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Fairways of Life

January 2009 - Posts

  • To Whom We Owe Gratitude

    “You don’t have the game you played last year or last week. You only have today’s game. It may be far from your best, but that’s all you’ve got. Harden your heart and make the best of it.” -- Walter Hagen
    Is it possible that one of the most important figures in the history of American golf could have fallen through the cracks of time? That while his name is known, little else about the man who is the father of American touring golf really is.
    Imagine being third on the all-time list of majors won and yet you played the majority of your career during an era when only three of the game’s four majors even existed? Further, consider that as impressive as that fact is, Walter Hagen is revered for raising the status of golf professionals above a simple servant class, as one of the driving forces behind the development of the Ryder Cup and for his starring role as golf’s consummate showman.
    Hagen was born in 1892 into a humble, middle-class family living near Rochester, New York. He was one of five children, four girls and Walter. His father, a Dutch immigrant, was a blacksmith and seemingly a world apart from the person his only son was destined to become. Walter’s relationship with his working-class father was a complicated one, and short of a dossier on its complexities, the fact that his father never once saw him compete until the 1931 U.S. Open, two years past Walter’s last Major victory—the 1929 Open Championship—speaks volumes.
    Hagen was one of those rare individuals who was clearly before his time. He possessed a drive, intellect, and perhaps most importantly, a vision of the emergence of the game and his starring role in it that ushered in the modern professional game as we know it.
    Excelling in various sports as a youth, particularly baseball and golf, Hagen ultimately decided that golf would be his vehicle to stardom and the lifestyle that he aspired to live. Blessed with unnerving self-confidence, Hagen first came to national prominence at the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was at this Open where a twenty-year-old amateur named Francis Ouimet beat the two top golfers in the world, Brits Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an eighteen-hole playoff, to mark one of the greatest upsets of all time.
    Finishing one stroke back was a brash twenty-one-year-old assistant professional from the Country Club of Rochester named Walter Hagen. The following year, at Midlothian in Chicago, Hagan won the first of his two U.S. Open titles in a gutsy performance over a highly experienced field. Hagen stumbled to the tee box on the first day, reeling from the effects of a less-than-fresh lobster he had consumed the evening before. Coupled with the stifling heat of a Chicago summer, the young professional hit shots that were simply ugly, following them with recovery shots that were brilliant.
    His up-and-down round, reflective of the way he spent the night before, not only established a new course record and the lead in the tournament, but would also serve as a microcosm of the rest of his career.
    “I never wanted to be a millionaire, I just wanted to live like one.” -- Walter Hagen
    Among his many firsts, Hagen may well have been the game’s first mental coach, even if he alone was the primary beneficiary of his philosophies. Hagen was unfettered by shortcomings, mistakes, or even failure. He saw those mundane consequences as the by-products to success. Therefore he played a fearless game, for his posture was that he would take the risks necessary to succeed with a perspective that if he did not win then it did not matter if he finished second or last.
    Further, he anticipated adversity, even expected it. He claimed that he expected five bad shots a round (some accounts have the number at seven), so that when a poor shot would arrive, he did not see it as an omen for his round collapsing but, rather, with almost a sense of relief that he got it out of the way and only good things lay ahead. Perhaps this was the only mental posture one could have when your game was subject to so many wayward shots, but whatever the root, he played the game with a liberty that left him unshackled by fear and thus, able to think clearly when the pressure was consuming his competition.
    Augmenting his mental fortitude was his supreme ability to concentrate on the here-and-now, the shot at hand, despite carrying on a never-ending performance for the galleries that was another distinctive feature of this great champion.
    So consummate were his abilities to recover, persevere, concentrate, and execute that in 1926 he defeated the great amateur Bobby Jones by a score of 12 and 11 during a seventy-two-hole exhibition. Hagen displayed his game in all of its classic eccentricities through the match. Shots veered wildly, both left and right, without anyone, including Hagen, knowing what direction they were likely to go. However, each time he would hit amazing recovery shots and coupled with an extraordinary short game and putting stroke, he would leave opponents in a frustrated heap.
    Jones was no different, commenting after the match, “When a man misses his drive, and then misses his second shot, and then wins the hole with a birdie, it gets my goat.”
    Armed with such skills, Hagen was a consummate match play competitor. Competing back in the days when the PGA Championship was match play, Hagen won twenty-two consecutive matches. While his ability to win holes was consummate, his ability to read an opponent’s psyche was equally as strong.

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  • 2008 Fairways of Life: Top 5 Courses in the World (that you have played)

    FairwaysofLife.com and the Fairways of Life Show, which airs globally on the PGA Tour Network and on PGATour.com, recently announced the results of their yearlong effort to identify the Top 5 Courses in the World (that you have played).

    “The difference in our campaign is that listeners and visitors to the site voted for their Top 5 Courses based upon the criteria of having played the courses they recommended,” said Matt Adams, host and founder.  “In a forum such as ours, it is easy to have a discussion about what courses are the ‘Top 5 in the World,’ but often times the courses at the top of the list are available only to pros and VIP’s due to their exclusive membership.  We didn’t exclude private clubs from consideration, we simply required that you have to have played each course that you think merited being numbered among the Top 5, and ultimately, I think the courses on our list for 2008 reflect both their exceptional golfing experience and their access.”

    More than 3,000 golfers sent in their preferences.  Courses were given points based upon how many times they were chosen and where they placed.  Courses received 5 points for each First Place vote, 4 points for each Second Place vote, 3 points for each Third Place vote, 2 points for each Fourth Place vote and 1 point for each Fifth Place vote.  The final results are as follows:

    2008 Fairways of Life:  The Top 5 Courses in the World (that you have played):

    1. Ballybunion Old, Ballybunion Ireland (2,800 points) http://www.ballybuniongolfclub.ie/

      The Beauty of Ballybunion Old
      N. Cummings Photo

    2. Turnberry Ailsa Course, Turnberry, Scotland (2,100 points) http://www.turnberry.co.uk/

      Turnberry Ailsa Course

    3. Pinehurst # 2, Pinehurst, NC (1,100 points) http://www.pinehurst.com/

      Pinehurst # 2, 15th Hole
      copyright: Pinehurst Resort

    4. (tie) Royal County Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland (1,000 points) http://www.royalcountydown.org/

      Royal County Down

      Lahinch Golf Club, Lahinch, Ireland (1,000 points) http://www.lahinchgolf.com/

      6th Hole, Lahinch Golf Club
      Photo courtesy of Lahinch Golf Club

    5. Old Course, St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland (900 points) http://www.standrews.org.uk/

      R & A Building, St Andrews

    Rounding out the top ten courses, were Carnoustie, Scotland (800 points), Old Head Golf Links, Kinsale, Ireland (700 points), Pine Valley, New Jersey (700 points), Cruden Bay, Scotland (600 points), Waterville Golf Links, Ireland (600 points).

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