Finally, Philadelphia is
starting to get some of the golf tournaments it richly deserves.
In June, the newly-restored
Philadelphia Cricket Club Wissahickon Course will
host the National
Club Professional Championship.For club pros across the country, this is the biggest deal all
year.It’s also a great tournament
Then, in 2018, Aronimink GC will host the BMW
Championship, the penultimate FedEx Cup event of the year on the PGA
Tour.This, no doubt, is thanks to
the fine job Aronimink did as fill-in host of the then-AT&T National in
2010 and 2011.It also bodes well
in the club’s quest to land a major or a Ryder Cup.
Earlier this year, the USGA
announced that Cricket’s Wissahickon course will host
the 2020 U.S.
Amateur Four-Ball, a new much-anticipated event.
For local golf fans, this is
a bonanza that was long in coming.For Philadelphia Cricket, which has often found itself in the shadows of
Merion GC, Aronimink GC and Pine Valley GC, this trio
of tournaments -- the National Club Pro, the Senior Players and the Amateur
Four-Ball -- is nothing less than a major conquest and sign of respect.
Yes, it’s about time. I foresee more. How about a US AM at Cricket using their 2 courses? Foster’s restoration of the Tillinghast course has brought the club into the higher echelon of classic courses, jumping from 102 to 32 on Golfweek’s ratings of Classic courses.
My first round of 2015 is in the books, and it was a doozy
My first round of the young
golf season is finally in the books and, let me tell you, it was a doozy.
Before Saturday, my last
round was Dec. 10th, in Arizona, during an annual golf trip/confab for golf
writers.That trip is always good
to get in a few mid-winter rounds, plus catch up with my old pals from the golf
Back home in Philadelphia, my
first round of the year is usually when we get the first day of decent
weather.I’ll drop whatever I’m
doing and go play.Some years
that’s mid-March, some years, mid-April.
This year has been different.Not that we haven’t already had good
weather; we have.There have been
four, five, maybe six days just in the past three weeks that I was itching to
grab the clubs and head out the door.
Problem was, ever since
Easter, I have been nursing a sprained left ankle.It’s not the worst sprain I’ve ever had,
but it blew up like a volley ball, turned black and blue, and hurt like hell.I’ve been hobbling around, to some
degree, ever since.
I wish I could say the
sprain was due to some impressive athletic endeavor on my part.Not so.Rather, that Sunday night three
weeks ago, walking to my car in the dark, with my arms loaded with stuff, I
stepped in a small hole, rolled my ankle and went crashing to the ground like a
100-pound sack of potatoes.I slammed
into the side of my car so hard I put a little dent in it.Before I even tried to get up, I laid
there for a minute or two taking a personal physical inventory.
Head?There was blood over my eye.My twin titanium hips?Much to my relief, they felt fine.Elbows and knees?Scrapped and a little bloody but nothing
to worry about.Ankle?Not so good.Instantly, as I laid there, I had
visions of my golf season being postponed until about August.
I proceeded to do all the
things you can do for a sprained ankle:Iced it, elevated it and rested it for the rest of the night.The next morning, I went to the drug store
and bought one of those maximum-support ankle braces.Still, golf or any serious activity was
out of the question, at least for a while.
Then, about a week ago, I
got a call from a friend.He and I
had been invited by another mutual friend to play golf on Saturday at his
club.His club is Pine Valley.
I believe you can appreciate
I hadn’t swung a club or hit
a ball in more than four months.My
ankle, while improved, was at best 75 percent, not to mention untested.You can only take so much Advil without
doing yourself harm.And, of
course, Pine Valley is not only a walking-only course, it is a beast of a walking
Still, Pine Valley is Pine
Valley, bum ankle be dammed.So, I gamely showed up at Pine Valley on
Saturday morning, sporting a new, lighter compression ankle brace under my
sock.I was going to play if they
had to carry me around on their shoulders like some kind of Egyptian pharaoh.
My swing was as rusty and
creaky as an old barn door latch.Much to my surprise, I was able to hit my driver pretty well.My iron game stunk to high heaven, and
around the greens I had all the finesse and touch of a blacksmith.
Since it was Pine Valley,
and a gorgeous afternoon, so I tried to keep my whimpering and complaining to a
minimum.I hobbled and limped, struggling
to keep up with the others, which can be tough on some of the sandy footpaths
at Pine Valley.
One of the other guys in the
group kept score in our little $2 Nassau match, and he was kind enough not to
bring the scorecard to the table afterward at lunch. But, out of curiosity,
when I got home, I sat down and reconstructed my round as best I could from
memory.I will tell you I had a
handful of pars, several double-bogeys, two triples, one snowman and an "X,"
which I tallied as a second snowman.On the positive side of the ledger, I had one tap-in birdie. All I will disclose is that I shot
somewhere north of 90, but south of 100.Just another day at Pine Valley.
If you’re looking for a good golf book to read,
let me point you toward Michael Bamberger’s recently-released, Men In Green.
Bamberger, a senior writer at Sports
Illustrated, is a friend, occasional golf partner and former colleague, dating
back to our days together at the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I won’t pretend to
present this as a totally objective book review.It is not.
That said, in my unbiased opinion, Bamberger is
one of the best, if not the best,
writer of his generation when it comes to golf and the people and issues associated
with the game.That’s what this
book is all about – mini-profiles and stories about 18 people Bamberger
has encountered or come to know and respect along the way in his career and golf
He divides them into two categories:"Living Legends," such as Arnold Palmer,
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson; and "Secret Legends," which includes people you
may or may not have heard of.
Among the "Secret Legends" is another top golf
writer and friend, Jaime Diaz, contributing editor at Golf Digest and editor of
Golf World; also on the list are two folks with Philadelphia connections:Neil Oxman,
who leads a double life as a political consultant and as Tom Watson’s caddie;
and Chuck Will, a character if ever there was one and a man who spent about
three decades as the top deputy to CBS’s Frank Chirkinian,
who virtually invented the modern golf telecast.
There is one woman on the list, Mickey Wright,
who many believe possessed the finest golf swing ever, by man or woman.Because she has pretty much withdrawn
from public life, the LPGA legend declined to fully participate in Bamberger’s
effort, even if she was nothing less than gracious in rebuffing him.
Some of the best stuff between the covers of Men In Green is Bamberger’s many
encounters with Palmer, who he admires and reveres immensely; and Nicklaus, who
is his ultimate golf hero.Bamberger’s take on the late Ken Venturi, the
former U.S. Open champion and CBS golf analyst, evolves over time from good to,
shall we say, less flattering.
If there is a main theme running through the
book, it is Bamberger’s close, enduring and complicated friendship with Mike
Donald, a former journeyman PGA tour pro whose moment in the spotlight was
losing the 1990 U.S. Open to Hale Irwin in a sudden-death playoff.
Donald, confidant and an invaluable source of
facts, history and insights on golf and golf people, rode shotgun in Bamberger’s
old beater of an Subaru Outback on many of their cross-country road trips/interviews.The dynamic between the two is worth the
price of admission for any shrink, couples therapist or anyone trying to
maintain a marriage or relationship.
I often judge books by whether I dread picking
them up or whether I can’t put them down.Men In Green is the latter.
As much fun as it was watching young Jordan Spieth’s to wire-to-wire win in the Masters, the
implications for the future of the game are even more exciting.
Golf always benefits from a good rivalry, and
now that Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson is winding down after almost two decades,
what better time to welcome the dawning of Rory McIlroy
vs. Jordan Spieth battling it out for World No. 1 and
every major championship title for the next 20 years?
Besides being golfing prodigies of the highest
order, McIlroy and Spieth are
both quite likeable and marketable, even if they are a little white-bread boring
for some fans’ tastes.But so what?
Now, if only money, fame and the inevitable
temptations that come with both don’t bring them down (see: Woods, Tiger), we could have a good thing going for a while.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve already had my
fill of Bubba Watson.
Well, as it happens, I’m not
a betting man.I also like to
believe that my Mama didn’t raise no fool.
By all outward appearances,
Tiger has his confidence back.He
said he has been at home "working my ass off" and that his game is back to where
it needs to be.There is also his burning
desire to win major title No. 15.
On the other hand, I cannot
ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that reality will rear its
ugly head sooner rather than later, during his opening round on Thursday.
Even for the one and only
Tiger Woods, the Masters is not the place to reappear on the scene after a
two-month absence, and not the place to reestablish your golfing supremacy on a
track that has only grown increasingly faster.The expectations, and the pressure, will
be suffocating, even for the man with the strongest mind in the game.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall
inside Tiger’s head right now.He
exudes confidence, because he knows that is what is required.He smiles, a little nervously if you ask
me, because he would never let us see him sweat.
He’s done this before
– four times – and he can do it again.Just ask Tiger.The question is, is he is trying to
convince us or himself?
I love the Masters as much as the next guy,
Long ago, I drank – gulped -- the Kool-Aid, before I ever wrote a word about golf for a
living.Even as a kid, I was
transfixed by Augusta National and everything about the tournament.
Once I started going to the Masters with a
notepad and a press pass, nothing changed. I inhaled the springtime air in Augusta,
and the way the Masters signaled the dawning of another golf season.I soaked up the pomp and circumstance,
the corny piano jingle we all associate with the tournament.I didn’t even roll my eyes at the over-the-top
reverence of CBS’s coverage, or the stunning pomposity of the club and its
Even as a hard-core cynic and sourpuss, when you
walk through those gates and make your away around that golf course, all your
defenses go right out the window.No need to apologize.It
happens to everybody.
For one thing, the Masters field is by far the
smallest, rarely more than 100, usually less, when other majors have 156.The small field is then diluted by the
traditional inclusion of past champions who have utterly zero chance of
winning.Uh, I’m thinking Ben
Crenshaw, Sandy Lyle, Mike Weir, Larry Mize, Tom Watson, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer...I could go on.
Then, there Augusta National’s traditional and
quaint inclusion of a number of amateurs who also have no chance of
winning:the U.S. Amateur champ and
runner up, the British Amateur champ, the U.S. Mid-Am champ, the U.S. Publinks champ and, more recently, the Asian-Pacific Amateur
champ and the Latin American Amateur champ.
In Augusta National’s noble effort to grow the
game globally, the field is increasingly full of international players that I’ve
never heard of and certainly couldn’t pick out of a line up.Even if they somehow play their way onto
the leaderboard, the guys in the control truck at CBS go into full panic
mode.For ratings purposes, they
need Tiger, Phil, Rory, somebody we at least recognize.They have and will settle for Fred
Couples hanging in there on Thursday and Friday.
Bottom line, out of this year’s field of 98,
there are maybe 30 to 35 guys who have a plausible shot at winning the
Masters.I wish I believed Tiger
Woods was among them.
Of course, come Sunday afternoon, I, like you,
will be glued to the 55-inch high-def window onto the
luscious green golfing mecca of Augusta National, even if it comes down to Charley
Hoffmann battling JoostLuiten
for the green jacket.
It’s a sickness, really, for which there is no
first time I ever met James W. Finegan Sr., was in
1995, while he was still working on his definitive history of golf in
Philadelphia, A Centennial Tribute to
Golf in Philadelphia.
occasional was a small, annual golf event at the Philadelphia Cricket Club,
hosted by our mutual friend, Michael Bamberger, senior golf writer for Sports
Illustrated.I was familiar with Finegan’s name, but I didn’t know him or much about
him.That all changed when we were
seated next to each other at the post-round dinner in the Flourtown clubhouse.
could tell a story like Jim Finegan.Skinny as the shaft of a 1-iron, with a
manner of speaking that defies description, when Finegan
regaled you with a tale, he was all arms and all superlatives.That 20-foot putt you made on the 12th
was the single finest putt he had ever
seen struck by an amateur or a professional. That course he played last
month in Ireland was simply superior to
anything anyone has designed in the last 100 years, case closed.
could go on and on like that, and he usually did.In conversation with Finegan,
you mostly listened, and happily so.How could you not?
night at the dinner, as Finegan told me about the
book he was writing to commemorate GAP’s 100th anniversary, he
mentioned he had been working on it for almost five years.
Five years? I couldn’t imagine working on a writing project for
the time his three-inch thick masterwork was published, in 1996, I was the
newly-appointed golf writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer.GAP sent me a copy, which promptly
became the single most valuable reference book I have ever owned.I still refer to it religiously to this
day.Anything or anybody I ever needed
to know about having to do Philadelphia golf, Finegan
had researched exhaustively and written about with authority, in great
detail.Dense with facts and
perspective, I came to wonder how he ever wrote that book in only five years.
the rare occasion that I couldn’t find precisely what I was looking for in Centennial Tribute, I would pick up the
phone and call Finegan.By then, we had become friends.We would play golf together, meet for
lunch, spent 45 minutes at a time on the phone.Not only was he a bottomless storehouse
of information and memories, Finegan was the single
most quotable source I have ever known.The man simply spoke in quotes.
was generous with him time, his expertise and his praise.How many times did the phone would ring
and it would be Finegan?"Joseph, that piece you had in the
Inquirer this morning was simply
amazing.You told me things I did
not know.I don’t know how you do
it – and on deadline!"
Jim, I don’t know how you did it.
Finegan was the master.I was, I am, his student, in awe of his
talent and his charm, grateful to have known such a unique and endearing