Monday, October 18, 2010

A Two Week Recap

Two weeks ago, as the Ryder Cup was ending, thus sending most golf writers into hibernation for three months, I was boarding a flight to Alabama to spend two weeks on the road with the LPGA, caddying and interacting and essentially becoming one of their own.

Before, when I was pulling caddie duties, I felt like an outsider, one of those guys that was around but wasn't really around. The kind of guy that Michelle Wie would accidentally call "Sean," (which happened, even if only as a joke) because, honestly, why the hell would she remember my name?

The first stop on my caddie tour was in Prattville, Alabama, a place so different from the place I live that when asking the lady that runs the gym where I should head to get some "good, local food," she recommended Outback Steakhouse. Seriously.

The week started off with a practice round with some of Irene Cho's best friends, Christina Kim and Cristie Kerr. For all the talent that Irene possesses, it still takes a push and a shove from me to convince her that she is one of the best golfers in the world, something I absolutely believe, especially after spending some time around a few of these golfers. It was a vote of confidence from one of the best players in the world to Irene's game that made me realize I'm not the only one that sees it. Irene is good. That was shown the first two days at Alabama.

Irene shot 68-68, good enough for 8-under after two days and very much in the hunt. The score could have been a shot lower on Friday if not for an older gentleman that felt Irene's putting was getting in the way of his coughing. Standing over a six-footer on her 18th hole, Irene was beaming with confidence after a well played 17 holes, and if she cashing this putt, 9-under would be her two day score. But just as she took the putter back, someone in the bleachers cleared his throat with the shrewdness of A F-16 jet engine, Irene flinched, the putt went left, and the man got a look that he won't soon forget.

The weekend didn't go as smoothly. Putts weren't dropping like they had the day before. Lag putts seemed to stop a foot or so faster than they had the first two days. The scores weren't coming together. It was an absolute lesson in professional golf. The adage that most have heard before is that, "tournaments can't be won on the first day, but they sure can be lost." That absolutely can be flipped around. Yes, it's awesome to have two solid opening rounds, but if there isn't much going in over the weekend, those two rounds are for naught. It is the type of situation that, as I always try to say to Irene, can be looked at positively. Sure, you didn't fire rounds of 68-67 over the weekend to win the damn thing, but what did you learn? What can you take from this? How can you make it be better the next time? It's tough to try and build on that right away, but I guarantee that the Alabama week will be something Irene has in the back of her head the next time she goes out on fire. She will just try and take each round a shot at a time, and hopefully the putts won't be so scared of the hole.

The next stop was San Francisco, but I must jump in for a second and tell you this; the fact that ANY LPGA player can travel by themselves is astonishing. Irene, who packed fairly lightly as I came to found out, had a HUGE golf bag, a HUGE clothes bag, another bag that she carries on, and a purse that, well, was as far from a clutch as possible (seriously, you could have pulled three miners out of that thing). I was there helping her through the airport, and even I was struggling with it all. The fact that she can do this alone is impressive enough for me. I would have ended up having some sort of meltdown in the middle of Atlanta airport, with all my bags laying around me like one of those street salesmen outside the Spanish Steps in Rome.

But, back to golf. We flew to San Francisco, drove to Danville, and set out scopes on a golf course that makes the word "hilly" seem flat. This golf course shouldn't be walked ... ever. It is the type of golf course that golf carts were invented for. How steep was the damn thing? During a practice round, one of the shuttle carts that took people from No. 11 to No. 12 nearly flipped out BACKWARDS with three LPGA players on the back. Yes, the front two tires were OFF THE GROUND. It almost seems that a law should be in place against that sort of thing. My back actually just started aching thinking about Blackhawk.

If Alabama was a good night ending with someone puking in the bathroom with a friend holding her hair back, Danville was a hungover morning that just continues to get better. Irene was three-over after four holes on Thursday. We three-putted the 10th, 11th and 13th holes. I must admit (and I told Irene this on Sunday evening, only to get the death stare) that at one point, I was thinking about flying home on Friday. But again, that's the difference between a pro golfer and someone like me, who has a golf game that resembles Homer Simpson (I fall, and I can't get up). Irene started battling back. She made birdie on 14.

She three-putted the 16th to give it back, only to hit it close on 17 and lip-out for birdie. We were 3-over after eight holes, but the best was yet to come. Standing in the 18th fairway, our 9th hole of the day, Irene's tee shot had left us 141 yards in. We contemplated the club, deciding on an 8-iron. Irene hit it, and I found myself yelling "go in the hole" as it had locked on with the flagstick. This thing was going to be good, you could just feel it. That good? Nope, I didn't really know it was going to do that. The ball took two big hops on the rock-hard greens, checked, rolled and disappeared for an eagle. The look on Irene's face was priceless, as it should be. She had just cashed a golf shot to get her back in this golf tournament. Irene went on to post even-par on Thursday, and a 71 on Friday.

While Saturday was a struggle, it was Sunday that shows how tough Irene can be as a golfer. In rainy, shitty, nasty, crappy conditions, Irene made four birdies and an eagle to close with 68, the third lowest score of the day. She had fought back and finished 33rd.

Golf tournaments are a dance with the devil you hope ends with a proper smooch. Nothing about them are easy, but if you can keep your head afloat for long enough, you might just finish stronger than you'd hoped.

I cherished the two weeks I had, and made even more buddies on the LPGA Tour that I hope will remember me, even if they insist on calling me Sean.

Now, back to that ice pack on my back ...


Mike said...

If you didn't know, Shane, Hound Dog says on his blog that he thinks Irene is a lock for a Top 80 finish on the money list. Looks like you did a good job. ;-)

Megan said...

great job shane!

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