Gene Littler, winner of the 1961 United States Open and 28 other PGA tournaments, and owner of the smoothest swing in the game during his prime, died on February 16 at the age of 88.
In her early days as a professional, Mann toured the country with Patty Berg, giving on-course clinics. I attended one that was held on the 10th fairway of the Eastmoreland Golf Course in Portland, Oregon, in roughly 1961. It is a fond golf memory.
Arnold Palmer’s passing is the biggest golf story of the year. There are articles today in every newspaper about who he was and what he meant to the game. I won’t go over any of that. This post is about my personal recollections.
A number of years ago I posted my story about the one time I met him, when I was eleven years old, getting his autograph. That was the start.
The Golden Age of Sport was whenever you were between the ages of about nine and fourteen. You’re old enough to know what’s going on, and young enough to still have heroes. That’s exactly where I was during Palmer’s rise, and he was my hero. I reveled in his victories. When he lost the 1966 U.S. Open I was despondent for days.
All my friends I golfed with liked him best. Really — who else was there to have as a favorite compared to the likes of Arnold Palmer?
Yes, he was charismatic. Yes, he was telegenic. But he was more than that. We learned (eventually) to admire Jack Nicklaus. We respected Gary Player. But Arnie was one of us. He never hid himself from us. The more attention he got from his fans, the more he thrived. The phenomenon of Arnie’s Army has never been duplicated — no other golfer has ever commanded than kind of attention. For a while there was Jack’s Pack, but it never got off the ground like the Army did.
In an time when most Tour pros had an idiosynchratic, home-grown golf swing that was recognizable two fairways away, Palmer’s was the the most recognizable and the most exciting. He didn’t swing at the ball, he attacked it, forcing it go where he wanted. Though a long hitter, he wasn’t that long, but he was very straight. The shots he took that looked like gambles generally weren’t. He knew he could pull it off and he did.
In the really 1960s Palmer won many times each year. It was said once that your tournament wasn’t a real success unless Arnie won it. How he won was exciting, too. It seems no other golfer could withstand his onslaught once he put his mind to winning.
But if that’s all there had been, he wouldn’t have been The King. It was his touch with people. A nicer man never walked the Earth. His warmth and charisma touched people on a personal level. His fondness for people was genuine. Given his status, he could have been anything he wanted, but in the end he never retreated from treating everyone he met with courtesy and respect, as if it were his honor to have met you.
We’ve had lots of good golfers over the years. But there has been only one Arnold Palmer. Long live The King.
The man who defeated Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open died today at the age of 92 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Fleck was an outstanding ball striker, but an indifferent putter. He came to the Olympic Club confident and knowledgable, having played many rounds there. He was one stroke off the lead going into the Saturday 36-hole final.
With several holes to go for Fleck, Hogan was in the clubhouse with a two-stroke lead. On the 72nd hole, Fleck need a birdie 3 to tie Hogan. He got it, to get into a playoff the next day.
Fleck had a one-stroke lead on the final hole when Hogan slipped hitting his drive, and ended up with a double bogey 6, securing the victory for Fleck.
Fleck, who began and ended his career as a teaching pro, did not receive the adulation a National Open championship normally received, one, because he beat Hogan, and two, he was an unknown.
He got a set of Ben Hogan irons just before the Open, with the blessing of Hogan himself.
Fleck won only two more tournaments on the PGA Tour.
His autobiography, The Jack Fleck Story, describes the payoff shot by shot.
For those of you in the Ben Hogan fan club, today is your day. It is the 100th anniversary of the Master’s birth, in Stephenville, Texas (about 60 miles SW of Fort Worth). Hogan is the ultimate self-made player, winner of five U.S. Opens (the Hale in 1942 counts), numerous other major titles and PGA titles, and probably the most iconic golfer of all time.
There is so much to be said about him, that I don’t know where to begin, and you probably know all of it, anyway. I’ll just let some famous pictures do the talking.
Hitting a 1-iron into the 72nd green at Merion in 1950. Photo by Hy Peskin.
This is how it’s done.
The Hogan downswing from the Wonderful World of Golf episode in 1965 where he hit every fairway and every green.
Ben Hogan (1912-1997)
See this video of his swing on YouTube:
For the 85 photos that were used as models for the Anthony Ravielli drawings in Five Lessons,
The Fundamentals of Hogan, by David Leadbetter
Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, by Ben Hogan
No pro wants to be known as “The Best Golfer Never to Have Won a Major.” Who that is doesn’t get mentioned lately, but who is the worst golfer ever to win a major never does. Leave it to me to bring it up.
Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has ever won a major championship is a fantastic golfer and deserves all the credit he gets, or got. But they’re not all Ben Hogan. I’m just asking who is the farthest away from the Jones/Hogan/Nicklaus/Woods line of major winners.
First, we have to know what a major championship is. The four majors played today are not very often, but rightly, referred to as the “modern majors.” Back before the first Masters in 1934, we had the Western Open, played in Chicago, and run by the Western Golf Association, a rival to the United States Golf Association. There was also the North & South, played at Pinehurst. Both of these tournaments were considered majors well into the 1930s. Since we can only evaluate golfers in the context of their time, I’ll include the winners of these two tournaments up through 1945.
We also need to know when to start our examination. The British Open dates back to 1860. I wouldn’t know how to evaluate the 1865 winner, Andrew Strath, for example, who inserted himself in the middle of a 12-year period from 1860 to 1872 when the only winners were Tom Morris (Old and Young) and Willie Park. Strath, for whom the Strath Bunker on #11 at the Old Course is named, has to have been pretty good. The other five tournaments had later starts, but I’m going to wait until 1919, the first year following the close of WW I, to begin the study.
I could write a long essay, but since this is a blog post, I have to get right to the point. You can look up each of these tournaments on Wikipedia to look at the list of winners and draw your own conclusions. These are mine.
British Open — Ben Curtis (2003)
United States Open — Orville Moody (1969)
PGA — Shaun Micheel (2003)
The Masters — Larry Mize (1987)
British Open — Alf Perry (1935)
United States Open — Sam Parks, Jr. (1935)
PGA — Tom Creavy (1931)
The Masters — Larry Mize (1987)
Western Open — Abe Espinosa (1928)
North & South — Pat O’Hara (1922)
Worst Golfer Ever To Win a Major — Sam Parks, Jr. The 1935 U.S. Open was his only professional victory.
We know she can play. She’s the golfer Michelle Wie was supposed to have been. What I’m reading everywhere, though, is the remarkable maturity, poise, and grace that she has. Writers always follow that up with “…for someone who’s only 17.” Well, some people have had it from birth and she’s one of them. She meets the fans, signs autographs until no one is left, and genuinely enjoys it. She has a unique combination of thriving on engaging the public and being a top-notch golfer. You’re looking at the future face of the LPGA, a future which could start this year.
West Coast Swing
This is my favorite time of the tournament year. There are three distinctly different tournaments back to back. The Humana at TPC Scottsdale is a fan-fest, the AT&T (I still want to call it the Crosby) is played on three beautiful courses, and the Northern Trust is held at another old, classic, beautiful course. If the TV cameras showed us only the 10th hole at Riviera, a 315-yard par 4 where you have to work to get your par, and bogeys and doubles are there for the taking, I would have no complaints.
This club is getting heavy advertising on the golf broadcasts. Bloggers who review it just love it and report that this truly is a different club. My son tried out all the 3-woods in the pro shop and found that this one was in a class of its own. Easy to hit off the ground, the ball going straighter and longer, this club seems like a fantasy come true. You could even use this for your driver, losing only a little distance and getting much more accuracy. For once all the talk might not be just hype.
Banning the Belly Putter/Belly Putting
No one said two words when Sergio Garcia choked away the British Open in 2007 with a belly putter. But when Webb Simpson wins twice on the PGA Tour with one, and Keenan Bradley wins a major with one, now it’s a big problem. Get this. Because of two, yes, count ’em, two, golfers, the golfing authorities are in a tizzy about belly putters. The reaction to two golfers who won tournaments they might well have won anyway is endangering the use of this club for the many thousands of amateurs who also use one.
One of the big pushes by the PGA of America is to retain active golfers and get more people started. They have a program called Golf 2.0 for this very purpose, but their partner in this effort, the USGA, is looking askance at belly putters? Maybe incoming USGA president Glen Nager’s first official act should be to say, “The belly putter is fine. We have other things to do with our time,” and move on to more important matters.
2012 is the Year of Tempo
You might not have heard that before, but it’s because I just made it up. I’m calling on all golfers to practice nothing but their rhythm and tempo this year when they hit balls at the range. Tee up everything, even your irons, to take the ground out of play, and put one smooth swing after another on the ball. Many golfers who think they have good rhythm and tempo, don’t. In their head they do, but their conception is flawed. You might even want to get a lesson to check yours. One more thing: learn to align yourself. Many times what you think is a swing flaw is only a subconscious reaction to poor alignment. Get checked out on that, too, when you have your tempo lesson.
Bomb Your Driver
I saw a golf magazine on the rack with the headline Bomb Your Driver in large caps. That sounded like a good idea to me. I have this 8.5-degree driver with a stiff shaft that I bought just to find out what hitting a driver that’s way over my head felt like. You would think two degrees of loft wouldn’t make much difference, but a shot with my my 7-iron hits the ground farther away than with this club. So I got some C4 (do not ask me where), stuck a few dabs on the shaft and one big one on the clubhead, wired it up to a few detonators left over from another project that involved gophers, hid behind the shed, and let ‘er rip. Wow! Carl Spackler’s got nothin’ on me! Left a big hole in my back lawn, though, and the neighbors weren’t too happy. Maybe I should have bought the magazine to find out how the pros do this.
Normally I don’t write about golf tournaments. There are enough places on the web where you can read about that. I watched the final round of the AT&T yesterday, though, and I just have to have my say.
We didn’t get to see the action until the Mickelson group was on the ninth green, because the Illinois-Michigan basketball game on CBS went over the scheduled time. By then, the Mickelson-Woods pairing had sorted itself out. Mickelson began the day at -9, Woods at -11. When they walked off the eighth green, it was Mickelson -14, Woods -10. The rout was on.
Woods was putting under ten feet like a 15-handicapper, and continued to do that for the rest of the round. Mickelson, on the other hand, couldn’t miss from anywhere. Woods was hitting fairways, but hitting indifferent irons and never giving himself decent birdie chances. Woods’s moment of hope arose when, trailing by 5 with seven holes to go, he jarred a shot from the bunker for a birdie and a certain two-shot swing on Mickelson, who was facing a par putt of over 30 feet. Phil canned it. Moment of hope over. Tiger picked up only the single stroke and resigned himself to defeat.
On the day, Mickelson was eleven shots better than Woods, and if it had been match play, would have won 7&5. No one beat the old Tiger Woods like that, but the new version could be a different matter. First Robert Rock, now Phil. Tiger is good enough still to contend on Sunday; he hasn’t forgotten how to play golf. He’s not good enough to close the deal, though. Even though Woods was a front-runner, and never a chaser, this performance wasn’t even a valiant try. As for Tiger the Intimidator, Phil played like it was “Tiger Who?”
As for Phil, it seems that he needs to be inspired, and that he certainly was this week. Technically, he switched shafts on his driver and tweaked the clubhead, letting him put ball after ball in the fairway off the tee. His putting was perfect, not only holing the 30-footer mentioned above, but a 40-footer for par two holes later. His irons always found the right part of the green,and his wedge game was razor sharp. Watching him play the back nine at Pebble Beach, we saw an amazing display of one right shot after another.
There was more going on than shotmaking, though. Things in the Mickelson family have been in a bit of turmoil lately. They’re selling their house. Their eldest daughter was ill. He is suing to find the identity of a blogger who posted defaming comments about him and his family. I can only guess that there needed to be something going right, to put something positive in the family arena, and winning a golf tournament would be just the thing.
Phil was focused all day. Not too high, not too low. Once he took the lead on the front nine, there would be no giving it back. It was a good win for golf, a great win for the Mickelsons, which, considering the context, might be looked back on as important as one of his major titles.
Golf needs a star to emerge this year. One swallow does not spring make, but I’m hoping Lefty follows up this win with a tremendous year.
I’ve written about this before, but on the golf course, you never give up. Never. You just don’t know that’s going to happen next. Jessica Korda stayed with it and won a major tournament (at least I think it is) on a difficult golf course.
Paula Creamer won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2010 at Oakmont. This, to me, is different from winning the same tournament on a course you’ve never heard of. Now Korda can always regard winning the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Melbourne, one of the world’s classic golf courses, as a major achievement in her career.
I watched the taped broadcast from the start on Sunday morning, but there was something odd that I couldn’t explain. With two hours of air time available, we opened with the leaders on #15. We should have been picking them up at #10. Little did I know what was coming.
Korda was playing well at -5, poised to cruise in for the win. But three straight bogeys on #14-16 dropped her to -2, two shots back of the leaders at -4, with two holes to go. Right here is where you decide whether you want to win or lose. She birdied the par-5 seventeenth to go one back. Then standing in the eighteenth fairway, she saw co-leaders So Yeon Ru and Hee Kyung Seo miss short par putts to fall back to -3.
You can’t count on getting a birdie on #18, but Korda tried and missed a long but makable birdie try to tie with the disappointed duo ahead of her. Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, and Julieta Granada had all finished at -3, too, so we had a 6-way tie for first and a playoff.
Joining Ru and Seo in the race for Most Disappointed Player had to be Lincicome, who had a three-footer on the first playoff hole for the win, but the Royal Melbourne greens being what they are, that’s not a gimmee. The announcer said the putt would break slightly right to left. Lincicome must not have seen that, because the ball broke just that way, hit the rim, circled the cup, and stayed out.
We could also mention the disappointed Stacey Lewis, who, at -7 on Friday, drove off fourteen into the primeval rough that lines Royal Melbourne fairways, had to take an unplayable lie, and ended up with a triple bogey. She had two rounds to recover those strokes, but you don’t get to do that on this course.
Yani Tseng? She finished two back in regulation, despite getting bitten twice, carding a quad on Friday and a triple Sunday morning. Good players don’t make those kinds of scores, but they do here.
Long story short, the playoff consisted of playing #18, a 398-yard par 4, as many times as it took to get a winner. All six players parred the first time, through, but you have to figure that when the hole gets played twelve times by golfers of this caliber a birdie has to crop up somewhere. So indeed, the second time through, Korda canned a 25-footer for the win.
Again. Never give up. You have to keep hitting your shots, because that makes the other players have to keep hitting theirs, too, and you never know.