Every week GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best things in golf right now.
7. Best golf insight into 41
It comes from George H.W. himself. The man really was a golfer and golf fan, in fact and in spirit. (You’d see him so often at team events that at some point the surprise wore off.) President Bush had the grace and nonchalance that makes the game so appealing for so many. When Geraldine Ferraro was named as Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984, Bush, then vice president and now her opponent, sent her a note which captures exactly what every golfer in a match feels on the 1st tee: “Good luck — up to a point.”
6. Best photo in a Philadelphia deli
Joe Louis was an excellent and enthusiastic golfer. His son ran the national First Tee program for years (a program to which 41 was deeply connected). While eating Night 1 latkes at Schlesinger’s, a Philadelphia deli, I saw the photo below on the wall. You could write a book about the relationship between owners of Jewish delis and their African-American sports heroes. Anyway, from the waist down, Louis looks like Nicklaus himself, in his early Fat Jack days. Note the lifted left heel. (Brandel would be pleased.) Hale Irwin likes to say you swing to your body type. Exactly.
5. Best picture on the Hero/Albany driving range
It’s a mental one. Mike Thomas, Justin’s father and teacher, watching his son go through the bag, barely saying a thing. I told the senior Thomas what Curtis Strange, also the son of a golf pro, once said: “When did the golf swing get so complicated?” Mike said, “It’s not.”
4. Best picture on the Albany course
Tiger, on his left knee, playing that shot on Saturday from under the bush, amid the fronds, his ball on sand, the sun beating down. You need moments like that to remind you, while the players’ private jets are being refueled and the dessert tray in player dining is being replenished, that tournament golf is a working-class profession.
3. Best early guess at Presidents Cup pairings
The Hero World Challenge has only 18 players. Tiger (with help) makes the tee times. Tiger is the captain of next year’s Presidents Cup team, in December, at Royal Melbourne. Tiger is always planning. I think he was trying out possible two-man teams with the first-round pairings in The Bahamas. Gary Woodland and Tony Finau (two jocks with mega-distance). Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (two young, unassuming talents). Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson (two stars for whom what-me-worry? is an art). Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson (two say-anything bubba golfers). Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas (two Establishment players both headed to the World Golf Hall of Fame, one long before the other). That’s 10 players, right there. Six at least will likely be on the team. Just 12 more months!
2. Best inconsequential chit-chat with a Tour star
As the veteran Tour player Rickie Fowler closes in on 30 (Dec. 13), I’m finally starting to get him. I have always loved his swing and the pace of his play, but I have never found him, as so many do, charismatic. I’m starting to realize that’s not really the thing with him. His thing is actually this: he’s so genial, not fake-nice but actually nice. My wife mocks me for often wearing pants with no belt. (Sansabelts!) One day last week, I was actually wearing those stretchy, lightweight Puma golf pants, the kind Rickie wears, as I bumped into him. We talked about how they are sized. (Generously.) He said, “If you actually measure my waist, it’s 34 inches. They send me size-30 pants. Hey, it makes you feel good, right?” He could have been talking about himself.
1. Best reason to be thankful you’re not Tiger this week
Flying to Australia on a commercial flight. Doing some Presidents Cup stuff. Flying home. It’s been a long year. Good time just to be home.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]