I joined Matt Adams on his Fairways of Life show on SiriusXM & Golf Channel this morning to talk about Sam Snead and that long ago U.S. Open I wrote about earlier this week.
Yesterday I posted a photo on Twitter that seemed of interest to many people, though admittedly fewer than were drawn to Mrs. Kanye’s latest overexposed selfie.
It was a handwritten fax I had received from the great Sam Snead. That it was a fax dates the document almost as much as the identify of its author. Snead died May 23, 2002, four days shy of his 90th birthday.
The single page—sent at 6:34 P.M. on July 14, 2000—recounts the eight strokes Snead took on the last hole to lose the 1939 United States Open at Philadelphia Country Club. Sixty-one years had passed and the wound was no less fresh.
During a week in which Donald Trump sparred with the Pope, accused George W. Bush of lying us into the Iraq War, and repeated (favorably) a debunked tale of Muslims being shot with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, you can be forgiven for failing to notice his throwaway comment about tiny tuber crops.
But for many golf fans, those two words represent the “hope” and “change” of this election season.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — This is a town for ghosts. Some of them are even dead.
You’ll see and hear them aplenty if you wander around the Old Course, this fabled spit of land where golf has been played since the 1500s and which this week hosts the Open Championship for the 29th time.
A few feet to the right of the 18th green sits a small building in the familiar grey stone style that might convince visiting aliens that Scottish law permits just one architecture style and bans paint entirely. That is the pro shop of Old Tom Morris. Or it was. Today it sells an eponymous upscale clothing line, somewhat ironically since extensive photographs of Morris suggest he never passed the front door in anything except the same heavy wool jacket.
Great athletes seldom receive a grandstand finish worthy of their storied careers. Sure, Ted Williams homered in his last at bat at Fenway, and Derek Jeter’s final swing at Yankee Stadium was a game winner. But Babe Ruth grounded out, and Nolan Ryan left in the top of the first with a torn ligament and five runs on the board.
Golf is particularly pitiless with its legends. It keeps them around much longer than other sports, eroding a little more skill with each passing year, but leaving just enough for them to think there are still glory days ahead.
It’s a prideful refrain among golfers that the game is about honor, character and a backslapping bonhomie too often absent in other sports and in society at large. To accept this notion as fact requires a certain suspension of critical faculty.
One would have to ignore the pervasive sexism that accords men priority for weekend tee times on the assumption that wifey had all week to play golf if she wasn’t busy doing her nails; the exclusion of African Americans from everywhere but the caddie shack and the clubhouse kitchen; the celebrated clubs where the membership waiting list seems discouragingly long if you keep kosher.
HOYLAKE, England — Young Bubba could learn a lot from Old Tom.
In 1975, Tom Watson arrived in Scotland to play his first Open Championship. Never having played links golf, Watson teed it up at Monifieth, not far from the Open venue of Carnoustie. He drove it down the middle on the first hole — his first ever hole of links golf — and couldn’t find his ball. It was eventually located 50 yards offline in a small pot bunker, deposited there by the combination of erratic bounces and ancient contours that are the essence of this type of golf.
“Boy was I mad,” Watson said later. He didn’t care for the vagaries of golf’s most celebrated form, preferring instead the ‘through the air’ game he learned in Kansas. By his own admission, it wasn’t until 1981 that he learned to love the links, by which time he had already won three Open titles, including that ’75 debut in Carnoustie.
Even if he hadn’t learned to love it, he had learned to accept stoically the bad results that often accompany good shots over here. That perspective was needed five years ago, when his perfectly struck 8-iron into the final green at Turnberry took a hard bounce and ultimately cost him what would have been a record sixth Claret Jug at the age of 59.
At the age of 35, Bubba Watson seems far removed from Tom Watson’s level of perspective, maturity and professionalism. His performance at Royal Liverpool has been a master class in crass.
Where have you gone Steve Elkington? Twitter turns its lonely eyes to you.
Any golf fan who has ever questioned the capacity of PGA Tour executives to effect change should consider this fact: Steve Elkington, the 1995 PGA champion and frequent controversialist, has tweeted almost 16,000 times since joining Twitter, but virtually nothing since a widely-condemned homophobic comment about gay footballer Michael Sam more than three months ago.