Now that the U.S. Open is behind us, I can turn
my attention to perhaps the most anticipated event on my personal golf calendar.I refer to the Conrad Cup, a heated intra-family
competition that takes place every summer during our annual beach week in North
Named in honor of my late father, the Conrad
Cup, which is coming up on it’s 25th anniversary, is a dog-eat-dog
– or, more accurately, a brother-in-law eat nephew-in-law, battle royale each June when my two sisters and our families descend
on Emerald Isle for the one time of the year that we all get together.
No money is at stake in the Conrad Cup, only
pride, dignity, suffering and humiliation.Each evening after the round, somebody’s got to trudge up the steps to
the beach house with his head hung, to be met by wives, sisters, fiances and assorted offspring, all trying to access the
day’s outcome by the looks on our faces.
"Oooohhh, Joe does
not look happy..." is an often-heard refrain from the peanut gallery.
The actual Cup is a coffee can, which my sister
Eleanor created years ago by painting it green, in the spirit and color of
golf, then mounting it on a pedestal made of three golf balls.Fancy, it is not.Coveted, it is.
The field for the Conrad Cup is so-so.There’s my brother-in-law Dan, from
Raleigh.He’s married to my baby
sister, Jane.Dan has been a good
player for years, with a handicap that never climbed above the high single
digits.Dan is almost 10 years
younger than me and he’s at least 10 yards longer than me off the tee.He’s most dangerous with a putter in his
There’s also Cole, from Durham, who is married
to my niece, Julie.Cole, who is 15
years younger than me, is also mid- to high-single digit player, and he also
hits it past me.A criminal defense
lawyer, Cole hates to lose and he is not above resorting to gamesmanship if he
thinks it will give him an advantage.
Then there’s me, a former mid-single digit
player, whose game has been eroded by Father Time and two titanium hips that
cost me considerable distance off the tee.There’s also the undeniable fact that I’ve never met a putt I couldn’t
gag.My trend lines are not headed
in the right direction.
In the early years, when my father was alive
and still playing golf, we’d go out as a threesome – me, him and
Dan.Dan and I would call our match
the Conrad Cup. We had some hard-fought matches, often punctuated with
trash-talking and frequent cases of lock-jaw when one of us was facing a two-footer
that meant something.
Eventually, my father turned 90 and put away
his clubs for good.But that was
about the time Cole married into the family, launching a whole new competitive
era of the Conrad Cup. In
fact, the last few years of the Conrad Cup have been the best.We found a new and better golf course to
host the Cup, and we all enjoy each other’s company.Besides, what could be more fun (or agonizing
for the loser) than a hole-by-hole review of the day’s Cup doings over dinner with
the entire family.
For a stretch of three or four years, Dan
dropped out of the Cup.He couldn’t
take the time away from work to make the trip, but he was also having knee
issues that prevented him from playing much golf at all.Then it was just Cole and me, mano a mano, for the Cup.
We all have our favorite matches and memories
from the Cup.If Dan or Cole want
to boast of their victories, they can get their own blog.Personally, my favorite Cup memory is
from 2008, when it was just me and Cole.We both were on top of our games the whole week, back in the days when
we both were shooting in the mid- to high-70s.
Anyway, that year, the Cup came down to the
final round, the final hole – a big, beefy 566-yard par 5, a classic cape
hole design, with a tee shot that is about an 180-yard carry over a lake, into
a banked fairway that turns left and wraps around the lake.It’s a three-shot par 5 for sure, and
the third shot is over the lake again, into a peninsula green that is buttressed
and surrounded by heavy planking, like the island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
With the Cup on the line, Cole and I both had
knots in the pits of our stomachs as we stepped to the tee.Naturally, the previous 71 holes of very
good play by both of us went straight out the window.Trying to bite off too much of the dogleg,
we both hit our tee shots into the lake.We reloaded and found the fairway
on our second tee balls.But the
our horrors were only beginning.
Lying three, I pulled my 4th shot
into the lake, giving Cole just the opening he needed.Too bad for him that he stone-cold
topped his 4th into the lake.
By then, our grand finale hole was becoming a
comedy of errors, as we both wilted under the pressure.Going for broke, we each hit
another ball in the lake, then Cole hit one more in for good measure.That’s when I thought he was going to
throw himself into the lake.
Now, it was on me.Lying eight in the fairway, with a
9-iron in my hand, I took one last look at the flag and pulled the trigger.As soon as I swung, I knew I hadn’t
gotten all of it.
"Go, ball, gooo" I yelled.
The ball landed on the planking fronting the
green, bounced straight up into the air like it had hit a cart path, then came
to rest 18 inches from the hole.
I laughed.Cole howled.
I won the hole, and therefore the Conrad Cup,
with a 10.
As a reminder of that most satisfying of
victories, stuck in the corner of the mirror over my dresser is a dollar bill
that Cole gave me that day, with the inscription:THIS
IS THE EXACT WIDTH OF THE BOARD THAT SAVED YOUR ASS!!!
In all the years, the Conrad Cup has been
cancelled only once.That was last
year, when Dan couldn’t make it to the beach and I was in the hospital undergoing
hip replacement surgery.It rained
most of the week, anyway.
So, as you can imagine, we are all excited
about this year’s Cup, which will be contested next week.It promises to be doozy.Dan will be back this year.His knee is apparently better, and he is
back to playing plenty of golf.Plus, he recently retired his set of 25-year-old Titleist irons in favor
of a brand new set of Mizunos.
The pre-Cup trash-talking, posturing and
excuse-making has already begun, mostly in a series of emails between me and
Cole.Because I now clank when I walk, I am
trying to negotiate a stroke or two a side, or maybe special dispensation to play
from the Senior tees.Heck, I might
even create a Senior Division and declare myself the winner.
Cole is claiming his game is rusty because he
has only played five rounds since November, owing to some cockamamie problem
with his elbow. But he says
he’s not worried, because he’s got a plan.He’s threatened to steer the conversation toward politics, which he
knows will get my more liberal blood boiling.
"You won’t make it past the turn," Cole wrote
in an email, no doubt cackling as he typed."That’s the secret weapon."
I told him that was cheating, like winning a bass
fishing tournament with illegal bait.
We’re all very happy for
Martin Kaymer.Well, done young
man.He applied the precision and
excellence of German engineering to a U.S. Open and
came away a big winner.Very impressive.
Now let me say this: B-o-r-i-n-g.
I mean, it’s not Kaymer’s fault
or anything, but for the first time ever, I found myself watching the final
round of the U.S. Open on my iPhone.Technically, I wasn’t even watching, I was only checking in on the
leaderboard every few minutes by refreshing my U.S. Open app.If Kaymer had faltered, or if anybody
had mounted a serious challenge, I would have made my way into the house and
plopped down in front of the big-screen, high-def TV to watch things play out.
But it never got close.And it was nice day –
Father’s Day – and both my grown kids were over, and a couple of friends,
and we had steaks, and my daughter had baked a special cake, and the weather
was so pleasant out on the patio that, what the heck, how could it get any
better than this?
It couldn’t.Anyway, it’s not like the highlights
wouldn’t be available on SportsCenter and Golf Channel.
In a way, it’s hard not to
feel bad for the USGA.Of all the
thought and preparation that went into the Open, and the good luck with the
weather, one thing the USGA never could have predicted or controlled was a
wire-to-wire blowout victory that robbed their grandest spectacle of pretty
much any and all drama.
Sure, there was the back story of Phil Mickelson trying to finish off the career
Grand Slam, but that horse was out of the barn after Thursday.And there was the heartwarming story of
Erik Compton and the flourish of Rickie Fowler, but those are storylines that
TV producers push when there is not battle to the finish to showcase.
I’m not complaining.It was a special Father’s Day for me and
for Martin Kaymer.
Every now and then something happens that
should make us all proud of the game we love and the character golf seeks to
instill in those who play it.One
of those things happened over the weekend, when a 24-year-old pro from
Tennessee who had played his way into the U.S. Open via a 36-hole qualifier, DQed
himself five days after the fact, citing a guilty conscience.
Jason Millard, a mini-tour rabbit with one
start on the PGA Tour this year (missed the cut at the Honda Classic), had shot
68-68 last Monday at the sectional qualifier at Colonial Country Club in
Memphis.It was enough to get him
into his first Open, the biggest opportunity ever for the former standout from
Middle Tennessee State.
But there was a problem.Millard could not get it out of
his mind that he thinks he might have accidently grounded his club as he stood
over a shot in the bunker of the 18th at Colonial, his 27th
hole of the day.
At the time, Millard consulted a rules official
on the scene, who advised him that the decision whether to call a penalty on
himself was his and his alone to make.Nobody else saw it.It was
Millard didn’t call the penalty and went on to
qualify for Pinehurst by one shot.But for five days, it kept eating away at him.
pretty sure I grounded my club in the bunker," Millard told the USGA,
Jason Sobel wrote for GolfChannel.com. "I didn't see anything for sure,
but I felt something and I saw a small indentation. It happened so fast, I
really don't know 100 percent but deep down, I believe I did.
couldn't find peace about it. For five days, I practiced and I couldn't get it
off my mind."
Millard did the only thing he could do, if he wanted to live with himself.
whole thing is enough to give me hope for humanity, especially for golfers.Golf takes a lot of heat these days
about being in decline, or being the extravagant province of rich, self-important
country club types who too often adhere to the life principle of winning-at-all-cost.
certainly is that side to golf, and it is neither pretty nor good for the
future of golf.But as long as
there are people in the game like Jason Millard, who will do the right thing in
golf and in life, there is hope.
I was about to tee off with my usual foursome
this morning when one of the guys, Tim, said to me, "Hey, you haven’t updated
your blog in quite a while.What’s
What’s the matter?What’s
This, after he and his partner in golfing crime,
Stan, took $20 off me and my partner, Jack, on Saturday.And they would take another $20 off of
us today.And why?Because I stunk.
How can I even think about writing an
intelligent blog post about golf when I am wandering so hopelessly lost in the
dense, dark forest of golf?You
know, even when you are playing your best golf, they say you never "own" the
game;you can only "rent" it.Right now I couldn’t rent it with a
Platinum Amex card.
Strangely, this all comes after a couple of
months of me driving the ball straight and solid.But now, inexplicably, I have entered
into another dimension of suckedness.I hit tee shots sideways.Fat.Smother hooks.I pop them up.Today, I even topped one, which I never
Tim was only too happy to pull out his iPhone
to videotape my driver swing to show me where it was all going wrong.I use the term "swing" loosely, when in
fact we are talking about a move that has devolved into more of a spastic
lunge, or some kind of seizure, than an actual pass at the ball.
Of course, what’s wrong is all in my head,
which leads to it getting into my swing.For some reason, I can’t swing through the ball; I quit at impact.I’m trying to guide it.If they could hook me up and do some
kind of brain scan during my tee shots, I’m sure it would look like an
For a time today, I left the driver in my bag
and went with my good, reliable friend the 3-wood, until that rotten bastard
betrayed me, too.
A couple of times, after I hit tee shots that
went so far off line that I almost collapsed in a heap, I would look at Tim and
Jack and Stan and they would be standing there stone-faced, pity written all
over their faces, like those monkeys that see on evil, hear no evil, speak no
evil.Once, all three of them
averted their eyes rather than bust out laughing.
Most baffling of all, just when I am sapped of
all self-confidence and filled with self-loathing, I’ll crush one right now the
middle.Where did that come
from?Why can’t I do that every
The thing is, I’ve come to understand that
these bouts of driver yips come and go, although lately they’ve been coming
more than going.And once they
come, they stay too long, like a mooching relative.
I could take a lesson, I suppose, but why
bother?Like the last time the
driver yips barged uninvited into my life, they stayed until they were ready to
go.I can spend hours on the range
pounding balls -- one straight rocket after another.What’s the problem?I ask myself.I’ve got this thing figured out now.
But somewhere in the walk from the range to the
first tee, the stomach starts to churn and the demons in the back of my head
start whispering, "Psssst,
Joe, we’re still h-e-r-e."
It’s barely spring time but
Joe Bausch, intrepid photographer and Chronicler in Chief of the Bausch
Collection of golf course photo galleries is a it again.
So far this early season,
Joe, who doubles as a chemistry professor at Villanova University, has added four
more courses, raising the total number of galleries in the Bausch Collection 192.More courses are on the way.The latest additions are:
nBubba Watson is better than
we suspected, even after his first Masters win two years ago.He is also getting better, evolving from
a one-dimensional, hot-headed long-bomber into a much more complete player.He went about finishing off the Masters
(and Jordan Spieth) yesterday like a cold-blooded
nIf there is such a thing as
horses for courses, Bubba Watson has found his track in Augusta National.He could win the Masters two or three
more times before he’s finished.
nNo adult male should be named
is also better than we suspected, even if we already suspected he was very,
very good, if not the second-coming of Tiger Woods.
nWhich was more impressive,
that the 20-year-old Spieth played his way into a
share of the lead going into Sunday – in his first Masters, no less
--or the incredible poise and
maturity that he showed through out the week, most notably after Sunday’s
nThat said, you knew Spieth was toast late in the front nine – the first
time he slammed his club in the ground after a lousy approach shot.You know that Bubba saw that, and you
know that Bubba knew then that the Masters was his to lose.To his credit, Spieth
did not do a full Sunday meltdown (see Rory McIlroy,
2011).He held it together to shoot
sounds like something you’d call an iPhone app.
nNot having Phil and Tiger
around on the weekend wasn’t as bad as most of us initially feared.
nThat Masters theme song with
those tinkling piano keys has seemed so charming for so long.Why is it starting to get a little
nThe guy who comes away the
most disappointed in himself could very well be Matt Kuchar.If he is going to start winning majors,
his time is now.But he fizzled
again on Sunday, shooting 74.Afterward, the always jovial Kuchar looked
like he’d been hit by a bus.
nIt’s hard to know what to
like more about Miguel Angel Jimenez, his warm-up routine or his ponytail.
nEven more cloying than the
tinkling piano keys is this absurd business of referring to Masters "patrons."
nWhy, why, why does Rickie
Fowler insist on pulling his hat down over his ears?
nOn Golf Channel last night,
they pointed out that since 2003, six of 11 Masters winners have been
left-handed (Weir 2003;Phil 2004,
2006, 2010; Bubba 2112, 2114).Has
Augusta National become a lefty’s layout? they asked. Intriguing question.
nThere is nothing like the
Masters to remind you that the big-screen, high-def
TV is the greatest invention since, what, penicillin? The internet? The beer
nDid you even realize that
Stewart Cink (T-14) and Darren Clarke (T-44) had made
nAmong the 50-somethings, Fred
Couples (T-21) gets all the love and TV time but Bernhard Langer (T-8) deserves
nIt’s time for Joe T. Ford,
the former Augusta National chairman who does those "Welcome to the Masters...."
lead-ins to step aside.Sorry to
say it, but the drawling Arkansas native embodies the stereotypical image of
Augusta National’s members – old, white, rich.
nIn all candor, I never did
get excited about that Drive Chip & Putt contest Augusta National hosted
last Sunday.I felt guilty every
time they re-ran the highlights.
nDid you freakin’
believe Bubba’s tee shot at the 13th on Sunday?
nDuring the opening ceremonies
Thursday morning, it was impossible not to notice that Arnold Palmer is walking
with a pronounced limp these days.Looks like a bum hip to me.As a guy with two titanium hips, I can’t help but wonder what kind of
pain he might be in, and what kind of choices he might be facing at the age of
nNo. 14 is a better hole than
it appears on TV.I have played
Augusta National twice and I know that for a fact.It may have the most unforgiving green
on the course.
looks like the box Kevin Stadler came in.
nI wish I didn’t believe that
Tiger had won his last Masters.
And we’re off...This being April 1, up here in the Northeast, the 2014 golf season is
It’s a little nippy outside as
I write this, but the Weather Channel insists it will be clear and just shy of
60 degrees by late afternoon.If
you can’t sneak away for an afternoon round, maybe you can stop off at a
driving range on the way home from work to hit a large bucket.
This day – this spring
-- has been long in coming.I’ve
lived in Philadelphiafor 32 years
and I cannot remember a winter that was so nasty, so relentless and so unforgiving.Of course, maybe that’s because I’m
suddenly tiptoeing around the ice on twin titanium hips.
I like to think of myself as
a glass-half-full kind of guy, however, so I believe that as miserable as the
winter has been, the spring an summer will be our big reward. They will be glorious, at least they will
if there is any justice in the universe.
I cannot wait to truly break
in the new set of irons I bought at the end of last season, or the new 5-wood I
ordered off the internet out of boredom and frustration, or the matching hybrid
I added to the bag in late February, just because I liked his brother the
5-wood so much.
In my last blog three weeks
ago, I mentioned that the forecast looked good enough for the coming weekend and
I was going to try to get in the first round of the year.Three golf buddies and I did, at
Scotland Run GC, in South Jersey, where the weather was perfect and the course
was brown and dormant but otherwise terrific.I had played Scotland Run in several
years and I’d forgotten what a great layout it is.A nod of respect to architect Stephen
I even shot a video of the
round, which I posted under Latest Videos.If you missed it, check it out:
Nothing gets a golfer’s
juices flowing like the Masters.I miss going.I miss
spending all week in Augusta, walking the golf course for hours, hanging for
hours at certain spots (Amen Corner, behind the 6th green, 15th
green), visiting with friends in the media center and, last but not least,
eating lunch with my old colleague Bill Lyon on the balcony of the clubhouse.
"I’ll have the club sandwich
on toasted white bread, please, and the peach cobbler with vanilla ice
cream.And a glass of iced tea." I
could repeat that line in my sleep, and probably do.
I haven’t returned to cover
the Masters since 2008, after I left the Philadelphia Inquirer.But as a member of the Golf Writers
Association of America, I am entitled to go to the Masters for a day mid-week,
on Wednesday, to attend the GWAA annual meeting that morning in the media
center.After that, I’m free to
spend the day on the golf course, which truly is one of the greatest pleasures
in any golfing life.That night,
there’s the annual GWAA dinner and awards banquet, where the food is so-so but
the company can’t be beat.
Okay I’ve just talked myself
into going next year.
Masters, Part II
This could be the first
Masters in more than 15 years in which neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson
is a factor.
Phil seems to be stuck in
the mud.So far this year, the
three-time Masters champ has finished T-19th, 14th, W/D, T-42nd,
T-19th, CUT, T-16th and W/D.That last W/D, just last week at
the Valero Texas Open, was prompted by a back muscle he strained while hitting
a shot.It did not sound encouraging
for the coming season, and surely not for the Masters.
Tiger, a four-time Masters winner,
is faring no better.In his limited
schedule so far, he has finished T-80th, W/D, and T-25th.Tiger is so battled scarred that he
pulled out of Bay Hill, one of his favorite tournaments, before it ever
started.He says it’s unclear whether
he’ll be good to go in Augusta, but my expectations are nil.
Bottom line is, we could be
witnessing one of the most important changing-of-the-guards we’ve seen in a
Sean O’Hair watch
West Chester’s Sean O’Hair
continues to struggle through his own bad patch.
The 2005 PGA Rookie of the
Year had to re-earn his PGA Tour card for this season and, so far, the results
are at best mixed. His missed
four cuts in his first five starts, although he did manage a nice T-5th
during that period at the Franklin Templeton Shootout.
Since February, O’Hair has
been all over the place again.He
finished T-56th at Pebble Beach, missed the cut at The Honda.There was one bright spot, at Bay Hill,
where he shot 69-67 on the weekend, to finish T-10th.But then he missed the cut last week in