As I watched
Bill Lyon toss out the first pitch at the Phillies game last night on TV, I
must confess my eyes got a little watery.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Bill Lyon,
the retired Inquirer sports columnist who is chronicling his battle with Alzheimer’s
in the paper, is one of the all-time greats.
Besides being a superb and deservedly-celebrated
columnist, Bill is one of the most decent men I have ever known.He grew up on a farm in the Midwest and
he has made his way through life like -- well, like a man who grew up on a farm
in the Midwest.
In 33 years as the Inquirer’s premier sports
columnist, Bill never wrote a cheap hit-piece on anybody, at least not that I
saw.Oh, he would take somebody
down a notch or two, if they needed it, but he never did it in a mean-spirited
or snarky way.Why clobber somebody
over the head with a bat when you can do the job with a hatpin?
During my 26 years at the Inquirer, Bill
sightings were rare, even after I moved to the Sports Department in 1995.You might see him in the old office at
400 North Broad Street once, twice a year, tops – the joke was that Bill
was required to present himself in person to the editors at least once a year.
The beat writers who covered the Phillies,
Eagles, Sixers and Flyers saw Bill more often, usually in the press box at
games.Since my beat was golf, my
sightings were less frequent.
But every year, I could count on seeing Bill
for a week, at the Masters.For a
stretch of years there, the Inquirer sent me and Bill to the Masters.The Inquirer had prime seats,
side-by-side, in the media center, and I always looked forward to spending
serious time with a man who earned his place in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of
Fame at the keyboard.
For an entire week, Bill and I would talk
– about Augusta National, about Tiger, about office politics back home,
about his dear wife Ethel, who was battling cancer and emphysema.If he said it once, he said it a
thousand times, "She’s the toughest woman I know, like a linebacker."
Our daily routine at the Masters was to arrive
at the media center in the morning, check our emails, read what other writers
and columnists had written that day, then take a stroll around the golf
course.Bill called Augusta
National the "cathedral of sports."He isn’t much of a golfer, if at all, but he always said the Masters was
his most fun week of the year covering sports.
We especially liked walking the back nine at
Augusta, lingering for an hour or so at Amen Corner.We might follow the leaders, or we might
not. It would be early in the day so the daily deadline pressure had not yet
kicked in.We were both waiting to
see what would unfold before we could begin planning what to write for the next
day’s paper.(This was in the days
before you had to live-blog every hole, every shot, every development.)
One of the truly great benefits of covering the
Masters is that press credential gives you access to the clubhouse.Most days, Bill and I would enjoy our
lunch --leisurely and luxuriously for a couple of newspaper hacks -- on the
clubhouse balcony overlooking the course.You never knew who might sit down at the table next to you – Amy
Mickelson and a couple of other player’s wives, big-time sports agents, a past
Masters champions, anybody from the world of golf.
No matter what we ate (burger, club sandwich,
chicken sandwich), both of us invariably ordered Augusta National’s famous
peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream for dessert.Once, when ordering the cobbler, I joked
to the waiter, "And don’t be stingy with the ice cream."
Bill laughed out loud.He loved that line.Thereafter, every time he would order
the peach cobbler, he would wink at the waiter and say, "And don’t be stingy
with the ice cream."
Big fan of Bill
One morning, when we were about to head out on
our daily trek around the course, Bill needed to pop into the restroom. As I waited by the door, I noticed a vaguely
familiar face approaching, headed out to the course.
After a moment, it dawned on me who it was: Joe
Queenan, the acerbic author, critic and essayist.Queenan has lived in NYC for years but
he has written extensively about having grown up in Philadelphia. As is his custom, I gather, he was
dressed in black, perhaps to reflect his often dark moods. "Aren’t you Joe
Queenan?" I asked.
Queenan didn’t know me from lunchmeat, so he
looked at me quizzically, then looked at the press credential hanging around my
neck."Philadelphia Inquirer," he
said, nodding.Queenan told me he
loved reading the Inquirer as a kid, especially the great sports columnist Bill
"Well, if you stand here for another minute or
two, you can meet him,"I said. Instantly,
Queenan’s scowl turned into a smile."Seriously?"
"Seriously," I said.
When Bill walked up, I introduced him to
Queenan, who proceeded to gush over him like a teenage girl meeting Beyonce.Bill stood there with his aw-shucks
modestly, thanking the stranger for his gracious comments.When Queenan left, Bill admitted he had
no idea who Queenan was.Later, back
at our laptops, I had Bill do a Google search on Queenan.He was suitably impressed.
Like many newspaper scribes of his generation,
Bill adapted to the transition from portable typewriters to laptops as best he
could.But he was no techie, not
even a little.Fortunately, Bill’s son
was a techie and he had rigged Bill’s laptop to function with almost one-button
ease.Compose a column?Two buttons, tops, to get it ready to
go.Send the column to the
Not everything worked every time, though.Occasionally, something would go horribly
wrong and Bill would panic that he might have accidently deleted his
column.Not that I am tech-savvy
myself but I would stop whatever I was writing and plunge in to assist, often
as my own deadline loomed.When we
would finally resolve the problem, the look of relief that would sweep over Bill’s
face was unmistakable to total.
Bill’s son also had his laptop set up so that
when Bill turned it off, the shutdown process would end with a photo of his
grandkids that popped up, in their jammies, saying, "Night, night, Pop-Pop."That was music to Bill’s ears.He would listen and watch his
grand kids with glee every evening, then turn to me with a satisfied grin, like
the fawning Pop-Pop that he was.
From a beat-writer’s perspective, there was another
important thing about Bill that was impossible not to appreciate.Even though he was the big dog, the lead
columnist, before he settled on a topic for his column, he would run it past
me."What are you planning to
write?" he would ask."I don’t want
to get in your way."
That was flat-out, nice-guy courtesy.He didn’t have to do that.If he wanted, Bill could have stepped
all over whatever I was planning to write – that’s the prerogative of the
lead columnist.I would have had to
adapt.But he never did.If I was already halfway through a story
similar to what he had in mind, Bill would pick another topic.He always had two or three good ideas he
Meatloaf and pancakes
In the early years, when Bill finished his
column and packed up to leave the media center, I would often invite him to
join a few of us for dinner, or take in one of the many functions and parties
that go on in Augusta during Masters week.
Thanks, but no thanks.Bill had his routine and he stuck to
it.Year after year, he stayed in
the same modest motel on the edge of town – I think it was a Days Inn –
where he could dine alone over a meatloaf dinner, or maybe the roast turkey
special, then return to his room to watch whatever ball game he could find on
TV.In the morning, after a hearty
breakfast and the morning paper, Bill would return to the golf course and we
would do it all over again.
One of Bill’s annual rites of spring was to buy
another item of Masters merchandise.Since he is not one to drop a bundle, his trip to the merchandise center
Most of us come would out of the merchandise
shop with two or three bags full of swag for ourselves and our friends and
family back home.Bill was a
one-bag guy, usually a shirt with the Masters logo – well-made, carefully
picked. That was it.That was enough.
Bill is what he seems like
I miss those weeks at the Masters with
Bill.Of all the high-profile
people in the media I have known over the years, Bill may be the most
genuine.He does not present one
face to his reading public and another behind the scenes.He’s no Jekyll and Hyde prima donna. He is exactly what he seems like.
As I watched Bill toss out that baseball last
night, it was obvious that advancing age and Alzheimers are beginning to take
their tolls.It makes me sad.I makes me pine for the old times on the
balcony of the clubhouse at Augusta, where we could dine like kings and joke to
the waiter, "And don’t be stingy with the ice cream."
It’s been a while since I posted a fresh blog
– a year and three days, to be exact.It’s not that I didn’t write any new blogs; I did.I wrote several, about various topics
– the inconceivable irrelevance of Tiger, the gradual decline of Phil
(except for the British Open), the blossoming of youngblood
stars like Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, the embarrassing
rules disaster at the U.S. Open, and, of course, the maddening ups and downs of
my own golf game.But in each case,
after I looked back over what I had written, I’d "spike" them, as we used to
day in the newspaper business.
I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like I was
adding much to the conversation.
All the while, my associate Ron
blogging away.If you read Ron
regularly, you know that he does his own thing.He writes about who or what in golf that
catches his interest, which is good, because Ron is a smart guy and offers keen
insights and observations.
Ron recently invited me out for a round at his
new club, Coatesville Country Club, in Chester Country, which I had never
played.Coatesville, a 1921 Alex
Findlay design, turned out to be a reminder that there are plenty of friendly
clubs and choice courses in the area that I still haven’t gotten to.
While I fiddled, Professor Joe Bausch has
also been busy.Last time I wrote
about Joe, in July 2015, the total number of golf course photo galleries in his
Bausch Collection stood
at 274.Joe has added another 53 course
galleries since then, for a total of 327.
No course escapes Joe’s notice – take,
for example, Mermaid GC, a nine-hole, par 3 course
in Blue Bell.It’s right there alongside
elite clubs like Merion and Aronimink.As it happens, I am familiar with Mermaid.Twenty years ago, I used to take my son
and his buddy there when they were about 10 years old.
Joe B. has also ventured farther afield to
include (so far) 10 courses in the New York City/Long Island area.One of the most impressive is Trump Ferry Point, in the
Bronx, which has some of the most spectacular vistas this side of Pebble Beach
or Old Head in Ireland.I know that
because I’ve played all three.In fact, Joe and I made the trip up to Ferry Point together, only days
after it opened.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who takes more
pleasure in experiencing new courses than Joe.During the summer, when he is off from
his duties teaching chemistry at Villanova, Joe tees it up at least three or
four times on a slow week.
If he is not playing golf, Joe is researching
golf courses, fishing around in the microfiche in the library at Villanova. My friend and fellow golf writer Jeff
Silverman, who has written club histories for Merion and Gulph
Mills, credits Joe with turning up stuff about both clubs that he likely never
would have come across.
Actually, I just got an email from Joe a few
minutes ago.It’s Monday (most
private clubs are closed) and it’s 90 degrees outside, so Joe had no plans to
play today.But if I had something
going for the afternoon, he wrote, "I could be tempted..."
For the complete list of courses Joe has added
or updated since my last blog, check this out:
13. Meadia Heights
Old York Road
Mercer Oaks East
Spring Mill CC
Town & Country
30. Forsgate CC - Banks
Philadelphia Country Club - Centennial Nine
Penn National - Founders
Penn National - Iron Forge
Pittsburgh Field Club
Waltz Golf Farm Par 3 Course
45. Greenacres CC
47. CC of
Scranton – Falls Course
48. RiverCrest Golf 7 Preserve
Mill CC Par 3 Course
3. Harkers Hollow
Hickory Valley - Ambassador
Landis Creek (fka Limerick)
9. Paxon Hollow
Stonewall - North
White Clay Creek
15. Whitemarsh Valley
Upper Dublin (fka Twining Valley)
Philadelphia Cricket Club - Wissahickon
Union League Golf Club at Torresdale (fkaTorresdale-Frankford)
If you read between the lines, today’s news out
of the U.S. Golf Association probably dims future hopes of Merion Golf Club
getting another U.S. Open.
The USGA announced
three future Open sites: 2022 is going to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.,
2023 is going to Los Angeles Country Club and 2024 is returning to Pinehurst
It is no secret that Merion, which has hosted
five Opens, including the 2013 Open, hopes to land another Open in the
"mid-20s," in the words of Bill Iredale, chairman of the club’s Championship
For Merion’s hopes, the Open going to Brookline
in ’22 is a gut punch.
Here’s why:Over the past decade or so, the U.S.
Open has increasingly become not only a major sporting spectacle but also the
biggest moneymaker for the USGA.To
keep the money flowing, the USGA needs big venues, like Pinehurst No. 2, where
daily crowds approach 50,000, not smaller venues like Merion, where crowds in
2013 were limited to about half that size.
Brookline is Boston’s version of Merion –
an old, classic course that enables the USGA to demonstrate that it still cares
about the legacy of the game.But the USGA can only afford to bite the financial bullet so often.
Obviously, nothing is official.Heck, Merion could land the Open in 2026
or 2027, but don't count on it.
For a little background, check out this
exchange between Merion’s Iredale and David Fay,
former USGA executive director turned Golf Digest columnist.
Today, after the announcement, I spoke with Iredale to find out if the club had any reaction.He composed his thoughts in an email,
which is has agreed to let me quote:
We knew of (or were
pretty sure of) '22 and '23. We did not know of '24 but are not surprised.
Pinehurst is a terrific Open venue. We are now hoping for '26.
We have a good feeling
about hosting the Amateur in '30. In the meantime we are hosting the GAP AM
next year, the Women's Eastern Golf Assoc AM in '19
and the Pa AM in '21.
So we are content with
what we have in store but maybe, once again, it will get even better. In '04
and '05 we were content with the upcoming '05 Am and the '09 Walker Cup. Then
we were awarded the '13 Open.
Deja vu is possible!
Truth be told, these days, Merion is probably a
better venue for smaller events, like the U.S. Amateur and Walker Cup.In Iredale’s
email, the Amateur in 2030 obviously refers to the 100th anniversary
of Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam at Merion.
LANCASTER – The
verdict is in and it is safe to say that Lancaster Country Club just pulled off
one of the best U.S. Women’s Opens in a long, long time.
Everything about the Open
this past week was first-rate.The players
loved the golf course, which, by the way, was in immaculate condition.USGA officials were practically giddy
over how well-received the championship was the by Lancaster community.On the weekend, there were 25,000
spectators a day.I’ve been to
Women’s Open’s where I doubt they had that many fans all week.
A big ingredient for success
was taking the Women’s Open to a small- to mid-size market, where locals
appreciated it and supported it in ways that big cities often don’t.
"It’s great when you're the
biggest story in town for the week," one USGA official told me.
My guess is, the USGA will
take the Women’s Open back to Lancaster CC as often as the club is willing to
host it.It sort of makes you
wonder why it took these two so long to get together in the first place.
FLYNN GEM: Another thing the Women’s Open did
was raise the stock of the Lancaster CC.I’ve played it a number of times over the years, and I walked it again
ta couple of times during the Open.The inescapable conclusion is that Lancaster CC is one of William F.
Flynn’s finest designs.
If you could somehow hook it
to a trailer hitch and drag it 50 miles closer to Philadelphia, Lancaster CC
would be regarded as perhaps the finest Flynn courses in town, right up there
with Huntingdon Valley CC and Rolling Green GC.You could make a strong argument that it
would be the No. 3 course in the area, behind only Pine Valley GC and Merion
KOREAN DOMINATION: If we needed any further proof, the Women’s Open
demonstrated that women’s golf in America is dominated by Koreans.Much of the time on Sunday, the
only non-Korean surname on the leaderboard was Stacy Lewis.
You can debate all you want
about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for women’s golf, but it is
most certainly a thing.
FOX HUNT:FOX Sports is only two
championships into its gazillion dollar, long-term contract with the USGA, and
I’m no TV critic, but so far, I am underwhelmed.
When the FOX deal was
announced last year, I recall a certain amount of insinuation that NBC Sports
was too ho-hum, old-school, that FOX would introduce a modernized, jazzier
innovative graphics – the kind of stuff that FOX has brought to the their
So far, I’m not seeing
it.Either FOX vastly
underestimated how tough it is to produce golf tournaments, or the USGA vastly
overestimated what FOX brought to the table, other than much, much more money
The viewers are the
losers.In the booth, the
biggest disappointment is Greg Norman.He may be a Hall of Fame player, and a shrewd, self-made millionaire
many times over, but in the booth, he’s a journeyman.
I’ve sat through enough Greg
Norman interviews and press conferences to know that he is plenty smart, and
thinks quickly on his feet.So, why
is he finding it so difficult to bring that A-game to his commentary?Johnny Miller anticipates the next shot,
and senses what a player is thinking, then he lays it all out there for the
viewer, without fear or favor.Norman seems to be reacting to what he sees on the monitor in front of
him – and a bit timidly at that.
For Johnny Miller, his
livelihood depends on his insightful and candid commentary. For Norman, this
FOX thing is only a side gig, a break from his golf course design and many
business interests.You’ve got to
wonder whether he wants to be a TV guy badly enough to devote the time and
effort to be as good as viewers deserve.
Endings don’t come much crueler in golf
tournaments than the way Ben Polland melted down
Wednesday on the 72nd hole of the PGA Professional National
Championship at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
It was painful to watch.I was sitting just off the 18th
green when the whole thing went down.
Polland, 24, an assistant pro at Deepdale GC in
New York, held a four-shot lead for much of the final day.But by the time he reached the 72nd
at Cricket’s Wissahickon Course, his lead over
playing partner Matt Dobyns was down to two.
But Polland was
cruising.He appeared to be in
command of himself and the tournament.It was truly his to lose, which he did.
A so-so tee shot left him with an awkward lie
in the fairway bunker at Cricket’s 18th, a hole notorious for wrecking
good rounds and upending the outcome of matches.Foolishly, one might suggest, Polland, 24, tried to muscle a 7-iron out of a bad lie, to
reach the green.Instead, he found
the creek that crisscrosses the 18th fairway.
Polland had no choice but to take a penalty drop, then he hit his fourth shot
to 10 feet.He putt – and his
attempt to escape with a bogey – came up short of the hole.
37, head pro at Fresh Meadow CC in Lake Success, N.Y., a wily veteran and
winner of the national club pro championship in 2012, hit his approach shot to
four feet and smoothed in the birdie putt.
Poof, a three-shot swing, just like that.Dobyns walked
off the green with the win and a $75,000 check.Polland walked
off the green looking like somebody had hit him in the gut with a fungo bat.
Afterward, he lamented the crummy lie in the
bunker and his effort, in hindsight, to go for the green.
Dobyns took no pleasure in watching Polland
crash and burn."When he hit the
ball and it went in the water, I was shocked," said Dobyns."I felt really bad for him, because I
know Ben and know him well."
Besides Dobyns, the
big winner of the week of Philadelphia Cricket Club, which staged the event magnificently.Dan Meersman,
director of grounds, had both the Wissahickon and
Militia Hill courses groomed to perfection, despite the 1½ inches of
rain that pounded the area the night before the championship started.
Also earning a bow was Jim Smith Jr., director
of golf at Cricket.He all over the
place – on Golf Channel, in the pro shop, schmoozing like the pro he
is.On Wednesday, Smith spent the
entire afternoon standing behind the 18th green, greeting every single
player in the field as they concluded their rounds. He got a lot a slaps on the back.
Merion, host of five Opens, including the 2013
Open, more or less gets dissed.
Remember, David Fay is a man who played no
small role in helping Merion land the ’13 Open.It was Fay, then executive director, who
dispatched Mike Davis, now his successor, to head down to Merion to break the
news to the storied club that its days of hosting Opens were over.The course was too short, the
property too cramped.
But once Davis got to Merion and took a good long
look at the restored East Course, he thought otherwise.Davis returned to USGA headquarters in
Far Hills, N.J., and did everything he could to change’s Fay’s mind.That led to Fay’s own visit to Merion
and, he too, changed his mind.The
rest is well-documented history of an Open that generally got rave reviews.
Now comes Fay’s June column that
basically handicaps club’s chances of staying in the Open rotation.
The Open dance card has become overcrowded, and the list
of very attractive wallflowers is growing.
For much of the 20th century, the
Open was played at private clubs near large and mid-size cities. Unlike the
British Open with its rota of 10 seaside links
courses, the U.S. Open has been a movable feast, with no formal rotational
schedule. In the past 50 years, the U.S. Open has been played on 23 courses.
Fay offers his personal predictions about who’s in, who’s out:
top of his list as "locks every 10 years" are Oakmont (8 Opens) and Pinehurst
No. 2 (3 Opens).He describes
Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills as "locks" every 10
years, too, presuming the clubs are willing to host the Open.
A few more predictions later, Fay’s
column gets very interesting.To
EVERY 25 YEARS
Merion (five Opens)
The Country Club At Brookline (three Opens)
These two squared off for the right to host the 2013
Open. At the time the decision was made, The Country Club's composite course
had yet to be reworked by Gil Hanse.
Merion would need to get the full support of the
community as it did in 2013. It worked then, but with the changes in the game
and the size of the place, could it succeed 25 years from now? That's probably
too much of a gamble. The members would have to consider whether another Open
could hurt Merion's reputation. If so, it might be time to step aside, as
Myopia Hunt did after its fourth and final Open in 1908.
Open could hurt Merion’s reputation?It might be time to step aside?
despite the fact that it is a badly kept secret, if it is a secret at all, that
Merion has already reached out to the USGA about hosting another Open in the 2020s,
and it definitely wants to host the 2030 U.S. Amateur onthe 100th anniversary of
Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam there.
couldn’t help but wonder what Merion thought about Fay’s column –
specifically Bill Iredale, chairman of the club’s
Championship Committee.If anybody
knows about whether Merion might be thinking about stepping aside, it is Iredale.
out, Iredale hadn’t seen Fay’s column, either.When I sent him a link, he most
definitely had a reaction, which he put in writing in the form of a letter to
the editor of Golf Digest.Iredale sent me a copy as well and gave me permission to
quote from it.
the heck, here’s Iredale’s letter in full:
consider David Fay to be a friend and supporter of Merion Golf Club. We worked
together to have the USGA conduct the '05 Amateur, the '09 Walker Cup and '13
Open at Merion. But, based on his comments in this article, he may not be
aware of the level of commitment of the Merion membership to continue with our
membership feels strongly that we are a golf club and one that enthusiastically
supports championship golf. After the '13 Open the Board of Governors
authorized our Championship Committee to continue to have the Club host
smaller, but meaningful championship events. Merion will host the Golf
Association of Philadelphia Amateur in 2016, the Women's Eastern Golf
Association Amateur in 2019 and the Pennsylvania Golf Association Amateur in
brief rest, Merion hopes to host a U S Open in the mid 2020s and the Amateur in
2030, the centennial year of Bobby Jones completing the Grand Slam with his
Amateur win at Merion.
invitations are in the hands of the USGA.
As to the
crucial "support of the community" there is no doubt, based on the post
'13 Open comments we have received, that Pennsylvania, Haverford Township,
Haverford College and our immediate neighbors would enthusiastically support
those future USGA Championships at Merion.
USGA may not accept Merion's Open invitation for the mid 2020s but the Club
does not plan to step aside and we are not worried about our reputation....any
more than we were before our 7000 yard East Course hosted the '13 Open. And,
everyone knows how that turned out. The Championship story at Merion will
I have finally watched the
latest golf movie, The Squeeze, and I am here
to report that it is better than I expected but not as good as I had hoped
Granted, you can count the truly
inspired, well-done golf movies on a couple of fingers (Tin Cup, The Greatest Game Ever Played), three if you are among the
many people who regard Caddyshackas an comedy achievement and enduring
cult classic.Even if Caddyshackcan elicit several good laughs from me,
I personally have always been a little embarrassed for the game of golf that
such buffoonery represents the pinnacle of the genre.
In the case of The Squeeze, it is the first time I can
recall feeling that the golf action – the actual playing of the game in
the movie – surpasses a supposedly true story that nonetheless strikes me
as a bit hokey.
If several industry
indicators mean much, know that The
Squeeze did not spend much time in theaters, before going to DVD, streaming
and downloadable on iTunes.In the old days, they called that going straight-to-video.
The plot revolves around a
likeable small-town, half-poor Southern kid, Augie,
who turned himself into a shockingly excellent self-taught golfer.Augie is
so good, in fact, that he gets recruited against his better judgment (and the
complete opposition of his girlfriend) by a sleazy gambler named "Riverboat" to
hustle rich guys out of their money on the golf course.
After a couple of early
hustles, they head to Las Vegas, where the stakes get into the millions and
death threats start to come at Augie from every
direction.The movie takes you to
the precipice of life-and-death drama, then, poof,
wraps everything up very nicely in short order.What, that’s it?
The Squeeze does
have its admirers.I came across a
couple of favorable reviews on line.And just yesterday, I was playing golf with a guy from Las Vegas, where
much of the movie was filmed.I
asked him if he had seen The Squeeze yet?
"No, but I want to," he
said."I hear it’s really good,
with a great story."