Like many of you, when I saw
that Vijay Singh had sued the PGA Tour for supposedly damaging his reputation over this deer antler spray
dust-up, I was amused.Okay, not
amused -- I sat there slack-jawed, in utter disbelief.
Why?Because in my years covering the PGA
Tour for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I had the displeasure of actually dealing
with Vijay Singh on plenty of occasions.The PGA Tour damaged his
reputation?Huh?If you ask me, he did that all by
You know that
word-association game, where somebody says a word and you say the first thing
that pops into your mind.With me,
mention Vijay Singh and I think, Prick. After that, maybe, Sourpuss.
I can remember 10 years or
so ago, when Vijay was at the top of his game, in the spotlight, winning
tournaments and even majors.There
was no disputing that he was very good and one of the hardest workers on the
Tour.Still, whenever his name
would climb to the top of the leaderboard, you could almost hear a collective
groan go up in the media center.Vijay being at or near the top of the leaderboard meant we had to deal
Assuming the PGA Tour could
coax him into the media center for an interview – and that was no easy
task – he would sit there sullen and moody, like a hostile witness being
cross-examining.He could be
insulted by the easiest, softball inquiry into his round or the tournament at
hand. The only question in my mind was
whether Vijay found us more distasteful than we found him.
I never could figure out why
Vijay Singh was so disagreeable.I mean, winning over sportswriters is so
easy.Rule No. 1: Don’t be a
prick.Rule No. 2: Don’t be a
The best conclusion I ever
came up with was that somewhere along the line – perhaps when he was a
young pro in 1985 and got suspended by the Asian tour for cheating – Vijay decided to shut down and shut out the
media.Eventually, the media
stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt on anything.You don’t like us; we don’t like
you.It’s like a bad marriage and
it ain’t going to change.
(Pertinent paragraph from
John Garrity’sstory in
Sports Illustrated in 2000.
There is nothing alleged or unsubstantiated about the fact that
the Southeast Asia Golf Federation suspended Singh indefinitely for altering
his scorecard in the second round of the '85 Indonesian Open in Jakarta. It's
also a fact that Singh was banned from playing the Australian PGA
circuit—not for cheating but for failing to pay off loans and
long-distance phone bills.
In 2003, Vijay crossed swords with Doug Ferguson,
the golf writer for the Associated Press, when he quoted
Vijay as saying he would WD from
the Colonial Tournament if he was paired with Annika Sorenstam, when she was
making her historic foray onto the PGA Tour.
For quite some time after that, Vijay had no use
would ask a question in a press conference and Vijay would look at him blankly,
ignore the question, then call for another question from somebody else.
From time to time, you’d hear from other
players that deep down, Vijay was a decent, generous, even likeable guy.That may be, I don’t know, but he did a superb
good job of not showing it to the media.
On occasion, he did rise to the level of not
being a total jerk.Once, I even
saw him smile.My most enduring
image of him is as a solitary figure out on the range, long after all the other
players have packed it in for the day, hitting balls into the dusk.
With D-Day for the U.S. Open
drawing ever nearer, Merion GC and the U.S. Golf Association yesterday gave the
local media a bit of a walk-through of the venerated venue, the East Course.
It was chilly, windy, and
the course is not yet in full bloom, but it looks almost ready for another star
Merion head pro Scott Nye
led the tour, pausing to describe a few holes and shots that he expects will be
especially dramatic for players and spectators in the Open, set for June 13-16.
Even if you attended the U.S.
Amateur in 2005 or the Walker Cup in 2009, you likely have not seen the new
fairway bunker they’ve installed up near the green at the par 5 2nd
hole.The idea is to create
true three-shotter by preventing long hitters from
being able to roll their second shots to the green.
Nye also went to great
length to describe the treacherous tee shot at the par 4 5th, where
the right-to-left sloping fairway will kick tee balls down toward the creek
running up the left side.At the
same time, they’ve moved the right rough down, to punish any player who tries
to play safely to the right.
More problematic than the
fairway at the 5th is the green, which could be one of the most
cruel and unusual on the course.It
is beyond slippery and it runs to fast from right to left that it will no doubt
the source of much conversation (and complaints) by players who find it
impossible to figure out.It will
also likely prove to be one of the toughest holes all week.
At the short par 4 11th,
where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam, they have brought the rough in on
the right to side take away what is traditionally the safest place to play off
the tee.Instead, players willbe forced to flirt with the left side of
the fairway, near the fairway bunkers.
Another big change is the
green at the 12th, which has long been among the most unforgiving
(some would say brutal) greens on the course.The problem was the slope on the front
portion of the green.Any putt
from above the hole that missed the cup could very well end up rolling off the
green and down onto the fairway. For the Open, to remove some of the slope and
create more potential hole locations, they raised the front of the 12th
green and slightly lowered the back of the green.
Nye also showed off the new
tee at the dogleg par 4 14th.For the Open, players will actually tee off from what is currently the
practice putting green, creating an even longer and more difficult tee shot.
The 15th, another
long dogleg par 4, also has been made more difficult by positioning a bunker in
the right elbow of the fairway, right at the 300 yards off the tee.The choice is play to the left,
lengthening the hole or try to blow it over the bunker.
At the par 4 16th,
the famous quarry hole, the fairway bunker has been moved from the left side,
where it presented little problem, to the center of the fairway, right in the
landing area.With the tees back,
many players will be forced to lay up short of the bunker, making for a longer
A new back tee has also been added to the
par 4 18th, which could require a carry of 260 yards to reach the
fairway.No word on whether the
USGA will use the tee but it’s there if they want it.The idea is to have most players
hitting their second shots from the general cinity of
where Ben Hogan hit his famous 1-iron shot in the 1950 Open.
Afterward, chatting with
Matt Shaffer, director of golf operations at Merion, it’s clear that the main
concern going into the Open is Merion’s length – just under 7,000
yards.How will today’s long
hitters attack the course?
The rough will be deep and
thick, putting a premium on accuracy over length off the tee, and the fairways
will be tighter than usual.But
Shaffer believes the East Course’s main defense will be its greens.When he said that, his eyes had the
gleam of a mad scientist at work in his lab.
I just got off the phone
with Jim Finegan
and he is out of rehab and doing better.A little.Slowly.
"It has been a perfect
nightmare," said Finegan,
83, the golf historian and author, who fractured his femur when he fell on the
steps in his Villanova home on Jan. 30.
After surgery and two months
in rehab, Finegan
returned home two weeks ago.He’s
getting around with a walker.He is
in no pain, to speak of.His voice
was strong and clear and his spirits were good, considering the ordeal he has
been throughThis is a man who
already endured years of chronic back pain.
"I’m doing a little better
each day," said Finegan."Some days there is more improvement
His long-term prospects,
frankly, remain a mystery."We’ll
just have to wait it out and hope it improves," he said.
There are many, many things to like about the
Masters.The splendor of Augusta
National, the traditions and history of the tournament, the importance winning
the green jacket means to the players, and, of course, the Masters is a
wonderful annual rite of spring for golfers everywhere.
But there is one thing I hate and always will
hate about the Masters.It is this
annoying and pretension business of referring to the spectators, or fans,
I frankly find it grating and syrupy the way
"patron" smoothly rolls off the lips of CBS’s Jim Nantz,
who, let’s face it, wet-kisses the Masters and Augusta National with a
reverence heretofore unforeseen.
All of this "patron" business is obviously at
the insistence of Augusta National, where members apparently do not want to
entertain the prospect that the hordes wandering their golf course for the week
are mere unwashed fans.No, fans
wear big cheese head hats, wave foam fingers and shout, "Ya,
da man!"You will see none of that at
In fact, you won’t even see a non-Masters cup
at the Masters.No kidding, when
you go through the airport-like medal detectors at the front gate of the
Masters, you will be met by employees holding stacks of green Masters
cups.If you have a soda or cup of
coffee in your hand, you will be handed a green Masters cup and asked to pour
the contents of your drink to the Masters cup.The employees are cordial enough, but
you will not take another step until the transfer is complete and the offending
soda bottle has been tossed into an official Masters trash bin.
That’s the way they want it at the Masters, and
that’s the way it is.Once you go
enter the grounds, after all, you are entering a world that is the total
creation of Augusta National.If you don’t believe me, ask CBS.
What’s the difference between a fan and a "patron?"I poked around the internet and found an
amusing column from 2007 by Seth Davis of
Sports Illustrated and CBS:
are told, annually and often, that the people who come to Augusta are not your
normal, rowdy, beery golf fans. Heck, they're not even fans. They are patrons.
Or so we're told.
believe it, folks. There are fans at the Masters. You just
have to know how to spot 'em.
Culpepper wasn't hard to spot. He's an ursine, 47-year-old telecommunications
executive from Columbus, Ga. I found him sitting cozily in his fold-up chair
beside the third fairway Thursday afternoon. Culpepper flew in this morning on
a private jet with seven of his buddies. If the most important guy in the group
is the one who owns the plane, Tommy is the second-most important. "I'm in
charge of the Bloody Mary's," he told me. "I made one gallon at my
house last night. One of the other guys is the official taste tester. We met at
the airport at eight o'clock this morning and started drinking right
is the first difference between a patron and a fan: The patron drinks when he
comes to the course. The fan starts drinking at the airport.
A few other differences Davis found
between fans and "patrons:"
other differences between patrons and fans:
wear golf spikes. Fans wear shoes, or sandals, or shoes that have holes in them
so their toes are sticking out.
tie their pullovers around their shoulders. Fans tie them around their waste.
Here’s something I never
thought I’d hear myself say again:My money is on Tiger.
Okay, that’s sort of
metaphorical, because I don’t actually wager any money with a bookie or
anything.I learned a long time ago
that whenever I get the itch to gamble, I might as well save myself a lot of
time and aggravation by just tossing that money out the car window.
Still, if I was a betting
man, I’d be betting on Tiger to win his 5th Masters this week.Count me among the legion of skeptics
who never thought Tiger would fight and will his way back from the brink to
where he is today.His swing looks
better than it has in years, his confidence seems to be restored and his
personal life is at not the source of embarrassment and ridicule.
Come on, the guy has won three
times already this year and we’re not even out of April.He might not be the Tiger to a dozen
years ago, but the Tiger of the moment has reclaimed No. 1 in the world.
The pressure to win, of
course, is on.The chaos in his
personal life, the drought in the majors, the need to get back to winning the
big ones if he is ever going to catch Jack Nicklaus, is all coming to a head
this week in Augusta.If he wins,
it will be great for him and great for golf.If he fizzles, or flubs it on the
weekend, the air will go out his whole campaign to restore his old life.
Truth be told, I like the
Tiger of now better than the Tiger of that earlier era.He’s got a few more miles on him now,
and with that comes some perspective, maturity and wisdom.Really, the scandal and career detour
has served to make him and us realize he’s human.
Anyway, I’m pulling for
him.If he can’t win, my backup
choice is for Phil to win his 4th green jacket, which would tie him with
Tiger.Damn, wouldn’t either guy
winning be a great day for golf?
I am very pleased to
announce that my 2013 golf season has officially begun, or technically, is
about to.My first round of the
season will be this Saturday, as the guest of a friend at Hidden Creek GC at
the Jersey Shore.
With any luck, I will get out
to hit a bucket of balls before Saturday, rust on the swing being what it is.
I began my season yesterday,
as I always do, with the ritualistic bringing out of the clubs.They spent most of the winter in the
basement, although when the PGA Tour season cranked up in Hawaii in January, I
did do a little chipping and putting on the carpet in front of the TV,
addictions being what they are.
The ritualistic bringing out
of the clubs involves dusting them off, followed by a full inspection.Several of my irons still had mud caked
on them from my final round of 2012 on a wet, chilly day in December.I filled the sink with scalding
water and suds and went to work with a stiff-bristled brush.
I don’t know about you but I
also start each new season with a thorough scrubbing of my grips.It’s amazing how hot water, suds and
scrubbing can revitalize grips that have turned dry and slippery.
The grip on my driver was a
bit worn so I took it down to my basement shop and put on a new grip, adding an
extra layer of tape on the shaft.If you don’t re-grip your on clubs, I highly recommend you learn to do
so.It’s easy, not to mention much
cheaper and faster than sending them out.
Next, I purged my bag of
accumulated crap and crud, such as a small white towel that had managed to end
up stuffed into the bottom of bag, where it had wrapping itself around the
grips.Nothing is more important
than going through the little valuables pouch where I keep ball markers and
do-dads.For years, I marked my
ball with a coins I picked up over the years at the British Open.These days, I favor those magnetic
markers that you clip to the bill of your cap.I now have a colorful collection of
those little interchangeable markers.
While I was at it, I put a
handful of tees in the bag and put a fresh 9-volt battery in my range
finder.I bought five dozen balls
on sale at the end of last season, so I’m good to go orb-wise.
I do not plan any major club
changes for ’13.My driver (TaylorMade) is finally cooperating (knock on wood), and my
irons (TaylorMade) are more forgiving than I could
possibly ask.Last year, my big
club acquisition was a couple of new wedges (Titleist), 56 and 60 degrees, and
I still like them both.I know
carry two hybrids (Titleist), 19 and 21 degrees.My longest iron is my 5.
The big question mark, as
always, is my putter.Putters and
putting in general hate me.Actually, putters and putting mock me, play with me, like a cat amusing itself
batting around a ball of yarn.Seriously, when I pull my putter out of the bag and walk toward the
green, I can feel my sphincter tightening with each step, even on the rare
occasion that I am facing a mere tap-in.My regular golf buddies find it hilarious.
Currently, my plan is to
start the season with the same putter I ended ’12 with – a heel-shafted
Cleveland mallet.I do this knowing
full well that Mr. Cleveland could fail me, betray, humiliate me at any time,
joining a long line of putters that have failed me, betrayed me, humiliated
me.When that happens – it is
only a matter of time – Mr. Cleveland will be cast out of my bag and into
the basement to collect dust with my 20-odd putters of all makes and
models.I will pick a new (old) one
from the collection and the cycle of love and betrayal will begin anew.
One of the big changes I’m
expecting to make for ’13 is a new head cover for my driver.My sister down in Raleigh has taken up
knitting and she has promised to knit me a new and colorful head cover.(No pressure, Jane, but my old head
cover is starting to unravel.)Her
first project for me was a scarf, which I mistook for comforter for my bed when
I took it out of the box.I assured
her it would be the first thing I pack if I ever go to Antarctic.
I’ve never been big on April
Fool’s jokes and neither was anybody else in my family.In fact, the only one that comes to mind
was when I was in grade school.
I distinctly remember waking
up one morning and seeing my father sitting on the edge of the bed, looking
down at me.
"School’s cancelled," he
"Really?" I said, bolting
upright. "Snowing?"I don’t know
which excited me more: no school or the prospect of spending the day sledding.
Then, of course, it hit me
that we lived in North Carolina and spring was already busting out all
over.It probably didn’t snow a
half-dozen times in my entire boyhood, and even it did, it was rarely more than
an inch or two and it was melted within a day or two, tops. I just checked and
today’s high in my old hometown is going to be 73.
Speaking of busting out,
that’s exactly what my father did – busted out laughing."April Fools."