Golfing god shepherds to victory the bearded, suffering and new champions

First-timers claim four majors.

 |  7-minute read |   02-08-2016
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What a great year and drama galore for aficionados in witnessing great golf gladiators duelling till final holes in all four majors! Interestingly, all four major winners were also first-time winners.

Recall how in utter disbelief and horror the world witnessed the sudden meltdown of Jordan Spieth's ever reliable and repeatable swing at this year's Augusta Amen Corner's, 12th hole called Golden Bell, which sounded the death knell for Jordan Spieth's Master's ambition. Before that the world was uttering Amen on people's wish that he'd repeat his famous victory of last year.

Despite the disaster at that at par-3 hole, he helped Danny Willet put the green jacket with equanimity on visage, masking volcanic turmoil inside at the tender age of 22 and later wishing never ever to experience that again; US Open witnessed Dustin Johnson almost not winning the US Open after battling both Shane Lowry and Damocles' sword of possible one-stroke penalty looming over after finishing; British Open was surrealistic déjà vu of the famous 'Duel in the Sun' of 1977 between Watson and Nicklaus being re-enacted between Stenson and Mickelson; and last Sunday, Jimmy Walker's final putt to victory in final 'Major' (PGA) rolled in, backed by the prayers on everyone's lips; four days of ever changing drama encapsulated all the unpredictability and glorious uncertainties of golf and left everyone gasping in relief and disbelief.

One can only dreadfully imagine what trajectory the journey of three feet would have entailed if Walker had missed the putt - ask Scott Hoch of missing similar two-foot-long putts - that would have won him the 1989 Masters - and achieving immortality in infamy for coming this close and never ever winning a major.

In PGA's centenary year of establishment, the 98th edition of this tournament was the fourth and final event in a calendar comprising four majors and was held at Baltusrol (players stroll and tell ball you roll) Springfield, New Jersey.

The course is characterized by a tree-lined fairway, nearly 128 bunkers, a particular variety of grass on greens, and a tournament that allows golf professionals to play and not amateurs. The victor is given the biggest trophy (in size), called the Rodman Wanamaker 27-pound silver trophy.

pga-embed1_080216052740.jpg Rodman Wanamaker silver trophy.

Continuing with my last post portraying the drama of the British Open, events at the PGA Championship reaffirmed motifs of monkeys and God - shepherd shouldering the wavering to victory - and again validated how vicissitudes of the game defy drawing of definite principles.

God alone can explain why Walker didn't pay for some wayward shots in the back nine, especially on the last hole. The golfing God chose to shepherd Walker (missed cut in US and British Open) to safety on the 18th green.

Also read: How Henrik Stenson created history at British Open

Walker's wire by wire lead over four days hints that Shepherd wanted to reward him for his consistent commitment early last year (even led the Fedex rankings) till Spieth was picked up for an unforgettable journey (winning two majors and coming tied fourth at the Open and runner up at the US Open and becoming world number one); then Jason Day was picked up during last year's PGA, leading to an unforgettable turn, leading to his taking the mantle from Spieth (has since won seven of last ten PGA events played).

God - shepherd has his/her reasons for rewarding the players: one guess is that Tiger Woods was picked up on the shoulders for spreading the game of golf beyond race and class; Jordan's love for a differently-abled sister and his humanity is legendary and perhaps needed an unmatched reward at such a young age.

Last year, Jason Day shed famous tears of regret after missing the putt for a playoff at the iconic St Andrews and may have melted the God-shepherd in bestowing victory at the PGA tournament, where he shed tears again but of joy and became world number one overtaking Spieth subsequently.

His Filipino mother's immigrant background, coupled with growing-up struggles without a father during adolescence, is a story that would have melted the heart of anyone.

Ben Hogan, considered a God of golf, also grew up without a father and with existential woes, so much so that though left-handed, he began to play right-handed as only that club came into his life and he couldn't afford to buy the left-handed one!

All these stories make me wonder whether the Golfing God wants to shepherd sufferers in life. Of course, there are players like Mickelson with affluent background who have achieved fame, but don't forget that they were tested for years before breakthrough victories in majors and that, since his wife's struggles, Mickelson's game has gone up a notch for his age.

Even Dustin Johnson has stories of substance abuse and much more and may have been rewarded for concentrating on golf last year. Though Steven Bowditch, victim of serious depression, didn't win majors, he won two PGA tournaments after trying for years. Strange are the ways of the world.

dustin-embed2_080216052827.jpg Dustin Johnson won the 2016 US Open.

The weather gods played spoilsport for top players on the leader board as they had to play 36 holes on Sunday and that may have contributed to weariness, causing tremors in swing and putting. The threat of lightning on Saturday reminded one of famous Lee Trevino's statement, that in such a situation play with one iron as even gods are afraid of hitting that club.

These days hardly anyone is seen using that club as most have shifted to hybrid/rescue clubs to maximise distance with minor compromise on accuracy.

Golf's unpredictability often unleashes events where the defending champion or world number one or two fail to make a cut with unfailing regularity, like Dustin Johnson did at this PGA tournament (end of golden run, ending sequence of US Open and Bridgestone Invitational victories, tied for fifth in British Open and tied second at Canadian Open) and Rory Mcllroy also missed the cut due to error of judgment on his final hole on Friday.

Successes of players with beards at the majors have left me scratching my half beard, wondering what a full flowing beard can bring to these golfers! Are they growing beards due to excessive preoccupation with practice regimen, and swing perfection leaving too little time to shave?

Bearded Johnson scraped through to win the US Open after nearly losing to bearded Shane Lowery but chose to shave before the PGA Championship, leading to luck loss and leaving before the weekend; the Open and Britain opened welcoming arms to bearded Andrew 'Beef' Johnston; and Jimmy Walker broke his major jinx by reinventing his swing with Butch Harmon and also growing his beard.

For Indians, only Arjun Atwal has been shepherded to a PGA victory at Wyndham Championship in 2010; Jeev Milkha Singh and Shiv Kapur did appear on the leader board, though for a while, at the US Open and British Open respectively a few seasons ago.

Anirban Lahiri missed the cut at this PGA Championship but the Indian flag fluttered among the flags of leading nations atop the leader board on the 18th green. This raising of flag is quite an achievement as Indians in general are far away from following the game.

It would be long before I pray to our own monkey God, Hanuman, to allow an Indian to take the monkey off his back in majors (though Indian female golfers Simi Mehra and now Aditi Ashok are playing abroad ).Of course, the Indian team will play golf at the Rio Olympics and I would pray for them to do well.

This year, four new players 'MAJORed' first time in all four majors! Two players were in their 20s and one each in the 30s and 40s. So, golf defies drawing conclusions about age and victories in majors. The winning of four majors between two players each from the European and American continents evenly split the honours and hopefully hints at an even contest at next month's Ryder Cup (which I intend covering).

Due to golf's unpredictable nature, wire to wire lead over four days is rare and Jimmy Walker's lead happened only for the sixth time since Jack Nicklaus Masters' victory in 1980. Woods and Mickelson have done it but not Rory or Faldo or Norman in majors.

Mickelson had predicted that someone would shoot 62 on final day due to six inches of rain softening the course, but that didn't happen.

Writer

Sushil Kumar Sushil Kumar

Film enthusiast and a senior IAS officer

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