Quail Hollow's Debut Voodoo

Sitting down to watch the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans this Sunday was quite a schizophrenic experience for me. 

On the one hand, Bubba Watson was one of my picks to win this event in my last column.  As he strolled onto the first tee, I couldn’t help getting a little excited over the prospects of one of my horses getting a win this week (and all too rare occurrence).

The problem was, that I don’t own Bubba Watson (from Box #2) in the golf pool I run…but I am one of a very small number of Poolsters who own Webb Simpson (from Box #8).  Winning points earned by Simpson would have given my team a nice boost over the rest of the field.

You can see my dilemma here.  Either way I win…while I also lose.

I felt a little like Otter in Animal House, staring longingly at the mayor’s drunken daughter on my bed, while an alter ego perched on each shoulder shouts conflicting orders into my ears!

In the end, of course, Bubba picked up the win and so I earn a few small bragging rights for choosing him to do so here on the virtual pages of CanadianGolfer.  Meanwhile, in our big golf pool my team was leapfrogged…and I watched, with great dismay, as I slipped out of first place for the first time in the past eight weeks.

As my friend Pokey says, “it always hurts more when you think you have a chance, Chumley.”

Watching the back nine drama unfold on the weekend wasn’t just riveting entertainment…it showed, in spades, why so many of us consider golf to be the greatest, purest, most honourable sport there is.

Of course, I’m talking about the penalty Webb Simpson called on himself on the 15th green after he addressed a pitifully short tap-in putt, grounded his putter and then watched his ball either oscillate or move ¼ of an inch (depending on whose account you follow).

Having watched his commanding lead evaporate into a tenuous one-stroke margin, Simpson immediately called over a rules official to inform him of the situation.  No hesitation.  No evasion. 

And no joy in Mudville either.  One stroke penalty according to Rule 18-2b.

If you think I’m being overly flowery with my earlier sentence describing golf as the greatest, purest, most honourable sport there is, then I challenge you to name one other professional sport on the planet where you would expect this to have happened.

Can you picture a baseball player telling the umpire that he should reverse his “safe” call to “out” because he actually slid past home plate without touching it?  Can you imagine a soccer player telling the referee to disallow an important goal because it went in off his hand, even though no one else could see it?  In your wildest dreams can you envision a football or hockey or basketball player going up to a rules official to inform them that they had earned a penalty or that points awarded should be nullified because an infraction should have been called?

Save yourself the mental gymnastics.  Sadly, it wouldn’t happen… ever…so there’s no point in fantasizing about it.  Quite the contrary, actually.  In all of those other sports players (and coaches) try to get away with as much as they possibly can…even if it means obfuscating, denying the truth and cheating.  The examples are too numerous to list here, but if you’re a sports fan you can probably think of a dozen or more incidents without even breaking a sweat.

And to really nail the point on this, I think it’s important to remember that the stakes were incredibly high in this situation. It’s not like Simpson assessed a penalty on himself during the first or second round of a tournament.  He was on the verge of winning his first ever PGA title. ..and nursing a one-stroke lead with only 3 holes to go when he voluntarily gave up that stroke. 

He was probably the only person who noticed it or might ever know about it (even the HD replays on TV couldn’t show it), but that didn’t stop him from doing the right thing anyway.

Many decades ago when Bobby Jones assessed a penalty against himself, costing him the 1925 US Open title, he was later complimented on his selfless actions.  His exact response escapes me, but it went something like, “don’t congratulate me for not cheating…you might just as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I for one am glad that that same honour-bound spirit is still alive and well all these many years later and living in upstanding guys like Webb Simpson and his fellow PGA competitors.  THIS is a sport that is truly worthy of our respect folks!

In my books, the only thing that would have made this story really “complete” would have been if Simpson immediately reaped his just karmic rewards and won the playoff anyway.  That didn’t happen of course…but you can bet that there will be tens of thousands of die-hard golf fans who are now also die-hard Webb Simpson fans and will be pulling hard for him to win (often) for years to come.

So, before we get to the forecasts for this week’s tournament, let’s do a quick re-cap on how my daughter and I did with our predictions for New Orleans.

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Steve Stricker T13  $    123,733 Harrison Frazer Cut  
Bubba Watson 1  $ 1,152,000 Kevin Kisner Cut  
Nick Watney T20  $      69,333 Zack Milller Cut  
Tommy Gainey T3  $    332,800 Rory Sabbatini Cut  
This Week’s Total    $ 1,677,866 This Week’s Total    $                  –  
Season Total    $ 8,540,666 Season Total    $     2,725,949

Yes, I’m afraid my daughter really pinned the needle this week…and the random selection process we’ve been using for her selections hit an all-time low.  For the first time since we starting doing this, not one of her players made it to the weekend.  I suppose it was probably going to happen at some point, but it still makes me a little sad for her, regardless. 

Derek’s Picks – The Wells Fargo Championship

Phil Mickelson – When you go through the all the stats for this tournament, there’s one name that literally screams out to you for special attention…Phil Mickelson’s.  It virtually leaps off the virtual page.

To save you the trouble, here’s what you’d find:  Second in 2010, T5 in 2009, T12 in 2008, T3 in 2007, T7 in 2005, T5 in 2004.  It seems like he’s done pretty much everything at Quail Hollow except hoist the trophy on Sunday night.

Coming off a 3-week playing break after his Masters disappointment, I’m pegging Phil to correct that situation this weekend and return to the spotlight with a win in North Carolina.

Bubba Watson – Watson really went through the meat grinder last Sunday in New Orleans.  He was right there…then he wasn’t…then he was right there again.  It wasn’t just a win, it was a high-pressure endurance contest…and he passed with flying colours.

The Bubba of old (like 2 years ago) would have never won that tournament.  He would have been cursing and kicking his bag all over the course en route to a spectacular back nine meltdown.  And he’d be the first one to tell you that…if he could beat his wife and caddy to the punch. 

Instead of going ballistic over his mistakes though, he did his best to forget them fast and live in the moment…zoning in on his next critical shot.   And that’s a hell of a tough thing to do.

After scoring his latest PGA victory, Watson has to be feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof right now.  And with a second place finish at this event two years ago, he has a lot of reason to have some happy thoughts for scoring back-to-back wins.  I think he’s going to take all of that positive mojo onto the tees at Quail Hollow and really tear it up this week.

Tommy Gainey – Two of the last three winners at Quail Hollow scored their first PGA victory at this event…Anthony Kim (2008) and Rory McIlroy (2010).  The guy sandwiched in between, Sean O’Hair, made this his second career Tour victory in 2009.

With that kind of first-timers magic wafting around Quail Hollow, I felt like I really ought to pick someone who has yet to win on Tour…and the hottest golfer without a victory right now is definitely rookie Tommy Two Gloves Gainey.

Yes, I realize that I’m recycling him from last week…just like I did with Bubba, but after his third place finish in New Orleans he’s more than a legitimate contender to grab the glory this weekend.  It’s also worth mentioning that Gainey was born and raised in South Carolina…so this is as close to having a home field advantage as he’s experienced so far in his brief PGA career.  He’s familiar with the people (they talk just like him), he knows the area and he should probably feel more at home here than anywhere else he’s played this year.  And he’s been playing VERY well.

For all those reasons, I’m gonna ride me the “Gainey Train” one more time this week. 

Rickie Fowler Here’s another guy looking for his first PGA win.  And there are a LOT of golf wags and fans who seem genuinely stunned that he doesn’t have one yet. 

So far 2011 hasn’t lived up to the expectations everyone has had for Fowler.  Ten events, eight cuts, only two top 10’s and no top 5’s.  He puts together two or three great rounds to get in contention…only to fizzle out and fade from view. 

Don’t forget though that both of his top 10’s this year have been at WGC events, facing the stiffest competition available in golf.

I’m sure these results haven’t lived up to the expectations he had for himself this season either…and (I hate to say it) the longer he goes without a win, the more difficult it’s probably going to be for him to finally seal the deal.  It might sound a little unrealistic to put that much pressure on a guy who is so young, but he does have the raw talent to perform at the highest level…he just needs to do it for 4 consecutive rounds.

So this week I’m doubling down on the “Quail Hollow Debut Voodoo” and putting Fowler on my list to score his first win…finally.

And now that I’ve stuck my head in the vise, let’s see what my daughter managed to come up with for her picks (with the fervent hope that she has a MUCH better week than she did in New Orleans).

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard)

  • Paul Goydos
  • Anthony Kim
  • William McGirt
  • Sam Saunders

And that’s all for this week folks.  Enjoy the tourney!



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