And They’re Off!

The PGA Tour season is off to a great start in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions played on the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort on Maui, Hawaii.

Jonathan Byrd is tied for the lead with Carl Pettersson at 7-under par 66 (the Plantation Course is a rare par 73 course). This is fascinating to me because Byrd is the guy who made the hole-in-one-in-the-dark in Las Vegas to win a four-hole playoff and keep his Tour card. I called him a meticulous “practicer” a couple of days ago based on a subsequent article I read about him somewhere (that I can’t find now) where he described his deep satisfaction with practice and how he almost enjoyed it more than playing. He described how rewarding it is to slowly uncover the nuance and subtlety between shots, to reveal deeper understandings about his swing. It stuck with me because it brought back memories of why I enjoyed sustained practice too and it was an uncommon comment about the mastery process itself. So I’ve had my eye on him ever since and felt a little surge when I was reminded that he would be in this field. He had an eagle-2 on a par 4, 6 birdies and a bogey.

Carl Pettersson is interesting too. He’s a transplanted Swede who’s settled in Raleigh, North Carolina where he went to school at North Carolina State. He said in his post-round interview that he worked the hardest he ever had in the off season, playing or practicing virtually every day. Yet another hallmark of mastery; being inside it, deep inside it, where everything happens clearly and in slow motion. He’s also interesting because at 5’11” and 195 pounds, he doesn’t look particularly fit. But to walk Tour courses and play as well as he does, he must be. Yet another lesson in not judging the possibility of another human being. He had 8 birdies and 1 bogey.

Another masterful story that came out of the first round is Stuart Appleby’s. Somehow, he “lost” his putter, discovering it right before the round. There are few things in the bag that are more personal to a player than his putter. I’ve played with the same one (a Ping Anser 3) for twenty-four years. I changed the grip one time early on and haven’t changed it since because it has just the right number of wraps of tape under the grip to give me the perfect feel. I wash the grip with warm soap and water to maintain its tacky feel. That’s how personal putters can be to a player. And Appleby lost his. The one he shot 59 with. So he sent his caddie to the pro shop to buy a replacement. “Just get me any kind of Odyssey,” he said. “I’ll know what to do with it.” Indeed: 8 birdies and 4 bogeys leaving him T7.

One of the guys Appleby is tied with is Francesco Molinari. I find him interesting because he and his brother, Edoardo, sort of burst on the world scene recently with Francesco calmly winning the WGC in Shanghai last fall and Edoardo dramatically birdying the last three holes to win the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. That won him a Captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. Francesco flew all the way from Italy and shot a smooth, clean-card 4-under.

Another feel-good story is Robert Garrigus. He won the last tournament of the year, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney to salvage his Tour card and maybe even his career…for the second time. In a post-round interview on the Golf Channel, he spoke about how he woke up one day in his mid-twenties sick of the drug and alcohol addiction he had developed. “I was living my life like I was still in college.” He got himself in a church-based rehab program, moved to San Diego to be close to the church where he met and married his wife. Garrigus, you will recall, was the player whose final hole meltdown in Memphis to squander a 3-shot lead and lose the tournament was met with all sorts of derision and assertions that his career was essentially over because he now could never win. Ha! Somebody else judging the possibility of another human being. 6 birdies and 2 bogeys and also T7. And in the interview, he looked very much like a man centered and at peace.

Another good story from the first round was that of the featured pairing of Hunter Mahan and Graeme McDowell in a “reprise” of their dramatic, final-day match at the Ryder Cup last fall. Mahan “won” this one by one stroke with 4 birdies and a bogey to McDowell’s 4 birdies and 2 bogeys. From a mastery point of view, I suspect that, although this was not a win in the purest sense, it was an affirmation for Mahan that he could, indeed, play with McDowell. He said as much in interviews subsequent to the loss, but it was nice to have it in black and white too and not just ethereally hanging out there as an assertion.

As for McDowell, he is turning into one of the genuinely loveable characters on Tour. I wrote earlier about him in, “Everyday Miracles,” and how he’d put together an incredible year. As a consequence, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on him. Asked in a Golf Channel interview what the significance of that was to him, he graciously described the honor he felt over being singled out this way by the Queen and then, wide, elfin grin on his face and in his low-key, Irish brogue, teased the interviewer that now he “would have to bow down to me.” The wide grin never left his face.

And finally a follow-up on the injury reports. Two-time defending champion, Geoff Ogilvy, did, indeed, have to withdraw. He slipped and fell on coral and gashed his right index finger. It took twelve stitches, not so much because it required all of them, but because he told the doctor he needed to be able to play and she said that was the only way he had a chance. Unfortunately, it got stiff and he couldn’t go. There was once a report that he had to at least hit one shot off the first tee to earn his last-place check, but the rule had been changed so that all he had to do was establish his intent to play. What if that hadn’t been changed and he had a broken leg? Geez.

Also Zach Johnson’s sandals for his severely stubbed toe didn’t work, but he was able to cut out the toe of his golf shoe and still stumble around in 2-under; 4 birdies, 2 bogeys. Pretty masterful from the former Masters Champion. Johnson hurt himself racing to put out a family garbage can fire and running full stride into a step he didn’t see. Ouch!

The second round is on the Golf Channel at 5:30 Eastern. Also of note: all of these scores were shot in basically windless conditions. It’ll be interesting to see if Mother Nature chooses to defend her course today.

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