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Stalag Golf, P.O.W. Style

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While visiting the USGA Museum archives I was exposed to something special that made me realize how important golf is to many of us. As an Army veteran myself, I appreciate others’ sacrifices for country both past and present. This is a short story of sacrifices past.

Many brave soldiers and airmen were captured and taken prisoner by the enemy during World War II. Many of these men were imprisoned in German prisoner of war camps, or stalags. These soldiers endured hardships many of us will never even begin to understand. Many more never made it home alive as these hardships took their toll on them, cutting their precious lives short.  For the most part, our enemies certainly did not care about the welfare of their prisoners of war.

How does golf fit into war? Well, it seems that in between the valiant struggle for daily survival, our boys found a way to play a little golf. Who could blame them? This goes to show that to many of us, golf is really more than just a game, it is a way of life and could even provide a momentary escape from a prison camp. Not an escape outside the walls, although many of those were certainly attempted. I mean an inner escape where golf became a refuge of sorts from the monotomy of prison life.

It seems that the YMCA and the American Red Cross found a way to send over many items to our brave boys. Food, medicine, clothing, shoes and in fact, golf clubs were even included in these care packages. It seems crazy, the notion of playing golf in a prison camp. It seems even crazier that the ememy would allow such a thing. One can only surmise that our boys must have had some extra time on their hands and that their captors wanted them occupied so as not to cause trouble for the guards.

I searched in vain all over the internet to see what I could learn about the POW’s and  golf. Without access to special library files,  the pickings were pretty slim. Almost all I found was a former American bomber crewmember’s personal website about his ordeal and capture which led to his imprisonment in Stalag Air Luft 3. This man is surely well into his 80’s by now, but he took the time to exchange a few e-mails with me about the subject of golf and stalags.

Arthur Starratt found it a tough pill to swallow that GI’s would even use leather from their boots to make something silly like a golf ball. According to Mr. Staratt, “It’s hard to believe guys would cut up their shoes to make golf balls. At Stalag Luft One the goons would issue a P.O.W. a pair of shoes that were never the right size. So you would walk all over the camp to find someone who had your size and than he would walk around to swap with some one that had his size. When you got a pair that fit, cutting them up to make golf balls would be the last thing I would do.”  Ahhh, obviously Mr. Staratt was never addicted to golf. My passion for the game leads to believe that all that was needed was a very small piece of leather to construct the ProV1 of the day. I don’t want to make light of others’ struggles, but during basic training we constructed a real chess board out of paper and hid it from the drill sergeants. We played chess in the barracks every chance we got, it was simply an escape from the nightmare we were in. Certainly, not the real hell prisoners of war experienced, but similar situations, none the less. I have to believe, that if the guard’s allowed it, the men would find a way to play. I did locate a short 1995 New York Times interview with another stalag survivor.  He painted a much different picture of prison camp conditions. According to POW Joseph Boyle, “Golf hazards were a little unique. If the drive went close to the fence, the golfer would signal to the watchtower, and the German guard with the gun would motion that it was all right to pick up the ball. There were no caddies in this prison camp in Poland called Stalag Luft III.” According to Boyle, in Stalag Luft III, there was time for golfing.  “We played for Canadian candy bars, recalls Boyle, 50 years after his liberation. A hole-in-one would be worth half a candy bar. Even during the worst war the globe has ever seen, captured prisoners stayed healthy with the help of games.”  This is why I believe these men played on, whatever the game might be. In this case, our beloved game of golf.

According to Boyle, “The Y.M.C.A. had sent over a few clubs and some balls, but somebody had been unable to resist the urge to whack the balls far over the fence, so there was a need to come up with a new supply, preferably less aerodynamic.”

"My friend, Harry Indierie, from Huntington, L.I., had studied engineering," Boyle said. "He was the pilot and I was the co-pilot when we were shot down over the Brest peninsula. He made a graph about one-eighth scale of the two parts of a softball. We would take the cover of an old basketball or the top of a leather boot and cut them into figure eights.”

"For the inside, we would cut off some rubber from the heel of a boot. Then we’d take the innards of a softball and wind them very carefully. Then we’d borrow a needle and linen thread from the one guy in camp who was allowed to repair boots. We sewed the two cover pieces on tightly. Then we rolled the ball on a table top to make it tight, and we dampened it so it would shrink. Then we’d wax it. It looked like a miniature baseball."

American WWII POW constructed golf balls stored away at the USGA. WOW, is all I can say.

Boyle said that the the makeshift golf balls would only fly 50-75 feet, so even the best driver in camp, Sparling Bernadotte Anderson, whom Boyle says later had a whirl as a professional — couldn’t lose them.” There are many great and historical golf balls out there, but maybe none so special as these two on display at the USGA. They look like tiny little baseballs, made out of darkened shoe leather. How did their course play? "The ground was flat and sandy, so we’d smooth it out with pine needles and make our own putting greens," Boyle said. "We made our own putters from wood trim from the barracks. We played pitch-and-putt golf, using a used milk can for the hole."

Someone spent a lot time and hard work making these limited flight POW golf balls.

After a lengthy Google search, I finally located part of an October 1944 Prisoner of War newspaper that told a neat story about American prisoners playing golf in captivity.

If you would like an interesting and historic read, feel free to download the story here.

When you have the chance, thank a veteran for their past or present sacrifices, it allows us to play real golf on real golf courses. By the way, hey Choeppner, THANKS!

 

 

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Morning 9: A 6-man playoff in Turkey | Wild Schwab Cup finish | Hatton’s Tin Cup moment

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1. A six-man playoff under the lights
Reuters report on Tyrrell Hatton’s last-man-standing effort in Turkey...”England’s Tyrrell Hatton beat Austria’s Matthias Schwab on the fourth playoff hole to clinch his second Rolex Series title at the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya on Sunday after a dramatic six-man playoff.”
  • “For the first time at a professional golf tournament, the floodlights were switched on at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course for the playoff as the six golfers battled for the $2 million prize money.”
  • “Hatton, overnight leader Schwab, American Kurt Kitayama, South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen and Frenchmen Victor Perez and Benjamin Hebert entered the playoff after they all finished with a 20-under overall score after 72 holes.”

Full piece.

2. Maggert holes out for win but McCarron gets the cup
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Maggert’s hole-out from 123 yards on the third extra hole ended the 2019 PGA Tour Champions season in spectacular fashion. Entering the final round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship with a one-shot lead, Maggert needed a birdie on the last hole of regulation to force a playoff with Retief Goosen. But with Goosen in tight on the third extra hole, Maggert’s wedge approach took two hops and found the hole and spark a fairway celebration.”
  • “The eagle gave Maggert his first victory on the over-50 circuit since he won four times during the 2015 season…While Maggert and Goosen battled it out in overtime for the tournament title, the fate of the season-long Charles Schwab Cup also hung in the balance. Goosen was in position to win both trophies with a playoff win over Maggert, and he would have become the first PGA Tour Champions rookie to earn the season-long prize.”
  • “Instead Maggert’s victory meant that McCarron finally won the Charles Schwab Cup after a number of close finishes.”

Full piece.

3. A home game win
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…“For a second straight year, a Japanese star won on home soil at the Toto Japan Classic. Ai Suzuki, a five-time winner on the Japan LPGA this season, now has the chance to join the LPGA after claiming the first-place check of $225,000.”
  • “It was my dream, so I feel like I want to challenge,” said Suzuki, through a translator, of joining the LPGA. “But I can’t speak English. And I need to talk to my family because I need their support. I am not good in moving around, traveling and food.”
  • “Suzuki has until Nov. 18 to make a decision on LPGA membership. If she decides to pass, she’ll be eligible for six sponsor exemptions in 2020 along with the all five major championships and the HSBC Women’s World Championship. She would not be in the field for the 2020 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.”

Full piece.

4. Korn Ferry Q-School update
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine does the Lord’s work rounding up all the Korn Ferry Tour Q-School action. He writes…”the field for the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School is set.”
“The final four of five second-stage sites wrapped up on Friday, with advancing players moving on to final stage, set for Dec. 12-15 at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Fla.”
5. Tin Cup moment
Paging Roy McAvoy… The ever-entertaining Eddie Pepperell was the author of a grim episode at the Turkish Airlines Open…via the Golf Channel Digital team…”Eddie Pepperell is one of the European Tour’s more intriguing personalities and he added to his persona on Saturday at the Turkish Airlines Open by playing the role of Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy.”
  • “Per The Associated Press…England’s Eddie Pepperell did not even finish his round and was disqualified for failing to complete the fourth hole, his 13th of the day.”
  • “Pepperell was 2 over for the round after dropping shots on the second and third and then hit his approach to the next into the water guarding the green. In a scene reminiscent of the ”Tin Cup” film, Pepperell had several more attempts – even his caddie could not say for certain whether it was four or five – before informing playing partners Martin Kaymer and George Coetzee that he had run out of balls.”

Full piece.

6. Fowler out of the Mayakoba
A hidden element of the Prez Cup decision, perhaps? Steve Dimeglio for Golfweek…
  • “In a text message to Golfweek, Fowler said at the tail end of his honeymoon – he got married the first week of October – he came down with Campylobacter jejuni, which is among the most common bacterial infections and leads to cramps, fever, pain and diarrhea.”
  • “Fowler said he started feeling the effects of the intestinal bacterial infection Oct. 26 and didn’t started getting back to normal until Nov. 7.”
  • “It was not a fun stretch,” Fowler wrote. He added he is taking medicine to combat the last stages of the infection and just didn’t have enough time to properly prepare for the Mayakoba Golf Classic, where he’s finished second and in a tie for 16th the past two years.”

Full piece.

7. Making things harder
An interesting take from Geoff Shackelford for Golfweek…
“With world No. 1 Brooks Koepka potentially missing the Cup while rehabbing his left knee, Fowler seems likely to be his replacement. Fowler finished a spot ahead of Reed on the Presidents Cup points list and his easygoing nature suggests he might have been open to being left off the initial roster to give Reed a welcome-back confidence boost.”
  • “Woods has his reasons, but to any impartial observer, he made the already difficult tasks of serving as a playing captain more complicated by adding Reed in an event where pairings would have been easier to make with Fowler in town. Woods will be juggling the role of lineup making, reintroducing Reed to the American team room and needing to keep his game sharp. Not many could handle all of that. Which is exactly what appeals to someone who thrives off of steep challenges at this point in his illustrious career.”

Full piece.

8. Kendall Dye is hardly alone
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols makes an interesting point regarding the Kendall Dye advice-seeking saga…
  • “None of the players or caddies – on both the PGA Tour and LPGA – interviewed by Golfweek for this story can recall having seen a player flash fingers or verbally ask for club information.”
  • “In that instance, Dye is an exception…And it’s perfectly legal for media to obtain club information. Caddies flash fingers to on-course reporters in every marquee group.”
  • “But that doesn’t mean the advice rule isn’t broken in other ways throughout professional golf on a regular basis.”
  • “Caddies flash numbers to players and caddies,” said one veteran LPGA player. Because rules violations are a sensitive topic, Golfweek spoke to caddies and players about the issue on the condition of anonymity. “That’s really not uncommon. I bet it happens in every group at least once during the round in every tournament.”

Full piece.

9. First loser, indeed
Ryan Herrington of Golf Digest with this observation…“To the victor goes the spoils, and in the case of Tyrrell Hatton, those spoils were plentiful. In holding on under the lights to win a six-man playoff at the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday afternoon/evening, the 28-year-old Englishman earned the $2 million first-place check with the event being part of the European Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series events.”
  • “Given the unique circumstances of the victory, however, the discrepancy between what Hatton took home and what the fivesome of runners-up-Erik Van Rooyen, Kurt Kitayama, Matthias Schwab, Victor Perez and Benjamin Hebert-at Montgomerie Maxx Royal course in Antalya, Turkey, made was particularly pronounced. A solo second-place finish at the tournament was worth $828,000, but because you had to add the prize money for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth places, then divide the aggregate among the five players, the amount was diluted to $430,589.98.”
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Tour Rundown: Incredible finishes on Champions, European tours

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As darkness fell in Antalya, the the first event in the European Tour playoff series came to a conclusion. Light stanchions had been illuminated for two playoff holes, when the final putt missed. In Japan, the Asian swing of the LPGA came to a conclusion. And the old guard of the PGA Tour Champions stood its season-ending event in Phoenix in the most dramatic fashion of all. Snows fell, then evanesced, in my home area, reminding me that played golf is precious, and televised golf that matters, is a commodity. On, then, with our Tour Rundown for Monday, November 11th. Take special care, at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, to pray for peace.

Hatton outlasts the world at TAO on European Tour

An entire-season of storylines materialized at the Maxx Royale on Sunday. It happened, dramatically, over the final hour of the tournament. Kurt Kitayama, the reborn American golfer, reached the clubhouse first at 20-under par. He was soon joined by Erik Van Rooyen, Victor Perez, Tyrrell Hatton, Benjamin Hebert, and Matthias Schwab, the 3rd-round leader. Schwab had an opportunity to win it all in regulation, but was unable to make birdie at the last. The sextet returned four times to the 18th hole, to decide matters. Van Rooyen was eliminated in round one, with bogey. The French duo, Hebert and Perez, dropped away on the 2nd go-round, also with bogey. Kitayama went by the wayside on the 3rd cycle, when par was no longer good enough. On the 4th return in extra time, Schwab made bogey and Hatton was the champion.

Where Schwab lost: His greenside pitching. In regulation and on the 4th playoff hole, the Austrian had an opportunity to get a greenside pitch within birdie range, but bombed it 25 feet past both times. Schwab consquently 3-putted after the second miscue, costing himself a chance on a 5th playoff hole.

How Hatton won: He pitched in for birdie on the first playoff hole, when it was birdie or go home. He also outlasted the other golfers, allowing them to make mistakes. They did, and the experienced winner rode off with a trophy, pride, and prize.

Suzuki claims TOTO for home country on LPGA

Ai Suzuki has a decision to make. The young professional from Japan has officially earned membership on the LPGA Tour for 2020. Will she opt-in and match her skills with the world’s best? Suzuki stood tied for 1st after round one, then atop the board by herself after a 2nd-round 65, the low round of the week. Perhaps the most important stretch of the week was the first 7 holes on Sunday; she played them in 4-under par. The fiery start served notice that a 63 would be needed to catch her. In a post-round interview, Suzuki admitted that her inability to speak English probably drops her chances of joining the tour in 2020, to 20%. Some day, she acknowledges, but not quite yet.

How Suzuki won: One bogey. Say it out loud…O-N-E-B-O-G-E-Y all week. The 11th hole on Friday, during round one. Beyond that, 18 birdies.

How the others lost: More bogeys. Hyo Joo Kim (2nd place by 3 shots) had a solitary bogey as well, but she added in a double, and one birdie fewer. Minjee Lee (3rd place by 6 shots) made 3 bogies on Sunday alone! Suzuki wasn’t indomitable; she simply played error-free and made birdie putts when they beckoned.

After Montgomerie walks off, Maggert walks OFF to win Schwab Cup Championship

Colin Montgomerie holed his final shot of the 2019 PGA Tour Champions campaign from 100-odd yards away. The eagle 3 jumped him up from T7 to T4, and certainly eased the pain from the bogey he had just made at the 17th hole. Who knew that this was the warm-up for what would happen in the playoff? Let’s set the scene, and then let your mind take over. Jeff Maggert and Retief Goosen tied at 21-under par, 2 shots clear of 3rd place Woody Austin. As the two men headed to the 18th tee to settle matters, calculations were made. If Goosen were to win the playoff, he would win the week and the year. If Maggert were to emerge victorious, the week’s bauble and booty would be his, but the season-long Schwab Cup would go to Scott McCarron. The combatants parred the 18th, then birdied it a second time, to move the drama needle. Off to the 17th hole they went. After Goosen reached the green with his approach, Maggert stepped up and 2-hopped his wedge into the cup. These guys are STILL good, living under par.

How the field lost: Not enough birdies. Sounds silly, but Maggert set a high bar with 63 on opening day. It was matched, by Miguel Angel Jimenez in round 3. Maggert followed his Oakmont Miller with 65-69-66. It took a 64 from Goosen on Sunday to catch the Texan.

How Maggert won: Well, let’s call it a walk-off eagle. Unlike many other times on tour, when he didn’t have the grit to close a tournament, Maggert did not falter on this day. He birdied the 72nd hole to reach the playoff, then birdied the 74th to remain alive. With Goosen inside 10 feet for birdie, Maggert would have had a tap-in for his 3, had fate not intervened.

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Tiger Woods chooses Finau, Woodland, Reed, and….himself as his Presidents Cup picks

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Tiger Woods has named himself, Tony Finau, Gary Woodland and Patrick Reed as his captain’s picks ahead of next month’s Presidents Cup.

Both Woodland and Finau are set for their debuts at the event, while Reed will be competing in his third consecutive Presidents Cup. For Woods, it will be the 15-time major champion’s first appearance at the biennial tournament since 2013.

Speaking on the decision to pick himself as playing-captain for the event, Woods stated

“The players, they wanted me to play in the event. It’s going to be difficult, but I also have three amazing assistants in Fred (Couples), Stricks (Steve Stricker) and Zach (Johnson). So that helps a lot.”

Both Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth are big-name omissions from the team which will feature five rookies. Spieth will be missing his first team event since 2012, while Fowler has been on each U.S. team since 2014.

Speaking on the call to leave Fowler out of the side, Woods stated

“That was a tough call to make. He’s a friend of mine. We kept it short. There was no need for a long call. I’ve been on both sides I haven’t been picked. I get it. He’s obviously going to hurt not being there.”

Woods’ four picks are all higher ranked in the OWGR than any of the players of the International side, but the 43-year-old warned that statistical advantage goes out the window once play gets underway next month.

“On paper we certainly have the advantage in the world ranking. Our players have earned that by playing well around the world and playing well in big events. But when we start out on Thursday, it’s 0-0. We’ve got to go out and earn points to win the cup.”

Woods’ decision to choose himself as a player next month means that he will be the first playing captain at team events since Hale Irwin in 1994.

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