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!

The benefit of a round-robin format

When some of the upsets started coming in during Wednesday's WGC Dell Technologies Match Play first-round play, the flashbacks to the dangers of match play may have terrorized fans initially. That splendid golfer-versus-golfer format that provides so much drama has long been a TV golf nightmare for the unavoidable dread it brings of knocking out star players. It has always been a match-play drawback on the pro tour, and is the reason match-play events have come and gone for much of tour history.

But--sigh of relief--the WGC Match Play is using a round-robin format, whereby 16 groups of four players will go through three days of match play, with each player in a group playing the other three in 18-hole matches one day at a time. The 16 top players after that will then continue on Saturday.

That type of format means the higher-ranked players who fell--Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Brandt Snedeker, Emilio Grillo, Francesco Molinari, Jimmy Walker, Danny Willett, Matthew Fitzpatrick and J.B. Holmes--will live to fight another two days. It also means they started digging a hole for themselves and can't afford any more misteps or they really will be out after Friday. If a player loses their first two matches, Friday's match will purely be to play well enough to get out of town with at least one win. 

 

 

Cliff Schrock
How Arnold fared in what became his event

The last time we had seen Arnold Palmer tee it up at Bay Hill to play in his PGA Tour event was in 2004, so we’d had a dozen years to think of him more as the friendly trophy presenter rather than a competitor. But the event was such a part of the Palmer fabric that the first round this week will be just the fifth ever played without him as either a player or present in some capacity. He did not play in the 1969 tournament. Golf World magazine reported in its March 18, 1969, issue that Palmer was suffering from a “lumbosacral strain,” a torturous phrase that meant his right hip was not in the proper position. He was seeing a chiropractor who was designing a heel wedge for his shoe.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational started as the Florida Citrus Open in 1966 at Rio Pinar Country Club in Orlando. Palmer was 36 & 1/2 years old and two seasons past his last major win. He was devoted to the tournament and only missed 1969 as a player. He played the event 38 times in all, winning in 1971, and finishing second in 1967 and 1970. The tournament switched to Bay Hill in 1979, and it slowly evolved into Arnie’s baby, with his name going on it in 2007.

Here is Arnold Palmer’s record at his namesake event with year, event name, dates, his scores, finish and money:

1966 Florida Citrus Open, March 17-20: 75-70-72-71—288, T-36, $502.15

1967 Florida Citrus Open, March 9-12: 67-69-71-68—275, T-2, $11,212.50

1968 Florida Citrus Open, March 14-17: 71-76—147, Missed Cut

1969 Did Not Play

1970 Florida Citrus Open, March 5-8: 64-72-64-72—272, T-2, $13,875

1971 Florida Citrus Open, March 11-14: 66-68-68-68—270, 1st, $30,000

1972 Florida Citrus Open, March 9-12: 72-75—147, Missed Cut

1973 Florida Citrus Open, March 1-4: 70-74—144, Missed Cut

1974 Florida Citrus Open, Feb. 28-March 3: 68-73-72-74—287, T-41, $540

1975 Florida Citrus Open, March 6-9: 72-69-75-73—289, T-42, $660

1976 Florida Citrus Open, March 4-7: 74-72—146, Missed Cut

1977 Florida Citrus Open, March 3-7: 71-72-69-75—287, T-48, $494.28

1978 Florida Citrus Open, March 2-6: 65-73-71-71—280, T-14, $3,400

1979 Bay Hill Citrus Classic, March 1-4: 70-74-70-80—294, 59th, $555

1980 Bay Hill Classic, Feb. 28-March 2: 76-71-74-85—306, T-69, $600

1981 Bay Hill Classic, Feb. 26-March 1: 73-72-73-76—294, T-63, $639

1982 Bay Hill Classic, March 4-7: 76-74—150, Missed Cut

1983 Bay Hill Classic, March 10-13: 78-85—163, Missed Cut

1984 Bay Hill Classic, March 15-18: 72-71-74-78—295, T-68, $812

1985 Hertz Bay Hill Classic, March 7-10: 78-73—151, Missed Cut

1986 Hertz Bay Hill Classic, March 13-16: 78—78, Missed Cut (rain shortened)

1987 Hertz Bay Hill Classic, March 12-15: 77-79—156, Missed Cut

1988 Hertz Bay Hill Classic, March 17-20: 72-74—146, Missed Cut

1989 Nestle Invitational, March 9-12: 83-74—157, Missed Cut

1990 Nestle Invitational, March 22-25: 74-77—151, Missed Cut

1991 Nestle Invitational, March 14-17: 72-71-70—213, T-24, $7,737.50 (rain shortened)

1992 Nestle Invitational, March 19-22: 74-77—151, Missed Cut

1993 Nestle Invitational, March 18-21: 73-76-78-75—302, T-71, $1,970

1994 Nestle Invitational, March 17-20: 80-78—158, Missed Cut

1995 Nestle Invitational, March 16-19: 73-78—151, Missed Cut

1996 Bay Hill Invitational (Office Depot), March 14-17: 75-74—149, Missed Cut

1997 Bay Hill Invitational (Office Depot), March 20-23: 81—81, Withdrew before completion of delayed second round

1998 Bay Hill Invitational (Cooper Tires), March 19-22: 78-78—156, Missed Cut

1999 Bay Hill Invitational (Cooper Tires), March 11-14: 78-74—152, Missed Cut

2000 Bay Hill Invitational (Cooper Tires), March 16-19: 82-76—158, Missed Cut

2001 Bay Hill Invitational (Cooper Tires), March 15-18: 85-78—163, Missed Cut

2002 Bay Hill Invitational (Cooper Tires), March 14-17: 86, Withdrew

2003 Bay Hill Invitational (Cooper Tires), March 20-23: 87-85—172, Missed Cut

2004 Bay Hill Invitational (MasterCard), March 18-21: 88-79—167, Missed Cut

 

Cliff Schrock
Golf in Florida in March...sense-ical

Our enjoyment of golf is multifaceted, a perspective that grows with each year we play. When we are just starting out, all we have is our score to provide us our main source of pleasure. We chronicle with joy our progress from over-par scores to getting our first par, then first birdie, then if we’re really good—and lucky—we may experience a jackpot of eagles, a hole-in-one and a double eagle in tandem with lowering handicaps.

But that’s just surface stuff. Our score improvement can only take us so far and our bliss last just long enough before we need our relationship with the game to deepen, which it does with time. What really gets us going is the experience. The comfort of spending time with others, the friendship, the laughter, the fresh air, all of it gives us the satisfaction we find in no other sport.

Fueling our experience is our sensuous nature. Not sensual, mind you, but playing golf does arouse us all the same, and the senses it brings to life are smell, sight, sound, and touch.

I hardly ever get to act on this impulse, but one of the nicest places and times to play golf is in Florida in March. That’s why I find the Florida swing of the PGA Tour the most satisfying to watch of the places it goes in the first half of its season, which is when the Northern half of the country impatiently waits to get out of winter.

The tour concludes its Florida swing with this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. Love will be in the air this week at Bay Hill—there’s the sensual part—to honor the first A.P. Invitational held after Palmer’s death in September. But I will be sad to see the Sunshine State events end, although I know it means improved weather is creeping along for all golfers. Playing golf in Florida in March has a unique hold on how my senses feel. And seeing the pros play in Florida for a few weeks reminds me of my times there in March when I’ve been able to escape for a trip from the Northeast, and sadly this month, a reminder of a hoped-for trip I had planned and had to cancel.

In the Florida-March element, the air feels and smells new and in transition, the sun feels just warm enough, the Bermuda grass and palm trees are a distinct visual stimulant and of a different texture than I’m normally used to, the wildlife sounds are unique, the air feels more like it wants to hug you like a blanket at night, and the mix of water hazards and housing in and through a course’s layout says Florida loud and clear. Whenever you could escape to play golf there it was always a good feeling to get a jump on the golf season over your regular golf mates still in snow.

Summer has its heat that causes oily muscles, and fall has stimulating cool air that makes one feel alive and vibrant—I enjoy both. But playing golf in Florida in March is an environment that I’ve never forgotten, a stimulant to my golf senses that made a permanent memory.

 

Cliff Schrock
Mark Laesch: Memories of what helped set him apart

To the golf community at large and his friends, Mark Laesch was the Golfstat innovator who for 30 years elevated the college game’s programs and players onto a sophisticated statistical level that up to that point had only been a dream. To me, however, when I thought of Mark Laesch, milk came to mind.

I mean that as a compliment, as you’ll see. I lived in the same hometown as Mark’s and went to the same parochial grade school and church in Bloomington, Illinois, smack dab in the middle of the state in McLean County, the state’s largest county in size and in the heart of corn country.

The Laesch family had an extensive presence in the area due to its business: Laesch Dairy. For decades Laesch milk was the Hood, Sealtest, Borden, Dean, whatever dairy company you can think of giant in the community. They dominated the home-delivery market, including my family’s house. The dairyman would put four glass gallon containers (three white, one chocolate) in an insulated metal box on the front porch each week. When you emptied a gallon, you’d rinse it out and put it back in the box for the deliveryman to take back to the dairy on his next trip.

Laesch milk was awesome. I grew up on Vitamin D for years, and loved the chocolate, it didn’t last a full week for our family of six. Laesch Dairy eventually opened stand-alone stores called Laesch Dairy Barns, and home delivery service slowly faded as people went out and shopped for their milk. Mark oversaw the business in the early 1980s, but Laesch Dairy was bought in 1998. By then, Mark was well into his stat-driven business, having started it in 1984, the year I left Illinois for Connecticut.

The coverage of Mark Laesch’s final months of battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which ended with his death last Saturday at age 62, properly celebrated his role in college golf. It’s credit he richly deserved to see before his passing. But even more impressive was his testimony of faith, an unequivocal, lock-solid belief in God and what his death would mean for him.

The foundation for this faith came from Trinity Lutheran Church and School (K-through-eighth grade school). The extensive Laesch clan members were faithful and fervent, led by Mark’s father, Daniel, who you could see taught his family to be energetic and engaged. (I recall Mr. Laesch coming up to me after an eighth-grade talent-show skit and telling me I had a good voice for radio. As things have turned out all these years later, some would say I was dumb for not taking that advice.)

Mark was five years older than me going through TLS but my older brothers were around his age and I recall Mark’s great aptitude for all sports, which took him to Indiana University to play baseball. Mark’s father served on many boards, but he took time to play golf, a popular sport in a great golfing hotbed town of Bloomington.

As a man who grew up with a strong, successful father figure who lived his faith—and played golf—it isn’t a total surprise Mark Laesch accomplished what he did. He liked some of his father’s quotes: “If you don’t have conflict, you’re running from it. Conflict is the best way to grow.” And, quoting Thomas Edison, “If there’s a better way to do it, find it.” When Mark remarked about change, “Sort of sad, isn’t it, Dad?”, the older man said, “No, it’s progress.”

In the end, Mark Laesch was quotable too, delivering as powerful a statement as you could get from someone dealt a horrific fate: “I happen to believe that the instant we die is probably the single greatest moment of our life.”

He had great faith in where he was going after a life in which he delivered to all who knew him the milk of human kindness.

Cliff Schrock
Arnold Palmer: Keep the legacy in perpetuity

There’s a short list building for Golf Personalities of 2017—Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson among the leaders—but one of the prime candidates won’t be seen or heard from in person. And there’s great potential for him to be on the list for many years to come despite his absence.

The personality? Arnold Palmer. Not yet a half-year removed from his September 25 death at age 87, the golf community is in the early stages of understanding what Arnie’s void will mean for the game. More than any other golf legend who has left us, it will be interesting to see how golf progresses without him and how strong Palmer’s legacy as someone who cared deeply about the game’s health will remain for years to come.

The older you are as a Palmer devotee the more likely you are to feel he’s eternal, with no chance of his persona slipping from the occasional reference or the example he led as a professional golfer and how to be a fan favorite held up as the ultimate example for young players. A video of Palmer describing how to conduct oneself on tour should be handed to every new tour player as SOP; there certainly must be miles of film quoting his thoughts.

I started playing golf in the early 1970s, right at the end of his winning years on the PGA Tour. I was in eighth grade and out with my buddies on the night he won his final tour event in 1973, the Bob Hope Classic. The autographed photo you see on my home page and the letter he wrote to me played a strong role in me wanting to play the game. The first time I saw him in person was at the senior Commemorative event in the mid-1980s at Newport Country Club. And what a sight: He was on the par-3 fourth, Graves Point, standing on the tee with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. I never got to shake the hand that people said swallowed up yours, but I was within handshake distance of him at a Gold Tee Dinner among a crowd of people and asked him to sign a program cover (I know, a no-no for media) that had images of him, Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and Hale Irwin on it. Got the other three too.

The younger a golf fan is, the more likely Arnold Palmer’s hold will fade on them, and that is sad if true. We are several weeks past one of Palmer’s prominent and regular tour involvements with the Hope tournament, now known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, being played in January. Soon upon us will be two larger moments that will remind us again of his passing and the emptiness the golf world will have to get used to: his Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at Bay Hill March 16-19, and the Masters Tournament in April.

Thankfully, that younger golf fan will have plenty to keep Arnold Palmer front and center and grow his appreciation for him. It was announced recently that his memorabilia will be on display at various tournament locations. We can be assured, too, that CBS and the Masters will give Arnie his due every spring. He’s on the masters.com home page at the moment. And the news that Graeme McDowell, Annika Sorenstam, Curtis Strange, Peter Jacobsen and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge will fill in as Bay Hill hosts is an assuring sign that Arnold’s tournament will “do a Byron Nelson” and keep his name front and center and not do a Bob Hope and fade away.

Also encouraging: AP’s charity foundation will continue  to do the good it has been doing, following the example Palmer started setting decades ago when he was the March of Dimes chairman. Visit arniesarmy.org to see the work being done.

Let’s all toast that the Palmer legacy endures in perpetuity, and let’s make the drink an Arnold Palmer.

Please continue to watch this spot for a variety of opinions and views—not all mine hopefully—written from the heart.

Cliff Schrock