AUGUSTA, Ga. — The big headline out of the Golf Writers Association of America annual dinner Wednesday night: Luke Donald is funny.
While accepting the award for the association’s 2011 Player of the Year, the World No. 1 applied some dry, pointed wit as he roasted the assembled scribes for neglecting to fill seats at his press conferences and for failing to give the Brit his due.
“It’s a strange feeling to be in a room full of people,” he said sarcastically, before pulling out a frizzy black wig that resembled the hair of a certain 22-year-old Northern Irishman whom the golf media has been accused of fawning over.
Donald tugged the wig over his brow and said, “That’s better. It’ll put you all at ease.”
He wasn’t done yet.
“It’s funny to see you guys in suits,” he cracked. “It’s almost as rare as seeing you [covering an event] out on the golf course.”
Then he got personal, taking a dig at Golfweek writer Jeff Rude.
“I was No. 1 for six weeks,” Donald said, “and Jeff still thought I was Tom Lewis.”
Donald's schtick made for a rollicking start at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion to a night full of, well, more jokes and barbs, but also some poignant moments.
Five-time LPGA winner Sophie Gustafson, who is afflicted with a severe stutter, collected the Ben Hogan Award for overcoming a physical handicap.
Gustafson, a Swede, was in attendance but prerecorded her speech, which played on large screens behind the podium.
After taping an interview with the Golf Channel that aired during last year’s Solheim Cup, Gustafson said she received an outpouring of support, which helped her realize that she could be a role model to other stutterers.
Other winners included Brad Faxon (Jim Murray Award, for being a good guy to the media); Tom Lehman (Senior Player of the Year); and Yani Tseng (Female Player of the Year).
Tseng delivered one of the best lines of the night when she implored her swing coach Gary Gilchrist to not “write a book about me in the next five years.” It was a reference to Hank Haney, whose tell-all tome about his years teaching Tiger Woods hit bookstores last week, much to the chagrin of Woods and his handlers. The book, as it happens, was ghostwritten by Jaime Diaz of Golf Digest, who picked up the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. Diaz was in the house Wednesday night, and so was Mark Steinberg, Woods’s longtime agent, who managed to put aside any ill will and applaud Diaz as the writer accepted his award.
Notah Begay won the Charlie Bartlett Award for his efforts to curtail diabetes and obesity among Native American children; Don Van Natta picked up the USGA Herbert Warren Wind Award for his Babe Zaharias biography, Wonder Girl; and Maj. Dan Rooney won the William D. Richardson Award for an outstanding contribution to the game.
Rooney, a PGA professional and former F-16 fighter pilot, served three combat tours in Iraq as a member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. In 2007, he founded Patriot Golf Day and the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provide scholarships to the children or spouses of military men and women who were killed or disabled while serving in combat.
In a stirring speech, Rooney described flying dangerous missions over war-torn Iraq and witnessing friends die in action.
He revealed that his call sign was “Noonan,” which his commanders bestowed upon him in homage to the “Caddyshack” character Danny Noonan. Maybe a “Top Gun” reference would have been cooler. Or maybe not.
“If you ever meet a fighter pilot with the call sign ‘Maverick’ or ‘Goose,’” Rooney quipped, “he’s a complete tool.”