Northern Trust Open: The Disappointment and Joy of Golf

Sang-Moon Bae has the 36-hole lead in the 2014 Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. He shot 67, 66, to get to 9-under and a one shot lead. But this wasn’t the first time he did that. In his rookie year last year, he did the same thing, shooting 68, 65. But the dream was apparently a little too close, he shot 76 in the third round and went on to finish T8. And now here he is again.

Aaron Baddeley sits at T2 with Robert Garrigus. He has had such a tough stretch that when I saw his name among yesterday’s 2-under 69s, I didn’t even mention him as one of the notables. In 2013, he had only two top 10s, one at the beginning of the year and one at the end. In between, he missed 14 of 24 cuts and finished 101st in FedExCup points. This season has been no better with a 5th at the CIMB Classic in Kaula Lumpur and no better than T40 in the other 4 cuts that he made. He also missed 2 cuts.

But then he lit the afterburner on his back nine today. At just 1-under through 12, except for the par on 14, he birdied in, five birdies in six holes vaulting him back into sudden prominence with a 6-under 65. 

I wrote about Robert Garrigus’s transformation yesterday. I included part of his transcript where he talked about turning his luck around at Riviera; in four previous starts, his only finish was a T51 while he missed three cuts. But he decided that he was going to turn his opinion of Riviera around. He was going to make it his favorite course instead of his least favorite. He shot 67, 67, for T2 with Baddeley.

Charlie Beljan lost last year’s Northern Trust in a playoff with John Merrick. It was a good thing because absent that $713,000, he had an abysmal year, missing 16 of 24 cuts with a withdrawal thrown in for good measure. This season has been no better with just one top 10 (T9 at Humana) no better than T38 in the other two cuts he made while missing the other five.

But the old saying, “horses for courses,” must be true because here comes Beljan again shooting 67, 68, the latter with two bogeys, for 4th by himself.

Beljan’s arrival on the Tour will be remembered for his overcoming a panic attack to win Disney and avoid Q-School. I will remember him for my host and I letting Charlie’s threesome of professionals through on the par-3 8th at the Rim Club up in Payson, Arizona…and his congeniality with us as his sidekicks went about planning their drops from the water hazard…and for his remembering the incident when I saw him at Waste Management last year. Nice guy.

After attributing his current place to his putting and his caddie, he displays his upbeat attitude that might be just as responsible for his success:

I think my putting first and foremost.  I’ve got a buddy on the bag who used to be a player, and he’s reading greens.  Now I know why I miss so many putts on my own.  He’s the reason we’ve made so many putts, he’s given me a lot of opportunities and I think I just have a bit better mind‑set.

Just trying to enjoy the walk, instead of thinking about it as a job or a career or a struggle.  I’m at Riviera, I’m walking the fairways, playing the PGA Tour, it’s not too bad.

And finally, another player I have a minor history with, Jason Allred. A fellow member of mine invited me to join Allred and him on our Apache course here at Desert Mountain. He was a very stylish player who was quietly gracious throughout our day. Hit the ball a ton, high and deep, and was so-so with the putter on greens strange to him. Well, it might have been that putter that held his career back.

He won his card at Q-School for the 2005 season, but he’d just lost it when I played with him and was on his way back down to the Tour. He remained there until getting through Q-School again for the 2008 season where he lost his card again. He was off the two big tours until he won a Tour card through Q-School for 2012. But once again, he had spare results in 2012 and 2013 on a partial schedule.

But at least he had a strong sense of where he belonged. So he tried to Monday qualify at Sony in Honolulu, in San Diego and, of course, in Phoenix. No luck. But for LA, he he got in with a 66. His fellow Pepperdine alum, Jason Gore, Monday qualified too.

On Thursday, it looked for all the world like he was headed down the same path again. When his round was suspended by darkness he was at 1-over, but it was a shaky affair that included three bogeys…and then a fourth on 18 Friday morning. So he had given himself a tall mountain to climb.

But the joy of golf came parading through the grounds of Riviera in the form of a birdie binge that didn’t stop until he got to the 14th hole and found himself at 9-under par. Small wonder that he bogeyed 15 and 16, but that still left him at 7-under 64, the low round of the day and T9. And he was very aware of the run that he was on:

I would be lying if I said I didn’t.  Really when I was hitting my best shots and best feeling putts is when — before every shot, I wouldn’t try to ignore it.  I would actually take a second look around, like this is so cool, I’m at Riviera, playing a great round, and just have a blast with it.  And also, I just kept telling myself, I only get to hit a shot one time, so go hit it the best you can.

So here we have five instances at the highest level of the game where disappointment turned to joy. It’s a phenomena that happens all the time, you just never know how long and deep the trough will be.

In Jason Allred’s case, very long and deep. And yet, here he is. It’s why the game tugs at us so. Because in our hearts, when inevitable disappointments happen, we know how good we really are.

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