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Jan 20

Dubious Golf Honors: What’s Really Going On?


It’s a very nice game, played by very nice people, shooting very nice scores at the worst – right? Wrong. Just guess at how much expensive hardware lies at creek and pond bottoms (Charley Hoffman’s putter-what did he use the rest of the round?). What are they really saying after a bad shot as the TV camera gets close for the benefit of lip readers? What do they really think of each other, and what are the worst golfing moments in history?

Temper honors are not so difficult to assess, except that the competition is so high. In this era, we have Tiger, King of the Blue Streak, Sergio Garcia, Wazir of the Whine and Woody Austin, Gold Medalist in the bag toss. In the previous generation, however, we had “Terrible Tommy” Bolt (also known as “Thunder”), and Tom “Towering Inferno” Weiskopf (he was also tall), but the TV cameras were more shy then, so we can’t really compare generations using different technologies. And broken clubs? Thank goodness these are professionals who know how to handle the tools of their trade. An American amateur broke a club against a cart last year and stabbed himself in the abdomen, six inches deep – true, I swear it.
 
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In the dubious honors category for out of control scoring, there are many participants. Three up and three to go, Ed Sneed bogeyed the last three holes to lose the Masters. Aaron Baddeley did the grand foot shoot in the U.S. Open, and Arnold lost a green jacket through a momentary break in concentration. But the truly embarrassing one – that’s what we’re looking for. Angelo Spagnolo shot a 157 at Sawgrass by carding a 66 on the 17th, but that wasn’t in the pros (was it?).

Ray Ainsley shot a 23 in the ’38 U.S. Open, but we’ve almost forgotten about it now. He’d done it once before in the ’27 Shawnee Open, but who’s counting? John Daly is your all-time leader, not for pure numbers, but for consistency – the most dubious honor-gatherer of all time.

Big John shot an 18 and an 11 at Bay Hill, worst ever for a non-major. He followed it with a 12 at the Freeport-McMoran Classic, a 12 at Bell South, a 10 at Memorial and a 14 in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Anonymous player surveys are revealing, and not just a little fun for compiling dubious honor lists. Todd Hamilton garners 18% as the best joke-teller. When asked about the greatest athlete, 8% responded, “I am.” In answer to the best caddie, 46% said “Mine,” and Jeff Ogilvie received 50% for being the brightest. And who would you rather have dinner with? Mickelson and Singh each got 50%. One player responded that he could either listen to Uncle Phil spout everything he knows for two hours, or sit with a totally silent Singh – what a choice.

Polls taken to gauge a player’s percentage of “most disliked” were surprising. Nicklaus was intensely disliked in the early 60s, while Fuzzy Zoeller and his attitude problem were listed frequently. Bob Tway and Rory Sabbatini got in there once or twice, but Colin Montgomerie got more than his fair share. One respondent said, “I hear he hates old people, kids, and is mean to dogs when nobody’s watching.” Most misunderstood by colleagues in early career? Gary Player, of course. Everybody knew he’d win a Masters or two, but as an adolescent couch potato, I thought he’d be fitted for his “Green Straightjacket,” considering his views on nutrition and exercise (all in good fun – he was actually my greatest hero). Most over-hyped? Charles Howell III. That’s not fair. He can’t help having a name that suggests he was marooned on Gilligan’s Island.

Golf itself was chosen as the fifth most hated sport this year – by those who play it! The most hated woman in the game? Norwegian Unni Haskell, a sixty two year old retiree who scored a hole-in-one on the first golf swing of her entire life. I would applaud a feat like that, but her comment was “Isn’t that what I was supposed to do?” Get her outta here. Phil Mickelson seems to take the most heat from colleagues, who apparently think he’s one person in the clubhouse and another holding the trophy. You know, in a profession where the last place player in Tiger’s tournament takes home $140,000, I thought everyone would be a lot happier.

Oh well, maybe it’s not such a good idea to hand out dubious golf honors, but I’ll be anxious to read the 2012 list. Some may claim that it isn’t friendly to get under the game’s skin and see the dark side like that. Out of pure compassion, I never mentioned Kevin Na’s whiffed drive or one hole score of 16. And, I’ve completely left the French alone, even though they own the patron saint of dubious honors pour la grand choque. Unfriendly, maybe – but knowing that Daly shot all those 12s and 14s sure has made me feel better.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.