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On Three-peats, Claret Jugs and Wee Beasties!

Up until Sunday night, I’d never given this any thought before, but, you’d think that a fist pump, is a fist pump, is a fist pump, wouldn’t you?

I mean, no matter who delivers it, you would likely bet money that they would all pretty much look identical to one another, differences in physical size and posture notwithstanding.

But when Steve Stricker rolled in that putt from off the green on the 72nd hole Sunday night, my eyes were opened wide to just how different a fist pump could be in the right hand…er, fist.

The fist pumps we’ve become so used to seeing, largely because the media keeps cramming the images (of the same guy in red) down our throats, all share certain characteristics; they’re in-your-face, brash, bold, violent kinds of statements that seem to say, “I have ripped out your spine and now I want to crush your babies too.”  To me they just seem mean, not celebratory.  And they’re as contrived as they are obnoxious and clichéd.

In comparison, Stricker’s fist pump on the 72nd green Sunday night screamed out nothing but pure, unadulterated joy!  It was a generous dose of pure adulation, mixed in with a monstrous release of nervous energy, the thrill of overcoming the fear of failure, a massive dollop of tremendous relief and a great big gob of unbridled joy.

Two hundred pounds of pure ecstasy and overwhelming happiness, channelled into a forearm.

It was fun…and it was truly fun to watch!

NostraDerek Strikes Again!

Yes folks, defying all logic and beating odds even longer than the Vegas line on Lichtenstein winning the next World War… OR Sarah Palin actually saying something intelligent and factual in the next decade, I’m riding a smoking hot streak of two-in-a-row after this weekend’s fun and frivolity wrapped up in Illinois.  Stricker’s ‘three-peat’ was my re-peat…following last week’s successful reading of Nick Watney’s name in the sheep guts.

Oddly enough, the OLGC hasn’t called me yet to tell me I won the 649 and Lotto Max on the weekend.  Hmmm…was I supposed to buy tickets?

To be perfectly honest, with this recent run of success, I’m starting to scare myself a little bit here.  If this keeps up I’ll probably have to start fielding outrageously lucrative offers from the Golf Channel, Ladbrokes, William Hill and a bunch of casinos in Lost Wages.  And frankly, I don’t think my liver could handle that kind of success…although being at the Golf Channel really would be tempting!

So I better get back to wallowing in mediocrity toute de suite, before this success thing becomes habit-forming and really screws up my life.  And, as you’ll read later, this week’s big event is the perfect opportunity for me to perform a face plant.

But before we press on with the huge, new tournament at hand, let’s take a quick look in the rear-view mirror and see how my daughter and I did with all of our picks for last week’s event:

Results – The John Deere Classic

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Steve Stricker 1 $  810,000 Jason Bohn T30 $       26,156
Jason Day T68 $      9,090 Brian Gay T9 $     121,500
Robert Garrigus W/D Tom Pernice Jr. W/D
Zach Johnson T3 $  261,000 Michael Sim T65 $         9,360
This Week’s Total $    1,080,090 This Week’s Total $           157,016
Season Total $  14,163,876 Season Total $        4,397,654

Looks like my “Wolves In The Fold” theory was at least 50% correct.  Thanks to Robert Garrigus’ 11th hour withdrawal last weekend, we’ll never know how my full cast of characters would have done.  Garrigus received a late invite to The Open Championship…and after a full nanosecond to ponder it, yanked himself from “The Deere” (or is it “The John?”) and hopped on the next plane to England.

Still though, a first and a third are pretty damned good!  Meanwhile, Jason Day’s performance is a complete mystery to me.  Since he was soooooo far behind the leaders, I never actually got to see him strike a shot this week.  But his result was positively un-Day-like, to say the least.

Was he in Illinois practising 200-yard bump-and-run shots and 40 yard putts from the fairway, trying to warm up for The Open Championship?  Seems like it, ‘cause his head didn’t appear to be in the match all week.

The Open Championship

It’s a really big week in golf.  In fact, for most of the planet, it’s THE biggest week in the entire golf year…the playing of THE Open Championship.

This year the 140th Open Championship returns to Royal St. George’s in Sandwich. ..a course that hasn’t come up in the Open Rota since 2003.

I’ve given my picks a ton of thought this week…and I have to say, I love the chances of every one of these guys to win, virtually anywhere.  None of these picks will shock or amaze you.  In fact, they’re probably on your list as well.  Maybe all of them, maybe most of them…but I’d be surprised if all of these names were missing from anyone’s selections.  They’re just too good to ignore.

My picks this week are all on form, grew up using the style of play that is demanded to excel while playing in the UK and they are brimming with confidence right now. All of these critical ingredients add up to great success (if not outright victory) for all of these guys this week at The Open.

Except for one thing; the course!  That’s the one ingredient that has the potential to make all of my picks look like complete donkeys.

Royal St. George’s…where weird things happen.  Like every ten or 15 minutes!

Just to get myself in the proper mindset, I’ve read a few articles about the course this past week.  One of them, from a very respected publication, described the course as “lumpy.”  To call Royal St. George’s lumpy is akin to calling Peter Mansbridge’s hairline as “thinning.” Or calling Kirstie Alley “husky.”

It’s entirely appropriate that this course is named after England’s patron saint, St. George, the legendary dragon slayer. You’d swear that the fairways were riddled with the graves of dragons…placed in very shallow holes.  It’s like a downhill skiing mogul course in the Olympics, flattened out to remove the steep pitch, but not the features of the terrain.

Since the English and Scots name their bunkers (you have to love a country that calls sand-filled holes things like “the Principal’s Nose” and “the Spectacles!”), let’s call this collection of moguls “The Wee Beasties,’ just for some entertainment value.

And what happens when you introduce golf balls to the Wee Beasties is anybody’s guess.  It’s like pinball, played with balata and broken flippers, instead of steel and rigid bumpers.

And if you think that’s an exaggeration, all you have to do is harken back to 2003, when The Open Championship was last played here.  The champion…Ben Curtis!

Ben Curtis…playing in his FIRST major!!!

Curtis came into the event nestled around 400th in the World Golf Rankings.  He was so far off everyone’s radar, including the bookmaker’s, that a £10 wager probably would have earned you enough winnings to buy a mansion…in Hollywood.

And no one, not even Curtis himself, probably would have laid down the ten “wasted” quid at the time, even in spite of the mouth watering odds.

That week Curtis was the only player in the field to break par…and, given the state of his game, his discomfort at being in the spotlight, his inexperience in the nosebleed section and the toughness of the field, his accomplishment simply defied logic.  Still does.

The cream of the golfing crop played that week…and all of them fell short of the mark.  Singh, Woods, Faldo, Norman, Love, Mickelson, Furyk, Garcia, Goosen, Els, Norman, Weir, Harrington, Clarke.  The who’s who of the golfing world, schooled by #396 in the World Rankings!

Oh, and by the way, the weather wasn’t even bad that week.  No howling winds, no driving rain, no bitter cold.  No excuses for the insanity provided by Mother Nature.

So how did Curtis do it?  Well, based on what I remember from watching the event, he was quite simply the luckiest guy on the course.  He was talented, yes (after all, he was on the PGA Tour)…but, it seemed like Curtis got every good bounce possible, while St. George conspired to slay the rest of the field, the very best in the game, with his relentless collection of dragon graves.

One player cracks a drive hit straight down the pipe, hits a mogul and caroms 40 yard right into waist-high heather.  Curtis hits the same mogul two inches to the left and gets a monster kick 90 yards further down the fairway.  Yet another competitor canons his ball off the same “lump” and kicks straight left into a 12-foot deep bunker.  Lather, rinse, repeat….

The Wee Beasties bit everyone else, while Curtis strolled the fairways with a huge can of Beastie Repellant!

Ladies and gentlemen, The Champion Golfer of the Year; Ben Curtis!

And, you probably won’t remember this, but the very same thing happened again in 2005, when the Women’s Open Championship returned to Sandwich.  The World’s #624th ranked player was, again, the only player to break par over 4 days.  In that tourney, Anhita Hammonrhye, came from literally nowhere and smoked the field with a 5 shot victory…and then promptly faded into golfing obscurity, never to be heard from again.   You probably couldn’t even find her name on Google anymore.

Of course, all of this isn’t to say that the very best golfers don’t win at Royal St. George’s.  Over the years, some legendary names have hoisted the Claret Jug on its 18th green.  Names like Norman, Locke, Hagan and Cotton provide the counter-balance to guys like Curtis and Bill Rogers.

And I’m also not suggesting that Sandwich is the only course on the rota where this kind of thing happens.  Oh god no!

It happens all over the place…which adds to the suspense and mystique of the event.  Other than the pure history and prestige of being a champion, this aspect of The Open Champion probably adds a lot of the allure for the players too.  ANYONE could win the Open Championship, no matter what shape their game is in when they tee it up.  Just add a little luck.

In fact (and here’s where I’ve been going with this painful tangent), going back over the years, this is the Major event that produces the unlikeliest names at the top of the leader board, year in and year out.

Think of the names who’ve either led or won or came oh-so-close in recent memory: Louis Oosthuizen.  Todd Hamilton.  Robert Rock.   Chris Wood.  Richard Green.  Markus Brier.  Pelle Edberg.  Hideto Tanihara.

Household names…but only in their own households (at least at the time)

And who could ever forget Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie??? Or, 17 year-old schoolboy Justin Rose, playing Royal Birkdale on his summer holiday, waaay back when.

To sum it all up, The Open Championship can best be described at predictably unpredictable.  Just my luck, that it’s my job to predict what’s going to happen this week!

Wish me luck!

The Open Championship – Derek’s Picks

Luke Donald – I really can’t think of a better way to warm up for The Open Championship, than winning The Scottish Open the week before.  And that’s exactly what the World’s #1 golfer did last weekend at Castle Stuart.

In fact, he waxed the field, sinking every putt he looked at on Sunday to win by 4 strokes.  And he probably would have had an even more comprehensive victory, if the tournament hadn’t been shortened to 54 holes because of weather.

Last weekend was Donald’s second straight victory on the Euro Tour.   The last time he teed it up in that league, he dominated the field at an extremely difficult Wentworth, to take the European PGA Championship…one of that tour’s “majors.”

Donald is an absolute machine right now…and he’s been either winning or finishing oh-so-close in some of the biggest events available.  WGC World Match Play #1.  Masters #4.  Player’s Championship #4.  WGC Cadillac #6.  Volvo World Match Play #2.  European PGA Championship #1.  Scottish Open #1

With 8 top ten’s in 10 starts in America and two wins and a second in only three starts on the Euro Tour, it’s absolutely, positively, barking mad not to take him this week!

Oh, and by the way, I’m going to take him next week in British Columbia as well.  Even if he breaks an arm between now and then!

Lee Westwood – The World’s #2 golfer…and really hungry to get back the title he held, oh so briefly this year.

Westwood is one of the great come-back stories in golf…and it’s a real treat to see him doing so well, after suffering through such a brutal stretch of doing so poorly.  If memory serves me correctly, at the lowest point of his slump, he had plummeted so low he wasn’t even in the top 250 in the world.  When it all came back together for him last year and on through to this one, it was a real pleasure to see his perseverance paid off so handsomely.  It’s great to see nice guys do well…and Lee and Luke are two of the nicest there are!

Westwood is also coming off a really good performance at the Scottish Open warm-up.  True, he didn’t win…but he led after the first round and was in the hunt almost all the way, finishing 14th at -12.  Add to that a 3rd at the US Open, 2nd at the European PGA Championship (to Donald), 11th at Augusta, 1st at the Ballentyne’s and a 9th at the Volvo World Match Play and it feels like he’s poised on the edge of finally nailing a major.

And there’s one more thing to throw into the broth here; Westwood hasn’t finished worse than third in hi s last two Open championship appearances.  He’s been tantalizingly close, but has yet to seal the deal.  I think he has a great chance of doing just that this week at Sandwich.

Rory McIlroy – I have him listed third among my picks…and that’s really where I would rank him – behind Donald and Westwood, but well ahead of the rest of the field.

From what I’m told, all of the odds makers actually have him as the odds-on favourite to win…taking bets on Rory as low as 5:1.

McIlroy put on such an incredible golf clinic in the last major at Congressional that it’s pretty much impossible not to include him this week.  And, given my strong lean toward taking nice guys, he’s an absolute shoo-in to make Team Derek.

My only hesitation about picking him is in how he’ll be able to handle the ridiculous amount of media attention AND the overwhelming expectations and pressure that golf pundits everywhere have heaped on him since the US Open.

Like I said after he smoked the field at Congressional, the golf media is so desperate to fabricate a new superstar to fill the Woods void (and sell more commercials and ad space along the way), that the things the reporter and analysts were saying rapidly deteriorated into a lunacy festival.

Before the final round at Congressional even began, they were falling all over themselves to fast forward us in time to the day that Rory surpasses Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major wins.  And that was before Rory had even exorcized his Sunday-at-Augusta demons and won his first major!

Please.  Have some decaf and 50 cc’s of reality for god’s sakes.  One-Tournament-At-A-Time!!!

He absolutely has the talent to win The Open Championship.  He’s definitely one of the favourites to do so…and rightly so.  And, I think he’s young and confident enough not to noodle himself along the way and start letting the media get into his head.  At least I hope so.  I’ll certainly be cheering for him for years to come.

Jason Day– If you’re still with me after all this malarkey, you might be surprised by this pick…based on what I revealed earlier in the column about Day’s performance at the John Deere last weekend (he tied for 68th!)

I waffled back-and-forth over this 4th slot for a painfully loooooong time.  Retief Goosen, Martin Laird, Angel Cabrera and Fredrik Hed Anderssen were all really strong contenders.  Goosen has back-to-back top 5’s the past 2 years at The Open.  Cabrera and Anderssen were both really impressive and finished top 3 in Scotland last week.  And Laird just seems poised to score another big win (plus, an old friend from my golf pool, who is incredibly shrewd about sports wagering, keeps e-mailing me about how much money he’s dropped on Laird with the bookies in England).

But in the end, I decided to let performance in this year’s majors be the deciding factor.  Day is 2 for 2 on 2’s at this year’s majors.  Second at Augusta.  Second at Congressional.

Most of the guys on Tour will never get that close to winning ONCE, let along doing it in back-to-back tourneys!

And in keeping with the theme, my final spot goes to another incredibly nice guy…a guy almost anyone would be happy to see win this thing.  Day fits that category just as perfectly as the rest of my list.

Oh yes, in case you haven’t Columbo’d it by now, I do have one more theme in play for this week’s picks; No Yanks!

First of all, it’s great entertainment to hear the American media bemoan “the state of the American game” for hours on end…wailing and gnashing their teeth and crying like some kind of bizarre funeral dirge every time a “world” player wins a big event.   Second, I just don’t see anyone from the American contingent with the stuff to pull off a win on an England course right now.

It’s not that they’re not talented, because they are.  It’s not because I don’t routinely cheer on some American players…because I do (honest).  It’s all about the radical change in playing style required and who has the form to pull that off this week.

My steely-eyed gaze into the horse entrails says no one from this side of the Atlantic is going to come out on top at Royal St. George’s this week.

And now that I’ve worn the letters completely off this keyboard, let’s see what kind of Open magic my little girl came up with downstairs on the dartboard.

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard)

  • · Todd Hamilton (now there’s a coincidence!)
  • · Chad Campbell
  • · Peter Uihlein
  • · Bubba Watson

Off the top of my head, I’d be really tempted to say that 3 of those guys don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell this week…and the 4th is going to feel so out of place in England (pronounced “Ing-GULL- Land”), that his bags might clear customs, but his game probably won’t.

Then I remind myself of those two simple words:

Ben Curtis!

Before I go (finally!), I’d like to send out a very special welcome to CanadianGolfer and “thanks for reading” to the members of the Ladies Division at Willodell Golf Course in Niagara Falls.  One of the members of the pool I administer is a member there and she’s coerced her poor friends into reading this drivel.  (And knowing Pat, she probably threatened to revoke their casino privileges if they didn’t).  Thanks very much for reading ladies…and never bet 00!

That’s all for now folks.  As always, thanks for reading and playing along.  ..and enjoy The Open Championship.  It should be a great one.

Cheers,

Derek

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