I played in my first major of the year the other day, the annual member-pro event at Seminole Golf Club, in North Palm Beach, Fla. It’s always held on the Monday before Doral, and I look forward to it from the day I get out my clubs to start the new season. My partner, this year as in years past, was Bill Jones III, who is the owner of the Sea Island resort and like an older brother to me. The course — a sparkling Donald Ross gem — is on the Atlantic. You can’t lose a ball, but you can four-putt any green. The ghost of Hogan is in the heavy sea air. He practiced at Seminole to prepare for the Masters, as the guest of George Coleman, a successful businessman and Seminole’s president.
You used to see that all the time on Tour — pros who had friendships with older men, experienced in life in ways the player was not. The bond was golf. I have three or four friendships like that, and they mean the world to me. The players 10 and 20 years younger than me often have hired hands to turn to. I suppose I do, too. It’s a different time.
It’s hard to think of another club that feels more of golf than Seminole. You can’t put a finger on it: the sound the white-stone driveway makes underneath your tires; the weight of the clubhouse doors; the beautiful, always-empty swimming pool; the ginger snaps and cheddar cheese available at the turn; the sand that comes up with your tiny divots; the elevated greens; the elevated golf talk when people go from table to table in the grillroom. It’s a dream.
Oh, and this year, an incredible treat: Bill and I were paired with Bob Kelly, the CEO of Nicklaus Golf, and Big Jack himself. I arrived on Tour the year Nicklaus won his sixth Masters, in 1986. The man’s 69 now and nothing has changed. He’s still superhunched over the ball while putting, with a wide-open stance, and you could eat a sandwich before he brings the putter head back. And then the ball goes smack dab in the center of the hole. Looking at him made me wonder what I’m doing with my run-and-gun putting technique. He couldn’t have been nicer, talking about how I’m swinging, but man, oh man, did he have the needle out for my partner, a nine handicapper who was up for the challenge of the day. “O.K., Mr. Eight,” Jack said to Bill after his first net birdie. Then it was “Mr. Seven.” And “Mr. Six.” By 18 he was “Mr. Five.”
Bill and I won the net division. I could tell how important it was to me when I got nervous on 15 because I knew we were in the hunt and three-putted. Still, we held on. Bill’s a busy man, and my life’s hectic, too. It’s not often that we can take a leave from our every-day routine and simply enjoy each other’s company in a wonderful setting and in competition. On my drive from Seminole to Doral, I spoke with Tim Finchem and others about Tour business. All the while, the in-box on my phone was filling up. Word was out: I had won my first major of the year.