The PGA Tour season can seem like an endless highway on a long road trip – sometimes you just drive for dozens and dozens of miles with your brain on cruise control, not even noticing that the only radio station you can get is playing a medley of Stephen Bishop’s soft rock hits from the 1970s.
And then your trip gets broken up by figurative beacons of light, like the blue highway sign that says “FOOD-NEXT EXIT” and features the inviting yellow arrow of In-N-Out Burger amid its block of fast-food logos.
That’s sort of how I feel about the Memorial coming up this week. After three weeks of the Texas Swing, after three weeks of Zach Johnson and Rory Sabbatini and Steve Stricker – which in this analogy is the long stretch of highway with your brain on cruise control and Bishop on the radio – I’m ready for Jack to host a shindig, and Tiger to show up.
Tiger coming to Jack’s bash would be the inviting yellow arrow on the In-N-Out logo in this analogy.
Just making sure you all were following the analogy. It’s important, you know, for us artistes.
In the meantime, poor Tim Clark. For the seventh time since the ’05 season, the little South African with the ball striker’s game finished in second place, or tied for second place in a PGA Tour event, this time blowing a 72nd hole lead with an ill-timed bogey. He has enough game to insert himself into the mix quite frequently – including a runner-up at Colonial just last year – but also enough Miss Congenialities to make you realize some guys on tour will always be Tim Clark: Richer than Croesus, but still 82 PGA Tour wins behind Sam Snead.
Like “Britain’s Got Talent” legend Susan Boyle, he’ll have to settle for silver.
Clark’s failings should in no way diminish the win for all time good guy Stricker, whose chip-in on 17 in regulation saved his bacon, big-time. (And really, other than whinin’ Brett Favre, have you ever met anything but good people from the state of Wisconsin? It has to be the state with the most grounded citizens in the lower 48. Once, covering a Niner-Packer playoff game in 33-degree rain at Lambeau, I was nearly forced against my will to partake in multiple pregame tailgates with people I’d never met.) Plus, Stricker’s winning red plaid Colonial jacket will go well at some Elks Clubs meetings in the Cheese State.
Stricker not only leads the Tour in scoring average this year (69.46), his six top-10s tie him for the lead with Sean O’Hair and Kenny Perry. Not only that, he’s one of those guys who is so humble and real, he breaks down into tears after winning a playoff; whereas most everyone else watching is saying to each other: “Man, can you believe Clark choked that bad?”, not even realizing Stricker won with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
Clark making bogey on 18 with a one-shot lead; Clark missing a five-footer for the win on the first playoff hole … it all made us crave the cut-throat stylings of T. Woods that much more, just so we can see how the real pros close it out.
Oops, wait. I forgot. Tiger doesn’t do that so much anymore, either.
See? With silly comments like that, it’s time for your loyal correspondent to get grounded in reality again. Let’s set sail for Jack’s place, and see that guy in Sunday red stir our souls once more. In the meantime, I’d advise you to call your bookie and bet on Tim Clark to place, but he’s not playing this week.
Scorecard of the week
• 65-69-65-67 – 266, Kevin Johnson, winner in a playoff, Rex Hospital Open, Nationwide Tour in Raleigh, N.C.
I know, I know. Most of you pay attention to the Nationwide Tour like most of you pay attention to the WNBA.
And I’ll admit it: Usually the extent of my Nationwide Tour involvement is to check the 25 names of Nationwide grads at the end of the year, to see if the next year’s PGA Tour will have any comeback stories, or arrivals of great college prodigies.
Kevin Johnson is neither. He’s a Nationwide Tour lifer. Began playing it back in 1990, when it was the Hogan Tour. Before it was the Nike Tour. Or the buy.com Tour. Or the Nationwide Tour.
He’s not the former Phoenix Sun-turned-Mayor of Sacramento. He’s a 42-year-old former Walker Cupper and All-American at Clemson, a New England native who loves his Red Sox and a guy who, last year, made three of 22 Nationwide Tour cuts and finished 208th on the money list of golf’s developmental circuit.
One year, one golden year, in 2001, he had his PGA Tour card after making it through Q-School, but he lost it by Halloween of ’01, and it was back to the minors.
So Sunday in Raleigh, Johnson had a three-shot lead after 54 holes, then found himself one shot behind Jeff Gallagher as Johnson arrived at the 72nd hole. He birdied the par-5 hole, forced a playoff, and birdied it again for the win. He’s now 4th on the money list, and has a real chance to win a PGA Tour card again. That’s what you call chasing the dream, still crazy – in a good way – after all these years.
And here comes the full disclosure part: Two months ago, the Nationwide Tour came to the Bay Area for the Stonebrae Classic at TPC San Francisco Bay. My radio station, KNBR in San Francisco, had a foursome in the pro-am. Kevin Johnson was our pro. Over 18 holes, he showed himself to be encouraging, enthusiastic, engaging and any other “en” word you can think of. My boss’s son, in our foursome, is a young golf pro, and Johnson was only supportive and positive throughout to the lad.
As we toured the Hayward hills with spectacular views of San Francisco Bay, I thought about the fact that Johnson was dedicating his life to this wacky game, and a long shot dream, and wondered about the sanity of it all. He’d already spent his year flying from Panama to Australia to New Zealand to Louisiana to California – and it was only early April.
And then you see results like the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C., and you realize why. You can’t catch a dream, after all, unless you’re still chasing it.
Broadcast moment of the week
• Nick Faldo: “You don’t need friends in this game, Jim.” Jim Nantz: “And that’s worked out quite well for you.”
Boo yah! Look at our guy, Nantz, feeling his oats!
Working with Faldo has pushed Jim Nantz, the most sincere, G-rated, straightforwardly nice man you’d ever want to meet, into a place where he’s breaking out the zingers. Can you blame him? If you had to spend six hours a weekend in the same booth with Nick Faldo’s biggest fan, you’d want to sharpen the knives a bit, too.
The context of the remark was an anecdote related to playoff runner-up Steve Marino, who had some friends in the gallery at Colonial Country Club. Nantz then asked if Faldo relied on support from friends in the gallery when Faldo was scowling his way through his playing career.
The above exchange then followed, and I nearly shot out of my La-Z-Boy in my haste to award Nantz B.M.O.W. status.
Of course, Nantz tried to soften the blow with a few laughs, slaps on the back and “You know I don’t mean it” platitudes, but you knew it burned Faldo when the Englishman made another reference to his lack o’ pals later in the broadcast. I almost began feeling sorry for Faldo, picturing him as a boy like Charlie Brown in the pumpkin patch, waiting for a friend like Charles waited for “The Great Pumpkin.”
I got over it quickly, though. Don’t worry.
Mulligan of the week
• Most of Tim Clark’s defining moments at the Colonial were candidates for Mully of the Week. His drive on 14, while blocked right, found a lie so unfair, you wouldn’t wish it on Faldo in his prime. David Feherty noted that if you dropped a hamster in the same spot, it couldn’t burrow as deep as Clark’s ball. The bit of misfortune led to a bogey.
Then there was his tee shot on 18 in regulation. Sitting on a one-shot lead, all he had to do was make par, and win his first PGA Tour event. Instead, he got a case of the 72d Hole Yanks, and his tug led to another bogey. You’d like to think he deserved a mully there, too.
But the cake-taker was the five-footer on the first playoff hole. Finally, after all the breaks both good and bad, Clark could seal the deal. He pulled the 60-incher left of the cup.
That’s where I want to intervene, go to that 18th hole, plant that ball five feet from the hole and, for the love of Mike … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• Jack’s throwing a party. Tiger’s coming. I’m in.