The year was 1964. My final high school football game was, ingloriously, “in the books” as they say, whoever “they” are. It was clear and very cold, but the sun was shining and soon enough I would be at GALCO Country Club for the first round of golf since football season began the previous August.
The memories of Friday nights on the gridiron had already begun to fade as I put my golf clubs into the trunk of my 1954 Chevy Super Sport, or SS. Just as I slammed the trunk lid, I noticed that the left rear tire was dangerously low. I retrieved the hand pump from the garage and quickly inflated the tire to a level I knew would last for several days — maybe even a week if the temperatures warmed.
Sliding behind the steering wheel, oversized by today’s standards, I scanned the interior of my proud, old car with its “living” (mold-prone) headliner and those shiny chrome bars which made it a hardtop convertible.
I chuckled to myself and enjoyed the memory of telling friends about my brand-new SS, only to watch their faces drop, then curl into a smile when upon seeing it they realized it was 10-year-old used car whose odometer was fast approaching 100,000 miles.
The first four holes I played were uneventful, save for three lipped-out putts, one of which resulted in a rare four-putt. I shucked it off to “ring rust” as whoever they are say in boxing.
On the fifth hole, a dead straight par five, I pulled my second shot left and, recoiling in disgust, lightly smacked the ground with my club. My trusty two-wood. My favorite club. The shaft snapped, just above the whipping — a term and a club characteristic unfamiliar to millions of today’s golfers. I was for a moment a bit nauseous, knowing that I had neither the skill to remove and replace the shaft nor money to pay a craftsman to do so.
I soldiered on and was having an all right round all things considered. Then on the 11th hole, a long but fairly plain par three, I pull-hooked three consecutive tee shots out of bounds, one of which I thought might actually make it all the way over to FM 519. But they all were solidly struck shots, so I played on, confident that soon I would find a groove.
A pair of solid shots on the next par five put me in good position with a short iron approach and a real birdie chance. (Note: I could have reached the green in two, except for the fact that I no longer had use of my two-wood.) My nine-iron floated a little beyond the pin, bounced once and then, incredibly, landed squarely on a sprinkler cover!
I watched in silent horror as the ball shot back into the air and headed directly toward clubhouse where they served up as good a cheeseburger as can be found anywhere; thankfully, it came to rest still in play. A pitch-and-putt par revved me up; I parred my way to the 18th hole, where again a solid pair of shots left a short iron in and a 4-foot birdie putt. Which I left hanging on the front edge of the cup.
In the days that followed, Old Man Winter brought rain, wind and temperatures that drove even the most dedicated golfers in our area off the course. All I could think was: Wait until next year.
With just a little bit of imagination, one could say the preceding paragraphs accurately describe the 2017 Houston Texans’ season. Just about everything that could go wrong, did. All I can think is: Wait until next year!
WE’RE NO. 1!
The Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) were not calculated prior to 1986, long after the likes of Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Palmer and Nicklaus were either no longer competing or were long past their prime. Some of the early names to occupy the No. 1 spot were Norman, Faldo, Couples, Price and Langer.
To date, 20 men have claimed the title of best in the world. Tom Lehman stayed at the top for only one week; Bernhard Langer for only three. Youngsters Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth have held the title for 95, 51 and 26 weeks, respectively, while the current No. 1, Dustin Johnson is at 41 weeks and counting.
Third on the all-time list of best of the best is Sir Nick Faldo, who sat atop the rankings for 97 weeks. Faldo is a distant third to Greg Norman, who was on top of the world for an astounding 331 weeks. Unfortunately, the Aussie is remembered more for his Masters meltdown than for his brilliance and Palmer-like go-for-broke style.
Tiger Woods became the OWGR No. 1 at age 21, and has since held the title 11 different times, for a total of 683 weeks. Years from now, someone will note that they first read in this very newspaper a prediction that Woods set a record that never will be broken. Dare we think aloud: Wait until next year as it might apply to Woods in 2018?
Among the world’s best women golfers, many would quickly guess that the legendary Annika Sorenstam held the title for the longest amount of time. They would be incorrect, as Sorenstam is fifth behind Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, Yani Tseng and Lorena Ochoa, whose 158 weeks is 49 more than second place Tseng.
With greater depth of talent among both men and women worldwide, 2018 should be fun, entertaining and exciting. Who will be number one and for how long? Who will win the majors?
Full transparency, this first column of 2018 requires that I tell you: Every painful part of the story of that 1964 round of golf is true. But, not all of those things took place in a single round. And, that old SS? Boy, I sure wish I had it now!
Have a happy and safe New Year, on and off the course.