Every week GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best* things in golf right now. This week, he sings the praises of team play, Dustin Johnson’s impassiveness and an underrated Jack-on-Tiger quote. (*or at least mildly interesting)
7. Better Ball is Best
Better Ball and Best Ball are interchangeable phrases. Whatever you want to call it, the team competition this week in New Orleans is one of the best Tour events all year. Even though the full impact of the new May date for the PGA Championship is still unknown, it is already being felt. The four majors — April, May, June, July — now define and truncate the golf year. That means the warm-up acts (pre-Masters) and the interstitial events have to define themselves in some meaningful way now more than ever. The seasonal codas, the Presidents Cup in odd years and the Ryder Cup in even ones, will now become only more meaningful. As for the FedEx playoffs, three events is better than four, but those events will continue to be what they have always been, good events with good fields sometimes on good courses, money for the players, something to watch for us, but lacking in anything like emotional impact. The Zurich has some emotional impact, because of how the players respond to their partners, and because millions of us know intimately the whole playing-partner routine. The Tour could add one or two other team events and it would only enrich the schedule. A vote here for a mixed-team event and a Tour player-Champions player event, where the old guy must be at least 60.
6. Tom Watson, Social Activist
The obituaries this week for Henry Bloch, the co-founder of H&R Block and a central figure in the philanthropic life of Kansas City, bring to mind the quiet act of rebellion Tom Watson took in 1990, when he quit the Kansas City Country Club, after Bloch, seeking to become the club’s first Jewish member to go through the admissions process, was rejected for membership. Watson was then married to a Jewish woman, Linda Rubin Watson, married into her membership, in a manner of speaking. Their two children are Jewish. Bloch was eventually admitted, and Watson eventually rejoined the club where his family had long ties. It’s actually hard to imagine any prominent golfer today taking any sort of serious stand on any sort of social or political issue. Many of them do all sorts of good works, but we don’t feel their stake in what they do. This was different.
5. Masters Hangover
Now, almost a fortnight later, are you still tending to your Masters hangover? This reporter is. The cure here is not fried eggs and black coffee, but to recognize that if you cannot let go of that week, and that Sunday, it’s not your fault. That event was 61 years in the making (since Arnold won the first of his four green coats in 1958), 22 years in the making (since Tiger won the first of what is now his five green coats), 11 years in the making (since Tiger won his last major). It came on terrain almost as familiar to us as our own backyards. Indulge yourself. Today, for instance, I find myself thinking about Tiger’s second shot on 8, from the right rough, up the hill, in a slice wind, setting up a birdie on the par-5 that got him to even for the day. Man-oh-man was that shot important. Give into it. It’s OK. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black is coming.
4. Best Underreported Masters Quote
Jack Nicklaus, talking by phone to three Sunday-night Golf Channel panelists an hour or so after Woods’ victory, about the prospect of Woods winning 18 majors, Nicklaus’s best-ever total: “I’m quaking in my boots, guys.” He was off on a fishing trip at the time. Big Jack, and his legacy, are going to be OK either way. Don’t forget about the 19 times he finished second in majors, and the grace with which he handled his bridesmaid role. That’s how, at least in part, Lee Trevino became Lee Trevino, Tom Watson became Tom Watson, Gary Player became Gary Player, etc. It was their personalities and swings, and how they won — and whom they beat.
3. Face of the Week
For last week anyhow, it had to be Dustin Johnson’s, when he holed a 15-footer putt for birdie on Sunday at Hilton Head, to shoot a back-nine 41, in the day’s last group. His bearded and impassive face did not register even a hint of irony on it, or really anything else. Maybe that is the golfing genius of the man, in good times of good golf fortune and bad. A sense of irony is good if you’re trying to make it in standup comedy. It’s a coping mechanism for most of us, given the way we play. (Maybe I should speak for myself.) On the PGA Tour, where money changes hands with every shot, a sense of irony will do nothing to help you shoot lower scores, though it does make a golfer more relatable to any member of the viewing public.
2. Freshest Insight into Tiger’s Driving
Dennis Walters, the trick-shot artist who is paralyzed from the waist down and plays out of a swiveling chair, has one of the most beautiful and instructive swings you could ever hope to see. You talk about turning in Hogan’s barrel — this man does it. As for swinging on plane, and with good rhythm, he brings to mind Ernie Els, Steve Elkington, Davis Love and a very few others. Walters, who has done 30 exhibitions at Tiger Woods Foundation clinics, is being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next month. (Barbara and Jack Nicklaus are introducing him.) Regarding Woods’ driving game this year, Walters said, “Tiger knows he’s not the longest in the game anymore, that some of those other guys are going to hit it past him. So he’s not trying to keep up with them. He’s protecting his back. He’s swinging more within himself.” In 2019? What a concept. By the way, the next time you hear anybody on TV talk about a professional golfer and the rhythm of his or her swing, please let me know. Rhythm died with the balata ball. Smash is where it’s at.
1. Newest Entry on Bucket List
I have been through Coopersburg, Pa., where Winnie Walzer Palmer grew up, but only recently learned there is a municipal, nine-hole Donald Ross course there. I have an abiding interest in muni golf, nine-hole courses and Donald Ross. I will report back ASAP. I am in favor of bucket-list entries that require little more than a car with some gas in it, a small batch of $20s from a nearby ATM and a soupcon of desire.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]