TUCKER’S TOWN, Bermuda (AP) — They come from three countries on three continents, vastly different backgrounds, brought to together in Bermuda only by the major golf championships they won this year.
Getting to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf wasn’t easy for any of them, and it had nothing to do with flight plans.
Masters champion Zach Johnson, the self-described “normal guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” toiled for six years in the minor leagues before he made it to the PGA Tour, and he surprised even himself by holding off Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and a host of others to slip into the green jacket.
Angel Cabrera was a caddie at Cordoba Golf Club, blessed with immense talent and power but needing some financial backing from fellow Argentine Eduardo Romero to get started. Even then, it took him four tries to get his card through European Q-school.
Padraig Harrington finished his degree in accounting before turning pro, and while he won in his second year in Europe, he was known as much for piling up the runner-up finishes and constantly tinkering with his swing until he felt it was good enough to win a major. And he didn’t feel that way until about 18 months ago.
The fourth player in the most exclusive field in golf is Jim Furyk, the first alternate from a points-based system of former major champions, gladly accepting when PGA champion Tiger Woods decided to skip this week. Furyk, too, is a classic grinder.
“There are similarities,” Harrington said as he rapped 6-foot putts on the 17th green in twilight Monday, gearing up for the $1.35 million exhibition where everyone feels like a winner because of how they qualified.
“Angel is the most natural player of us all here,” the Irishman said. “Myself, Zach and Jim have all been more of the working kind. Angel always has been trying to get the best out of his talent. We’ve always been trying to improve. Angel always had it, but it was just a question of making the most of it, letting it come out.”
They are connected by hard work, but even then Harrington noticed some differences.
“Jim work hard, but he stuck with what he’s got,” he said. “I’m the opposite. I’ve worked hard, but I’ve changed everything I’ve got.”
The biggest change might be the event itself.
For starters, the Grand Slam has moved from Poipu Bay in Hawaii to the Mid-Ocean Club in Bermuda, a 20-square mile speck of land in the middle of the Atlantic with turquoise water, pink sand and a soft surf. There is a change in venue, but not necessarily the views.
“It seems like a very great place to take some vacations,” Cabrera said.
Woods decided to take his holiday away from the golf course, and that might be the biggest change of all. A winner at the PGA Championship for his 13th career major, this is the first time Woods has skipped the event when eligible.
“I haven’t spent as much time at home as I would have liked,” Woods said at the Tour Championship, which he won for his fourth victory in five starts that made him the first FedEx Cup champion.
It was a huge blow to Bermuda, which had been anticipating a visit from the world’s No. 1 player, and for the PGA of America, which lost a premier player for the second straight year. Phil Mickelson did not play in 2006 after winning the Masters.
“We’re disappointed Tiger won’t be with us,” PGA president Brian Whitcomb said. “But we’re proud of our champions we have here. Tiger has always supported golf and the PGA of America. I got a classy letter from him stating that he’s mentally exhausted and just needs a break. I respect that.”
There was plenty of star power in the pro-am, although not necessarily from a major champion.
Two of the most famous residents of Bermuda, actor Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, drew the largest gallery, about 200 people who soaked in the sun and an endless horizon of ocean. They played the final six holes with Harrington, who got so much attention that his orange pen was running dry late in the afternoon from signing so many autographs.
All of them were thrilled to be in Bermuda, if not for the hospitality than the reminder of what it took to get here.
Perhaps none were as wide-eyed as Johnson, and it didn’t take long for him to realize he wasn’t in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and this was not a normal golf outing. Each player receives a personal escort to his room, and Johnson was shocked when the door was opened.
“We don’t have a room here. We have a house,” Johnson said. “It’s perks on steroids.”
One perk has gone up this year, with the prize money increased to $1.35 million. The winner gets $600,000, with $200,000 for last.
Harrington won the award for earliest arrival, but only because he was beaten in the first round of the World Match Play and decided to come over Saturday night. He went to an English pub that might have felt like being close to home except that it didn’t show rugby or soccer on the television, which he found odd.
But while Bermuda feels like a holiday, Harrington said he doesn’t bring his golf clubs when he goes on vacation.
“You want to win, and you don’t want to tell the other guys you’re trying,” Harrington said. “It’s relaxed, but you don’t ever want to lose. Obviously, it’s an exhibition. You’ve got your major champions here and it’s kind of a showcase for TV. I like this idea where it’s not quite as serious as normal golf. I like the idea we can somewhat enjoy it. But you’re still trying to prepare properly.”