Monday, June 29, 2009

Hicks, Stewart and Pinehurst -- again

Ten years later, Hicks and Stewart are together again at Pinehurst.

This time, Mike Hicks is caddying for Aaron Stewart, son of the late Payne Stewart, as he attempts to qualify Tuesday for the match-play portion of the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2. In 1999, Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Aaron Stewart plays college golf for SMU and is one of 97 golfers chasing 33 available spots in the 64-player bracket that begins match play on Wednesday.

The top 31 seeds are already in place with defending champion Matt Savage, a Florida State golfer, the No. 1 seed.

Charlotte's Corey Nagy is exempted into match play. He is seeded 13th.

Oklahoma State's Morgan Hoffman, ranked No. 2 in the world amateur rankings, is in the field along with 13th-ranked Erik Flores.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The story of Mudville Mick

I thought I'd pass along a poem written by my brother, Dave, this week in the aftermath of Phil Mickelson's latest U.S. Open disappointment. Nice to know somebody in the family has a way with words.

Mudville Mick
By Dave Green

The outlook was quite brilliant for the Mudville Mick that day;
The score stood four to four with but four holes more to play.
When Duval nearly died at three, and Barnes rode the bogey train,
A sickly silence had fallen upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.
The rest clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Mickelson could but get a putt to drop
We'd put up even money now that he'd end up on top.

Mick had made a bird at twelve; at thirteen he made eagle,
and suddenly he was in the chase like a fox-hunting beagle.
He made a par at 14, then walked to fifteen tee,

The toughest hole of all with a green he couldn't see.

And now the urethane-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Micky stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Not great by Micky's standards, but he had a putt for par.
Like so many prior Opens, it failed to find the jar.

From the hillside, bleak with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on a worn and distant shore.
"Oh no!" shouted someone in the stands, "Not again" another cried.
But Mickey still had most of New York standing stalwart by his side.

With a smile of Christian charity great Mickey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He parred the easy 16th, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Mickey needed birdie at one of the last two.

They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that hero Mickey would let it fly again.

The sneer is gone from Mickey's lip, his jaw is clinched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence the ball, and his cursed fate.

And now it lands softly in the long grass at the par three seventeen,
And now he needs to get it up and down from just off the green.

His second is not his best, it leaves him six feet for par.
If this one fails to find the cup, then honey start the car.

Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville -- Mickey's par putt has stayed out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Being the U.S. Open champion won't change Glover

Lucas Glover was spending Tuesday making the rounds in New York with his new U.S. Open trophy.

He was on Regis Philbin's morning show, did some ESPN stuff and was booked to be on 'The Late Show With David Letterman,' pretty heady stuff for a guy most golf fans only had a vague awareness of before the U.S. Open.

Nothing will ever be the same for Glover, though I'm thinking he won't change. He's a solid guy, somebody you'd like to spend time with.

He'll go on being Lucas, keeping up with Clemson football, staying close with his friends, being nice to everybody he comes in contact with.

As U.S. Open champion, he's probably going to be on the President's Cup team this fall and there's a good chance he'll be on the Ryder Cup team next year in Wales. He nearly ruined his game trying to make the Ryder Cup team in 2006 but now he's older, wiser and knows better how to handle expectations, particularly his own.

Glover understands he may not have been the most popular champion Monday at Bethpage. Phil Mickelson's story was so compelling as was David Duval's retuurn to glory. Ricky Barnes, meanwhile, was the ultimate underdog.

Glover, though, emerged as a worthy champion. He played better than everyone and he earned it. When it came time for someone to win the U.S. Open, Glover grabbed it with his birdie on the 16th hole.

As people get to know more about Glover, they'll come to like him even more.

How do you not like a U.S. Open champion who plans to go back to his favorite barbecue joint for lunch when he gets back home to Greenville, S.C.?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lucas Glover, U.S. Open champion

I understand that most of the country wanted Phil Mickelson or David Duval.

Standing behind the 17th green today at Bethpage, watching Duval birdie the 16th hole in the distance while Phil was playing the par-3 17th trying to stay even with Lucas Glover, the roars for Duval and Mickelson were enormous.

More than once, the bleacher crowd broke into a chant of "Let's go Phil, let's go Phil!."

Lucas Glover was the other guy.

And now he's the U.S. Open champion.

If you don't know much about him, trust me, you'd like him. It's tough not to.

Sure, he doesn't smile a lot and he keeps his head down while he's playing golf but he earned this moment and a lot of people are happy for him.

He's not who you may think he is. Sure, he's a son of the south, living in Greenville, S.C., but he's a man of the world. Books. Wine. Music. Those are things Glover cares about.

Not as much as he cares about Clemson athletics but he lives in a big world.

And he's funny. Quietly so.

After signing his scorecard Monday afternoon, Glover was being escorted around the back of the Bethpage clubhouse to the 18th green to receive the Open trophy. When he saw his agent, Mac Barnhardt standing on the porch, Glover smiled and stuck his tongue out at his manager.

All in good fun.

As his caddie, Don Cooper said, "We knew how good he was. He proved it.

"You'll see a lot of smiles from here on out."

It's finally a U.S. Open

It took a while -- five wet, sloppy days -- but it finally became the U.S. Open today.

Lucas Glover has a two-stroke lead with seven holes to play in the final round of the Open but they'll be the toughest seven holes he's ever played.

Tiger Woods isn't going to win but Phil Mickelson still may. So may Ross Fisher, the best player on the board you've never heard of. Hunter Mahan is right there.

They're two back on the back nine and the U.S. Open causes strange things to happen.

It's no great surprise that the leaders -- Glover and Ricky Barnes -- have backed up. It would have been a bigger surprise if they hadn't. Barnes has looked uncomfortable throughout the day. Glover, meanwhile, looks understandably nervous.

They play for moments like these. Now someone has to deliver.

Has Mickelson's moment arrived?

Phil Mickelson has 16 holes today to make it happen at the U.S. Open.

Can he still win?


Will he?

That may depend more on the two players five shots in front of him -- Lucas Glover and Ricky Barnes -- than on Phil.

Mickelson resumes his final round today at 2-under par, tied with David Duval, Ross Fisher and Hunter Mahan. The attention, though, is focused squarely on Lefty, who is adored by the muddy New York crowds.

To this point, Mickelson has done what's essential to win an Open -- hang around. He hasn't been among the leaders but he's been close enough to the front to remain relevant. Making two late birdies to close out his third round Sunday was huge. It kept him in the tournament.

If Mickelson can start fast today and make the co-leaders look over their shoulders, he has a chance. He'll be playing off the emotion of the crowd, not to mention his own personal emotion with wife, Amy, home with breast cancer.

A Mickelson victory today is still a long shot. But in a tournament that has been damp, dreary and disappointing to this point, maybe his moment has arrived.

It's time to find out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The end is in sight at the U.S. Open. Is a winner?

At the great risk of jinxing this thing, it appears the U.S. Open is going to end on Monday.

The fourth round, which once seemed as far away as Antarctica, began at 5:30 Sunday and it will resume Monday during morning rush hour. If the rain stays away as predicted, we could have a champion by early afternoon -- though there's always the chance of an 18-playoff, which seems totally likely the way this Open has gone.

Even with that, there's reason to think we'll have a champion before Tuesday.

Who will it be?

Not Tiger Woods.

Ricky Barnes?

Hard to believe a guy with 37 career PGA Tour starts can win the U.S. Open.

Lucas Glover?

He has to prove he can handle a final round unlike any he's ever played.

David Duval?

What a story that would be.

Phil Mickelson?

See David Duval.

The U.S. Open is always a grind. Few have been as grinding as this one.

And it's still anyone's guess who wins.

This U.S. Open is a major mess

This may be the worst major championship ever.

That's not me saying it (though it's what I'm thinking) but the great Dan Jenkins put this U.S. Sopping Open at No. 200 in his list of favorite majors Saturday night after we had taken cover from another downpour that assured this championship won't end before Monday -- if it ever ends.

The rain that didn't hit Saturday afternoon arrived Saturday evening and even L.L. Bean didn't have anything that could keep you dry it rained so hard.

Rather than start at 7:30 this morning as planned with the goal of finishing by dusk, third-round tee times were pushed back to noon, there's hope the fourth round could start around cocktail hour and we'll all reconvene at Bethpage early Monday in hopes of somehow, someway finishing an Open that has almost no chance of being memorable for anything other than the weather.

It's been miserable so far.

It's no one's fault, other than Mother Nature.

There were good intentions all around for this U.S. Open but the weather has ruined it, to this point anyway.

Even in ideal conditions, Bethpage Black is tougher for spectators than for players. There aren't many good viewing areas unless you're perched in the grandstands. It's been so wet, engineering officials have been checking the bleachers and hospitality tents to make sure they're still secure.

It's so muddy that many places are impassable. It's too bad. The U.S. Open is special and should be something to be celebrated.

Maybe the finish -- whenever it comes -- will somehow save it.

Or maybe, it will just finally end and we can all go dry out.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Murphy takes his star turn in the U.S. Open

The U.S. Open always finds an unlikely star.

Saturday afternoon, former Charlotte 49ers golfer Trevor Murphy became that star.

It looked as if where Murphy finished might determine where the 36-hole cut score fell. Then he birdied the 16th, 17th and 18th holes -- with Johnny Miller providing the commentary -- and he had brightened up a gray Saturday afternoon.

Murphy's second-round 69 left him at even-par through two rounds and tied for 16th place, three strokes ahead of Tiger Woods.

Murphy wasn't aware of the television time he'd received but he was riding a high while waiting for his third round to begin.

"I'm still kinda taking it all in," Murphy said.

After graduating from Charlotte in 2008, Murphy considered staying in the area but decided to live in Scottsdale, Az., where he plays the Gateway Tour, a developmental circuit.

"It was a tough decision," Murphy said.

On Saturday afternoon, though, Bethpage Black felt like home.

Glover has time to enjoy his good play

Lucas Glover is reading a Clive Cussler novel in his down time at the U.S. Open, in part, because he says he's already memorized all the preseason football magazines and what they're saying about his Clemson Tigers.

Glover sits one shot behind leader Ricky Barnes in the second round of this weather-challenged Open, which is expected to be given another thorough soaking this afternoon if forecasters and Doppler radars can be believed.

This is new territory for the former Clemson All-American, who has never finished better than a tie for 20th in his 12 major championship starts.

Catching a break with his tee times, which allowed him to play in the best weather Friday and Saturday, Glover had a 20-foot putt on the ninth green Saturday (his 18th) to shoot 63, which would have added his name to an impressive list of players sharing the record for lowest score ever in a major.

"But I weenied out and left it short," Glover said.

Still, a 69-64 start has put Glover in position to do something special this weekend. He's driving the ball beautifully, which is an essential building block for U.S. Open success. He's also holing the five and six-foot putts that turn solid rounds into exceptional rounds.

Glover was finished by 9 a.m. Saturday and if the forecasted bad weather arrives later, he won't play again until sometime Sunday.

After lights out at 11:30 Friday night, Glover was up at 4:50 Saturday morning. He planned to make a stop by the grocery store to get some food to stuff in his golf bag and carve out time for an afternoon nap.

Whenever his third round starts, Glover -- who lives in Greenville, S.C. -- doesn't plan to change anything.

"I'm just going to keep doing the same stuff I've been doing," he said. "I'm only halfway through.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tiger's feeling the squeeze in this Open

This time, Tiger Woods is on the wrong side of the U.S. Open.

It's all a matter of luck but Woods -- and every other player who drew early-late pairings for the first and second rounds at Bethpage Black -- is getting the worst conditions in which to play.

It was miserable Thursday morning when Woods and the other players in the morning started and it only got worse. When they returned to the course Friday morning, it was still soaking wet.

The players with late tee times in the first round played in ideal conditions Friday afternoon and the scores showed it. Mike Weir shot 66 with a double bogey, Peter Hanson shot 66 and the ghost of David Duval shot 67.

Then, those guys got to go right back out and continue playing in good conditions until dark, while Woods and others faced a rainy Saturday.

If the forecast is correct, there should three or four hours of golf time Saturday morning before the bad stuff moves in -- while Woods is on the course.

Seven years ago here, Sergio Garcia complained that Tiger got all the breaks, even with the weather.

Not this time.

Wow, the sun's out at the U.S. Open -- temporarily

Perhaps it's coincidence but the sun made its first appearance in several days at Bethpage Black Friday just about the time crowd favorite Phil Mickelson was teeing off in his first round, a full day later than scheduled.

The good news is this water-soaked U.S. Open is moving along nicely today. The bad news they're still playing the first round, hoping to get the second round started around 4 p.m. and facing a weather forecast that looks worse than the spectator walkways around Bethpage Black.

A Monday finish -- typically dreaded at U.S. Opens -- is now an optimistic alternative.

Among the early finishers, High Point resident Drew Weaver, recently graduated from Virginia Tech, posted a 1-under par 69 to be among the leaders while Clemson golfer Ben Martin held the outright lead for a time before a series of three-putts left him with a 2-over 72.

Former Charlotte 49ers golfer Trevor Murphy shot 1-over par 71, finishing with a birdie on the ninth hole (his 18th) and he'll be in very good shape whenever he begins his second round.

Tiger Woods was kicking himself after playing his last four holes 4-over par to shoot 74. He made two double bogeys in the first round though the encouraging thing is he also made two doubles in the first round of the Open at Torrey Pines last year and we all know how that turned out.

High Point's Weaver states his case

High Point's Drew Weaver wants to make a point to the committee choosing the United States Walker Cup team this fall.

He got its attention -- and everyone else's -- when he was among the U.S. Open's early leaders after posting a 1-under 69 at rain-soaked Bethpage Black.

Weaver won the 2007 British Amateur championship but was not included on the prestigious Walker Cup team that fall. After graduating Virginia Tech this spring, Weaver said he's remaining amateur this summer in an effort to make the team, which will play the Great Britain and Ireland team at Merion in September.

"It's a huge motivation," Weaver said.

After playing almost 11 holes before play was called due to heavy rain Thursday, Weaver started well Friday, holing a 12-foot par putt at the 12th. From there, he birdied three of his last six holes.

"I'm feeling like everything is finally coming together," said Weaver, who has been working with putting expert Mike Shannon in recent months to solve his struggles on the greens.

Weaver was among the early finishers in the second round. Ben Martin, a rising senior at Clemson, was leading the tournament at 2-under par through 13 holes while Tiger Woods was struggling at 3-over through 17 holes.

Tournament officials expect to complete the first round this afternoon and begin the second round. The weather forecast, however, continues to worsen with an 80 percent chance of heavy rain expected to further delay the event on Saturday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can this Open still finish on Sunday?

Now what?

After continued heavy rains forced the weather-stalled first round of the U.S. Open to be suspended until Friday, the increasingly ominous question is whether this championship can be completed as scheduled on Sunday.

The forecast calls for decent conditions on Friday but a return to potentially heavy rain on Saturday with showers again on Sunday.

Asked if the tournament can still conclude on schedule if the forecast is correct, USGA director of competition Mike Davis said, "Finishing Sunday would be borderline impossible."

After play was suspended at 10:16 a.m. Thursday, on-site forecasters expected the rain to subside by 1:30 p.m. However, showers continued to persist and the decision was made to suspend play because water had ponded around the course, making it unplayable.

The plan, weather-permitting, is to resume the first round at 7:30 a.m. Friday. If there are no delays, the second round could begin by approximately 4 p.m.

With another one inch of rain predicted Saturday, officials are hopeful getting the first 36 holes completed by Saturday night then try to finish with a 36-hole day on Sunday.

It is possible, chairman of the championship committee Jim Hyler said, that some players could play more than 36 holes in a day in an effort to finish on time.

"We will not determine the national championship until we have played 72 holes," Davis said. "If that takes us into Monday or Tuesday...well, a Women's Open went to Wednesday in the 1980s."

Soaked Open may resume later today

First-round play in the U.S. Open was suspended for the day at 1:45 p.m. Thursday after less than half the field had begun play.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. on Friday.

Even as the rain continued to pour down outside, Jim Hyler -- championship director for the USGA -- said he is optimistic there will be more golf played today at Bethpage Black in the U.S. Open.

Hyler met with the media around noon -- his navy rain suit still wet -- to update the status of this weather-stalled Open.

Hyler said it would take just over one hour for the course to be readied for play once the heavy rain that has dropped .6 inches of rain on Bethpage today subsides.

An army of maintenance workers will spring into action -- squeegies in hand -- and officials are hopeful they can get in three to five hours of golf later today.

It's unlikely that all the players scheduled to play in the afternoon will tee off and Hyler acknowledged there's little chance -- even if predicted good weather on Friday -- that the second round can be finished before sometime Saturday.

Golfers were on the course for more than three hours this morning before the rain finally outpaced the ability to squeegie the greens dry. Eventually, there were ponds and small streams on fairways and greens around the course.

Once play resumes today -- if it does -- Hyler said USGA rules allow for players to have their putting lines squeegied before they putt. Their lines will be squeegied three feet past the hole, as well.

The low-lying 18th fairway will be a problem. Balls are expected to embed in the wet fairway and players will be allowed a free drop. However, they may have to play from casual water because their nearest relief might be 50 yards away in heavy rough.

"There's nothing we can do about the weather," Hyler said. "This is the first suspension we've had in the Open since 2004. It's a outdoor game. You react to it."

That didn't take long -- rain stops the Open

Well, they made it a little over three hours before rain stopped the U.S. Open.

As I write this, it's pouring and it has been for a while. That explains the ponds and streams on greens around Bethpage Black.

It's eventually going to stop. It may not be today, sadly. A check of the local radar right now looks like the Green Bay Packers uniform -- all green and yellow.

There's an army of workers on the course, pushing squeegies and other gizmos designed to push the water away. Right now, they're losing the battle.

The larger problem is the 18th fairway, which is built on an old swamp and may be reverting to its original form right now.

Keeping it playable is going to be a challenge when and if the rain stops.

At the moment, the quartet of Jeff Brehaut, Johan Edfors, Adam Parr and Ryan Spears are leading the Open at 1-under par. Tiger Woods has already made a double bogey but he's only 1-over par with rain dripping off him.

Phil Mickelson is someplace warm and dry.

Thankfully, so am I.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Open could end up all wet

It's going to rain on this U.S. Open.

The only question, it seems, is how much.

Weather forecasters tend to be no more trustworthy than John Daly's comebacks but they sound convinced that Thursday is going to be nasty out here in the mid-section of Long Island. They're not talking about a gentle rain. This is expected to be a serious rain, the kind that leaves you wet for a while.

And the wind's expected to blow.

Forget The Golf Channel. We may need The Weather Channel.

The USGA, being the official rulemakers of American golf, isn't about to let players use lift, clean and place procedures when it gets squishy. There's a reason it's also called lift, clean and cheat.

If the rain stays steady, this Open could take a while. The 18th hole is already an issue because it was built on a swamp and continues to drain like one. If it gets much more rain, players may have to go to the hospitality tents to find relief from casual water.

They're intent on getting this thing started and grinding through the rain. It's part of the golf challenge.

There's always the threat of the U.S. Open finishing on Monday because of the 18-hole playoff. I'm hoping that's the only reason is might finish on Monday.

Amy's message to Phil: She wants a trophy

Phil Mickelson didn't come all the way to Long Island just to play golf.

His wife, Amy, back home in San Diego waiting to begin treatment for breast cancer July 1, has playfully prodded her husband about what she wants from this U.S. Open.

"She's left me a number of little notes, texts, cards, hints, that she would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room. So I'm going to try to accommodate that," Mickelson said during his 8 a.m. press conference at Bethpage.

Mickelson flew into New York late Tuesday after spending two days at home with his family. They celebrated his daughter Amanda's birthday on Monday then celebrated Phil's 39th birthday Tuesday.

His three kids brought him breakfast in bed which preceded a family trip to Mickelson's "favorite little breakfast joint" later on.

It was hard for Amy to top the birthday present she gave her husband last year -- a real dinosaur head.

This year, Mickelson got some fashionable sunglasses ("Which is good because my fashion sense isn't the best," he said) and a small video camera that shoots 30 frames a second, allowing him to easier study his golf swing.

Mickelson said the U.S. Open will likely be his last competitive golf until August, essentially taking the British Open off his schedule while Amy deals with her treatments.

There will be a family vacation next week before the treatment starts.

Mickelson reiterated what he said last week in Memphis that the public and private response has been overwhelming.

"We don't feel like we're alone in this," he said.

Mickelson seemed upbeat Wednesday morning, smiling and chatting in the media room and on the putting green before going out to play a practice round with Justin Leonard.

Unlike last week at Memphis when he got choked up talking about his wife's condition, Mickelson didn't get overly emotional.

"We're optimmistic about the end result but the process won't be easy," Mickelson said.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No surprise here -- Tiger likes his chances

The question to Tiger Woods Tuesday morning was straightforward:

If the wet conditions persist this week at Bethpage Black, making a long golf course play even longer, does Woods think it helps his chance of winning?

"I like my chances in any major," Woods said.

Two weeks ago, Woods' status as the pre-tournament favorite was shakier than it is today. He answered most questions when he shot a near-perfect final-round 65 to win The Memorial Tournament in his last start before the Open, making it easier to brush off his Sunday struggles at Quail Hollow and The Players Championship

Now the question is who might be his likely challengers. Jim Furyk comes to mind. Geoff Ogilvy comes to mind. It's probably too much to ask of Phil Mickelson given what he and his wife, Amy, are dealing with. Otherwise, the list of challengers is murky.

When 19-year old Rory McIlroy was asked Tuesday if he felt ready to challenge Woods this week, the teenager said not if he plays like he did at the Memorial. Makes him sound wise beyond his years.

It's not 200 but 50 majors isn't bad

Reading and jealously chuckling through the highlights from Dan Jenkins’ work covering 200 of golf’s major championships sent me to counting recently.

I’ve never been good with numbers as my checkbook and score cards will verify but I discovered that this week at the U.S. Open at Bethpage I am covering my 50th major championship.

At four majors a year (which won’t be happening), I’m still almost 40 years from catching the Ben Hogan of golf writers but, still, 50 is a nice round number.

I should at this point say something nice about editors whom I’ve convinced to keep sending to places most people dream of going on their vacations.

Augusta (28 times). Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Pinehurst. Shinnecock Hills.

(Note to editors: Want a Bethpage visor?)

Okay, I did cover a PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham one August years ago but it’s the price one pays.

I’ve covered majors won by Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson and that Tiger Woods fellow.

I’ve also covered majors won by Wayne Grady, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel.

That’s golf.

Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, Larry Mize chips in to beat Greg Norman.

The first major championship I ever covered was the 1979 Masters when Ed Sneed bogeyed the last three holes and Fuzzy Zoeller won on his – and my – first trip to Augusta National.

I’m guessing Sneed doesn’t remember it as fondly as I do.

I saw Arnie play his final Masters – a couple of times. I also saw Nicklaus play his final Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.

As fate would have it, I found a spot directly behind the tee on the 17th hole at St. Andrews – the famous Road Hole – when Nicklaus was playing the last two holes of his major championship career.

Waiting to hit his tee shot, Nicklaus walked back to the water cooler where I was standing, smiled and nodded hello. Maybe he could have said something in that moment. I couldn’t.

I saw Tiger change golf forever when he won the 1997 Masters and I saw him destroy the U.S. Open record book in 2000 at Pebble Beach when he won by 15 strokes – and had a triple bogey.

I remember the queasy feeling of watching Norman squander a six-shot lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters and the muted celebration when Faldo won a tournament the Shark lost.

I’ve seen Tiger win at Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews among other places.

So, of the 50 majors I’ve covered (I’ve been to a handful of others but not in a working capacity), which are my five favorites?

These are:
5. 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Just being at Pebble Beach makes almost any top-five list but watching Tiger shatter the U.S. Open scoring record in what may be the best 72-hole performance ever made it spectacular.

And, oh yeah, Nicklaus owned the place for the first two days, playing his final U.S. Open.

4. 2005 British Open at St. Andrews

Few places live up to our expectations and it seemed there was no way St. Andrews could match what I wanted it to be. It didn’t. It was even better.

While Nicklaus was playing his final Open Championship, Tiger was winning the claret jug in the coolest place in golf.

3. 1997 Masters

The things I’ll remember about that Sunday when Tiger changed everything:
-- Seeing dozens of Augusta National staff members come out to watch him tee off on the first hole;

-- Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the Masters, standing under the big tree behind the clubhouse watching;

-- And, the feeling that golf would never be quite the same.

2. 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst

I admit to a special fondness for Pinehurst and to see the U.S. Open finally played there just
felt right.

Everything worked that week and Sunday was as good as it gets – Vijay, Tiger, Phil and Payne Stewart giving us something to remember him by.

1. 1986 Masters

You know it by heart – Jack birdies 9, 10 and 11. Bogeys 12. Birdies 13. Asks son Jack II how far a three would go at No. 15 then makes one. Nearly aces 16. Holes the clincher at 17 as Verne Lundquist says, “Yes sir!” Jack hugs Jack II when they finish.

Seve chokes. Tom Kite can’t finish. Neither can Greg Norman.

Even now, when the video from the ’86 Masters is on TV, I stop and watch at least a little bit.
Just like when I come across ‘The Godfather.’

It’s impossible to resist.

Who knows, maybe No. 50 will be change my list. Tiger's here. So's Phil. You may have heard.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mickelson at home, coming late to Bethpage

The Lefty love-in at Bethpage will have to a wait a while.

Mickelson flew home to San Diego to be with his wife, Amy, after he finished the final round at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis on Sunday. He isn't scheduled to return to New York until sometime Tuesday, likely late.

He will meet with the media at 8 a.m. Wednesday in what has the potential to be an interesting and emotional interview session.

Mickelson did his serious prep work at Bethpage a week ago when he flew in on Monday and spent seven hours on the course. He hit three or four tee shots on every hole, played a similar number of approach shots and spent extra time chipping and putting around the greens.

It was at Bethpage in 2002 that Mickelson's popularity with the New York galleries nearly upstaged Tiger Woods' victory.

This year, with his wife fighting breast cancer, could be a Mickelson pep rally

Pinehurst is perfect for a doubleheader

One of the surprising things about the announcement that Pinehurst will host both the men's and women's U.S. Opens in 201 4 is that it hasn't happened -- there or someplac else -- before.

From a variety of angles, it makes perfect sense.

If you can play the two events at the same course, why not? It saves on construction, travel and, theoretically anyway, should increase interest in the Women's Open because it will have a natural lead-in.

Pinehurst is ideal for it because it has the space to handle what's required from a infrastructure standpoint and the resort can afford giving up Course No. 2 for the block of time necessary to stage the events. The resort will lose all of those big-ticket greens fees at No. 2 but it's during a relatively slow time on the golf calendar there and it's being offset by a nice fat check that comes from hostng the Open.

And, since Pinehurst is a resort, the exposure is priceless.

The course set-up won't have to vary significantly between the events because Pinehurst's challenge is handling the turtle-back greens that reject all the but the most accurate shots.

The rough was too high for the 2005 U.S. Open, the most significant set-up mistake. Mike Davis will see to it that No. 2 has shorter rough, encouraging players to fire at the greens. A week later, when the Women's Open is played, it won't be necessary to take a hatchet to the rough.

(One very early suggestion to Open and Pinehurst officials about 2014: Don't sell as many tickets to the men's event as in 2005. The one complaint I've heard over and over about the most recent Open was how crowded it was. I don't know how many more spectators were there than in 1999 but it felt like a lot and I've had people tell me they weren't likely to go back because it felt so overcrowded).

If anything, the firmness and speed of No. 2's greens may slow down slightly for the Women's Open and, obviously, the course will be shorter.

Putting both Opens together may be a one-time thing, maybe not. Most private clubs wouldn't want to surrender their course for such a large chunk of the summer but a resort or public course might.

Bethpage Black doesn't seem suited to host a Women's Open but Pebble Beach would work as a doubleheader site.

Maybe this is a one-time thing. Maybe not.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

This time, Jack honors Ron Sr.

This time, Jack Nicklaus is paying tribute to Ron Green Sr.

Ron Sr., as we tend to call him, was named today as the 2010 recipient of the Memorial Tournament Journalism Award.

He will be honored during pre-tournament ceremonies at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, next May.

Among the special touches of Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament is the annual recognition of people who have made significant contributions to golf, either through their play, their leadership or their coverage of the sport.

Previous recipients of the honor include Bernard Darwin, Grantland Rice, Herbert Warren Wind, Henry Longhurst, Dick Taylor, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, Furman Bisher and Dave Anderson.

Ron Sr., who has covered 54 consecutive Masters tournaments, has also received the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement in Journalism award, is a member of the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame.

And he's been great father, too.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ken Green involved in deadly accident

Ken Green has always been an iconoclast and he's battled his share of demons through a professional golf career that has seen great highs and sobering lows.

Now, however, Green is struggling to recover after being involved in an auto accident Monday in Mississippi that killed his long-time girlfriend, Jeannie Hodgin of Greensboro, his brother, Billy, and his German Shepherd Nip, whom he once jumped into a canal to save from an alligator attack.

According to reports, Green (no relation to me) was driving his RV back from Texas where he'd played in a Champions Tour event last week when a tire blew out. The RV ran off the road, down an embankment and struck a tree.

Green suffered a broken left eye orbital and a serious right leg injury that could lead to amputation.

In 1988, Green won two of his five PGA Tour victories, finished fourth on the money list and earned a spot on the 1989 Ryder Cup team. At his best, Green could be spectacular.

Always quick to voice his opinion, Green's career tailed off due to a variety of factors, including injuries and divorce.

He had been playing the Champions Tour this year with some success and seemed on the verge of getting his game back.

Now this terrible thing. So sad.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Any more questions for Tiger?

A letter arrived last week asking a simple question:

"Tiger Who?"

It wasn't signed by an individual but by a golf course. The golf business being as tough as it is these days, I'll spare the place the embarrassment of naming it.

Any more questions?

If so, they'll probably be answered late next week when the U.S. Open unfolds at Bethpage Black on Long Island.

In shooting 65 to win The Memorial on Sunday with his own blend of golf pyrotechnics, Woods reminded us that he's going to be just fine. If you don't believe having ACL surgery requires an extended recovery period, you've never had the pleasure of having your knee rebuilt.

With Tiger, everything is magnified.

He's now won two of his seven starts this year and in six stroke-play events, hasn't finished lower than eighth. And we've been wondering what's wrong.

At The Memorial, he looked like Tiger again. The swing kinks that were evident at Quail Hollow and The Players Championship had vanished and he was as solid as an anvil.

When Tiger hits 49 of 56 fairways -- and all 14 fairways on Sunday -- only Merlin the Magician is going to beat him unless he putts blind-folded.

After his victory, Woods gently chided the media for overreacting to his flat final rounds at Quail Hollow and The Players. Ditto suggestions that swing coach and friend Hank Haney would be dismissed.

Tiger said he still in the process of getting back to where he was and The Memorial was a huge step.

Jim Furyk may have said it best after Sunday's finish when he told the media, "(I)
wsh you'd just quit chapping him so much and make him come back and keep proving stuff.

"Tiger Woods is always Tiger Woods. He can't be 100% every week, but I'm sure he answered a lot of questions today."

Yes, he did.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Two stokes of magic and $25,000

Jeff Masilun's buddies have always given him a hard time about his putting.

But not anymore.

On Monday, Masilun won $25,000 by holing two long putts during a special putting contest that was part of a charity tournament held at Ballantyne Country Club to raise money for the Morrison YMCA.

"It's shocking more than anything," Masilun said.

This was the third year Masilun has played in the event with a foursome from Ballantyne Chiropractic Group. In addition to the tournament and raffle, there's a putting contest.

It starts with a 25-foot putt and anyone who holes it gets to advance to the finals.

That's where Masilun's magic kicked in.

He holed the first putt -- something only three golfers out of 96 did that day -- and advanced to the finals.

"I figured it was going to be some kind of circus putt so I had that in my mind before I got there," Masilun said.

He was right.

The challenge was to hole a 50-foot putt that was relatively flat for the first 35 feet before breaking over a ridge and turning three to four feet to the left.

To make it more challenging, Masilun was not allowed to watch the player putting before his turn arrived.

No worries.

"When I got over it, I could just see the line," Masilun said. "I walked up to the ridge to look at the rest of it. I picked my spot, hit my mark, had the right speed and it dropped in.

"I got lucky."

Now Masilun is $25,000 richer.

"I have no idea where to go from here," Masilun said, "but I do not need a new putter."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What do golfers want?

If we could give you more golf on our website, what you want to see and read?

We're planning to enhance our golf presence online in the coming days, offering fresh content each day, more articles from top teachers and professionals in our area, a course directory, various lists, equipment updates, links to area organizatoins and opportunities for readers to comment on various subjects.

Some of the stories and features will also appear in the Observer but enhancing our online presence allows us to give golfers more than we can in the paper.

It's a work in progress but we're hopeful of building it into something golfers will return to regularly for information, instruction and fun.

I can't fix your putting but we might be able to connect you to someone who can.

Let us know what you'd like to see and read.