A year ago, as I sat down to write about my year in golf, the image of a bed sheet hanging from a patio at TPC River Highlands came to my mind.
It had been painted with the words âHope, Love, Golfâ during the Travelers Championship, the third PGA Tour event held after the 2020 season restarted. By this point, 18 million people in the United States had been infected with the coronavirus and 320,000 had died. As I type this the Omicron variant has come out on top, the Delta variant is still everywhere, vacation plans are being changed and it looks like we’re ready for another winter of wearing masks, encouraging people to get vaccinated (and booster), and dream that everything goes away. More … than 50 million Americans have been infected and 800,000 have died during this pandemic.
And yet, golf is booming. Tee times are almost as hard to come by as new equipment at your local professional store. Nelly Korda and Xander Schotele won gold medals at the Olympics, Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters and the Americans won the Ryder Cup. Rory McIlroy is still my hero. Tiger Woods, one way or another, has just competed in the PNC Championship with his son, Charlie, after nearly losing his right leg in a car crash in February.
I achieved my goal of at least hitting balls outdoors every month of the year which is not easy as a New Englishman. I came back to Bandon Dunes and played Sheep Ranch, did another round at Winged Foot, walked behind Jensen Castle at Westchester Country Club as she won the US Women’s Amateur and i was delighted to see my wife resume the game.
It would be tempting to say that the best event I’ve seen in person in 2021 was the US Open at Torrey Pines South. Chat up whatever you love about the course, but as a venue Torrey Pines is spectacular, and see Jon Rahm make sensational birdie putts on Sunday to defeat Louis Oosthuizen down the stretch, then kiss his 2.5-month-old son. , Kepa, on Father’s Day when he realized he had won was perfect.
But the following week, back to TPC River Highlands, it was even better.
On a Sunday Kevin Kisner shot 63, Marc Leishman signed for a 64 that put him in the lead at 12 under, Harris English and Kramer Hickok were tied at 13 under. As the end of the afternoon turned into a beautiful summer evening, they played the 18th hole and then played it over and over. Hickok arrived in Cromwell, Connecticut as a stranger, but that night the ringing crowds at the 18th green were cheering his name, splashing around and “staying hydrated” with local microbreweries.
The Englishman won on the eighth hole of the playoffs, but what made the scene even more special than the longevity of the playoffs was Hickok’s reaction afterward. His parents had come from Texas, his wife Anne was there too, and she had brought Elvis, the couple’s black Labrador retriever puppy.
After Elvis stole the show during Hickok’s post-tour interview, the family gathered near the clubhouse, almost speechless and taking the day off. Duty called and I spoke to Kramer about the experience. Then his wife came over and asked if I wanted to take some pictures of everyone. Seeing everyone’s pride in Kramer’s effort, his sportsmanship and his genuine joy in almost making his dream come true was a source of inspiration.
The world would be a better place if we all had an attitude like Hickok’s. After giving everything and failing, even though he was tired, he didn’t complain or lower his head. He took pleasure in doing his best and surrounded himself with people who support and love him.
I am grateful that golf has reminded me that this is what it is.