I'm not saying that the Valero Texas Open was a forgettable PGA Tour stop, but while most of America was watching the Lakers (blecch) win Game 7 against the Rockets, we diehards were watching Jim Nantz get a pair of cowboy boots presented to him for his 50th birthday.
Moreover, it wasn't even Nick Faldo to announce the big Five-Oh for Nantzy. Ian Baker-Finch, a capable sort, pinch-hit on Sunday. Faldo, like Simon Cowell, has juice, so he jetted back to the U.K. for some R and R while the tour took a quick pit stop in San Antonio, the sort of place the tour used to relegate to background noise during football season.
But in these T.E.T.s (Tough Economic Times; it might as well be an acronym at this point, right?) the PGA Tour schedule has been revamped, and so we got to see La Cantera in all its springtime glory.
Of course, that glory, like all glory, is fleeting. Next year, they move the event to a TPC track, a Greg Norman design, leaving La Cantera, once voted the worst track on tour in one of those juicy, anonymous Sports Illustrated player polls, to dry up and blow away with only Nantz's birthday boots as a memory.
It did leave us with one final lesson, however: Bloodthirsty Redemption is an increasingly common theme in the 2009 season.
Just two weeks ago, we watched as Sean O'Hair won at Quail Hollow, otherwise remembered as the Event That Began to Spawn A Thousand Tiger Theories. O'Hair, commonly considered one of the best young Americans on tour, had endured the ignominy of blowing a five-shot Sunday lead at Bay Hill in March – only to charge back up the mountain, Teddy Roosevelt-style, and grab the coveted trophy at Quail Hollow.
O'Hair's win taught us that perseverance is an admirable thing. This also taught us that golf is so freakishly unpredictable, you can find yourself writing love letters to Tiger in March, and writing off his career in May. (Hey, sounds like a possible song lyric. Riding high in April/Shot down in May. Let me grab a pencil and some lyric sheets. Call my agent.)
It all leads to Zach Johnson in San Antonio. His final round 70 – including going 1-under over his final 8 holes – was good enough for a playoff with James Driscoll, who proved himself a player who leads the tour in Limber Stretches, if random CBS shots of Driscoll's quasi-yoga poses on the driving range are to be believed.
Whether or not Johnson could come through was in question. Though he'd won the Sony in Hawaii for his fifth victory – don't forget that green jacket in 2007 – he also had frittered away a chance at a win playing in the O'Hair-Tiger final threesome at Bay Hill. And then there was Quail Hollow, too. Johnson's two-shot Sunday lead was gone by the 2nd hole, when he carded a nifty little 6 on the par-3 hole, and his nerves were officially called into question by Doctors of Choke Analysis everywhere.
Fast forward to the playoff hole with Driscoll, where Johnson promptly ended any chance of pre-empting 60 Minutes with a birdie on the first hole, and we're back touting Johnson as one of the Silent-but-Deadly players, and noting that his 60 on Saturday made him the owner of the last two rounds of 60 on the circuit. That's six wins now, and three in the last seven months, including last year's Valero Texas Open.
See? Redemption, '09. It's a theme. Who knows? Maybe even Tiger will get into the act sooner or later.
Scorecard of the week
• 67-62-71-71 – 271, 15-under, Shane Lowry (amateur), winner in a playoff of the European Tour Irish Open.
On a personal note, I want to thank the Irish Open. Not only did it provide remarkable theatre when the proud home country saw one of its own – an amateur, no less – kiss the crystal, but my native San Francisco Bay Area has been brutalized by a stultifying heat wave over the weekend, and the sights of the Irish Open's gray skies, whipping winds and steady rain actually lowered the temperature in our un-air conditioned living room a good 10 degrees.
Setting aside my own sweat issues, how huge was Lowry's triumph at County Louth? Heartening were the images of Irish golf fans, swaddled in rain gear and knit caps, some toting the Tricolor, following this 22-year-old from Offaly as if he were Elvis (Presley, not Costello, the singer-songwriter of Irish heritage).
Like all great stories of triumph, Lowry's included a healthy dose of adversity.
First off, though his amateur career was decorated, he would never be as famous as his Northern Irish compadre, Rory McIlroy, who has made a splash on the world stage. So, Lowry entered the event with some low wattage. Second off, even though he was a player in the event, he was afforded no courtesy car at the outset of the week, and drove his own Mitsubishi Colt to County Louth, parking on a muddy lot behind the clubhouse.
By the time he shot 62 on Friday, he was a nice story, but not much more. Surely, he would fade on Saturday. Instead, he shot 71 and played his way into the final group on Sunday where, surely, he would fade away and let European Tour pros like Johan Edfors or Robert Rock, his final playing group, fight it out. At the least, he got a courtesy car for the weekend.
Instead, he entered the 72nd hole tied with the Englishman Rock, and if you don't think a thousand years of Irish-English rivalry wasn't at play as they played 18, then your P.C. meter is on 'tilt.'
It all led up to our man Lowry standing over a three-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole for the win that would bring Ireland to its knees. His mother, Bridget, was seen greenside, in the arms of a friend, head buried, so emotional she couldn't look. McIlroy stood behind her, ear-to-ear grin at his buddy's impending good fortune.
Which is precisely when Lowry gacked it.
He missed the three-footer, and slid his hat over his face in shame. A nation had watched one of its own sons self-immolate.
The kid was toast. No way would he prevail in a playoff with Rock.
Except … he did. After they played 18 one extra time, then two, on the third try, Lowry made par when Rock made bogey, and the party was on.
In a mob scene never seen on a golf course, fans, friends and family happily crushed Lowry. The joy on display would make a dead man smile. McIlroy fought his way in and sprayed champagne on his pal, and forced him to take a gigantic swig of bubbly.
Put simply, it was hot-damn feel good golf. Barkeep … send one to young Lowry, and charge it to Yahoo! Sports.
Broadcast moment of the week
• If you're having a bad day, this is an interesting part of the golf course. You can hear the screams from the rides at the nearby amusement park. Combine it with the screams in your own head, and it can get interesting." – David Feherty, on the 10th hole at La Cantera, at the Valero Texas Open.
I include the above quote not for its wit – although, as with most of Feherty's observations, the wit is evident – but for the author of the quote.
Feherty! Beating the odds!
When I say "beating the odds," I mean Feherty's appearance for CBS at the Valero Texas Open went against all conventional thought in today's kill-or-be-killed media culture.
By now, we're all familiar with Feherty's unfortunate choice of words in his essay in "D" Magazine, noting his belief that an American solider, given use of two bullets, and given the option of Osama bin Laden, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, would deposit two slugs into the Speaker.
Any way you slice that one, it was … well, let's just be very neutral and repeat the "unfortunate choice of words" evaluation.
That wasn't the story, though. Story was, Feherty beat back the monster.
He kept his job!
At least for now.
These days, when somebody steps in it, there is an almost automatic obligation to have said person's head served up on a public platter for all to consume. Don Imus? Toast. Rush Limbaugh at ESPN? Toast.
Incredibly, Feherty survived the storm. This speaks to an ingenious strategy, and to a bit of luck, too.
The luck part is that nobody picked up the cause and beat the drum mercilessly for his dismissal or suspension. That's usually all it takes, somebody making life miserable for management. In Feherty's case, nobody major took up the cause. Feherty's only response could be: Phew!
The second part is strategy, and that strategy is: Lay low, and in this endless 24/7 news cycle, something else will take your place.
Incredibly, in Feherty's case, one of the 24/7 news cycle items to distract the media was Pelosi's own travails, accusing the CIA of lying to her about torture. That Pelosi's own bit of rough water unwittingly may have saved Feherty may not be the dictionary definition of "ironic," but it's damn close.
Throw in other sports headlines like the Lakers' struggle with the Rockets, or Manny Ramirez failing to apologize to his team, or A-Rod returning to Yankee Stadium and … voila, we've all moved on.
Feherty survived it. In today's cannibalistic media culture, that counts as a major par-save.
Mulligan of the week
• Inside column question: Can we mulligan the same guy twice? And if so, does that count as a double mully?
A year ago, after a charismatic and inspiring turn around Sawgrass at the 2008 Players Championship, the amazingly likable Paul Goydos hit his tee shot into the water in a playoff against Sergio Garcia. We bestowed upon him M.O.T.W. honors.
One year later, Goydos owned a one-shot lead on the 71st hole at the Texas Open, only to muff his chip on 17, leading to a bogey. Tied atop the leader board at the 72nd hole, he muffed another chip on 18, leading to another bogey.
Two muffed chips, two bogeys to close the tournament, two patently obvious moments where nerves got the best of his hands, two times we hid our face in our hands for a guy we root for … somebody please go back in time and give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• To the Dallas Metroplex for the Byron Nelson, where we still miss the sight of Lord Byron in his La-Z-Boy by the 18th green. The late, great Nelson used to accept tributes from the players as they headed off the green, sort of a Texan version of Don Corleone, only with a softer edge.
With Byron playing 18 in heaven with Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret, the Nelson now features Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh as the only world top-10 players in the field. That's OK. Tommy Armour III plays there, and throws a legendary party the week of the Nelson to remind everyone that, at age 49, he is still the most rock-and-roll golfer on tour.
Save some sushi for us, TA3.
- Valero Texas Open