When I got down to write about my year in golf a year ago, an image of a bedsheet dangling from a deck at TPC River Highlands sprang to me.
During the Travelers Championship, the third PGA Tour event held after the re-start of the 2020 season, it was painted with the slogans “Hope, Love, Golf.” The coronavirus had infected 18 million people in the United States at the time, with 320,000 deaths. As I write this, the Omicron variation has taken root, the Delta variant is still circulating, Christmas plans are being rearranged, and it appears like we will be in for another winter of wearing masks, encouraging people to get vaccinated (and boosted), and hoping that it would all go away. Over 50 million Americans have been infected, with 800,000 people dying as a result of the pandemic.
Golf, on the other hand, is prospering. Tee times are nearly as difficult to come by as new golf equipment at your neighborhood pro shop. The Olympics saw gold medalists Nelly Korda and Xander Schauffele, the Masters was won by Hideki Matsuyama, and the Ryder Cup was won by the Americans. Rory McIlroy is still my favorite golfer. Tiger Woods, who nearly lost his right leg in a car accident in February, just competed in the PNC Championship with his son, Charlie.
I met my objective of hitting balls outside at least once a month during the year, which is not easy for a New Englander. I returned to Bandon Dunes and played The Sheep Ranch, played another round at Winged Foot, stood behind Jensen Castle as she won the US Women’s Amateur at Westchester Country Club, and was ecstatic to see my wife pick up the game.
It’s tempting to claim that the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines South was the best event I attended in person in 2021. You can criticize the course all you want, but Torrey Pines is a wonderful venue, and seeing Jon Rahm make great birdie putts on Sunday to defeat Louis Oosthuizen down the stretch, then kiss his 21-month-old son, Kepa, on Father’s Day when he learned he’d won, was ideal.
However, the following week at TPC River Highlands was much better.
On a day when Kevin Kisner shot 63 and Marc Leishman shot 64 to take the lead at 12 under, Harris English and Kramer Hickok tied for third place at 13 under. They played the 18th hole as the late afternoon evolved into a lovely summer evening, then played it again and again. Hickok landed in Cromwell, Connecticut, as a complete unknown, but the crowd gathered around the 18th green that evening was cheering his name, doing the wave, and “keeping hydrated” with local microbrews.
English prevailed on the eighth playoff hole, but it was Hickok’s response afterward that made the incident even more memorable than the playoff’s length. His parents had come down from Texas, and his wife, Anne, had brought Elvis, the couple’s black labrador retriever puppy, with them.
The family was gathered near the clubhouse, virtually awestruck and taking in the day after Elvis stole the show during Hickok’s post-round interview. When duty beckoned, I spoke with Kramer about the situation. Then his wife approached me and asked if I may photograph everyone. It was encouraging to see everyone’s delight in Kramer’s effort, sportsmanship, and genuine joy at being so close to realizing his ambition.
If we all possessed Hickok’s mindset, the world would be a better place. Despite being exhausted, he did not whine or hang his head after giving it his all and coming up short. He took pleasure in giving it his all and surrounded himself with individuals who admired and supported him.
Golf reminded me that’s what it’s all about, and I’m grateful for that.
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