Among the plentiful clichés permeating golf commentary, there is none more kindly yet bromidic than the assertion that a slumping star will win again simply because he or she is too good not to. It’s a polite fiction, peddled about almost every prominent professional who achieved early success only to plunge into, if not obscurity, then at least irrelevance. As analysis, it lies somewhere between sentimentality and sycophancy, but nowhere close to sound.
Golf’s recent run of resurrections began—appropriately enough, for those particular to the low-hanging fruit such narratives represent—on Easter Sunday, when Jordan Spieth won the Valero Texas Open for his first victory in almost four years. A week later, Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters triumph ended a drought of similar duration. And on Saturday, Lydia Ko completed the trifecta (or trinity) with a seven-stroke romp at the LPGA’s Lotte Championship after three years wandering the desert in search of a title.
In a week when we couldn’t make our way down a padlocked Magnolia Lane, homebound golf fans had to settle instead for memory lane.
Our guides were familiar broadcast voices, many of them — Pat Summerall, Ken Venturi — long stilled. Golf Channel re-aired the 1986 Masters, the Rosetta Stone of major championships that revealed the Sunday strengths of Jack Nicklaus and the comparative frailties even among Hall of Famers in the generation that followed him. Jack was winning too over on CBS, which gave us the epic ’75 Masters, in which he helped Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller add to what would ultimately be a combined seven silver salvers. More recent Masters tournaments were also dusted off: ’04, when Phil Mickelson broke his duck and Ernie Els’ heart, and ’19, when an approaching storm moved up tee times and saw Tiger Woods secure his fifth green jacket by Sunday lunchtime (his first jacket was pretty much sealed by Sunday lunchtime too, but that’s another story).
The retro weekend broadcasts — in addition to the Masters YouTube channel, which contains every final round dating back to 1968 — were a welcome fix for quarantined golf junkies who are otherwise denied until November by the COVID-19 crisis. But for me, two streams diverged in a locked down New York City apartment, and I took the one less clicked upon, at least in April. I opted for the only major tournament we know for certain won’t be played this year.
The Open Championship website has every official film since 1970 — Jack won that year too, of course — and it’s a delightful reservoir of the quaint and the quirky. In my quarantine viewing I elected to skip more recent Opens that remain reasonably fresh in the mind, despite the ample wine intake necessary to stomach small town British food those weeks. It’s earlier Opens, those from the ’70s and ’80s, that offer beguiling glimpses of a time when even major golf was less corporate, and pleasant reminders of players long forgotten because they’re either dead or just not brand-building on InstaGrift.
Maurice Flitcroft, the greatest gatecrasher in the history of golf, died 13 years ago yesterday. I interviewed him many moons ago. This story ran in the July 2001 issue of the long-lost Maximum Golf magazine.
The British Open has spawned a century and a half of legends, from Old Tom Morris to Young Tom Watson to… Maurice G. Flitcroft?
While he never come within shouting distance of the Claret Jug, Flitcroft occupies a special place in Open history. Indeed, the 71-year-old retiree from Barrow-in-Furness, England, may be the greatest hacker in the history of any major. He’s certainly the most determined.
The 1976 Open saw the emergence of two remarkable players: One was Severiano Ballesteros, then a 19-year-old phenom who held off Johnny Miller at Royal Birkdale for the better part of four days before finishing in a tie for second to the flaxen-haired American. The other was Flitcroft, then a 46-year-old crane operator.
Many moons ago, I walked with Padraig Harrington during a practice round at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. As he nipped a series of exquisite, one-bounce-and-check wedges, Harrington talked about the relativity of talent in golf. “You know,” he remarked, “the scratch player at your club is an awful lot closer to being you than he is to being me.”
Harrington wasn’t referencing the skill required to win major championships— at the time he was still four years from winning his first — nor even the talent needed to play on the PGA Tour. His point was more basic than that, putting in brutally realistic context the level of performance necessary to have even a faint hope of earning a living in the professional ranks.
That long-ago conversation came to mind this weekend as I waded through a Twitter thread initiated by Denis Pugh, the coach of Francesco Molinari. Pugh worked with Colin Montgomerie at his peak and with Seve Ballesteros. He is one of the more thoughtful men in golf and brooks no B.S. from any quarter, two traits that are assets everywhere except on social media.
Golf has marketed the virtue of its players for so long that you’d be forgiven for assuming PGA Tour cards come with certificates of moral rectitude.
Until we recently began living under par, “These Guys Are Good” was recited with an almost evangelical fervor. The slogan wasn’t intended to refer only to the quality of play evident on Tour, but also to the not so readily apparent qualities of its members: sportsmanship, humanitarianism, charity.
That branding has two potential snares: Even a trivial divergence from the righteous narrative is magnified, and it denies golf fans the manufactured hatred that thrives in other sports. After all, it’s tough to hate a guy when you only hear about his decency and kindness to puppies.
A man gets accustomed to hearing that things are out of his reach when he stands just 5-feet, 4½ inches or when he’s the blue-collar son of a Welsh dairy farmer with dreams of making it in a black-tie world.
Ian Woosnam is both of those things, but Tuesday night — four decades after he took to the road chasing the European Tour in a beat-up VW camper van stocked with a frugal diet of baked beans — he arrives at a berth in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
On March 7th Golf Channel airs a movie about the legendary Seve Ballesteros, which has me flashing back to this little memory of him that the St. Andrews Links Trust asked me to write for its magazine two years ago. Scanned from the printed issue since no digital version exists. Which is how Old Tom preferred things there.
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.