There is life on tour after Pebble

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! SportsJune 28, 2010

Tournaments the week after major championships can be so forgettable. We’re all wrung out from investing our emotions and attention on the Masters or the U.S. Open; or we’re all jet-lagged after early mornings with the British Open; or we’re all NFL-jacked after a PGA Championship.

In truth, the whole concept is like the morning after a wild party, when all you can do is take some Advil, swill some Gatorade and clean up, slowly. Think of the post-party scene in John Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” – right down to the pizza on the turntable and Anthony Michael Hall’s Farmer Ted pinned under a glass table and the Donger passed out on the lawn – as a cinematic comparison.

We’re basically just biding our time until the next significant moment on the calendar. We expect nothing of note.

That’s why Sunday’s finish at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut – a long way from Pebble Beach both physically and spiritually – was so surprisingly satisfying.

We observed a train wreck of a final round (75) from 54-hole dominator Justin Rose – on the same day his beloved England got summarily bounced from the World Cup, no less. We enjoyed a blast from the Gutty Little Bruin past from Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who bunted his way around TPC River Highlands and proved singles hitters can still thrive in this era of mad bombers. Somewhere, Rod Carew and Lou Brock are smiling.

And we also soaked in Bubba Watson’s first PGA Tour win, a performance that provided a reminder of how emotional a supposedly staid and boring game like golf can be.

Watson made a par on the 2nd playoff hole to hold off Scott Verplank’s bogey, then embraced his wife and turned on water works like he had just seen “Toy Story 3.”

Turns out Watson – known more for his circus-tent length off the tee, his funky left-handed rip and his odd passion for Ellen DeGeneres – has some serious things going on in his life.

While a deeply devout man, and always sure to give praise to the Man Upstairs, Watson also reached out via CBS to make sure a couple of other people knew he was thinking of them – his Mom and Dad.

Sobbing, Watson told David Feherty that the win was dedicated to his parents, saying he’d be “nothing without them.” He then told the nation his father is battling cancer and Watson is thinking of him constantly.

It was undeniably poignant. It also provided a reminder of how the filial bonds may run deeper in golf than just about any sport. While baseball does have its Little League father-son ties, neither football nor basketball seems to inspire as much parental tribute. It’s no fault of those sports; it’s just that Mom and Dad aren’t as likely to be out there showing son or daughter how to wrap up on a tackle.

There is something more permanent about golf’s family bonds, about evenings on the putting green with Grandpa, or Dad. Watson confirmed that his father took him out to a golf course at age 6 and told the cute anecdote of how Pops told him: “I’ll be looking for my ball in the woods, so just take this 9-iron and beat it down the fairway.”

A week after Graeme McDowell’s Dad, Ken, bear hugged his son on Father’s Day at Pebble Beach, Gerry Watson’s son climbed the mountaintop and dedicated his triumph to his Dad. For anybody watching, thoughts of relationships with our own parents coursed through our minds. Maybe a few of us got choked up, too.

So Bubba Watson took a golf game previously known only for outrageous distance and forged it into a winner’s game. And Bubba Watson took a forgettable week on the PGA Tour and made it unforgettable. Nice story, that.

Scorecard of the week

68-66-69-66 – 19-under 269, Cristie Kerr, winner, LPGA Championship, Locust Hill C.C., Rochester, N.Y.

Let me be the first to say: Guilty as charged.

That’s me. Guilty of completely blowing off Cristie Kerr’s career.

We do these fun little Yahoo! video shoots for the Web site, and our host, Larry Beil, often asks me about the state of the women’s game. Post-Lorena, I always come to the same conclusion: The future is in Asia, and the future is a three-way battle between Ai Miyazato, Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng.

From Europe, only Norway’s Suzann Pettersen rates.

American women? Please. Outside of still wishing and hoping and praying for a breakout, 6-win season from Michelle Wie, or hoping for some miracle injury recovery from Paula Creamer, the U.S. was just left to thank its lucky stars that the Solheim Cup is America v Europe and not America v Asia. The U.S. can win America v Europe. The U.S. would have no chance in America v Asia.

All the while, I occasionally thought about Cristie Kerr. Major champion; 13 LPGA wins going into the LPGA Championship; etc; etc … but I always came to the same conclusion: Her time has come and gone. Sure, she’ll still be a factor, but it’s a young woman’s game, and Kerr is on the back nine of her career.

Let’s go back and check that Cristie Kerr bio, by the way: She’s only 32 years old. She has wins in every season since 2004. In her last six majors prior to the LPGA Championship, she has 5 top-8 finishes.

And now Cristie Kerr says to all the schmucks like me: Boo yah, chump.

Her 12-shot win at Locust Hill was nothing short of a game-changer on the women’s landscape. Miyazato? 14 shots back. Shin? 14 shots back. Pettersen? 17 shots back. Wie? 20 shots back. Here, I’ll lend you a telescope: maybe you can see her from here.

Perhaps Kerr went to YouTube and typed in “Tiger Woods Pebble Beach 2000” before she headed out to her final round at the LPGA Championship, nodding and smiling all the while.

I will never figure out World Rankings points, men’s or women’s, but the word is that Cristie Kerr will be the new No. 1 women’s player in the game, and the first American to be so since the rankings were established.

It still may bear out that Miyazato, at the tender age of 25 and with four wins already this year, is the next Annika-Lorena figure.

But Kerr left no doubt that she’s a major player in the drama, and may just hold on to the top spot for a long time. A tenacious type, she doesn’t like to lose at anything. Miyazato, Shin, Tseng … they’ve all been warned: 32 is the new 22, as far as Kerr is concerned.

With the U.S. Women’s Open just two weeks ago, it’s game on. Big time.

Mulligan of the week

In the playoff at TPC River Highlands, Bubba Watson and Scott Verplank were the last two men standing. Corey Pavin’s par on the first playoff hole wasn’t good enough, and Verplank had answered Watson’s near-eagle wedge with a steely birdie putt of 12 feet, in effect letting Watson know:

You haven’t won before, dude. I have. Let’s go to the next tee box. I’ll be the guy ready to kick your non-winning butt.

At the next, a par-3, Verplank missed the green long and left, and had a tricky little slope to navigate to try to get it close. Watson was on safely, and had a likely two-putt. Verplank needed to get it tight, and broke out the trusty “Texas wedge” to try.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: putt it, control it, get ‘er done. Except … Verplank’s putt was weak, barely climbed the slope, hit a patchy spot or two along the way and kicked away, harmlessly, far away from the hole. He would make bogey.

I’m thinking if Verplank could do it all over again, he’d chip it. Run a little 7-iron along the ground, perhaps. Or, the old trusty hooded wedge. A wise man once told me: “The hooded wedge … greatest shot in golf.”

Verplank sure would like to try. So let’s go back to that playoff hole, put Verplank behind the green and … give that man a mulligan!

Broadcast moment of the week

“You’ve played about half a golf course more each day than Bubba Watson.” – David Feherty, CBS, to short-hitting Corey Pavin, before the playoff at the Travelers Championship.

True enough, Feherty. Imagine the disadvantage Pavin had going up against a guy who hit a drive on the 72nd hole at TPC River Highlands that – with the help of some cart path – went 396 yards.

I kid you not. Three. Ninety. Six.

Pavin’s tee shot? 242. So, take whatever club you hit 155, and add it to Pavin’s drive, and you’re laying two where Bubba Watson is laying one.

That’s what you call tilting the odds to the big hitter, he said in a vast understatement.

So for all of us in our 40s who are watching our distance recede along with our hairlines, for all of us who say to our friends on the weekend, “This used to be 7-iron distance for me … anybody seen my 5-iron?,” we salute Corey (The Shotmaker) Pavin for going 65-66-69-66 with a wood bat when everybody else is using aluminum.

Where do we go from here?

Everybody ready for another blast of T.W.? Ready or not, here he comes.

Tiger is “hosting” the AT&T National this week, but his name is off the tournament because, well, you know. Proceeds still go to his foundation.

It will be darn interesting to see if this is the week Tiger finally puts together four rounds of golf. We haven’t seen it yet in 2010, for obvious reasons. But Ernie Els was quoted as saying he thinks the world No. 1 is close to ready to win again, and top-5 finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open might be a pretty good indicator.

Dustin Johnson returns to play again, too. Great golf swing; young, dynamic player; hopeful presence on golf’s landscape … let’s just hope he dumped the memories of that final-round 82 at Pebble into a garbage can on his way out of the Del Monte Forest last week, and left a patch of rubber from his rental car in the parking lot, never to look back on that day again.