Every week GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best things in golf right now.
7. Georgia Peach
One of the best things about Charlie Howell’s emotional family-affair win at Sea Island last week is that it qualifies him for the 2019 Masters. (CH3, wife, daughter and son were all in tears, or on the verge, in victory.) Howell grew up in Augusta. As a kid, his father, an Augusta surgeon and not a golfer, joined Augusta Country Club to expose his son to bent-grass greens. Charlie played Augusta National as a 10-year-old and broke 80. He’s logged a lot of rounds at The Patch, the Augusta muni. He hasn’t played in the Masters since 2012 and he’s never even sniffed a top-10 finish there. But it’s the tournament of his boyhood dreams and it’ll be neat to see him in the lineup.
6. It’s a Family Affair, II
One of the best things about Lexi Thompson’s win Sunday at the LPGA’s Tour Championship was seeing Thompson march up to the 18th hole with her brother Curtis beside her, as her caddie. There are three Thompsons from one South Florida family in professional golf. Nick Thompson, 35, won once on the Web.com tour and has made $5.7 million on the PGA Tour. Lexi Thompson, at 23, is one of the most accomplished players on the LPGA tour today. But of the three, it is Curtis Thompson, 25, a former LSU golfer, who has the most natural flair for golf, a big, powerful long game and all the little shots, too.
Since 2015, he played in 85 Web.com events, and his best finish, and best check, came in Panama early in 2016, when he finished third and made $36,000. Eighty-five professional events over four years is a significant tryout. In winning the Tour Championship on Sunday, with Curtis on her bag just days after firing her regular caddie, Lexi Thompson made $500,000. If Curtis gets the standard caddie bonus for winning, he’ll have made $50,000 for the week, $14,000 more than he got in Panama. There’s more than one way to make a living in this game.
5. Propose This
Shortly after The Match was announced, the prospect of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson engaging in intra-round prop bets (from proposal) became a fashionable virtual water-cooler golf conversation. This week, with the blessed event finally coming on Black Friday, the internet is positively abuzz with one particularly interesting possible prop bet: A closest-to-the-pin contest on one of the par-3s, in which Phil uses one of Tiger’s clubs and Tiger uses one of Phil’s. (Yes, the rules would have to be relaxed to make this happen — The Match could not be considered, in rules parlance, a “stipulated round.”) This prop bet could be easy money for Phil, who is righthanded in most parts of his life, except golf.
4. Sam Snead, Still Swinging
The best golf conversation I had last week was with Mack Champ, Cameron’s 77-year-old grandfather and his first teacher. He told me that he taught himself the game from the book Sam Snead’s Natural Golf. It’s one of the most underrated golf-instruction books ever, along with Power Golf, by Ben Hogan. Mack Champ is an active volunteer golf instructor in Sacramento’s First Tee programs. He’s teaching Snead. He teaches you to do what comes naturally.
Everywhere you went last week at Sea Island, you saw somebody named Love. Davis. His brother Mark. Davis’s daughter and granddaughter. Davis and Mark’s mother, Penta, was not on the scene, by nearby and hovering in spirit. Her late husband, Davis Love Jr., was one of the best golf teachers in the country. By weird coincidence, I returned home from Sea Island and in the mail was a package containing a draft of an instruction piece I helped Davis Love Jr. write in 1984, for Golf Digest. Here’s the first sentence of the second paragraph: “You might not believe this, but I want you to swing as fast as you possibly can.”
How modern! Cameron Champ is not swinging as fast as he possibly can, but close to it. He told me last week that when he wants to hit it longer than normal, he doesn’t think aggressive thoughts or anything like that. He just widens his stance which lengthens his backswing and gives him more time to create more speed.
2. The New South
Here are three new private Southern courses that you could play on an easy driving tour if you were lucky enough to have a path to their first tees: Congaree Golf Club, a Tom Fazio course in Ridgeland, S.C., which opened last year; Ohoopee Match Club, a Gil Hanse course in Cobbtown, Ga., which opened this year; and the Augusta Country Club, in Augusta, Ga. ACC opened in 1899. The course’s design credits require a far longer and more detailed report than this space can accommodate. This year, the course has had such a complete and thorough renovation — with a new 9th hole and new vistas — that the local golf population is all atwitter about its “new” course. This is, notably, not a crowd prone to hyperbole.
1. The Break
After The Match, golf gets The Break, in a manner of speaking. At least, the PGA Tour does. Every sport needs an off-season. Yes, between now and the old Hawaiian Open, there’s Tiger’s event in the Bahamas (not a real tournament). There’s the QBE Shootout (not a real tournament). There’s the Tournament of Champions (a quasi-real tournament). Then comes Hawaii. A full-field event with a 36-hole cut. The Break began when Charlie Howell made that 15-footer on the second playoff hole. The whole of 2018 was a whirlwind. The professional game needs some downtime. Good time for us to get out, though.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]