Park in gear

Brian Murphy

There was more than one lesson at Interlachen on Sunday, a lesson for all of us who get too quick over the ball, a lesson for all of us who let emotion conquer reason, a lesson for all of us who allow adrenaline to trump calm.

In other words, a lesson for guys like your loyal correspondent, who plays the royal and ancient game with a $300 driver and a 10-cent head.

The unflappable Inbee Park won the U.S. Women’s Open at the tender age of 19, the youngest ever, because her swing tempo never changed, and because she has a preternatural understanding that golf rewards not necessarily the swift or the strong, but the one who grasps that it’s best to keep your head, even your head cover, while all about you your peers are losing theirs.

Which reminds me, another lesson from Interlachen: If you’re going to wear pink head-to-toe, and play with a pink Precept, it’s probably best not to go out in 41 when playing in the final twosome on Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Oh, but that’s a gratuitous cheap shot at Paula Creamer, whom I actually covered as early as the ’03 Open at Pumpkin Ridge, and for whom I hold great admiration for attacking her goals with panache – skipping college not just for the easy payday of endorsements, but also to prove she has the mettle to win six times already on the LPGA Tour by the age of 21.

Which reminds me, another lesson from Interlachen: If you’re going to turn pro at a young age, it’s best to make like Creamer and actually win a few times, unlike a young lady from Hawaii via Stanford who missed the cut by a good margin. The Michelle Wie story gives me heartburn. I was one of those who became deeply enamored with her golf swing at Pumpkin Ridge and believed her goal-setting would re-define our expectations from female golfers. Instead, she’s on the fast track to Barry Zito/Tony Mandarich/Spinal Tap territory, and it won’t be long before Yahoo! Sports does a “Where Are They Now?” piece on the Big Wiesy, the week after they dust off the piece on Joe Charbonneau.

Call Inbee Park the anti-Wie, the anti-Creamer. She’s the anti-Wie because she paid her dues to get to the mountaintop, working her way through the Futures Tour, learning to win. Now she’s won a major, while Wie could only, in her prime, knock on the top-5 door, unable to pick the lock of victory, before fading into this depressing purgatory in which she currently resides. And Park is the anti-Creamer because she’s won a major with zero hype, and just about as much endorsement money.

Granted, there is something to be said for Wie heading to college to round out her life, and lend much-needed balance. But to think: if she’d gone the route of another Interlachen lesson-giver, former NCAA champ and 54-hole leader Stacy Lewis, and stayed amateur, she’d have enjoyed the competition of college golf, developed a killer instinct and racked up a boatload of W’s. Like, say, oh, I dunno … Lorena Ochoa at the University of Arizona?

So, lessons galore at Interlachen, including one more. Note to self: Phone Inbee Park for “mental lesson” ASAP. Does she do reclamation projects?

Broadcast moment of the week

“Every player on the course heard that … that was a 5-star wowser.” – Johnny Miller, on Annika Sorenstam’s epic hole-out from 199 yards in her final U.S. Open hole, for eagle.

Before we get into Annika’s Moment, can we all be in agreement that a U.S. Open on NBC isn’t the same without Dan Hicks? We all know the cadence of Jim Nantz at the Masters, and Nantz gets all kinds of love, including a spot on the New York Times best-seller list, but it turns out you don’t really appreciate Hicks’ understated good-guy manner until it’s gone. Count me among the baffled when it was Dottie Pepper reading the opening on Sunday. Worse, Pepper seemed to be doing her impression of Jaime the Robot from “Get Smart”, reading the supposedly inspirational opening text in pure monotone, and missing the mark completely. She sounded like a court bailiff reading a list of criminal charges.

(Note to self: Update Jaime/”Get Smart” references to appeal to hipper, younger audience.)

I didn’t get my answer about Hicks’ whereabouts until I tuned in to NBC’s Olympic Trials swimming coverage later at night. Glad to know Hicks is OK, and I want him back, pronto, for USGA events on the Peacock.

Back to Annika’s Moment. She’s the greatest of our generation, the female Tiger, and her sudden retirement remains one of the biggest bummers of the golf year, second only to Tiger’s absence.

So, in her final hole as a 3-time U.S. Women’s Open champ, when she pulled 6-iron from 199 on the par-5 18th and striped her Callaway, pure and true, and it tracked towards the flag, and hopped a couple of times, and disappeared for an eagle … well, hot damn, that was about the coolest thing I saw in a long time. Women’s golf had its moment to match Ted Williams’ homer in his last AB at Fenway. Only difference: Annika felt the love from the crowd, and it was profound, and soaked it all in. Sometimes, gods do answer letters.

Mulligan of the week

So now you know that I’m in that obscure minority. I’m a Michelle Wie fan.

I take a lot of grief for this, believe me. You have no idea how deep the Wie hatred runs until you publicly pronounce yourself a Michelle Wie fan, and think she has – or had – the potential to win many, many majors and even do well on the PGA Tour.

I could still defend her and say that most of her problems have come since she changed the essence of her golf swing, but I won’t. I’ll eat all the crow I need to eat, because that’s what Michelle Wie fans have to do now.

Still, my heart went out to the young lass when she came upon the treacherous 9th hole at Interlachen in Thursday’s first round. It’s a tough hole, and she was 30 yards short in two … and made 9. That’s 7 strokes from 30 yards.

Full credit to Wie, though. When she climbed aboard the interview platform to face the media, she grinned and said: “This is my execution platform.”

So, for the love of Mike, let’s go back to the 9th hole on Thursday, put that ball 30 yards short of the green in two … and give that young lady a mulligan!

Scorecard of the week

69-67-67-66 – Kenny Perry, 1st Place, Buick Open.

It appears Kenny Perry’s plan is working to perfection. He wanted to play events that would help his Ryder Cup chances, and now with his second win in five weeks, he’s essentially a lock to wear the red, white and blue at Valhalla.

This is a good thing. I want players like Kenny Perry on Team USA. For that, I applaud him.

But, still! I wish Perry hadn’t skipped the U.S. Open. And yes, I got all your emails supporting Perry and his individual right to skip the national championship.

But, still!

It was the U.S. Open, and there are two words of evidence that prove a guy like Kenny Perry could have won the national title: The first word is “Rocco” and the second word is “Mediate”. Perry’s age, game and style are all similar to Mediate’s, and Perry has the added bonus of playing better golf than Rocco going into Torrey.

OK, OK. I’ll give up now. Kenny Perry – see you in Valhalla!

Where do we go from here?

The ladies go to Arkansas for something called the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship. In other words, we won’t be watching.

The PGA Tour, however, heads to Congressional for our first official Break-Out-The-Kleenex-Cause-Tiger-Ain’t-Playing tournament, Tiger’s very own AT&T National over Fourth of July weekend. Insert sad face here.

Tiger, we miss you! Maybe he’ll drive around in a golf cart and give the boys some pep talks.