Van Cynical Mailbag: Here come the sons (and the fathers)

The par-3 7th hole at Pebble Beach.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.—When it comes to father-son bonding, the power of golf is almost mythical. Ask any professional golfer to identify who got him into the game, and he’ll probably tear up and answer, “My father.”

When Curtis Strange won his first U.S. Open in 1988, at the Country Club, he dabbed his eyes with a towel and spluttered, “This one’s for my dad.”

So it was another one of those touching moments during the 25th annual Cleveland Golf Father/Son Team Classic here at Pebble Beach. On a recent night, 10 of us sat around a table at The Bench, a swank dining room downstairs below the Tap Room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach.

Todd and Terry Harman, the defending Father/Son champs, were seated at the table. Todd, the president of Cleveland Golf, is 40-something; Terry, his dad, is probably 70-something. The talk before dinner turned to why they were off to a slow start in this three-round event, which is played at Spanish Bay, the Bayonet Golf Course and Pebble Beach.

Todd was already laughing before he started to answer. “My dad makes eagle on the first hole at Spanish Bay,” he said. “He makes a 3. It’s a really great 3. And here’s how it goes with us: By the time we got to the second green, I was ready to kill him.”

The table broke up in laughter, including Terry, who smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

They have their ups and downs on the golf course when they play together, they admitted. We didn’t ask for the gory details, writing it off to the frustrations of golf.

“Yeah, you have no idea how many times I’ve been kicked off this team,” Terry joked, laughing heartily.

Don’t get the wrong idea — they get along great. By the way, they rallied in the final round at Pebble Beach on a beautiful Sunday and finished second.

Chuck Thiry, the vice president of sales for Cleveland Golf, spoke briefly at the post-tourney dinner, where the trophies were handed out to the multiple winners (gross, net and second flight). He told the story of how he and his son, Nick, were given a gift by Todd Harman. The gift was a paid-up invitation to play in last year’s Cleveland Father/Son Classic.

Even though he’d lived in Southern California for more than a dozen years, Chuck said, he’d never played Pebble Beach before. “So we were pretty excited,” he said.

Then life intervened. Nick, who looks to be in his early 20s, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. There was some surgery, Chuck said, followed by chemotherapy and a little more surgery.

And now, Chuck said, he was pleased to say that Nick has been cancer-free for six straight months. He was emotional and had a little trouble finishing that sentence but no one in the room noticed because they were too busy loudly applauding, and for a good long while.

“So as you might imagine,” Chuck concluded, wiping one eye, “we’re pretty happy to be here.”

It was a nice moment. An even better one came a few minutes later when Chuck returned to the podium, along with Nick, to accept their trophy as a winning team.

Range rover

One perk of hanging out at the Cleveland Father/Son Classic — well, there was more than just one perk — was that I got to try out the new practice facility at Pebble Beach. It opened in January.

The facility is so new that you can still make out the lines on the putting green where the sod was rolled out, but it has grown in nicely. The green is smooth and rolls quite well. There are two chipping greens, one with a couple of practice bunkers. They’re both still brick-hard but should soften with age.

The range is just as good as you would expect at a five-star world-class resort. It’s funny that Pebble Beach, the most famed resort destination in American golf, didn’t have a first-class practice area before. It had always been sort of an afterthought.

The turf is tight and nice. The range is located up on the hill overlooking The Lodge, just past the Peter Hay par-3 course, where the equestrian center was previously located.

You’re eligible to use the range if you’ve got a tee time at one of the courses that day — Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay or Spyglass Hill — or if you’re a Lodge guest. I highly recommend either course of action.

Meanwhile, back at the Van Cynical Mailbag

Van Cynical, Those supersized hats that Rickie Fowler wears drive me crazy. What’s up with that?
–ChuckG via e-mail

It’s a style thing, Chuck. We mature adults wouldn’t understand. Give the kid a break, though. He got a haircut and everything. I thought he looked good.

Vans, Who is Victor Dubuisson and what was he doing almost winning the Match Play? Is he France’s greatest golfer or what?
–ElDiablo via e-mail

Great question, El. Few had ever heard of this guy before he won the Turkish Airlines Open that Tiger Woods was brought in to dominate but didn’t. He’s quiet and he’s impressive. He smashes it a long way and, as you saw, he makes some crazy up-and-downs under pressure, which can’t be an accident. Jean Van de Velde may have to move over. This guy cries out for a colorful nickname. Send me your entries (but let’s agree that it won’t be VD.)

Van Sickle, I’m confused. Is the Match Play tourney going away, or just leaving Tucson, or both? I like it, although it’s always more fun to watch Phil and Tiger get bounced out.
–Billy97 via email

Accenture is departing as sponsor, but since it’s an official World Golf Championship, the Match Play is expected to find a new sponsor and probably a glitzier home than Tucson. Cadillac, which sponsors the WGC event currently played at Doral, is interested in having a Detroit-area tournament. Moving the Match Play there would necessitate a date change, obviously. But yes, I expect the Match Play to continue.