The New York Times has a
today on the evolution of Rory McIlroy, as the young winner
of the British Open seeks to charm a new generation of golf fans.
In it, Times golf writer
Karen Crouse mentions that McIlroy’s ascension comes
just as we find ourselves in the "autumn of Tiger Woods."
The autumn of Tiger Woods. I
love that.It so perfectly
describes the slow career fade-out that Tiger seems too helpless to stop or
even slow.But with every major,
every tournament, we are faced with more evidence – doses of reality --
that Tiger’s run of domination is over, that he will never come close to
recapturing what he once had.
Remember those days when it
was a foregone conclusion that he would top Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18
majors?Heck, who didn’t
think Tiger would ultimately win 25?
Now, we are left to wonder
how long he will play.We he retire
at 40?He always said he would hang
it up when he could no longer win.These days, does he still have the inspiration and desire?
It’s not time yet to think
of Tiger’s career in the past tense, but it’s not too early to begin to ponder
the great sports question:
Who was the greatest golfer
of all-time?Jack, with his 18
majors, longevity and a Masters title at 46?Or Tiger, who shot across the sky like a
meteor, a mesmerizing figure who dominated golf for a decade like even Jack
Every September, Pine Valley, the most
exclusive club in Philadelphia – maybe in the country – opens it
doors to the general public for one day.It’s called the Crump Cup, named for the club’s founder.
Consider this a heads-up that non-members can get
an up-close look at two more very good, very private clubs in the area in the
coming days.If you can make it to
either one, or both, you’ll thank yourself.
On Wednesday Applebrook GC in Malvern, a 2001 Gil Hanse design,
will host the Philadelphia Open, the
most prestigious event on the annual calendar of the Golf Association of
isn’t longby modern standards,
6,815 yards from the back tees, but it is choice real estate and, dare I say,
one of the finest modern courses in the area, rich in subtleties and nuances.
It was also designed to be a walking-only
course, which will become evident when you realize that several of the tees are
only steps away from the last green, much like the first green and second tee
at the Old Course in St. Andrews.
Then, next Monday, July 28, Bidermann
GC in Wilmington, which I have dubbed the "Most Exclusive Course You Never Heard Of," will host a qualifier for the U.S. Mid-Am.Again, we’re talking about a very
place, which began life as a private course on a DuPont estate.
Given the success of the U.S. Open at Merion GC
last summer and Aronmink’s GC’s guest-hosting of the AT&T National in 2010
and 2011, why in the heck does a historic hotbed of golf like Philadelphia
still not have a regular stop on the PGA Tour?
Whatever your feelings about golf, this hole on Philadelphia's
scorecard is, like the Phillies front office, difficult to comprehend. After
all, if you were ranking potential PGA sites by purely objective standards, few
cities would seem to compare.
Consider some of the Philadelphia area's attributes
as a golfing venue:
Its golf history and traditions are as rich as
those of any American city.
It's home to dozens of classic courses, including
two of the top 10 - No. 1 Pine Valley and No. 6 Merion - in Golf Digest's
rankings of America's top 100.
It displayed Tour-worthy passion and interest
during those two AT&T events at Aronimink and again during last year's U.S.
Open at Merion.
It's the nation's fifth-most-populous city and
fourth-largest television market.
All good points.Fitzpatrick goes so far as wonder aloud
why the biggest, baddest corporation in town, Comcast, owner of NBC Sports and
Golf Channel, doesn’t step forward to bring a tournament to town?
It is the same
question I asked in the Inquirer in 2002, in a post-mortem
column on why the SEI Pennsylvania Classic couldn’t make a go of it at
Waynesborough Country Club.I, too,
went so far as to propose a Comcast Championship:
So, imagine, if you will, the $5.7 million Comcast
Championship at Waynesborough, Aronimink, Merion or maybe that new ACE course
they're building in Lafayette Hill.
Imagine a prime date, maybe in late June, when the
weather is perfect, the kids are out of school and everybody is not at the
Now imagine Pat Croce out there working the golf
circuit, talking up the tournament to the players, pointing out to the players,
by the way, that Comcast owns their beloved Golf Channel and would very much
appreciate it if they supported the event by vying for the $1 million winner's
You think things would fall into place?
happened then and, I suspect, nothing will happen now.If the golf-hungry crowds at the AT&T
at Aronimink, and the fever pitch of the Open at Merion, couldn’t jumpstart a
conversation at Comcast to sponsor at tournament in Philadelphia, nothing
The load in the back of the
car was just a little heavier driving home on Saturday after our beach week in
North Carolina.The coveted Conrad
Cup, after all, was on board.
That is correct.Against all odds, and perhaps several
laws of the universe, your humble correspondent prevailed in the Conrad Cup,
the long-running annual golf competition between me, my brother-in-law, Dan,
and my nephew-in-law, Cole.See earlier blog for
It was a runaway. Or a
giveaway, depending on your perspective.Fact is, on the day of the official Cup competition, Thursday, Dan held
a decent – some might say substantial – lead after the front
nine.Sadly, for him, on the 11th,
Dan’s ball found a nasty, plugged lie in a greenside bunker.It was so bad, he had no choice but to
play it out sideways.Still, on
impact, he heard a "pop" and Cole and I heard a "whimper."After that, Dan was toast.
"I’ve got no feeling in my
left hand," he moaned on the watery par 3 14th, after dunking two
balls in the pond.By the 16th
Dan was done, doomed to drive his cart and post "x", "x" on the 17th
I almost felt bad for him,
until I remembered that Tiger Woods won a U.S. Open on a broken leg, and that nobody
feels sorry for Dale Jr. when he blows an engine on the final lap at
Talladega.It’s part of sport.Besides, on a brighter note, it
opened the door for me sneak in the back door and claim the Cup.
Cole, by that point in the
Cup, was also toast.He had played
his best golf in the two warm-up rounds.Dan was fairly steady all three days.I, on the other hand, got better by the
day.Never mind the scores.Some things are best left to the
imagination. There are also privacy laws to consider.
In my earlier pre-Cup
preview post, I mentioned that I was going to try to negotiate for strokes, or
distance, or maybe the creation of a Senior Division, since Dan is about 10
years younger than me and Cole is 15 years younger.We settled on letting me play from the
white tees (6,351 yards), while they played from the blues (6,750).
Later, back at the beach
house, I posed with the Cup.I considered
prancing around or doing cartwheels in some sort of World Cup-style post-goal
celebration, but ultimately concluded that would be in poor taste, considering
the ice pack on Dan’s hand.Instead,
I tried to be humble in victory.
Back home in Philadelphia, the
Cup now occupies a prominent place on the bookshelf in my office.It will remain there until next June,
when my family returns to the beach to pig out on Eastern North Carolina
barbecue, hush puppies, shrimp, ice cream cake, assorted adult beverages and,
of course, another Conrad Cup.
A very gracious victory speech. Well deserved and Congrats to the victor. Now you can focus on your second favorite sporting event, World Cup Soccer.
[7/3/2014 5:48:13 PM]
Take good care of it because I have a feeling that the competition level just went up several notches.
[7/3/2014 5:38:37 PM]
I wondered how the story would finally come out. I guess "negative publicity" for the non-winners is better than none at all. In the meantime, congratulations on a well-written story (full and humor and wit as always) and oh yes...for winning the Conrad Cup. Dad would be proud. :-)
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.