It’s one of the indelible images of golf: Jack
Nicklaus picking up Tony Jacklin’s ball marker on the
18th green at Royal Birkdale Golf Club at the end of
the 1969 Ryder Cup. Like many avid golf fans, I had seen the key clips from
that Ryder Cup more than a few times and recognized "The Concession" as one of
the greatest, if not the greatest,
show of sportsmanship in the history of sport—at least since the lions
gave Daniel a pass inside their own den. Well, maybe that wasn’t sport per se.
The barest of facts of the matter make "The
Concession" a grand gesture. The U.S. held the Cup that year, so the U.S. only
needed a tie to retain it. The match was completely tied with Jack and Tony’s
singles match the only one left to be decided. Their match was tied going into
the final hole. After three shots each, Jack had a four-and-a-half foot par
putt and Tony had a two-foot part putt left. Jack made his putt and conceded
Tony’s putt, thereby concluding the Cup in a tie, acknowledging that the U.S.
had retained the Cup and sparing Tony any embarrassment if he missed the putt,
thereby losing both the individual match and the team match. Nice guy, nice
But as one digs deeper into the story, one
uncovers subplots that have not always been covered in depth. There were many
compounding circumstances that compelled Jack to make the gracious gesture, to
make it decisively and to leverage his role as statesman of the game itself.
One circumstance, the mere facts of the matter,
I’ve just covered. But just to reiterate: It wasn’t important
the Tony/Jack match, it was important who owned the Cup. That had already been
decided when Jack made his putt. In that regard, Tony’s putt was meaningless.
And in more practical terms, Tony’s ability to make the putt would not make him
a hero, but missing it would have made him a fall guy, the one to blame for the
I always thought one of the most amazing part
of the concession was how Jack so quickly picked up the coin after he holed out
his four-and-a-half footer. It was as if Jack was prepared for the moment well
ahead (maybe even holes ahead), and that he didn't hesitate, which might have
made the moment awkward or called extra attention to the gesture. He just
executed the moment.
I discovered that this was not an accurate assumption
on my part. In a recent history of the Ryder Cup, Jack admitted that it was a more spontaneous act. That doesn’t
diminish Jack’s ability to be completely aware of what was going on around him
and the import of his actions. He knew the exact score, the exact situation,
the gravity of the moment. He was completely prepared to do what he did, and
did it with a smile and quick handshake. We would all be better human beings if
we were as prepared for moments in life with the singularity and thoroughness
that Jack brought to the green that day.
Jack was always incredibly aware of everything
going on around him. He probably even knew that it might not be popular with
his teammates—but he didn’t care. At the time, though, Jack was as close
as anyone could become to being the embodiment of the game of golf itself. The
principles he had, one might say, where the principles of the game itself by
default. He was, at the time, the moral and ethical personification of the
game, and knew what was good for the game. If he did it, it was therefore the
right thing to do, ipso facto.
In fact, the concession was not popular among
all the other members of the U.S. team, nor its captain, Sam Snead. An outright
win meant a great deal to these players. And there were legitimate reasons for
the tension between the two teams that year—several loose-lipped comments
on both sides had ruffled feathers on opposing teams.
This was Jack’s first Ryder Cup, due to a PGA
eligibility rule that prevented him from participating earlier in the 1960s.
Jack was 29 and Tony, 25. Tony Jacklin was at the
height of his career, having won the Open Championship earlier that year, and
before the rollercoaster emotional decade that followed.
But the acrimony between the teams makes the
concession even more of an honorable gesture. It is just a game, after all, and
Samuel Ryder founded the Cup matches with the express purpose of promoting good
will between the U.S. and Great Britain, with no cash purse involved.
Another reason that the gesture was so grand
was that Jack’s personal feelings might have gotten in the way. Tony was
dominating golf that year, while Jack’s fortunes had temporarily faded. Tony
had drubbed Jack in the morning singles match 4&3, and in a four-ball match
the day before. So it would have been understandable if Jack had been out for
satisfaction, if not revenge, to show he could beat the current hottest player
fair and square. But Jack felt the moment was bigger than that.
Another point that may be up for debate is the
feeling that if you didn’t win convincingly, you didn't really win. Maybe Jack
felt that a half-point win was the same as a tie anyway, so what could be the
big deal. And how would making Tony putt that two-footer promote "good will"
Tony was gracious to a fault, both at that
moment and ever since. He never complained about being deprived of his
opportunity to make that putt, because he appreciated the gesture for the
simple goal it meant to achieve: promote good will.
What many golfers who are not familiar with the
rules of match play forget is that each player, or team, "controls" his opponent’s
ball, or balls (in four-ball). The Seve
Ballesteros/Tom Lehman episode on the 12th hole of the final day Ryder Cup
singles match in 1995 at Oak Hill gives a good illustration of what can happen
when players forget this fact.
Tom Lehman hit a putt to about two inches from
the cup. Seve still had a lengthy putt to negotiate, and
did not concede the two-inch putt of Lehman’s. Lehman looked at Seve for the concession several times, but getting no
affirmation, proceeded to putt out. In essence, though, Lehman played out of
Seve’s intention was misunderstood at that moment, both by Tom and the
gallery. It turned out he only wanted to use Tom’s ball mark as a aiming point
for his putt. He intended to concede Lehman’s putt after he putted out, but the
situation was a bit unfortunate. Seve didn’t think
anything of it while it was happening, because it was second nature that he had
"control" of Tom’s ball in match play.
Ron Romanik is
principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik
located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
The final day of the U.S.
Amateur was an exciting tooth-and-nail battle that ended on the first extra (37th)
hole. I couldn’t get how the match ended out of my mind, so I decided to
revisit the ending to make a few points about this fickle game we love (and
Visibly shocked and
disappointed, Weaver could not compose himself on the first extra hole, which
was the 18th again, and lost with a bogey in 37 holes. (He bogeyed
it three times that day.) After shaking hands all around, Weaver walked off the
green and proceeded to abuse his golf bag with his putter. How you feel about
that display of emotion is a topic for another time.
Weaver was not immune to the
pressure of the moment. He actually did to his opponent in the Round of 16 what
Fox did to him—come back from 2 & 2 to win. He parred
18 that day to force extra holes, and won on the first extra hole (the 1st
hole). On the flip side of that, Weaver won his round of 32 match with a bogey on 18.
But back to the putt that
Weaver missed. It appeared that Weaver hit it exactly as he wanted, which was
very firm, to take the break out of the putt and hammer it home for the win. The
announcers, including Gary Koch, made a big deal that a little bump in the putt
caused the putt to go a touch off line. While that’s true to a degree, any irregularity
on the green in the line of the putt would have caused it to break left,
because that was the direction of the break. If it had actually been a straight
putt, the bump might not have had the dramatic, and unfortunate result.
The point here is that, to
this viewer, the match was lost because of Weaver’s decision to hit it firm and try to eliminate the break. The
decisions you make on a golf course are almost as important as the execution of
the shot. Every choice of club and type of shot is a calculated risk/reward
situation as to the likelihood that the shot will come off as intended.
The strategic aspect of golf
extends onto the green, as illustrated here, and the heat of battle can cause
poor decisions. Just because the risk of a three-putt is immaterial in this
match play situation doesn’t mean that you have to take advantage of that fact.
Rarely, if ever, do you see
tour pro hit a five-footer as hard as Weaver hit his, even in match play. They
don't change their game in different situations. If they do, it's almost
imperceptible, especially on the green. Of course, uphill putts are hit firmer
than downhill putts for obvious reasons. But they will hit the same putt
whether its for a double bogey on the 1st hole or for a birdie or
par on the last to win a title.
The final point is
simple—composure. Weaver let his mind drift to holding the winner’s
trophy and felt the loss immediately after the lipped out five-footer. Viewers
could sense that the match was over even before they teed off on the 37th
I am certainly not casting
aspersions here, as I cannot imagine the intense pressure and anticipation of
the moment Weaver faced. All I’m suggesting is that there are a few things all
players can learn here—maybe more accessible from the humanness of young
amateurs than from the automatons of the PGA tour.
Ron Romanik is principal of
the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His
full bio is here.
Somebody’s got to do it. Not that Steve needs
my help; he’s doing all right by himself.
It’s been a full year since Steve helped Adam
Scott win at Firestone CC in the 2011 WGC event there. Okay, so Steve
overstepped his bounds there, and once or twice elsewhere, when his mouth got
ahead of his brain. But he had a legitimate reason to be angry (more on that
I just find it funny that so many of the same
people that admire the strong drive of competitors who reach the pinnacle of
their profession turn so quickly on those same competitors when they reveal how
truly competitive they are.
There are very few competitors that achieve
dominance of a sport without a little arrogance. Even Jack Nicklaus was
presumptuous enough to speak as the second-highest authority on golf (next to
God or Bobby Jones, depending on your religious beliefs). And I couldn’t fault
him for that.
The point is that you have to accept the bad
with the good. Taking it further, one could argue that many competitors would
not achieve as highly as they have without the belief that they’re better than
everyone else. Especially in golf, where you have to believe you can pull off a
shot before you can actually perform it. Sometimes, confidence is everything.
And stop yourself if you’re inclined to say,
"Steve Williams is just a caddie." Some caddies on tour are just caddies, but
Steve is about as highly involved in the decisions made with the pro he’s
caddying for as any other caddie out there. And, at the PGA Tour level of
competition, there’s such a fine line between a great shot and disaster that
club selection and course management are critical. And finally, the caddie’s
most important job may be making his pro stay focused and feel confident in the
club and shot selection that has been decided on.
So, Steve Williams is the ideal caddie and as
competitive as they come. He chose his profession at a young age (13-years-old)
and never looked back. He’s also an accomplished racecar driver, a Member of the
New Zealand Order of Merit and a charitable man to boot $1 million New
Zealand dollars, or about$807,000
U.S., to a youth golf program.).
When he says "I’m a good frontrunner," as he did
after celebrating Adam Scott’s win in the WGC Bridgestone last year, he was
merely expressing his competitiveness, as if he has part ownership of his pros’
wins and losses. I would think that would be a valuable trait.
How much did he contribute to Tiger’s wins in
his prime? That’s immeasurable, as in not measurable. Just remember that Steve
has had more wins without Tiger than with Tiger. There’s no way to know how
many majors Tiger would have won without Steve. I surmise that, in my mind,
this much is indisputable: fewer.
In defense of Steve being angry at Tiger after
being "let go," a review
of the tape might make you rethink your knee-jerk reaction to what was
reported. If you follow Steve’s argument, he waited patiently after the Tiger
scandal passed over and after recoveries from injuries. He was loyal. That
loyalty was not returned. Not because he was sacked at all, but because of the
timing. If Tiger had any inkling that he might let Steve go anywhere in that
18-month period, he suggests, he should have been courteous to Steve to let him
go earlier so he could get on with his own life. A valid point, I grant.
Steve could be the best caddie ever, and he
goes above and beyond the call of duty. He famously protects his players and
fends off distractions, once grabbing a $7,000 camera and tossing it into a
lake. I don’t know which would be harder, defending Tiger from dangerous,
trigger-happy photographers or defending Adam from the dangerous,
skirt-flirting gold-diggers that Adam seem to attract like vultures to road
So, I don’t blame Steve Williams either for
fleeing right after the 2012 British Open concluded, after Adam Scott’s epic
collapse. Being a true competitor, he felt partly responsible for the
loss—maybe even wholly responsible. Right or wrong, that’s how
hyper-competitive individuals feel. The worst "decision" he was a part of was
the club selection at 18, where Adam hit a 3-wood into a fairway bunker. But he
probably felt more responsible for not getting Adam’s head in the right place
for his approaches to 15, 16 and 17, which appeared hurried to many observers.
Talking to the media after that collapse would
be a no-win situation. Well, pretty much any more contact between Steve and the
media is a no-win situation. He’s damned if he takes any credit, and damned if
Ron Romanik is principal of the brand
and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com),
located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
show just keeps getting better and better. If you can forgive David Feherty for putting himself too
much into a show that’s supposed to be an interview format, there’s not too
much to dislike. Well, the hokey "Yoo-Hoo" theme song might stick in your head
into the next day, which can certainly be annoying.
Feherty is just one more argument in
favor of the claim that the Irish make great storytellers. Aside from his
commentary on TV golf broadcasts, he is also a writer. He has four bestselling
books and has been a regular contributor to Golf Magazine for many years. He deftly walks the tight wire fine
line between embellishment and truth. And he’s just plain funny. Whereas Gary McCord often tries too hard to
create mini-controversies, Feherty’s
observations are self-contained and pithy.
What makes Feherty
especially endearing is that he competed at, or near, the highest professional
level, so he knows of where he treads. He is also one of the most honest and
forthright commentators on TV. For instance, some years ago, he shared one of
the most telling assessments of Tiger’s
greatness: "Of the ten best golf shots I ever witnessed, eight of them were Tiger’s."
It is a shame when Feherty crosses a line of tactfulness, as he did with Ernie
Els recently during the introductions at the Tavistock Cup. However, his
apology appeared in the same Golf
Magazine article: "I gave everybody a hard time at the Tavistock Cup, and I did it in proportion to how much affection I
have for the person. If that backfired with Ernie, I unreservedly apologize, because I love the guy."
Two typically revealing Feherty segments came in the recent Roger Maltbie episode. Maltbie
recalls Jack Nicklaus’s philosophy about
winning tournaments and majors as: "I only wanted to win by one." He tells a
great anecdote about Nicklaus at the
1975 PGA Championship at Firestone CC (but gets one forgivable detail
After two rounds at Firestone, Bruce Crampton
was 6-under and, Maltbie thought,
capable of running away from the field. (Maltbie
recalled erroneously that it was Philly native Ed Dougherty, who was actually only at 1-under.) Maltbie asks Jack if he is worried that, at 2-under, he might be letting the
tournament slip away. Jack says: "It
doesn’t matter, 5-under will win it." Jack
finishes 4-under and wins by two over Crampton.
The other anecdote is by Feherty himself. He recalls the 1991 Ryder Cup "War at the Shore." In my humble opinion, this was the
moment the Ryder Cup became too
little about the golf and too much about rowdy fans. As Bernard Langer was lining up the now infamous five-foot putt to tie
up the score and retain the trophy for Europe, Feherty conferred with longtime PGA photographer Lawrence Levy, who quipped: "The last
German under this kind of pressure shot himself in a bunker."
Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and
PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com).
His full bio is here.
Fence sitting is easy; being a professional curmudgeon is hard
Friday, June 15, 2012 By Ron Romanik
However much I pretend to have strong opinions
about everything that exists in this world, I’m actually on the fence about
many controversial topics. Fence sitting can be both a privileged vantage point
and a frustrating never-never land.
I know it’s not fashionable to write an
evenhanded blog post that, by convention, is expected to be opinionated
tomfoolery, but sometimes being a well-respected curmudgeon takes more effort,
talent and practice than most of us have the time for. Curmudgeonry among
family and friends can be fun, for sure, but I’m willing to admit that I’m not
ready just yet to turn pro in that field.
So here’s a few things that I am resigned to
just scratch my head over while I enjoy the view from my perch on the fence ...
Wide White Belts – If you
gave up golf in 1983 and just turned on the TV this season, you’d be
experiencing time warp whiplash. It’s just comforting to know the rest of the
fashion world is not following close behind golf fashion "innovators." I just
worry... Are Sansabelt slacks too far behind?
Tour Players Always Asking for Rulings During Play – One on hand, you want shout at the screen: "Read the Friggin’ Rules
Book!" On the other, you understand the crazy amounts of money each stroke can
represent at tournament’s close. What really might be at work is the fear of a
player returning home to a nagging wife: "Why didn’t you get a ruling?" Which
is frightening similar to: "Why didn’t you ask for directions?"
Westwood Will Never Win a Major – So what. Neither will 99.999999% of all golfers. He’s a fine
player. Leave Lee alone!
Tiger Is Back – Yes and no.
During every slump, short or long, when sports fans asked me if he’ll be back,
I unequivocally responded: "He’ll be back. It’s folly to underestimate him." Will
he ever dominate again like he did in 2000? That’s unlikely, but 6/1 to win
this week seems about right. I’d take 2/1 for winning a major this year.
Rory Is a Choker – Well...
maybe... sometimes... I guess.
Tee Markers Shaped Like Mini FedEx Trucks – On second thought, not on the fence with this one. That’s just
Golf in HD – Rapid
zoom-ins and zoom-outs can give you vertigo and make you fall off the couch.
But super-slow motion sequences of a seven-iron slicing through thick rough can
be pretty cool. The question is: Is it worth the ability to see every blade of
grass between the ball and the lip of the cup if you have to also tolerate
seeing every follicle in Rickie Fowler’s disturbing mustache? Most of the time,
Golfers as Athletes – Not
all of them are, of course, but when you see Dustin Johnson perform an
unassisted one-leg squat, it’s difficult not to be impressed.
Golf Channel Without the "The" –
Ah, the good old days.
Trying to Make Golf on TV More Rock and Roll – This is especially annoying during the "Round Recaps," when an
unidentifiable, repeating loop of a bass-heavy beat pounds your brain into
quick-onset apoplexy. Of course, we all miss the smooth jazz of Barry White’s version of
"Love’s Theme" that was the defining ABC golf leaderboard music for
Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy
Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com).
His full bio is here.
Enough is enough: Another reason longer is not better
Monday, June 11, 2012 By Ron Romanik
There are many reasons why the still-increasing
distance that the ball flies is a detriment to the game. Of course, it's a
combination of technological advances in both clubs and balls, but it really
must be stopped--and reversed.
I don't have space to list all the reasons
here, but here's a few:
ball flight encourages building of longer courses
courses = longer time to play rounds
time = more expensive golf and less golfers
courses = unwalkable courses
--Longer ball flight means longer time looking
for lost balls = longer rounds
But I'm tired of stating the obvious. One thing
that is less obvious for the health and growth of the game is the role of the
spectator—namely, the TV spectator. The touring pros no longer play
remotely the same game as the rest of us. And I think that hurts TV ratings.
When did a 480-yard hole become a driver-short iron? And that's not just for
the longest hitters.
I'm not totally ignorant. I know the face angle
of the irons that pros play has been creeping steeper and steeper over the
years. But still, there's a huge disconnect between how pro players play the
game and the rest of us.
Part of the reason is that the technological
advances made a bigger difference in length for higher swing speeds and club
speeds. These guys can FLY it 350 yards.
And then there's a trick that the PGA Tour has
been using more and more to rein in the distance problem. Many Tour courses
water the landing area of drives so that they bite and have, often, almost no
Recently, I saw Rory McIlroy
get so annoyed at the soft landing area that he attempted a short cut over
mammoth trees and a fairway bunker that was 310 to clear. It was the 16that the Quail Hollow Golf Club 16th hole,
and he cleared the bunker by 20 yards, and it ran out to 380 yards, 103 yards
to the hole, and a sand wedge. To illustrate my point, he proceeded to
three-putt from 20 feet.
At Memorial, Tiger hit 9-iron every day at the
16th. The hole is a little downhill, yes, but it's still 180-190 yards.
As a contrast, professional tennis is an
excellent TV spectator sport because of the character of the game, the
limitations of TV, and the lack of measurable comparisons. For many amateur
tennis players, the game looks and feels very similar on TV to the game they
play with their friends at the club. (Truth be told, in person, the pros hit
the ball at lightning speed.)
And finally, for the touring PGA pros, the
crazy long distances balls are flying makes more older, classic courses
obsolete each year. I can't imagine how tricked out Merion Golf Club is going
to have to be for the 2013 U.S. Open to compensate for its lack of length. I
wish there was a way I could bet on "Most Three-Putts in a Major, Ever."
Get Vegas on the line.
Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR
consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com).
His full bio is here.
Crazy luck: A true story of last chance skins game
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 By Ron Romanik
My craziest golf story is the day I won a
fistful of cash when I barely played well enough not to embarrass myself. But
sometimes one shot is all you need.
Every October in Lancaster County, Hawk Valley GC
and Foxchase GC coordinated a weekend of four rounds of better-ball, flighted
competition. Both courses were filled to near capacity (Hawk Valley on
Saturday; Foxchase on Sunday).
I've only played in the Hawk Valley event,
which was exceptionally well run, but I imagine the Foxchase event was
similarly structured. For instance, the flighting was done in such a way that
sandbagging was almost completely taken out of the equation. Of course, often
in these events, a skins pool is a habitual side bit of fun that you don’t give
much thought to. At $10 for each round, with over 100 golfers participating,
however, the potential upside was pretty high on this one.
Anyway, my partner and I were not particularly
"on" in any fashion the day in question. I can't remember if we made
any birdies in the morning round, but we were definitely floundering in the
afternoon round, partly because of the steady breeze that had picked up. We
rarely had a putt for birdie.
Convinced we were out of contention for any of
the paid spots in our flight, I dropped all pretenses and joked repeatedly to
my partner as we were nearing the end of our round: "Just go for
birdies." I thought it was funny; maybe my partner did as well. I'll never
know. Maybe he was smiling through his tears.
Our final hole for the shotgun event was Hawk
Valley's first hole. The subtle genius of the Hawk Valley layout, designed by
father-son team of William and David Gordon, is that the holes look benign from
the tee and fairway, but if you're not in the right position for the approach
shot, inexperience will goad you into an overly aggressive shot with
substantial risk. The Gordons also designed one of the all-time classic courses
in the region, the Grace Course at Saucon Valley CC.
The pin placement on the par 4, dogleg right
first hole that day was not characteristically subtle. The pin was cut very
close to the right front of the green, just over a deep bunker. I don't know if
I've ever seen that placement before or since. And as I mentioned earlier, a brisk
breeze had been stiffening all afternoon.
As I came close to my drive in the right side
of the fairway, I realized that the wind was quartering into me from the left
at the optimal angle to help an approach shot hold up against the steady breeze
and land softly just over the bunker. I thought for a moment: "This might
be a great skin hole with that pin placement."
I went for broke, with nothing to lose,
starting my fade shot a few feet left of the left edge of the green. The ball
rose higher than I expected, but started bending nicely, hung for a moment for
dramatic effect, then angled toward the left side of the bunker. I stuck it
right over the bunker. I had a ten-foot uphill putt for birdie and my only
chance of a skin for the day.
My partner didn't make it easy for me when he
confirmed my suspicion that a birdie on this hole would have a great chance for
a skin. I'm not the clutchest of putters, by any means, but I felt a growing
sensation that I was going to "will" this one into the hole. It was
an unusual feeling for me.
A ten-foot uphill, right-edge putt is not the
most difficult putt to execute, but I felt serious pressure that my and my
partner's suspicions were correct--a big skin might be at stake. The putt had
plenty speed to get there, entering the hole right-center. What a relief.
The waiting game at the scoreboard was fun, yet
excruciating. I didn't do the math before, but most of the 120 or so
participants drop $20 for skins -- $10 for the morning round and $10 for the
afternoon round. Each round had a pot of over $1,000. One by one the holes were
canceled with multiple birdies or eagles. Long story shortened abruptly -- I
won the whole $1,000-plus pot.
That's my craziest golf story -- and one of my
best shots in the heat of "competition," as it was. Now let me help you share
your amazing story by emailing a brief summary to me at email@example.com.