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Ty Cobb at Olympic

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The US Open golf championship is being held this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, prompting articles in magazines, newspapers, and websites about the club’s history and the four previous US Opens that it has hosted. Each of these Opens is famous as the occasion of an upset, each worthy of a lengthy re-telling. That’s not the purpose of this post, but let me at least review briefly.

1955: One of the greatest upsets in sporting history. Jack Fleck, a muni pro, ties Ben Hogan in regulation, beating him the next day in a playoff. Hogan was never the same. Fleck, still alive, has been in the press a lot the last couple of weeks.

1966: I remember this one. Not exactly an upset when Billy Casper wins, except for the fact that Arnold Palmer led by 7 with nine holes to go. Casper tied him, both finishing 7 strokes ahead of third place Jack Nicklaus, with Casper beating Palmer in the playoff the next day.

1987: Sigh. I remember this one too. My hero, Tom Watson, entered the last round a stroke ahead of Scott Simpson, but Simpson putted like crazy to edge Watson by a stroke, with Ballesteros, Crenshaw, and Langer another 4 strokes back. It was Father’s Day, I was at Gail’s brother’s apartment watching with Gail, Jessica, her brother, and her father. Joel was there also, sort of, a week away from entering the world. I couldn’t get them to understand that we were watching history. They were too busy talking about everything but golf.

1998: I can’t forget this one, not because of what we watched, but because we didn’t. We were in South Dakota on the occasion of Gail’s father’s 60th high school reunion. The reunion was in Groton on Saturday of Open weekend. We were staying with her dad’s sister-in-law in Claremont. He was with Gail’s cousin in Britton. (See if you can find these places on a map.) We all drove down to Groton for the reunion, returned to Claremont for a bit, during which I caught the end of the third round, then drove all the way back to Groton and on west to Aberdeen for the festive dinner. Sunday was one of the crazier days of our lives, as we drove all over eastern South Dakota and even a bit of Minnesota in search of Gail’s cousin’s son’s baseball tournament. When we finally got there, in some park on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, the food available for sale was gone. No lunch. After the games, we had dinner at a gas station-restaurant-store just off the interstate, Gail’s other cousin having made the drive up from I-don’t-remember-where so we could all be together. I was going crazy. I just wanted to get to our hotel and see the end of the golf. But this was a huge family reunion, so that wasn’t about to happen. And I didn’t yet have a smart phone to keep up with the action.

So, anyway, we got to our downtown Sioux Falls hotel, went up to our rooms (Gail and me in one, Joel and grandpa in another), and the golf was still on. We got to see Payne Stewart’s crushing loss to Lee Janzen. Having led by 3 going into the round, with a 5-stroke gap over Janzen, Stewart would lose by a stroke. (A year later, Stewart would famously defeat Phil Mickelson by 1 with a dramatic putt on 18 at Pinehurst. This is the tournament where Mickelson stood ready at any point to fly home for the birth of his and Amy’s first child, who ended up waiting until the next day to show up. We were in New York that day, celebrating Father’s Day with my father. Another missed last round, except for that putt, which Joel and I saw on tv at the club where we were eating dinner.)

It turned out to be a lovely evening. After the golf, Gail and I walked around downtown, got a sense of the city, then returned for dessert in our hotel restaurant with the guys. And the next day, we drove across the state to Rapid City, with many fascinating stops along the way, such as Mitchell’s Corn Palace, the crossing of the Missouri, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, and, just for scenic effect, the scariest weather I ever saw for the final 30 miles or so along I-90 into Rapid City, with tornadoes in the distance.

I’m straying. The theme of the US Open review: Olympic, where golfing dreams go to die. A course with a painful history. What famous golfer will lose by a stroke or in a playoff this year after having victory in his hands?

Ty Cobb is in the post’s title. Let’s find out why.

The AP’s Antonio Gonzalez had a piece Friday (hat tip: Geoff Shackelford) on The Olympic Club’s history beyond the Opens. He explains at the beginning:

Next week’s U.S. Open host has conquered far more than golf’s greatest.

Little black books buried in the archives of The Olympic Club reveal a place that groomed gold medalists and heavyweight champions, whipped writer Mark Twain into shape and whose members teased Ty Cobb so much after he lost to a 12-year-old that the baseball great rarely returned.

Farther down, we get the Cobb story. It’s short, lacking in detail, but too good to pass up:

Cobb, a hot-tempered and aggressive slugger who received the most votes on the original Hall of Fame ballot, played 12-year-old Bob Rosburg in the first club championship in 1939. Although Cobb had retired from baseball more than a decade earlier, his competitiveness never cooled.

Cobb lost 7 and 6. Rosburg later won the PGA Championship in 1959. And while popular lore is that Cobb resigned in furor, the club has no record that he gave up his membership. Rosburg told Golf Digest in 2010 that Cobb was gracious in defeat but “guys at the club rode him unmercifully for losing to a child. He disappeared and didn’t come back to Olympic for years.”

“He was just so embarrassed,” Olympic general chairman Stephen Meeker said of Cobb, recalling the story.

Another painful Olympic loss.

Gonzalez’s summary of Cobb’s baseball greatness is incomplete, to say the least. A study of Cobb’s stats, here, might help, for those who need help. Check out the career .366 batting average, or the 4189 hits. There’s good reason he was an inaugural Hall of Famer. As for Rosburg (“Rossy”), he had a distinguished golfing career, becoming even more widely known during his decades as a roving commentator on ABC’s golf broadcasts.

Categories: Golf

American Triumvirate, II

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Two months ago, I wrote about Jim Dodson’s upcoming book American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf. A year ago, I had read his 2005 biography Ben Hogan: An American Life, writing about it a month later and quoting from that post in January. As I explained in January, “since finishing the book, I have thought that I would enjoy reading more about the golfers of that era. A biography of Byron Nelson perhaps. You can understand, then, how pleased I was to read a month or two ago (I don’t remember where) that Dodson would have a new book coming out on Hogan, Nelson, and Sam Snead.” My one concern was that having just read the Hogan biography last year, I would find this book repetitious. But with the Masters approaching, another historical golf excursion would provide a good warmup.

The Dodson book was due out a week ago today. The week before, I was reading Jim Baggott’s The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments (which I have written about here and here). When I finished it two twelve evenings ago, I had to decide whether to start another book or distract myself otherwise for five days while waiting for American Triumvirate to appear. Remembering that I had pre-ordered it on Amazon, I checked but failed to find evidence of that. This reprieve led to the creative idea that I could actually wait before buying it, allowing myself to read another book (or more) first and turn to Dodson at my leisure.

So it was that I downloaded Orlando Figes The Crimean War: A History, one of the books I was trying to decide among two weeks earlier before selecting Baggott’s quantum mechanics history. (And by the way, what do you make of that subtitle? Might I have thought the book was a comedy without that little tip? Or should I take this as a sign of the perceived ignorance of US readers? The original title in the UK was the more useful and informative Crimea: The Last Crusade.) I will write about it separately. It’s superb. Also long, and dense. As I made slow progress, I realized that I wouldn’t be ready for Dodson for a while.

And then a funny thing happened. On Monday night, eight days ago, the eve of American Triumvirate‘s publication date, I got an email from Amazon informing me that American Triumvirate was now being sent to my Kindle. But I didn’t pre-order it! Then I remembered that my Kindle account purchases aren’t listed together with my book purchases in my Amazon account information. When I checked a few days earlier to see if I had pre-ordered it, what I found was that I hadn’t pre-ordered the book. But I had pre-ordered the e-book, which I now owned. Curious, I picked up my Kindle, got out of The Crimean War, and found American Triumvirate as promised. I went back to The Crimean War, finished chapter 2 (60 pages in) so that I would be at a good pausing point, then began reading American Triumvirate.

Dodson sure does draw the reader in. He’s an excellent companion when proctoring a final exam, as I did Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, he’s also an excellent companion when trying to grade said final exams.

The conflict between reading Dodson and grading felt familiar. Checking, I discovered that sure enough, I had read the Hogan biography at exactly the same time last year, finishing it the weekend I needed to get my final exams graded. And this year I did the same, finishing American Triumvirate late Saturday afternoon, grading tests the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday.

I should explain that the logic behind publishing a book about Snead, Nelson, and Hogan now is that they were born months apart in 1912, making this a centennial year. Yet, as Dodson’s subtitle (“the modern age of golf”) suggests, he aims to tell us a wider story than that of these three contemporaneous golfers. A Prologue plunges us into the middle of the 1954 Masters, but Chapter 1 takes us back to 1912 for an overview of life and golf in America at that time. Soon we go back farther, to 1900 and golfing great Harry Vardon’s visit from Britain, then still farther, to the 1840’s, St. Andrews, golf pro Allan Robertson, and his assistant Tom Morris. From here, time moves forward again, as we return to the turn of the century and the original Great Triumvirate of Vardon, John Henry Taylor, and James Braid, learning about the development of new golf balls and clubs, the growth of the game and of golf courses, andy the births of our heroes-to-be.

Eventually Dodson narrows his focus to our boys, but with the growth of the American pro game a continuing theme. I should note that these aren’t just three of the century’s greatest golfers. They are three absolutely fascinating men. It is a continuing wonder that the Hogan and Snead families both settled not far from the same golf club in Fort Worth, with Byron and Ben heading over just two weeks apart to find out about caddying, eventually to compete in the club’s annual caddy golf tournament. As happened again and again in the coming years, Byron got the upper hand, edging Ben in a playoff. Only after Byron’s miraculous year of 1945, his early retirement a year later, and then Ben’s stunning recovery from the February 1949 accident in which he and wife Valerie collided head on with a Greyhound bus would Ben finally become the unquestioned greatest golfer in the world.

There’s Sam too, but it becomes clear where Dodson’s heart lies. He is, after all, the official Hogan biographer. Despite my fear that I would find the book repetitious, I happily read again of Hogan’s recovery, his peak golfing years of 1950-1953, his painful defeat in the 1955 US Open, and his success as a businessman. He is a towering figure, his story a great piece of American history. However much I admire many of today’s golfers, I don’t see an equal. By all means read American Triumvirate, but even better, read Ben Hogan: An American Life.

Categories: Books, Golf

American Triumvirate

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

When I got my first Kindle in October 2009, I had to decide what books to put on it for our trip to France and Italy. It occurred to me that I always wanted to know more about Ben Hogan; maybe I could find a biography with a Kindle version. A search through Amazon and I found myself looking at Jim Dodson’s 2005 biography Ben Hogan: An American Life. At 500+ pages, maybe more than I had in mind, but I downloaded it and “carried” it around Europe. I didn’t get to it on that trip, or on a few more, but last March its time came, as I wrote in a post in April. Here’s what I said:

I’ve read so much about the period from late 1930s to mid 1950s during which Hogan, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson dominated the US golf tour. I had never, however, developed a coherent understanding of those years. In particular, I knew of Ben Hogan’s near-fatal car crash in 1949 and his miraculous return to golf in 1950 (he wasn’t even expected to walk again), culminating in his US Open victory that year at Merion. And I knew of his amazing 1953 season, winning the Masters, the US Open, then heading over to Scotland to appear for the lone time in his career at the British Open, winning at Carnoustie. But the details had eluded me. Now was my chance to learn more.

Dodson’s book is the ultimate in breeziness, a style of writing to which I needed to adjust. Especially when I stumbled into errors such as the one early in the book in which Herbert Hoover is described, “during the long hot days of 1921″ as “Cal Coolidge’s new secretary of commerce.” Surely I’m not the only reader who knows that Coolidge was the vice-president in 1921, not the president. Warren Harding (War Harding?) would have had to do the appointing.

No matter. Dodson has quite a story to tell, and he’s quite a storyteller. We can breeze on by such errors (Dodson also has FDR serving as president in 1932) when there’s so much else to hold our interest. If I were still reading the book rather than having finished it four weeks ago, I would have so many incidents to retell. At this point, I’ll just say that it’s a rich tale, with highlights such as Hogan’s Texas forebears, his early relationship with Byron Nelson at the club where they were both caddies, his marriage, his multiple narrow losses in major golf tournaments in the mid 1940s, his victories, the crushing playoff loss to Jack Fleck at the 1955 US Open, his battle with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at the great 1960 US Open, his later years. And in the background, the story of the growth of Fort Worth during the twentieth century.

Since finishing the book, I have thought that I would enjoy reading more about the golfers of that era. A biography of Byron Nelson perhaps. You can understand, then, how pleased I was to read a month or two ago (I don’t remember where) that Dodson would have a new book coming out on Hogan, Nelson, and Sam Snead.

One of the best ways to keep up with the golf world is to listen to the incomparable Peter Kessler each weekday morning on the PGA Tour radio station on SiriusXM satellite radio. Since I have satellite radio only in my car, I tend to catch just snippets of the show, provided I’m actually in the car driving to school between 8:00 and 9:00 am. If I hear even ten minutes, it’s a good day. Kessler is an immensely talented interviewer. He has that warm voice, and the uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re at home with him listening in on a chat among friends.

Today I got in the car, tuned in Peter’s show, and found myself listening to a guest talking about Hogan, Nelson, and Snead. It didn’t take too much imagination to guess that the guest was Jim Dodson and the topic was his forthcoming book on them. Unfortunately, I had stumbled on the end of the conversation. In another two minutes, the interview was over, with Peter identifying the guest as Dodson and urging us to read the book. I would gladly have heard more of the interview.

From the way Peter talked, I might have imagined the book has appeared already. When I got to my office, I looked it up on Amazon. No, not yet. On March 13, American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf will be published. The Random House website for the book has the following description.

In this celebration of three legendary champions on the centennial of their birth in 1912, one of the most accomplished and successful writers about the game explains the circumstances that made each of them so singularly brilliant and how they, in turn, saved not only the professional tour but modern golf itself, thus making possible the subsequent popularity of players from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods.

During the Depression, after the exploits of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones’s triumphant Grand Slam in 1930 had faded in the public imagination, golf’s popularity fell year after year, and as a professional sport it was on the verge of extinction. This was the unhappy prospect facing two dirt-poor boys from Texas and another from Virginia who had dedicated themselves to the game yet could look forward only to eking out a subsistence living along with millions of other Americans. But then lightning struck, and from the late thirties into the fifties these three men were so thoroughly dominant—each setting a host of records–that they transformed both how the game was played and how it was regarded.

In the interview’s tail end, Dodson spoke about Nelson’s love of life as a club pro and Snead’s never-ending pain at failing to win, by his count, the seven US Opens he could or should have won. (He never won any.) I have many wonderful stories to look forward to.

Categories: Books, Golf

The Art of Golf

January 10, 2012 1 comment

The Ladies' Club, 1886, unknown photographer

[From the British Golf Museum. Reproduced at the High Museum website by kind permission of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.]

We love art. We love golf. And if we can get ourselves to Atlanta some time between February 5 and June 24, we’ll be able to see the exhibit The Art of Golf at the High Museum of Art. Regrettably, I don’t think this is going to happen. But I can dream. And look at the exhibition website.

At the site, the show has the following blurb: “Explore the history of golf through paintings, drawings, and photos by artists as diverse as Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and Norman Rockwell. Featuring memorabilia from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, as well as the largest collection of Bobby Jones portraits ever assembled.” We also learn the following regarding the photograph above:

Formed in 1867, the St Andrews Ladies Club grew to include 500 members within twenty years—a total close to that of the exclusively male Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew’s membership of 795. Strict conventions governing acceptable dress meant that women were obliged to play in the restrictive, tightly laced, full-length clothes then deemed fashionable and appropriate. More practical golfing attire became popular at the turn of the century.

Here’s another work featured at the website:

Winter Landscape, ca. 1630, Hendrick Avercamp

[From the Scottish National Gallery]

Regarding this one, we learn that

Hendrick Avercamp’s winter scene conveys a message about democratic social values: various classes – rich and poor, old and young, male and female – are bound together through leisure. Nevertheless, kolf was connected to elite status in seventeenth-century Dutch society, here evidenced by the players’ colorful, elegant clothing. The copper support, unusual for Avercamp, provides a smooth surface appropriate to the gemlike quality of the depiction. Two thin tree trunks enclosed in the ice provide the goal for the group of four kolfers in the right foreground.

You know, I’m pretty sure I saw this painting at a show in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., not that long ago. Yes, I must have. I just found this post that I wrote in May 2010 about a visit to the National Gallery, and in it I briefly mention what I describe as an “intimate” temporary exhibition, Hendrick Avercamp: The Little Ice Age. The painting was surely there.

I wonder if we can squeeze in an Atlanta trip.

[Thanks to Tim Murphy for drawing my attention to the exhibition in this week’s Golf World Monday, the online accompaniment to Golf World Magazine. (And, yes, Golf World Monday came out today, even though today is Tuesday, because the PGA Tour’s opening event, the Tournament of Champions, concluded yesterday.)]

Categories: Art, Golf, Museums

Annoying Golf Partners

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Cell Phone Guy

[Cy Cyr, Golf Digest, December 2011]

This may be of limited interest, but I got a kick out of Golf Digest’s slideshow of The 18 Most Annoying Golf Partners, so I’m passing it on. (HT: Geoff Shackelford.) Pictured above is Cell Phone Guy. Defining characteristics: Considers golf course an extension of his office, home, therapist’s couch, etc. Has perfected the balancing-phone-on-the-shoulder wedge shot. Favorite expression: “You guys hit. I gotta take this.” The Parking Lot Pro is good too. And The Air Counter. Have a look.

Categories: Golf, Humor

Tiger, Tiger, Not so Bright

August 12, 2011 1 comment

I said just two posts ago that I wouldn’t be writing about the PGA golf championship, now at its halfway point. But now that I’ve been looking at some of tonight’s coverage, I just have to say: Enough already! I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. Spare me!

Yes, Tiger Woods played terribly yesterday and today. Historically poorly. Yes, he won’t play again this year on the PGA Tour. Yes, he may never win another major. His swing is a mess. He can’t putt. I get it. Is there anything more to say? Can we just let it go until the Masters next April? I realize you don’t really want to write about co-leaders Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, or D.A. Points and John Senden, just a stroke back. Okay, then, don’t write anything at all. As for me, I’m done reading about Tiger for 2011.

Categories: Golf

Well Played, Darren

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

[Stuart Franklin/Getty Images]

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the Tour de France, but my true sporting love is golf. I don’t write about it nearly as often as I think of doing so. For instance, I have intended since last August to write a post about the US Amateur championship, which I attended for a day with my friend John down at Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 US Open. I may still write it. The problem is that typically there’s too much I want to say about any given tournament or issue.

Take last Sunday, perhaps not a typical day. Once the Tour stage ended, I switched to the Golf Channel to catch the close of the Scottish Open and an exciting victory by Luke Donald. A few hours later, it was time to check in on the John Deere Classic — the one-time Quad Cities Open — played in Illinois near the Quad Cities. Steve Stricker won in dramatic fashion with a birdie on 18 fashioned out of an approach shot from the slope of a fairway bunker with a terrible stance followed by a long putt from the fringe that dove into the hole. His third straight win in the Quad Cities. And then there was the women’s US Open, which had been plagued by stormy weather all weekend. Moments after I turned it on, the horn went off signaling the stop of play as thunderstorms approached. Ultimately, play was completed Monday morning, with NBC unceremoniously dumping the coverage onto the Golf Channel. No interrupting the Today Show for the most important women’s golf tournament of the year.

There was enough material there for several posts, including one about the sad state of women’s professional golf, which is poorly covered and therefore hard to follow even for the few of us who care. I didn’t know where to begin.

And here we are, on the weekend of an event I love, all the more since attending a day of the Open Championship in 1990 at St. Andrews and all of it in 2004 at Troon. I’m going to keep it simple. Darren Clarke was the surprise winner, but he played so consistently well day after day that by the end it was no surprise at all. And a popular victory it was.

I was particularly struck, as Clarke stood at the 18th green during the formal announcements of the awards ceremony, awaiting the claret jug, when Davis Love out from the clubhouse to congratulate Clarke and have a few private words, putting his arm around Clarke, punching him lightly on the arm, showing great affection and sharing the pleasure of his win. A minute later, as the formal remarks continued, Phil Mickelson came over from a few yards away, where he had been standing with fellow runner-up Dustin Johnson, to put his arm around Darren and chat. Everyone knew their obvious bond, what with Darren’s wife Heather dying of breast cancer five years ago and Phil’s wife Amy battling it more recently. I don’t imagine there could have been a more beloved winner.

I’ll leave it at that. But let me quote from the close of Lawrence Donegan’s Open coverage at The Guardian:

Clarke has links golf running through his veins. He understands the importance of the ball flight – the lower the better – and that a golfer has no better friend than par in the wind and rain that swept across the golf course all day. A famously impatient man, he also found it within himself on this day of days to wait for the championship to come to him. And come it did.

His scoring highlight came at the par‑five 7th, where he holed from 30 feet for an eagle, the perfect riposte to an earlier eagle at the same hole by the charging Mickelson who had briefly taken a share of the lead. But the true beauty of his performance lay in its incremental parts. A cut shot here, a running hook there, a four-foot putt rammed into the back of the cup – like a painter laying down his brush strokes until, finally, the masterpiece is complete.

On a couple of occasions the bounce went his way, but for every piece of good fortune there was a putt that lipped the hole and somehow stayed above ground. There was no luck in this victory, only sweetness and redemption. It was not so long ago that Clarke was written off by some “experts” – a premature dismissal that apparently spurred him on.

“You know, bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times,” he said, eyeing the Claret Jug beside him.

“I’ve always been pretty hard on myself when I fail because I don’t find it very easy to accept that. And there’s times I’ve been completely and utterly fed up with the game. But friends and family say, get out there and practise and keep going, keep going, keep going, and that’s why I’m sitting here now.”

Categories: Golf

Rory

June 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It has occurred to me over the years that my interest in professional golf is not widely shared. As a result, I write far fewer posts about golf than I am inclined to do. I have on my list that I need to write about last August’s US Amateur men’s championship, which I attended for a day, as much to talk about the course — Chambers Bay, site of the US Open in 2015 — as the event. I still may, even as the details have faded.

But then there’s last week’s US Open. Of course I spent Sunday watching it. If I get to choose how to celebrate Father’s Day, then you know where to find me: in front of the TV watching the Open. And that’s what I did. But what surprised me was how closely I watched it on Saturday. Whenever one of the four major golf championships is underway, I’ll spend part of Saturday watching the third round if I don’t have to be somewhere else. But I don’t make it a point to watch every single moment of it. Last Saturday I did. I couldn’t tear myself away. I had to see how Rory McIlroy would do on each hole. Would he drive the ball in the fairway? Or if he got in trouble, how would he respond? Would he put himself in good position on the green? And if not, would he find a way to get up and down? After his famous final-round collapse at the Master’s in April, I just wanted to see how he was holding up.

As you know if you pay even the slightest attention to golf, Rory held up just fine, on both Saturday and Sunday, running away with the championship. It was a wildly popular victory by the 22-year-old Northern Irishman, with fans cheering him at every hole. He was a joy to watch on TV as well.

I have nothing to add to what has been written about Rory. All I want to do in this post is link to two videos of him as a nine-year-old. He’s way too charming. Enjoy. (And hat tip to Geoff Shackelford.)

Categories: Golf

Seve Ballesteros

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Seve Ballesteros, one of the great golfers of the twentieth century, died last Saturday. As so many have noted, his greatness goes far beyond his golfing record. The record alone doesn’t hint at his inventive genius from bunkers or chipping or on the green. Nor does it hint at the transformative role he played in restoring European golf to greatness and making the game the international success it is today, as best manifested in the Ryder Cup mania we now take for granted.

With all that has been written about Seve, and all the videos of him shown on TV, there’s little I can add. The best stories are the ones about the awe his fellow competitors held him in, their eagerness to watch him play. I wish I could quote one I heard on the PGA Tour Network on satellite radio yesterday, but it went by too fast as I was driving to school. The gist of it was that the narrator — I came in in the middle and never heard who he was — found himself playing with Seve and Arnold Palmer, many years ago. Seve hit two impossible shots during the round, one from just behind a rock, right over it and onto the green, another out of a plugged lie in a greenside bunker to within two feet of the hole. Each time, Arnie looked over to the narrator to ask, have you ever seen such a shot before?

Here’s more, from John Huggan, writing in The Scotsman.

Still, for all his success and obvious desire to succeed, for Seve a round of golf was always more about the journey than the destination. So it is not for mere victories that he will be remembered with such affection by those he played with and against over the course of a 33-year professional career. Everyone has a Seve story that begins, “you won’t believe what he did”.

Even Nicklaus has been impressed. The 3-wood Seve struck from a cavernous fairway bunker to the edge of the final green at PGA National in Florida during the 1983 Ryder Cup remains the greatest shot the game’s greatest-ever player ever saw. Beat that for an accolade.

Such feats of extraordinary brilliance were commonplace though, mere extensions of an artistic temperament ideally suited to the creation rather than the mere striking of shots. Seve learned those skills on the vast beach at Pedrena, the tiny fishing village on Spain’s windswept northern coast where he was born and where he died, early yesterday morning, at the tragically early age of 54. Armed with only a rusty old 3-iron, the pre-teen manufactured all kinds of shots: high, low, slice and hook and everything in between.

“Never when you are a child do you think you are especially gifted for something,” he said. “What you do notice is passion – because you feel it. Passion makes you devote yourself to what you really like.

[snip]

“When I was paired with Seve in the 2000 Volvo Masters at Montecastillo I was so excited,” recalls former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. “As a youngster I used to watch tapes of all the majors and my favourite was the 1988 Open at Lytham.

“Seve shot a beautiful 65 on the final day to win by two strokes from Nick Price. But two things stand out: the chip shot he hit on the last hole – the prettiest I ever saw – and his smile and how much fun he made it all look. I must have watched that chip 1,000 times.

“Anyway, when we played together, his best game was already well behind him. But for the first and maybe the last time, I played a whole round more interested in the shots hit by my playing partner than in anything I did myself.

“He was still intoxicating to watch on all the little shots that required creativity. He hit one, a short iron from rough over water to a front pin, to ten feet or so. It was a shot I had thought impossible. Amazing. With as many rounds as we play on tour I am sure to forget most of them. But I will never forget the day I played with Seve.”

Categories: Golf, Obituary

Deliberate Practice

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to a post two days ago Geoff Shackelford’s golf blog , I learned two days ago about Golfer in Training Dan McLaughlin and The Dan Plan. Shackelford linked to an article by Michael Kruse three weeks ago in the St. Petersburg Times. As Kruse explains:

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”

The idea appealed to Dan. His 9-to-5 job as a commercial photographer had become unfulfilling. He didn’t want just to pay his bills. He wanted to make a change.

Could he stop being one thing and start being another? Could he, an average man, 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds, become a pro golfer, just by trying? Dan’s not doing an experiment. He is the experiment.

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now.

Dan spent last month in St. Petersburg because winters are winters in the Pacific Northwest. “If I could become a professional golfer,” he said one afternoon, “the world is literally open to any options for anybody.”

According to Dan, “talent has little to do with success.” He elaborates at his website:

According to research conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, “Elite performers engage in ‘deliberate practice’–an effortful activity designed to improve target performance.” Dr. Ericsson’s studies, made popular through Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, have found that in order to excel in a field, roughly 10,000 hours of “stretching yourself beyond what you can currently do” is required. “I think you’re the right astronaut for this mission,” Dr. Ericsson said about The Dan Plan.

I once enjoyed Gladwell’s articles in The New Yorker. He is, after all, such a talented writer. But I’ve tired more recently of his continuing quest to find explanations for assorted phenomena that are simultaneously novel and all-encompassing. I haven’t read Ericsson’s work, but I can’t imagine he intended for it to be applied, as Gladwell does, to explain Bill Gates’ success as resulting from the 10,000 hours he spent programming computers while in high school.

Nonetheless, I love the Dan Plan. Dan expects to “hit the 10,000 hour milestone by November of 2015. During this time, Dan plans to develop his skills through deliberate practice, eventually winning amateur events and obtaining his PGA Tour card through a successful appearance in the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School, or ‘Q-School’. I’ll be watching.

In the meantime, I have my own plan to attend to. This is blog post number 792. Just 9208 more before I hit my own 10,000 milestone and become a professional writer. Watch out, Malcolm. The New Yorker may not have room for both of us.

Categories: Golf, Life, Writing