Sunday, August 11, 2013

The major championship season that was



   Hard to believe, but golf’s major championship campaign for 2013, at least for the men, has come and gone.
   Maybe it’s because one of the four majors was contested right here in Delaware County, but it seemed like one of the more intense major seasons in recent years. And, it must be noted, that another spring and summer has going by with Tiger Woods stuck on the same 14 major championships he had when he limped away from that epic playoff with Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in 2008 with his third U.S. Open victory. The Phillies were good that year, too, you may recall.
   Probably the most surprising major champion of 2013 is the guy who already had four of them coming into this year as opposed to the three very talented and deserving first-time winners of the other three majors.
   That’s right, Phil Mickelson’s stunning performance on the back nine at Muirfield gave Lefty three legs of the career grand slam and was one of the more impressive finishes to a major you’ll ever see.
It was surprising because Mickelson had always struggled adjusting his game to the links style the Open Championship demands. But he took a two-week sojourn to the game’s birthplace and came away with Scotland Open and British Open titles.
   It was even more surprising, though, in context of the Mickelson who stood before the press corps at Merion a few short weeks earlier talking about the heartbreak – his word – of finishing a runnerup in the U.S. Open a mind-boggling sixth time. Now, the U.S. Open is the only leg of the grand slam that has eluded him.
   Taking nothing away from Justin Rose’s performance, but Mickelson was the story from Day 1 right to the frustrating finish at Merion. When U.S. Open highlights are shown or TV teases its golf coverage, you will forever be seeing that shot of the crowd in that massive grandstand behind the 17th at Merion rising as one as Mickelson’s birdie putt in the third round finds the hole.
   It is not lost on an East Course fanatic like myself what Rose did on that final hole to nail down his first major championship. After smashing a perfect drive, the added distance to the 18th hole left Rose just a few yards away from the Hogan plaque. And 63 years after one of the greats of the game fired an iron shot into that humped putting surface, Rose did the same.
   Even with all the technology that has changed the game in the ensuing six decades, great ball strikers do what great ball strikers do.
   So Rose, like Adam Scott did in near darkness at Augusta in April and as Jason Duffner did Sunday at Oak Hill, became a first-time major winner this year.
   And nobody was surprised about any of it.
   Scott is a great player and freed of the major monkey that was on his back, he contended again at the British and this weekend at Oak Hill.
   Those of us who watched Rose power his way to victory at the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club know what kind of talent he possesses. There’s only been three events for PGA Tour players contested in this county since 1981 and he’s won two of them. That’s a pretty good strike rate.
   And Sunday it was Duffner. When he blew the PGA two years ago, he just had that look of a guy who was thinking, “I’m gonna be back and get me one of these – and soon.” Heck, the guy looked like he was heading for a 63 in the final round at Merion until he got caught – like so many did that week, especially you Sergio – sending his tee shot OB on 15.
   A lot of us in this part of the world were rooting Sunday for the 1987 PIAA champion from Manheim Township. But you’ve got to give Jim Furyk credit. He keeps sticking that crooked nose of his right in the middle of these major championships because hitting it straight still matters at the big ones and that’s what he does.
   You think Tiger’s thinking about Augusta in April right this second? That makes two of us.

Another busy week ahead

   Nothing much going on this week. Just the opening round of qualifying for the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Monday with Dartmouth College’s golf future on display, the Pennsylvania Open at Commonwealth National Golf Club Monday and Tuesday and the Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur teeing off Monday at Gulph Mills Golf Club with qualifying leading into match play later in the week.
   The two incoming Dartmouth freshmen teeing it up today in U.S. Amateur qualifying are recent Episcopal Academy graduate Sean Fahey and recent Haverford School graduate Scott Jaster, a three-time All-Delco in his just completed four years as a varsity starter with the Fords.
   Stephen Seiden was an All-Delco golfer at Strath Haven more than a decade ago, but the Drexel Hill resident is also in the field at the U.S. Amateur.
   All three figure to be long shots to make match play, but as I mentioned a week ago as former Chichester standout Aurora Kan embarked on her U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifying rounds, get into match play and anything can happen. And Kan, a junior at Purdue, came very, very close to reaching the quarterfinals.
   Merion Golf Club head of instruction Mark Sheftic is teeing it up at Commonwealth and should find the conditions a little more forgiving than the Oak Hill Country Club layout he just played in the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.
   And good news for the Pennsylvania Open field: They don’t have to contend with Temple sophomore and Philadelphia Open champion and Patterson Cup winner Brandon Matthews. He’ll be at the U.S. Amateur and if he gets into match play, he is going to be a tough out.

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