A year ago, as I sat down to write about my year in golf, the image of a bedsheet hanging off a deck at TPC River Highlands popped into my head.
It had been painted with the words “Hope, Love, Golf” during the Travelers Championship, the third PGA Tour event held after the re-start of the 2020 season. At that point, 18 million people in the United States had been infected with the coronavirus and 320,000 had died. As I type this, the Omicron variant has gained a hold, the Delta variant is still everywhere, holiday plans are being changed and it looks like we are in for another winter of wearing masks, encouraging people to get vaccinated (and boosted), and dreaming this will all go away. More than 50 million Americans have been infected, and 800,000 have died during this pandemic.
And yet, golf is thriving. Tee times are nearly as tough to get as new equipment at your local pro shop. Nelly Korda and Xander Schauffele won gold medals at the Olympics, Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters and the Americans won the Ryder Cup. Rory McIlroy is still my hero. Tiger Woods, somehow, just played in the PNC Championship with his son, Charlie, after nearly losing his right leg in a car accident in February.
I achieved my goal of at least hitting balls outside every month of the year, which as a New Englander, is not easy. I made it back to Bandon Dunes and played The Sheep Ranch, got in another round at Winged Foot, walked behind Jensen Castle at Westchester Country Club as she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and was thrilled to see my wife take up the game.
David Dusek at Bandon Dune’s Sheep Ranch. “You want me to hit it where?”
It would be tempting to say that the best event I saw in person in 2021 was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines South. Quibble all you like about the course, but as a venue, Torrey Pines is spectacular, and seeing Jon Rahm make sensational birdie putts on Sunday to defeat Louis Oosthuizen down the stretch, then kiss his 2½-month old son, Kepa, on Father’s Day when he realized he’d won was perfect.
But the next week, back at TPC River Highlands, was even better.
On a Sunday when Kevin Kisner shot 63, Marc Leishman signed for a 64 that put him into the lead at 12 under, Harris English and Kramer Hickok wound up tied at 13 under. As the late afternoon turned into a beautiful summer evening, they played the 18th hole, then played it again and again and again. Hickok arrived in Cromwell, Connecticut, as an unknown, but that evening the crowd ringing the 18th green was cheering his name, doing the wave and “staying hydrated” with local microbrews.
English won on the eighth playoff hole, but what made the scene even more special than the longevity of the playoff was Hickok’s reaction afterward. His parents had flown in from Texas, his wife, Anne, was there, too, and she’d brought Elvis, the couple’s black labrador retriever puppy.
After Elvis stole the show during Hickok’s post-round interview, the family was gathered near the clubhouse, nearly speechless and taking in the day. Duty called, and I chatted with Kramer about the experience. Then his wife approached and asked if I would take a few pictures of everyone. Seeing everyone’s pride in Kramer’s effort, his sportsmanship, and his genuine joy in nearly achieving his dream was inspiring.
The world would be a better place if we all had an attitude like Hickok’s. After giving his all and coming up short, even though he was tired, he didn’t complain or hang his head. He took joy in trying his best and surrounded himself with people who support and love him.
I’m thankful golf reminded me that’s what it’s all about.