The travels of summer have been quite concentrated to say the least. After (most likely) my final and emotional appearance in the US Open at Pebble Beach, with my son Michael on my bag, I took a few weeks off to prepare for a whirlwind schedule. This schedule located me in London, St. Andrews, Carnoustie, and Seattle in four successive weeks. The first week was spent promoting my twin instructional DVD set, “Lessons of a Lifetime”, with a series of press interviews and a short game clinic. Then on to compete in three major championships in a row. These last few weeks since I have returned to Kansas City have been a blessing, as I have been able to relax with Hilary and the family, as well as get some chores done on the farm. I also have been able to test out some new putters and found a flaw in my golf swing which had dulled my game during this stretch.
The first of the three majors was played at the home of golf, St. Andrews Golf Links, probably the most famous golf course in the entire world, as it is one of the oldest. This year marked the 150th year of the Open Championship, and it provided a surprise winner, Louis Oosthuizen, who really impressed me first with his flawless golf swing but, more importantly, with his unflappable demeanor in the final round winning the tournament like Secretariat won the Triple Crown. His eyes never gave the impression of the nerves he had to have been experiencing leading by four shots going into the final round. No, he was calm and collected while his competitors showed their nerves in the tough windy conditions.
I missed the cut but late on Friday (because of a long stoppage of play because of gale force winds) I experienced one of my life’s moments-to-remember, as I stopped on the Swilken Bridge at the final hole to take my final bow on the Auld Course playing in the Open. (It wasn’t my final Open, as some thought, just my final Open at St. Andrews. I will play the Open again with the R&A’s new exemption for old Champions like me who chanced to play well in the Open in later years.)
As I teed off the final hole the sun was setting, creating a beautiful azure/orange sky behind the lighted R&A clubhouse. To the right of the 18th fairway people were lining the town’s road, just out of bounds. As I stopped by the bridge, I bent down and gave it a kiss to say goodbye, then stood on it as the photographers took their shots of this long-in-the-tooth former Open Champion who has been blessed by the good fortune of winning what I deem the true “World Open”.
I finished with a birdie which reminded me of playing with my long time friend and competitor, Jack Nicklaus, in his final Open appearance at St. Andrews where he twice won (1970, 1978). He did what everyone hoped he would do (but I fully expected him to), birdie his last hole in an Open. So typical of Jack…he holed a downhill twenty-foot left-to-right breaker. Jack, more than any pro I ever knew, could birdie the 18th hole on any course in any tournament.
With this thought in mind, I set my goal of tying Jack’s birdie which I accomplished with a 40 yard pitch shot over the Valley of Sin to within a few inches of the hole. Even though I missed the cut, and with sadness knowing I won’t be back at St. Andrews playing in an Open, I left with the satisfaction that I managed to leave on high note.
After the next two majors, The Senior British Open at Carnoustie, and the Senior US Open at Sahalee, I have taken a couple of weeks off to get back to working on both my game and the farm. Amazing how grass continues to grow even when being baked in the 100-degree-oven-like heat. The horses are the real stalwarts!
The summer heat is now breaking as we are beginning to see the advent of fall, my favorite season of the four. The smells of walnut, the air freshening, along with the color transformations all beckon me outdoors to walk the hedgerows or sit in a tree stand or duck blind. The fall ….when Mother Nature prepares for her long winter sleep.
As I write this, I am now traveling to Oregon to play in The Tradition, reading the papers about Dustin Johnson’s rule infraction at the PGA thinking I have done the same type of thing. At the Masters last year, I hit my third shot on the par 5 13th short on the upslope in the long grass just in front of the green. I took a couple of practice swings hitting the ground, before I hit a really fine shot to within inches for my par…or so I thought. As I was walking off the green a rules official was walking towards me and I knew something was amiss. He stopped and asked me if I knew I was in the hazard in front of the green and immediately I knew I had broken the rule (hitting the ground with my practice swings) that says you can’t “ground” your club in a hazard…this means water hazards and bunkers. It just simply didn’t dawn on me that I was in a hazard. Dustin did the same thing albeit he was not in a formal bunker with rakes aside. This is where it seems wrong to a lot people. But in fairness to the tournament and the rules officials, there were signs all over the place stating that the sandy areas were ALL considered bunkers. Thus the two shot penalty on him, like I incurred on the 13th last year, prevented him from possibly winning his first major championship.
Raw deal or “rub of the green”…this will be debated for a long time. As Bobby Jones declared, “Golf was not meant to be a fair game.”
As I play The Tradition at Crosswater in Central Oregon this week and visit one of my favorite places in the entire world, Crater Lake, I will be reminded that indeed life is like a beautiful gem, but with unseen flaws. The lake’s exquisite blue waters hide an airplane which met its end there in its deep abyss many years ago.
Golf mirrors life in that its perfection is impossible to achieve. I have been lucky to be close enough to smell it, but never close enough to touch it. Its nature is to let you get ever so close, but never hold on to it. We ALWAYS could have saved a stroke here or there, couldn’t we? Its bad bounces and seemingly unfair rules all contribute to its lure. Why is this? An unfair game, never to be mastered? As my good friend, Sandy Tatum described his lifelong love affair with the game of golf, we are all searching for the Grail.
This explains the unexplainable best.