New Year’s Day for Golfers

ANGC No 12

The modern golf season never ends, but it does begin. When the first contestant tees off at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday morning during Masters week, golfers all over the world reset their internal clocks. The first page in a golfer’s calendar is April.

For the world’s best players, the Masters divides one season’s aspirations from another’s. A tour victory means recognition, money, autograph requests, endorsements, exemptions—and an invitation to Augusta. As the first full week of April draws near, winless players juggle their schedules to maximize their chances, and television commentators count down the tournaments remaining. When the Masters begins, every competitor has a theoretical chance of matching Bobby Jones’s unduplicated feat of winning all four major tournaments in one year; when the Masters ends, the Grand Slam field has shrunk to one.

For tournament spectators, the Masters is an annual reunion where the passage of time is measured not in years but in the names of champions. The principal viewing areas have the settled feel of old neighborhoods; the course is as familiar as a friend’s backyard. In countless gatherings beneath the pine trees, acquaintances are renewed and records are brought up to date: deaths, marriages, children, grandchildren, new houses, old jobs. The dogwood blossoms are compared with the dogwood blossoms of previous years. A rebuilt green is examined and approved. Two veterans discuss the careers of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer—and then Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer walk by. A guest once said, “I rode here in the front seat and will be in the back seat going out so I can stay as long as I can.”

For distant golf fans, the first glimpse of Amen Corner on TV is proof that winter is gone. Northerners who haven’t swung a club since Halloween scrounge an old ball from the garage and roll a few wobbly putts across the family-room carpet during commercials. A swirling gray New England sky stops looking like a vestige of December and begins to seem like a harbinger of spring. The hours crawl from Saturday evening till Sunday afternoon. Meetings and social engagements are ignored or rescheduled; no avid golfer was ever married on Masters weekend. In 1987, two fans from Olympia Fields, Illinois, named their new daughter Tori Augusta National.

For sportswriters, the Masters is the plum assignment of the year. It is the first trip entered in a reporter’s appointment book, and it is written in ink. Journalists take the Masters personally. Herbert Warren Wind, The New Yorker’s incomparable golf correspondent for many years, once stopped another reporter upon arriving in Augusta’s airport and anxiously inquired about the state of the greens: “Are they firm?” Senior golf writers postpone hip replacements and cataract operations until just after the tournament, giving themselves a full fifty weeks to recover.

For non-golfers, the Masters is the one tournament of the year that compels attention. Over breakfast on Sunday morning, a golfer’s non-playing spouse may suddenly offer an informed observation about the chances of Woods, Mickelson, or McIlroy—the result of an hour’s seduction by the sports page or the TV. The beauty of the setting makes one’s love for golf comprehensible to the game’s antagonists. For four days, the national flower is the azalea.

Gary Player once said, “The Masters is the only tournament I ever knew where you choke when you drive through the front gate.”  The trip down Magnolia Lane may be the most dreamed-about entrance in sports. Although the Masters is not ancient as golf goes, no contest runs deeper in the imaginations of participants. Sam Snead once told me, “If you asked golfers what tournament they would rather win over all the others, I think every one of them to a man would say the Masters.”

ANGC clubhouse

Golf Periscope Update

Periscope woman 3-17-2013

Steve Davis, whom I met at Tiger Woods’s World Challenge back in December, has been tweaking and field-testing his golf periscope, which is considered by some to be the most important golf-related invention of the current century—and not only because it has a shoulder strap and a beer holder. Last weekend, he took it to the Toshiba Classic, in Newport Beach, California, an event on the Champions Tour. “I was following the final group Sunday,” he told me in an email. “There was this little old lady who couldn’t see anything. She understood right away how the periscope worked. The smile that produced was priceless. It was my feel-good moment of the day—and we were only at the first green.”

Steve Davis and his periscope at the Farmers Insurance Open, Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla, California, where, he reports, "Tiger was Tiger of old."

Steve Davis and his periscope at the Farmers Insurance Open, at Torrey Pines Golf Course, in La Jolla, California–where, he reports, “Tiger was Tiger of old.”

Davis apparently spends all his time either working on his periscope or trying it out at golf tournaments. He watched Tiger win at Torrey Pines in January (photo above). And last month he attended the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which Brandt Snedeker won. In another email, Davis sounded almost disappointed that there weren’t more people standing between him and the action. “The big surprise was how small the crowd at Pebble was,” he wrote. “We could stand alongside the green on almost every hole. It got crowded only around the end, at 16, 17, and 18.” The photo below was taken at the AT&T, and it shows him holding a modified version of the device I tried at the World Challenge. The differences may not be obvious to a layman, but they are significant. “I have a new system and have been having problems with it,” Davis confided, “so I’m having trouble trusting it.”

AT&T ProAm Pebble Beach 2013

Davis also took his periscope to the Northern Trust Open, at Riviera, last month. “What can I say with a two-playoff-hole victory for Merrick’s first tour win?” The guy on the right in the photo below, which was taken at Riviera, looks to me like he was contemplating a smash-and-grab, but apparently he was just eyeing Davis’s beer.

2013 Northern Trust Play Off

More periscope news as it develops.

My Close Personal Friend Moe Norman

Moe Norman Scorecard

Many golfers nowadays look blank when you mention Moe Norman, who died in 2004, but to those who were lucky enough to see him play he was a legend. Lee Trevino ranked him with Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time. Paul Azinger first saw him hit balls on a driving range in Florida in 1980, when Azinger was in college. “He started ripping these drivers right off the ground at the 250-yard marker,” Azinger told Tim O’Connor, a Canadian sportswriter, “and he never hit one more than 10 yards to either side of it, and he hit at least 50.” In 2005, Tiger Woods told Jaime Diaz, now the editor of Golf World, that Norman and Hogan were the only two golfers in history who had “owned” their swing, and that one day he hoped to own his, too.

Moe Norman Golf World 9-2-66

Despite such accolades, Norman spent much of his forty-year competitive career in obscurity and poverty. He played almost exclusively in Canada, where he was born, and made only a brief attempt, in 1959, to play on the American tour. He sometimes carried his own bag in tournaments, because he couldn’t afford a caddie, and he sometimes slept in bunkers on the courses where he competed. He often hitchhiked to and from tournaments, and he had to juggle his competitive schedule with a succession of dreary factory jobs, including one stitching rubber boots. He spent the winter before the 1956 Masters, to which he had been invited as the reigning Canadian Amateur champion, setting pins in a bowling alley for a few cents a line. For years, he supported himself partly by selling the prizes he won in amateur tournaments, and as his confidence increased he sometimes sold the prizes before the tournaments began. (According to friends, on at least five occasions he intentionally finished second because he hadn’t been able to find a taker for the first-place prize and had been forced to sell the second.) In the late nineteen-eighties, he was so broke that only the last-minute intervention of friends prevented a bank from repossessing his car.

Moe Norman, 1950s.

Moe Norman, 1950s.

I watched Norman hit golf balls on a practice tee at Foxwood Country Club, in Kitchener, Ontario, his hometown, in the fall of 1995, when he was sixty-six. He warmed up with a pitching wedge, although “warming up” doesn’t really describe any part of his routine: the first shot was perfect, the second was identical to the first, the third was identical to the second. Then he switched to his four-iron. His swing—to all appearances, an effortless half-swing—was the same as it had been with the wedge. “How far you hitting those?” a spectator asked. “One-eighty,” Norman said. The shots were within a couple degrees of dead straight, despite a stiff cross wind, unless he announced ahead of time that he was going to hit a draw or a fade. The divots were identical, and surreally shallow.)

Moe Norman, 1990s.

Moe Norman, 1990s.

He switched to his driver. If you had looked only at his arms and hands, you wouldn’t have known he wasn’t still swinging his wedge. He would watch each ball in the air a moment, then bend over and place another on the tee—and I mean place it. The tee never moved. “I hit balls, not tees,” he said. On a driving range once, he hit 131 drives in a row from the same tee without having to straighten it. In tournaments, he sometimes entertained galleries by hitting a drive from the mouth of the Coke bottle from which he had just been drinking.

Moe Coke Bottle.bmp

In December, 1995, I got to play a round with Norman and his friends Gus Maue and Todd Graves (who calls himself Little Moe and teaches Norman’s highly unorthodox swing) at Royal Oak Resort and Golf Club, in Titusville, Florida. Royal Oak may no longer be a going concern—its website has been shut down for lack of payment—but in 1995 it was a favorite winter hangout of the Canadian P.G.A. The first hole was a 400-yard par 4, dogleg to the right. Maue, Graves, and I hit tee shots up the middle, and then Norman hit his over a row of trees to the right, toward a lake that ran the length of the hole. I thought, Hmmm—this is one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time? But it turned out that Norman always played the hole that way. There was a strip of grass, maybe ten yards wide, between the trees and the water, and from there he had an easy 9-iron to the green, while those of us in the fairway needed four-irons or five-irons.

Norman won his first tournament in 1949. “I didn’t know anything then,” he told me that day. “I didn’t even have a full set of clubs. Only had a driver, three-wood, three-iron, five-iron, seven-iron, nine-iron, and a putter. Didn’t even have a wedge. But one day everything fell into place and I shot a sixty-seven—four under.”

I said I was amazed he had played with so few clubs.

“Oh, I couldn’t afford them. Heck, when I was a kid you were lucky to have one club. And if you had a club your friends were always saying, Hey, can I use yours? Can I use yours? If someone had a driver we would hand it around—three of four guys playing together. If somebody had a nice putter, we all took turns putting with it. Goodness, back in Moe Norman youngthose days, there wasn’t a golf shoe in the foursome. And if the grass was wet your right foot would do a whirlwind, like a twist. But back then golf wasn’t a sport. It was just an exercise game. In fact, I was called a sissy by my father and my brothers, right at dinner. They would make big ears at me and call me a sissy. ‘Come on, play a man’s game,’ my father used to say. ‘Play baseball, or hockey—do like your brothers.’ I said, ‘No, Dad, I’m too light.’ I was a little skinny kid then, not over a hundred and thirty pounds, and I couldn’t play any other sport and be good at it, so I kept playing golf. But I had to hide my clubs under the front porch. My father was fat and I was real skinny, so I could dig a hole that he couldn’t get his head through but I could get my body through, and if I would push my clubs in far enough he couldn’t reach them.”

I wrote about Moe Norman in Golf Digest in 1995, and you can read that story here. The date in the opening anecdote is wrong, since Porky Oliver died in 1961. But other than that. . . .

 

Augusta National, Video Games, and “Hard Luck” Tony Sheehan

Eighth green, Augusta National, 1930. Photo by Tony Sheehan.

Eighth green, Augusta National, 1930s. Photo by Tony Sheehan.

My Golf Digest colleague Ron Whitten and I recently spent a couple of days in Orlando with the video-game designers at Electronic Arts, the creators of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR. The game’s next edition will include a recreation of the Augusta National course as it was in 1934, the year of the first Masters, and Ron and I had been asked to help the game’s “environment modelers” make the virtual course as historically accurate as possible. We offered suggestions about everything from green contours to mowing patterns to the size and placement of individual trees—an experience we’ll both be writing about for the April issue of Golf Digest.

Among the many historical resources the game’s designers consulted were photographs of the course taken in the 1930s by Tony Sheehan, who was Augusta National’s unofficial official photographer. (The picture at the top of this post, which also appears in my book The Making of the Masters, is one of his.) Sheehan’s nickname was “Hard Luck.” Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and first chairman, wrote about Sheehan in his book, The Story of Augusta National Golf Club, which was published in 1976:

Tony was an oddball in appearance and dress, and he made comments at times that were just as unusual and unexpected. Neither he nor his battered old camera looked to be qualified to make even a passport photo, but he was a remarkably capable photographer . . . .

Many of us experience accidents as we go through life, but I doubt that any man endured bad luck so often and so continuously for so many years as Tony Sheehan. Every time an epidemic of any kind came to town, Tony was the first to catch it.

Tony tripped over something and broke one or more bones so often that it almost appeared to be a habit. On one occasion, while he was waving to friends, his car plowed into a large stone marker on Walton Way in Augusta, which cost him a number of teeth but gave him some distinctive battle scars on his face. . . .

Tony survived a half-dozen major operations, plus numerous patching-up jobs. His one lucky day was when he was married to the nurse, Eva Smith, who had looked after him in the hospital so many times that she felt lonesome between his visits.

Tony finally got himself into really serious trouble—his car was hit by a train. Over a year’s period the hospital lost track of the number of jobs that had to be done on Tony. Finally, the great day arrived when he could leave. His wife picked him up in her car and headed for home. When they arrived at the railroad track, the same one where Tony was wrecked, he asked her to stop the car. He then walked ahead and looked in both directions to make sure no train was approaching. As he was about to signal her that all was clear, her foot slipped off the clutch and she knocked Tony down. Whereupon she picked him up and took him back to the hospital for another stay.

Believe it or not, our friend Tony Sheehan lived to be eighty years of age, and died in 1974 of natural causes.

In 1931,Sheehan took this photograph of Ty Cobb receiving a golf lesson from Glenna Collett Vare, who won the U.S. Women's Amateur six times. Cobb was from Augusta, and this photograph was taken there--possibly at Augusta National.

In 1931,”Hard Luck” Tony Sheehan took this photograph of Ty Cobb receiving a golf lesson from Glenna Collett Vare, who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur six times. Cobb was from Augusta, and this photograph was taken there–possibly at Augusta National, although more likely at Augusta Country Club, next door, where Cobb was a member.

Roberts himself knew something about hard luck. He grew up poor in a succession of small towns, accidentally burned down his family’s house when he was sixteen, lost his mother to suicide when he was nineteen, earned a modest fortune and then lost it in the stock-market crash of 1929, and presided over Augusta National’s bankruptcy in 1935, a few months after the second Masters. Like Tony Sheehan, though, he persevered, and because he did we have the Masters—now just over three months away.

Great Golf Invention: Improved Tournament Periscope

Steve Davis and his invention at Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, California, December 2, 2012.

On Sunday, at Tiger’s tournament, I ran into Steve Davis, who is the guy in the photo above. He invented the contraption he’s holding: a periscope that enables him to see over the heads of people standing in front of him. It’s an improvement over other golf periscopes because it doesn’t completely block the view of people standing behind him. Also, it has a shoulder strap and a beer holder:

Davis works for a copier company. He has “wallpapered” his invention with color copies of mementos from other golf tournaments he’s attended, including the 2010 U.S. Open. If you’d like to give him a lot of money to manufacture these things full time, let me know, and if you don’t sound like a nut I’ll put you in touch.

Periscopes used to be common at golf tournaments. The photo below is from the 1965 Ryder Cup, at Royal Birkdale. (Senior Service is a British cigarette brand.)

Many spectators at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which I attended (at the Belfry, in England), had periscopes that looked like the boxes that bottles of Johnny Walker scotch come in. (Johnny Walker sponsored the tournament.) The Belfry is a terrible course for spectators, and the periscopes made things better for the people who had them and worse for the people who didn’t. The only way to improve Davis’s invention, I think, would be to add a second beer holder.

 

Why Do Certain People Wear Certain Shoes at Certain Golf Tournaments?

By “certain people,” I mean certain women; by “certain shoes,” I mean sandals, high-heeled boots, ballet-type slippers, and backless pumps; and by “certain golf tournaments” I mean golf tournaments during which there is so much rain that the lift-clean-and-place rule is in effect for all four rounds. Specifically, I mean Tiger Woods’s 2012 World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual, which was held in the mud last week at Sherwood Country Club, in Thousand Oaks, California:

The Man himself  (and Bo Van Pelt, plus various menials) on the first fairway at Sherwood Country Club on Sunday. Note the mud visible in the rough in the foreground.

The World Challenge is an unofficial, end-of-season event. It raises money for the Tiger Woods Foundation, and it features a small field of terrific players. By Sunday, the entire course was so thoroughly saturated that balls often plugged where they landed, even on some of the greens, and many spectator areas looked like this:

These men are wearing sensible shoes, relatively speaking.

Despite the weather, surprisingly many women wore shoes that were not well suited to the conditions:

The women whose feet are shown below were standing on pavement near the clubhouse and watching someone on the practice green, but shortly after I took this photograph they all followed their boyfriends or husbands onto the course:

In the photograph below, the woman in jeans had just had trouble traversing a muddy area under some trees. A friend of hers told her husband, “Erin is bothered about her shoes. Very bothered.” I don’t know what happened after that.

The heels on those boots made sucking sounds as the woman wearing them walked through the mud, which was ubiquitous. Note the evidence of capillary action at the bottom of her pants legs.

Even in a drought, why would someone wear high heels to a golf tournament, where spectators walk for miles?

Ready to follow Tiger for eighteen holes.

I can think of three semi-plausible explanations: 1) Fashion trumps all; 2) Someone’s boyfriend or husband didn’t mention that golf is played on grass; 3) Someone was attending the tournament against her will, and wearing inappropriate footwear was her passive-aggressive declaration of her discontent.

Walking “on pointe” to keep mud from coming over the sides.

 

Scary Icons Create Tee Times

Whenever rain is in the forecast, even if it’s only a 20 percent chance of showers, play at my club goes way down. Seeing a thunderstorm icon in their web browser apparently causes many members to make non-golf plans for the day. On Sunday, twenty guys showed up for our regular game—a good turnout—but we had the course to ourselves until noon, I think because the Weather Channel icon that morning had lightning bolts in it. There was enough drizzle at one point to make me put on rain gloves, but there was never any lightning or even real rain, and the sun was shining by the time we finished. Our club’s website has a weather app. Maybe someone could modify it to show lightning bolts all the time.

In honor of the Ryder Cup, we used scorecards from Medinah, which Hacker (real name) had downloaded from the club’s website. (We did the same thing during the PGA Championship with scorecards from the Ocean Course at Kiawah.) The only real effect was to shuffle the holes where the handicap strokes fell, but using the scorecard of a major venue is a respectful way to acknowledge the efforts of the big boys, and, besides, variety is interesting.

We also randomly divided into Ryder Cup teams—ten guys representing the United States and ten representing Europe—and played five four-ball matches, for one point each. I was on the U.S. team, which won, 4½ points to ½. We all assumed that the real U.S. team would win, too, by annihilating the Europeans in the singles matches, in the afternoon. Imagine our surprise. The Sunday Morning Group’s record in using golf to predict important events is now 2-1-0; matches of ours correctly called the outcome of the 2008 presidential election and the 2012 Super Bowl.

We’ll play our Presidential Special game again on Election Day. It was created by Tim, who is the inventor of several core concepts, including negative skins, “shooting your pants,” and the mathematical formula by which we predict the winning team score in our regular Sunday games (13 minus the lowest handicap in the field, times -1). Half the field will represent Obama and half Romney, and each hole will have an Electoral College value equal to the sum of its number and its handicap stroke index.(Our 16th hole has a stroke index of 17, so it’s worth 33 electoral votes—16 plus 17.) An entire golf course adds up to 342 electoral votes—172 needed to win.

Future trivia question: Who made the winning putt in the 2012 Ryder Cup Matches? Answer: It wasn’t Martin Kaymer, whose 1-up victory over Steve Stricker guaranteed only a 14-14 tie (and thus a European “retention” of the trophy). The winning putt was the short par putt that Tiger Woods conceded to Francesco Molinari on the eighteenth hole, because their halved match gave Europe a 14½ -13½ victory. If Tiger had made his putt, 2012 would have been the third tie in Ryder Cup history.

Tour Players Lead Lives of Quiet Desperation

In 2003, I played in the pro-am at the Western Open, at Cog Hill, near Chicago. The pro on my team was J. P. Hayes, whom I wouldn’t necessarily have recognized if his name hadn’t been printed in huge letters on his golf bag. Nevertheless, I was excited. For a golf fan, playing in a pro-am is a fantasy come true. It’s a chance to spend five hours getting on the nerves of a real tour player, and it provides numerous opportunities to obtain personalized mementoes that can later be sold on eBay.

The excitement felt by the amateurs in any pro-am is almost exactly offset by the dread felt by the professionals, most of whom would prefer to be mowing their lawn, if not their neighbor’s lawn. But the tour requires even the top pros to take part, mainly because pro-ams generate favorable p.r. and make tournament sponsors happy.

My team, without even one useful contribution from me, finished sort of in the middle of the pack. The next day—the first day of the real tournament—I decided to lend comradely support to Hayes by following him in his round. His tee time was 1:09, exactly the same as Tiger Woods’s, although Hayes was assigned to the first tee (along with Justin Leonard and Stuart Appleby) while Woods was assigned to the tenth (along with Chris Smith and Cameron Beckman). Woods, who ended up winning the tournament, influences golf spectators the way a black hole influences cosmic dust: when he emerged from the driving range, at about 12:45, what appeared to be the entire human population of northeastern Illinois began to drift inexorably toward him.

Over on hole No. 1, in contrast, the crowd of spectators quickly reduced itself to a handful of friends, relatives, and stubborn contrarians. I walked with Hayes’s completely charming wife, Laura, who was pregnant with their second child; Amanda Leonard (also pregnant); Ashley Appleby; and a few of Hayes’s relatives, who were visiting from Wisconsin—about the same turnout you would expect for the final round of a club championship.

Non-golfers joke about how boring golf looks on television, but TV actually makes tournaments seem more exciting than they are, because it focuses on leaders and stars, and because the camera doesn’t linger once a shot has been hit. If you’ve ever attended a Tour event in person, you know that most of it consists of absolutely nothing—like a fireworks display at which the rockets go off ten minutes apart. Even if you’re following one of the superstars, you have more than enough time between strokes to read the newspaper, get caught up on your bills, or work out any lingering difficulties in your marriage.

It’s the pros who lead lives of quiet desperation—not regular golfers like us. If a pro hits a ball out of bounds, the other guys in his foursome never say, “Aw, forget it, just drop one up by the tree.” And nobody ever hooks them in the crotch from behind with a two-iron as they’re getting ready to play a shot. They have to hit practice balls and lift weights and take vitamins and live in hotels and worry about telling their wives they’ve been demoted to the Hooters Tour.They sacrifice the best years of their lives to entertain and inspire us, and how do we repay them? By hounding them for autographs, and calling them chokers when they lose, and nodding smugly when Johnny Miller says their swing looks a little laid-off. Then, to top it off, we ruin their Wednesdays with pro-ams.

We have a lot to atone for. And as I walked along with Laura Hayes I thought of a way to do that: by inaugurating a national program of amateur-professional events—“am-pros”—which will be just like pro-ams, except opposite. Rather than imposing ourselves on the pros at the very moment they’re trying to pull themselves together to compete, we’ll invite them to join us at our own clubs, and let them see, for a change, how real golf is played. Any pro who misses the cut at any tournament can simply show up that weekend at any participating club and play for free. We’ll give him a handicap of plus-five or plus-six, and we’ll choose teams the way we usually do, by throwing balls or pulling numbered poker chips out of a hat, and we’ll work him into our regular Saturday or Sunday games. Lunch, too. Want in?

Hacker (real name) counting the skins money at my club this past Sunday. J. P. Hayes and Tiger Woods: this life could be yours.

You Really Have to Play the TPC At Sawgrass

David O., John O., Tony, Gene, TPC at Sawgrass, February, 2009.

The thirteenth hole on Pete Dye’s Stadium Course at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass is a straightforward par 3 that measures 150 yards from the blue  tees. The hole is nowhere near as famous or as frightening as the island-green seventeenth, but if you draw the ball the green might as well be an island because  there’s water both in front and on the left.

Despite the dangers, I was briskly confident as I stepped up to the tee. The day before, during my practice round, I had chipped in from the fringe for a birdie, and I had birdied the following hole as well, and (because golf is an easy game) I had parred the hole after that. Now, waggling my 8-iron and visualizing a soaring draw, I glanced one last time at the flag, and half-shanked my ball into the trees on the right.

“I’d better hit a provisional,” I said, not feeling particularly concerned. I teed up another ball, and, with a swing grooved through long and patient repetition, half-shanked it into the same stand of trees.

“I see the second ball,” someone shouted. Five minutes of crawling through dense undergrowth failed to turn up the first. I crouched in a bush to survey my prospects.  To put my second ball on the green, I calculated, I would need to hit a crisp thirty-yard smother-hooked 4-iron through a window-sized gap in the branches, applying enough backspin to keep the ball from skidding off the green into low earth orbit. I declared the ball unplayable and returned to the tee. I took a deep breath and swung again. My third ball found the water on the left.

An eerie hush fell over my playing partners. I felt my consciousness rise slowly out of my body and gaze down, with ineffable pity, at my golf hat. I dropped a fourth ball, at the front of the teeing area, and, with my pitching wedge, yanked it safely onto the far left corner of the green, perhaps fifty feet from the pin. Three putts later, I had my ten.

From that point forward, my memories of my round are indistinct. I had been playing pretty well before my disaster, but I ended up with a 102, including double or triple bogeys on all the remaining holes except the celebrated seventeenth, on which I had a seven. (First ball into the water over the green; second ball into deep rough next to a piling at the rear of the green after bouncing hard and high off a piling at the front; chunky chip; three putts.) As I watched an official inscribe my score on the big board near the clubhouse, I wondered whether I ought not to give up golf altogether, for the good of the game.

All that happened twenty years ago. The tournament in which I was competing was not, quite obviously, the Players Championship, which is held at the Stadium Course each spring and is underway this week. It was an amateur event that no longer exists, alas—a bargain-priced multi-day event on what was then known as the Partners Tour.

But, even though the Partners Tour is defunct, you should find an excuse to play Sawgrass. Hacking your way around a memorable course that you can watch the pros play on TV is both exciting and instructive, and the Stadium Course is the most engaging regular tour venue that mere civilians can play for a somewhat reasonable price. Bay Hill, Cog Hill, Doral, Harbour Town, and Torrey Pines are also possibilities. So is Pebble Beach, although eighteen holes there, including obligatory add-ons, may cost more the annual dues at your home club, and your round will seem to last for several days, and the greens will disappoint you, and the people in the group in front of yours will turn out to have taken up golf the day before yesterday. The Stadium Course is fun to play, and when you later watch the Players Championship—the fifth major!—on TV (as I assume you are doing today, instead of working) you will recognize more than just the last two holes.  Playing a tour course will help you appreciate how the pros make their living, and the next time Rory or Tiger or Phil dumps one in the water on seventeen you can tell your buddies, “Hey, I’ve done that.”

 

Is Tiger Too Old?

Hogan before he was Hogan: Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan at the 1942 Masters, the last before the war. Note the grip on Hogan's driver. Also, of course, the cigarette.

People who think Tiger Woods is too old to dominate golf again should consider the career of Ben Hogan. At the time of the Masters in 1948, the year he turned 36—the age Woods is now—eight of his nine majors and a third of his tour victories still lay ahead of him, as did the automobile accident that nearly ended his life.