Just Missed Pinehurst

Will on 13
Will on 13

Team Portfolio was this close to qualifying for the US Amateur – we were right there through 32 holes – and then, nuclear meltdown.

I have to take some responsibility. In my many years of caddying, with so much riding on the line, I have never made such a boneheaded recommendation as telling Will that 5 iron was the club on the 15th hole.

The problem was my notes. See, Will had almost missed his practice round by driving to the wrong Trump National – he went to the one in New Jersey instead of New York, and so he ended up getting in only 14 holes that day. Hence I was filling in notes during our morning round because it was clear we were going to be around in the afternoon – unlike last year when we got cut at lunch and I went back to Hackensack and caddied for Jim McGovern who shot a heavenly 61 that day.

So when we came around to the 15th that afternoon, just coming off a birdie at 14 and just 2-over for the tournament, club selection was crucial. We were looking at a par-3 playing about 176 with water on the right. Looking back, it’s obvious that 6-iron was the club. The problem was, he had hit 5-iron in the morning and ended up on the fringe a little back of the pin. I was looking at the notes, thinking, we hit 5 this morning, let’s hit 5 again. Well, either there was some wind in the morning, or Will didn’t get all of it, because the 5 in the afternoon sailed over the green, hit some branches, landed on a cart path and jumped out of bounds, effectively ending our run.

Will then hit a provisional ball into the water. We went and looked for the ball and found it OB. He dropped in the drop area and hit a bad chip. Then he 3-putted for an 8. Then he was so pissed he lost his drive right on the next hole. Then he went for the green with a 3-wood and hit it in the water. It was awful to watch. He took another 8. How many back-to-back eights do you see out there?

The funny part was that he had makeable birdie putts on the last two holes and missed them both. He took an 83 for the afternoon, signed his card and we went directly to the parking lot. That was that. We later found out that +3 made it into the US Amateur. He was +2 through 32 holes! We were crestfallen.

The whole drive home we were thinking: what were we thinking? Why did we hit five from 176 out? One reason was the notes. Another reason was that Will was hitting five into almost every green, and he was hitting it damn well. So when we thought it was 5 on 15, we were like, we love 5-iron. It was groupthink on a small scale.

I mentioned to Will that eight is a lucky number in China, and that two eights together were especially auspicious. He said, “Really?” with a note of optimism…

On the Saw Mill Parkway, driving home, we saw a terrible accident involving a burned-out, flipped-over car and miles upon miles of people backed up in traffic. I don’t know about Will, but I was thinking there’s more important things than golf, even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.

And we still have the club championship. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be club champ at 20? First match, 9:08 tomorrow morning.

Will Shoots Personal Best: 68

I ended up caddying for Will on Saturday in the first round of the qualifier for Club Championship. He shot an outstanding 35-33 for his own personal best at Hackensack, 68.

He was hitting the ball so well, it was just a privilege to be able to watch it. But to actually play a part in it was an honor. Will and I were really working together throughout, with me providing valuable insight into exact distances to the flag. Will trusted my every judgment, and the swings he was making out there were perfect – he had approaches land between 8 inches and 6 feet about eight or nine times.

He had a 25-footer for eagle on one. Chipped to four feet on two. Blasted out of the sand to 10 feet on three (his first of only two bogeys). Knocked it to 6 feet on four, 5 feet on five, 6 feet on seven, 8 inches on 12, 5 feet on 13 (a rare miss), four feet on 16, 8 feet on 17 (another miss, sadly). He rolled it in from 20 feet for birdie on 15. It was just an all-around fabulous display of professional-level golf. His was the low round of the day by four strokes.

I wasn’t going to carry for him originally. I planned on letting him qualify on his own, leaving me free to make some money on Saturday and then head down the shore that night. Besides, I knew he could qualify no problem and that where he really needed me was in the matches the next two weekends. But I had no ride up to the club to make the early loops – so I took the train and got there in the middle of qualifiying rounds. What was I going to do? Pick up the bag of some random joe against Will just so I could make a lousy 60 or 80 bucks? No way.

But the shore plans remained in effect, which meant I would not be on the bag Sunday. This lead to a little experiment. What would the difference be between Will having me by his side and playing alone off the cart? Although it’s not exactly scientific, with only one round of testing, the result turns out to be: 13 strokes.

Yeah. Boy went out on Sunday morning leading the field by four and ended up with an 81 – a match of cards put him as the fourth seed. No big deal; he’s in the tournament. But the word around the club now is that I am like a natural force of Looper and that, without me on the bag, the Golden Boy Will turns magically into the duffer Bill. As Denis put it, “Thank God you’re going to be out here for him next weekend.”

Bory Cup All Tied Up

Friday night’s match was dead even going into the last hole. After an auspicious start for myself, birdieing the first hole while Will doubled, to give me a 7-shot lead (getting five strokes), I managed to stumble, as I usually do. There were a few lost balls. Will, meanwhile, just continued to make pars. We ended up on the 9th tee tied.

I drove the ball right down the center of the fairway, and Will sliced it OB. That pretty much ended it. We couldn’t find his ball and he played his provisional into the trap. Though it was near complete darkness, I absolutely pured a 5-iron right at the stick to about 15 feet. A simple two-putt par, and a vital victory in the Bory Cup matches.

The points are now all tied at 4 each. I need 3 and a half to win the cup; Will needs 3 to defend it.

The Bory Cup

The Bory Cup
The Bory Cup

This year’s competition for the Bory Cup is heating up as it enters its final stages.

Conceived as a ten-match summer event between Will and I last year, the format of the Bory Cup underwent some alterations this year. It also acquired an actual cup (above) to be held by the champion. Will was the inaugural winner.

Rather than ten matches, the event has been extended to a maximum of 14. But it could be over in as little as seven. Each match is worth one point, with a halve awarding half a point to each competitor. The defending champion needs seven points to retain the cup; the challenger needs 7.5 to wrest it.

This year started off more evenly than last year, when Will basically ran away with it. (Though I don’t remember the exact score, as I was not documenting it, I think I only won one or two points). The first match of 2008 was held May 3, right after Will got back from school, and was halved. The second match, which I wrote about for its lopsidedness, was a decisive victory for the elder brother. But in a stretch from late May to the end of June, Will was dominant, with three victories and a halve. Just when it was looking awful, I came back with a narrow victory in a 9-hole match in which Will gave me 5 shots (these matches are handicapped, naturally, since our indexes vary by about 10 shots).

Now the score stands Will 4, Rindy 3. The next match is scheduled for this evening around 6pm, where we will hope to get in 18 before the light closes us out. With sunset scheduled for 8:18, we may only have room for nine. But every match is a match. And with Will going back to school in three weeks, we have to get them in where we can!

Open-sourced Banter

DAN HICKS: Let’s go to thirteen.

BOB MURPHY: Well, just a moment ago – we have to show you this to appreciate the difficulty… right on the front of the green, it’s up the hill about 39 feet, Phil Mickelson’s third…

JOHNNY MILLER: Uh-oh… that was a big uh-oh

MURPHY: Down the hill…

MILLER: This is like six flags, right here…

MURPHY: This is his fourth.

MILLER: This is a tougher shot than the last one.

MURPHY: Really really clipped it – watch out. Back … down…

MILLER: Might go in his own divot

HICKS: He makes it a habit to play here once twice a week, especially preparing for the US Open in his back yard, so he knows what this is all about, Murph

MURPHY: Playing five…

MILLER: Was that heavy?

MURPHY: That sounded heavy

HICKS: Oh my goodness…

MURPHY: This was a moment ago… this was a lot of moments ago! It takes a long time to do all this…

MILLER: You know what’s amazing? He’s hit the ball three times and he’s farther than when he started…

HICKS: Can you imagine how he feels, the local favorite here, just, throwing it away at 13 here, Murph

MURPHY: Yes, and just utter dejection. This is number six, and it’s finally on the green.

MILLER: Last time we had something similar was that tenth hole at Shinnecock. Remember that Bob?

MURPHY: Yes I do!

MILLER: But it wouldn’t come back this far.

MURPHY: This is for seven.

MILLER: Well you don’t see too many snowmen at the beach, but…

MURPHY: Johhny, he hammered it.

HICKS: Well, he’s gonna be hoping for a snowman. This is amazing…

MURPHY: This is nine-ten feet past the hole. Now you’re just not thinking, are you, Johnny? You’re just in another zone.

MILLER: Yeah your hands get – get – you know – sort of sweaty?

MURPHY: This is eight … makes, a quad – nine on the par 5.

HICKS: Murph, yesterday was Friday the 13th … … Saturday, at 13 … is a nightmare for Mickelson.

MILLER: Wow…

MURPHY: You know you hate to see it, you hate to see anybody do it.

MILLER: And this gallery’s been so loyal and so strong in its support… Well, back to Ernie Els on that, uh, par 3…

The US Open

Torrey Pines is on fire this year.

I’m watching the end of yesterday’s second-round coverage (love DVR) and it is such a thrill. Tiger and Phil are paired together with Adam Scott (who is being ignored, more on that later) and they are going shot for shot down the stretch. The USGA really did a great thing putting the number one and number two (and number three) players together for the first two rounds.

Tiger started off the first round with a double-bogey – after all the speculation about his knee (just coming off surgery 8 weeks ago) it was hoped not to be a harbinger of disaster in the offing. Tons of coverage means cute little features about things like Phil Mickelson growing up nearby in Rancho Santa Fe, where his well-off parents had a real green and sand trap in their backyard. The evidence of how many hours he spent out there chipping has been his amazing recovery shots from all over the place – including what looked like certain doom when he flew the 3rd green Friday and went downhill into the hazard. His flop shot was great but left him a long putt of at least 30 feet – which he drained with authority.

That was just a few holes after he’d flew another green and gone under the grandstands, taken a drop in the deep deep rough and plopped it out masterfully to about 2 inches. Nearly bloody drained it!

The crowds have been amazing – only getting bigger as times goes on. Just now (on my viewing schedule, at least) at the third, Tiger had to read his putt while a phalanx of photographers looked on from directly behind the hole. It underscores how good these guys are, Tiger more than anyone – that they not only pull off amazing feats of golf but they do it while being totally distracted by monstrous crowds. Especially at the US Open, there is not one shot hit without someone, immediately after ball contact, screaming “Get in the hole!!!” This is not Augusta National. This is America’s National Championship – the people’s championship.

Third Leg

That brings me back to Adam Scott, an Australian who has become more popular on tour in the last few years, winner of this year’s Byron Nelson Championship in Texas. He also happens to be the third-best golfer in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from the treatment he’s getting from the coverage. There have been more than one instance where they show Tiger and Phil hit, and then move on to some other hole, neglecting to show Scott’s approach or drive. He’s a few shots back, but so is Phil, and I feel like they could be giving him more respect. Then again, Tiger just made 5 threes in a row – including four birdies – so Scott’s repeated missed putts aren’t really providing any excitement in comparison.

I’m off to Kent now for my ten-year reunion, and then tomorrow golf with Dad and the boys for Father’s Day – after which we’ll retire to Dad’s to barbeque and was the finish – it promises to be an exciting weekend at Torrey Pines and here on the East coast…

One more note – it’s nice to see quite a few amateurs who are going to be sticking around for the weekend. This Fathauer kid is really deadly around the greens and there’s some 19-year-old college freshman who qualified as an alternate and was lucky enough to have some other player drop out.

UPDATE: As if he were reacting to my words, Adam Scott just hit the flagpole on the 8th hole and nearly had an ace. Nice kick-in birdie and let’s see him continue the momentum into the weekend. I really like this guy – his swing is beautiful. And something else that draws me to him is that he’s almost exactly my age. He makes me wonder if I ever could have been that good…

Triumphant Victory

Hackensack Sunshine
Hackensack Sunshine

Will is a player. He always beats me. But yesterday the golf gods were on my side, because I whipped him good, and took $28 off him in the process.

To be fair, the kid had just had a lesson, and so was in the process of fixing his swing. It really showed. He sprayed it all over the course, especially on the first nine (the back). And he gave me four shots a side, as he has for years. But it wasn’t all his collapse. I had one of the best rounds of my career, shooting 42-42, with some absolutely fantastic shots along the way.

Some of the bagroom dudes watched me tee off #10, our starting hole, and I duffed a couple real good, which drew howls of laughter. But I was laughing later, crushing 270-yard drives, striping hybrids to the green, chipping solidly and rolling it beautifully on the green.

I think I had four or five double bogeys – meaning I could have broken 80 for the first time if I had had my game together from the start. I won the first nine 6/4/2 and the back two-up. Closed out the match at 4 and 3. Took all four greenies on the last par 3 and had a birdie somewhere along the way – I think? What’s not in dispute is that I thrashed him after years of losing. It felt like justice.

I Shot a Tiger

Tiger Woods at the HSBC
Tiger Woods at the HSBC

Here is the picture I was talking about. I got it.

This was taken as Tiger finished his round at the 2006 HSBC Championship in Shanghai. It was on the bridge from the 18th green to the clubhouse. I had been standing there with Yoyo for about half an hour – when we first arrived there was no one there, but by the time Tiger was finished it was well crowded – and I had been practicing the shot on several lesser players who walked by, as well as general staff. See, I was using my grandfather’s old Canon SLR, which is manually focused and which requires the aperture to be set by the photographer. Knowing I would only have one chance to bag the Tiger, I had to be sure I would get it right.

Indeed I did. The focus is perfect, as is the exposure (OK, maybe not perfect, but at least correct). The look on Tiger’s face conveys disappointment – he finished second and may have been thinking about his round here, but probably he was just trying to avoid being photographed. Fair enough. I was, after all, breaking the rules.

Which leads me to this disclaimer: Tiger Woods, if you are out there and happen to read this post, I would like to apologize for knowingly violating the rules of the golf tournament and taking pictures. You know I wasn’t the only one – and I know that doesn’t necessarily make it right. But know this: I did not and would not ever take pictures of you during your setup, stance, or swing. That would be interference. But I must argue that taking a picture of you while walking down the course, or after you have finished playing, cannot really be interfering with your game. You are a public figure after all, and while you have every right to privacy, I think there are times when you have to allow yourself to be photographed. And sometimes the rules conflict with that.

Anyway, Tiger, thanks for coming to Shanghai. You really made my day. If you would like to respond to my ideas about picture-taking, please, by all means, leave a comment on this blog.