Tuesday, January 11

A Goodbye to a Father and a Golfer

I LOST A FATHER AND GOLF LOST an enthusiastic player and fan on November 30. James "Ralph" Sagebiel was 94 when he died.

L to R: Kent, Dad (88) and me.
One of dad's goals was to play golf when he turned 90, but he took a bad fall that hospitalized him at 89 and never played again. It did not dampen his enthusiasm for the game. He replayed a lot of rounds in his mind and through conversations as he lived his last five years in assisted living.

A longtime sports lover who played basketball and softball as a young man, dad took up the game relatively late. He was invited to play with borrowed clubs in his mid 30s and caught the golf bug. A Methodist minister in the 1960s, he'd play free on public courses in Southern Indiana on Mondays, his day off.

Later, when we moved to California and dad changed his career to education, he played a lot more golf, especially in the summers when school was out. I started playing, too, and through my teen and adult years we spent countless hours together on golf courses.

At dad's memorial service in December, my older brother, Kent, captured our father quite well -- especially through a golf lens -- during the time we both shared remembrances.

Here's what Kent said:

"Dad loved playing golf and was good at it. He was still playing at 89.

"But in his early 80s he lost his golf game. It simply disappeared. He couldn't hit the ball in the air to save his life. He'd just dribble it down the fairway.

"This didn't go on for a few weeks or a couple of months. It went on for a year, then another, and then a third year.

"It was painful to watch. A lot of golfers would have hung up their spikes and quit. Not dad. He never cussed, never complained, never threw a club.

"He just kept playing the game he loved, often with the people he loved. He rooted for them, complimenting their shots and games. For him, the glass was half full.

"Then one day I saw him hit one in the air, and then another and another. The California sun began to shine again on dad's golf game.

"Dad lived his life like he played golf. He never gave up. The glass was always half full. And he never stopped playing.

"I'm going to really miss dad. But I'm going to keep playing, because that's what he taught me and that's what he would want us all to do. And I know in my heart that he is still playing and that we'll all play together again."

Thursday, November 11

Gypsy Hill: Autumn Golf in the Shenandoah Valley

10th hole at Gypsy Hill, looking from the green to the tee.
SINCE ABOUT A YEAR AGO, I've lived in Staunton, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. What golf I do play, I play mostly at Gypsy Hill, Staunton's city golf course. It's located in Gypsy Hill Park.

Gypsy Hill was built in 1919, when America's first golf boom was underway. The routing and contour make it pretty apparent it's a very old course, fashioned during the era of hickory clubs and early dimpled golf balls.

I've been on a lot of golf courses in my life, and Gypsy Hill is easily the hilliest course I've played. The yardage is short on the scorecard -- under 6,000 yards with a par of 71 -- but it plays much longer. There are many blind and uphill approach shots for which I must add two clubs, sometimes more. The greens vary but tend to be small and sloping.

6th hole at Gypsy Hill.
Similar to what Ben Hogan once said about the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Gypsy Hill is the longest short course I've ever played. It can be deceptively hard, especially if you stray from the tight fairways.

I was out playing Gypsy Hill on Monday with my brother. That's when I snapped a few pics with my phone.

The colors were still gorgeous, but the leaves will be gone soon.

Monday, November 1

'BORN ON THE LINKS: A Concise History of Golf' By John Williamson


The title is BORN ON THE LINKS: A Concise History of Golf. It's written by John Williamson, an author and lawyer, as well as the founder of Argyle Publishing.

I share Mr. Williamson's interest in golf history, so it was easy for me to say yes when offered this title by his publisher, Lyon's Press. But I was surprised to learn the book was published in 2018, so it's not so new after all.

The paperback edition is 273 pages broken into 14 chapters and four appendices. I noticed the book has a positive rating on Amazon.

At first glance, and with some spot reading, I believe the author has accomplished his goal of putting forth a concise history of the game. There's a good amount of information packed into fewer than 300 pages. Mr. Williamson has a straigtforward, just-the-facts style.

The book begins at the beginning, in the 15th century when a golf-like sport migrated from the Netherlands to Scotland. The first three chapters highlight the early history of the game leading up to golf coming to America.

I enjoyed reading some early rules written for a tournament played at Leith Links in Scotland in 1744. There were a total of 13 rules. They were titled "Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf."

No. 10 says, "If a ball is stopped by any person, horse, dog, or anything else, the ball so stopped must be played where it lies."

Some rules were artfully written: "He whose ball lies farthest from the hole is obliged to play first."

This was obviously the precursor to "you're away" and "you're still away." But wouldn't it be fun to occasionally say, "You're obliged to play first"?

The flow of the chapters makes sense. The author has incuded a chapter each about African Americans and women, whose golf stories are not as well known but are still illuminating. Even with barriers to entry, golf has attracted many people from many backgrounds. I have yet to play a sport or game that's more difficult than golf, which, I suspect, is a large part of the attraction.

As six-time Open champion Harry Vardon once said:

"Golf is the master of us all."

Tuesday, October 26

Guest Column: Throwing Away Tournaments to Avoid Making the Winner's Speech

 By Keith McLaren

Keith McLaren is a 59-year-old fanatical golfer living in St Andrews. He writes about golf at The Kilted Caddie.

I OFTEN SAIL DOWN THE ROAD to Edinburgh to catch up with the merry butchers at Wm Christie in Bruntsfield.

Keith McLaren
Not only do I get golf tips from Angus and hear his new jokes, but I tap into the Edinburgh grapevine and give them the gossip from across the water. A vital exchange.

Now Angus is the real golfer but Bob was a caddie on the European Tour, when aged fourteen he chucked his academic studies at James Gillespie High School. (I say academic studies in the broadest sense possible.) Bob headed for the school of life, carrying the bag of his infamous uncle, David Robertson from Dunbar, who later became renowned for getting banned from the tour for cheating.

Nevertheless, the guy could hit a golf ball and made some success in his short-lived professional life.

However, Bob told me the other day that he actually threw away two tournaments which he was winning, the Northern Open and the Coca Cola at North Berwick. And all because he was terrified of making the winners speech!

He seemingly got to the sixteenth ahead in the last round in both and said to Bob, "I’m going to throw it. I just can’t do the speech." Bob remonstrated with him and said, "Just say thank you."

But he couldn't get over that fear. Kind of stage fright in the extreme. But rather defeating the purpose of playing professional golf, right?

* * *

On a more positive note I've been accepted back into Mortonhall as a country member which I'm delighted about.

I started playing golf there aged ten and have so many fond memories of the place. On a recent visit it was great to see my Dad's pals still going strong.

What a happy place it is for me. And indeed what a great and beautiful golf course it is too, settled next to the Braid Hills, afire with yellow furze all summer long.

Siegfried Sasoon used to escape there while convalescing during the war and there is indeed a hole, the fourth called "Poet's Walk." It is all a bit of a dream of a course to be honest, and I'm very glad to be back to it.

Saturday, October 9

Guest Column: The Unworkable Format at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship

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By Keith McLaren

Keith McLaren is a 59-year-old fanatical golfer living in St Andrews. He writes about golf at The Kilted Caddie.

THE DUNHILL IS OVER AGAIN. The valiant attempt to bring pros and amateurs together playing in a top level tournament.

But does this format work?

In theory yes, but in practice I would say a resounding no.

I didn't go down to watch this year apart from a mere five minutes when I stopped by the 18th to see if the pros were driving the last green with the strong backwind. And indeed they were, which is fairly impressive.

However, that was all that was impressive about the two pros, Haydn Porteous and Jacques Kruyswijk. For as I watched them stride onto the left of the 18th green, I noticed that one of the pro's amateur partner was trying to hit his second shot from just before the road. But the two pros were just not in the least bit interested. They weren't looking. And that is shocking, no matter what stakes these guys are playing for.

I was not in the least bit surprised by what I saw, as I'd had my own first hand experience of this sort of behaviour as I'd caddied for David Walsh a few years ago, when he was paired with the up and coming Matt Wallace. What an eye opener that was.

Mr Wallace swore under his breath at the other amateur on the fifth green of the Old after he thought he'd spoken too loudly while he was playing a shot. I say swore under his breath, he actually cursed the wee chap fairly loud and clear.

Mr Wallace was also pretty ignorant in his behaviour towards his caddie at one point and indeed, when David missed a very short putt, I think in the third round at Kingsbarns on about the 12th after Matt had dropped five shots in three holes and fell off the leaderboard, he openly sighed and walked off the green making his view very clear about David's short miss.


Friendly enjoyable golf? No.

But I suppose it's a tough old world out there and to be honest I'm rather glad I'm not too heavily involved with it at that level. I actually heard that a caddie I know declined to take part this year as he found the whole thing too stressful.

I get that. I would actually cringe at the thought of having to play in it as an amateur. No thanks.

Wednesday, September 15

Ladies European Tour Player Meghan MacLaren on What the Media Won't Say

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AT LPGA.COM, LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR player Meghan MacLaren published a thoughtful essay on the ups and downs of competing at a high level in a professional sport like golf.

MacLaren is a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour.

Some things seem to get clearer with age, and experience.

Others get more blurry.

I remember overhearing a pro golfer a couple of years ago describe the majority of our profession as "highly functioning depressives," and without wanting to make light of real mental health issues, I don't think it's far off the mark. The customary asterisk fits here – a lot of professional golfers have a very privileged lifestyle, and I don't take for granted for a second the fact I get to do what I love for a living. Regardless of how my writing comes across, I wouldn't change it. But.

Hanging on to the vision is like trying to hang on to a cliff face sometimes.

Read more.

Tuesday, September 14

SI | Morning Read: '11 Reasons the Ryder Cup Is the Most Compelling Event in Golf'

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After a one-sided half century that saw the Americans dominate, the Great Britain & Ireland team expanded to a European team in the late 1970s. Then along came European Captain Tony Jacklin and Spanish superstar Seve Ballesteros. In the blink of an eye, the Ryder Cup flipped.

Now it's a flag-waving, fist-bumping, match-play brawl that Europe wins most of the time.

Hawkins writes, "The Europe-vs.-USA, match-play buffet has become pro golf's most beguiling and compelling event, a source of endless food for thought among the game's primary fan base, many of whom wonder how something so easy to love can be so hard to explain."

And those 11 reasons?

No. 4 stood out:

4. All that handwringing. We search for reasons as to why so many superior U.S. teams have been clobbered by the Europeans. For God's sake, the PGA of America appointed a task force to examine the predicament after the debacle in 2014. Here’s an idea fellas: make more 15-footers. Hole a few putts that mean something. Strap on some guts down the stretch and quit throwing up on the 18th hole. That will solve the problem. Guaranteed. Right? People in high places keep searching for answers, as if to make their concern more overt, which is silly, but silly ain’t a felony. It makes for good copy.

I think Hawkins might be on to something.

The last time I checked, committees can't make putts. (Or task forces.)

Thursday, September 9

Ryder Cup: Strick's Captain Picks and the Two Teams


The matches will be played September 24 through 26 at Whistling Straits, a Pete and Alice Dye creation alongside Lake Michigan in Haven, Wisconsin.

Home-course advantage matters. The Europeans won the last time in France. The Americans were victorious in Michigan in 2016. But, to be honest, Europe has dominated the matches in the 21st century, winning seven of nine Ryder Cups. Another European win on U.S. soil would not be much of an upset based on recent history.

European Captain Padraig Harrington will make his three picks after this week's BMW PGA Championship.

U.S. Team
Captain Steve Stricker
Colin Morikawa
Dustin Johnson
Bryson DeChambeau
Brooks Koepka
Justin Thomas
Partick Cantlay
Daniel Berger
Harris English
Tony Finau
Xander Schauffele
Scottie Scheffler
Jordan Spieth

European Team
Captain Padraig Harrington
Jon Rahm
Rory McIlroy
Victor Hovland
Paul Casey
Tryrell Hatton
Matt Fitzpatrick
Tommy Fleetwood
Lee Westwood
Shane Lowry
Sergio Garcia
(three picks to be named)

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