Enduring memories of the '06 season
Another year, another pile of memories. Here are my 10 most enduring moments of 2006, all of which serve to remind me that being a golf writer sure beats working.
10. Walking the last 14 holes of Phil Mickelson's first round at the U.S. Open, a 70 that would have been at least 74 without the dazzling short game Lefty has always been known for. Early on at Winged Foot, one sensed Mickelson's pursuit of a third straight major title would depend on his ability to fix his golf swing during the tournament, which has never been among his strengths. Generally speaking, he either has it or he doesn't, and on a course that had no tolerance for those out of position, even Houdini could survive on a lob wedge for only so long. Other than the back nine Saturday, Mickelson struck it poorly all week. It caught up to him Sunday, and that's all most people will remember, but this was a guy who pulled rabbits all the way to the 72nd hole.
9. Breaking my personal record for fastest scribbling as Tom Pernice Jr. ripped Tiger Woods for skipping the Tour Championship. What Pernice said was the news, but it was the volume of his voice that made it so unforgettable -- the man was literally yelling, as if he wanted every one of the half-dozen or so players in the East Lake locker room at the time to hear him. Not 45 seconds later, Pernice was done. You should have seen the look on the face of the dude who was polishing the players' shoes.
8. Speaking of looks, J.J. Henry's you've-got-to-be-kidding expression was hard to miss after I told him he'd just moved into sixth place in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings with his victory in Hartford that afternoon. Turns out Henry made the team and played pretty well, but the U.S. got trampled again, and what should be the best event in golf seemed less significant than at any point in the last 25 years. The Ryder Cup needs to be close. Regardless of who wins, every swing on Sunday should be made under the type of pressure that gave these matches such an endearing identity. Unfortunately, that's not a variable anyone can control. No one in this country, anyway.
7. Running into a couple of tour pros late one night at Doral, both of whom often live on the fringe of the top 125. I listened to their rant against the system for a half-hour -- they were among the 28 players who had attended a FedEx Cup briefing earlier that evening -- and as I headed back to my room, I began asking myself the questions I should have asked them. How could these guys be so bitter? What could the tour possibly owe to such journeymen? Have they no idea what moves the needle? Next thing you know, we've got a 144-man playoff, which is like calling 60 different people your best friend. Squeaky wheels get more than grease. Opportunity, too.
6. Knocking three balls in the water last month on the par-3 17th at TPC at Sawgrass. Having written earlier this year that the famed island-green hole should be lengthened and played from different angles, the little dog got me back. Got me real good.
5. Arriving for an interview with U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy at the Buick Open, which is played at Warwick Hills G&CC, about 90 minutes north of Detroit. For all the iron-gated entrances, oversized clubhouses and overstated opulence you find on the tour, it was so nice to find this unpretentious little club right there on the main drag. And Ogilvy, who is obviously a bit shy, let my 30 minutes of scheduled time run closer to two hours. If there was an upside to Mickelson's final-hole collapse at Winged Foot, he is it.
4. Watching Camilo Villegas sign autographs for a massive throng, many of them young kids of Latin descent, after Saturday's third round at Doral. I don't know how many tournaments this kid will win, and I don't know how to describe exactly what makes him so popular, but Villegas is hard to miss and even harder not to watch. He is the sequel to Sergio, although soon enough, lying on the ground like Gumby to read putts won't buy you any street cred. One veteran huffed when he saw Villegas sitting down to sign all those autographs. Maybe they should have brought him a leather sofa.
3. Walking onto the grounds of The K Club about an hour before the start of Sunday's Ryder Cup singles matches. In the pouring rain, the bleachers surrounding the first tee were absolutely packed -- hundreds upon hundreds of Europeans were singing in one deliriously happy voice to their impending victory. You can't get a cold Diet Coke over there, and you won't find that type of atmosphere over here.
2. Seeing Tiger Woods sob uncontrollably after winning the British Open. It was one of those rare instances when a silly little game takes on a great big meaning, when you struggle to deal with the lump in your own throat. After missing the cut at the U.S. Open in his first start after his father's death, Woods was going to swim back to the U.S. before he lost at Royal Liverpool. He even brought his wife Elin and caddie Steve Williams with him to the media center, which had never happened. As much as I enjoyed finally getting some quotes from Williams, I was a lot more impressed with Mrs. Woods. Man, is Elin good-looking.
1. Returning to the scene of the accident after Mickelson's meltdown at Winged Foot, I spent about 20 minutes examining the spots on the tree line where Philly Mick had hit his second and third shots (turf, yardages, angles, options, etc.) Heading back toward the clubhouse as darkness arrived, I stopped at the front-left bunker, where two large footprints and one shallow divot had been left in the otherwise perfectly manicured sand. That's when it all started to feel a little eerie. It was getting pretty dark, but as far as I could tell, there was no chalk outline on the 18th green.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
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2006 Year in Review
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• Wacker: C'mon, 2006 was a little funny, too
• Surprise! Tiger doesn't win a Sirak Award
• Sobel: Tiger's season can't be measured in numbers
• Harig: Earl will be in Tiger's thoughts at Target
• Alternate Shot: Year-end issues and other debates
• Sobel: Immelman separates himself from fellow rookies
• Experts' picks: PGA Tour awards
• Sobel: Holiday wishes for the upcoming golf season ... Mailbag: Your wishes
• Hawkins: Enduring memories of the '06 season
• Golf World: Newsmakers, Nos. 1-5
• Golf World: Newsmakers, Nos. 6-10
• Golf World: Newsmakers, Nos. 11-15
• Golf World: Newsmakers, Nos. 16-20
• Golf World: Newsmakers, Nos. 21-25
• Harig: What happened to Mickelson after Open collapse?
• Sirak: 2006 was an unpredictable LPGA season
• On the Hot Seat: Lorena Ochoa
• Weekly 18: Shots of the year
• SportsNation: Vote now!
• Squabbles, contentions, disagreements
• Alternate Shot: After Tiger, who's No. 2?
• Rosaforte: Year of highs and lows
• Harig: Woods passes forgotten Casper
• Tiger '06 retrospective