Wednesday, April 30

A Conversation with Mark Frost (Conclusion)

MARK FROST is the author of The Match, The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam.

Following is the conclusion to our recent conversation, which focused on The Match, his latest golf book about the duel between pros Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson and amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward at Cypress Point on California’s Monterey Peninsula.

(You can read the first part here.)

ARMCHAIR GOLF: A big premise of your book was that this match was the end of an era. As I’m sure you know, Venturi and Ward came very close to winning majors as amateurs in the 1950s. Billy Joe Patton also came close at the Masters, as Venturi did, and even Nicklaus came close at the 1960 U.S. Open as an amateur. Do you think if one or more of those guys would have been able to pull off a major in the 50s that it might have prolonged this golden era of amateur golf?

Yes, I do. I think that’s what it needed, and that’s what it would have taken to encourage people who were white-collar players who didn’t want to live that grinding pro life to stay out there as amateurs. For instance, if Ken had won the Masters, he’d been given an indication that he would have been invited to take over as host for Bob Jones who was obviously ailing. And that would have continued the lineage of the great amateur champion. The subtitle [The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever] is a little bit hyperbole, but, in fact, this is the only time that you ever really see the top amateurs play the top professionals that I’m aware of in this era. The pros were very averse to play the amateurs, for a lot of reasons.

AG: They didn’t have much to gain from it, did they?

They had nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose. They really believed that their reputations would have suffered tremendously and, therefore, their ability probably to get extra income off the course would have suffered. Would people really want to buy Ben Hogan irons if he had been beaten by an amateur? It actually is a watershed moment. The game didn’t change directly as a result of this one match, but there’s no question that this is the moment at which the shift begins to take place. Within four or five years, there’s no question for amateurs anymore about whether they should turn pro. They’d be foolish not to, given what the game is about to be able to hand them if they can play at the highest level. Yeah, there’s a hyperbolic quality to the subtitle, but I also think it does demarcate two distinct eras in the game. This is kind of the amateur’s last hurrah.

AG: I think you made a good case for that. Nicklaus, to my knowledge, was the last truly great player to seriously consider remaining an amateur. He had that relationship with Jones, and when he was coming out of Ohio State he was getting ready to have a career in insurance and continue playing amateur golf. But it was over by then and I think he realized that. To make his mark in golf, he would have to be a professional.

I think as we’ve seen with almost everything Jack ever did, it was done with a great deal of forethought. He weighed that decision very, very carefully, and realized that there was a street paved with gold lying ahead of him. And although Palmer had opened the way, it was Jack who turned that into a superhighway. I don’t think he’d look back and regret that decision for one second now. We’ll never see the era of the gifted amateur champion again. And for better and worse, you can mourn its passing. It was a different era and a different time in the country. I think a little bit of the greatness of the sport died with that era.

AG: Do you think you’ll write any more golf books?

: Yeah, I do. I think I’ll continue to try to tell the saga of American golf, trying to find the right stories to move up another decade or generation and continue the narrative.

AG: Any plans for bringing any golf stories to the screen?

MARK FROST: We’re going to make a documentary of The Match. I can’t say too much about it because it’s still in the planning stages. We’re working on developing a corporate sponsor, involving some pretty good names in the game currently to help us tell that story. I’m hoping that that’s going to happen a little bit later this year. Actually, I’m now going to take a break and do a baseball book before I come back to golf.

AG: Are you a big baseball fan?

Yeah, all my life. Played the game and loved the game and always wanted to write about it, so this is going to be a fun one.

AG: How is your golf game and how often are you able to get out?

I’m about a 5 handicap. When I’m happy, I can get out at least twice a week. Right now, it’s more like twice a month, which is harder to sustain a 5 handicap. It’s my No. 1 stress reducer and form of relaxation, so I always look forward to a chance to play.

−The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, April 29

A Conversation with Mark Frost

MARK FROST knows golf history. He is the author of The Match, a book about the fabled challenge match between legendary professionals Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson and amateur golden boys Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward.

Mark is also the author, screenwriter and producer of The Greatest Game Ever Played, a bestseller that became a Disney movie. Between The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Match, Mark authored The Grand Slam.

I spoke with Mark in late March about The Match and other golf topics. Following is the first part of our conversation.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: As you researched and wrote The Match, what were some of the biggest surprises along the way?

MARK FROST: I think the biggest that I didn’t know about was the long and involved and complicated history between Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. I knew that they had known each other since they were kids and had caddied together, but the extent to which they had been very close during the early days of the tour and then the forces that drove them apart as they both became successful, was a revelation. That was one big aspect. The other was really the whole Harvie Ward story, which I didn’t know much about at all. I’d only known that he had been a great amateur player and never thought to question beyond those years what had happened to him. I think in many ways his story is the most tragic of the foursome.

AG: One reviewer said the star of the story, besides the players, is Cypress Point. What was most striking to you about Cypress Point and did you play it?

I’ve played it a number of times now. I don’t think I could have written about it the way I did unless I had played it and gotten to know it as a player. The thing that just immediately strikes you is how stunning that ground is and how effortlessly it seems the course lays into the ground. And the way in which walking the course, which is really the only way to play it, takes you on a kind of journey that very few courses can top. By the time you reach those climactic holes along the ocean, it moves you in a way that I don’t think many golf courses have the capacity to do.

AG: From what I’ve read, you spent a lot of time with Ken Venturi, and a pretty short time with Byron Nelson, maybe a day or so. How did their memories of this match compare?

Byron’s were a little less sharp, but he was 96 when I spoke to him. The thing that made this an event that etched itself into Ken Venturi’s mind –- there were two elements. One, he’s the youngest member of this foursome. Ben and Byron are both his heroes, and have been since his boyhood. So, to be 25 years old and playing these guys in this setting under these circumstances, burned the whole event into Ken’s hard drive, I guess you could say, in a way that it didn’t probably for any of the others. For the others, it was a good round of golf and a good experience, but for Ken it was a life-changing experience and I think, as a result, he remembered it more vividly than the others. Over time, as we were able to talk about it again and again, he really did literally remember every shot.

AG: It comes out in your narrative. I can only imagine that a lot of those nuances and touches that you were able to put into the narrative must have come from him.

MARK FROST: The book couldn’t have happened without Ken. He’s the one who for so many years had told the story most effectively. And as the suburban legend about that match had grown, it was largely due to Ken remembering it and telling people about it. It was in many ways his story. And through his cooperation, I was able to translate it into this form and preserve the memory. It had been an oral tradition prior to this and now I’m grateful we have it on the page.

AG: I think I read that you said that just being in Byron Nelson’s presence made the whole experience worthwhile. What was it like for you personally to sit down with him, and how did Byron Nelson in person stack up to Byron Nelson the golf legend?

There was really no difference whatsoever in the things I had heard about Byron and how I found him to be face to face. He’s every bit as humble and as gentle and as generous and kind as you’d always heard. The thing I didn’t expect was, in spite of those great qualities, those saintly qualities, there was the memory of the really tough competitor in there as he started to recall the match and could recall shots. He took a lot of pride in the fact that he was as great a champion as he was. There was one moment in particular when I asked him, “How do you think you’d do today?” He got this look in his eye –- I describe it in the book as like an old western sheriff –- and he said, “I think I’d hold my own.” You knew that he would have been able to back that up. It was neat to see that steely quality of the competitor, the guy that won all those tournaments still living in him.

AG: He was a great champion. I think a lot of people don’t realize just how good he was.

I think had he played another five or seven years, if he had the will to do that –- but it was an exhausting process to go out on tour in those days and the returns were good for the time but nothing remotely like they are now.

AG: Everything I’ve read about Byron was he won enough to save up and buy that ranch. But during the period he played he won. Hogan took a little bit longer to develop, but he owned Hogan.

You really can say he [Nelson] was the great player of his generation, I believe.

AG: You got to sit down with Byron, which was a great treat. I thought about all these great champions you’ve written about through history. If you could talk to some of these past champions who are gone, who would you want to talk to?

MARK FROST: Gosh, there are so many, having written about the game from its inception. There’s Francis Ouimet, there’s Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour would have been a hoot from what I know about him, Bob Jones, obviously, having written The Grand Slam. I felt like I really got to know him very well. Sarazen would have been a kick, Byron and Ben would have both been interesting, although Ben wasn’t a particularly gifted conversationalist. I think Demaret would have been fun to meet. The list goes on and on.

These were real characters who had been forged in the early years of the tour where life was hard and they had a pioneering spirit about them and devil-may-care attitude that was really refreshing. I think it embodied a kind of particular American quality of let’s roll up our sleeves and go to work against all odds. That’s something I really admire.

We don’t have the same mix of colorful people we used to have and we don’t have the same group of champions who loved nothing more than going out and just beating each other. It was more about that than it was about the money. It was about the fun of winning, the will to win and, in many cases, the necessity of winning for financial reasons.

(To be continued. Read the final part of our conversation tomorrow.)

−The Armchair Golfer

Monday, April 28

The Newest Member of Club Tiger

“Welcome, Armchair.”

That’s the new message when I visit I like that.

I don’t know why it took me so long to join Club Tiger. Procrastination maybe. I guess the real reason is I’m not much of a joiner.

Although belated, it was a good move. No longer will I depend on the hundreds of media outlets and bloggers for Tiger Woods updates. Instead, I’ll be getting them directly from Tiger. Well, actually from his Web site and newsletter. (Like most everybody else.)

So, yes, I signed up for the Tiger Woods monthly newsletter. I even signed up for Tiger’s email promotions. But don’t be spamming me Tiger, or I’ll drop you like a bad habit.

(Ha ha ha. Just kidding, Tiger.)

Also, thanks for the tip about “bumping” my chips. I’ll probably be missing a lot of greens this year.

−The Armchair Golfer

Sunday, April 27

Great Scott! Aussie Drops Bomb to Win Nelson in Playoff

Adam Scott holed a Texas-sized birdie putt on the third playoff hole to win the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. The playoff victim was Ryan Moore, a true gamer who nearly matched Scott with a birdie, his ball catching the edge of the hole before coming to rest a foot away.

I think I got away with one today, Scott told CBS announcer Ian Baker Finch moments after the decisive 48-footer. Indeed.

I saw the last four or so holes of regulation play as Scott hit good shot, bad shot down the stretch. You could sense CBS announcer Gary McCord’s frustration with the talented Aussie who has struggled when in contention. He missed some makeable putts to keep Moore and others in the hunt.

But on the 18th, needing a birdie to force a playoff, Scott delivered with a mammoth drive, a solid wedge and an 11-footer in the heart of the cup. It wasn’t easy, but this win is bound to help his psyche.

Keep an eye on runner-up Ryan Moore. Of the leaders, Moore had the lowest score under final-round pressure, a 68.

I saw Moore at the 2004 NCAA Men’s Golf Championship at Hot Springs, Virginia. The UNLV golfer won the individual title and later captured a U.S. Amateur.

Moore was impressive today. He didn’t back down and definitely has the look of a winner.

−The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, April 26

Will Faldo Pick Montgomerie for Ryder Cup Team?

(Eddie Honeyfield/Flickr)

“The Ryder Cup. Is it a big thing?”
−Gaynor Knowles, Colin Montgomerie’s new bride

According to a rumor reported by, the new Mrs. Colin Montgomerie uttered the above question to Monty. And he still married her. Must be true love.

Seriously, at this point in Montgomerie’s career another Ryder Cup is definitely a big thing for the aging pro. But Monty’s recent play has placed him at No. 30 on the European Ryder Cup Points List.

The only way we’ll likely see Colin in Louisville this September is if European Ryder Cup Captain Nick Faldo selects the slumping Englishman with one of his two captain’s picks.

Will he?

The two have traded a few barbs in the press, such as this one from Faldo at last year’s Seve Trophy team competition:

“Monty’s a tough one. He was the only one whose emotions I had to deal with. He only came to two of the five team meetings, so that was disappointing.”

Here’s the thing, though. Montgomerie’s record in eight straight Ryder Cup appearances is phenomenal. His overall mark is 20-9-7, with a 6-0-2 singles record.

If I’m Faldo, I’m giving Monty one more shot. Patch things up with him, tell him to be a good teammate and let him play. He might just help you hold on to that Cup.

−The Armchair Golfer

Friday, April 25

Oops! Armchair Golf Misquotes Thomas Edison

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that my swing won’t work.”
(not said by) Thomas Alva Edison

Biographical note:
Thomas Edison was an American inventor and businessman.

This misquote brought to you by The Armchair Golfer.
Getting it wrong for the love of the game.

Thursday, April 24

Lorena Ochoa’s Magical Wrists

(N Gottwald/Flickr)

When Lorena Ochoa was five years old, she climbed a tree at the Guadalajara Country Club and tumbled to the ground, breaking both of her small wrists. Young Lorena wore a cast that extended from her shoulders to fingers for three months.

“They said the doctor gave me magical wrists, some magic in my hand,” the AP quoted Ochoa as saying earlier this week.

I guess.

Will Lorena Ochoa out-Tiger Tiger? That’s the hot topic of many recent stories with both world No. 1 players out of action this week. Woods is recuperating from knee surgery; Ochoa is taking a break after winning four straight events.

Like Tiger, Lorena is casting a long shadow on her tour. Ochoa is the subject even when she isn’t playing. Media conferences with other players routinely include at least one Lorena question.

For example, here’s one posed to Annika Sorenstam yesterday:

“With Lorena Ochoa on this run, is that a bit dispiriting, or how do you deal with what she's doing?”

“Well, I really have to mind my own business,” Annika said. “She's playing some amazing golf. There's nothing to say about that other than congratulate her.”

With five wins in six events, including the year’s first major, Lorena is on her way to a truly dominant season. One, perhaps, that even Tiger Woods might envy.

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, April 23

Legends of Golf: Still Great

Bob Toski

Yesterday was my final day at the Legends of Golf in Savannah, Georgia. The Demaret Division (age 70 plus) professionals wrapped up their two-day best-ball event. Jimmy Powell and Al Geiberger shot 18 under to win by five shots.

I had wondered on the drive to Georgia if my experience would be another golf high like last year, my first at Legends of Golf, or if the luster of rubbing elbows with the old pros would disappear.

It was still a great time. I already had a familiarity with the venue and being around the pros that was helpful. And, once again, it was fun hob-knobbing with them, including some of the caddies I now know, and hanging around the clubhouse and dining room to hear the pros swap stories.

This is not the norm, but as a personal guest of one of the players I did get to tag along into the locker room and dining area where I lunched with Billy Casper, Fred Hawkins and others. As you might imagine, that interaction is pretty special.

I also met Bob Toski who joined us Monday afternoon at the watering hole at the Westin, where the players were staying. Toski was a renowned golf teacher long before the proliferation of golf coaches, psychologists and the like. He’s a great guy. When I was introduced to him, I shook his hand and said, “The original teacher.” He got a big grin on his face.

I stood a few feet away as the Golf Channel shot an instructional piece with Jack Fleck that will air in the next week or so. While I was waiting for Jack, I introduced myself to Lanny Wadkins, who was practicing his putting. (One of the caddies had egged me on.) I wasn’t sure how Lanny would react, but he was cordial.

Finally, Savannah is lovely in April. It’s a nice town and the golf course was in gorgeous condition. I just might go back next year, too.

−The Armchair Golfer

Monday, April 21

Legends of Golf: Mr. Underrated, Billy Casper

“Underrated” has been following Billy Casper around for years. Casper was a great player who many people either haven’t heard of or don’t know much about.

Today at Legends of Golf when they introduced Billy on the first tee, his list of accomplishments was so long that he stood with one hand on his hip staring off into the distance until the Tour official finally finished.

“Where’d you get all that stuff?” he asked in mock frustration. The small gallery chuckled.

All that stuff. Let me run it down for you. 51 PGA Tour wins. Three majors, including two U.S. Opens and a Masters. Eight Ryder Cup teams. Five Vardon trophies. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Later, instead of talking about his golf “stuff,” Billy wanted to tell me a fishing story about Howie Johnson. We were in the players’ dining room. Fred Hawkins was seated between us. Howie was on my left.

I told Howie I’d pick him up at 5:30 a.m., Casper said. “Wear something old.” Early the next morning Casper finds Howie decked out in a cashmere sweater, slacks and alligator loafers. I told you to wear something old, Casper said. It’s all I have, Howie replied. And off they went.

The stories continued throughout the afternoon, first in the players’ dining room and later at the Westin where the players are staying this week. They may not be able to play the way they used to, but meeting legends like Casper, hanging out with them, and hearing their stories is well worth the trip.

−The Armchair Golfer

Sunday, April 20

Legends of Golf: Remembering Charles Coody

“I'd like to be remembered as a nice guy and a fairly decent player.”
−Charles Coody

Those are pretty humble words for a guy who won the Masters. Charles Coody got his Green Jacket in 1971, beating runners-up Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller by two shots. Coody had three PGA Tour wins and five victories on the Champions Tour.

I didn’t recognize Charles Coody this afternoon in the locker room at the Legends of Golf. He was asking Jack Fleck questions from across the way. Jack was distracted, so I provided the answers.

Coody looked familiar. Who is he? I checked the nameplate on the locker as he stepped away. Of course, Charles Coody.

We continued some small talk, then I said, “Let’s see, Masters champion, 1971?”

“That’s what they tell me,” Coody replied.

“Were you here last year?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I played in a different division.” (Now Coody will play in the age 70-plus Demaret Division.) “It’s a good thing,” he added. “This course is too long, and I keep getting shorter.”

“Don’t we all?” I said. “Have a good week out there.”

He smiled and slapped me on the shoulder as he walked away.

In his final Masters round in 2006, 68-year-old Charles Coody shot a 74, proving he was still a “fairly decent player.”

−The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, April 19

My Return to Legends of Golf

(Jack Fleck denied Ben Hogan a record fifth U.S. Open title.)

It began with Jack Fleck.

A golf friend I made through this blog wrote me and said I might be interested in talking to the unlikely man who beat Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open. I called Jack about a year ago and we began an ongoing conversation about the old days on the PGA Tour and other golf subjects.

(Charlie Sifford)

Last April I went to Savannah to meet Jack at the Legends of Golf, where he and about two dozen old Tour pros play a two-day best-ball competition. (The regular Champions Tour event follows.) I was on the course, in the players’ dining room, even in the locker room.

(Opposite: Dow Finsterwald)

I probably don’t have to tell you it was a tremendous thrill for me. These were players I watched on television growing up, read about in golf magazines and books, and heard stories about, some from my father who saw them in their prime.

(Gene Littler)

I shook their hands, talked to them and watched them play. To slightly alter the slogan, “These guys were good.” Don't get me wrong. They still play surprisingly well for age 70 plus. But no matter how they currently play, it’s a privilege to spend time with them. They’re still ambassadors for this great game.

I’m returning to Legends tomorrow.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Lee Elder
and Fred Hawkins)

Friday, April 18

Men in Plaid

Davis Love is a plaid man. (Eddie Honeyfield/Flickr)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Verizon Heritage played at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Arnold Palmer won the first one in 1969. Boo Weekley is the defending champion.

The Plaid Jacket always follows the Green Jacket. The Green Jacket is the most coveted garment in golf, but as I scanned the Heritage winners list I realized that many of the golf greats and goods have worn the Plaid Jacket. Davis Love, who shares the first-round lead, is the top man in plaid.

Plaid Jackets
Davis Love 5
Hale Irwin 3
Johnny Miller 2
Hubert Green 2
Tom Watson 2
Fuzzy Zoeller 2
Payne Stewart 2
Stewart Cink 2

Other notable winners of the Heritage are Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer.

−The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, April 17

How Steve Flesch Got His Masters Putting Mojo

Half of golf is fun; the other half is putting.
−Peter Dobereiner

It wasn’t that long ago that Steve Flesch was putting “very poorly.”

You wouldn’t have known it last week at the Masters. The southpaw was dropping par-saving putts in the throw-up range and beyond like it was no big deal.

According to a piece I read in The Tour Van, Steve replaced his belly putter with a Never Compromise Exchange 5 putter three weeks ago.

“I can be a decent putter with the belly putter,” Flesch was quoted as saying, “but I'm not going to be a great putter and run the tables with it. I just kind of made a commitment and said, I'm going back to the short putter and, hey, I might have some struggles early on, but I'll get my feel back.”

Steve won twice in 2007, both times with the belly putter. Still, he saw its limitations and made the change that put him in contention at Augusta.

“I think you can significantly reduce your feel, especially on short, breaking putts from five, six feet,” he said about his banished belly putter.

−The Armchair Golfer

Will Ochoa Play Against Men? She Answers

At yesterday’s Ginn Open media conference, Lorena Ochoa was asked if she would ever consider playing in a PGA Tour event.

“No,” Lorena said. “My idea was first to play on the LPGA and dominate here and just try to do my best and achieve my goals.”

Not that Ochoa hasn’t been approached.

“I've had a few offers to play, especially in Mexico, in the PGA Tour event that goes to Mayakoba. But right now I have no intentions to do that.

“I think there are other things that I could do to improve my game or to have an experience, maybe an exhibition, but not to play on the PGA.”

Smart move.

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, April 16

Former Masters Broadcaster Shoots Age

John Derr interviewing Ben Hogan
for CBS Radio.

John Derr is a former golf journalist and CBS broadcaster who covered 62 Masters. His friends in golf included Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.

I asked him what was new this morning. “Celebrated 90th birthday playing the Gary Player course at Pinewild in 85,” John wrote, “but went 5 over par in last three holes.”

John lives in Pinehurst, North Carolina. The rest of us should be so lucky.

“But holding around 88-94,” he added, “except last week on No. 2 I failed to post a score. Had only three pars.”

Recently, John’s been doing a local radio show with some other “golf nuts,” writing and giving talks.

−The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, April 15

Trevor Immelman’s Idol

Gary Player at the Masters.
(The Armchair Golfer)

While a generation of American golfers idolized Jack Nicklaus, South African golfers such as Nick Price, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and new Masters champion Trevor Immelman looked up to their hero, Gary Player.

A week ago when I attended the Masters with author John Coyne, we watched Player on 15, 16 and 17. We took a few photos, and then John told me about the afternoon he spent with Gary Player nearly 40 years ago. There’s some story material, I thought. Later I was delighted to find out John wrote it down.

It’s 1969. You’re traveling through South Africa and decide to pick up the phone book and find the listing for Gary Player. There it is. You call and Player invites you over for tea. No kidding, that’s how it happened.

Here’s the story in John’s words:

“I interviewed Gary years ago at his home in South Africa
when I was visiting all the countries I hadn't seen when I was with the Peace Corps. Gary invited me to his farm for tea one Sunday afternoon.

“His father was there, a retired mine worker, as well as his step-mother. Gary's wife was playing in a golf tournament. She, too, was a fine player, a South African women's champ.

“Gary had designed his ranch home
so that each room was a collection of items he had picked up from around the world. For example, he had a 'Western Room' full of saddles, horse gear, and wild west paintings from America. There was a Spanish Room, as well as an Asia Room.

“In the doorways of his kids' rooms he had a bar installed
so that his boys (Vivienne and Gary have six children) could do one or two chin-ups entering and leaving their bedrooms. It is not for nothing that Gary is nicknamed Mr. Fitness. (He is also called the Black Knight for his history of always wearing black when playing tournaments.)

“Gary was a poor kid who lost his mother
when he was 8 or so, and started to play golf at 14 when his father took out a loan to buy him a set of golf clubs that he could play with. His father worked in the gold mines of South Africa. Gary had a brother who is a famous environmentalist.

“Gary only finished secondary school and then turned pro.
His father would write a letter to Bobby Jones 51 years ago asking him to invite young Gary to the Masters, saying how great his son was, and it worked!

“When I visited Gary back in 1969, he kept talking about the ‘winds of change’
coming to South Africa as he led me around the farm and introduced me to his African workers, all of whom he knew by name. I was there, of course, during the apartheid years. It took over 20 years before apartheid finally ended in South Africa.”

Gary Player made a record-setting 51st appearance at the Masters this year. And Trevor Immelman’s victorious walk up Augusta's 18th fairway came exactly 30 years after his idol’s final Masters title.

−The Armchair Golfer

Sunday, April 13

Tiger Woods Will Still Win the Grand Slam This Year

(C O'Neal/Flickr)

“Tiger Woods, whose hopes for a calendar Grand Slam ended with a thud,” reported

“And it ends the American’s hopes of a Grand Slam of all four majors this year,” concluded BBC SPORT.

Here they come. The doubters. The naysayers. Those who have lost the faith.

But things are not as they seem on April 13. Tiger Woods will still win the Grand Slam this year. Not the Tiger Slam, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, or the Denny’s Grand Slam. Rather, the never-been-done, professional, calendar-year Grand Slam.

What appears to be an ending is just a momentary setback. It will make Tiger stronger and more determined than ever as he sets his sights on the U.S. Open in June.

At Torrey Pines, where Tiger Woods started winning golf tournaments before he mastered his multiplication tables, everything will fall into place. Yes, Tiger will walk off with the U.S. Open trophy, his first national title since Bethpage in 2002.

In July at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, Tiger will fall behind early but eventually assume the 54-hole lead. After facing a stiff challenge in the final round, Woods will win his fourth Claret Jug in a playoff. The PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, on the other hand, will be a rout. Tiger will win by 10 shots.

The biggest surprise will come in September. Two weeks before the Ryder Cup the Masters Tournament will release a short statement. Tiger Woods, not Trevor Immelman, actually won the 2008 Masters Tournament.

Initially, the golf world and general public will be shocked by the statement. Didn’t millions see Trevor Immelman win and Tiger finish second? Wasn’t that Immelman who slipped on the Green Jacket in Butler Cabin?

The men of the Masters have extraordinary powers, though. They have helped elect a president, run a TV network and created a whole new golf vocabulary. In truth, the apparent reversal will be kid stuff for the men of the Masters.

As have been past club actions and rulings, the decision will be cloaked in mystery.

But speculation will abound. The 15th hole erred -- Immelman’s ball should have rolled into the water, a mistake that would have eventually cost him the tournament. The club finally recognized that Tiger-proofing the course was unfair and would hurt the tournament’s legacy. Or maybe it was a strange scoring flap like 40 years earlier in 1968. However, no explanation will be offered.

Some will protest, including Trevor Immelman’s fellow countryman and mentor Gary Player, but their voices will quickly fade away. Many will come to see the wisdom of retroactively awarding the Green Jacket to the world’s best player.

In the end, all who emphatically predicted Tiger Woods would win the Grand Slam in 2008 will be vindicated. And those who already know that Tiger is the greatest golfer ever will rejoice.

−The Armchair Golfer

(This is an ARMCHAIR GOLF spoof.)

Saturday, April 12

Masters Round Three: Plot Twist

Paul Casey (Pocketwiley/Flickr)

Playing on an Augusta National course softened by rain, Tiger Woods did what he needed to do on Saturday. Woods shot a moving-day 68 and, at one point, pulled within a few shots of the lead.

But somebody forgot to tell Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker that they were supposed to fold like a pair of chaise lounges. Neither have the kind of Masters resume that would suggest they’re ready to slip into a Green Jacket. (Of course, the same could have been said about Zach Johnson.)

And what about Steve Flesch? Can you tell me five things you know about him? I’ll even spot you one. Yeah, he’s left-handed. Flesch looked as comfortable as he would be playing in the Reno-Tahoe Open (one of his four wins).

The talented Paul Casey is also in the hunt after firing his second consecutive 69.

Meanwhile, many of the vets retreated on Saturday. Phil Mickelson fumbled, battled back, then fumbled again, carding a 75. Ian Poulter also shot himself out of it with a 75. Retief Goosen treaded water with a 72, but realistically has no chance.

Immelman and Snedeker, on the other hand, were impressive. Immelman’s machine-like shot-making reminded me of Nick Faldo. (Split the fairway, hit the green. Split the fairway, hit the green.) His putting held up, too. And when the affable Snedeker got bogeyitis at Amen Corner, I thought his Green Jacket run might be over. Then “Sneds” birdied 14, 15 and 18. Sweet.

It’s supposed to be windy tomorrow afternoon. Birdies will be hard to come by, which leaves us with a few questions tonight.

Can Tiger make up six shots? Will Trevor Immelman go wire-to-wire? Is Steve Flesch channeling Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson? Will the freckle-faced Snedeker be grinning no matter what happens? I got that one: Yes.

−The Armchair Golfe

Masters Chatter: Trevor Immelman and Ian Poulter

Ian Poulter is in contention at the Masters. (Speedpics/Flickr)

South African Trevor Immelman is the 36-hole leader at Augusta. Englishman Ian Poulter is tied for third, three shots back.

Trevor Immelman

“The best players in the world get nervous and they feel pressure. I guess it’s just who can disguise it the best and who can handle it the best. I’m thrilled with my play thus far, but there’s a very long way to go. I can’t sit back and put my feet up. I’ve got to go out there and just try and play as well as I can the next couple of days.”

Ian Poulter
“Who knows with Tiger? He can go out there and put two 65s on the board, I know that. We’ve all seen it before. But Augusta National is a difficult golf course.”

−The Armchair Golfer

(Source: The Associated Press)

Friday, April 11

Masters Round Two: Familiar Territory

Defending champion Zach Johnson practices his stroke.
(John Coyne)

We've been here before. A couple of young, talented players (Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker) rise to the top of the leaderboard at the halfway point of the Masters.

Then there are the lurkers, both major winners and solid contenders: Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Stephen Ames and others. Tiger Woods is seven back and very much in the tournament.

Augusta's Saturday forecast is calling for scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. Also, more pars and bogeys, definitely a few “others,” with only a slight chance of birdies. On moving day at the Masters, most usually move in the wrong direction.

Some notables who missed the cut:

Ernie Els (?!?!)
Sergio Garcia
Fred Couples
Luke Donald
Rory Sabbatini
Steve Stricker
Tim Clark

If Tiger holes a few putts, he'll be within striking distance tomorrow night. Phil just needs to keep things sensible. A 70 in the third round would be fine.

The young guys need to forget they're at the top of the leaderboard and just play their games. Good luck with that one, fellas.

−The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, April 10

Masters Round One: Mark O’Meara Claws His Way to 71

(Photo: The Armchair Golfer)

Has it already been 10 years since Mark O’Meara rolled in that right-to-left mid-range birdie on the 72nd hole to win the Masters?

Since then O’Meara, of all people, apparently suffered from a case of the yips. I always thought he was solid on the greens. But if the yips can strike O’Meara, it can happen to anyone. (Except Ben Crenshaw.)

We watched O’Meara practice on Monday at Augusta with his pal Tiger Woods. Mark has gone to the claw grip like Chris DiMarco. (Or is it the “saw”?) It worked today in round one. He shot a 71, a stroke better than Tiger.

“Obviously 51 years of age, 1-under par, I played all right,” O’Meara said. “I'm just pleased to shoot under par anytime I play Augusta National.”

I would be, too. That’s good, real good, for a guy who gets the AARP discount. However he holds his putter.

−The Armchair Golfer

Armchair Golf at the Masters: Chasing a Tiger

(Photo: The Armchair Golfer)

A moment before “lift off.” Tiger Woods collects a tee and readies himself to launch his 3 metal on the par-4 10th hole at Augusta National during Monday’s practice round. To his right, Mark O’Meara retrieves his driver as Tiger’s caddie Steve Williams, clad in traditional white Masters coveralls, looks on. Across the way, Tiger watchers incessantly snap photographs of the world’s most-famous sports figure.

I cannot think of Tiger Woods without thinking of the throngs that chase after him. The crush of Tiger spectators at Augusta National is hard to fathom without experiencing it. As for me, I waited patiently at the 10th tee for Tiger to arrive, positioning myself behind three shorter Tiger gawkers so I would have a clear view of him. We all wanted to stand close to greatness, even if just for a moment.

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, April 9

50 Years Ago at the Masters: Fred Hawkins’ Near Win

What’s that saying? Something about no one remembers who finishes in second?

Fifty years ago, in 1958, Arnold Palmer won his first Green Jacket. Palmer’s play and charisma combined with television forever changed professional golf. Arnie went on to win three more Masters titles in 1960, 1962 and 1964. There’s a plaque honoring Palmer on the second nine at Augusta National.

Last fall I talked to one of the two men who tied for second at the 1958 Masters. His name is Fred Hawkins, and throughout a long PGA Tour career he came in second a lot. Following are excerpts from our conversation.

Essentially, I played about 19 years on the regular tour. I started in 1947 and ended somewhere near the end of the summer of 1965. I started the first tournament at Tam O’Shanter in Chicago. At the time at Tam O’Shanter, they had the men pros, the women pros, the amateurs –- they had a huge field of contestants. That’s where I started. George S. May put it on and he had a lot to do in getting the purses on the tour. His idea was just to charge a dollar a person. I think he gave them free parking, so the course was crowded with people.

As far as my career, basically I played those years and only won two official tournaments. I won four or five other non-official smaller tournaments. By two different counts, I had 27 second-place finishes and then the PGA had several of the fellows re-evaluate the records –- some of the records had been lost –- they had me at 19 second-place finishes. That’s still a lot of seconds for only winning twice. But I always felt that –- although once or twice I had a lead and didn’t play well the last round and someone beat me –- the rest of the time I had a little trouble getting started and finished with good rounds but someone always beat me. So a lot of things happened. I’ve always said I was lucky in life but not really lucky in golf.

I tied for second in the 1958 Masters the first year Arnold Palmer won. I was tied with Doug Ford. And Doug had won the tournament the year before. It was the year that Arnold –- there was a question about a ruling on his ball on the 12th hole. They first had him up for a 5. Doug and I thought we were leading until we got to the 17th tee. He (Ford) had to make one birdie to tie, and I had to make two birdies to tie. I birdied 17 from about 10 feet, and he (Ford) had a putt of about 6 or 7 feet and missed it. And then we both hit the green at 18. My putt kind of caught the edge of the hole and came out. That’s the history of the way things go.

I did play on the Ryder Cup team in 1957.
I’ve always felt that was one of the things I enjoyed the most. I would have been on the Ryder Cup team again in 1959, I believe, if they had counted that tournament where Hogan beat me in the playoff. But at that time the tour officials were squabbling with the people at Colonial. It was not called an official tournament. It was still an official win for Hogan. The Ryder Cup points didn’t count.

Fred Hawkins lives in Sebring, Florida, and plays in Grand Champions events on the Champions Tour.

−The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, April 8

Armchair Golf at the Masters: Amen Corner

As you can see from the below photos, it was overcast at Augusta National on my Monday at the Masters. It was also quite cool until the sun broke through the thick cloud cover in the early afternoon.

John Coyne and I made a couple of loops through Amen Corner, the three-hole stretch of 11, 12 and 13 named by legendary golf journalist Herbert Warren Wind in a 1958 Sports Illustrated piece.

Always a difficult hole, the par-4 11th today measures an intimidating 505 yards.

No. 12 fronted by Rae's Creek is arguably the most-famous par-3 in the world.

The relatively short par-5 13th hole tempts many players to go for the green in two shots. It's a good thing it was a practice day, because Michael Campbell (on green) splashed down short of the green with two fairway metals shots.

Azaleas are in abundance along the 13th hole.

I'll have more on my day at the Masters. If you would like to read additional thoughts about my visit, you can also head over to Down the Middle for One Patron’s Guide.

−The Armchair Golfer

The Armchair Golfer Visits the Masters

Yesterday I made my first-ever trip to Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters Tournament. It was Monday, the first practice day. Following are a few photos to get started. More to come.

Departing: The Armchair Golfer and daughters.

My Masters companion, author John Coyne. To the right, behind John, is Sergio Garcia's caddie. In the background is the Augusta National clubhouse and Crow's Nest.

This is a guy who was out on the course early, practicing his putting on the 5th green. I have some more photos of him I'll share later.

−The Armchair Golfer

Sunday, April 6

Johnson Wagner Earns Late Masters Invitation

(Wally Baba/Flickr)

It’s impressive when you get your first PGA Tour victory. Especially wire to wire. And especially when it’s the final event prior to the Masters, earning you a last-minute spot in the elite field at Augusta National Golf Club come this Thursday.

Johnson Wagner accomplished all of the above at the Shell Houston Open with rounds of 63, 69, 69 and 71 for a two-shot victory over Geoff Ogilvy and Chad Campbell.

Hat tip to Wagner, who hung on today down the stretch. He must have had Georgia on his mind.

−The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, April 5

My Road to the Masters


“Get off on the last South Carolina exit,” Kathy said. “It’s farther but will save you time.”

Kathy works in the ticket office at the Augusta National Golf Club. She helped me a week ago when my tickets for the Monday practice round didn’t arrive, so yesterday I called again to ask her advice on parking and which exit to take. Kathy could not have been more pleasant.

Tomorrow morning I leave by car for my first Masters. I’ve been watching the tournament since my teens (30 years or so), and I feel like a five-year-old on Christmas Eve.

I’ll leave my home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and head south for Charlotte, where I’ll pick up John Coyne who is flying from New York City.

(John is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played With Hickory, due out later this month.)

We’ll drive to Columbia, South Carolina, and spend the night. Then on to Augusta early Monday morning.

“Will Tiger be there on Monday?” my wife asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure he will be,” I replied. “He’s not playing this week.”

I told her about the various gates, the parking, the crowds, and talking to Kathy to find out the best way to do things since it’s my first time.

“How does Tiger get there?”

I laughed. “He flies in on his private jet.”

“Where will he stay?”

“He and a lot of the other pros rent homes for the week.”

“Does his caddie fly with him?”

“Steve Williams. Yeah, I’m sure he does sometimes, depending on their schedules. But caddies are responsible for getting themselves to tournaments. They’re independent contractors.”

Her questions made me think about the life of a successful PGA Tour pro. These guys are good, as the saying goes, plus they’ve got it good.

So Tiger will fly in from Orlando, I imagine. He may already be at Augusta. Meanwhile, I’ll drive in -- 300 miles -- from Virginia. On Monday we’ll be walking the same hallowed golf ground.

I can’t wait.

−The Armchair Golfer

Friday, April 4

Kraft Nabisco Championship: Who Lorena Ochoa Always Watches

(N Gottwald/Flickr)

Here’s an interesting excerpt from Lorena Ochoa’s press conference after yesterday’s first round at the Kraft Nabisco Championship:

Q. Lorena, playing up ahead of you was Annika. A lot of players are saying they are looking for your name on the board, to keep track of you. Do you still look at Annika and where she is, even now?
LORENA OCHOA: All the time.

Q. All the time?


Q. Tell me why.

LORENA OCHOA: Because she is a player to watch. She is so good and so consistent and she likes to win, and that gives − that always keeps me, you know, in a way alert and motivated and know where I stand. I am a person that always likes to look at the leaderboard, even if it's not Annika, some other player, but to see her name means something, you have to watch out.

Lorena shot a 68 in the opening round and is currently tied for the lead part way through her second round. And Annika? She is within striking distance, just a few shots back.

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, April 2

New Masters Book Is a Green Jacket Compilation

Recently a PR person at the Wall Street Journal contacted me. She wanted to alert me to their story about a new Masters book, First Sunday in April: The Masters.

They and others made a big stink about the title. (The Masters ends on the second Sunday in April.) I remember someone calling it a “shank.”

I asked Sterling Publishing VP Carlo DeVito about it today in an email. “So was the title a sneaky publicity ploy?” I wrote half jokingly.

“We know that the final round of the Masters takes place on the second Sunday in April,” Carlo answered.

“But the tournament begins the Sunday before when TV and radio and print journalists start arriving. Open a sports section on the first Sunday morning in April, and tell me there's not a major piece on the Masters in your regional or local newspaper.”

Concluded Carlo: “Was the title a ploy? Not really. Did we name it something different on purpose? Yes.”

The book itself is a collection of Masters stories from players (Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and others) and golf writers (Herbert Warren Wind, Dan Jenkins, John Feinstein, Rick Reilly and more). It’s broken down into sections: The Traditions, The Course, The Moments, The Controversies and so on.

It’s not the kind of book you have to read from front to back. You can scan the table of contents and start wherever you like.

Last night, for instance, I read “A Master Feat,” a piece written by Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News that tells about Lee Elder’s breakthrough as the first African American to play in the Masters.

Setting aside the title debate, I think this compilation will entertain the interested Masters observer.

−The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, April 1

Masters Food: A Tradition Unlike Any Other

The Patrons Menu. (Wally Baba/Flickr)

To my knowledge, I’ve never eaten a pimento cheese sandwich. Unless my parents served me one when I was a boy, in which case I ate every bite. That was the rule.

However, I may eat one next Monday when I attend my first Masters. It’s a tradition, and I can see myself being duped by tradition, especially at Augusta National Golf Club.

The crazy thing? Even if it makes me gag, I’m only out $1.50. I repeat, buck-fifty. (7% tax included.) Like most things Masters, the food prices are frozen in the 20th century.

Of course, I could splurge and get a Master Club sandwich. That would set me back $2.50. Throw in a bag of chips and a beer and I’m shelling out more than a Lincoln. Me and my big-spending ways.

Seriously, if you add up everything on the Patrons Menu (that’s Masters insider talk) I don’t think it comes to $30. The Masters is definitely in some kind of weird time warp.

Food aside, I just hope the course will be in decent shape. I’ve heard it can be pretty nice this time of year.

−The Armchair Golfer