GOLF WRITER // GENERAL EDITORIAL SPECIALIST
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Golf Writers from the Heart

This page is a golf forum for opinions and comments provided by an assortment of golf writers from Cliff Schrock to special guests and even the Common Man golfer!

Why Woods getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom at this time in his life disses Arnie, Jack and Charlie

All right. So I waited a few weeks to see if my initial feelings about the big news following the conclusion of the Masters remained as strong and as fervent as they did then.

To be clear, I’m not referring to the news that Tiger Woods won a 15th major. My preference for several years for the fallen star has been that in tournament play I’m fine with him lurking and lingering among the leaders to create interest, especially at the big events—such as he did in the 2018 majors—but not be crowned the winner. No, the news I had a strong reaction to was the premature and haphazard decision by Donald Trump that Woods should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As most if not all of Trump’s comments are, this one was a knee-jerk, ill-conceived, shoot-from-the-mouth-I-didn’t-think-this-through remark that plain just doesn’t make sense—at least not at this moment in time. If that’s not strong enough, how about this: Trump’s announcement was also an insult to Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Charles Sifford. That, however, is not likely something Trump gives a hoot about since he is, after all, Donald Trump. He’s not going to worry about taking anything away from the shine of three golf icons who are universally liked and admired much more than he will ever be as White House resident. If Trump has shown anything consistently since he got his way into the White House, it’s that he doesn’t know history. It was probably his worst subject in school. He doesn’t believe anything ever came before he was born, or for sure since he became president. The braggart and ego in him go hand in hand with promoting himself and his family.

What has me peeved is not that Tiger Woods should ever receive the honor. I’m sure, given time, that if he doesn’t harm his reputation anymore and maintains the path he is on now, especially with his philanthropic work, that he would warrant such an honor. And that’s the key element: time.

Everything Donald Trump does in his role as president is tinged with suspicion. For instance, his love for the Russians and his defense of all the nefarious deeds they have done, not just with U.S. democracy but all the meddling in foreign affairs, should be a concern for every American. He doesn’t want to harm his business interests with Russia. And by not being tough with Vladimir Putin, he comes across as Putin’s Puppet. Americans should be furious that their president is viewed as weak with Russia.

In terms of awarding Woods a medal, it’s an ideal scenario for Trump because it will serve as a h-u-g-e photo op for himself and fits in with most everything he does as a way to promote himself. When he tried but failed to make peace with North Korea, he said he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump as president is about himself and gaining notoriety. Hence, he’s always mislabeling everything he does as the “greatest this” or “greatest that” of any U.S. president even when he is clearly shown to be in error and re-imagining the facts.

Since this honor falls into the sports category, I looked at the history of the Presidential Medal of Freedom as given to sports figures. Every time it was given, the honoree was at the end of their career or peak of life or twilight of their career and now resting on their laurels. Some had already passed away. Palmer was 75 when given the honor by George W. Bush in 2004. Bush put the medal around Nicklaus’ neck in 2005 when Jack was 65. Charles Sifford was 92 when Barack Obama named him to get the medal in 2014.

Woods is 43. He is a good 20 to 30 years away from being in the stage of life when this should be awarded him. Leave it to Trump to throw ritual and tradition out the door and give an honor so he can be in a photo that will be shown around the world. By foregoing the normal process, Trump is dissing previous medal recipients—including golfers Arnie, Jack and Charlie—who worked a full lifetime to be worthy of an honor given to people for their “especially meritorious contribution to [either] the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Nicklaus, as the lone living medal honoree from golf, is in a difficult position to share the same feeling I have on this, but I hope he would feel the same. He sometimes comes off not caring about things like this, but it must bother him some since he knows his golf history and his place in it and who came before him. I would be surprised if he truly didn’t care that Woods is getting an honor that’s meant for recipients late in life when they can look back and comment on the life they led. Nicklaus has been remarkable in his comments about Woods chasing his record of major victories. He has been reserved and logical in his remarks. One of his main points is that he himself never had a specific number of major victories to chase and hence had he had the foresight to know a Tiger Woods would come along, he wishes now he had pushed himself harder to set a higher bar. Nicklaus also honestly responds when asked if it would bother him to have his record broken. He, of course, doesn’t want to see it happen, just as no one would want to have their accomplishments eclipsed if they are the all-time leader. For anyone to quibble with how Jack has handled Woods questions over the years, they are just being purposely antagonistic.

If Nicklaus also feels it is a couple decades too early to give Woods an honor that he, Palmer and Sifford took much longer to get into their Social Security years, he’s likely not going to utter it for fear of getting blasted. But I would hope his honest assessment is that the honor is very premature and that Woods is on the right course for it when the right time arrives.

Which leads to Tiger Woods himself. If he feels anything about being much too young to receive this, he should politely decline. What a marvelous gesture that would be, as well as a welcome action by someone to finally not just go along with a bad Trump comment and decision. Our country would be less divided right now if people in Trump’s political party would stand up to him (such as Senate majority “leader” Mitch McConnell) and tell him he needs to be honest and be a leader for every American.

Sadly, as we head toward the appointed hour that’s been set for the medal to be given to Woods, there is nothing coming forth about Tiger declining the honor. But this, too, goes with his own custom of not making a statement or taking a stand at a moment when to do so would cause controversy or in some way hurt his name or brand even if it’s the right thing to do. Tiger has not taken a stand on social or political issues as his father said he would back when he turned pro, only on education. But it’s not like a recipient can’t refuse an honor. Another golf great with TW initials who went to Stanford—Tom Watson—declined entering the PGA of America Hall of Fame because he thought former PGA president Ted Bishop was dishonorably taken out of office in 2014 and Watson passed on the honor in protest.

So when Trump revels in standing with Tiger Woods in the next couple days and says his reasons Woods should get the medal, he will do so ignorant of the history, tradition, protocol and respect of the honor, the very elements that make golf the greatest game on the planet.

Cliff Schrock
No matter how kooky we feel golf has become, it still teaches its players character, sportsmanship

As it turns out, the elements of golf that at times make it look silly, outdated, archaic and nonsensical ultimately come through to show how golf develops character, courtesy, sportsmanship and, perhaps best of all, respect for your opponents to a greater degree than any other sport.

As our society grows ever more sophisticated and presumably astute as well, sports such as golf look out of touch because of the complexity of the rules and the formal, structured customs and traditions of the order of play. Most sports have an air of fairness about them, so that each side competes on equal terms, but golf goes further and develops an inner honor system that produces respect for the course, opponent and/or fellow playing partner. Golfers compete to beat par, and in competition, defeat an opponent or an entire field of players. But the overriding factor is the game itself. Whether the battle with par is won or lost, and the match taken or lost, it’s the experience that supersedes everything. You respect all parts of the experience to the extent that when suffering a loss you celebrate the event.

I have been reminded of golf’s great gift to its players recently on two fronts.

Nicklaus, in yellow, heartily congratulates Watson at the 1977 Open Championship.

Nicklaus, in yellow, heartily congratulates Watson at the 1977 Open Championship.

First, in researching a golf book I am writing, I have gone back to read a great deal about the modern Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who, sadly, are year by year becoming less known to younger golfers. We will never know the full extent of how many hours those three spent as a group playing golf, but it is likely no three professional golfers played as much together as those three. The competitiveness they each had is seen in their astounding records, but despite wanting to crush each other, they had a bond that allowed them to be civil, mannerly and able to continue on as comrades off the course. Player, especially, was known for describing a tough competitiveness that gave way to camaraderie when the last putt was holed. In the early 1960s, Palmer and Player teamed up to compete against other twosomes in a TV series, oftentimes on the heels of having played an intense battle in a tournament, or having faced each other in an exhibition match. No matter the outcome, it was over and done and they moved onto the next battle. Both Player and Nicklaus were in the position of having had to trust Arnie as aircraft pilot to get them to the next golf date perhaps after they had just beaten Palmer. That’s putting faith into someone who might hold a grudge, but these three legends didn’t believe in such things. That’s golf, it brings an air of civility because it’s not the outcome that dictates what you feel it’s the experience.

A second reminder came while watching the semifinal game between the University of Connecticut and Notre Dame on Friday April 5 in the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. After an undermanned, game UConn team gave up the ghost at the end, and ND looked to be in the clear with 6.6 seconds left, ND coach Muffet McGraw could be seen jumping up and down in glee with her staff, like a pom-pom cheerleader at the end of a routine. The universal, sportsmanlike conduct for all sports is that you don’t show up the opposition or celebrate or appear to be reveling about a victory out of respect for your opponent and the game until the buzzer sounds, especially the coach. It’s all part of why teams aren’t supposed to run up the score, or keep shooting 3s in a blowout or are to hold onto the ball and not take a shot at the end of the game when the shot-clock is off when you have the game in hand and the ball.

It has been chronicled that McGraw shows open disdain for UConn coach Gene Auriemma, so perhaps she was extra excited that she wouldn’t have to discuss a loss to him with the media. But she had also shown an uncivil demeanor in a pre-fourth-quarter TV interview when she basically said UConn was getting away with questionable (meaning illegal) screens for Huskie star Katie Lou Samuelson and she eventually abruptly walked away from the interview. ND was trailing by two at the time.

Players take their cue from their leader, the coach. That’s why some teams with coaches who react to every foul against their team by shaking their head in disbelief that their players do no wrong have players who react the same when called for a foul. They walk around shaking their head in shocked amazement translated to mean, “There’s no way I could commit a foul, you got it wrong.”

I appreciate losing coaches who pause after a loss during the post-game hand shake and look at their opposing colleague in the eye and say “your team played great, congrats.” Auriemma, who outside of UConn land is likely disliked, will conduct himself that way. In both the 2017 and 2018 Final Four semifinals, for instance, that was especially tough to do since UConn lost on shots at the buzzer both years. But you know what, Geno is also a golfer, and what he has learned on the golf course likely combines with a balanced “win some, lose some” aspect he knows happens in basketball.

I also like winning coaches who act with level-headed comportment. Kim Mulkey, whose Baylor team won the semifinal game prior to UConn-Notre Dame over Oregon, worked her way through the Oregon line after winning and made some short comments to the defeated Oregon Duck players who battled as hard as her Baylor team.

Which brings us all back to Palmer and Co., who gave us countless memorable battles but equally memorable reactions after the competition ended: Palmer with a firm handshake after losing the 1962 U.S. Open playoff to Nicklaus; Player and young Seve Ballesteros walking off the 18th green arm and arm after Gary’s incredible 1978 Masters comeback, and Jack, well, Jack was the example of how to do pretty much everything in golf great.

Nicklaus was humble and gracious in victory, especially in his 18 pro majors, but in 19 pro runner-up finishes in the majors, he was probably more impressive. When he was in position to react to the winner, he gave the champion a proper reception. You could assemble a video of Nicklaus’ reaction to runner-up finishes to Tom Watson at the 1977 Open Championship and 1982 U.S. Open and you’d be hard pressed to figure out that Jack was the second-place guy. Especially at the ’77 Open, Nicklaus notably told Watson that he gave Tom his best shot and it just wasn’t good enough that day.

Golfers celebrate on the golf course: for an ace, for a great shot, a birdie, a long holed putt. But that lasts a moment and goes away, but everyone celebrates with you. But to get excited about an opponent’s bad shot or that you are about to benefit from something someone else did or is about to do is seen as poor sportsmanship and not proper etiquette.

Call me overly sensitive on this issue, but don’t call me off track. Our top political officials don’t know how to lead with the truth, dignity, compromise, openness, modesty, fairness, and for the welfare of all. We are losing our way forward in society and going back to a time when leaders want to govern in a “do as I say, don’t ask any questions” manner that only serves to benefit a small privileged elite.

Golf refreshingly rejects such behavior and brings us to a common ground, where we can all feel as equals and when the game is done regale each other about how the experience made us feel excited that we had gone through it together and look forward to doing it again.

Cliff Schrock
Remembering Dave Anderson: New York Times columnist who was as good as they come, as a writer and person

A gentleman, generous, kind, courteous, easy-going, good company, unpretentious, witty, story-teller, bold, memorable—the Dave Anderson I knew was all of those traits. I believe great strategy in life to improve your own social skill is to associate with people you feel have qualities you find admirable, and who act how you’d want to act.

Dave Anderson was a man worth imitating. The longtime sportswriter and columnist, mainly and notably with The New York Times, passed away on Thursday at age 89. Ever since 1981, when he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, whenever Dave was introduced, it was as “Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Dave Anderson.” After such a pronouncement, you might expect Dave to come sauntering in with his nose held high. But he entered straightforward, and he came in with more of a shuffle than a regal bearing.

I’m sure I would have met Dave for the first time within a short period of joining Golf Digest in 1984. The New York Times owned the magazine then, and collaboration between the editorial staffs was common. As the Assistant Managing Editor, I would have had reason to work with Dave on his writings for GD. Starting in 1973, he wrote more than 50 articles, including subjects such as Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jim Dent, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Nancy Lopez, Gene Sarazen, the Masters, U.S. Open, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tony Lema, Curtis Strange, Harry Cooper, Ted Rhodes; he even did a travel story on Arizona. He could write with whimsy, as he did for “An 18-handicapper shares golf's romance with Arnie, Jack and Tom.” What amazed me about Dave on first introduction was that he didn’t hang his stature in the game over anyone, and he amazingly remembered your name. The latter was a major influence on me as a young golf writer in an old writer’s arena. The younger you were, the more you had to fight and struggle to be accepted. Dave greeted you with a smile and handshake no matter how green you were, remembering we are all newcomers learning the trade at some point.

Over the years, it was always a pleasure to meet up with Dave somewhere, whether it was the Metropolitan Golf Writers Gold Tee dinner or at a golf major or at a Golf Digest function. Being with Dave made you feel important because, while he had great status in the brethren of writers, just by him treating you equally you felt you’d gone up in the writing world. When you viewed Dave, he certainly didn’t project any kind of malice or ill will toward anyone. He had a soft voice that could hardly be thought of as tough or menacing. But his friendly exterior was not to be confused with a pushover journalist. Dave was not afraid to report and/or write about something even if it might upset someone or get someone riled up. The infamous Tom Watson-Gary Player rules squabble in the inaugural Skins Game in 1983 is Exhibit A; Dave was in the right moment to catch that controversy, and instead of sitting on it, went public.

I’ll always feel grateful that my friendship with him nearly lasted to the very end of his life, and I got to keep the relationship going up until a few years ago. As he slowed down and wasn’t writing that often for Golf Digest or Golf World anymore, I hadn’t seen him for several years until around spring 2015, when he decided it was time to downsize his home in Tenafly, New Jersey, of all his sports books and clippings. He wanted to donate his golf files to the magazine.

As Golf Digest’s resident archivist, I was assigned to check it out and see if they were worth taking. I arranged to come to his home. We first went downtown to a favorite eatery, and had breakfast. Conversation with Dave never had any gaps. He freely kept things running, but it was a give-and-take dialogue, never a case where he held court and all you did was listen. You absorbed what each other was providing. With me, I always like speaking with someone whose experience is way beyond my own because I like to learn about the old days as well as understand more about famous personalities who I’d never met. (As an aside, he thought Jack Nicklaus was the greatest golfer, because he was great as a whole package: winning, losing, family man, even how to bow out of and retire from a major.) After breakfast, we returned to his two-story home and went upstairs to his office. He’d converted what would normally be a bedroom into his writing and business office, and it was exactly what you’d expect of a sportswriter. He had books all around the room on wall-shelves, a desk with just enough open space to work on, and in his closet was filing cabinets full of clippings. His collection ran the gamut of all the major sports. Because he was in a downsizing mode, he’d already found a home for his baseball books (the Yogi Berra museum), and the MGA was likely taking his golf books. He was hunting who would take his football, hockey, boxing and other sport books. His biographical golf clippings and golf tournament programs filled nearly three medium-sized boxes. He wanted to keep his files on Jack and Arnie, but I packed up the rest. He didn’t want money for any of it, but that wasn’t the Golf Digest way, so he was given a gift card.

I got to see the rest of the house, particularly the basement, where he also wanted me to grab a golf poster off his wall and take that as well. Even the basement looked like a sportswriter’s den. He had a pool table with the low-lying light over the center, couch and comfy seats, and on the wall framed photos of his life in sport, many of him on the scene in locker rooms and interviewing sports figures. It was a dream visit, but my time with Dave in person wasn’t done.

Dave felt strongly that he wanted to host a few of us he knew from Golf Digest and Golf World at Knickerbocker Golf Club, the venerable club in Tenafly, and he asked me to see who could come. It was arranged to have myself, Bob Carney, Tim Murphy and Steve Hennessey come on June 3, thinking Dave would be swinging away with us. But two things happened on that day that changed the plans. The most god-awful traffic snarl occurred across the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson in the morning rush, right at an exit we’d be taking to get off 287, with a dump-truck accident or some such crash. Bob, Tim and I were tied up in it for hours coming from Connecticut, and our arrival at the club dragged on. That was a boon for Steve, who is from New Jersey and had always wanted to meet Dave. Steve got to the club right on time, since he still lived in the area, and had a great time visiting with Mr. A while waiting for us. The kicker is that Steve eventually became a member at Knickerbocker.

Once the rest of us got there, Dave said he was just going to ride around in a cart with our group while the four of us played. Generous, genial at all times, he was an incredible host. After nine, we took a break on a halfway house patio to have a mini session of kibitzing, with Dave always showing his expertise on a subject, as far flung as Montreal Canadien hockey. After golf we went to the grill to relax with a drink before heading for home, traffic now moving along better.

I am disappointed that during Dave’s last couple years, with his health failing and my life in its own changeover, that I didn’t speak with him by phone once he did fully leave his home and move into a retirement home. But that’s what memories are for, to keep thoughts of our encounters with people we enjoy alive and vibrant. When I was with Dave, it reminded me of the phrase of “sitting at the feet of a master” to learn and be entertained, except, with Dave, you were sitting at his side.

Dave Anderson’s service and donation details are: Visitation at the Barrett Funeral Home, 148 Dean Dr., Tenafly, N.J., on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 from 3-8 pm. Funeral Mass at Mt. Carmel Church, 10 County Rd., Tenafly, N.J., on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 10 am. Interment Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Tenafly, N.J. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Children's Cancer and Blood Foundation 466 Lexington Ave., NY, NY 10017 (www.childrenscbf.org). For more information visit www. barrettfuneralhome.net.

Cliff Schrock
I won't likely forget my marshal time with the spirited volunteers at the John Deere Classic

The genius P.G. Wodehouse would have turned my John Deere Classic marshaling experience into a memorable yarn titled “The Brotherhood of the Traveling Shorts.” But my forte is fact not fiction so this tell-it-like-it-is true account is called “How Uncle Bob’s Shorts Got Me In with Steve, Zach and Wes at the John Deere.”

The Uncle Bob in question is Robert VanDeVoorde, 81, 17th-hole captain for the 20 years the John Deere Classic has been at TPC Deere Run. The pivotal 550-yard, par 5 is one that today’s tour bombers go after in two shots with gusto—providing they hit the fairway off the tee—and it regularly ranks as one of the easiest holes on the course with its numerous birdies and eagles. VanDeVoorde is Uncle Bob based on my marriage to his niece, Mary, in 1983. Last week was his 35th year as a marshal, and he figured it to be his last as hole captain, but not as a marshal if all goes well. He asked if I could be on his hole team this year and the invite was well timed: I was going to be in the Quad Cities during John Deere Week to do my husbandly duty and escort my wife to her 40th Moline High School reunion July 13-14. The deal was he was going to be hole captain for Rounds 1 and 2 for the morning and afternoon tee times, basically two 12-hour shifts.

The author, Robert VanDeVoorde and Matt DeBlaey work No. 17 on Friday. At this point, the traveling shorts were on the original owner.

The author, Robert VanDeVoorde and Matt DeBlaey work No. 17 on Friday. At this point, the traveling shorts were on the original owner.

I had always wanted to volunteer at a pro tournament. Last year I signed up for this past June’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, one of my favorite courses, asking to do something outdoors near the players. But I was assigned to bagging duties at the merchandise tent and declined.

It was on Friday, Round 2, of the JDC where Uncle Bob’s apparel became more intimate to me than I could ever imagine. On Thursday he’d had me fill in at the tee, green and landing area; the only place I missed was crosswalk. I was expecting a repeat on Day 2, but when I arrived at 7 a.m., accompanied by his grandson, Matt DeBlaey, who was also on the team and had been my driver, Bob waved me over. He asked if, after my morning shift and lunch, would I want to go out with the 1:10 group of Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Wes Bryan. A walking marshal was needed for this fan-favorite group. Past champions Johnson and Stricker are local favorites, and organizers like to make sure they don’t have issues going from green to tee and around the course. I weigh 190 pounds and don’t consider myself “muscle” but I can use a stern voice when needed, and as a runner I figured I could handle the heat and hills, so I thought the gig would give me a full marshal experience.

The Marshal Plan was in place: At 11:30, Bill Anderson, a leader of the volunteer contingent for 43 years, which set a record with 2,000 last week, would come by to pick me up, take me to volunteer hospitality, then around 12:45 take me to the first tee. Sure enough, Bill was ready in his cart after my replacement arrived, with Bob standing next to him, but Bill said, “We have a problem.” He pointed at my olive-colored, sun-protection pants and said, “You need to be in khaki shorts.” I had the correct hat and shirt, but not the full uniform. We exchanged looks all around and I asked if I should go in the Deere Run golf shop and buy a pair of shorts, but I don’t think they wanted me to go to the expense. More glances around. Bob said, “What size do you wear?” “36,” I said. “Same size as me,” he said. Now we’re looking at each other with more meaning and as I’m waiting for someone to speak what we’re all thinking, Bob says, “Why don’t you wear my shorts and I’ll wear your pants.” The words kind of hung there, as a lot went through my head, not the least of which was, “How the hell do I get out of this?” I’m thinking this gives the phrase “he’d give you the shirt off his back” a horribly bizarre new meaning. But when you’ve gone through a bone-marrow transplant as I have, wearing an uncle-in-law’s khaki shorts for five hours doesn’t seem too difficult. Realizing this is quite an honor, I felt the Bill Murray/Peter Venkman line from Ghostbusters—“I like this plan, I’m excited to be a part of it!”—flow through me, and off Bob and I went to the nearby air-conditioned restroom trailer to swap. In true Monty Python fashion, we entered the empty men’s side and all of a sudden it got filled up with several gents needing relief at the same time, all of them likely wondering why these two guys were stripping down to their skivvies. As the garment exchange took place, I said to everyone, “Don’t worry, we’re not doing anything illegal in here.”

Volunteer marshals gather for lunch in a large hospitality tent before or after a shift.

Volunteer marshals gather for lunch in a large hospitality tent before or after a shift.

Bob got the worst of the fashion fix but at least he got better sun protection on a miserably hot, humid day. Bill got me to lunch, and afterward I hung out with 12-year marshal coordinator Judy Hendren and her cohorts Dixie Anderson and Roger Wallace (the latter an exceptional man…he Backs the Pack!). Precision, community, team spirit, faith in one another…these guys develop that attitude with great precision. Bill got me to the first tee with plenty of time to spare, and there I was, properly decked out, just behind standard bearer Sarah and scorer Mike to the right rear of the tee, waiting for our players to arrive. Both Stricker and Johnson came over to us, the former first, saying, “Who is walking with us today?” Stricker shook hands with Sarah, then Mike and as I stuck my hand out he turned and walked away and I did one of those pretend groom-swipes of my head. I guess I blended into the background, as usual. I did better with Zach, making sure to step forward assertively, hand out, and say my name.

Each player was introduced and teed off, both Stricker and Bryan finding sand and rough on the left and Johnson the fairway. Our contingent was off: three players, three caddies, security officer from the Rock Island County Sheriff's office (who bonded with TV rover Jerry Foltz over their identical names), two honorary observers and Sarah, Mike and myself. It was a successful round, with no crowd issues, but at 5:51, with our group on 17 green, the horn blew to suspend play with nearby lightning on the move. The weather system moved away, but I got to see the evacuation plan put into motion and it's impressive how the plans work beautifully. But by the time play resumed, at 6:40, I was not needed since the spectators had headed home. Thus, I didn’t get the end-of-round player handshakes and potential autographed item, maybe even a selfie with a player. Allow me at this point to switch to my impressions and observations about life as a marshal, not just walking but also as a hole marshal:

Close to the pros—Fans desire to be close to their golf idols, to speak with them and even touch them. Witness the increase in attempts by fans to fist bump and hand slap from behind the ropes. Being a marshal gets you that access, which is what Bob VanDeVoorde said is what he likes most about the position. But being that close doesn’t mean you can forget yourself. One of the marshal rules is: Do not initiate conversation, only respond when you are spoken to. Also important, of course, is making sure you don’t get in a player's line of sight. That is particularly troublesome on the tee, where a marshal holding an orange-colored paddle stands several feet to the rear of the player. The idea is that after the player hits, you move the paddle high in the air to signal which direction the ball is going so the spotters in the landing area have a clue about where the ball will land. I learned Thursday morning from Gary Stultz where to stand but he warned me that some pros will direct you where to place yourself. Some guys are so fast there is no way they see anyone. Australian Matt Jones, who was an engaging chap, was the fastest player I saw; he pegged the ball and slammed it.

Gary Stultz, of Cedar Rapids, trained me on the art of the paddle.

Gary Stultz, of Cedar Rapids, trained me on the art of the paddle.

Gary and I stood about 12 yards to the rear and left of the player, and through 17 threesomes never had one golfer move us. Friday morning was more harried. In the 14 threesomes Dave Yordy and I worked together, we were told to move five times. I predicted there would be more persnickety pros on Friday, cut day, because if a guy isn’t playing well he might find the smallest thing worth grumbling about. Scott Stallings’ caddie had me move to the right, which as I saw it put me right in his view but I moved anyway. In the next group Ben Crane told me to move in the rough grass, level with the left tee marker. One group later, the caddie for Mackenzie Hughes told me to go right again. When Dave took his turn, he was told to move twice in the same group. Stuart Appleby had him stand level with the tee markers as I’d done for Crane. But then John Huh was even more precise, moving Dave forward a little and over a little to the left. After the threesome exited the tee, I said to Dave how amazing it was that he was taking that much time to be specific about someone who was facing his back. I enjoyed being a ball director of all the duties on a hole. The proximity to the players was special. I got to see Francesco Molinari up close on Friday to see the game's hottest player, and on Thursday I saw phenom Joaquin Niemann tee off. But the caveat is that even though most pros seem to tune out the guy with the orange paddle, because of the potential for feeling a pro’s wrath and pressure of following his shot, there’s some tension in the duties. You’re trying to be invisible, but there aren’t any of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloaks around. Which leads me to wondering…

What do pros realize—As I spent two days trying not to do anything that would get me in trouble, I wondered what percent of the tour pros appreciate the volunteers and realize that they’re often accomplished people in their own right, topped by JDC Chairman Tony Carpita, Tournament Director Clair Peterson and Media Director Barry Cronin. Bob VanDeVoorde was an Eagles Food Store executive who took early retirement in 1992 but then worked as a controller for five years elsewhere before retiring in 1999. He started volunteering in 1982 when the JDC was the Miller High Life Quad Cities Open and only missed two years in that time. Bill Anderson was a leader with the county highway department and TSA among other assignments, and at age 66 says about the JDC volunteers, “This is my family and my family keeps growing every year.” Gary Stultz spent 34 years as an avionics engineer at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was involved in the infancy of GPS. He had been at Johnson’s charity pro-am on July 9 in Cedar Rapids. Mike Elliott, assistant hole captain on 17 for 10 years, was an engineer at The Arsenal in Rock Island. Dave Yordy, Chuck Gibbs and Dean Lackey are high-ranking officers of the Rock Island Knights of Columbus Council (Dave is Grand Knight, Uncle Bob is treasurer).  These are the type of people working to ensure the pros’ happiness and they deserve respect too. Do the professionals know how marshals can feel they’re on tenterhooks that they’ll do something wrong? I’m guessing that yes, most do, you could see that in Johnson and Stricker, but the tour probably has to continually work with the players to show appreciation because sometimes their reaction says different. A couple times when I lifted a gallery rope to allow the player and caddie to go under I didn’t hear a “thanks.” Everything is done to make a tour pro comfortable; a side effect of that is spoiling the recipient. Players must work to not become ungrateful. I suppose it’s like a lot of workplaces: some people are nice, some are jerks, and some don’t know how good they have it, like a player I was told about who smashed a Trackman unit at the JDC one year and had to pay for it.

Getting corporate box guests to quiet down for players on 17 green is a near impossibility.

Getting corporate box guests to quiet down for players on 17 green is a near impossibility.

The pros’ chit-chat—I was particularly curious how much chatter I’d be able to pick up on as a marshal. The fact is, not much, for to do so would require standing closer than you’re allowed. The fact is, the vast majority of the players were mum and focused on the job at hand, on the tees and greens for sure. Johnson was one of the relaxed ones. When he and Stricker came on the 17th tee on Thursday, they were talking football and I heard Stricker, a Wisconsinite, admit to being a Bears fan. On Friday, after our group had teed off on 17, I lingered to get a bottle of water out of the cooler and Johnson, who was at the front of the tee, said, “I’m going to be lazy and ask you to toss me a bottle of water.” As I did so—thank goodness I threw it well and he caught it—I said, “Lazy and Zach Johnson don’t go together.” That was about the most creative I got with a pro in two days. Even when I was being moved around as the directional marshal, I didn’t respond back, I just did what I was told. The only other comment said to me was on Friday from Stricker, whose upper arms were a burnt reddish orange color on the back. As we went from 9 green to 10 tee we were astride each other and he said, “That was a hot spot down there.” I said something profound like, “Sure was,” and let him walk ahead. The fact was, the entire course was a hot spot and golfers were looking for shade wherever they could find it. It’s incredible we don’t hear more skin cancer stories on tour. After the Johnson group played 11 on Friday, they saw the par-3 12th had a delay, so Zach and Wes Bryan sat on a golf cart in the shadow of the 11th-green TV tower. The cameraman saw the pair and called down, joking, “You want a key?” Johnson kidded, “Did you say, ‘want a keg?’ ” But my favorite eavesdrop was between Johnson and caddie Damon Green after Zach bogeyed 10 to fall to even par and the cutline was three under par. Heading to 11 tee Green said, “Four, five under from here.” Johnson nodded and shot three under from there to make the cut, finishing on Sunday at 14 under.  

Rules speed—I never knew how fast rules officials get to a player but when Bryan needed help on No. 6, an official came in a cart within a couple minutes. But the lengthy discussion that followed was probably the reason the group was warned about its position on No. 9, which was not a welcomed warning. It didn’t seem necessary for sure after their group had to wait on 10 fairway and 12 tee to play.

Cart traffic—During my time, more of a nuisance to the marshals than the gallery and the boisterous corporate box behind 17 green (they were just too damned loud) was the constant flow of golf carts. We enjoyed seeing the good-will carts, which were driven by JDC board members bringing water, snacks and lunch. The problem carts were those driven by the electronic media. A driver of a CBS cart was so infuriated over having to be stopped (he once nearly ran down a golfer when he ignored the marshal) that he threatened a marshal with, “You keep that up and you’ll be parking cars.” I heard that he got reprimanded for that bit of cheek. On Friday afternoon, as I was helping a hole marshal hold the rope that made a path for the players to go from 15 green to 16 tee, the driver of a PGA Tour Radio cart lifted the rope even higher to pass under and zoomed ahead, choosing to ignore the requests to let the players pass by. As a golf writer, but an impartial one, I believe the writing brethren know better how to get around a golf course. It’s been a part of our DNA for decades. In my mind, the ignoring of marshal rules by cart drivers is like the guy speeding in traffic: does it really save you that much time?

Taking relief—Last and certainly least, I saw firsthand the answer that has perplexed golf fans for years: Yes, pros do take relief in the woods when it’s convenient and secretive enough, even though there are air-conditioned restrooms around. But some pros aren’t discreet enough. One of the marshals manning the crosswalk near 17 tee told me he was on duty when a woman spectator said to him, “Is that guy peeing in the woods?!” Yes, he was, and like Forrest Gump, he just had to go.

Whatever you might have thought negatively about marshals at a tour event while spectating—that they’re annoying view blockers, tour player suck-ups, clothing-cloned clowns—forget it all. The only thing marshals are guilty of is the universal desire to see the pros up close. Otherwise, their sole focus is ensuring tour pros smooth travel around the course, unimpeded by the gallery. That lets the players have the best opportunity to do their awe-inspiring feats in a spectator atmosphere that keeps idiot fans at bay. Now, if only marshals could control a fan’s brain and tongue to stop them from shouting, “You the man!” and other idiotic sayings.

As a native and impartial Illinoisan, I can testify to the validity of Midwestern kindness, teamwork and hard work. When those elements are part of a PGA Tour volunteer group, it’s an invigorating army to join in with, and it doesn’t seem possible volunteerism can be any stronger or heartier than at the John Deere Classic.

Cliff Schrock
John Deere Classic: Has only gotten stronger year by year

If you can’t admire the John Deere Classic for the fortitude its shown to survive on the PGA Tour, then you’re not a fan of or able to recognize and admit to the fabled Midwestern value of hard work. That’s hard work done with a heavy dose of humble kindness, also legendary in the nation’s heartland.

The JDC, which begins Thursday, has a pedigree up there with the most resilient events in tour history and is a refreshing low-key neighborly stop played during a usually oppressive time of year in north-west Illinois for heat.

John Deere tee marker.jpg

I admit to some bias as a native Illinoisan, but the tournament’s hearty survival would be obvious to any objective observer. I have seen the event from a golf writer’s view for 37 years and the determination of its organizers is remarkably unchanged from when I first saw the event in 1981 after graduating from Illinois State University and attending the event at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley.

The event started in 1971 as a “tour satellite” event, one of those outdated silly terms that basically was applied to tournaments begun in small-market areas that were thrown out there to see if they could last. The JDC is one of the tour’s greatest success stories in that regard.  

It was a good start to have Deane Beman, soon to become tour commissioner, win the first two playings. In Year 3 in ’73, it made news when Sam Adams became the first lefthanded winner on tour. Few tournaments have gone through its history without several incarnations, and the JDC is no exception. The John Deere is on its eighth title: Quad Cities Open, Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open, back to Quad Cities Open, Miller High Life QCO, Lite Quad Cities Open, Hardee’s Golf Classic, Quad City Classic and now in its 20th year as John Deere Classic.

John Deere, of course, is an iconic name in lawn and farm machinery and legendary worldwide. Its presence in the Moline area is a treasured part of its heritage. The backing of Ed McMahon, a beer company and a fast-food outlet in the early going made sense and was part of the survival saga. But John Deere has steadily grown this event, made it stable, and allowed the results to grow its tradition. Results such as Jordan Spieth’s holeout on 18 during his first tour victory in 2013 help people remember the name John Deere Classic and what it stands for: quality in everything from the sponsors and volunteers to the play on TPC Deere Run.

If anything shows how the JDC has been resilient to be an annual stop on tour, it’s how it has survived the frequent scheduling the week prior to, same week of or week after the Open Championship. This year is the 48th playing of a tournament that started with a September date. From 1974 to 1989 the JDC was played the week of The Open, essentially killing its chance of any top golfer playing in it. After seven years of September dates, 20 of the next 23 playings (including this week) were either the week before or week after The Open, just slightly improving its chance of nabbing marquee players. On Tuesday the tour said its 2018-2019 schedule will keep the same alignment with the JDC ending on July 14, one week before The Open. But instead of fighting such an obstacle to success, the John Deere has made it part of its attraction by chartering a plane to take players on Sunday evening, who are entered in The Open, over the Atlantic and getting them there in the middle of the day Monday. 

The JDC has always found a way to make its proximity on the schedule with The Open work. When I began my professional writing career with the Bloomington, Illinois, Pantagraph newspaper in 1981—a “week of” year for the JDC with The Open—I wrote a piece in late June that highlighted Gene Smith, the Quad Cities’ director of marketing, saying he believed he had the tournament’s strongest field ever, including Illinois native and 1979 champion D.A. Weibring, as well as Dave Eichelberger, defending champion Scott Hoch, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Fuzzy Zoeller, Steve Melnyk, Jim Dent, Miller Barber, Mike Sullivan and Bobby Clampett. Smith’s thinking then, of working with what they had to deal with, carries on today. Back then he confidently said, “We’re not hurt this year. Last year the British Open was played on a course all the pros wanted to play [Muirfield]. This year it’s not,” referring to Royal St. George’s.

That year, 1981, was also the first time in tournament history that all 18 holes and the putting green were “sold” to major corporate sponsors. That strong support is still keenly felt and the great community-sponsor presence from local ice-cream institution Whitey’s on up to John Deere itself creates a strong down-home atmosphere. Let’s hope there is never a movement by the tour or anyone else to squash that feeling in the future. It's a part of the tour's heritage that needs to remain vibrant.

 

 

Cliff Schrock
Shinnecock Hills: Why it would be the one place I'd go for a round of golf

With golf fans once again being treated to views of magnificent Shinnecock Hills this week as the 156 players prepare for the start of play Thursday in the 118th U.S. Open, the popular discussion questions of “what course would you want to play for the rest of your life if you only had one to play,” or “if you could only play one more round somewhere, where would it be” come quickly to my mind.

Realizing that the influence of my golf opinions—written and spoken—at best have never risen above the moderate level in the forums I have used, I feel compelled by the warmth and affection I feel about Shinnecock Hills to proclaim that the Long Island legend would be my choice for the course to play for the rest of my life.

My first round of golf at Shinnecock was part of NY Daily News 1986 reporting.

My first round of golf at Shinnecock was part of NY Daily News 1986 reporting.

I would have other contenders, naturally, ranging from other classics—The Old Course at St. Andrews, Winged Foot (West or East, I would take either!), Garden City GC, Pine Valley, Newport CC—to lesser known locales—courses of the Canadian Maritime Provinces (Highlands Links for one), Architects Golf Club—to places of my youth in central Illinois—Highland Park in Bloomington and Blue Grass Creek in Minier. I had fondness for the Ocean Links Course at Amelia Island Resort but sadly it appears to be destined for housing.

Why Shinnecock is the leader for me begins with the memorability quotient. I have only played it a couple times, and not in several years, but the layout and feel of being there remains vivid in my mind. The vista from the clubhouse and finishing holes 9 and 18 allows you to see nearly the entire course, except for the first holes on the back nine. Then there is the atmosphere, history and locale. The view of the famed windmill at nearby National Golf Links of America is unique. You can feel golf in the air, talk about it all you want, and oddly enough, be so engulfed about where you are that getting out to play might go to the back of your mind. You simply like being there.

My first time at Shinnecock was on Monday, May 12, 1986. I know the precise day because I have kept a log of my golf rounds since leaving Illinois to join Golf Digest in 1984. From that log, for instance, I know my second round of golf as an Easterner was on Sunday, April 29, 1984, on Winged Foot West. I believe my group was member Jerry Tarde, Ross Goodner and Andy Nusbaum, but I know for sure my first tee shot went sailing onto the range on No. 1. I likely was shown mercy and allowed a lunch ball. To further digress, what does it mean that I recall the negative things that happened to me at famous courses? Embarrassing moments are hard to forget, I suspect. The one time I played Pine Valley, November 4, 1989, I remember making a double bogey on the first hole, putting awful (37 putts) and only hitting three greens in a round of 91. There, at least, the ambience of the clubhouse, staying overnight, and the presence of English writing legend Peter Dobereiner helped me get over a forgettable golf performance.

But back to Shinnecock in 1986. The round was on U.S. Open Media Day, in cool, blustery weather similar to what the players faced in practice today. In fact, I wrote a special note in my log that we played “in damn cold, rainy and windy weather.” Besides the memorability of being at Shinnecock, I also recall all these years later the long slog it took to get out to Southampton—it felt like you were driving back across the Atlantic—and that I had to play with a busted left thumb.

Yea, how was that? I had to play Shinnecock Hills for the first time with my left thumb bandaged. A week before the round I had worked on a light fixture in my house and made a three-quarters inch cut on the right side of my left thumb. I should have gone for stitches, but tried to let it heal with butterfly Band-Aids, but there weren’t enough days to let the cut close up. I wasn’t about to miss this chance, however, so I had to play with a thick bandage in addition to the rain and cold. I only hit four fairways and two greens, took 35 putts and shot 95.

The round happens to be the only one of mine that was written about in a newspaper. I was in a group with Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer, photographer Dan Farrell, and writer Hank Machirella, the latter two from the New York Daily News. Machirella, who passed away in 1998, wrote about the round a month later during the paper's preview coverage and in describing the course hole by hole included notes from our round. He quoted Andy North, the defending champion who was at the media day, telling us press hacks, “Par for you fellows out there today will be 93.” From that comment, I was only two over par, but I was still very unhappy about the thumb injury and my play. The beauty of Machirella’s report is that it chronicled my round's big moment, on the 453-yard, par-4 third hole, which was playing into the wind. I still had 102 yards for my third, which I punched with an 8-iron, the ball holing out for a birdie.

Overall, I didn’t give Shinnecock my best that day, but my next time there, in October 1991, I had 84 with 31 putts and a birdie on No. 1. My other trips to Shinnecock were to attend the U.S. Open, but whether I was playing or observing, the experience was equally special.

My grand plan was to come back to Shinnecock during the U.S. Open this week and do so as a volunteer, which I signed up for in 2017. I opted to be in several duties that would let me be out on the course or the range, anything that would allow me to be outside seeing the course and players. From that vantage point I planned on writing on my website about what I saw each day. Instead I was assigned to merchandise-tent duty.

It’s rare that I would pair Shinnecock with the word “disappointment,” but to be indoors all week was not acceptable and I backed out of volunteering. Instead, I will watch my golf mecca, just across Long Island Sound from where I live in Connecticut, on TV and be reminded of how special Shinnecock Hills is to me as a golf location.

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Schrock
Remembering Carol McCue: A Chicago legend and major friend of golf

Among the surprises in the passage of time is finding out the passing of an old acquaintance after the fact. So it was when I saw in the Chicago District Golf Association’s February 2018 issue of the Chicago District Golfer that Carol McCue had died on December 16 at age 94.

I first met Carol McCue in the early 1980s as a fresh graduate out of Illinois State University, covering sports—and the golf beat—for the Daily Pantagraph in my hometown of Bloomington, Illinois. That was the same paper that had golf writer Ron Coffman and noted sports columnist Dave Kindred pass through.

Whenever I’d go cover one of the Illinois state tournaments, Carol was there, with her large-lens sunglasses unable to cover the face of a welcoming and charming individual. I was thrilled to cover the state’s best golfers for the Pantagraph, but coming from a small, central-Illinois market, I wasn’t one of the state’s elite golf writers. But Carol was not into pretentious behavior. She didn’t treat me as underserving of her time and attention. To the contrary, I felt I got equal measure of her time, and that was her style, she had time for everyone.

She was the CDGA’s executive secretary but was retitled its executive director by the end of her career. Her CDGA career started at age 19 when she was hired two months before the June 1942 Hale America Open, the infamous replacement for the USGA’s U.S. Open. It was held at Chicago’s Ridgemoor Country Club as a benefit for the USO and Navy Relief Society, and won by Ben Hogan. But because it was run like the U.S. Open, it’s the tournament Dan Jenkins, most notably, and others feel is Hogan’s fifth U.S. Open. He won by three over Jimmy Demaret and received a gold medal and $1,200 in war bonds.

McCue adeptly handled the needs of dignitaries such as Bobby Jones, Bing Crosby and Joe Dey at that event, and she was off and running as a can-do communications and behind-the-scenes staffer.

She retired from the CDGA after 1982, and I was off to Connecticut in 1984 to work for Golf Digest. But she soon went to work for the public-golf legend Joe Jemsek at Cog Hill, and continued her advocacy for golf participation. She truly pushed for the betterment of the public golfer. Amazingly, she discovered my new location, and soon I was on her press-release/direct-mail list and getting a regular flow of her announcements. Her relentless pursuit of promoting the special camaraderie of the game helped make her one of eight people inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inaugural Class of 1989, which included Jemsek and Chick Evans.

Seeing that she had died in her 90s caused me great reflection…on the number of years that have gone by in my life, and how we can feel the yearning to get back to our younger days in direct measure to the ticking of the clock pulling us hard the other way.

But most importantly, I was reminded of a fun and energetic time in my life when the long days of reporting golf were extremely fulfilling and the people I met were distinct and memorable and passionate, just like Carol McCue.

Read more about Carol McCue at illinoisgolfhof.com and search under "members" on the home page.

Cliff Schrock
Memories of my youth were rekindled in a glorious golf reunion

Reunions only work when the people you’re reuniting with are just as sentimental and just as energized as you are to go back in time to rehash old memories and share with each other what made you such everlasting friends in the first place.

Of course, reunions come at all times in life and any time of year. Right now we’re in the season of hope, during which a reunion with family and friends can be the cause for optimism and renewal.  

I am still in the afterglow, however, and will be until the final embers die out, following a golf reunion in mid-summer that, along with a nine-hole round with my daughter, was the highlight of my 2017 golf season. It came at a perfect time in my life when I needed a positive event to happen. It was a reunion that measured up to my stated conditions of all hearts aflutter and every emotion engaged. And it was a reunion that passed the Chat Test: we were able to jump into the chatter and conversation like we’d been conversing regularly in the decades since we'd last played.

40 years later : The young lads in 1978 on the left were still fab when they met up this summer in Bloomington, Ill., to reunite for golf and re-create an image: Clockwise from upper right, Pete Wofford, Kevin Schwulst, Rick Gilbert and Cliff Schrock.

40 years later: The young lads in 1978 on the left were still fab when they met up this summer in Bloomington, Ill., to reunite for golf and re-create an image: Clockwise from upper right, Pete Wofford, Kevin Schwulst, Rick Gilbert and Cliff Schrock.

The reunion connected my high-school years with my midlife self—which I’m working on restarting career-wise—so it came at the right time to reflect on my life to this point. If you were fortunate to start golf at a young age, during which you developed friendships with your junior golf buddies, imagine in your 50s getting to play another weekend of golf with your mates all grown up. And picking up with the banter about life events as if you had just played the previous weekend.

That’s what happened in what was actually a two-fold reunion. One was my 40th Bloomington (Ill.) High School (BHS) reunion, but that was just the undercard to the main event: having my high school and college golf buddies come to play a couple rounds, and if possible, re-create a photograph that ran in the local paper of us as junior golfers.

When Rick Gilbert, Pete Wofford and I began emailing at the start of 2017 about coming from Texas, South Carolina and Connecticut to meet in the Midwest for our 40th, the pre-reunion emails focused on concerns about hair loss, weight gain, and shaky golf games. But I had a problem that both Rick and Pete didn’t have. My game was as dead as a doornail, to quote my favorite Christmas Carol man Dickens, compared to them. They were first string, I was second, at BHS. They played college golf at Illinois State University, I worked at the ISU golf course and wrote about golf for the student paper. They had pro aspirations, I wanted to write about sports and, primarily, golf. Meeting up for golf after decades away had me a nervous wreck. How bad was my golf game going to be in comparison? What upped the anxiety level was hearing that another junior golf friend but not a BHS alum, Kevin Schwulst, was going to drive down from Chicago to join us for one round.

The three of us knew darn well that golf was going to be the main attraction in Illinois. We scheduled golf at two childhood courses in town, The Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State University and Highland Park Golf Course. For sure our fourth at ISU was PGA professional and former ISU golf coach Harland Kilborn, which officially made me the worst guy in the group either round.

As the first round on July 28 arrived, the butterflies kicked in as I pulled into the ISU parking lot on a gorgeous summer day, and more comfortable than I remember Illinois feeling in the summer time. What would the first sighting be like? Rick's wife Cindy (aka C.J.) was joining us. Would she and the guys recognize me? No worries, we had big smiles all around. We were so busy talking that we didn't actually get to the first tee in "ready" mode. Playing with my old mates felt comfortable, but other-worldly at the same time. I can report that golf that weekend was the first time I recall ever wanting a four-hour round to feel like six. The holes went by too fast, the rounds too quickly ended.

From a golf standpoint, I wanted everything to be perfect, but sadly I have to confess that the swing I thought was working well in practice didn't make it to Illinois. First of all, that queasy, awful feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I play with golfers much better than me was there in full force, on top of the anxiety of the situation, and it never completely left me. Sadly, too, my old swing habits of coming over the top and releasing the club early were in full vigor both rounds and I was an even-bogey shooter for the most part. Rick, on the other hand, was killing it, Pete consistently inconsistent because of lack of play, Harland solid, and Kevin was striping it after a slow start. But as golf will do, I closed out the final hole on July 29 with my best stuff. The par-4 18th at Highland has a scary tee shot with a highway OB right. I put my drive down with the big boys, hit one close, and had the stage all to myself to knock in a 10-footer for birdie, but had to settle for par.

All their swings are now on my phone and I am going to study them to see what good habits of theirs I can borrow for my own swing. That, curiously, was a bonus to our reunion. When we played in high school and college, we never “talked swing.” But after reading 30 years of instruction galleys with Golf Digest, and seeing the guys’ motion again, with what I know now, I would have liked to have picked their brains about our swings.

But after all that time apart, lack of time became our enemy that weekend. Kevin had to get back to Chicago, I needed to get to the Quad Cities, and it was time to break up the party. But when Kevin was in for a round, our goal was to accomplish one of the neatest things we could have done. In July 1978, in the Bloomington Junior City golf tournament, Rick beat Kevin in a playoff to win the 17-18 division. Pete was third and yours truly, well, true to form I was in the supporting cast, caddieing for Rick.

The local paper, The Pantagraph, which I would later write sports for after graduating from ISU, ran a photo of the four of us after the match on July 12, 1978, four teenagers who’d just concluded a memorable day on the golf course, the place where are bonds of friendship were tightened over and over again.

For weeks leading up to the reunion, we said we had to re-create the photo, we just needed to get a break in the golf action and the wherewithal for each of us to pose as he had in '78. C.J., who was as endearingly into the reunion as the rest of us, and later sent all of us a photo book of the trip, set up the pose during a play stoppage on the fourth tee at Highland Park, our main childhood course and where Rick had witnessed my double eagle on No. 2 in the 1980s. The mid-morning sun was perfect light; had to be the best summer weather day of the year. We got into our poses like we’d modeled our entire lives, and now when I stare at the two photos side by side, the emotion of wishing to be young again washes over me like water from a Winged Foot showerhead. Gone are the fresh-faced kids, but to our credit, you can see how the joy in the reunion is making us feel young even if we don’t look it.

I can’t wait for us to do it again.

College pals in the '80s: Pete Wofford, Rick Gilbert, the author (I always liked that shirt!).

College pals in the '80s: Pete Wofford, Rick Gilbert, the author (I always liked that shirt!).

Cliff Schrock
Remembering when the Skins Game used to serve golf fans a Thanksgiving-weekend feast

Thanksgiving and golf are rarely part of the same conversation these days, unless you find yourself in cahoots with family members to sneak out for a few holes while the turkey is in the oven. That was not, however, always the case. Those familiar with hitting persimmon drivers can recall when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson debuted a new event on November 26 and 27, 1983, one that had an impressive 25-year run.

Interestingly enough, however, the Skins Game was actually not the PGA Tour’s first Thanksgiving-related event. Going through the record books from 1934 to present, the tour made a pair of stops at Pinehurst in mid-November 1935, then played the Augusta Open (1936) and Columbia Open (1938) on Thanksgiving weekend each year. From 1944 to 1972, the tour had several events start on Thanksgiving Day and finish on the weekend. Sam Snead won in 1944 in Portland. The first Heritage Classic was held Nov. 27-30, 1969, with Palmer winning by three. The Heritage was held on Thanksgiving weekend through 1972, which ended the tour’s Turkey Day weekend scheduling.

Tom, Jack, Gary and Arnie began the Skins Game...and Silly Season.

Tom, Jack, Gary and Arnie began the Skins Game...and Silly Season.

But getting back to the Skins Game, an unofficial event in which its first foursome made it a must view (as did having legendary baseball play-by-play announcer Vin Scully as an announcer). Each hole had a monetary value, and if a player had the lowest score on a hole, he won that total. If the hole was tied by two or more, the hole’s money rolled over to the next hole. Though the drama would have been even greater if they had been playing for their own money, the excitement players felt when they made a huge skin was palpable.

Through the years, several indelible images were burned into viewers’ memory: a rules controversy in Year 1 between Player and Watson; Arnie, wearing green velvet pants, hitting his ball with his backside against a cactus only protected by a bag cover; Lee Trevino acing in 1987; and Fred Couples winning five times, earning the unofficial title Mr. Skins and so much money (more than $3.5 million) that the end of the year became known as the Silly Season as more big-money, limited-field events popped up.

World tour schedules have changed, and there isn’t really much of a Silly Season anymore. We’re down to roughly three events in December between the regular and senior PGA tours: the Hero World Challenge, QBE Shootout and PNC Father-Son Challenge. Still, wouldn’t an occasional Skins Game, perhaps just held every two, three or four years with the top four players from the World Rankings, be a nice revival of a classic golf event?

 

Cliff Schrock
Prelude to the Walker Cup

By John Fischer III, president of the Golf Collectors Society:

The Walker Cup, a match pitting teams of the best American amateur golfers against their counterparts from Great Britain & Ireland, was played this past weekend at Los Angeles Country Club. The event originated with an idea from George Herbert Walker for an international golf event to better relationships between countries. It was first held on an informal basis at Hoylake in 1921. The biennial match soon became a premier event for amateur golf and is played on some of the greatest courses. Future venues include Hoylake, Cypress Point and Seminole. It's worth taking a look at how this great event got started.

The record books show the Walker Cup was first played at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York, in 1922, but that’s not the beginning of the story. Another informal competition between the United States and Great Britain took place a year earlier in Hoylake, England. This September the Walker Cup was played on the West Coast at the Los Angeles Country Club, marking the 96th anniversary of that contest – and, in truth, the Walker Cup tradition. (The U.S. won, 19-7, in one of the most dominating results ever.)

The 1921 American team; Bobby Jones, 19, is seated second from the right.

The 1921 American team; Bobby Jones, 19, is seated second from the right.

The Walker Cup was born of two events: World War I, which dragged the U.S. into the world community, and a 1920 meeting on the Rules of Golf between the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The rules meeting was not successful in bringing a united set of Rules, but George Herbert Walker, then the USGA President, came away with the idea of creating an international golf match, modeled on the tennis Davis Cup, to promote goodwill among countries.

In 1920, Walker convinced the USGA Executive Committee to approve a plan for the matches. He agreed to provide a trophy, called the “United States Golf Association International Challenge Trophy.” The press immediately dubbed it the “Walker Cup.” The USGA invited all countries to compete and had high hopes of Australia, Canada, France and others sending teams. But World War I had taken a great toll and no country responded.

W.C. Fownes, Jr., the winner of the 1910 U.S. Amateur, decided to put together an informal team to play the British Amateur at Hoylake over the course of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in May, 1921, and to challenge the British golfers to a match the day before the tournament.

The press jumped on the idea. The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated ran monthly articles on possible team members. Two-time U.S. Amateur champion Bob Gardner had taken England’s Cyril Tolley to the 37th hole in the British Amateur final in 1929; could he go? Charles (Chick) Evans, with U.S. Open and Amateur titles, and 1913 U.S. Open winner Francis Ouimet had jobs that might keep them at home. It took nine or 10 days to cross the Atlantic by ship. Then there would be two weeks of practice, the match, the British Amateur, perhaps the British Open in June and another 10 days of travel. A golfer needed an understanding boss.

Money was a concern, too. Should the USGA, which authorized the squad, pay travel expenses for the American team? Would payment cast doubt on amateur status? In the end, the players paid their way. Evans and Ouimet joined Fownes, along with 19-year-old rising sensation Bobby Jones, Jesse Guilford, Paul Hunter, J. Wood Platt and Frederick Wright. They arrived in Liverpool on May 9. The match was set for May 21, a Saturday.

Hoylake is a few miles south of Liverpool on the Wirral Peninsula. Royal Liverpool, which had already hosted four British Opens and eight British Amateurs, is relatively flat and treeless, and known for rain and high winds as the tides change on the bordering Irish Sea. British writer Bernard Darwin defined the course thus: “Hoylake, blown by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.”

There had been no rain for months when the American team arrived. The ball ran down the fairway, and a pitch to the putting surface would take a big hop over the green. The course was unwatered, including the greens, which was new to the visitors.

The U.S. players tried to figure a way to play the rock-hard course. One day in practice, Jones shot 71 in the morning and 80 in the afternoon. He later described Hoylake as “dried out with the turf hard and the greens like glass; they don’t water the greens over there; they believe in letting nature take its course.” Guilford suggested in jest that “topping” the ball might be the best way to get the ball to the green.

The format for the informal match was foursomes in the morning and singles in the afternoon. The U.S. players had little experience with foursomes in which two-man teams alternate shots playing a single ball. A favorite format with the British, it takes extra thought when playing a shot to consider how your partner will play the next.

Many assumed that the upstarts from America, playing under unfamiliar conditions and an unfamiliar format, were in for a rough day. The British were led by Ernest Holderness, Roger Wethered and Cyril Tolley, the defending British Amateur champion. They were joined by Gordon Simpson, J.L.C. Jenkins, C.C. Aylmer, R.H. deMontmorancy, and a young Scot named Tommy Armour, who was soon to make his mark.

Instead, the Americans dominated from the start. “It was marvelous golf,” British writer George Greenwood said of the foursomes. “At the same time it was one of the sorriest debacles from a British standpoint I ever saw. There is little use in going into detail...except to say that Great Britain was hopelessly outplayed in each--every match had been lost.”

The U.S. took five of the eight singles matches in the afternoon for a 9-3 victory. “It was obvious that certain members of the British team were suffering from an acute attack of nerves,” said Hoylake historian Guy Farrar. “America did not play unbeatable stuff...we obligingly dug our own graves.”

It turned out to be a deep grave: the two teams officially competed for the Walker Cup beginning the next year but it wasn’t until 1938 that Great Britain & Ireland (part of Great Britain until 1921) could wrest the prize from the Americans.

Cliff Schrock
PGA's the final major but it was my first in 2006

Guest Contributor Chris Saksa is a young business professional in the Chicago area employed as a Field Recruiting Coordinator for CNO Financial Group in their Bankers Life division. A 2016 graduate of Illinois State University, where he earned a B.S. Degree in Communication Studies: Organizational and Leadership Communication, this is his fourth blog for CliffSchrock.com:

The PGA of America retired its famous “glory’s last shot” marketing line a few years ago for the PGA Championship, but “the season’s final major” remains.

When I think of the PGA, my mind goes back to when I went to my first-ever golf tournament. It was the first round of the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club, in the Chicago area where I have lived for many years. I remember thinking to myself as my eyes gazed out on that first fairway: I had never seen grass that green. It’s a comment I know people say after they’ve seen Augusta National for the first time.

As my Dad and my two uncles traveled to Medinah’s 12th hole to wait for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who were paired together, I tried my best to soak it all in—the smells, sounds and all the colors.

Much like any kid at their first PGA Championship, I was star-struck the entire time! I mean, I was within high-five distance of the players I had been watching on TV and who I was pretending to be in my make-believe backyard games.

Now another Round 1 of the PGA has begun and it’s been 11 years since that weekend when Tiger won a second PGA at Medinah to go with his 1999 victory. But I still think of it from time to time, especially when I look at the 18th-hole flag I have in my apartment, it's a special reminder of that great Thursday.

The PGA Championship may be the season’s final major, but the PGA will always be my first tournament—and major. Enjoy the golf everyone!

Cliff Schrock
For me, The Open provided a chance to start a tradition like no other

Guest Contributor Chris Saksa is a young business professional in the Chicago area employed as a Field Recruiting Coordinator for CNO Financial Group in their Bankers Life division. A 2016 graduate of Illinois State University, where he earned a B.S. Degree in Communication Studies: Organizational and Leadership Communication, he is devoted to, among other things, golf, the White Sox, Blackhawks, and, most of all, family. This is his third blog for CliffSchrock.com:

Golf is full of traditions that every year combine special Sundays with the big golf events: the second Sunday afternoon in April with the Masters finish at Augusta; the Players Championship on Mother's Day weekend, and The U.S. Open on Father’s Day weekend (see my post on June 15). And then there's The Open Championship. Oh wait, it doesn’t fall on any big holiday weekend, so my dad and I created our own tradition: Golf and Ribs.

When I was 12 or 13, and pretty much every year since, on the Sunday of The Open Championship, my dad and I would drive to downtown Chicago and play a course called the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, which is one of eight Chicago Park District Golf facilities. It’s a nine-hole course that overlooks Lake Michigan. It’s a tough course, and you need to keep the ball in the fairway to be successful, much like you would if playing at Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

Chris Saksa: Ribs, dad and The Open are a tradition.

Chris Saksa: Ribs, dad and The Open are a tradition.

So when my dad and I tee the ball up we may be thousands of miles from the St. Andrews, Carnousties and Royal Birkdales of this world, but the competition is real and sometimes so is the wind. However, no matter what happens on the course, we shake hands and then head over to Twin Anchors Restaurant, which is one of the best places to grab a slab of ribs in the city of Chicago. It has been visited by many famous actors, actresses, singers, comedians and athletes, who are passing through town. As my dad and I enjoy our ribs we watch the last few holes of The Open Championship, and now that I am 21 we toast a pint to the winner!

Enjoy the golf everyone!

 

 

Cliff Schrock
Royal Birkdale and The Open Championship

By John Fischer III, president of the Golf Collectors Society:

The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale GC this week for the 10th time, making it one of the most visited sites on The Open rota, even though The Open wasn't played there until 1954. Birkdale is located in northwest England overlooking the Irish Sea, and is near two other courses on The Open rota, Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) just to the south across the River Mersey (for you Beatles fans) and Royal Lytham-St. Annes to the north.

Birkdale has produced a remarkable cast of Open champions, Peter Thomson (twice, his first in 1954 and his last of five Open titles in 1965), Arnold Palmer (the first of his back-to-back Open titles in 1961), Lee Trevino (1971), Johnny Miller (1976) who will lead the US TV broadcast of the Open this year, Tom Watson (1983), Ian Baker-Finch (1991), Mark O’Meara (1998), and Padraig Harrington (2008, the second of his back-to-back Open titles).

Palmer next to the plaque that was placed in honor of his 1961 miracle shot.

Palmer next to the plaque that was placed in honor of his 1961 miracle shot.

Birkdale GC dates to 1889 and started with a nine-hole course, which was soon deemed inadequate. In 1897 Birkdale moved to its current site, a massive set of rolling sandhills reaching down to the sea. It was a location much admired by Bernard Darwin, golf correspondent of The Times, who wrote, “I never quite realized before how engaging sandhills can be....’Hills’ is an inadequate word at Birkdale: there are mountains and whole ranges of them. They would, of course, be useless, if Nature had not been kind and Man brave. Nature planted, between the mountains, valleys and gorges and hollows, and Man was brave enough to see that they could and must be used.”

From its early days, Birkdale GC was a leader in golf. Women were admitted as members of the club from the beginning, and in 1909 the club hosted the Ladies’ Championship, and would go on to host a Curtis Cup and five Ladies’ Open Championships. The membership was also concerned about the welfare of the boys who served as caddies, establishing The Birkdale Golf Club Caddie Boys’ Association, which provided a room with books and games and also food, clothing or money for caddies who were in need. The Association also tried to find employment for boys old enough to commence work. Unfortunately, the Association dissolved in 1916 with World War I when a reduced membership made it impractical to continue the Association.

In the 1930s, the club decided to revise the course in order to make it a championship venue. The club engaged the services of Frederick George Hawtree, a prominent British golf course architect, and J.H. Taylor, the five time Open Champion, for the redesign. Hawtree and Taylor elected to lay out the holes in valleys between the towering sandhills rather than over them. Each hole would be self contained, avoiding blind shots for the most part. The fairways would be flatter and less undulating than one might associate with a links course. But the design produced a tough course that favored a straight shot to avoid bunkers or having the ball be swallowed up in the surrounding buckthorn, star grass and dwarf willow scrub. It is said Birkdale was not designed by Hawtree and Taylor, but fashioned by the best course architect in the world – the wind.

The routing selected by Hawtree and Taylor also produced a canyon-like effect where players are in a corridor surrounded by the sandhills and unable to easily gauge the wind above. The design also produced, perhaps inadvertently, an excellent viewing area for spectators from the tops of the sandhills, an early stadium-style setting.

The revamped course opened to critical acclaim in 1935 and was selected to host The Open Championship in 1940, which had to be cancelled due to the start of World War II. Birkdale did host the British Amateur in 1946, the Curtis Cup in 1948 and the 1951 Walker Cup and finally its first Open Championship in 1954.

At the time of its first Open in 1954, the course played to a par of 73 at 6,867 yards. After several improvements to the course over the years, this year the course will measure 7,173 yards with a par of 70. Length and par are almost meaningless on a links course with accompanying winds measuring from a wee zephyr to gale strength.

Just as the course was redesigned, the club also decided to replace the old clubhouse, which stood behind the 18th green, which is now the fourth green in the new course routing. The old clubhouse was a in pavilion style with broad porches overlooking the links. The new design could only be described as radical, nothing like the Victorian or Edwardian style one brings to mind when thinking of the clubhouse at a British golf club. The new clubhouse was two-story, painted entirely in white, with elegant lounges and dining room perched above the new 18th green in a rectilinear Art Deco style, aggressively modern for the time. The views from the large bay windows extended over the course and the dunes to the Irish Sea, and required little imagination to feel that one was on a cruise, and, indeed, the clubhouse did have the look of an ocean liner.

The contractor for the clubhouse, paid homage to the architect, George Tonge, stating, “this building is a tribute to the skill of an artist as well as an architect. Some of the older schoolboys are rather opposed to these new ideas, but this is the first clubhouse in Great Britain which has been built on these lines, and, I think it will be a credit to the architect and the Club in the years to come.” The opening of the new clubhouse in 1935 was met with enthusiasm by the membership.

In later years, problems with leaks in the flat roof occurred ,raising maintenance questions, and some of the members became disenchanted with a building not in concert with the weather. It was said that members had many names for the clubhouse but not the money to replace it. Regardless, the Birkdale clubhouse remains unique and immediately recognizable.

Of all the Open Championships at Birkdale, one has a special place, Arnold Palmer’s first of two consecutive Open titles in 1961. Arnold’s victory brought the Open into a special place, just at the time that air travel was making it easier for international golfers to make the journey to Great Britain. Walter Hagen and Bob Jones had seven Open titles between them from 1922 to 1930, but two weeks of ocean travel cut most American players out. Ben Hogan made the crossing by ship in his 1953 trip to Carnoustie and the Claret Jug, but few followed until Arnold came along. After Arnold won he set a pattern by which other world-class Americans, who wished to stand in comparison, had to follow. After Palmer, they all went.

The 1961 Open was also the site of one of Palmer’s greatest shots. At the 15th (now 16th) hole on the final day of play, Palmer hit a wayward drive into the rough. His ball was under a bush in heavy grass. It was one of those situations where golfers are taught to just knock the ball back in the fairway to avoid a possible disaster, and that was the advice “Tip” Anderson, the astute Scottish caddie who had carried Palmer’s bag the year before at St. Andrews, gave his man. But Palmer pulled out a seven iron and looked to be going for the green. Then Palmer put the club back in the bag, but instead of pulling out his wedge for a “safety” shot, he grabbed his six iron. Palmer was going for the green.

In his book, Great Moments in Sports: Golf, Michael McDonnell, the Daily Mail golf correspondent, beautifully described the shot, and also captured the essence of Palmer, the man and the golfer: “Palmer returned to the bush and his enormous hands, the fingers bunched like bananas, wrapped around the club. The stare was frozen into concentration and the mouth turned down at the edge as he prepared himself for the most audacious stroke of his life.

“This was the essential Palmer – a hopeless situation in which only the near-impossible would suffice. The stroke itself was awesome enough but its implications were crippling. Palmer had to defy the laws of good sense, probability and physics, and endure the pressure and strain upon him to produce an unrepeatable stroke – because no other would do.

“Even as he stood there, knees flexed, feet splayed, there was a compelling sense of power about the man; an inexplicable sense of force, even though he was motionless. His manner and presence gave clear warning of the savage swipe that would descend upon the ball within a few seconds.

"Then suddenly he was in action. There is no hint when Palmer begins to swing. [Kel] Nagle waggles, Nicklaus begins to turn his head away from the ball, Player rocks into action. But not Palmer. Suddenly he is at maximum speed. The club flashed away and the shoulder came round viciously hard and obscured his chin. And then he was powering back at the ball with irresistible force..

“The steel blurred into the bushes and there were noises. The swish of scythed grass, snapping twigs, the crack, a solid crack. Even as the spectators heard it, the pleasing shudder in Palmer’s arms told him he had made contact. Then it was not the sound – but the sight. A bush airborne. Grass scattering around him. And somewhere the ball. But where?

“Suddenly the air cleared and there it was, a black speck far away in the sky on its course to the green. Its height told Palmer that it would reach its target. But some of the people did not see the ball, because they were still staring in wonder at the hole in the ground where once a bush had stood. Not even a tornado could have wrenched it free so cleanly. Some would swear afterwards that the ground shook beneath them as Palmer’s club cleaved that bush from his path. Or maybe it was just the gods groaning their surrender, because Palmer was free of them at last and could proceed to his first British Open title.”

The offending bush was replaced, not by another bush, but by a brass plaque commemorating Palmer’s shot for all golfers to see as they go down the 16th fairway.

Interested in golf history? Go to golfcollectors.com, print out a membership application and join the Golf Collectors Society, an international group of golfers interested in golf history and the memorabilia of the game. You will be made welcome.

 

Cliff Schrock
Golf and family: An ode to father-and-son golfers on Father's Day Weekend

Guest Contributor Chris Saksa is a young business professional in the Chicago area employed as a Field Recruiting Coordinator for CNO Financial Group in their Bankers Life division. A 2016 graduate of Illinois State University, where he earned a B.S. Degree in Communication Studies: Organizational and Leadership Communication, he is devoted to, among other things, golf, the White Sox, Blackhawks, and as you'll read, family. This is his second blog for CliffSchrock.com:

Golf has always been a sport parents and their children have bonded over. Father-son examples that come readily to mind are Earl and Tiger Woods and Jay and Bill Haas. I can imagine that at a young age, Tiger and Bill saw pro careers in their future, that's how great their talent was. Of course, Bill's father Jay was a strong tour player himself. But for the majority of us sons who followed their fathers into the game, we knew that golf with our parents was going to focus on leisurely fun rounds on a Saturday or Sunday. However, just because most of us didn’t make it to the PGA or LPGA tours (let's not forget mother-and-daughter golfers), it doesn’t make the bond between parents and their children any less special on the golf course.

Chris Saksa

Chris Saksa

When I was a kid growing up in Texas, my parents bought me a plastic golf set and I would spend hours in our backyard hitting golf balls back and forth and sometimes even hitting them over the fence and into our neighbor’s yard. As I grew older my parents bought me my first real set of golf clubs, but it wasn’t until I was 10 years old and my family and I had moved up to a western suburb of Chicago that I really started to pick up the game. It seemed like every Saturday or Sunday, once the snow melted, my Dad and I were out there making first tracks in the morning dew.

On those early summer mornings what really meant the most to me was that I got to spend time with my Dad playing the game we loved. During our rounds we would have a lot of great talks. Life got even better when I was a junior in high school and my Mom began to pick up the game. In my hometown we have a par-3 course and the three of us would play on Sunday evenings, then we would  go home, throw some food on the grill and enjoy sitting on our back patio as another great weekend came to a close.

With this week being the U.S. Open and the final round being played on Father’s Day, I will do like I have done every year, whether I am away from home or able to sit down with my parents and watch golf, I always tell them “thank you” for without them I would not be the man I am today.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there and thank you to all the parents who wake up at 5 a.m. to go play golf with their kids. Enjoy the golf everyone!

 

Cliff Schrock
Roberto was much more than a sad part of a legendary Masters rules incident

Two of the biggest scorecard gaffes in golf history involved victims Jackie Pung and Roberto De Vicenzo, and now with Roberto’s death on Thursday at age 94, they have both passed away in the same year. Pung died on March 15.

De Vicenzo displayed his long-drive ability at the 1956 Masters.

De Vicenzo displayed his long-drive ability at the 1956 Masters.

I never met De Vicenzo, but as a golf writer for more than 30 years, he is forever ingrained in my golf brain for several reasons: Argentinian roots, international star of 230 victories, 1967 Open champion, 1980 U.S. Senior Open and 1974 Senior PGA winner, six PGA Tour victories, great sportsman, model gentleman with a great smile, powerful build and long hitter, World Golf Hall of Fame member, 1970 Bob Jones Award recipient. I recall when Golf Digest checked with De Vicenzo’s assistant back in the 1980s whether his name was DeVicenzo or De Vicenzo with a space, we got an official letter from Roberto on his letterhead telling us to put the space in.

And oh yes, I put what was in everyone’s death notice lead here at the end. De Vicenzo was the unfortunate rules victim at the 1968 Masters, when the 4 Tommy Aaron wrote for him on the 17th hole in Round 4 should have been a 3, so Roberto had to accept the higher score and missed a playoff with Bob Goalby, who was given the green jacket. In a great sportsman gesture, he took the error incredibly well, which led to the Jones Award.

So an all-time great champion and golf ambassador, who traveled the globe and played with Hogan and Snead up through Nicklaus, is gone. He wasn’t quite the oldest-living winner of a major still with us. Doug Ford was a group ahead of him and will be 95 on August 6. But De Vicenzo will always be remembered as a huge figure in the game as one of the original global star players whose power game and gentle manner were uniquely his.

Cliff Schrock
The year's opening round is done; seemed a lot like 2016

In this first week of May, the earth has certainly blossomed enough in all the nooks and crannies of the Northern Hemisphere’s golf locales to make the game open to all who care to get the season started. While Lerner & Loewe’s lusty sentiment about the month is a tantalizing call to a stirring type of action, for sure May is the month when all golfers above the equator can get a swinging action of another type underway.

I know, some golfers have been out there for a month or two already, but it is amazing how some areas have not had decent golfing weather even into early May. What an astounding feeling it is to start the golf season, the first round in particular bringing a huge range of emotions, beginning with the lead-up to it. I finally began my season this week with a round of golf at Tashua Knolls in Trumbull, Conn. This is about my 45th season of playing golf, and the feeling at the start of another year hasn’t changed much. I’m guessing these are universal emotions:

“I’m finally going to get rid of that dreaded (fill in the blank) problem with my swing.”

“Thank God I can stop watching and hearing TV talking heads discuss golf and start playing it.”

“How long before my lousy golf kills my excitement level?”

And when the first fizzled drive or three-putt comes: “I’m just the same old crap golfer I always was.”

One of my favorite Golf Digest coworkers, the late, great Oklahoman Ross Goodner, comes to mind at this point. Ross could build excitement for a golf game, no matter the time of year, better than anyone I’ve known. He’d say on the first tee of a nice track (Shorehaven in Norwalk, Conn., comes to mind) on a beautiful day, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” And he’d mean it. But by the third tee, after a few wayward shots and a pair of three-jacks, he’d be as “low as a hog on market day,” to quote Jed Clampett. He’d be in such a funk, the end of the round couldn’t come fast enough. Sometimes that would only be nine holes. One time, on a country club best left unnamed, we finished the front nine and on the way to the 10th tee he cut over to his car and loaded up for home. He said, “I just played nine of the nicest holes in Connecticut. Why would I want to play nine of the worst?” And homeward he went.

My first round was on a 60-degree, sunny and breezy day. I normally play from the set of tees one short of the tips; my feeling is, I make doubles just as easily from that set as I do from the whites. I should have gone the shorter route on Round No. 1, but I had that maiden-round feeling I was a better golfer now than I was when I last played in November. Why would I think that? Because of all the extra time I had now after a job loss to swing a weighted club and stretch bar at the fitness center. I was certain I was going to eliminate my early release/no weight transfer problem that has plagued me for years.

I should have known things wouldn’t go well when we were instructed to play the back nine first. What, no first hole of the year being the first hole of the course?! After a nine-hole trifecta of three triple bogeys, including the first hole, three bogeys and three pars, I was already in a funk about how it was the same player and same verse but a different year. I was already picturing by how at year’s end I’d be the same frustrated hacker who’d let another year go by without taking the next step to a lower handicap.

I wasn’t going to let that familiar refrain ruin the entire experience, however. What makes the game THE GAME for the devoted but hapless golfer is what the experience in total gives us: an escape from the everyday, a diversion from life’s hectic pace. My first round reminded me that the camaraderie and setting are everything. Well, not fully. I like birdies, pars and highlight-reel golf moments just as much as any golfer, but the company and course fulfill the experience.

My other foursome members provided the character variety. Mike, more noted for being a longtime runner, was our man with the nickname. Christened “10-feet Under” for never missing a putt under 10 feet, he contrasted that prowess with many adventures from tee to green. Dave, an anesthesiologist, uses a calculating mind to gauge how all the elements will affect his experience but nothing dampens his enthusiasm for the game. This week he let loose with his inhibitions about using a metal wood off the tee, and experimented by putting his hybrid away on the back nine. His Big Bertha fairway metal was effective and his takeaway from the round was optimism for new driving strategy. And Andrew, the longest hitter of the four, enhanced that status, but dealt with his bugaboo of skulling his short irons, perhaps most closely illustrating of us four how few golfers “have it all” when it comes to a total game. All three of them, like me, see the potential good in their games, and enough of it, to keep the faith for discussing our next scheduled game.

What the group exhibited best was the ability to laugh, as best we could, at our inadequate games and kid and amuse each other with mild zingers and personal chit-chat.

Alarmingly, we experienced first hand, on the front nine, the rudeness of the entitled public golfer. The country club golfer can be snobbish, but one of the worst species in golf is the publinxer who thinks his regular course is their personal domain on which to act however they want. There was a group of Tashua regulars on our rears on the front nine, hitting shots to the green right when we'd taken our last step off it, never shouting “fore” when a ball came close. At the turn, we purposely took our time getting food, happy to let them go through, which they did but never stopping and having anyone ask “Hey, mind if we play on?” The public golfer who plays as a regular and displays rude behavior to all others not part of their clique is still alive and thriving, unfortunately.

So, the opening round to 2017 is history. Not much good news about how I played, but there is some comfort in knowing the things I love about the game are still there, doing well, even among the bad swings.

Cliff Schrock
Sergio Garcia reaffirmed the value of patience

Guest Contributor Chris Saksa is a young business professional in the Chicago area employed as a Field Recruiting Coordinator for CNO Financial Group in their Bankers Life division. A 2016 graduate of Illinois State University, where he earned a B.S. Degree in Communication Studies: Organizational and Leadership Communication, he is devoted to, among other things, golf, the White Sox, and Blackhawks. During his time at Illinois State, he was an Intramural Supervisor/Official, and in May 2015 he was recognized with the Illinois State University Fitness Center Outstanding Guest Service Award. He also umpired Little League baseball for the Westmont (Ill.) Park District. All of that officiating has helped him call things as he sees them.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw Sergio Garcia win his first-ever major, at the Masters in Augusta. Before April 9th, Sergio was 0 for 73 in major championships. 0 for 73!

Now, I am too young to remember the early battle Sergio had with Tiger Woods at Medinah Country Club in 1999, where Tiger beat him by a shot, but I have seen highlights and I have watched a lot of golf over the course of my 23 years. I remember watching Sergio have one hand on the claret jug at Carnoustie only to have the golf gods rip it out of his hands at the 2007 Open Championship, and then again at the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, where, as he had at Carnoustie, Sergio ran into a man named Padraig Harrington. (In my opinion, Harrington is one of the most underrated golfers out there, but that’s a different story.)

Watching Garcia slip on the green jacket, emblematic of the Masters, told me one thing: It affirmed the belief that good things come to those who are patient. We have all experienced tough times, and sometimes we think too much like Sergio thought. He would say openly: “I cannot catch a break.” Many of us have likely said the same thing, and added, “I will never win or achieve my dream.”

Golf, much like life, can be cruel and unfair sometimes. It can make us feel like we are on top of the world one second and then make us feel all alone in complete darkness the next. But the lesson that Sergio Garcia taught on that Sunday at Augusta is: patience. Ask anyone who has fallen on tough times or any golfer who has had a few bad holes and what do they say? “Take one day at a time,” or “Be patient and take one shot at a time.”

Whether it’s one of the many times we experience failure, or when we fall short of achieving our goal and seriously think about giving up, we have huge doubts that the day of triumph will ever come. I am sure Sergio went home from his close finishes in the majors and thought, “What is the point of me even going to a major, it’s not like I am going to win anyway.” He openly complained about the majors being against him, which made him seem petulant. But even after all that, Garcia continued to show up, he never gave up on his dream of being a major champion and his patience was rewarded with a green jacket and the title of Masters champion.

The lesson is quite clear: The next time you struggle in a situation or think you can’t catch a break, recall how someone as talented as Sergio Garcia failed 73 times to achieve his goal of winning a major. But give him credit, he persevered and as of April 9 he’s classified as a major champion and no one can take that away from him. He overcame negative thoughts that he wasn’t good enough and let positive beliefs put all doubt aside. What a great lesson we all can use in our own lives.

Cliff Schrock
Which route will Sergio take after a major victory?

Beyond the career-vindicating aspect of yet another stunning Masters Tournament finish more than a week ago, what Sergio Garcia’s first major championship victory did was get us to ask the question: Will the result be career-altering as well?

Garcia’s Masters title also flips him from one conversation list to another. After being a mainstay on the “best players to never win a major” list for several years, Garcia has validated his special talent with the victory and puts himself on track for being a World Golf Hall of Famer. Now he becomes part of a discussion of “how elite can he become in golf history?” Which road will he go down among those taken by Ben Hogan, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh or Lou Graham?

Based on what other players did after winning their first major around the same age Garcia did at 37, there are a few routes his career can take, among them:

The Ben Hogan Route: The great Texan was 34 when he won his first major—the age by which Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson had won their final major—and the floodgates opened. Hogan finished with nine.

The Phil Mickelson Route: For years, Mickelson had to contend with Woods’ dominance, but he finally got his first major at nearly age 34, and to date has five total. He’ll be 47 in June.

The Vijay Singh Route: Singh is 54 now. He won his first major at 35 and is likely done with a total of three. Nick Price performed similarly, winning No. 1 at 35 and ending with three. Larry Nelson won his first at 34 and finished with three.

The Lou Graham Route: When he beat John Mahaffey in a playoff to win the 1975 U.S. Open, Graham was 37 but he never won another major. This has been a popular road; several golfers won at age 37 or older and never won another big one, including: Jerry Barber (age 45), Tommy Bolt (42), Darren Clarke (42), Roberto De Vicenzo (44), Bob Goalby (39), Todd Hamilton (38), Tom Kite (42), Tom Lehman (37) and Kel Nagle (39). Henrik Stenson won the Open last year at 40, but common sense says he will win again. Tommy Aaron and Stewart Cink were 36 and Gay Brewer and Orville Moody were 35 when they won their lone major.

Not mentioned yet, with the age of their first major, are Padraig Harrington (35), Angel Cabrera (37), Craig Wood (39), Mark O’Meara (41), Ted Ray (35) and Jock Hutchison (36). Harrington, who will be 46 in August, was nearly 36 when he won his first major in 2007; he tacked on two more quickly the following year. All the others won two majors.

Garcia’s breakthrough didn’t have the feel of a career culmination as it did for players such as Kite and Clarke. Their majors were crowning achievements and validation of standout careers. Others, such as Graham and Hamilton, were surprises. No one questions that everyone above continued to try and win majors, but success ranged from Hogan to just the lone-major winners.

Now that Garcia has climbed the mountain, the feeling is he's going to want to linger around and enjoy the view from every angle before descending. His talent would indicate he’ll be on the Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh routes, winning multiple majors when he’s done. His driving, iron play and short game are on a level that should guarantee that. Perhaps most importantly, he’s playing with composure and maturity we’ve not seen from him. His impending marriage, and all the components of wedded life, could enhance that and give him stability on the course for the rest of his playing prime.

The boyish enthusiasm that so captured the golf world when Garcia first emerged, and then disappeared under some petulant behavior, may now come full circle. And if it does, look for Garcia to take the route less traveled, the route the winners of multiple majors take.

 

Cliff Schrock
Guest Writer's Ode to Billy Joe

NOTE: The writer is John Fischer III, president of the Golf Collectors Society:

The Masters Tournament always creates an air of excited anticipation, the first major of the year held at a beautiful setting, but in 1954 expectations were higher than usual. Ben Hogan was defending champion, and in addition to the 1953 Masters, Hogan had won the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, the “Hogan Slam.” Hogan was the clear favorite, and had arrived at Augusta two weeks ahead of The Masters to practice.

Patton accepted his low amateur honor from Jones while proudly wearing his new sportcoat.

Patton accepted his low amateur honor from Jones while proudly wearing his new sportcoat.

The spring of 1954 brought another player to the field, William Joseph Patton, known to all as “Billy Joe,” a 31-year-old lumber salesman from Morganton, N.C. While the field might have felt the pressure of lining up against Hogan at the top of his game, Billy Joe felt none; in fact, it was Billy Joe who would apply the pressure to Hogan.

Billy Joe wasn’t well known outside North Carolina, although he had won the Carolina Amateur, the Carolina Open and the North & South Amateur, all solid events, and starred on the Wake Forest University golf team. Patton had been selected as the first alternate to the 1953 Walker Cup team, although he didn’t play.

Masters Tournament Director Clifford Roberts suggested to Bob Jones that alternates for the Walker Cup be invited as part of the amateur contingent at The Masters and Jones liked the idea. The Masters was, and still is, an invitational tournament, and Billy Joe's invitation was sent. Billy Joe was long off the tee and an excellent putter, a good combination for the Augusta National course.

Billy Joe readily accepted. He felt his game was in good shape and that he had a crack at winning, so much so that he ordered a new white cashmere sport coat to wear at the presentation ceremonies. While driving from Morganton to Augusta, Billy Joe composed his acceptance speech. Billy also also had a game plan for Augusta: bold play, shooting for every pin, no holding back or laying up.

Today on the Wednesday afternoon of tournament week, a competition is held on Augusta National’s Par-3 Course, but in 1954 the Par-3 Course did not exist, and the pre-tournament festivity was an exhibition on the practice range by the Masters contestants, including a long-driving contest, which Billy Joe entered.

Billy Joe possessed a lightning fast swing and an odd tilt to his follow through, but he could hit the ball “a ton.” He hit his first ball in the driving contest 338 yards. The contest rules allowed for the best of three drives, but Billy Joe turned down the opportunity with the quip, “No, thanks, the next shot I might miss altogether. I couldn’t possibly beat that first one.” And that first one was indeed good enough for Billy Joe to win the driving contest.

Beating the field in the driving contest gave Patton reinforcement that he could not only play with the professionals, but that he could beat them. The Augusta National course was set up at 6,950 yards, long for 1954 and, as true today, favored the long hitter.

On Thursday, the first day of tournament play, the weather was a mixture of thunder, rain and lightning and scores were high, but Billy Joe returned a score of 70, two under par, tied with E.J. (Dutch) Harrison for the lead. Hogan was two back at 72 and Sam Snead, a tournament favorite, was in with a two-over-par 74.

Suddenly there was a new star and the press was asking who this guy with the Southern drawl was. Patton seemed to throw a bit of cold water on his lead commenting, “now hold on a minute boys, let’s not get get too strong on this thing. Tomorrow, I may shoot an 80z—I probably will.”

Patton slipped to 74 on the second day of play but surprised himself with the sole lead at the halfway mark. Hogan was one stroke back.

Patton had proven he was long off the tee, but his ball was not always on the intended line. His game had a dramatic uncertainty to it; no one, including Billy Joe, knew where his ball was going to end up on any shot. Except for putting. Augusta National’s greens have a lot of subtle breaks and rolls, but Billy Joe was making putts and dropping six-footers like they were tap-ins.

Billy Joe’s “go for it” style was not unlike what Arnold Palmer would do a few years later, and his talkative manner presaged Lee Trevino’s style. When Billy Joe found himself in the trees, as he frequently did, he’d look for an opening, however small, and go for it, telling the gallery what he was going to do. He had great confidence and was becoming a gallery favorite.

On Saturday Billy Joe came in with a three-over 75, which left him five strokes behind Hogan, who made a move with a 69, and two strokes behind Sam Snead.

Billy Joe’s dropoff was not entirely unanticipated. It was not unusual for an unknown to lead a major event at the beginning of the tournament. As the pressure built, the seasoned players tended to move up the leader board, eclipsing newcomers.

Unlike today when the leaders go off last—very  convenient for the all-powerful television broadcasts that bring in revenue—in 1954, the leaders were scattered throughout the field spreading out the galleries and making it easier to follow the leaders.

Snead was off at noon, a half hour before Billy Joe and an hour before Hogan. Snead faltered a bit early in the round and the galleries decided Hogan was on his way toward winning the Masters for a second year in a row.

Then there was an explosion of yelling and cheering that rolled through Augusta’s hills. Billy Joe had scored an ace on the 190-yard sixth hole, his ball hitting the pin six inches above the cup and dropping straight down into the hole.

Suddenly, everything was askew, and the tournament opening up. Billy Joe was now three under par overall, three strokes behind Hogan. No matter how advantageous, a hole-in-one can shake up a player by interfering with his focus. But not Billy Joe. He parred the seventh, and then birdied eight and nine, making the turn in 32.

Patton parred 10 and 11 and, standing on the 12th tee, was tied with Hogan for the lead. Hogan was out in 37.

It’s a well-worn saying that the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine Sunday, and in 1954 the excitement was just beginning. Patton would make a bogey-4 at 12 and, in keeping with his “full bore, full guts” philosophy, decided to hit a 3-wood to the green at the par-5 13th, which was guarded in front by a tributary to Rae’s Creek. Billy Joe dumped his shot into the creek, considered trying to play from the water, but decided to drop the ball behind the creek and take a stroke penalty.

Patton then proceeded to hit a poor pitch over the creek, had to chip to the green and took two putts. A disastrous 7.

Hogan was now standing over his second shot to the 11th green. Instant scoring was not available in 1954. There were fewer scoreboards and players did not know where they stood against the field or the leader, or even who the leader was. That was Hogan’s situation.

Hogan had a game plan for every course he played, and how he would play each hole was mapped out before he stepped on the first tee. On 11, there is a pond to the front-left of the green and a gathering slope at the edge of the green that can pull the ball into the water. Hogan had said that if you ever saw his ball on the 11th green in two, you would know he had missed the shot. His plan was to play to the right of the green, chip on and make a par.

It was here that Hogan made a disastrous error. He broke with his game plan, pulled out a 3-iron and hooked it into the pond. The result: a double-bogey 6. Afterward Hogan said, “If I’d known what happened to Patton I would have played it safe.”

As Billy Joe walked off the 13th green with his double bogey, his large and loyal gallery was was quiet and crestfallen. Patton looked over at them and said, “C’mon, folks, let’s smile again.” And then Patton gave them something to smile about—a birdie at the 14th. He was back in the hunt again.

Patton decided to go for the green at the par-5 15th requiring a carry over a pond that runs across the entire front of the green. Billy Joe mis-hit a 2-wood and his ball splashed into the water. He was on in 4, and two-putted for a 6. His gallery’s emotions were bounced around on the back nine. Billy Joe parred the last three holes, but his fabulous day was over. He finished at 290, one stroke behind Hogan and Snead who had tied for the lead. In the 18-hole playoff on Monday, Snead won, beating Hogan 70 to 71, but 1954 was still Patton’s Masters. Snead and Hogan had played under-par golf in their playoff, but all Augusta was talking about was Billy Joe.

At the presentation ceremonies, Billy Joe was wearing his new cashmere sports coat. In accepting the award for low amateur (solo third place), the gallery may have been expecting a remorseful recap of his double bogey at 13 or the bogey at 15, but that wasn’t Billy Joe’s mindset.

“I don’t feel bad about that 6 at 15 and I don’t feel bad about that 7 at 13, and I don’t want my rooters to feel bad about that. I told myself I wasn’t going around after the tournament thinking I could have saved a stroke if I hadn’t played it bold. So I played it bold and the way I made those birdies was the same way I got that six and that seven."

The 1954 Masters was the first of 14 times Billy Joe would play in the tournament, although he never came as close again to trading his white sport coat for the green jacket, the symbol of the Masters champion. He did, however, take low-amateur honors two more times.

Billy Joe didn't change his style. He was always the swashbuckler going for the pin, finding an opening in the trees to redeem a wayward shot and never playing safe. Over the years several groves of trees were designated as “Patton’s Woods” by his followers. At one time, Bobby Jones jokingly suggested that the grove of pines to the right of the 14th fairway be officially dedicated as “Patton’s Woods” since that was where he’d first seen Billy Joe in 1954.

Billy Joe never turned professional. He kept at the lumber business and playing golf. He played on five Walker Cup teams and continued winning amateur events including two more North & South Amateurs in addition to one in 1954. And the galleries continued to love watching his bold play and listening to his chatter. Billy Joe clearly loved playing the game.

Interested in golf history? Go to golfcollectors.com, print out a membership application and join the Golf Collectors Society, an international group of golfers interested in golf history and the memorabilia of the game. You will be made welcome.

Cliff Schrock
Pat Bradley & a media day memory

One of the high-holy days for a golf writer during the year is attending a media day. The normal media day involves media members being invited to the tournament course a couple months before the event’s playing. The defending champion, or sometimes a star player if the defender isn’t available, is on hand to mix with the media and discuss the event, and then the media plays the course and sits down to a great meal.

The idea, from the tournament organizer’s point of view, is to have the media then go back to their outlets and file reports to build enthusiasm for the event. As far as the writers and reporters are concerned, however, if they are totally honest, the fine food and golf are a mighty strong attraction for the day as well. Sure, they’ll do their due diligence to help the PR campaign, but getting pampered is an awfully nice feeling. Mmmm, there is something about working long hours, often in hot, humid air outdoors and 32-degree AC in the media building, that makes free food so enjoyable, so the golf media members take it when they can get it. There have been many memorable assaults on appetizer tables that are legendary among the writing brethren.

It was in a media day setting that I experienced a wonderful moment with LPGA legend Pat Bradley, who turns 66 on March 24 and is aunt to PGA Tour player Keegan Bradley. I gained insight to the engaging personality she had on tour, and the moment I shared with her was typical of the effort the LPGA has been so well known for in promoting their events.

As a bright-eyed golf writer for the Daily Pantagraph in Bloomington, Illinois, in the early 1980s, I went to the media day for the Rail Charity Classic, in Springfield. Bradley was there, and during the breakout media session I got to chat with her and get notes to write a story. Typical stuff, and something she’d done hundreds of times. We’d never met before but she was attentive to my questions. After the interviews, it was fun time: lunch, and the media groupmoved to carts for the 18-hole round on The Rail course.

My group got through the front nine, and as we played the par-4 10th, me, playing my normal game, dumped my second shot into a greenside bunker. As I got ready to play my third, I didn’t realize that Bradley, who had been riding around in a cart watching play, was now observing our group. I then, uncharacteristically, hit my sand shot stiff, and as I’m leaving the bunker I hear, “Cliff, that was a great shot. Nice going!” I turned and saw Pat, with a big smile, giving me applause from the cart. I smiled and gave a thumbs-up response.

Bradley’s reaction made a deep impression on me: that she would recall my first name, that she was genuinely pleased at my good fortune, and in the big picture, that I would fade from her memory but she knew the tournament would benefit from a writer having a good time.

More than 30 years later, that moment may seem like a small, throwaway gesture by a Hall of Fame golfer to a small-market writer. But it’s much more than that; the interaction with a pro is what media days are all about.

 

Cliff Schrock