By Larry Hansgen
The fourth and final major tournament on the men’s golf calendar tees off later this week at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. The PGA championship will feature the top players from all over the world. But in addition to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Adam Scott, the field will also include several unknown club pros from across America.
Seeing guys who spend much of their summers behind the counter in the pro shop, or schlepping carts at outings, competing against their more pampered peers lends an “everyman” type of feeling unique to this major.
I would also venture to say that golf, like bowling, is one of the few sports where adults can closely identify to the premier professionals. My baseball-playing days are long behind me, and softball is a poor imitation. A pickup game of basketball in a driveway can hardly be compared to the NBA, and does one really want to suit up a 40-year-old-plus body in full pads to play football?
But in golf we are playing the same game using virtually the same equipment as the men and women we see inside the ropes or on TV. Cost aside, we can even play the same courses. I have not played the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, but it’s on my bucket list when I next visit family in that area. Moreover, the handicap system and different tees allow golfers of different abilities to compete on an even playing field.
Several years back, then-Heatherwood pro Bill Kumle and I played a match on that course. I was playing to an 18 handicap at the time, and Bill was a scratch golfer. I played reasonably well, and shot a 90 to tie Bill’s even-par 72. I was pleased, although he may not have been.
So this weekend network TV executives will anxiously wait to see if ratings can spike if Tiger is in the hunt come Sunday. But as much as I enjoy stars, I will be pulling for some unknown who struggles with his game usually and never gets to play or practice as much as he wants or needs to.
Because I can really relate to that.