Dave Kindred, a preeminent American sports writer who has worked his trade for the better part of four decades, was walking down the right side of the first fairway at Kiawah Island with the final group at the PGA Championship when he mentioned he had been teaching a writing class to college students.
Like most great columnists, Kindred’s strength is his power of observation, and he has tried to pass that along.
“The one thing I tell them,” he said, “is that if you really pay attention to what you’re covering, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.”
He stopped and kneeled to watch Carl Pettersson, playing in the last group that Sunday with Rory McIlroy, hit his approach to the green. Pettersson was just inside the red hazard line, so he was careful not to ground his club. Brushing the top of the grass was OK.
Moments after his shot, he was approached by PGA rules official Brad Gregory and told there might be a problem.
In a bizarre development, Pettersson’s club nicked a leaf on the way back, a violation of Rule 13-4c for moving a loose impediment in a hazard. After an exhaustive video review, Pettersson was given the bad news — a two-stroke penalty — on the fourth hole.
Pay attention and you never know what you’ll see.
That much was true in a wild year of golf. Phil Mickelson lost his bid at the Masters by hitting two shots right-handed. Rory McIlroy was confused by the time zone and needed a police escort to get to the final day of the Ryder Cup on time. Tiger Woods never found his golf ball, was not penalized and still missed the cut.
Those have been well-documented. What follows is the 2012 edition of “Tales from the Tour,” the obscure moments that keep golf so interesting and entertaining.
• • •
Kyle Stanley is a quiet man. This was a quiet celebration.
One week after he made triple bogey on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines and then lost in a playoff, he rallied from eight shots behind on the final day with a 65 in the Phoenix Open to win his first PGA Tour event. It was a remarkable turnaround. One week he faced the media after his meltdown and fought back tears. The next week he was a winner.
Stanley was invited to a Super Bowl party that night at the home of Jim Mackay, the longtime caddie of Phil Mickelson. He was late to the party because of the media obligations that come with winning. When he finally arrived, Stanley knocked and then walked in the door holding the oversized winner’s check over his head.
He quietly placed it above the TV, and then sat down to watch the game, a player at peace.
• • •
No other golfer spends more time with the media after every round than Ryo Ishikawa, who is treated like a rock star in Japan. When he signs his card, even when it’s late in the day, it’s not unusual for the 21-year-old to spend close to an hour fulfilling his media obligations.
That’s where “The Chair” comes in.
His handlers have a white folding chair for Ishikawa as he endures two interviews with different television stations. A dozen or so reporters form a semi-circle around him as they wait and listen, occasionally jotting down notes. Then, it’s their turn. They spent close to 15 minutes with Ishikawa after his round at Innisbrook, going over the clubs he used and shots he hit on just about every hole — this after a 73 that left him 12 shots out of the lead.
Finally, he was finished. He got up from the chair and walked around the clubhouse toward the parking lot. The Japanese reporters followed him, walking in a group about 20 yards behind. One of them was asked where they were going.
“Now we wave goodbye,” the reporter explained.
Indeed, they stood on a sidewalk and waved as Ishikawa’s car drove by them.
• • •
Butch Harmon was talking retirement in the spring. He turned 69 this year. A Vietnam War vet, he has been teaching most of his life, working for Sky Sports and traveling the world, which is starting to take its toll. He worries about the day when his attention span is short or he doesn’t care as much as he once did.
“It’s not there, but it’s coming,” he said. “I will never step away. I’ll always teach. I love to teach.”
The next morning, he was on the range at Quail Hollow waiting for Phil Mickelson to arrive. Gary Christian , a 40-year-old PGA Tour rookie from England, walked over and introduced himself. Christian said he was fascinated to watch so many Americans use the leading edge of the club on wedge shots. They chatted for a few minutes and after Christian walked away, Harmon said, “Who was that?”
Harmon nodded when told about Christian’s back story, how he came to America on a college scholarship, supported himself by selling steak knives and toiled in the minor leagues for 15 years before finally making it to the big leagues.
Still no sign of Mickelson.
A few minutes later, Harmon walked over to Christian. He spent a few minutes observing, and then pulled a wedge from the bag and gave an impromptu lesson.
He’ll always teach. He loves to teach.
• • •
You’ve seen the sign at the baggage claim to check your luggage because some bags may look alike.
That goes for golf travel bags, too.
Nick Watney and Angel Cabrera arrived in San Francisco for the U.S. Open about the same time, on different flights. Cabrera kept waiting at oversized luggage for his bag to come out, and he began to think the airlines had lost it. There was only one golf bag there, and it belonged to Watney.
That’s when the light came on.
Cabrera’s agent called the person in charge of U.S. Open courtesy cars and asked them to stop Watney on his way out.
Sure enough, Cabrera’s golf bag was in his trunk.
• • •
The relationship three-time major champion Padraig Harrington has with reporters is unlike that of any other player, especially the Irish media.
He was giving an interview to Greg Allen of Irish radio station RTE, and after they finished, Harrington began making small talk. He asked Allen, “I heard you lost your sunglasses?” Allen’s shoulders slumped as he told Harrington he had misplaced his glasses and didn’t know where to look for them.
Harrington didn’t commiserate. He smiled.
“They’re in my locker,” he said. “You left them behind the other day.”
• • •
Sung Kang received elite training in South Korea’s national program that is producing more and more top players, but he worked equally hard on his English and speaks beautifully for someone who has played the PGA Tour only the last few years.
Turns out he has been coming to America twice a year since 2002 to work on his golf, and he devoted just as much effort to the language.
In Florida? California?
“Dallas,” Kang said. “I went to the Hank Haney schools, so I would work with Haney and learned English there in Texas.”
Some things, however, still get lost in translation. Kang was asked if he ever bought cowboy boots from all that time spent in Dallas.
“No,” he said. “I don’t really like the NFL. I’m more of a Lakers fan.”
• • •
The British Open has a massive scoreboard in the press center where a group of volunteers, most of them women in their early 20s, move ladders on rails from side to side as they post the score of every hole for every player.
Press officers often check to see which players they should bring in for interviews the first two rounds as the leaderboard is taking shape. In the second round, Adam Scott had a 67 to get within one shot of the lead with several players still on the course.
The announcement over the intercom: “Can we see a show of hands for Adam Scott?”
Six young women posting scores all raised their hands.
• • •
About two dozen fans waiting for autographs behind the ninth green on the Magnolia Course at Disney got more than they expected. Brian Harman emerged from the scoring trailer after the final PGA Tour event of the year and said, “Who’s left-handed?”
One man came forward, and it turned out to be his lucky day.
Harman went over to his bag, removed all the irons and handed them to the fan. Turns out Harman wanted to try something different at Disney, so he used irons with graphite shafts. He described it as the worst ball-striking week he had all year.
“I just wanted to try some different stuff,” Harman said. “And now I know what was not the answer.”
No other sports organization comes close to the amount of charity produced by the PGA Tour. Harman took it to a new level.