A year in golf: Tales from the Tour
Steve Stricker made it clear that money was not important.
His plan was to defend his title at Kapalua and walk away from
the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. Over the holidays leading
into 2013, he reached a compromise and cut his schedule roughly in
half. He contacted his sponsors, and they supported him.
Stricker didn’t have great expectations starting his year of
”If I could just make enough money to pay yearly expenses, I’m
fine with that,” he said. ”If we don’t have to touch anything
I’ve put away … I don’t need to do what I’m doing just to make
money. I’d rather be staying at home, doing things at home with the
foundation and with my kids.”
No one else was around during this conversation, but Stricker
still leaned in and lowered his voice as he stated what everyone
”You know, we’re pretty conservative with our money,” he
Stricker was runner-up that week at Kapalua and made $665,000.
He didn’t play for six weeks, and then reached the quarterfinals of
the Accenture Match Play Championship to earn $275,000. Two weeks
later, he was runner-up at Doral and brought in $880,000.
That should pay the bills.
He finished the year with just over $4.4 million, the
third-highest total of his career. His world ranking improved 10
spots to No. 8. And by the end of the year, he had several players
contemplating a similar schedule.
Along the way, there were plenty of other moments that showed
more about players than just their birdies and bogeys, and the
checks they cash.
Rory McIlroy generated a buzz no matter where he went at the
start of the year. He had the hefty deal from Nike. He was No. 1 in
the world. And he was struggling early with a missed cut in Abu
Dhabi and a first-round departure in Match Play. Nothing caused a
stir like Friday at the Honda Classic, when he abruptly shook hands
with Ernie Els as they were making the turn and walked straight to
the parking lot.
Information was a trickle. He was vague during a brisk walk to
the car. Later, a statement from his management company said he had
a sore wisdom tooth.
There was a golf tournament still going on. Michael Thompson
shot 65 on that Friday to move to the top of the leaderboard. It
was early afternoon and no one seemed interested. The announcement
sounded more like a plea. ”We have Michael Thompson in the
interview room,” the official said.
One voice broke the awkward silence. ”Is he a dentist?” a
No. But he did win his first PGA Tour event that week.
Angel Cabrera is a man of few words and loud actions.
A month after losing the Masters in a playoff, he was walking
off the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass following a practice round. Fans
thrust programs and flags for him to sign. There was bumping and
pushing, and a marshal started to bark at everyone to back up.
Cabrera stepped back about 10 feet, and then instructed only the
children to come under the ropes and join him. He spent the next 15
minutes signing for them.
The Pure Silk LPGA Bahamas Classic was played on a 12-hole
course at The Ocean Club because of flooding. The first round
didn’t finish because of another storm system in the area. Players
gathered in darkness outside the rules trailer to find out the plan
for Friday. A computer error led players to believe – only for a
moment – that they would keep their same tee time for the second
round. Chaos ensued, filled with heated arguments among players and
And it was at this moment the LPGA showed its true international
A group of Swedish players were off to the right, raising their
voices in their native language. The Americans were in the front of
the pack. The South Koreans were in the back. The Spaniards were in
the middle. The Germans were over by the hedges. It was the
ultimate melting pot.
And they ultimately got it all worked out.
Among the visitors at The Players Championship was Ulises
Mendez, who plays on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. The Argentine
earned his card last year when he tied for 15th in Latin America
Q-school. His player badge allowed him access to the tournament,
and he camped out just beneath the bleachers behind the 17th
He stood there for an hour as the best players came through the
17th. It was an inspiring day.
”To know where you need to be,” Mendez said, ”you need to see
where you want to go.”
There is no love lost between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, as
both made clear at The Players Championship and in the weeks that
followed. The same could be said for Garcia and Padraig Harrington,
as the Irishman showed on a couple of occasions this year in his
Speaking to a small group of reporters at the TPC Sawgrass,
where the Woods-Garcia flap was starting to unfold, Harrington said
of all the times he has played with Woods he considered his
etiquette ”absolutely impeccable.”
”I’ve played with Tiger many times,” Harrington said. ”I give
him an A-plus on his etiquette on the course. I give him an A-plus
for his respect for fellow players on the course.”
A British reporter then asked Harrington what kind of grade he
would give Garcia.
”I’m not in a position to rank players,” he replied.
Later that summer, Harrington finished a practice round at
Muirfield and was signing autographs. One fan had the British Open
program turned to the page that showed Harrington winning his first
claret jug. That was in 2007 at Carnoustie, after a playoff with
Harrington signed the page and held onto the book for the
longest time, staring at the photo with a satisfied smile.
”You like that picture?” the man said.
”More than you know,” the Irishman replied.
The woman behind the counter at Starbucks in the Denver suburbs
was making small talk with a customer when she learned he was
headed to the Solheim Cup.
”Annika Sorenstam was just in here,” she said. ”Well, I think
that was her.”
Not only is the Swede the most famous LPGA Tour player of her
generation, one would suspect writing the word ”Annika” on the
cup would be a dead giveaway. Except that in this case, she can be
excused. Turns out Sorenstam doesn’t go by ”Annika” when she’s in
Her code name is Maria.
”Maria is the one name that translates on every continent,”
Sorenstam said when she confessed to her alias. ”So I’m Maria
The first day of the Solheim Cup nearly didn’t finish because of
a rules decision that took nearly a half-hour to determine – and as
it turned out, it was the wrong decision. It proved a pivotal part
of the fourballs match, which Europe went on to win.
It wasn’t the first time a rules official had made the wrong
call. Former USGA President Trey Holland, one of the most skilled
in the Rules of Golf, mistakenly gave Ernie Els relief in the U.S.
Open from a temporary immovable object that was movable. But when
an official makes a ruling, it stands.
Brad Alexander, a respected LPGA official, made the wrong call
at the Solheim Cup. When the day was over, confusion and anger
lingered. Alexander volunteered to accompany both captains to the
media center to handle any questions from the press. He explained
what happened. He made no excuses. He accepted all the blame. It
That kind of accountability would have come in handy at Augusta
National this year.
The final week of December is the one week no meaningful
tournaments are played on any tour in the world.
The golf year is endless, and it can feel even longer.
Mark Fulcher, the caddie for Justin Rose, has been at this a
long time. The crowning moment was at Merion, where Rose won the
U.S. Open for his first major. This was in late October, halfway
around the world in Shanghai. Everyone was tired. Rose was just
starting the stretch run to the end of his year. The caddies were
talking about the drudgery of early rounds at a tournament.
Except for ”Fooch.”
”The day I stop caddying, I’ll either be dead or I won’t be
excited on a Thursday morning,” Fulcher said that day. ”Thursday
is the greatest day in golf. It’s the perfect reset, isn’t it?
You’re reminded, even if you won, that everyone starts all over the
next week. And if you’ve played absolute rubbish, there’s always
the belief that it’s about to turn around. I love Thursday. Just
It’s a good reminder for everyone involved in this game. You
never know what’s going to happen next. Or when.