The 7 best things in golf this week, featuring Matthew Wolff and the original Rickie Fowler
Every week (pretty much) GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best* things in golf right now. This week, he’s home in steamy Philadelphia, with the cool of Portrush on deck. (*or at least mildly interesting)
The excerpt from Ken Green’s new book now on the Golf Digest website isn’t the best thing in golf this week in any conventional sense, but it’s one of the most important golf pieces you might read all year. As a boy in Honduras, where his father was a principal, Green writes that he faced years of brutal sexual abuse committed by friends and associates of his alcoholic father. His experiences are tough and painful to read, but a reminder that elite golfers — Ken Green won five times on Tour, and his first caddie was his cousin, Joe LaCava — are not immune from the life’s indecencies and degradations.
6. Mad Max I
On a happy note, with the Open going to Portrush next week, the name “Mad” Max Faulkner is in the air again as he won the only Open ever played there in 1951. His very name will make you smile. The English golfer’s clothes, in an era when light gray was considered flashy, were more colorful than Rickie Fowler’s, and his experiments with shaft-length make him a symbolic ancestor of Bryson DeChambeau’s. Max’s son-in-law, the English professional Brian Barnes who beat Jack Nicklaus twice in one day at the 1973 Ryder Cup, was noted for once marking his ball in a tournament with a can of beer. There will always be an England. Max, in full.
5. Mad Max II
Max Faulkner brings to mind, at least for this reporter, Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, from Get Smart, owner of a dazzling collection of “shoe phones” designed by Mel Brooks, one of which, from an episode called “I Shot 86 Today,” took the form of a golf shoe. Max plays lefty, dresses like Max Faulkner, and is dangerous with the sand wedge, to say nothing of his spiked phone.
If you think the All England Club does genteel tennis well, get on your three-speed, Brooks-saddled Raleigh and take a two-mile spin to Royal Wimbledon, an ancient links within the London limits, where visiting golfers are advised to “abide by the conventions of sportsmanship and fair play.” Leave your exclamation marks at the entry gate, please.
3. Matt Wolff, Man in Motion
Matt Wolff’s move is bringing comparisons to Jack Nicklaus’s swing for the huge lift of the right foot, the great British amateur Jimmy Bruen for being so pointed to rightfield at the top of the back swing, and Lee Trevino for having two distinct swing planes, going back and coming down. But one person, the king of swing-your-swing, especially comes to mind, and that’s Arnold Palmer. Arnold, especially in the 1950s, had a wildly active waggle, as does Wolff, with the clubhead going past the ball. Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam, among other iconic swingers, made the waggle a study in calm, but Palmer did not, and neither does Wolff.
2. Matt Wolff, Headliner
It’s astounding how fast things can change these days in golf: Matt Wolff is the biggest name in this week’s John Deere Classic. Yes, Zach Johnson, in the field, is having a Hall of Fame career, and he’s playing. But at this moment, Matt Wolff, all of 20, is the biggest name in the field and one of the most electrifying figures in the game because of his age, and because he’s doing it his way.
It’s been a year and a month since the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, won in style by Brooks Koepka. Your correspondent has been to Shinnecock many times over the years, as a caddie, to cover the four most recent U.S. Opens there, and to play. It’s greatness and rugged beauty were undeniable, but it never seemed playable, not to this 88-shooter. The rough was too high, the greens were too fast, the fairways were too narrow. Then I played it earlier this month from the appropriate tees, with the fairways at their (generous) U.S. Open width, with the rough playable, and with the greens stimping at 10, if that. What a pleasure! Golf courses are such subtle things, remarkably so.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]