By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village is one of my favorite events of the season. And not just because it’s a stone’s throw down the road from me in Dublin, Ohio, one of just two times the Tour visits the “Buckeye State.”
It’s also because Muirfield is “Jack’s Place.”
You know you’re in for something special at Muirfield immediately when you’re greeted by a larger than life bronze sculpture of the 19-time major winner Jack Nicklaus instructing a young boy on the golf swing.
The child seems to hang on Jack’s every word but also appears mischievously eager to put the ball in play.
Jack points out towards the horizon as if to instruct his mindful pupil “now before you hit the ball you need to pick a spot out there and an intermediate target too …” (referring to his meticulously famous pre-shot routine in picking primary and intermediate targets to establish aim).
When the “Golden Bear” created the Memorial in 1976 he envisioned an event that would draw the world’s top players to central Ohio. And it has not disappointed.
World No. 1 Luke Donald, World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, World No. 7 Tiger Woods (making his 13th appearance but absent since 2010), and defending champion World No. 8 Steve Stricker will all tee it up Thursday in Dublin for the 37th playing of the Memorial.
Last year Stricker shot a final round 68 but needed a couple of clutch par-saving putts at No. 16 and No. 17 to pull out a one-shot victory and hold off runner-ups Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe (both of whom carded final round 65s).
The field this week includes 18 of the 21 winners on Tour in 2012, 17 of the Top-20 in the FedExCup standings, and eight of the Top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
“It’s on everybody’s short list of tournaments they would love to win,” said World No. 10 Justin Rose. “And that comes down to Jack Nicklaus and what he represents.”
The Memorial is one of just five tournaments given invitational status by the PGA Tour and consequently only 120 players rather than the normal 156 are in the field. The top-75 players on the previous year’s money list are guaranteed invitees.
Also making the event unique is a yearly induction ceremony and plaque presentation honoring golfers who’ve made significant contributions to the game. The special plaques are displayed prominently near the clubhouse. And this year’s inductee is eight-time major champion Tom Watson (who also won the Memorial in 1979 and 1996).
Memorable Memorial Moments
In 1976 Roger Maltbie won the inaugural Memorial Tournament defeating Hale Irwin in a sudden-death playoff, but not without a little luck. On the third playoff hole Maltbie’s approach sailed left of the green, heading straight for the gallery. But his shot miraculously hit a stake and bounced back onto the green. Maltbie salvaged par and went on to win on the next playoff hole.
In 1977 Nicklaus defeated Hubert Green by two strokes after inclement weather forced the tournament to finish on Monday.
In 1984 Nicklaus became a two-time winner of his own tournament defeating Andy Bean in a sudden-death playoff. The win turned out to be Jack’s last non-major victory of his illustrious career.
In 1994 Tom Lehman cruised to a five-shot victory over Greg Norman and established the tournament record shooting 278 (20-under).
In 2001 Woods won the Memorial for the third consecutive year dismantling Sergio Garcia and Paul Azinger by a sizable seven-stroke margin.
The House That Jack Built
Muirfield Village Golf Club is ranked as the sixth most popular course on Tour by the players. It’s also ranked as the 19th most difficult on Tour in 2011.
Muirfield features some of the fastest greens on Tour, and the spectacular par-4 448-yard finishing hole is the toughest on the course.
More than 20,000 spectators gather at No. 18 to witness the tournament’s end and the traditional Nicklaus handshake greeting to the winner walking off the green.
The Greek Syndicate
The beautiful thing about this season is anyone can win any given week. It’s also the horrendous thing about this season as it makes picking a winner all the more difficult.
Nevetheless, I remain undaunted.
With one week off I’m returning fresh and giddy with anticipation this weeks picks will pan out for me.
Here we go.
Phil Mickelson (16/1)
Mickelson bounced back at the HP Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago finishing in seventh place with a strong final round. But he’s struggled overall this past month, particularly with inconsistent iron play.
I don’t think he finds consistency this week. He’ll have a good opening few days, but fall off over the weekend.
Stricker’s silky smooth putting stroke helped him win here last year. But he’s never played well at Muirfield before last season.
His victory here last year was driven in large part by a wildly hot streak in the middle rounds that I just don’t see him duplicating.
Donald has finished in the top-6 in five of his last seven starts. And the new World No. 1 has 15 top-10 finishes in his last 17 events. Sizzle!
Donald is on a roll and I always bet on the hot hand.
Justin Rose (18/1)
I love what Rose has done this year. Four top-10 finishes and a victory. He won here in 2010 by three shots over Rickie Fowler.
For my money he’s come closer than any player to having three wins this season. I like him and Fowler to battle it out on Sunday down the stretch.
McIlroy has two top-10 finishes at Muirfield the past two years. But he’s struggled of late.
Even with all his talent I don’t see him turning it around this week. However another poor finish might be the wake-up call he needs with the U.S. Open approaching.
Woods has never missed a cut at Muirfield. He has 10 top-10 finishes here. And he has the best scoring average at Memorial of anyone in the field.
So why pick him to finish outside the top-25?
Because I believe Woods is an absolute wreck. And he won’t be fixed until he reunites with Butch Harmon.
You heard it here first. Expect a Woods-Harmon reunion next season (I’m invoking my privilege to not reveal my confidential source).
And expect continued inconsistent and mediocre play from Woods the rest of this season (no source on this one, just common sense).
Bubba Watson (22/1)
Watson’s admittedly rusty. But he expects to “play good golf.” I think the spotlight and attention is still a learning experience for him and growing pains are forthcoming.
Watson’s great for the game. But he won’t be around this weekend.
Rickie Fowler (20/1)
People have been waiting for Rickie to break out for some time now and now that he finally has he’s a different player.
Fowler was a runner-up here in 2010.
He’s always had the talent. It was just a matter of when. Fowler picks up another win and puts himself into contention for “2012 Player of the Year.”
Groups To Watch
Kyle Stanley, Mark Wilson, Jason Day
Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley
Tiger Woods, Bill Haas, Fred Couples
Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, Steve Sticker
Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods, Bill Haas, Freddie Couples
Ryan Moore, Spencer Levin, Greg Owen
Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott
Charley Hoffman, Ernie Els, Stewart Cink.
The Yellow Shirt
Before Fowler decided “Sing Sing Prison Orange” was a good look for Championship Sunday, and before Tiger’s “Fire Red” became a reason for competitors to cringe in fear at Woods’ mere presence…
There was Jack’s “Yellow Shirt.”
Jack’s yellow shirt of course commemorates that remarkable day in 1986 when the 46 year-old “Golden Bear” in the twilight of his career won The Masters for his sixth and final time. And in the process gave the game one of its greatest moments in history.
What Jack’s yellow shirt also symbolizes however is the even greater gift it gave to a young boy in 1968 who was diagnosed with a rare and terminal cancer at the age of 11.
That boy’s name was Craig Smith.
Craig loved golf. Jack was his idol. And yellow was Craig’s favorite color.
After Jack learned of Craig’s diagnosis he met with Craig and promised him he’d wear yellow every Sunday as his way of saying “Hello Craig.”
“I wanted to bring as much joy into the last part of that boy’s life as I could,” Jack said. “It was a mutual thing between us.”
It was mutual because Craig also wore yellow on Sundays.
Craig’s mother recalled watching Craig leaping off the sofa with excitement the first time he saw Jack wearing yellow on television, “Craig would say ‘hello to you too Jack’ when he watched Jack,” his mom said.
It was their secret, between Jack and Craig.
Tragically two years later Craig lost his courageous battle with cancer and passed away at age 13.
In 1986 Nicklaus’ game was in decline and his career on its last legs. He hadn’t won a tournament in two years. And it had been six years since he last won a major.
But something unbelievable would happen at the 1986 Masters. And many believe it was because Nicklaus decided to wear the yellow shirt on Sunday one more time.
Yellow is the color of rebirth. And Jack wore it again to inspire and honor the memory of his brave young friend with an unwavering spirit.
As Jack walked up the 18th fairway on Sunday about to win The Masters for the sixth time, he couldn’t help but believe Craig was watching from above.
“I looked up to sky and said wow, is this really happening?” Jack said.
Today the Yellow Shirt Fund exists to support pediatric cancer patients nationwide including those in Ohio being treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
And Jack’s “yellow shirt” more than ever still inspires us all to continue in the fight against pediatric cancer.
Tickets for the event are always some of the biggest sellers for any non-major on the PGA Tour.
Purse: $6.2 million; Winner’s share: $1.116 million
Thursday and Friday: Golf Channel 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST
Saturday and Sunday: NBC 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST
Thursday through Sunday: SiriusXM Satellite Radio 12:00 – 6:00 pm ET
Odds provided by Las Vegas PGA Tour Golf Betting Odds.
You can follow Pete on Twitter @TheGreekGrind
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross
The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.
The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.
Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?
After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,
Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.
Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,
His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.
What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.
In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.
It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.
Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.
My recommendation: read the book.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
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