Golf Is Really Hard

Quick! Give that boy the Rocket Science Award!

No, seriously, golf is really hard and, after this last week at the AT&T National just outside Philadelphia, I thought it was worth mentioning again to emphasize just how good the top players on the Tour are.

We see Nick Watney seemingly effortlessly wading through the challenging Aronimink Golf Club’s 7,237 yards and we sort of miss the moment. He won by two strokes by putting together two great weekend rounds.

When the Tour set up the course to create an “exciting day” on Saturday, Watney responded with a course record 62 that included an eagle and 8 birdies. That was so good nobody even noticed that he also made 2 bogeys. And on Sunday, when the Tour said, “Okay, enough of that,” and put the teeth back in the course, he shot a flawless 4-under 66, the third lowest round of the day. And nobody even noticed that Aronimink got 9 bogeys out of him on the week.

The same with the irrepressible K.J. Choi who finished 2nd, two strokes back. After shooting  1-under and 6-under to get to the weekend, “Tank” just kept relentlessly plodding along making par after par, birdie after birdie. But the late double bogey on 15 yesterday and just one of the 8 bogeys he made during the whole of the week did him in. Still his 2nd place check of almost $670,000 offers him some solace.

And the T3 guys, Charles Howell III, Jeff Overton and Adam Scott, all had nice, gliding finishes that made the game look so easy.

But most of all, so did Chris DiMarco, who had the low round of the day, 66, and finished T13 to take home a nice check of $124,000. And it was a very good thing for DiMarco because over the last three years, golf has been really hard for him.

Beginning around 2000 when he climbed into the top 30 money winners for the first time, DiMarco has been a fixture on the Tour, winning 3 times and playing on two Presidents Cup and two Ryder Cup teams. The slide began in 2007 when he first fell back below $1 million in winnings after racking up six years in a row of being in the clover; his best year was 2005 when he amassed $3.6 million.

But by 2008, he could manage only $591,000 and fell out of the top 125 for the first time…and stayed out for the next two with just $584,000 and $409,205 respectively. I saw him grinding hard on the range in Phoenix, but he missed another cut there too contributing to the 8 he’s missed on the year so far. But this week’s check will give him some glimmer of hope; he’s now 106th on the money list. It’s been a long road back, but in the realm of the rampant thundering herd, he’s still not safe.

Justin Leonard is another Tour luminary for whom the game has been really hard of late. After being a perennial multi-millionaire, almost every year going back to 1999 (including a staggering $3.9 million in 2008), he’s missed 9 of 18 cuts this year and with yesterday’s check, has made only $349,000 on the year. One of the best putters in the world, he’s currently chasing new putting ideas. Interviewed after his first two good rounds, he seemed more cautiously hopeful than assertively at peace. You could see it in his eyes.

And Steve Flesch, another of the Tour’s perennial millionaires, hitting the jackpot 8 out of 9 years from 2000 to 2008. But in 2009, he just squeaked into 124th on the money list with $668,000 and it’s been downhill from there. In his case, it was a divorce, proving the delicacy of the state of mind necessary to play at the elite level. “My personal life at home has affected everything I’ve done out here,” he was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch. “You’re trying to think about your game, but at the same time you’re thinking how to figure out your marriage. And if you’re playing poorly, you can really get depressed.”

So as we watch the heroics of the likes of Watney and Choi, we have to be careful not to grow too blasé and complacent about their accomplishments, “Who was that guy? What’d he shoot?” What these guys do every week is extraordinary and exceptional. And, as DiMarco and Leonard and Flesch can attest, great players all, you can never take anything for granted.

Because golf is really hard sometimes.

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