By petedirenzo
Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oh, great. I took a day off from my office editorial duties at SI Golf Plus to return to Bethpage Black -- the site of my closest brush with triumph in my college golf career -- and I got a trip down memory lane that wasn't at all what I expected. I did see a little golf before the horn blew to halt play at 10:15 a.m. The highlight was Heath Slocum getting up and down from the fringe at the 207-yard par 17th. Slocum hooked his tee shot to the back left side of the green, on the fringe. The hole was in the front right. Because of the green's hourglass shape, Slocum had to pitch over rough to go at the flag, 60 feet away. He hit a powder-soft low spinner that flew over the rough, landed on a downhill slice of fringe, took a couple of low bounces and checked up eight feet past the hole. Slocum drained the par putt. Big applause. Then the Biblical flood began and I made a beeline to a merchandise tent to buy a $10 taxi-yellow USGA rain poncho. In the steady downpour, I waited by the first-green grandstand for a while, because I'd planned to meet Paul Albanese, a teammate from my college career at Cornell. Paul's got the coolest job of anybody from our team: He's a successful course architect and a professor of golf architecture at the University of Edinburgh, to which he commutes from the U.S. for a few weeks each semester. While waiting for Paul, I reran mental-history reels from the Ivy League Championships that we played at Bethpage Black. I fell in love with the course during those tournaments in the late 1980s, when the course was so underutilized that Bethpage closed the Black for three whole days to give us -- a bunch of college hacks -- exclusive run of the beastly track. I remembered how, in '87, at the first hole during the opening round,  we blasted drives way right, over the trees to the fairway on another of Bethpage's courses. That gave us a much shorter route to the green--whereupon the tournament committee made that route OB after the first round. I also fondly remembered ripping a drive over the bunkers at 12 and hitting a 2-iron to the green. Well, after a half hour of sitting in the rain, my memories ran out, my body was soaked and Paul was nowhere to be seen. So I traipsed back to the bus and rode back to the train station along with dozens of other waterlogged and bummed-out golf fanatics. And who do you suppose would be standing next to me on the bus? None other than that infatuated golf fan Warren Sapp, a star of, among other things, the 2002 Super Bowl and Dancing with the Stars. Sapp was chatting up the bus, bragging about how he could bring his cell phone into the U.S. Open because he had a USGA sticker. "Look, wish you had one, don't you?" Sapp told one curious rider. Sapp proudly boasted that he'd gotten the sticker from one of his "buds"--apparently a PGA Tour player. While riding the Long Island Railroad back into New York, I dozed off while musing again about my near-brush with triumph back in '87.  That year, I was a way-too-confident sophomore. The first day it poured every bit as hard as it rained this morning, and I played maybe the best golf of my life. For 27 holes, I was about 10 over par, which left me in the top six with a chance to win. Alas, the sun shone the next day  and it dampened my play. I dropped back to 12th. I guess the Black had taken its revenge for those sneaky tee shots.

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