Every week GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best* things in golf right now. This week, he files somewhere between PVB and Tampa Bay. (*or at least mildly interesting)
Congratulations to Sung Kang, Jason Kokrak and J.T. Poston. They are the lone survivors through three weeks of the new four-week competition, sponsored by GOLF.com with the unwitting participation of the PGA Tour, that will identify the Low Florida Swinger.
The boilerplate: to participate, contestants must be at least 18 years of age and play all 288 holes of the four Florida Swing events: Honda, Bay Hill, Players, Valspar. Ties will be broken by a match of cards beginning with the third round of Honda. Playoff holes, if any, are not part of the grand totals.
The tallies through 216 holes, with 72-hole scores from the first three events in playing order, followed the grand total:
Kokrak: 276, 281, 285 — 842
Kang: 282, 280, 285 — 847
Poston: 281, 294, 280 — 855
Watch this space for the announcement of the winner and for details on the prize-giving ceremony, location TBD, but not in the Sunshine State.
Inspector F. Molinari (aka The Italian Detective) was his usual stealthy self in the two Florida events in which he played, Bay Hill and Players. Francisco won Arnold’s event by posting a final-round 64 before the last group had made the turn. His T56 finish at the Players was no great shakes, but he likely made more money than he spent. (Always a goal.) He earned $27,250 at the Players and ate his meals in a rented home he shared with his caddie and some others. (“Cooking is one of my hobbies,” he’ll tell you.) The previous week, at Bay Hill, he had the same setup, with a second midweek supermarket excursion. He drove from Bay Hill to Ponte Vedra Beach Sunday night, after his victory, with his new red cardigan in hand. On the Monday after the Players, he drove south to the LPGA International Golf Club, a vesting housing and golf development off I-95 in unincorporated Daytona Beach. He was there with Xander Schauffele and Georgia Hall, shooting spots on a raw, windblown day for a Tour promotion called the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. (Suggestion: spring for an en-dash. Risk-Reward.) Frankie M., the Open winner last year at Carnoustie, has to be one of the best things to ever happen to the claret jug, which is saying something. So smart, straight forward and dignified. “We got to Sawgrass at around 11 that Sunday night. It was a nice drive. A chance to reflect. Chatting about the week, how the game and week had evolved. Driving in the United States is pretty easy. It’s mainly straight roads. It’s not really exciting. I’m used to Italy, where there are a lot more bends in the road. More ups and downs.” A phrase with broad application.
My fellow typists Alan Shipnuck and Dylan Dethier and I slipped out for a game last week at Timuquana Country Club, located in an old Jacksonville neighborhood called Ortega. It’s the Old South there, with a Donald Ross course next to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where Bobby Jones was once stationed. The course is flat, simple and excellent. David Fay, the retired USGA executive, calls it a “sipping whiskey kind of course” and next month it will host the USGA’s Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. I played (this is not my norm) 23 holes with one ball. Also, one plastic tee. Which is kind of odd, because this is also a wooden-tee kind of course.
The same threesome congregated on another night for an after-work spin (11 holes) at the Jax Beach Muni. Another fine course. Also, you have to admire course operators with a sense of humor, as they are so rare.
A year ago, the man below, a veteran Tampa sports columnist named Tom Jones, witnessed each of the 275 shots played by Tiger Woods at the 2018 Valspar, and wrote about Woods’s rounds with notable vigor for his paper, The Tampa Bay Times. Woods finished a shot behind the winner, Paul Casey. Soon after, Jones wrapped up his long newspaper career and took his talents to the Poynter Institute. In 33 years of covering sports, Jones said that he would be hard-pressed to name any event he found more exciting than last year’s Valspar, highlighted by Tiger’s return to meaningful late-Sunday golf. The skin tingles, thinking about it.
The USGA is in the final stages of making a hire for a new and senior employee who will oversee and seek to improve the USGA’s relationship with the PGA Tour and the LPGA. A guess is that if you are reading this you will know the person’s name when it is revealed, which should happen well before the Masters.
One of the enduring pleasures of traveling alongside the PGA Tour is the chance to explore unexpected rabbit holes, like the muni links in Jacksonville Beach and the Timuquana course. The ocean drive, between Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine, where I have often stayed during the Players, is wild and spectacular. It also takes you by Vijay Singh’s condo. A few years ago, I dropped in on a Saturday morning to the old and aging synagogue, First Congregation Sons of Israel, in the heart of St. Augustine and down the street from my hotel. On Sunday, I jogged by it, knocked on a side door and was given a brief tour. This was shortly after the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand. The synagogue had undergone major renovations since I was last there. Hurricanes in 2015 and 2016 had required them. The beauty of this simple building and house of worship will stay with me. Curiously, the folks at Timuquana said something similar — those same hurricanes made the membership see their own course in a new light.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]