When I wrote my check for $550 to play in the Golf.Com World Amateur Handicap Championship, I knew I’d be playing four days of golf in the golf capital of the world, Myrtle Beach, S.C. I had the hope that I would win my 46-man flight and advance to the final. That didn’t happen, but something nearly as exciting did: I got to play my fourth round with Roger Clemens, the future Hall of Famer.
Like every sports fan, I knew that Roger had pleaded not guilty on Monday in federal court in Washington to charges that he lied in a Congressional hearing about his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. I have a certain heightened interest in the issue of PEDs; I’m a pharmacist at a Walgreens near Myrtle Beach. I was impressed that playing in the World Am meant so much to Roger that he flew straight from Washington to play in the event. Roger is a 4-handicap golfer, and I’m a 5, so we were in the same flight, Flight 2 of the event, for age 49 and under.
On Wednesday, during the third round of the event, I played with one of Clemens’s Tuesday playing partners, Jason Howell, and asked him what it was like to play with the Rocket. He told me about the orange ball Clemens uses. He told me that he plays country music in his cart while playing. He said what a gentleman Roger is to play with. He said, “He’s just a guy playing golf.”
I do feel there is no place for PEDs in sports. They may help athletic performance, but we don’t know at what cost. I hate the idea that kids might feel they have to use steroids or other drugs in order to have a chance to be successful in sports. If I had to guess, I’d say that Barry Bonds probably did use PEDs, based on how his body and head changed over the course of his career. Prior to playing with Clemens on Thursday, I didn’t know much about him. After playing with him, I choose to believe him.
He’s a big, strong man. If he had been on steroids and then stopped using them, his muscles would have atrophied. Regardless of all that, I don’t feel that Congress should be using our tax money to try to find out whether individual athletes are using PEDs. I think Congress has better things to do with its time and our money. It’s a fool’s errand.
Anyway, back to the golf. Roger did have the orange ball, as advertised. It was called a Chromax, and Clemens said it played like a Callaway. I’d say you have to really know golf to say one ball performs like another, and Roger knows golf. There was no trash talk at all in our foursome, but we did ask if the orange balls came with sunglasses.
And then, after about three holes, Roger said, “I think it’s time for some country music, if you guys don’t mind.” We were all fine with that. He had small speakers of some kind in the little cubby underneath the steering wheel. It was no distraction at all.
Roger likes to play fast, and he plays ready golf. We started on the 12th hole at TPC Myrtle Beach, and he was very decisive about what clubs to hit and how to play the shots. On the ninth hole, I hit an approach shot that buried under the lip of a greenside trap. You couldn’t see the ball at all. Three of us were wondering what the rule is in that situation, whether you take an unplayable or a lost ball, can you brush back sand to locate your ball, that sort of thing. Clemens didn’t hesitate. “Let’s call in a rules official,” he said.
We did, and it turns out you can brush away sand to locate the ball and then take an unplayable and drop in the bunker, which is what I did.
Roger’s wife, Debbie, was also playing in the tournament, on a different course, and she and Roger were texting back and forth about how she was doing. He said, “She’s the real golfer in the family.” He had a Texas Longhorns putter cover and shoes. He’s powerful, as you would expect. My good drives go about 240 yards. He was 35 yards past me.
We didn’t talk at all about the charges against him, of course. When it came up briefly with my playing partners, we all had the same view: he says he didn’t do PEDs, and we choose to believe him. The round took five hours, but you’re grinding over your golf so there’s not that much chance to talk. We asked him about batters who gave him trouble. He said, “I didn’t like the contact hitters. They work the count and get your pitch count up. I liked facing the power hitters. I could get them out on one pitch.”
He was very calm throughout the round. He never threw a club, didn’t curse, was nothing but a gentleman. He didn’t stay for lunch or a drink, but he signed scorecards for us after the round and posed for pictures before the round. I think Jason had it exactly correct: He was a guy playing golf.