With less-than-sincere apologies to all winter sports enthusiasts, I’m confident that I speak for the majority of golfers in the Northeast when I make a polite, but blunt, directive toward Mother Nature: Enough!
This time last year, many diehards were taking a break from all the winter golf made possible by warm weather and a consistent lack of snow. Not so in 2013, which has dropped plenty of white pain on the region and remained cold so that, with April fast approaching, many yards — and golf courses — still contain pockets of shade-protected snow that have yet to completely melt.
Unless you were fortunate to sneak away to a warmer climate, many of us have gone months since our last walk around a course. The itch, then, has simply reached a point where it desperately needs to be scratched, and soon. A few courses in the area, mostly south, have obliged and are already open. Many more will begin to welcome eager customers in the coming weeks, hoping the weather allows for a steady stream of playable days.
Whenever the New England golf season does officially start — is there a better rush of adrenaline than standing on the first tee for the first round of the year? — it promises to be historic, unpredictable, and occasionally reflective. Hopefully because of sweet shots and low rounds that we author. In lieu of that, 2013 will be remembered locally because of an anniversary that will be celebrating someone else’s accomplishment, with a national tournament being played in August that will also pay proper homage to the achievement.
It’s been 100 years since Francis Ouimet — a caddie by trade but a boy dreamer all the same who fell in love with golf — walked from his family house across the street to The Country Club in Brookline and won the 1913 US Open, still regarded by many as the greatest golfing triumph in this nation’s history. Totally unexpected, arguably heroic, and undeniably inspirational, Ouimet’s win over British titans Ted Ray and Harry Vardon had more to do with spreading the relatively new game across the country than perhaps any other, and ultimately gave fellow caddies with similar aspirations — Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan, to name three — a clear path to follow.
Many assumed the 2013 US Open would be played at The Country Club, which also hosted the tournament in 1963 (on the 50th anniversary of Ouimet’s win) and 1988 (the 75th). But the season’s second major championship has turned into a sizable financial and logistical undertaking, so it’s the US Amateur, not the US Open, which will decide its 2013 champion at The Country Club. This year’s US Open will be played at Merion, near Philadelphia. Ouimet, who died in 1967, would still be proud: In addition to winning the 1913 US Open as a 20-year-old unheralded amateur, he was a two-time winner of the US Amateur, in 1914 and 1931.
More than 300 of the best amateurs in the country — and internationally — will travel to Boston for this year’s US Amateur, which will be held Aug. 12-18 at The Country Club, with Charles River Country Club serving as the second course during the stroke-play portion of the tournament. It’ll mark the sixth time the US Amateur has been held at The Country Club, but first since 1982.
Prior to that, Ouimet will be the focal point of the annual banquet thrown by the scholarship fund that bears his name and has raised more than $25 million since 1949 to help send more than 5,000 Bay State scholars to college. Scheduled for May 15 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund’s Centennial Gala will feature appearances by Arnold Palmer and Peter Jacobsen, as well as author Mark Frost, whose book on Ouimet’s US Open win was turned into a popular movie.
Those interested in participating in either or both events can still do so. Tickets are available and volunteers are being sought for the US Amateur (www.2013usamateur.com), and tickets are also available for the banquet (www.ouimet.org).
We might be impatiently waiting to start our seasons, but the professional tours are well underway, so there’s been good golf to follow, on the course and off. One of the biggest — and most divisive — topics continues to be whether the US Golf Association and the R&A will ban the anchored putting stroke that has been favored recently by many top touring pros. Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, responded to the ban proposal by announcing that, should golf’s governing bodies approve the measure, the tour will not recognize it. The PGA of America is also staunchly opposed to the ban. Other tours, including the LPGA and European Tour, have said they will honor the decision, which should be made public this spring. I’m in favor of the ban — the anchored stroke, not long or belly putters — and didn’t need to be swayed by three others who have spoken out in favor of eliminating the anchored stroke. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Palmer firmly believe that golf shouldn’t allow players to anchor the putter to the body, feeling it provides a competitive advantage. Consider the sources: They’ve combined to win only 39 professional major championships.
Woods continues to chase Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, but with 14 he remains stuck on the number he was at almost five years ago. He’s showing signs he’s ready to end the drought, though. Already a three-time winner in only five tour starts in 2013, Woods is putting up the kind of numbers and posing for pictures with large checks and trophies at a similar frequency to when he was dominating the game a decade ago. At 37, maybe he’s realizing that to overtake Nicklaus, he can’t go five more years without a major.
He’ll face competition that isn’t intimidated by him anymore, including Rory McIlroy, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland whom Woods just passed to reclaim the world’s No. 1 ranking. It’s a position Woods hadn’t been in since October 2010.
Hard to believe, but it’s been eight years since Woods last won the Masters, the year’s first major championship that begins at Augusta National Golf Club in two weeks. Maybe by then all the snow in New England will finally be gone and we’ll be able to resume the joyful pursuit.
Enjoy the season, everyone.