Tuesday, July 31

Leaderboard Golf: Q&A With Author Neil Sagebiel

Jack Fleck at the 1959 Hesperia Open.
LEADERBOARD GOLF (UK) RECENTLY published a Q&A with me about THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golfs Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open (St. Martin’s Press, May 2012).

Q: How did you meet Jack Fleck?

NEIL SAGEBIEL: A reader of my ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG who shared my interest in golf history and was a big Ben Hogan fan passed along the tip. You might want to talk to Jack Fleck, he said in an email. That sounded fun to me, so I called Jack one day in the spring of 2007. That first phone conversation led to many more. Not long after I drove to Savannah, Georgia, to meet Jack while he was playing in the Legends of Golf. He was 85 at the time and could drive the golf ball 260 yards. He was flexible. His swing was fluid. I was amazed.

Q: How did the book come about?

NS: I wasn’t planning it, I can tell you that. But the more I dug into Jack’s story and the ’55 U.S. Open, the more fascinated I became. I had known about the upset for years, seeing it written up from time to time in newspapers and magazines. I realized from my early research that this wasn’t just one of golf’s greatest upsets; it was one of the biggest upsets in all of sports. I was surprised there was no book. So, knowing it would not be easy, I decided to give it a try. 

Q: What drew you to the story? Were there any big surprises?

NS: Through the years as I’d hear about it, I always wondered how Fleck did it. That is, how did an unheralded club pro from Iowa beat a legend, a four-time U.S. Open champion? It was kind of unfathomable. My research and now my book reveals how it happened, including who Fleck was and what his aspirations were in the spring of 1955. It also tells about Hogan, of course, but a lot of people already know a little or a lot about him. And yes, there are plenty of surprises, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The biggest, obviously, is that the unproven Fleck managed to beat the great Hogan in an 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open title when nobody thought Fleck had a prayer. 

Q: What makes this pro golf's greatest upset?

NS: Fleck was called “Jack the Giant Killer” in Sports Illustrated after he beat Hogan. It was front-page news around the country. Sportswriters at the time hailed it as the greatest upset since amateur Francis Ouimet beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open. And, in my opinion, nothing since 1955 has eclipsed it. 

Q: What was tour golf like back in the 1950s?

NS: A whole lot different than today. It was competitive like it is today, but there wasn’t any money to speak of. Tournament purses ranged from about $10,000 to $30,000. (Jack Fleck received $6,000 for winning the 1955 U.S. Open.) The golf courses were not lush and perfectly groomed. Grass could be scarce and the greens all different. There were no yardage markers. They played by sight and intuition. Travel was so much harder, all by car. Players stuck together to save on expenses and make it from town to town. Jack’s wife once said that he spent $8 for every dollar he earned on the circuit. It was tough out there.

Q: Did you have any interesting experiences while writing this book?

NS: Yes! I got to talk to and hang out with golf legends—Tommy Bolt, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Doug Ford, Errie Ball and many others. As I developed a relationship with Jack, I attended Champions Tour events where Jack and other old-timers played. I caddied, entered locker rooms, ate in player dining rooms and otherwise kept company with players as they swapped stories and talked about the old days on the PGA Tour. 

Q: Does Jack Fleck still play golf?

NS: He does. He’s 90, and still plays almost every day. He hits practice balls. Then he goes out in a cart and plays 9 holes. A few weeks before the U.S. Open, he got a new set of irons. The first day he used them he made a hole-in-one at his home club in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’m pretty certain Jack will never stop playing unless he’s physically unable to. He’s been a golf pro for 73 years.

THE LONGEST SHOT is now available on Amazon UK. Or get it at Amazon US.

(Photo courtesy of Jack Fleck)

Monday, July 30

The Simpsons Welcome Baby Daughter


A 2011 profile of Webb Simpson and family.

I DIDN’T WATCH GOLF THIS WEEKEND. I thought I was going to watch the final round of the RBC Canadian Open but instead went to a music festival when a friend invited me at the last minute.

What did I miss?

So I bring you news about someone else who has been away from the game—U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson. On Saturday, his wife, Dowd, gave birth to a daughter named Willow Grace. (I, too, have a daughter with the middle name of Grace.) Mother and daughter are doing well, according to Simpson’s agent. The Simpsons also have a son named James.

Simpson, who skipped the British Open in anticipation of his daughter’s birth, is expected to return to action next week for the PGA Championship at The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

Saturday, July 28

Tiger’s ‘Backness’

Tiger Woods (Allison)
I’M TAKING THE LIBERTY OF INVENTING a new word, or at least a new definition of an existing word. The word is “backness.” (I’m stealing a page from Stephen Colbert, who famously hatched “truthiness.” I’ve discovered that -ness is a surprisingly useful suffix.)

My definition of “backness” is “the state of, or condition of, being back.” This is on the minds of many of us in the golf world as it concerns Tiger Woods. We are more than four years removed from his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open. Yet Tiger is winning again. He has three PGA Tour wins this season, more than anyone.

This topic came up for me this past week in a radio interview. Is Tiger back? It depends.

Then, about an hour ago, I read Bill Pennington of the New York Times. He said it well in his piece titled “Back in the Hunt, but Missing His Older Killer Instinct.”

As Pennington wrote, “There are two answers, and the second matters far more than the first.”
If being back means hitting technically proficient shots with increasingly ordinary effort, if it means a relatively calm putting stroke, if it means sound course management and a placid existence because his marital and adultery scandal no longer comes up on or off the course, then Tiger is back. He has demonstrated that he is again performing at a level matched by few. With three PGA Tour victories this year, he would be player of the year if the vote were held today. Some would say that is the definition of being back on top.
And the second.
But if being back means seizing the major champion’s moment and facing the attendant pressure with so few hiccups it intimidates others into flinching, if it means making the stellar effort seem routine, if it means drawing the momentum to your side and letting it propel you where you need to go to win not just a PGA Tour event but a major championship, then Tiger is not back.
Put another way, on a backness scale of 1 to 10, you could say Tiger is a 5, halfway back. He needs a major. He knows it. We all know it. The PGA Championship is his last chance until next April.

Friday, July 27

Getting a Game at Stoke Park Club



“Shall we make it a shilling a hole?”

Later...

Collecting on a golf bet can certainly be awkward.

I must say, though, that “Oddjob” is an apt name for a caddie-chauffeur-bodyguard.

Thursday, July 26

Adam Scott’s Failure: Choke, Stumble, or Meltdown?

By Michael Green
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


Copyright © Michael Green. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Adam Scott
AUSTRALIA’S CURSED HISTORY AT MAJOR GOLF championships meant that many media outlets compared Adam Scott’s failure alongside the disasters of Greg Norman and the infamous meltdown of Jean van de Velde. Professional golfers and the golf media tend to be in agreement that it wasn’t what the media like to sensationally term a “choke”. But if it wasn’t, what was it? And does it really matter what we call it?

To answer the first question, it pays to remember that unlike Norman’s 1996 US Masters fiasco, the only glimpses that Scott was going to lose began on the 15th hole on the final day where he still held a four-shot lead. Norman’s final round six-shot lead however had completely evaporated at the 11th hole. His fate was all but sealed when he put his tee shot into Rae’s Creek at the the famous par-3 12th hole at Augusta National moments after.

Jean Van de Velde played out his catastrophe on the final hole of the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie. Van de Velde used up his three-shot lead with a series of poor shots and atrocious decision making that was as close to a golfing tragedy as one could write.

Of the three, Van de Velde’s is still the worst, and it may be tempting to place Scott’s final four-hole stumble somewhere between the two. But Scott didn’t play that many bad shots. It was merely a small tightening of the muscles, a slightly stronger right hand that sent a couple of approaches and putts left. In addition, Els played like the champion he is which probably exacerbated Scott’s downfall.

The sensationalist newspaper headlines referred to it immediately as a “choke” (I’ve yet to see a proper definition when it is applied to the sporting arena) which seems to imply a lack of ticker in the heat of the moment. It wasn’t that, but it was a minor meltdown or, more poignantly, a major mishap at best.

The best description of Scott’s major mishap came from John Huggan in a Twitter exchange—“an inexorable descent from marvellous thru mediocre that ended in madness”—which seems to place it somewhere between Norman and Van de Velde’s carnage.

The best answer to the question of whether it matters if Scott’s failure is best described as a choke or a “descent from marvellous to madness”, came from Mike Clayton: “It was what it was—the PGA will be fascinating.”

It was what it was. Let’s move on. The US PGA Championship starts in two weeks.

Michael Green writes about golf at Aussie Golfer.

Wednesday, July 25

The Most Interesting Golfer in the World

(Courtesy of misc9 via Flickr)
Cigars want to be smoked by him.

Television networks interrupt their broadcasts to cover his stretching.

Boaters tie up along golf courses just to watch him stroll the fairways.

He is the most interesting golfer in the world.

Mr. Lu, Part 2

Editor’s note: Some of you wrote after I posted about “Mr. Lu” in advance of The Open Championship, including Niall Donnelly of Two Up Front, a company that handled PR and media management for the Hong Kong Open from 2004 to 2009. He shared his firm’s 2006 story on the Asian pro. An excerpt follows.

The stylish Mr. Lu in 2006.
Lu [Lu-Liang Huan] put Asian golf on the map in a stellar 20-year career that saw him compete with some of the greats of the game.

After winning his first Hong Kong title [in 1959] and becoming the club pro, he played an exhibition match at Fanling in 1964 against American superstar Arnold Palmer, who was so impressed he invited him to play in the United States. He appeared in many high-profile tournaments in the US and played several times in the Masters at Augusta National.

But it was in 1971, at the 100th British Open at Royal Birkdale, that he became world famous. With his gentlemanly habit of tipping his pork-pie hat to the fans, he earned the moniker “Mr Lu” as he went toe-to-toe with Lee Trevino, playing some magical golf before the American prevailed by a single shot.

A week later Lu won the French Open at Biarritz, becoming the first Asian ever to capture a European Tour title. He returned to Fanling in 1974 and regained his Hong Kong Open crown after a gap of 15 years.

Lu had no trouble remembering how he captured his first Fanling title.

“It was my first career victory and it was memorable because it was an exciting finish—I was still one stroke behind my friend Bruce Crampton going into the final hole,” he said. “I hit my approach shot to within a few feet of the hole and that brought a big cheer from the crowd. I thought it was going to be a playoff, but then Bruce missed the green and made a bogey. I holed the birdie putt and became champion.”

Lu’s next appearance in Hong Kong came in 1962, when he finished fifth, and it was then that he became the Hong Kong Golf Club’s head pro.

“At that time there wasn’t too much golf in Taiwan, so Hong Kong was a much better place to develop my game,” he explained.

Lu played alongside some fabulous players during his years at the top.

“I always tried to learn from everyone I played against. Arnold Palmer was very strong but, out of all the big players, I admired Peter Thomson’s game the most.”

Tuesday, July 24

Soon-To-Be Fifth LPGA Major Tees Off Thursday

Ai Miyazato lets one fly. (Secret in the Dirt)
NINE OF THE WORLD’S TOP 10 female players, including world No. 1 Yani Tseng, will compete in this week’s Evian Masters at the Evian Masters Golf Club in Evian-Les-Bains, France. A major championship on the Ladies European Tour since 1998, the Evian Masters will also be recognized as a major on the LPGA Tour beginning in 2013.

This year’s tournament is the 19th staging of the event. Ai Miyazato, winner of two LPGA titles this season and fourth in the Rolex Rankings, defends her title.

The Evian Masters has a fat purse—$3.25 million or 2,496,170 euros. It’s the most prize money doled out on the Ladies European Tour and equals the U.S. Women’s Open, which offers the largest purse on the LPGA Tour.

Along with Miyazato and the top-ranked Tseng, the field includes U.S. Women’s Open champion Na Yeon Choi of South Korea (No. 2), Stacy Lewis (No. 3), LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng (No. 5), Suzann Pettersen (No. 6), Amy Yang (No. 7), Cristie Kerr (No. 9) and 2010 Evian Masters champion Jiyai Shin (No. 10).

Monday, July 23

Graeme McDowell’s 15-Handicapper Moment

Graeme McDowell
MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS PRODUCE DRAMA THAT INCLUDES great shots struck under intense pressure and ugly ones that seem to defy explanation.

One such jaw-dropping shot—and for the wrong reason—was Graeme McDowell’s wounded-duck fairway metal on the par-5 11th hole during the final round of The Open Championship. Playing from a good lie in the fairway, the 2010 U.S. Open champion very nearly topped his long second shot. The ball screamed low and left as gallery members ducked to avoid possible decapitation.

They showed the skulled shot more than once. What in the world possessed McDowell at that moment? I wondered. Did his brain seize up at the top of the backswing? (I’ve had that happen.) How could a player of his caliber make such a horrid lunge at the golf ball?

There was an explanation.

“It was a case of trying to be very aggressive with my second shot and trying not to go right,” McDowell said.

“And I went straight over the top of it. That’s my bad move. I spin out very hard, move my body left in an attempt not to get the club flailing right, and that was just a bad pull, 15 handicapper. Card wrecker. Not pretty.”

Not too long after, the Northern Irishman had another tough moment to manage—what to say to Adam Scott on the final green after the Aussie had thrown away the Open.

“What can you say?” McDowell said. “It was tough to say anything to him that was going to be of any relevance. I said he’s a great champion and I said there’s many majors ahead for him. It’s just a tough beat.”

McDowell also saluted Ernie Els, the surprise winner who staged a back-nine rally that gave him a chance at victory if Scott stumbled.

“A 4-under par on that back nine is quality golf....Fair play to him. But like I say, I felt Adam’s name was on the trophy. I really did.”

(Visor tip: Irish Golf Desk)

Sunday, July 22

Nice Guys Win and Lose at Royal Lytham

A HEART-BREAKING, BOGEY-TRAIN FINISH that brought back painful memories of Greg Norman could not have happened to a nicer guy. And a comeback win that included an improbable clutch birdie on the 72nd hole also could not have happened to a nicer guy.

Ernie Els
At the 141st Open Championship contested at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, the nice guy both won and lost. When it was all over, winner Ernie Els, in true nice-guy fashion, threw his arm around loser Adam Scott, who had led or co-led the Open most of the way until his final putt missed left.

Scott had the Claret Jug in his grasp. On a breezy day in northwest England that played havoc with his challengers, the Australian in search of his first major victory had played steady enough golf to hold a four-shot lead with four holes to play.

Then there was a one-man, four-hole pileup that happened in slow motion. Playing partner Graeme McDowell tried to look away but couldn’t.

“I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes,” Scott said. “I know I let a really great chance slip through my hands today.”

There were a few errant shots, yes, but the four missed par putts—each of them makeable—meant that Adam Scott’s name would not be engraved on the Claret Jug, at least not for the year 2012. The putter failed him, or he failed the putter, and it lost him the Open.

In the end, Els, a reluctant convert to the belly putter, sank the putt that mattered on the final green. His body language seemed to say “finally” after the 15-foot birdie putt dropped into the cup for a 2-under 68, the best round by a mile among the leaders.

As he waited for Scott to finish, “The Big Easy” expected to be disappointed, coming achingly close once again during a majors drought that had lasted a decade. Instead, it turned out to be the South African’s day after another talented Aussie couldn’t finish it off.

“I’m still numb,” Els said. “It still hasn’t set in.”

Adam Scott could have said the same thing. That numbing finish couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys.

Sports Columnist Aaron McFarling Chronicles My Unlikely Journey

SPORTS COLUMNIST AARON MCFARLING WROTE ABOUT my blog-to-book journey in the Sunday Roanoke Times:

“Floyd golf author Neil Sagebiel savors success from blog to book”

Aaron came to Floyd last Monday and spent over an hour with me at Great Oaks Country Club. I’m extremely thankful for the coverage. He nailed it, too. Aaron captured me and my improbable road to authorship in 800 words. Reading his column, I thought, “Yep, that’s me, and that’s how it all happened.”

Thank you to all media that have covered my book and me. And thank you to all readers of this blog, including those who have picked up a copy of THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S Open.

I truly appreciate your support.

Friday, July 20

Tom Watson and the Old Fart Generation

By Charles Prokop
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


Copyright © Charles Prokop. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009. (scotchollie)
I’M A MEMBER OF TOM WATSON’S generation. I started playing golf when Jack Nicklaus was beginning to battle Arnold Palmer, and was beginning my first “real job” when Watson and Nicklaus had their “Duel in the Sun.” I was crushed as I watched Watson’s 8-iron shot go long at the 18th at Turnberry, and could hardly watch as he lost the playoff to Stewart Cink.

I cheered when Watson made the cut at this year’s Greenbrier. I knew it was just making the cut, not winning, but it was more than a pair of current top stars could do. And even though Watson finished near the bottom of the field, his performance gives golfers my age a warm feeling deep inside.

I know comparing my game to Tom Watson’s is like comparing a drunk karaoke singer to “The Velvet Fog.” Both do vaguely similar things in similar places, but only Mel Torme is worth a second look. But Watson’s game at his (and my) age encourages me to keep at it.

Last week I played with a different group than I usually do. One person in my group was 78 and another was 93. We made it around in under four hours, had a good time, and everyone played pretty well. As the young kid, I was hitting it longer and fewer times, but both of them beat me on a few holes. I actually enjoyed those defeats as much as they enjoyed those wins.

I was once playing with a guy my age and we got behind a group of older fellows. We watched as they shuffled along the fairways and across the greens, and the guy I was with said something like “I only hope that when I get to that age I’ll have the good sense to quit.”

I feel just the opposite. Some would say I’m an old fart now, and I have over 30 years of golf to go before I catch up to that 93-year-old. I only hope that when I get there I’m doing what he’s doing now.

Charles Prokop is a clinical psychologist who writes about golf at fairwaywords.

Thursday, July 19

2012 British Open TV Schedule and Tournament Notes

(Courtesy of Richard Carter, Flickr)
THE 2012 BRITISH OPEN, the 141st edition of golf’s oldest major, is underway at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in Lancashire, England. Adam Scott is the first-round leader after firing a 6-under 64.

Purse: $8 million
Winner’s share: $1,452,078
Defending champion: Darren Clarke

2012 British Open Leaderboard

The field
Tee times
Player profiles
Course guide
Open Championship news
The Claret Jug
Past champions
Royal Lytham & St. Annes website

TV SCHEDULE

Live and tape-delayed TV coverage of the 2012 British Open.

United States

Friday, July 20:
4:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Saturday, July 21:
7 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Sunday, July 22:
6 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) and 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. ET (ABC), tape delay

United Kingdom

Friday 20/07/2012
BBC Two + HD  09:00-20:00 Golf: The Open
BBC Radio 5 live  06.00-09.00 5 live Breakfast live from Lytham
BBC Radio 5 live  09:00-19:00  Live Open coverage

Saturday 21/07/2012
BBC One + HD  10:00-18.10 Golf: The Open
BBC Two + HD  18.10-20:00 Golf: The Open
BBC Radio 5 live  11:00-19:30  5 live Sport live from The Open

Sunday 22/07/2012
BBC Two + HD  11:00-12:30 Golf: The Open
BBC One + HD  12:30-19:00 Golf: The Open
BBC Radio 5 live  11:00-19:30 5 live Sport live from The Open

Canada

All times Eastern.

Jul 19th Open Championship: First Round - Part 1 4:30 AM
Jul 19th Open Championship: First Round - Part 2 7:00 AM
Jul 20th Open Championship: Second Round - Part 1 4:30 AM
Jul 20th Open Championship: Second Round - Part 2 7:00 AM
Jul 21st Open Championship: Third Round - Part 1 7:00 AM
Jul 21st Open Championship: Third Round - Part 2 9:00 AM
Jul 21st Score Golf Television Special: Instruction 2:30 PM
Jul 22nd Open Championship: Final Round - Part 1 6:00 AM
Jul 22nd Open Championship: Final Round - Part 2 8:00 AM

Australia

(Australian TV times via Aussie Golfer.)

Live on FoxSports3
Friday: 6pm - 4am  
Saturday: 7pm - 4am
Sunday: 8pm - 4am

Replay
Friday: 8 - 11:30am, 2:30 - 5pm 
Saturday: 8am - 12pm, 2 - 6pm 
Sunday: 8am - 12pm, 4 - 8pm
Monday: 9am - 12pm, 3:30 - 6:30pm

Wednesday, July 18

Open Flashback: The Remarkable ‘Mr. Lu’

Mr. Lu at Royal Birkdale in 1971.
LAST NIGHT I WATCHED AN ESPN PROGRAM called “The Nearly Men,” a one-hour film about players who came agonizingly close to winning The Open Championship. One charming character I scarcely remembered was Lu-Liang Huan, a Taiwanese player affectionately called “Mr. Lu” who dueled Lee Trevino all the way to the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale in 1971.

Mr. Lu had plenty of game and made quite a splash in ‘71 on golf’s foremost international stage. He was the first winner of the Hong Kong Open in 1959, and went on to titles in the 1965 Philippine Open and the 1966 Taiwan Open. Paired with Trevino on the final day at Royal Birkdale 41 years ago, Mr. Lu sported a melon-colored collarless shirt and a bright blue porkpie hat.

(One writer described it as a “silly little hat” that the British called a “trilby,” but I expect that Marty Hackel, Golf Digest’s “Mr. Style,” would approve of Mr. Lu’s choice of headwear.)

One shot behind Trevino at the last hole, Mr. Lu badly hooked his second shot on the par-5 and struck Lillian Tipping squarely on the head. His golf ball bounced back into the fairway as Mrs. Tipping fell to the ground. It was a terrific break at a crucial moment, but it upset the golfer.

“I’ll never forget that women,” Mr. Lu said in 2008. “I was so sorry when I hit her. I hit her so hard.”

Shaken but still conscious, Mrs. Tipping had a message for the golfer: “Mr. Lu, get another birdie for me.”

He did.

But so did Trevino to claim victory by a single stroke.

Lee Trevino won the Claret Jug for the first time. Mr. Lu, carried from the final green on the shoulders of two men, won the admiration of British golf fans. The following week at Biarritz, he also won the French Open. One of his new fans, Mrs. Tipping, had sent him cables every day wishing him well.

Open Week Giveaway
Enter to win an autographed copy of THE LONGEST SHOT

Tuesday, July 17

Enter to Win Autographed Copy of ‘THE LONGEST SHOT’

Me at recent signing. (D. Smith)
WHAT A RIDE. WHEN I STARTED this blog several years ago, I had no idea what I was doing or where it was going. One thing I did: I kept writing and writing and writing and writing. Over time, I learned a few things. Along the way, I’ve had a lot of fun.

Through this blog, I’ve made connections, gained access and developed friendships I could have never imagined. Exciting stuff. And I wrote a book about one of the greatest upsets in the history of both golf and sports.

If you don’t already have one, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. I wrote this, my first book, because the story was too good to pass up. I could not believe an upset of this magnitude (ESPN Page 2 ranked it No. 7 in the history of sports) was not yet a book. Now, nearly two months after publication, I’m thrilled by the positive response from readers, The New York Times, Booklist, journalists, bloggers and many others.

For your shot at a free signed copy, I invite you to enter my giveaway during Open Championship week.

HOW TO ENTER DRAWING:
1. Send an email with THE LONGEST SHOT in the subject line to armchairgolfer@gmail.com.
2. Include your name and mailing address.
3. Provide any special instructions for how you’d like me to sign your book.

That’s it. Good luck!

Postscript

Life is back to normal after a week of amazing highs at the U.S. Open. I’m at home in my small town, quietly working and writing. But I won’t soon forget those seven days in June at the Olympic Club.

U.S. Open week included a book signing with Jack Fleck in the USGA Merchandise Pavilion and a slew of media opportunities, including an appearance on Golf Channel Morning Drive. I was also on with Mike Francesa of WFAN (CBS New York), wedged between NBC lead golf analyst Johnny Miller and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. Geoff Shackelford covered me at his site and Golf.com/Sports Illustrated published an exclusive excerpt of THE LONGEST SHOT. Others also welcomed me, such as Danielle Tucker, Rod Morri, Jamie Watson and more. Thank you, all.

Did I foresee any of this when I clicked a few buttons on Blogger years ago and called myself “The Armchair Golfer”?

No, never.

Just like I never imagined that Bob Costas would hold up and mention THE LONGEST SHOT during NBC’s final-round coverage of the U.S. Open. But he did. I still can’t believe it.

Thank you for reading and following along. I’m going to keep writing for a little while longer.

Monday, July 16

‘Fortunate’ Singh Captures Scottish Open

Jeev Milkha Singh
“I WOULD SAY I’M A VERY FORTUNATE MAN,” said Jeev Milkha Singh after putting the finishing touches on his playoff victory over Francesco Molinari in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links on Sunday.

Singh shot a 5-under 67 to catch 54-hole leader Molinari, who could do no better than a level-par 72.

In fact, both Singh and Molinari were fortunate to even have a shot at glory after Scotland’s own Marc Warren coughed up a 3-shot lead with four holes to play. Standing on the 15th tee, it seemed all Warren needed to do was keep his hands on the steering wheel and he would coast home to a crowd-pleasing win.

“It was surreal how easy it all was up until that point,” Warren admitted.

But then a double bogey followed by a bogey-bogey-par finish ran his victory parade into the ditch.

Singh, 40, India’s No. 1 player and the 192nd ranked player in the world coming into the week, claimed the trophy on the first playoff hole after Molinari failed to convert his 25-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th. Singh then stepped up and stroked in his 15 footer for the win.

“I’m looking forward to The Open championship,” said Singh, who jumped to 87th in the world rankings. “Coming from India I’m not used to links courses but since coming to Europe I’ve played a lot of links courses.

“This has given me a lot of confidence and I can build on that. I’m feeling fit and good things are on their way in the future.”

(Brought to you by Direct Golf UK, which not long ago ran a competition offering the golf opportunity of a lifetime. Entrants had a chance to play golf with world No. 1 Luke Donald.)

Saturday, July 14

Why British Open Is Tiger’s Favorite Major

WRITING AT HIS BLOG ON FRIDAY, Tiger Woods said he is focused on the British Open. Tiger is the betting favorite according to several bookmakers. Other favorites are Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell.

Tiger Woods (Allison)
“This will be my third visit to Royal Lytham & St. Annes,” said Tiger, “where I tied for 22nd as an amateur in 1996 and tied for 25th in 2001. I like the golf course, but I know they have made some changes since we played there in ‘01 .... so it will play different.”

The Elements

“Weather plays such a huge role in the tournament. It will be interesting to see how the course is set up. It’s different, because we’re not really on the water—we’re slightly inland. That train track that runs right along the golf course gets a lot of use that week. But there have been some great matches there.”

Ground as Friend

“You can have so many different weather conditions. You just don’t know. That’s one of the unique things about the British Open and why it’s my favorite major championship. It’s the only tournament besides the sandbelt courses in Australia that we can actually use the ground as a friend and bounce the ball into the greens. Modern golf is all up in the air.”

Friday, July 13

Four! Steve Stricker on Another Deere Hunt

Steve Stricker (Allison)
AS THE SLOGAN GOES, NOTHING RUNS like a Deere. And nothing plays like a Stricker at the Deere. This weekend, Steve Stricker is bidding for his fourth straight victory at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois.

Winning the same event four consecutive times has already been done, but only by four golfers, all of them legends. Their names are Young Tom Morris, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods. Woods has done it twice, including at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Tiger’s advice to Stricker was more of a command. “Get it done,” Woods told his mild-mannered friend.

With a 65 on Thursday that left him four behind first-round leader Troy Matteson, Stricker was off to a good start with his annual title defense. Four under in his second round and 10 under for the tournament, he is currently three behind leader Matteson.

“I know it’s going to be hard, a big challenge,” Stricker said earlier in the week, “but I’ve got a lot of good vibes coming here.”

No arguing that.

Thursday, July 12

2012 U.S. Senior Open TV Schedule and Tournament Notes


THE 2012 U.S. SENIOR OPEN is underway at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Michigan. Tom Kite is the current leader at 5 under. Kite fired a 7-under 28 on his opening nine.

Purse: $2.6 million
Winner’s share: $500,000
Defending champion: Olin Browne

2012 U.S. Senior Open Leaderboard

Field
Tee times
Course
Player interviews
Past champions
Tournament news
2012 U.S. Senior Open website

TV SCHEDULE

TV coverage of the 2012 U.S. Senior Open is on ESPN2 and NBC.

Thu, 7/12:
ESPN2 3p - 7p ET

Fri, 7/13:
ESPN2 3p - 7p ET

Sat, 7/14:
NBC 3p - 6p ET

Sun, 7/15:
NBC 3p - 6p ET

(Image: Courtesy of PGATour.com)

Wednesday, July 11

Rosburg on Palmer and Nicklaus at 1962 U.S. Open



ONE OF THE MOST ENJOYABLE INTERVIEWS I conducted while researching and writing THE LONGEST SHOT was with Bob Rosburg, who died in 2009. Of course, we talked about the 1955 U.S. Open, where “Rossie” played and was only two shots off the lead heading into the final round.

But we also talked about several other events: the 1959 PGA Championship (his one major); the 1959 Ryder Cup (his only Ryder Cup appearance); and three other U.S. Opens, 1960 at Cherry Hills (Denver), 1962 at Oakmont (Pennsylvania) and 1969 at Champions (Houston).

I was reminded of Rossie’s comments about the 1962 U.S. Open, that epic showdown between Arnold Palmer and tour rookie Jack Nicklaus, while recently watching the USGA documentary, “Jack’s First Major.”

Guess who was playing with Palmer on the final double-round day?

It was Rosburg. And he had a chance.

Just as memorable to Rossie, though, was how Arnie gave that one away.

Here’s what he told me.

[ME] When I was reading up on you I realized you were on the 72nd green with him [Palmer] at Oakmont when he had that 10 footer to win. You finished up, and you walked by him and said, “Arnold, if you’re ever going to make a putt, this would be a good time.”

[ROSSIE] That’s exactly what I told him. At the time, Nicklaus was so young and a lot of people kind of thought he was cocky. None of us knew him well. I don’t think many of the players were rooting for him. That’s why I said it. Then Arnold ran it about four feet by. Oh my God, because he three putted so many times. But he made the next one. Of course, he got beat in the playoff.

[ME] You played with Arnold at Oakmont but you didn’t play with Jack.

[ROSSIE] No, I didn’t.

[ME] One of the things I read is how hostile the crowds were toward Jack, especially there since it was in western Pennsylvania.

[ROSSIE] It was unbelievable. Playing the last 36 with him [Palmer], it was a real hot day. At Oakmont, there’s one thing about it, from green to a tee it’s not very far. It’s an old-time golf course. You don’t have to walk very far to the next tee. They had so many people there, it was almost like you’re suffocating. It just didn’t seem like there was any air around. It was a long day, I’ll tell you that. I think I was leading going into the 17th hole in the morning. I made a five on an easy little par four and Arnold made a two. I did par the last hole and he bogeyed it. I was one or two behind going into the last round and I played like a dog. It was tough. The crowd was so much pro Arnold. I mean, it should have been. That’s his home. He deserved to win. He outplayed everybody. He just frittered it away.

If you haven’t seen the USGA documentary, I recommend it. I expect that Golf Channel is still airing it now and then.

Tuesday, July 10

Open Winner Na Yeon Choi Inspired by Se Ri Pak

Na Yeon Choi (Allison)
ON FAMILY VACATION LAST WEEK, I didn’t catch much of the U.S. Women’s Open won by Na Yeon Choi. When I did tune in on Saturday afternoon, Choi had raced to a sizable lead on her way to posting a 7-under 65 in heavy breezes. On Sunday, she hung on for her first major victory.

Golfweek’s Beth Ann Baldry reported:
A Korean player was destined to win this week. Se Ri Pak and Na Yeon Choi crossed paths on the ninth and 18th holes—which share a double green—in a passing of the torch type moment Sunday afternoon.

Pak kickstarted the Korean revolution on this very ground 14 years ago, winning the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open on Pete Dye’s demanding Blackwolf Run. A 10-year-old Choi watched that moment on TV back home in Korea and set a new goal: Play on the LPGA. Now she’s the fourth Korean in the last five years to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

“My dreams come true,” said Choi, who closed with a 1-over 73. “It’s an amazing day today. I really appreciate what Se Ri did and all the Korean players. It’s really no way I can be here without them.”
Korean players, as Baldry pointed out, have won 11 women’s majors since 2001, more than any other country. At Blackwolf Run, they locked up the top five spots.

Hello, domination.

Monday, July 9

Free Golf for Canadian Kids

BETWEEN NOW AND JUNE 15, 650 golf courses across Canada are hosting Take A Kid To The Course, a program that offers free golf to juniors under 16 years of age when they are accompanied by a paying adult.

In its 10th season, Take A Kid To The Course is one of the largest free junior development programs in Canada, having introduced more than 250,000 kids to the game. Developed by the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada and supported by the PGA of Canada, the program encourages families and, more specifically, juniors to take up the game of golf.

The National Golf Course Owners Association Canada is a not-for-profit trade association representing over thirteen hundred members across Canada.

Who Are Those Guys? Ted Potter Jr. and Troy Kelly Edition



Editor’s note: In “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) kept saying, “Who are those guys?” That line reminds me of the PGA Tour some weeks. Like last week.

IT HAS BEEN A LONG WHILE SINCE my last edition of “Who Are Those Guys?” (WATG), so I guess it’s fitting to have the first ever double edition. Thank you, Ted Potter Jr. and Troy Kelly. And thank you, Greenbrier Classic, which last year also produced WATG-winner Scott Stallings.

Yesterday the Greenbrier gave us a WATG sudden-death playoff between Potter Jr. and Kelly after 54-hole leader (and U.S. Open champion) Webb Simpson made a mess of the back nine at Old White. (Webb shot a 40 that added up to a 3-over 73 and a T7 finish.)

Kelly, a 33-year-old University of Washington grad with a replaced hip and a 464th world ranking, had a chance to win the thing outright but couldn’t find a needed birdie on the final four holes. Potter, a southpaw who had missed five straight cuts coming into the week, caught Kelly by finishing eagle-birdie for a 64. Then he sipped an iced tea and sat with his girl friend while waiting for Kelly to finish. Hitting balls is overrated, especially in suffocating heat.

I thought Potter had finished off Kelly on the second playoff hole, the par-5 17th, but Troy rolled in a 20-foot par-saving putt and Potter’s four-foot birdie stab rimmed out. It turned out OK for Potter, who birdied the next hole from about the same distance for his first PGA Tour win. Both men happily collected fat checks. And both are now more recognizable to golf fans, but are still unlikely to be stopped in airports.

There was also WATG Charlie Beljan, who finished T3 and is only a household name in his own household.

Good playing, guys. You never know where this might lead. After all, a little more than a year ago Keegan Bradley was the first of my WATG bunch when he won the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Then Bradley went on to win the PGA Championship.

More ‘Who Are Those Guys?’:
Scott Stallings
Gary Woodland
Keegan Bradley

Saturday, July 7

Enter 2012 American Golf Census Sweepstakes

THE NATIONAL GOLF FOUNDATION LAUNCHED the 2012 American Golf Census Sweepstakes on July 4. Now in its third year, the American Golf Census counts the country’s estimated 26 million golfers and will give away golf prizes in the process.

Golfers can register with the census by filling out a brief form at www.AmericanGolfCensus.org.

Over 80 Golf Prizes

For participating in the census, every golfer is automatically entered into a sweepstakes to win one of more than 80 golf prizes. The Grand Prize winner will be invited as the National Golf Foundation’s (NGF) guest to the golf industry’s biggest trade show in January 2013 in Orlando, Florida. After the trade show, the NGF will fulfill the winner’s golf wish list with up to $5,000 worth of goods and services. Other prizes include tickets to all four 2013 major championships, and the latest equipment and gear from TaylorMade, Callaway, Nike and others.

Previous census sweepstakes winner Bud Brickell won a trip to the 2012 U.S. Open.

“Being on the course at The Olympic Club and watching the best golfers in the world was an incredible experience that both my grandson and I will remember forever,” said Brickell.

The American Golf Census provides golfers with an opportunity to be counted in support of the game. The information obtained in the census improves industry research and communications capabilities, stimulating rounds played and equipment sales.

Official rules, regulations, major sponsors and a complete list of prizes can be found at www.AmericanGolfCensus.org.

Friday, July 6

July Is Family Golf Month

 By PGA of America

PGA AND LPGA PROFESSIONALS NATIONWIDE are celebrating Family Golf Month this July by making it easier than ever for families to learn and enjoy the game of golf together. Throughout July and the rest of the summer, nearly 2,200 participating courses nationwide will offer a variety of programs designed for families to learn and play golf together for no cost or for an affordable rate.

Some of the programs being offered include Family Golf Clinics, Family Play Days, Get Golf Ready for Families, Kids Play Free programs, family-friendly and TEE IT FORWARD course setups, free use of junior clubs and Bring Your Kids to the Range, to name a few.

During the week of July 9-15, the PGA of America will team up with the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) to promote Take Your Daughter to the Course Week, a program designed to promote overall participation in golf, especially among girls and their families. Participating facilities offer at least one complimentary instructional clinic and free green fees to juniors accompanied by a paying adult.

“This July could be our biggest Family Golf Month ever, based on the number of courses participating and the variety of programs available for golfers of every age and experience level,” said PGA of America President Allen Wronowski.

“Family Golf Month is a great way to improve the health and fellowship of the whole family, and it hopefully will encourage the next generation of golfers to take up a game they will enjoy for a lifetime.”

To find local family and junior golf programs, visit PlayGolfAmerica.com.

Wednesday, July 4

Graeme McDowell Fancies the Claret Jug

By Brian Keogh
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


Brian Keogh is a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun and a contributor to The Irish Times, Golf Digest Ireland and other golf publications. The following excerpt from Brian’s Irish Golf Desk is used with permission.

GRAEME MCDOWELL WANTS TO UNCORK SOME more champagne golf in this week’s French Open in Paris. But his thoughts are firmly fixed on filling the Claret Jug following his vintage Irish Open finish. The Portrush star closed with a brilliant 66 to turn a damp squib week into a real firecracker with a top 20 finish.

And now that he’s rated a 25/1 shot to win the Open behind Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, he can’t wait to get to Royal Lytham for another crack at the Open.

Determined to add to his 2010 US Open victory, G-Mac said: “We have got two more majors this year and if you handed me one of them, I wouldn’t care. But I’d be lying if I said The Open Championship wasn’t a slight favourite in my mind. To win the Open in front of the British and Irish fans would be kind of sweet.”

Like Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Open champion Darren Clarke, McDowell didn’t hole the putts at Royal Portrush. But he heads into the Open as a far more polished player than in previous years and reckons he now has the experience to cope with the pressure of the game’s oldest major.

He was the first round leader in the Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006 and Royal Birkdale in 2008 but suffered stage fright and faded to 61st and tied 19th. But as a major champion now, he reckons he won’t get caught like a rabbit in headlights this time.

Recalling his Open failures, McDowell said: “I was pretty inexperienced and let all of the hype get to me a couple of times.”

Getting his preparation spot on is key for McDowell, and that’s why he’s taking next week off to get sharp for Royal Lytham. McDowell missed the cut the week before the US Open at the Olympic Club and took advantage to get there early to prepare. It almost paid off in spectacular fashion as he finished second to Webb Simpson and that’s why he’s doing the same thing in preparation for the Open.

He said: “It’s part of the reason why I’m not going to play Scotland. I’m going to Lytham for two days and try to see it in a couple of different winds if possible.

“The Open is one I would definitely love to win. With my links upbringing and on British soil, it would be a great one to win.”

Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.

Monday, July 2

Discovering a U.S. Open Fan in Stephens City

AT CHECK-IN I’M USUALLY TRYING to remember my car license plate number. (Sometimes hotels want that information; I’m not sure why.) Beyond that, I make sure to get two room keys and the code—if there is one—for accessing the wireless internet. We’re in Stephens City, Virginia, just south of Winchester, where we toured Shenandoah University.

This afternoon it was a routine check-in at the Holiday Inn Express (I remembered the plate number!) until the front-desk clerk asked me if I was at the Olympic Club for the U.S. Open. It reminded me that I was wearing a 2012 U.S. Open t-shirt with the Olympic Club winged “O” logo.

“Yes, I was there,” I told the man.

His eyes brightened a bit. Or maybe mine did. Hey, a fellow U.S. Open golf fan, I thought.

“Was the course as hard as it looked on TV?” he asked.

“Yes, it was really tough. That’s a hard golf course.”

“I went last year when the U.S. Open was at Congressional.”

“Me too,” I replied.

We completed the check-in process. He slid me my room keys, and I slid him a card about THE LONGEST SHOT, my book about Jack Fleck and Ben Hogan at Olympic in 1955. I couldn’t help myself. He didn’t seem to mind, saying he would pick it up.

It was an accidental connection between two golf fans. All because I was wearing that U.S. Open shirt. Has that sort of thing ever happened to you?

Sunday, July 1

No. 74 for Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods picked up this third win this season. (Chase McAlpine)



TIGER WOODS SHOT A FINAL-ROUND 69 to win the AT&T National, his third victory of the season and 74th of his career, moving him past Jack Nicklaus and within eight titles of all-time wins leader Sam Snead.

Woods outlasted persistent competitor Bo Van Pelt, who ran into problems at the par-5 16th hole after Van Pelting his drive 340 or so yards down the middle of the fairway. A misjudged 6-iron began a bogey-bogey-bogey finish that doomed the journeyman’s bid to deny the surging Woods, who is looking more and more like that guy from the mid 00’s.

“I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again,” said Tiger, who has climbed to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup points race and is 4th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

As CBS announcer Jim Nantz pointed out, perhaps a bit derisively, there are still those who say Tiger needs to win a major to be fully back.

I’m one of those guys, Jim. For all his talk about process, I firmly believe Tiger is, too. It’s the majors that he’s after. Woods wants and needs one badly. He’s definitely closer, and he has two more cracks this season.