Endings don’t come much crueler in golf
tournaments than the way Ben Polland melted down
Wednesday on the 72nd hole of the PGA Professional National
Championship at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
It was painful to watch.I was sitting just off the 18th
green when the whole thing went down.
Polland, 24, an assistant pro at Deepdale GC in
New York, held a four-shot lead for much of the final day.But by the time he reached the 72nd
at Cricket’s Wissahickon Course, his lead over
playing partner Matt Dobyns was down to two.
But Polland was
cruising.He appeared to be in
command of himself and the tournament.It was truly his to lose, which he did.
A so-so tee shot left him with an awkward lie
in the fairway bunker at Cricket’s 18th, a hole notorious for wrecking
good rounds and upending the outcome of matches.Foolishly, one might suggest, Polland, 24, tried to muscle a 7-iron out of a bad lie, to
reach the green.Instead, he found
the creek that crisscrosses the 18th fairway.
Polland had no choice but to take a penalty drop, then he hit his fourth shot
to 10 feet.He putt – and his
attempt to escape with a bogey – came up short of the hole.
37, head pro at Fresh Meadow CC in Lake Success, N.Y., a wily veteran and
winner of the national club pro championship in 2012, hit his approach shot to
four feet and smoothed in the birdie putt.
Poof, a three-shot swing, just like that.Dobyns walked
off the green with the win and a $75,000 check.Polland walked
off the green looking like somebody had hit him in the gut with a fungo bat.
Afterward, he lamented the crummy lie in the
bunker and his effort, in hindsight, to go for the green.
Dobyns took no pleasure in watching Polland
crash and burn."When he hit the
ball and it went in the water, I was shocked," said Dobyns."I felt really bad for him, because I
know Ben and know him well."
Besides Dobyns, the
big winner of the week of Philadelphia Cricket Club, which staged the event magnificently.Dan Meersman,
director of grounds, had both the Wissahickon and
Militia Hill courses groomed to perfection, despite the 1½ inches of
rain that pounded the area the night before the championship started.
Also earning a bow was Jim Smith Jr., director
of golf at Cricket.He all over the
place – on Golf Channel, in the pro shop, schmoozing like the pro he
is.On Wednesday, Smith spent the
entire afternoon standing behind the 18th green, greeting every single
player in the field as they concluded their rounds. He got a lot a slaps on the back.
Merion, host of five Opens, including the 2013
Open, more or less gets dissed.
Remember, David Fay is a man who played no
small role in helping Merion land the ’13 Open.It was Fay, then executive director, who
dispatched Mike Davis, now his successor, to head down to Merion to break the
news to the storied club that its days of hosting Opens were over.The course was too short, the
property too cramped.
But once Davis got to Merion and took a good long
look at the restored East Course, he thought otherwise.Davis returned to USGA headquarters in
Far Hills, N.J., and did everything he could to change’s Fay’s mind.That led to Fay’s own visit to Merion
and, he too, changed his mind.The
rest is well-documented history of an Open that generally got rave reviews.
Now comes Fay’s June column that
basically handicaps club’s chances of staying in the Open rotation.
The Open dance card has become overcrowded, and the list
of very attractive wallflowers is growing.
For much of the 20th century, the
Open was played at private clubs near large and mid-size cities. Unlike the
British Open with its rota of 10 seaside links
courses, the U.S. Open has been a movable feast, with no formal rotational
schedule. In the past 50 years, the U.S. Open has been played on 23 courses.
Fay offers his personal predictions about who’s in, who’s out:
top of his list as "locks every 10 years" are Oakmont (8 Opens) and Pinehurst
No. 2 (3 Opens).He describes
Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills as "locks" every 10
years, too, presuming the clubs are willing to host the Open.
A few more predictions later, Fay’s
column gets very interesting.To
EVERY 25 YEARS
Merion (five Opens)
The Country Club At Brookline (three Opens)
These two squared off for the right to host the 2013
Open. At the time the decision was made, The Country Club's composite course
had yet to be reworked by Gil Hanse.
Merion would need to get the full support of the
community as it did in 2013. It worked then, but with the changes in the game
and the size of the place, could it succeed 25 years from now? That's probably
too much of a gamble. The members would have to consider whether another Open
could hurt Merion's reputation. If so, it might be time to step aside, as
Myopia Hunt did after its fourth and final Open in 1908.
Open could hurt Merion’s reputation?It might be time to step aside?
despite the fact that it is a badly kept secret, if it is a secret at all, that
Merion has already reached out to the USGA about hosting another Open in the 2020s,
and it definitely wants to host the 2030 U.S. Amateur onthe 100th anniversary of
Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam there.
couldn’t help but wonder what Merion thought about Fay’s column –
specifically Bill Iredale, chairman of the club’s
Championship Committee.If anybody
knows about whether Merion might be thinking about stepping aside, it is Iredale.
out, Iredale hadn’t seen Fay’s column, either.When I sent him a link, he most
definitely had a reaction, which he put in writing in the form of a letter to
the editor of Golf Digest.Iredale sent me a copy as well and gave me permission to
quote from it.
the heck, here’s Iredale’s letter in full:
consider David Fay to be a friend and supporter of Merion Golf Club. We worked
together to have the USGA conduct the '05 Amateur, the '09 Walker Cup and '13
Open at Merion. But, based on his comments in this article, he may not be
aware of the level of commitment of the Merion membership to continue with our
membership feels strongly that we are a golf club and one that enthusiastically
supports championship golf. After the '13 Open the Board of Governors
authorized our Championship Committee to continue to have the Club host
smaller, but meaningful championship events. Merion will host the Golf
Association of Philadelphia Amateur in 2016, the Women's Eastern Golf
Association Amateur in 2019 and the Pennsylvania Golf Association Amateur in
brief rest, Merion hopes to host a U S Open in the mid 2020s and the Amateur in
2030, the centennial year of Bobby Jones completing the Grand Slam with his
Amateur win at Merion.
invitations are in the hands of the USGA.
As to the
crucial "support of the community" there is no doubt, based on the post
'13 Open comments we have received, that Pennsylvania, Haverford Township,
Haverford College and our immediate neighbors would enthusiastically support
those future USGA Championships at Merion.
USGA may not accept Merion's Open invitation for the mid 2020s but the Club
does not plan to step aside and we are not worried about our reputation....any
more than we were before our 7000 yard East Course hosted the '13 Open. And,
everyone knows how that turned out. The Championship story at Merion will
I have finally watched the
latest golf movie, The Squeeze, and I am here
to report that it is better than I expected but not as good as I had hoped
Granted, you can count the truly
inspired, well-done golf movies on a couple of fingers (Tin Cup, The Greatest Game Ever Played), three if you are among the
many people who regard Caddyshackas an comedy achievement and enduring
cult classic.Even if Caddyshackcan elicit several good laughs from me,
I personally have always been a little embarrassed for the game of golf that
such buffoonery represents the pinnacle of the genre.
In the case of The Squeeze, it is the first time I can
recall feeling that the golf action – the actual playing of the game in
the movie – surpasses a supposedly true story that nonetheless strikes me
as a bit hokey.
If several industry
indicators mean much, know that The
Squeeze did not spend much time in theaters, before going to DVD, streaming
and downloadable on iTunes.In the old days, they called that going straight-to-video.
The plot revolves around a
likeable small-town, half-poor Southern kid, Augie,
who turned himself into a shockingly excellent self-taught golfer.Augie is
so good, in fact, that he gets recruited against his better judgment (and the
complete opposition of his girlfriend) by a sleazy gambler named "Riverboat" to
hustle rich guys out of their money on the golf course.
After a couple of early
hustles, they head to Las Vegas, where the stakes get into the millions and
death threats start to come at Augie from every
direction.The movie takes you to
the precipice of life-and-death drama, then, poof,
wraps everything up very nicely in short order.What, that’s it?
The Squeeze does
have its admirers.I came across a
couple of favorable reviews on line.And just yesterday, I was playing golf with a guy from Las Vegas, where
much of the movie was filmed.I
asked him if he had seen The Squeeze yet?
"No, but I want to," he
said."I hear it’s really good,
with a great story."
Finally, Philadelphia is
starting to get some of the golf tournaments it richly deserves.
In June, the newly-restored
Philadelphia Cricket Club Wissahickon Course will
host the National
Club Professional Championship.For club pros across the country, this is the biggest deal all
year.It’s also a great tournament
Then, in 2018, Aronimink GC will host the BMW
Championship, the penultimate FedEx Cup event of the year on the PGA
Tour.This, no doubt, is thanks to
the fine job Aronimink did as fill-in host of the then-AT&T National in
2010 and 2011.It also bodes well
in the club’s quest to land a major or a Ryder Cup.
Earlier this year, the USGA
announced that Cricket’s Wissahickon course will host
the 2020 U.S.
Amateur Four-Ball, a new much-anticipated event.
For local golf fans, this is
a bonanza that was long in coming.For Philadelphia Cricket, which has often found itself in the shadows of
Merion GC, Aronimink GC and Pine Valley GC, this trio
of tournaments -- the National Club Pro, the Senior Players and the Amateur
Four-Ball -- is nothing less than a major conquest and sign of respect.
Yes, it’s about time. I foresee more. How about a US AM at Cricket using their 2 courses? Foster’s restoration of the Tillinghast course has brought the club into the higher echelon of classic courses, jumping from 102 to 32 on Golfweek’s ratings of Classic courses.
My first round of 2015 is in the books, and it was a doozy
My first round of the young
golf season is finally in the books and, let me tell you, it was a doozy.
Before Saturday, my last
round was Dec. 10th, in Arizona, during an annual golf trip/confab for golf
writers.That trip is always good
to get in a few mid-winter rounds, plus catch up with my old pals from the golf
Back home in Philadelphia, my
first round of the year is usually when we get the first day of decent
weather.I’ll drop whatever I’m
doing and go play.Some years
that’s mid-March, some years, mid-April.
This year has been different.Not that we haven’t already had good
weather; we have.There have been
four, five, maybe six days just in the past three weeks that I was itching to
grab the clubs and head out the door.
Problem was, ever since
Easter, I have been nursing a sprained left ankle.It’s not the worst sprain I’ve ever had,
but it blew up like a volley ball, turned black and blue, and hurt like hell.I’ve been hobbling around, to some
degree, ever since.
I wish I could say the
sprain was due to some impressive athletic endeavor on my part.Not so.Rather, that Sunday night three
weeks ago, walking to my car in the dark, with my arms loaded with stuff, I
stepped in a small hole, rolled my ankle and went crashing to the ground like a
100-pound sack of potatoes.I slammed
into the side of my car so hard I put a little dent in it.Before I even tried to get up, I laid
there for a minute or two taking a personal physical inventory.
Head?There was blood over my eye.My twin titanium hips?Much to my relief, they felt fine.Elbows and knees?Scrapped and a little bloody but nothing
to worry about.Ankle?Not so good.Instantly, as I laid there, I had
visions of my golf season being postponed until about August.
I proceeded to do all the
things you can do for a sprained ankle:Iced it, elevated it and rested it for the rest of the night.The next morning, I went to the drug store
and bought one of those maximum-support ankle braces.Still, golf or any serious activity was
out of the question, at least for a while.
Then, about a week ago, I
got a call from a friend.He and I
had been invited by another mutual friend to play golf on Saturday at his
club.His club is Pine Valley.
I believe you can appreciate
I hadn’t swung a club or hit
a ball in more than four months.My
ankle, while improved, was at best 75 percent, not to mention untested.You can only take so much Advil without
doing yourself harm.And, of
course, Pine Valley is not only a walking-only course, it is a beast of a walking
Still, Pine Valley is Pine
Valley, bum ankle be dammed.So, I gamely showed up at Pine Valley on
Saturday morning, sporting a new, lighter compression ankle brace under my
sock.I was going to play if they
had to carry me around on their shoulders like some kind of Egyptian pharaoh.
My swing was as rusty and
creaky as an old barn door latch.Much to my surprise, I was able to hit my driver pretty well.My iron game stunk to high heaven, and
around the greens I had all the finesse and touch of a blacksmith.
Since it was Pine Valley,
and a gorgeous afternoon, so I tried to keep my whimpering and complaining to a
minimum.I hobbled and limped, struggling
to keep up with the others, which can be tough on some of the sandy footpaths
at Pine Valley.
One of the other guys in the
group kept score in our little $2 Nassau match, and he was kind enough not to
bring the scorecard to the table afterward at lunch. But, out of curiosity,
when I got home, I sat down and reconstructed my round as best I could from
memory.I will tell you I had a
handful of pars, several double-bogeys, two triples, one snowman and an "X,"
which I tallied as a second snowman.On the positive side of the ledger, I had one tap-in birdie. All I will disclose is that I shot
somewhere north of 90, but south of 100.Just another day at Pine Valley.
If you’re looking for a good golf book to read,
let me point you toward Michael Bamberger’s recently-released, Men In Green.
Bamberger, a senior writer at Sports
Illustrated, is a friend, occasional golf partner and former colleague, dating
back to our days together at the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I won’t pretend to
present this as a totally objective book review.It is not.
That said, in my unbiased opinion, Bamberger is
one of the best, if not the best,
writer of his generation when it comes to golf and the people and issues associated
with the game.That’s what this
book is all about – mini-profiles and stories about 18 people Bamberger
has encountered or come to know and respect along the way in his career and golf
He divides them into two categories:"Living Legends," such as Arnold Palmer,
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson; and "Secret Legends," which includes people you
may or may not have heard of.
Among the "Secret Legends" is another top golf
writer and friend, Jaime Diaz, contributing editor at Golf Digest and editor of
Golf World; also on the list are two folks with Philadelphia connections:Neil Oxman,
who leads a double life as a political consultant and as Tom Watson’s caddie;
and Chuck Will, a character if ever there was one and a man who spent about
three decades as the top deputy to CBS’s Frank Chirkinian,
who virtually invented the modern golf telecast.
There is one woman on the list, Mickey Wright,
who many believe possessed the finest golf swing ever, by man or woman.Because she has pretty much withdrawn
from public life, the LPGA legend declined to fully participate in Bamberger’s
effort, even if she was nothing less than gracious in rebuffing him.
Some of the best stuff between the covers of Men In Green is Bamberger’s many
encounters with Palmer, who he admires and reveres immensely; and Nicklaus, who
is his ultimate golf hero.Bamberger’s take on the late Ken Venturi, the
former U.S. Open champion and CBS golf analyst, evolves over time from good to,
shall we say, less flattering.
If there is a main theme running through the
book, it is Bamberger’s close, enduring and complicated friendship with Mike
Donald, a former journeyman PGA tour pro whose moment in the spotlight was
losing the 1990 U.S. Open to Hale Irwin in a sudden-death playoff.
Donald, confidant and an invaluable source of
facts, history and insights on golf and golf people, rode shotgun in Bamberger’s
old beater of an Subaru Outback on many of their cross-country road trips/interviews.The dynamic between the two is worth the
price of admission for any shrink, couples therapist or anyone trying to
maintain a marriage or relationship.
I often judge books by whether I dread picking
them up or whether I can’t put them down.Men In Green is the latter.
As much fun as it was watching young Jordan Spieth’s to wire-to-wire win in the Masters, the
implications for the future of the game are even more exciting.
Golf always benefits from a good rivalry, and
now that Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson is winding down after almost two decades,
what better time to welcome the dawning of Rory McIlroy
vs. Jordan Spieth battling it out for World No. 1 and
every major championship title for the next 20 years?
Besides being golfing prodigies of the highest
order, McIlroy and Spieth are
both quite likeable and marketable, even if they are a little white-bread boring
for some fans’ tastes.But so what?
Now, if only money, fame and the inevitable
temptations that come with both don’t bring them down (see: Woods, Tiger), we could have a good thing going for a while.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve already had my
fill of Bubba Watson.