Up against venerable, beloved franchises of the NFL on TV from Lambeau Field, and up against Ricky Gervais’ savage wit on the Golden Globes, the PGA Tour answered with something riveting of its own:
Johnson Wagner’s mustache.
The relatively unknown player, ranked 198th in the world when he touched down on Oahu, earned his third career win in 140 starts Sunday with a final-round 67 at the Sony Open at Waialea. Wagner – not a bomber, hits it straight, putts well – is not relatively unknown anymore. He’s now “The Guy Who Won While Sporting the ‘Tache That Called to Mind The Late Freddie Prinze, Sr.”
Hey, it beats tying for 39th.
From Tim Finchem’s perspective, it’s just as well we’re focusing on Wagner’s mustache. The 54-hole leader was a guy named Matt Every, who had the distinction of being busted last year and suspended for three months when strong smells of marijuana were found emanating from his hotel room at the John Deere Classic.
Don’t tsk-tsk. Grass might have been invented for the specific purpose of beating boredom in hotel rooms at the John Deere Classic.
Finchem would have been mortified to have a PGA Tour winner who carried the “busted with ganj” storyline, although it could have opened up potentially lucrative new tour stops in Jamaica and Humboldt County.
Admittedly, I write this column from Northern California, one of the country’s most marijuana-friendly regions. I once covered a San Francisco City Championship as the golf writer at the S.F. Chronicle and was informed by a caddie that his ponytailed player had made a surge on the back nine after, ahem, ducking into a nearby grove of trees after a stressful first few holes.
“He’s all good now,” the caddie told me, his reddened eye veins approximating a road map.
A classic “City” moment.
Every’s bold statement in the press room – “I know more people who smoke marijuana than don’t” – raised eyebrows and made one wonder: This guy hangs out on golf courses and around golf people. Have players have players been holding out on us? If Johnny Miller starts dropping Steel Pulse lyrics into future broadcasts, our suspicions will be confirmed.
Alas, Every faded early and Finchem avoided the Cheech and Chong storylines for at least another week. (Then again, given that Cheech Marin played the caddie in “Tin Cup,” that door has already been opened – and smoke is pouring out of it.)
Wagner is one of those guys who, everything you learn about him is new. He was a hockey star in high school. He went to Virginia Tech. New York golf writers have known him as one of the great amateur players in the Metropolitan region, but most New York sports fans are thinking more Jeter and Eli than Johnson and Wagner. That’s another thing about Wagner – his name. If it sounds aristocratic, consider that Johnson is his middle name, and he’s eschewing his even more aristocratic first name: Mumford.
At least Wagner has a sense of humor, unlike some blue bloods. When he grew the mustache, his friends thought it a “November” mustache – the same facial hair sprouted by Geoff Ogilvy and some Presidents Cup team members in November to help raise awareness for prostate cancer. Wagner told his pals: “This ain’t no one-month mustache. This could be a 10-year deal.”
A decade commitment to a ‘tache? That’s the kind of fortitude we’re seeking from the stars of the 2012 PGA Tour. With a date sealed at Augusta now, who knows what inspiration Wagner can bring to his second Masters? At the least, he can have Tom Selleck caddie in the par-3 tournament.
Only 31, Wagner admitted in his post-win press conference the fans who called him “Magnum, P.I.” left him befuddled. He didn’t know the show. So, he did an Internet search on Selleck and was pleased.
“Tom Selleck is a stud,” he laughed.
Over the weekend at Waialea, Wagner was the stud.
Scorecard of the week
• 71-68-70-73 – 2-over 282, Erik Compton, tie-67th, Sony Open, Waialea CC, Honolulu, HI.
Many of you know the Erik Compton story by now. Some of you may not, so it bears repeating for as long as it takes for all of us to fully comprehend the magnitude of Compton’s achievements.
Compton is a heart transplant recipient.
Incredibly, Compton received new hearts at both age 12 and at age 27, which if you think about it, is as much a testament to the mind-blowing advancements in medicine as it is to Compton’s resolve.
This isn’t Compton’s first PGA Tour start. He’s now teed it up 31 times on the big-boy tour, and even made 19 cuts, including at the Sony when he finished Friday’s round birdie-eagle to make the weekend on the cut line.
The difference? This time, Compton is playing as a full-fledged PGA Tour member, having qualified from the Nationwide Tour’s top 25 money list last year. In other words, this is only the beginning of another incredible chapter in the ongoing incredible tale of 31-year-old Erik Compton.
Play well, Erik!
Broadcast moment of the week
• “Somebody shouted to him just now, “FEAR THE STACHE!” – Jerry Foltz, The Golf Channel’s on-course reporter, reporting from the 17th green at Waialea on Sunday.
Another good reason to endorse Johnson Wagner’s mustache (Gabe Kaplan, anybody?): it creates good vibes in the gallery.
Surely, golf galleries are among the least creative sports fan shouters on Earth, as I was just saying to my neighbor who yells “YOU DA MAN!” to me every time I see him on the street. The “GET IN THE HOLE!” shout should be accompanied by a 5-to-10 year prison sentence every time it’s heard on a golf course.
So, if Wagner’s mustache at least creates some new energy from the galleries, we continue to applaud it. And credit to Wagner – he laughed when he heard the shout, even though it was the 71st hole and he should have had sweat pouring down his forehead like Ted Stryker trying to land the plane in “Airplane.”
Good to see a player with a sense of humor. If Tiger Woods grew a mustache and somebody shouted “FEAR THE STACHE!” Tiger may have had one of his security detail Tase the guy.
Lighten up, everybody!
Mulligan of the week
• Given his fascinating background as defender of the herb, I was tracking Matt Every’s round closely. I wondered: If he won, would he substitute the onrushing wife and kids on the 18th green for a long, deep bong rip? Would his golf bag be sponsored by Zig Zag? The mind reeled with possibilities.
Alas, Every was out of the game early. He bogeyed the first four holes, including the ignominy of a drive into the water on No. 2.
It’s amazing how fast 54-hole leaders fall apart sometimes. It’s almost instantaneous, for most who aren’t ready to win.
Every, another Nationwide Tour graduate, may have his time one day soon on a Sunday. And the idea of Jim Nantz coming up with a marijuana-themed victory cry – “Let’s be blunt about it! Matt Every is your champion!” or “Putt, Putt, Give! Matt Every Wins!” – remains a tantalizing thought.
Until then? Let’s go back to that first tee at Waialea on Sunday and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• To the mainland, braddah. What was once the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is now the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, meaning Bill (Fore Left!) Clinton has helped save a Palm Springs/La Quinta/Rancho Mirage institution.
As if to thank the Razorback-in-Chief, the field is pretty sweet: Phil Mickelson makes his season debut, as does Dustin Johnson, ranked 8th in the world. And Clinton First Pal Greg Norman will tee it up, as well.
Let’s not forget: The Hope is where we learned the legend of Venezuelan bomber Johnny Vegas, who got his maiden victory there last year. Good things happen in the shadow of the Santa Rosa mountains.
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