Major to Major

Maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with me?  (Of course, if you’ve ever read this column before, you already knew that).  Maybe I should have a much more cold-blooded attitude about my picks for this column?
You see, my selections for The Open Championship last week were absolutely pasted!  Smoked!  Annihilated!  Devastated!  Insert the cliché of your choice here _____.
And, to be quite honest, I couldn’t be happier about it!
The source of my joy isn’t that my players all turned in such dismal performances…but, rather, is entirely centred around the accomplishments of The Champion Golfer of the Year; Darren Clarke.
What a fantastic win.  What a great performance.  What an amazing victory for a guy who is adored and cherished by millions.  Millions of golf fans who would have told you (2 weeks ago) that they loved him dearly still, but that, sadly, his best chances at winning The Open were all staring at him in the rear-view mirror.
It was in every way an amazing Open Championship, filled with all the elements that make this the most famous and most cherished of the majors.  Jaw-droppingly great shots, heart-wrenchingly bitter crashes, knee-knockingly frightening attempts and odds-defyingly heroic charges.  Toss in some teeth-chatteringly cold temperatures and skin-stingingly torrents of horizontal rain and it was everything you could ask for in an Open Championship…and more.
I know most of those aren’t real words, but you knew what I meant…and they were fun to type!
The winner of the Open Championship is the embodiment of those words that introduce him at the awards ceremony; “The Champion Golfer of the Year.”  To earn the right to hoist the Claret Jug over your head, you have to exhibit more artistry, more imagination, more skill, more shots and more stamina that the best players on the planet.  To win The Open is to pass the most demanding of litmus tests.
And that’s what makes the Open so entertaining and dramatic to watch.
There’s a certain almost dull sameness about most of the events we see over here each week; those hosted by North American courses.  With their perfectly rolled, tightly mown, lush, heavily manicured fairways, every-grain-perfect bunkers and smooth-as-glass greens, watching a PGA Tour event, literally ANY PGA Tour event, is like watching the same movie played over and over again, but with different actors reading the parts each week.
Crush a drive, fire a dart at the pin, sink a putt.  Next tee, repeat.
Granted, every so often the script changes slightly to allow for some mental meltdowns, errant drives, flubbed irons, heavy rough or a touch of wind…but for the most part, the song remains the same (cue the Jimmy Page solo please).
Other than a few signature holes and some famous local landmarks like lighthouses, mountain vistas or ostentatious clubhouses, you could almost take any hole from any Tour stop, magically carve it out of the earth and plunk it down into any other Tour stop venue…and most people wouldn’t be able to tell that something was amiss.  “Yup…looks like every other hole out here, what’s the problem?”
And there’s the magic of The Open Championship; golf played at the highest level at the birthing area of the game.
First, the courses are as close to the way nature created them as you can imagine.  When you look at Royal St. George’s, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, St. Andrews or and of the other tracks on the Open rota, you know you are looking at land that has been shaped almost entirely by Mother Nature, rather than by Caterpillar. Lumps and bumps and swales and depressions abound.  The word “artificial” can’t possibly spring to mind as it does for so many courses on this side of the Atlantic (especially the newer ones).
We’re used to watching golf played on what is essentially the landscaping equivalent of mass-manufactured silicone implants, instead of on natural beauty.
Would Cindy Crawford be as gorgeous or tantalizingly exotic without her mole?  Would Natalie Portman be more ravishing if she dyed her hair blonde and bought herself a pair of 38DD’s?  Not in my books.  They’re amazing just the way they are…and not to be tampered with.
The same is true of the Open courses.  It’s golf played the way it was meant to be…or as close to it as possible.  Which is why it’s so entertaining (in a pathetic, how can you be so completely uninformed, kind of way) to read some of the reader comments posted one of Canada’s biggest sports sites.  Some of the Neanderthal bottom-feeders lurking there are flooding the discussion boards with grunts, calling Royal St. George’s a “goat ranch,” unworthy of hosting any golf tournament, let alone a major!
In their minds, unless a course has billiard table-flat fairways, flawless, cookie-cutter bunkers and perfectly smooth greens running at 13 on the stimp meter, it’s not a real golf course.  Don’t bother to offer a contrary opinion, no matter how reasoned or rational…they’ll simply prove you wrong, in their own special way, by calling you names.
Not only are the Open courses vastly different than what we’re used to seeing over here, they actually exist in a fluid state; changing dramatically from day to day, from hour to hour…even, on occasion, from minute to minute.
A perfect example is the 14th hole; a 547-yard par 5.  On Sunday morning Tom Watson, who is no spring chicken I’ll admit, but is still capable of outdriving most of us mere mortals, hit Driver/Driver/4-iron.  He flushed each shot and still failed to reach the green into the teeth of a gale.  An hour later, following groups were hitting Driver/4-iron and running through the green on their second shots!
When you hit 8-iron into a par 3 on Thursday and then fail to reach the same green with a driver on Saturday, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy…or Michigan, Florida, New York, Arizona and so on!
Yes, we have wind over here and it does affect play, usually by one or 2 clubs.  But in the UK they have WIND…in great big, gusty, violent capitol letters.  Other than playing at Pebble Beach and a few other courses like it, the weather over here is rarely as much of a factor as it is in the lands where golf was invented.
To become The Champion Golfer of the Year, you have to overcome all of that…plus conquer your own personal demons and mounting insecurities on each and every hole.  You need to stay cool, accept bad breaks and adversity with good grace, use your imagination to create shots unique to the situation and then dig deep to extract the skills required to pull it off.  And no one did it better than Darren Clarke.
One wonders what was going through Dustin Johnson’s head the moment before he sprayed a simple layup shot out of bounds on 14 to torpedo his dramatic come-back charge.
Having talked myself into hitting incredibly bad shots on numerous occasions, by reminding myself at the last possible moment NOT to hit exactly that, I have a pretty good hunch.  (“Okay Derek, this is an easy shot, just don’t shank it OB.”  <Swing> “Damn it!!!  Didn’t I just tell myself NOT to do that?!?!?!”)
Darren Clarke; The Champion Golfer of the Year.  I can’t think of a more entertaining, more heart-warming or more deserved outcome to this year’s Open Championship.  Well done Darren!
So, I’ve already hinted at how depressingly my players performed at Royal St. George’s last week.  I guess it’s time to fess up and expose the wounds for all to see:
Results – The Open Championship

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Luke Donald cut Todd Hamilton cut
Lee Westwood cut Chad Campbell T5 $     293,105
Rory McIlroy T25 $    62,923 Peter Uihlein (a) *** T48 $       23,556
Jason Day T30 $    47,134 Bubba Watson T30 $       47,134
This Week’s Total $       110,057 This Week’s Total $           363,795
Season Total $  14,273,933 Season Total $        4,761,449
What can I say?  They all looked like great picks at the time.  There certainly weren’t any dissenting opinions thrown my way to suggest otherwise.  They just didn’t execute.  Scratch head, say “hmmmm” and move on, I guess.
By the way, you’ll note that I’ve assigned Peter Uihlein winnings of $23,556 this week in my daughter’s team.  As an amateur he can’t cash a cheque of course, but that was the going value for finishing 48th so I credited her team with that amount.  (And, yes, I realize that one more guy would split that value a little differently…but a few dollars isn’t going to make that much difference for our purposes here).
The Canadian Open
In the golf pool I administer, the Canadian Open counts as a Major…with dramatically increased points over a regular week for top 10 finishes and making the cut.  Most of our players are frost-bitten Canadians and when we first put this pool together it just seemed like the right thing to do to honour our National Championship.
Over the years a few players have questioned the validity of that position…and I’ve responded by holding a referendum each time to let the members have their say and decide the matter. The last time we went through this exercise was a few years ago, when attendance at the event by top 50-ranked golfers was even more disappointingly low than we’ve somehow come to expect.
One of my old friends; a respected broadcaster and former record company executive, who is also a very talented stand-up comedian, sent me a note suggesting that the field that year was so bad that “The Canuckistan Open” should no longer count as a Major.  And so I started soliciting opinions and put it to the vote.
I also copied his e-mail into my call-to-action note, verbatim, just for my own entertainment value and to stir things up with our group.
The responses I got back were as vociferous and patriotic and impassioned as just about anything I’ve ever seen.  Some were hilarious, while others were righteously indignant.  In the end, I’m very pleased to tell you that our group overwhelmingly elected to continue dishing out Major points for the Canadian Open…because it is OUR championship.
For his own safety, the identity of my friend remains a guarded secret to this day.  If I had “outed him” to the group, I strongly suspect he might have woken up one morning to find the severed head of a beaver in his bed.  (Feel free to take that set-up line and run with it!)
Derek’s Picks
This was a REALLY tough week to make some picks.  For every superstar like Singh, Woods, Furyk, Norman and Price that has won the Canadian Open in the past 20 or 30 years, there have been 2 or 3 guys who sprung up from the hinterlands to take everyone by surprise and hoist the trophy.  Some might have been on the back nine of their careers at the time, some were journeymen jocks with fairly limited credentials, others were relative unknowns just starting out…but all defied the odds and took everyone by surprise.  Names like Chez Reavie, Nathan Green, Carl Petterson, Wayne Levi, John Rollins, Steve Jones, Bob Gilder and Ken Green.
How do you forecast winners with any accuracy when that happens so often?
I started off with a first-draft of about 10 names and had to agonize over each one for a looooong time before finally taking out the weedwhacker and getting the list down to just 4.  Looking back on my original list though, I’d like to keep every one of them…’cause you just never know in this event.
Luke Donald – I warned you last week I was going to take him…and I’m nothing if not a man of my word.  Either that or I’m just a stubborn, bull-headed sod!
I’m hoping that, after missing the cut at Royal St. George’s, Luke Donald hopped on the first plane to Vancouver so he could get properly acclimated to the drastically different zone and golf course.  Then again, knowing the love and admiration he probably has for his Ryder Cup team mate, there’s a very good chance he stayed in Sandwich, just for the joy of lifting a pint with Darren Clarke Sunday night.
With his recent list of accomplishments and #1 World Ranking, Donald has to be the overwhelming favourite this week at Shaughnessy…his less than sterling performance at Royal St. George’s last week notwithstanding.
Paul Casey – I’ll be completely honest with you here.  This pick is much more about sentiment than stats or pure logic.
Coming off a fantastic 2010 campaign, by his very high standards, the 2011 season can best be summed up as craptacular so far. Three missed cuts in his last 4 events, T54 at Sandwich…there doesn’t seem to be much reason to pick him, does there?  So why would I?
A few weeks ago, Casey gave an interview to the Canadian media from London (the English one, not the home of Aubrey World Headquarters).  In it, he said things about our national championship that were as heart-warming and endearing as they were refreshing to hear…especially from an international star of his calibre.
He told reporters he felt the Canadian Open deserved much more respect from his peers around the world.  He even went on to say that he’d much rather win the Canadian Open, than other tournaments with less history, but bigger, more alluring purses!  (When Canadians say these things we tend to sound defensive or insecure)
To me, tournaments like the Canadian Open or the Australian Open, they’ve got a rich history and they’ve got a more important place right now in the world of golf than something that has been created in which we’re just playing for a huge sum of money and we’re saying it’s very important,” said Casey. “To me, winning a Canadian Open is much more important than winning sort of one of these created events, something that’s been created over the last few years.”
And just to save you the trouble of looking it up, no Casey does not play with an RBC logo on his golf bag.  The sentiments he expressed were from the heart, not the wallet.  His words exhibited true respect for a great event, rather than pandering for a corporate sponsor. Sincerity versus shilling.
If I were tournament organizer Bill Paul, I would have Casey’s interview engraved on gold tablets and sent to every member of the PGA Tour and European Tour.
If your favourite deity, or the Great Pumpkin or karma is paying attention, those sentiments surely should spell success for Casey this week in Vancouver.
The Canadian Open is the third oldest national championship in golf.  It’s the one gaping hole in Jack Nicklaus’ incredible resume that he always wishes he had filled.  At one time, not all that long ago, it was considered by many to be “the fifth Major.”  Back in 1955, when Arnie registered his first professional win, right here in Canada, it was hailed as a major achievement…very close to the accolades he would have received had he made his debut visit to the winner’s circle at an Augusta or St. Andrews or Pinehurst
Fewer and fewer golf people around the world (and sadly, right here at home) seem to remember or recognize that…but Paul Casey does. For that reason alone, he gets my undying respect…and a spot on my roster this week.  Go Paul!
Rickie Fowler – After being snake-bitten a few times earlier in the year when I chose him to win, I vowed that I wouldn’t pick Fowler again until he’d actually done something to earn a return to favour.
For me, his T5 performance last week at Royal St. George’s was an amazing eye-opener…and, possibly for the first time since I’ve been watching him, showed that he really stood out as a superstar in the making, rather than another young flash in the pan.
The creativity and imagination he displayed at The Open Championship were fantastic.  The variety of shots he had in his arsenal was stunning for someone so young…who was raised playing exclusively on North American courses.  The grace under pressure he exhibited was remarkable.  How the hell did he learn all that in his 22 years here???
In many ways, it was a lot like looking at a young Seve…and I immediately developed a new-found respect for the game this kid possesses and the kind of future he can look forward to.
It was a revelation.
And if there’s any poetry in the world of golf, then I think it would be pretty magical for Fowler to score his first professional win right here in Canada, just like Arnie did so many decades ago.
Matt Kuchar – Almost everything I said about Luke Donald at the top of my list of picks can be repeated here for Matt Kuchar…with only a few slight alterations.
The part about not making the cut at Royal St. George’s needs no tweaking though.  Kuchar was 11 over par after two unspectacular days of play in Sandwich and got to make an early exit for British Columbia.  I’m guessing that he didn’t stay until Sunday night to hoist a pint or 15 of Guinness with Darren Clarke.  Although it’s possible that he might have tipped a glass of 2% milk in Clarkey’s honour to celebrate the win somewhere in BC.
My son and I followed Kuchar for several holes last year when the Canadian Open was held at our St. George’s in Toronto.  It was a real treat to watch him play his way into a tie for 4th at the event.  And he was just as nice in person, when there were no cameras around, as you would imagine and hope he’d be.
In many ways, Kuchar’s personality seems very Canadian to me.  He’s polite, humble, self-effacing and respectful.  If a legitimate home-grown Canadian golfer can’t win our national championship this year (and despite how hard we might be wishing for it, no one is really expecting that to happen), then a Kuchar win would kind of feel like a surrogate Canadian win…just a bit.  Don’t you think?
And now that my part in this painful epic has come to its unnatural conclusion at last, let’s see how my daughter fired her darts (with the special Canadian flag flights) at the dartboard this week:
D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard)
  • · Billy Andrade
  • · Patrick Cantlay
  • · Tim Herron
  • · Tom Hoge
And just in case you’re curious who the other players I ended up dumping from my original list were, Herron was one of them.  So were Gainey, Glover, Lonard, Mahan, Moore, Pernice, Pettersson, Schwartzel, Van Pelt and Villegas.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if any one of those guys won this week on the left coast.
And does it really need to be said that we’ll all be cheering deep down for THIS to be the week that Weir finally makes his stunning comeback?  I know I will.
Thanks very much for reading.  Have a great week…and enjoy our national championship!

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  • You really should start writing “Derek’s Dictionary” … I love so many of the words that you seem to create – keep up the good work!

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