Katie Burnett, Derek Ernst, and Arnold Palmer
In golf terms, I’m older than Niagara Falls, but lucky me – I’ve seen wave after wave of golfers pass through the pantheon of this sport, and I’m more than grateful for it. One of golf’s beauties is that you’re never a “nobody,” provided, that is, you can score against the best. It’s a place where the press can comment all it wants, but it can’t argue with the score. It can’t impose its view of who can do it and who can’t upon the leaderboard. Part of the fun in golf is that we never know who might come out of nowhere and forge themselves into a presence, and every participant has the right to try.
Part of being older than the famous falls, I’ve also been privileged to follow those who emerged in that way decades and decades ago. Believe it or not, there was a time when not that many people who knew who Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were. They weren’t fashioned by the press, either. They fashioned themselves through showing up and mastering the field on a consistent basis.
What that means to me is that in observing the game of golf, I get to observe a very wide historical shot of the game. This week, I got a glimpse of the new youth, and reminisced about my own through now elderly greats. Frankly, I love underdogs who surprise us, and I love legends who deserve it.
For example, I noticed that Katie Burnett, a 2012 graduate of the University of South Carolina, was in a position to be heard after the third round of the Kingsmill Championship. The leaderboard was dominated by proven greatness, but she was four under after 54 holes, and could have made a run at it, had things rolled a little differently. What’s cool about that? Katie is the 393 ranked player. She qualified for the American tour, but didn’t score well enough for full privileges. She qualified for the European tour by shooting par with rented clubs after the airline lost her bag, then using her own to shoot a 65. I love that sort of stuff. Did anybody see her coming? Golf Channel doesn’t even have a bio on her, and that makes it even better. I do hope we’ll see a lot of her.
Twenty-two year old Derek Ernst of Woodland, Ca. played for UNLV, and just won the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship. His bank account went from approximately 16,000 to a million and a quarter. Anyone see that coming? Derek has made two cuts, was ranked, 1,027th, and was a 4th alternate for the tournament. It’s not like Derek can’t play golf. He was twice Mountain Player of the Year, and runner-up at the U.S. Amateur Public Links, but his story is perfect for my underdog thing.
Incidentally, Ernst (which means “serious” auf Deutsch) played for the Palmer Cup, in which American and European collegiates compete. It’s named for Arnold Palmer, who used to play…ah, but wait, used to?
This is another beauty of the game as it stretches out over my entire life. Arnold Palmer was out playing golf this weekend…with Jack and Gary, no less. They were a three man team in the Champions Insperity Championship, and finished behind Johnny Miller, Dave Stockton and Tony Jacklin. Lee Trevino and all the gang were there. What year is this? Arnie is in his eighties, and doesn’t have a ranking anymore, except in the hearts of almost all who ever played the game in the last sixty years. But there he was, competing – “It’s coming close to when I won’t be playing…so, a last few times will be fun. Who knows, we might hole a wedge or something.”
I feel like one of those centenarians who watched the Wright brothers and the moon landing, which for me translates to Gene Sarazen to Tiger Woods, Patty Berg to Stacy Lewis. How could any fan dream of such a wide angle lens on the game they love? Did anyone see that coming? I sure didn’t.