a trim number with a fetching smile and cracker drawl, is a stylist in every sense of the word. She is as fast a player as ever appeared here. She walks up to her ball, selects a club, fixes her little tootsies and without hesitation or hula, smacks the ball cleanly toward the pin."

That's not quite the ideal language to use these days, but for the time, PR material of any kind was helpful to describe the joys of golf in Hawaii. With the PGA Tour once again wrapping up a two-week stay in Hawaii this weekend, and the Champions Tour coming in this week, you're likely to see some of the men hesitate over the ball but let's hope, like Louise Suggs, none of them will hula.

 

Cliff Schrock
Christmas greetings and Happy New Year wishes

This time of year presents so many symbols of hope and wishes of peace to all mankind, but perhaps none are as beautifully rendered as creches and Christmas trees, which is why I want to feature them in this post to express my greetings to my website visitors.

I have the good fortune of living near the culturally alive New Haven area, specifically Yale for one, but also to be near the international headquarters for the Knights of Columbus. In the K of C museum, the organization put together an exhibit of creches from around the world, made in a variety of materials, from paper to ceramic. They also did an annual Christmas tree contest involving schools in Connecticut and the 25 or so entries were beautiful works of art.

Please enjoy the slideshow portfolio below of creche examples (click on an image to flip through), as well as a photo of a pair of tree entrants. All of this is to express my best wishes for a beautiful and peaceful holiday time and a great 2018.                                                                Cliff Schrock

Ceramic, wood and paper were used for creche material at an exhibit in the Knights of Columbus museum this holiday season.

KC tree.jpg

St. Mark's school in Stratford, Conn., was a contest winner.

Cliff Schrock
Tony Scott: In memory of a loving man, and one of Notre Dame's finest

For a man just turned 56, I’d wager Anthony (Tony) Scott had gazed upon Millard Sheets’ Word of Life mural on the south wall of the Hesburgh Library—aka Touchdown Jesus—and other Notre Dame landmarks more than anyone else of his age. Had to have been thousands of times he’d walked on and visited the campus, as a student and later as a local leader of the Notre Dame Club. That’s more than enough times to have tired of the view and become weary of trips to and around the fabled campus in northern Indiana, less than 100 miles from where he grew up in his hometown of Chicago.

Tony Scott on one of his many trips to see the Irish play.

Tony Scott on one of his many trips to see the Irish play.

But to be bored with anything he loved in life would not have been possible for Tony Scott. I think one of the greatest things to say about someone is that they are engaged in life, that they love life. That was Tony. Beginning with his faith in God, his love for his perfect partner, Patty, and son, Alex, and his desire to help and lead other people, Tony never tired of his zest for life.

Tony jamming with sister-in-law Mary and goddaughter Joelle.

Tony jamming with sister-in-law Mary and goddaughter Joelle.

Among the many traits I admired about Tony, the most important was the devotion he had to things he held dear. After faith was his family. He and I, along with Glen, John, Dan and Rory, married into Bill and Mary Ellen Hynd’s sorority of six girls, who grew up in Moline, Ill., part of the Quad Cities. Patty and Alex were clearly the apple of Tony’s eye. But in addition to being a devoted Christian family man, he had great passion for what life offered: to his alma mater Notre Dame (he had a degree in mechanical engineering), his church Christ the King, guitar music, his idol Willie Nelson, baseball and the Cubs, the Knights of Columbus. He even had passion for hockey pucks and baseball caps, he had collections of both.

But there are more Tony traits. He—and Patty—were highly honored but humble and full of humility. He was what we need more of in this angry world: a giver to the max, not a taker. He was astoundingly happy and upbeat, even when us Connecticut residents and Cardinal and Packer fans would stay in his house on visits. We were nuisance reminders of how the UConn Huskies usually had the edge on the Irish in women’s basketball. And if that didn’t sour his mood, what would? But that was Tony, he was a gracious man.

Tony was loyal and proud regarding so many aspects of his life and his work. He was a proud Uncle Tony to all his nieces and nephews. He knew he could speak to them like a parent but never actually act like one. He was “all in” for Alex, and quickly exchanged his cherished Notre Dame hat for an Illinois State one this fall to support his freshman son and his school. And my wife, Mary, and I will be forever grateful for how proud Tony was to be godfather to our daughter Joelle.

3 men on a boat: Bob Hurst, Tony and the writer motor-boatin' at Merritt Island, Fla.

3 men on a boat: Bob Hurst, Tony and the writer motor-boatin' at Merritt Island, Fla.

Tony’s devotion to the blue and gold of ND would have impressed Knute Rockne. Tony had an overflow of Irish artifacts in the house, ranging from several knick-knack, booster-type items to mementos as a student hockey club manager to the awards of excellence as the president of the Notre Dame Club of the Quad Cities, which he did for nearly 20 years. By all accounts, he was a fabulous No. 1, leading gatherings and bus trips. It is a four-hour drive from the Quad Cities to South Bend, all on I-80, and he and Patty led their final one together on Oct. 28, seeing a 35-14 victory over N.C. State.

The Facebook photos of that trip are now hard to look at, because it was just two days later after that success, while with Patty on a business trip in Atlanta for his employer, Exelon, of Cordova, Ill., that Tony collapsed and died suddenly in the evening, while heading back to the hotel after dinner.

Tony and Joelle having a Quad Cities classic: Whitey's ice cream.

Tony and Joelle having a Quad Cities classic: Whitey's ice cream.

There had to have been 1,000 or more mourners who paid their respects on Nov. 5 at Tony’s visitation at Christ the King, and several hundred at his funeral service the next day. Mary and I were honored to speak words of remembrance, but it was hard to make sense of the grief and shock we felt that a Man in Motion like Tony could be stopped so suddenly and taken from us. We want to hug him again, shake his hand again, and hang out with him again. We ask: Where is the comfort, where is the relief for those left to grieve? The only comfort were Christian thoughts, mainly that Tony is more alive now than when he was among us. That kind of thinking takes the often-used phrase that our “loved one is in a better place” to a new level of understanding and assurance for the grieving. It is for sure that Notre Dame couldn’t have a more loyal booster now looking out for them from up above, just in time to face Miami and the end-of-season schedule.

Tony Scott will always be in our hearts. As a fellow brother-in-law, we carried each other when the other needed it, and on his funeral day, all the brothers-in-law carried their brother to his resting place.

Cliff Schrock
Golf's lifetime lesson: Patience pays off in multiple ways

Golfers appreciate that they’re playing a sport often described as “a game for a lifetime.” But when you’re at that age when the lifetime part is starting to be realized, the phrase truly takes on a fuller meaning. By that I mean golf isn’t just a sport to play in middle and old age, but the experience of playing golf is to be valued all the more the older you get.

Additionally, you can appreciate that the friendships you developed at a young age with golf buddies last a lifetime as well. I have had a special year in 2017 not only enjoying playing golf 45 years after I started, but the friendships I started in my teens through golf were vibrantly alive and flourishing this year. I could sense how golf rewards you, in a variety of ways, when you are patient with it and remain faithful to what it can do for you.

Kevin Edwards and Drew Weisenborn in the Waterloo CC club title match.

Kevin Edwards and Drew Weisenborn in the Waterloo CC club title match.

I want to describe this special year in two parts. In this Part I, the lesson is how patience does pay off, and in a later Part II, I’ll write about how golf as the foundation for a reunion with old friends has few equals. In both parts, it’s the strength of golf as a common bond among friends as juniors and young men that allows great moments to occur years and years later.

Golf brought Kevin Edwards and me together while attending Illinois State University. I was sports editor at The Vidette student newspaper, and my recollection is we ran a student golf event that Kevin played in on the university course, since rechristened Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State University. Friendship grew from there and in the ensuing years we roomed together and became best man at each other’s wedding. Fact: I delivered an all-time great toast that has been lost in the mist of time; a toast that was a toast, not what happens today with half-hour long monologues. Up for debate: I supposedly predicted at some point that the marriage wasn’t going to last forever. If so, I likely delivered it in my dry-wit style and didn’t mean it. I’m not that great of an off-the-cuff speaker. Kevin and Debi are at 35 years strong, successes in their business lives, too, and I choose to feel the power of my toast had the greater effect. Man I wish I knew what I’d said!

Anyway, along with Bloomington High School and ISU friends Rick Gilbert and Pete Wofford (more on them in Part II), along with Pantagraph sports writer Jim Benson, Kevin and Co. make up the core of my best golfing buddies from the “way back when" days. Even though Kevin and I live 1,000 miles apart, we stay in touch about life in general and golf-game status.

Now, Kevin, Rick and Pete were miles ahead of me as golfers, both in talent and driving distance. That’s why I chose to write about golf as a career. However—comma—on my good day and their bad, I could hang and challenge with them, perhaps even score lower. I seemed to do that fairly often with Kevin, probably because my mediocre game didn’t inspire his best. I don’t know how much it frustrated or irritated him when I shot lower, but I didn’t take it as me being better. And as time went on, Kevin was competing in events at a higher level. He had the consistency I lacked and therefore he had the ability to be a competitor in tournaments and club events.

Because you can play golf well into your dotage—given good health—the game rewards you for being patient, ranging from occasional good shots to, given the correct circumstances of good play in the right setting, winning moments that satisfy your desires. That’s what happened to Kevin. When he sent a recap of his golf this fall, he was runner-up in the regular championship—the Don Barlow Match Play Tournament—at Waterloo (Ill.) Country Club (WCC), but won the senior club championship, winning 1 up over multi-regular club champion Chuck Keller.

Kevin’s WCC summary now is six senior club titles and three regular club championships, with a runner-up finish in each, and, get this, all of this came after the age of 50. Waterloo was founded in 1925 and is a par-34, nine-hole layout just under 2,500 yards. It’s not scary by any means but the short length equalizes a match between bad and good players and when two top golfers go at it there is no room for error.

Kevin has a 9-2 record in club championship matches. As he notes, “not bad.” The regular final was Kevin, the 58-year-old defending champion, versus Drew Weisenborn, 25, who perhaps will turn pro in the near future. Right there the inter-generational beauty of golf was evident but for Kevin it was also a harsh reality of the competitive imbalance that exists between golfers 30-plus years apart. Normally the longer driver of the ball in his matches, Kevin was against a longer opponent. “Drew hits his 2-iron as long or longer than my driver,” Kevin noted. “My guess is he is three clubs longer than me so he hits wedge when I hit 7-iron.”

So when young Drew found himself 2 down after nine holes of a 36-hole match, it wasn’t panic time. Kevin had birdied four holes with a bogey on the first nine, then shot six over the next nine and was 3 down. His deficit was 5 down after 27 holes when he played the third nine one over par. When Kevin made bogey on No. 1 the fourth time around, the gig was up and the final was lost, 7 & 6. “If I would have won the hole to get it to 4 down, who knows, maybe I get a lift and he gets rattled, but probably not,” Kevin said. “Drew is a great guy and deserving champion. Although I had one bad nine, I did not really beat myself, he was the better golfer.

“Looking at the scorecard I figured out where the match got away from me. I won the 22nd hole to go 3 down. The next four holes I went par, par, par, bogey. Drew went birdie, birdie, par, eagle; 6 down with 10 to play is not a good place to be.”

No, it’s not, an inevitable loss was looming. That’s golf, it giveth and it taketh away. It had given Kevin so much in recent years, but it doesn’t give you everything. But after a few decades of thinking he could be a club champion, and then being one nine times over, he has the perspective of not needing everything. He already had something several times over, the result of patience and good fortune and the right competitive moment for golf to make true the phrase "all things come to those who wait."

 

 

  

Cliff Schrock
30 years on, the Tour Championship has the heft it was designed to have

Those of us with enough years behind us to have witnessed the entire history of the Tour Championship have thoughts and impressions about what has fully become one of the PGA Tour’s premiere events.

Something that stood out to me at first, not all that favorably, was the commercialized nature of the tournament title for an event that was intended to be special and unique. The first year, in 1987, it was the Nabisco Championships of Golf. It wasn’t much better in 1988: Nabisco Golf Championships. Then the next two years it was shortened to Nabisco Championships.

Tom Watson celebrates the end of a winless drought at the 1987 Tour Ch.

Tom Watson celebrates the end of a winless drought at the 1987 Tour Ch.

The plural “championships” confused me. It was one marquee championship, not multiple. Of course, the tournament wasn’t utilized at the end of the season as it is now where it tops off a four-event playoff. Initially it was just a year-end event for the top elite money-makers, but I don’t think too many people thought the winner was the actual champion of the golf season. He was just the winner of a substantial money event, adding to an already excellent money year. The fact that Tom Watson, struggling to regain his dominant form and a nonwinner for three years, won the first playing gave the tournament immediate legitimacy and substance.

The focus of the event turned in 1991 when it was renamed the Tour Championship and went to Pinehurst No. 2. That made the purpose of the event clearer, but not fully. If the Players Championship was the tour’s self-proclaimed fifth major, the Tour Championship could not be considered above it and couldn’t really be thought of as the championship event of the tour season. Again, it just felt like another big-money, limited-field event helping the elite become more elite. It didn’t help that starting in 1995, sponsors once again peppered the title, among them Mercedes-Benz, Michelob, Southern Company, and Coca-Cola. The event was called the Tour Championship "presented" by one of those sponsors.

But we finally have arrived at simply the Tour Championship, and Coca-Cola and Southern Company are “proud partners.” In combination with the FedEx Cup playoffs since 2007, the Tour Championship now feels like an appropriate year-end conclusion and more than just a limited-field tournament that makes the rich richer. All the jostling for points to make it into the top 30 builds all year until the last week or two puts a real emphasis on who will sneak into the top 30 as well as focusing on those top players who might win the whole thing.

It has also helped that the championship settled nicely into venerable East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. This is the 14th straight year for East Lake and 17th overall. Its heritage of urban renewal, Bobby Jones and Donald Ross is a great way to showcase the tour’s best.

I’ve even warmed up to how the tour year now carries from one year to the next; not 100 percent, but the changing landscape required some adjusting. With the battle golf has always fought to compete for attention with the start of football season, working to get the year-end event out of the college and pro football morass is a sensible decision.

So, it’s been a great 30-year evolution. From 1987 to 2017, the Tour Championship has made quite the transformation to the type of concluding event it was intended to be.

Cliff Schrock
Spieth’s mystery supporter: An elderly cousin he hasn’t met has been pulling hard for him

This item by Cliff Schrock first appeared on golfdigest.com on Aug. 12, 2017

The beautiful needlepoint items created by Alice Buckley are not only functional masterpieces that bring pleasure to the eye and amazement in how they are made, but there is great symbolism. The weaving of the thread mimics how our lives can be intertwined in a stunning pattern that leaves us in awe.

At age 96, Alice has pretty much seen it all, so being awed is a tough task. But she is finding it amazing and emotional that a golf wunderkind she is related to but hasn’t met is stunning the golf world. Jordan Spieth, at the newly turned age of 24, in return might find it exciting to know an unknown near centenarian from his ancestry is pulling for him as he attempts to win the FedEx Cup in the next two weeks.

Alice Buckley relaxes at home in East Moline, Ill.

Alice Buckley relaxes at home in East Moline, Ill.

I met Alice by chance on a visit in early August my wife and I made to East Moline, Ill.—the Quad Cities-area town and land of the John Deere Classic—to spend time with my in-laws, Mary Ellen and Bill Hynd at their new independent-living place. Mary Ellen made sure we met a special lady from the floor above them whose craft skills were off the charts, especially for someone at 96. Her ties to Jordan Spieth came up during the visit when she said she likes to watch golf.

Alice was born Alice Brei on March 13, 1921, in Muscatine, Iowa, which is 40 miles west of the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. Alice is the oldest of 15 children, and befitting someone nearly a century old, she’s had an incredibly full life, including surviving three husbands. She made the connection she was related to Spieth when he first played the John Deere in 2013. In genealogy jargon, she considers herself a third cousin to the three-time major winner. Alice’s mother, Maude, was a sister in Muscatine to Spieth’s great-grandmother, Hazel, who would marry a Spieth. Jordan’s grandfather, Don, who lives in Bethlehem, Pa., is from Muscatine and was involved in golf starting as a youth. He caddied at Muscatine Country Club and played on the Muscatine High School team.

Alice said she has given Jordan’s grandfather family photos and memorabilia. All of it would likely be evidence why Jordan himself has said the John Deere Classic is close to his heart and been such a strong focal point to his tour career thus far. Don Spieth told the Muscatine Journal in 2014 that he thought Muscatine “was a wonderful place to grow up. I thought the neighborhoods were very close. Lots of wonderful memories." When Jordan won the ’13 JD Classic, his grandfather “heard from people in Muscatine that I hadn't heard from in 40 years. It was really special to remake the connections that way. I got to get together with several [elsewhere] I hadn't talked to for a long time and some relatives as well that I had just sort of lost track of.”

Alice became a follower of Jordan after her ancestral discovery. Watching golf on TV is easy to do while creating some of the most amazing needlepoint work, along with greeting cards that have threaded designs on them. “I do the same things many women my age do,” she said with a smile, “I just do more of them.”

Alice was enraptured like everyone else during the final round of the Open Championship in July when Spieth hit his drive on 13 off the face of the earth. She cried, thinking the worst was to come. “I thought he was going to lose,” she said.

Alice watched the phenomenal comeback with relief, and will continue to watch her distant relative as he looks to make golf history.

But she herself is already a legend, with a substantial 96-year pedigree that not only includes her craft hobbies but 27 years as a church organist and the family researcher who created memory books for her siblings and children’s families. To date that adds up to 11 children/stepchildren, 17 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and 3 great great-grandchildren. That’s a very strong thread of life she’s weaved.

 

Cliff Schrock
Brad Batoh: Gone too soon but his memory will go on and on

Any serious golfer worth his weight in missed par putts knows that the game is a "life or death experience." Or so we try to convince ourselves. But deep down we know better. Even the great Jack Nicklaus, when talking about a close defeat, would remind the heartbroken, "Golf is just a game."

But when we need evidence about what is and isn’t important, life happens. May it never intervene as cruelly as what happened two weeks ago on as good a summer day as you can have when a beaut of a guy, barely into the heady days of his marriage to a lovely woman and the adoring papa to a baby girl who out-Gerbers all babies, was gone from this world in a horrible flash. It was at that moment when what matters most—the value of human life—stared family and friends squarely in the face. It was then that “life and death” took on the full weight of its meaning. This is a tribute to a man we didn’t get to know nearly long enough: Brad Batoh. 

It was on the night of July 30 that Brad, 33, hailed in tributes as the best-est husband, father, friend, relative and all-around helluva guy, was taken away from those of us left to feel pain and remorse over a tragic loss. Brad was at the start of a family vacation week on the Jersey Shore, near Toms River, when the unthinkable happened. After a joyous beach day with wife, Tina, baby daughter, Clara, and close family—the photo of him on my home page is from that beach day—followed by a great meal and game night, Brad complained about not feeling well and needing to get to bed. Getting up during the night to get some water, he collapsed, apparently of a heart attack. Attempts to revive him at the rental house and hospital could not be sustained.

Brad Batoh with Clara on a memorable day together.

Brad Batoh with Clara on a memorable day together.

It is said that the impact you have made in life can be measured by those who come to pay their respects to the living when you’re gone. At Brad’s visitation Aug. 4 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Trumbull, Conn., roughly 1,000 people came to comfort the family. Perhaps 300 mourners came to the funeral the next day. Rev. Ronald Froehlich did not try to make sense of something senseless, but gave us the next best thing: hope and comfort. Brad, he said, was more alive now than when he was living on earth. It choked you up to hear it, but it was a good type of emotional reflex. 

The particulars of Brad’s life are there for posterity in his death notice: Born in Bridgeport on March 7, 1984; middle name Nicholas; son of Kenneth and Debra, with a brother, Tim. Brad graduated from Stratford High School in 2002 and got a BS in education from Southern Connecticut State in ’07. He loved to play kickball and softball. After working for a wine distributor, he was the General Manager for New Castle Building Supply in Norwalk.

What the record doesn’t state is that he loved the Mets. Their annoying propensity—to non-Met fans—for achieving their rare moments of success through late-inning heroics earned them the nickname the Cardiac Kids. Dear God, we wonder, why couldn’t this Met fan have mimicked his team and had the rally of all rallies? He deserved to go into extra innings.

Instead, we focus on the other Met moniker, the more sacred-sounding and holy Miracle Mets. This is where we find Brad still alive and vital, in little daughter, Clara, who, like all of us, is a miracle, and she will be the part of Brad Batoh always with us.

A fund has been set up in Brad Batoh’s memory to the Clara Batoh Educational Scholarship Fund, c/o Milford Bank, 3651 Main St., Stratford, CT 06614 or to Sterling House, 2283 Main St., Stratford, CT 06615.

Cliff Schrock
Will we see a King of Golf again? Will it be Spieth?

Jordan Spieth’s victory at The Open Championship two weeks ago got him going again on the major championship victory tote-board after an eight-major drought. He's up to three now, a Masters, U.S. Open and Open. While he's hot, he could take the upcoming PGA and have a career Grand Slam lickety-split.

The Open triumph from the jaws of disaster also restarted talk of who is on track to be crowned King of Golf.

For decades, golf was ruled by a King or a small cluster of Kings, starting with Allan Robertson in the mid-1800s. After him, the line of succession roughly follows this order:

Willie Dunn Sr. and Old Tom Morris; Willie Park Sr.; Jamie Anderson; Bob Ferguson, Willie Fernie and Young Tom Morris; John Ball Jr. and Willie Park Jr.; Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. Taylor; Willie Anderson; Walter Hagen; Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen; Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead; Bobby Locke; Arnold Palmer and Gary Player; Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson. There was quite a gap between Watson and Tiger Woods, who was the last true King of Golf.

Between the two TWs and ever since Woods abdicated, we haven’t had a King in the truest sense, just a lot of Princes. And that brings us to Spieth. All the kings above had many challengers during their reign, princes primarily, but the kings were undeniable rulers of their time, either dominant in the majors, regular tour events, or a combination of both. Of active players now, Spieth (3 majors), Rory McIlroy (4) and Martin Kaymer (2) have the combination of youth and multiple majors that could translate into a King of Golf, but Spieth and McIlroy have each won three of the four majors and that versatility should translate into the best chances to continue winning majors.

With McIlroy’s last major win the 2014 PGA, however, one has to wonder if the 28-year-old can get back on the winning track. You need to win at the steady rate of every four to six majors to be considered a King. And you need to play the Woods way: An incredible exception to his era, Woods was immune to financial gain as incentive and had the winning desire that was a trademark of the great players before him. Money was not the driving factor, winning was.

Phil Mickelson (5 majors), Ernie Els (4), Padraig Harrington (3), Angel Cabrera (2), Retief Goosen (2), Zach Johnson (2) and Bubba Watson (2) don’t have time on their side to be a King. Dustin Johnson and Jason Day have one major each and need to start winning them regularly to get into the King conversation.

Right now, Spieth and McIlroy are the lead princes to be King of Golf, but, in a historic twist, there is a good chance we have seen the last King with Woods.

Today’s players all talk about how hard it is to win a major and to contend consistently. Combine that with a modern player’s mentality that the riches available to them don’t require them to be as hungry to win, and the goal of winning majors may not seem as critical. Players can feel content when finishing down the standings still creates a big bank account.

We have the PGA coming up at Quail Hollow Aug. 10-13. I’d love to see the pursuit of being considered a King of Golf intensify with a Spieth, McIlroy, D.J., or Day victory. It’s what brings interest to the sport and participation of golfers, and golf is always in need of both.

Cliff Schrock
The Greenbrier and Sam Snead are a classic resort link to golf's past

The horrific floods that wrecked The Greenbrier Resort and the region around it are a nasty memory now, but a fresh start and revitalization of the area are well under way. Like Old Man River himself, Sam Snead, you can’t keep these West Virginians down long. Snead was the tour legend who exhibited great longevity and was an outstanding competitor well into his senior years. It is appropriate that he was associated with the resilient Greenbrier for decades.

Sam Snead shows a few tips during a Greenbrier clinic.

Sam Snead shows a few tips during a Greenbrier clinic.

Nearly any week on tour is a likely time to celebrate something special the great Slammer achieved in golf, and with this being The Greenbrier Classic week, it's only appropriate to also look back at Sam's remarkable association with "America's Resort." More than 80 years ago in 1936, Snead made his first visit to The Greenbrier and the two were nearly always associated until Snead's death in 2002. Snead memorabilia populates the West Virginia resort, including at two restaurants, Sam Snead's at the Golf Club and Slammin' Sammy's.

Snead was The Greenbrier's golf pro from 1946 until the end of 1974 when the two parted ways because the ageless wonder, at age 62, "wanted more time to play tournament golf and [The Greenbrier] wants a full-time club pro," according to Golf World coverage. He rejoined as The Greenbrier's Golf Pro Emeritus from 1993-2002 (Tom Watson followed from 2005-2015 and Lee Trevino was named GPE in early 2015).

In October 1970, Snead aced the 18th hole of the Old White House Course (now Old White TPC), with a 7-iron covering the 163 yards. At the time it was his 18th career ace and the fourth on that hole, but he had another on it -- his final one -- in 1995. Snead also shot 60 six times on the Old White Course, and he had an easy-to-remember 59 in 1959 on the Greenbrier Course.

An elegant fixture of The Greenbrier is the Spring Festival, which began in 1948 and was later renamed the Sam Snead Festival. It was a star-studded event at its origin, held in late spring. Forty pros played 18 holes Thursday through Sunday, and three amateurs joined each pro on Saturday and Sunday in a pro-am format. Bob Hope, the Duke of Windsor and assorted U.S. senators were featured amateurs in the early days; Ben Hogan, Peter Thomson, Jack Burke Jr., Dow Finsterwald, Doug Ford, Claude Harmon, Henry Picard and Jimmy Demaret some of the pros.

Snead won the event multiple times (and gave clinics at the event as shown in the photo on the home-page link), but in February 1968 the resort announced it was dropping the festival. The announcement said, "Following a thorough study of current and future spring activity schedules at The Greenbrier, we have reluctantly decided to cancel future Sam Snead Festival golf tournaments."

But in a beautiful example of how life and common sense can come full circle, the Sam Snead Festival came back on The Greenbrier schedule as a 36-hole pro-am to honor his legacy. It was restarted in 1994 and he hosted it until 2001. In 2015 it was held June 7-9 and hosted by Nick Faldo, who ran a learning center at the resort and has an affinity for The Slammer, and in 2016 it was held late May/early June.

 

Cliff Schrock
Spieth throws a dramatic bunker shot at Berger, wins Travelers playoff

CROMWELL, Conn., June 25 - Jordan Spieth is the wunderkind who lacks pop and power, but has precision, polish and poise under pressure—minus the 12th hole at the 2016 Masters—but he tends to get punchy and has to give himself pep talks. He’s proving to be the People’s choice with the pizzazz that comes from someone with putting prowess. And in winning his 10th PGA Tour victory Sunday, he’s a performer with pinpoint timing, as he was in his first victory in the John Deere Classic in 2013.

The water-logged 17th hole with the 15th and "15th 1/2" holes beyond.

The water-logged 17th hole with the 15th and "15th 1/2" holes beyond.

Spieth, who will be 24 on July 27, was just the third player to go wire-to-wire at The Travelers Championship, capped by a dramatic bunker holeout for birdie on the par-4 18th hole to beat Daniel Berger in a sudden-death playoff. Spieth led by one shot after a 63 on Thursday, then maintained the one-shot edge after rounds of 69 and 66. Based on his strategy playing TPC River Highlands, he would have liked a 66 on Sunday, but he was on pace for 68 after shooting one-under on the front. He was at 13 under, two up on Boo Weekley, with Danny Lee at 10 under and Berger nine.

Spieth missed makable birdie putts on 10 and 11, then bogeyed 12 after a wayward tee shot and parred 13. He still led by two shots over Weekley, Lee, Hoffman and Berger at 10 under. After a sloppy bogey on 14 dropped him to 11 under, he was tied with Berger and one up on Weekley.

Spieth surprised himself on 15, rolling in a birdie putt he thought he’d missed, and after a par on 16 he led by one. Berger birdied 17 to get to 12 under and both players played 18 while tied at 12 under. Each made par dramatically with up-and-down efforts from greenside bunkers, Spieth spectacularly nearly holed out from the same bunker he would be in on the playoff. He finished with an even-par 70 and was caught by Berger’s 67.

Playing the par-4 18th again to start the playoff, each drove poorly, leaving Spieth to hit a 5-iron in the front-right bunker and Berger hitting well out of thick rough and leaving him an across-the-green putt in the left fringe.

Playing first, Spieth blasted his ball short of the hole and watched it roll like a putt with speed to hit the flagstick dead center and fall in for a 3. Spieth raced out of the bunker and did a body bump with caddie Michael Greller, then quieted the frenzied record crowd for Berger’s effort to tie him. For a moment it looked like Berger’s ball was on line to match Spieth’s heroics, but it sped by on the high side.

"I felt comfortable on the bunker shot,” Spieth said. “I felt more comfortable in the bunker than I did from four feet. I was in there in regulation, knew it was the place to be. So my approach shot I thought that if it were not going to carry, that bunker's not bad. If it happens to carry on to the green, great. From 225 into this hole I was happy with where it was. I was just trying to get it up there somewhere around the hole.

“For it to actually kind of spin in, I went and jumped up and saw it kind of spinning towards the middle of the hole and I'm like, no way. I'm looking at it like there's no way. It hit and went in, and I lost my mind.

“Obviously, that was one for the ages,” Spieth added. “So I don't know if I'll ever have a moment like that again. That was -- if I was in Berger's shoes, I'd be cursing Jordan Spieth right now for the break off the tee and then holing a 30-yard bunker shot. That's a lot of walk. But I took advantage of the good breaks and happy to come out on top. We played great. The putter let me down today, but all in all this is a huge victory for us in the middle of the season as we go into this second half of the major season.”

The victory makes Spieth the second youngest to 10 victories in tour history, behind Tiger Woods but ahead of Jack Nicklaus. Spieth was not going down that comparison path. “I think it's awesome. I'm hesitant and will speak out adamantly about not comparing myself to anybody else,” he said. “I think that's unfair. I don't think anybody will do what Tiger did for the game. But it's really cool to be out here at my age, to experience what we're able to experience, play golf for a living. That's a dream come true for me.

“I've got all my buddies out here. I grew up playing golf with Berger back to when we were 14, 15 years old, and to be in a playoff with him out here is pretty cool. And I hope that there are teenagers out there listening that they're able to look across from them on the tee box at junior golf events and recognize that they can be out here doing what we just did. It is really cool.”

But, boy, I mean, I really wish that I didn't make it exciting. The goal was boring golf. Play the way we played the first couple holes. Make a bunch of pars, maybe slip in another birdie or two, and cruise in, hit the green and two putt. Walk off. Day's work is done. I still wish I did it that way, but the way that it happened, sometimes you need a little fireworks. Next time I'll still be going for the boring golf route. That will be the goal."

Berger, who turned 24 in April and is shaping up to be a Spieth rival on tour, knew that a great shot beat him. “I played great today. I played the playoff hole great,” he said. “He hit an unbelievable bunker shot, and Jordan does Jordan things. So there's not really much you can say. I'm obviously disappointed, but happy to be in the position I was in today.”

Berger has won the last two FedEx St. Jude Classic, including earlier this month. The sensation of winning so recently helped him: “I knew I could do it. I knew I needed to hit a bunch of good shots and I did. But you can't do anything about that. It's incredible.”

Just as Berger was left speechless, Spieth left fans speechless but not voiceless. The roar compared with cheers he's heard at Augusta National's 16th, he said. Whether the roars are Tiger-like is an analysis for another time. For now, Jordan Spieth is doing the best he can to make the absence of Woods as exciting as possible.

 

Cliff Schrock
Spieth rights ship just in time to keep one-shot lead at Travelers Ch.

CROMWELL, Conn. - Ever since he opened the Travelers Championship with a 7-under-par 63, Jordan Spieth has had trouble getting deeper under par. When he bogeyed back-to-back holes at 13 and 14 Saturday in the third round, falling into a tie with Daniel Berger and Boo Weekley at 9 under par, it looked like he was going to likely give up the lead.

But Spieth is the master of surges and streaks, and threw another one into his round just when he needed it. He had previously birdied back-to-back holes twice in the round, at 6/7 and 10/11, and did it again at 15/16. After a par at 17, Spieth crowned the round with a birdie-3 at the home hole. It gave him a round of 66, 12 under par for the tournament and retained the one-shot lead he had started the day with.

Due to rainy weather in the morning, the round didn't start until mid-morning, with the players grouped in threesomes and going off both tees. The schedule precaution worked well, and the round wasn't disrupted, with breezy, sunny and comfortably warm weather moving in. Weekley moved into contention with a 65 and 11 under overall, while Berger shot 66 and was at 9 under.

C.T. Pan came storming from the back of the pack with a 64 and will head into the final round at 8 under. Also at that total are David Lingmerth (65) and Paul Casey (66). Rory McIlroy shot an even-par 70 and was even par for the tournament.

With the Sunday forecast calling for superb weather, the players will go off in twosomes beginning at 8:15 a.m. Spieth and Weekley will tee off in the final group at 2 p.m. CBS is televising the event. 

 

Cliff Schrock
Spieth maintains lead after 69 in Round 2, Rory is eight back

CROMWELL, Conn. - Among all the skills PGA Tour players have to learn, being a maintenance man has to be right up there. Once a player gets to a certain level under par, the goal is to maintain that level or take it lower.

Jordan Spieth got to seven-under par after a first-round 63 and on Friday maintained his position, not as well as he would like, shooting 69, good enough for an eight-under 132, one up on Troy Merritt and Patrick Reed here at The Travelers Championship.

Merritt shot 68 to go with a first-round 65, while Reed scored 66 to add to a 67. At six-under par were Wesley Bryan (67-67), Daniel Summerhays (66-68), Chase Seiffert (68-66) and Boo Weekley (66-68).

Not maintaining their position from Round 1 were Johnson Wagner and Brett Stegmaier, who both shot 64 Thursday and both added 72s on Friday, each dropping 15 spots. Defending champion Russell Knox is at one-under par after rounds of 69-70, and former No. 1 player in the world Rory McIlroy was at 67-73, which was right on the 36-hole cut line of even par, a rather generous line for TPC River Highlands, which has enjoyed two ideal scoring days, although Friday featured more wind.

Among the notables to miss the cut were Jason Day (72-70), Bubba Watson (75-67), Zach Johnson (75-69) and Justin Thomas (73-72).

Spieth started on the back nine Friday morning, and made birdie at No. 12, but made double-bogey on the water-protected, par-5 13th. It wasn’t due to water, however, but a drive that went 3 feet out-of-bounds due to a double-cross, he said, on his drive into the wind. Spieth birdied 15 to make the turn to the front at even for the day. Birdies at 1 and 3, both par 4s, made it appear he was going to make another birdie run, but after a bogey at the par-3 fifth, he parred in for his one-under 69.

The old saying that it’s hard to follow a great round with another great round—as Thomas experienced Sunday at the U.S. Open—applied to Spieth on Friday. “I was just a little off today,” he said. “You know, I didn't expect to be on to the same level as a 63, but I just got a little bit, the swing was just…it's close. It was just kind of an off day, and I'm glad I was able to still shoot one under with an off round, and we'll just go back and recognize that we probably need to be close to doubling this score for the rest of the tournament in order to win. But, yeah, still in a good position.”

The Texan didn’t feel the course played much harder than Thursday, but thought his 69 might not have the lead by the end of the day. “I was able to hold it at one under, and instead of falling way back, probably be a couple back going into the weekend, but in a good spot.

“I really wanted to grab two a side. That's kind of my goal. I figured if I get two a side every nine holes that we play this week that will be 16 under, and that will win the golf tournament.

“So I came out today trying to forget about yesterday and trying to make two birdies a side. It's tough. I made a double on a birdie hole. That throws you back a few shots. Had an opportunity on the front to get to 10 under. That was our new goal. It fell just short, but in a good position. For an off day to shoot one under and hopefully that's the high score we post this week, that's where you need to hold it when you get a little off.”

So there’s the recognition of the benefit of maintaining position from Thursday. Now only the next two days will tell if another old saying holds true. Players who make the cut and contend by the back nine Sunday, usually have one of the four rounds be a little off compared to the other three. This may have been Jordan Spieth’s off round on the way to victory.

Cliff Schrock
Spieth steady in afternoon, leads Travelers by 1 after strong 63

CROMWELL, Conn. – There is some truth to the belief that the players who go out in the afternoon wave during the morning/afternoon tee time schedule in the first two rounds of a PGA Tour event have it rougher than the a.m. group. A statistical analysis would support that, but then you have a Jordan Spieth, who doesn't follow the "normal" pattern.

Based on the Texan’s performance during the afternoon Thursday in Round 1 of The Travelers Championship, he might have been preparing us for a memorable afternoon on Sunday. As he was completing his round in the late afternoon at TPC River Highlands, two players from the morning half, Johnson Wagner and Brett Stegmaier, were sitting at the top at six-under-par 64. Spieth had joined them at six under following back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14. When he came to 18 still needing a birdie to take the lead, he didn't disappoint, rolling in a 3-foot birdie putt to get to seven-under 63.

The time was 5:56, just about the time heroics on Sunday afternoon would come in handy. After the twosome tied at six under was a pair at five, Troy Merritt, an afternoon player, and Graham DeLaet. Among 13 players at four under were two key figures from the U.S. Open last weekend, Xander Schauffele and Brian Harman.

Spieth had eight birdies and a lone bogey on No. 9 for his 63, which was his best score ever on tour in the first round. His previous best had been three 64s. It was also the sixth time he had led or co-led the first-round lead on tour.

Riled-up weather is often the reason the afternoon players have it tougher than the morning, but Thursday gave the field equal opportunity weather. Calm wind and bright sunshine ruled all day, making for a good day to go low.

In Spieth’s first competitive round at the course, he birdied his first two holes, five of the first eight, and headed to the back nine four under after the bogey at nine.

“It felt like a golf course we could take advantage of,” he said. “Just tried to keep the ball in the fairway, and from there, you have short enough clubs into the green to where your misses can still be putts. Got it rolling through eight holes, kind of stole one on the eighth on a tough par 3, and then kept it going and kept our head down. I got a little bit of frustration on 10, 11. I hit some good putts that just barely missed, 10, 11 and 12, but finished the round really nicely on the last six.”

After not being a contender at the U.S. Open last week, Spieth put in less practice on the putting green this week. “I put in so much time worrying about kind of feeling, what technique I wanted at Erin Hills, and this week we spent less time on the green,” he said. “I don't think that's something that would normally work, but it was something where we've been more feel based this week knowing that on poa annua anything can kind of happen. So my expectations may have been a bit lowered, which helps you putt better.”

Spieth’s early work on the course gave him the impression it could be good for him. “I had no idea until we kind of got on the grounds and I saw Michael [caddie Greller] on Tuesday before we played any holes, and he said, ‘This course is tailor made for you,’ is what he said. I love the back nine. I think it's a very exciting nine holes of golf, one of the coolest stretches that we play where anything can happen. So that's good and bad when you're leading.”

Another former No. 1 player, Rory McIlroy, was making his debut at The Travelers as well, and shot 67. Other notables include Jim Furyk and Patrick Reed both at 67, past champions Marc Leishman and defender Russell Knox at 69,  Jason Day 72, Justin Thomas 73, and surprisingly, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson 75.

 

Cliff Schrock
When will we see a fully dominant player again, or are we in for major parity?

CROMWELL, Conn. -- The week after a major championship is always an opportune time to examine the state of the game in some aspect. After the U.S. Open last week gave us a seventh straight first-time major winner, the obvious focus is: Are we going to see a dominant player come to the front for an extended period of time or will major parity continue on?

Let’s backtrack a moment. You can trace back to Old and Young Tom Morris of Scotland in the last half of the 1800s and make a case that there had been a steady stream of “kings” or “rulers” of the game, many of them born at a rate of roughly every 10 years, up through Tom Watson’s reign.

After Watson lost control of the throne, however, golf was not ruled in the way it had been for more than 130 years until Tiger Woods came along, and he was born 26 years after Watson. With Woods now having abdicated, however, the best we’ve got going is an ebb and flow of players at the No. 1 position. Actually, we’ve been in a low ebb position for some time now.

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media Wednesday.

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media Wednesday.

Since Woods’ last major victory in 2008, 19 of the 36 major winners have won just the one major. The roll call of the last seven winners is impressive for their power by and large: Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Danny Willett, and Jason Day. If you add in the youthful multi-major winners since ’08, you’ve upped the talent ante: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, and Bubba Watson. Might our next true king come from those 11? And if not, how much does it matter? The longer we are away from a longstanding dominant player, will golf observers be used to parity year after year and just enjoy that environment for what it is, a new, fresh story each time a major is won? Those covering golf should actually find that refreshing and an excellent challenge to reporting.

Inconsistency among the top players is one of the big reasons for sporadic forays into contention. Of the top 10 ranked players in the world entering the U.S. Open, six missed the cut, as did major winners such as Justin Rose and Adam Scott. It was the first time since the official World Golf Rankings started in 1986 that the top 3 players all missed the cut in the same major. No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama and No. 9 Rickie Fowler were the only top-10 players to be in the hunt on Sunday.

A legitimate simple question for a major winner is, How does a one-time major winner become a multi-major winner? At The Travelers on Wednesday, two multiwinners spoke to the difficulties involved in winning a major in these days of bombers golf, let alone winning more than one.

Jordan Spieth said, “I was very fortunate to have two by 21. So it’s hard to speak to what they [young players] feel about it. But in my opinion, they shouldn’t feel any [pressure] because…you follow the process, you’re a good enough player, you’re winning enough that it’s bound to come during a major championship week when you win.”

McIlroy, making his Travelers debut, acknowledged past dominant players but said it’s not that easy to be dominant with so many players able to overpower a course and play aggressively. “Obviously I’d love to try to emulate some of that dominance, but I think in this day and age, it’s a little more difficult.

“Guys aren’t afraid to be aggressive and to score. I don’t think it’s necessarily gotten harder. It’s always been hard to win a major championship. I just think…the depth of talent out there is as deep as it’s ever been. There are a number of factors: the teaching is better, the knowledge is better, there are just more [good] players.”

While no one doubts that today’s world-class pros are trying and working hard to be No. 1 for an extended time, and that they are incredibly skilled and talented, but you have to wonder if the loose shots that derail a rally on the back nine of the final round really affect a player. How deeply do they feel the pain when a challenge falls apart? Today’s elite player has a financial life off the course that perhaps makes damaging stray shots less hurtful and less likely to damage the psyche as much.

That is a mental advantage players prior to the money boom had. When every missed shot and fizzled opportunity meant the mortgage and grocery bills were going to be more problematic to pay because you needed to finish near the top to make real money, the pain must have lingered and stung to the nth-degree. In today's game, we seem to be developing top-level players who are pluggers, who keep plugging away to win a major and eventually get theirs, but then their game and ascension stall out and getting anymore is difficult.

It is enjoyable to see new story lines and new winners, but I also like to see victories in the majors have a historical element and impact.

I feel golf is healthiest when it does have a central figure who is regularly stacking up the major titles. For nearly three decades we watched majors leader Jack Nicklaus tack on Grand Slam titles, and then Woods came along down the road to get us excited again about the march toward history. We’re presently stalled with watching the majors add up for a select few. The last time we were able to get to four for anyone was McIlroy’s 2014 PGA victory, but that is a distant memory. It would be nice to start his tote board again, to start predicting where he might reach on the standings chart.

If the trend continues of a new winner at every major, will it bother the golf fan base? Will fans want a ruler or an endless string of princes? How that is answered will be golf’s Game of Thrones.

Cliff Schrock
The Travelers Celebrity Pro-Am brings out the best stars from the local area

There is a reason that classic rock is classic. Why appliances made in the old days seemed to last longer. Why family time at the dinner table was valued. Why politicians of different parties worked together. It's that feeling that each generation has, that what they experienced in the past was way better, in all walks of life, than what has come later? Things today just don’t measure up to what came before.

As it relates to the celebrity nature of golf, it just doesn't seem to have the pizzazz it once did.  The celebrity pro-am, invented by Bing Crosby at his Pebble Beach clambake, is long past its heyday. Tour events, especially at the start of the year, were huge fan favorites when they involved the major golfing celebs of the day. Leading the way were the celebrity hosts: Crosby, Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Glen Campbell, Ed McMahon, Danny Thomas and for special emphasis this week, Sammy Davis Jr.

With tour events headed by that group, the celebrities brought in for the pro-am action had a depth and heft that made you take notice, particularly the acting and musical performers. The celebrity hosts gradually got older, however, and faded and were replaced by, well, often nobody but there was Justin Timberlake, George Lopez and Clint Eastwood, but they didn’t really stick around or take full ownership. The tour schedule has been absent of any celebrity host in an event title for some time.

This week’s Travelers Championship was known as the Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open from 1973 to 1988, the last four years with “Canon” at the front of the title. In 2007, and four titles later, it became the Travelers Championship. The schedule today calls for their Celebrity Pro-Am to be held, and while there is no all-world headliner, what the Travelers does well is bring in A-1 state celebrities. Those with UConn tie-ins are Geno Auriemma, Jim Calhoun, Randy Edsall, Ray Allen, Dan Orlovsky, Chris Dailey, Rebecca Lobo, Mike Cavanaugh and Scott Burrell. There is Chris Berman from nearby Bristol and ESPN, plus former Red Sox player Tim Wakefield, comedian Kevin Nealon, who lived in and went to college in Connecticut and has been in the pro-am before, plus Hamilton star Christopher Jackson, NHL’s Ben Bishop and actor Dane DeHaan. So while there isn’t a huge national attraction to the celebrity group, it will still be a big draw for the fame many personalities have in the state.

One of the purposes of a celebrity event is to get some buzz going for the main event Thursday through Sunday, and that is always the case at the Travelers. Fans gather around the first tee to see the groups tee off, and at a smaller market location like the Travelers, the cheers have the sound of a pep rally. Fans appreciate their state heroes and enjoy watching them in an arena far removed from their normal locale.

Did celebrity pro-ams have more firepower “back in the day?” Yes, probably. But as long as tour events such as the Travelers keep working at showcasing the best of the region, fans will come out to be up close to the famous they know so well, even if it's not like it used to be.

 

Cliff Schrock