The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

Golf in Morocco: Silver tongs for the King's cigarette

This past week, the European Tour was in Morocco, for the Hassan II Trophy. I attended that tournament in 2000, and I liked Morocco so much that, a few months later, I went back, with my wife and our two children. The Trophy didn’t become an official tour event until 2010, and when I was there it was played on a different course, but the broadcast of this year’s event brought back a lot of happy memories. Here I am having tea at the royal stables, in Bouznika:

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The tournament is named for (and was founded by) King Hassan II, who ruled Morocco from 1961 until his death, in 1999 -- the year before I visited. Hassan was a passionate golfer. He employed a squadron of caddies (one of whom was responsible for gripping the royal cigarette with a pair of silver tongs while the King swung his club), and shot mediocre scores that easily could have been worse (because kings are not obligated to play from bad lies or extricate themselves from bunkers). Hassan viewed golf not merely as a palliative to the tedium of absolute power but also as a potential bridge between his country and the United States -- then, as now, the world’s most enticing source of exportable prosperity.

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Hassan took up golf during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, whose widely chronicled enthusiasm had imbued the game with sort of hokey Free World allure -- as did the contemporaneous rise of Arnold Palmer, who was golf’s first television star, and, a little later, the emergence of Jack Nicklaus, who turned pro the year of Hassan’s coronation. 

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The King was not a natural player, however, and by the mid-1960s he was looking for an American instructor to help him bring his scores out of the triple digits. He settled on Claude Harmon, who had won the Masters in 1948 and was the head pro at Winged Foot. Harmon made numerous visits to Morocco in the late '60s and early '70s, in return for which the King gave him, among other things, jeweled daggers, rugs, swords, a cigar box stuffed with cash and a Lincoln Continental Mark III. Harmon eventually moved his family to Rabat. In the early '70s, his eldest son, Butch -- later the teacher of Tiger Woods -- served as the head pro at Royal Dar es Salaam Golf Club, where the Trophy was held in 2000.

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During the tournament’s formative years, Hassan II had concerns unrelated to golf. In 1971, his 42nd birthday party was crashed by more than a thousand rebellious soldiers; they killed nearly a hundred guests before the King, who had hidden in a bathroom during the worst of the shooting, effected a change of heart in one of the revolt’s commanders by looking him in the eye and reciting the first verse of the Koran. (The rebel knelt and kissed his sovereign’s hand.) The following year, the King’s plane was attacked in the air by four F-5 fighters from his own Air Force. One of the plane's engines was destroyed, but it managed to land in Rabat -- where the rebels continued to strafe it until the King grabbed his plane’s radio and shouted, “Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!” Both incidents were followed by the inevitable bureaucratic shufflings and summary executions. Then the King went back to working on his game.

To be continued.

MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Masters Countdown: Augusta National's worst golfer ever?

Here’s what Augusta National’s first green looked like during the first Masters, when the hole was still the tenth. That bunker was really more of a waste area. It was later removed, and a different bunker was added closer to the green:

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During the club’s early years, a small creek ran across the first fairway, at the bottom of the hill, less than a hundred yards from the tee. The carry over the ditch was so short that few players noticed, but a member named Clarence J. Schoo drove into it so often that it came to be known as Schooie’s Gulch. Schoo was the founder and president of a boxboard manufacturing company in Springfield, Massachusetts. The company doesn’t exist anymore, but Schoo's name is preserved in the Schoo Science Center at Springfield College, of which he and his wife were benefactors.

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At Augusta National one day, Schoo topped yet another drive into Schooie's Gulch, and told Clifford Roberts, the club's co-founder and chairman, “I wish you’d fill in that damn ditch.” Roberts did, during the summer of 1951 -- and sent the bill to Schoo. Or so the story goes. In truth, the ditch had always been a maintenance problem. Roberts also wanted to replace the club’s old Masters press tent, which really was a tent, with a Quonset hut. The new building was going to go to the right of the first fairway, near where the big scoreboard is today, and the ditch was in the way. The photo below shows the inside of the Quonset hut in the early 1950s. The sportswriters' laptops look strange, but their beer cans and cigarettes are recognizable:

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Schoo did pay for part of the alteration, but he did so gladly, and he almost certainly wasn’t surprised when he opened his bill. He and Roberts were close friends, He was also one of the most popular members, and he later served as one of the club's vice presidents. Here’s a note that another popular member, former President Eisenhower, sent him after Schoo had missed Eisenhower’s birthday party:

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Schoo was such a poor golfer that when he one day made a natural birdie Roberts decided that he should be paid the same cash pot that ordinarily went to a golfer who made a hole-in-one, on the theory that Schooie was never going to come closer. Another time, while Schoo was playing the seventh hole in a foursome that also included Roberts and Eisenhower,he hit a drive that traveled just a few yards, into a clump of pampas grass to the left of the tee. He said, “Well, in all the years I’ve been playing here, that’s the first time I’ve done that.” That summer, the grounds crew cut back the pampas grass and found many balls with his name imprinted on them. On another occasion, Schoo said with exasperation that he must be the worst golfer in the club. His caddie, who had been around long enough to hear stories but not long enough to recognize faces, said, “No, sir. The worst golfer in this club is Mr. Schoo.”

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My Usual Game

Are these the best socks for golf?

First, a weather update. Here's what the my patio looked like on March 2:

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And here's what it looked like two weeks later:

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Note that the enormous tabletop "snow loaf" in the first photo has virtually disappeared, revealing the handle of a barbecue utensil I forgot to bring indoors before the weather went to hell. You can also make out almost all of my charcoal grill, which, somewhat surprisingly, I remembered to cover up the last time I used it. Meanwhile, Pelham Bay Golf Course, in the Bronx, has announced that it will reopen on Thursday, and, if it really does, the Sunday Morning Group's winter competition, the Jagermeister Kup, will resume there this weekend. (I'll be traveling, alas.)

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During the lousy weather, I've been testing (during dog walks) some socks I learned about from guys who hang out with PGA Tour players. They're made by a company called Kentwool, which is the official game-day sock provider of Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, among others. Charles Barkley -- whose feet are so big (size 16) that he may need to wear two on each foot -- says, "Even though my golf game is terrible, my feet always feel great in my Kentwool socks." Here's what the quarter-height golf socks look like:

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And here's what the tall golf socks look like:

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Both kinds are 75 percent wool, and they're padded and hinged in all the right places, and they really do feel great, with shoes or without. A word of caution: the short socks are 20 bucks a pair, and the tall ones are 25, so you probably shouldn't place an order without first talking to your financial adviser. Another word of caution: a person who works in the clothing industry told me recently that two of the next big trends in golf socks are going to be "big" and "colorful." On one of my first reporting assignments, more than 30 years ago, I traveled to England with a large group of American Beatles fanatics, among them Charles F. Rosenay!!!, who had had three exclamation points legally added to his last name. Here's a picture of Rosenay!!! at a rest stop near the birthplace of William Shakespeare:

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He was ahead of the curve on both the Converse All Stars and the man purse, so don't automatically assume that he was wrong about the socks.

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My Usual Game

You need this flashlight for your golf bag (or your police car)

My Golf Digest colleague Guy Yocom recently told me about a super-powerful flashlight he'd bought after learning about it about from a policeman he knows in Ohio:

When the cop used one on the job, virtually everyone in his department fell in love with it. Out of curiosity, I bought the outfit, too. He was right -- the light is so bright that it illuminates my entire backyard. And when you shine it on a white ceiling inside you can easily read a book, vacuum, or make the bed. What you cannot do is stare at the bulb for longer than one second. It definitely would blind anyone not named Clark Kent.
fenixpd35.jpgThe flashlight is called the Fenix PD35. It has four beam settings and a maximum output of 960 lumens -- which is bright. Yocom continued:

Of course, I thought about whether it could be used for golf. The answer is yes, especially if all four guys in a group carried one. The Fenix  is small and fits in a little hip holster. With two of these things popping at full brightness, you could easily illuminate a guy’s entire shot, from start to finish, and read a green as well at night as in daytime. 

I bought one immediately. In tests of my own, I have also proven -- and this could be important -- that the beam is powerful enough to melt snow.  The outfit Yocom recommends consists of the light, a pair of rechargeable batteries, and a charger. I also bought a detachable red filter, because red light doesn't kill your eyes'  adaptation to dark. Or so I've read.

Yocom, incidentally, is Golf Digest's master interviewer. He's done some great ones over the years. Why don't you cut the power in your house, shine your Fenix on the ceiling, and re-read a few of them -- maybe starting with this one, with Payne Stewart in 1999.


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My Usual Game

Pi Day: How long is "one more roll"?

When a ball stops on the rim of the cup, golfers and TV announcers often say that it needed "one more roll" or "one more rotation." But they're wrong, and Pi Day -- which celebrates the discovery of the mathematical ratio between a circle's diameter and its circumference, and is celebrated for obvious reasons today, on 3/14 -- is the ideal time to explain why. A golf ball, to be legal, has to be at least 1.68 inches in diameter. That means that its circumference -- the length of "one more roll" -- is at least 3.14 times 1.68, or 5.28 inches. And that length is eerily similar to one that was in the news earlier this month. Coincidence? ... Read
My Usual Game

The only foolproof way to preserve golf memories

When my wife was growing up, her parents kept the family’s snapshots in, literally, a shoe box. Right now, by contrast, I’ve got many thousands of images spread among four or five personal computers, an external hard drive, an iPad, my smartphone, the camera in my golf bag, two other cameras, and the servers at Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Instagram, Carbonite, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Mixbook, and probably a few others -- plus an assortment of thumb drives and memory cards, which I’m constantly almost putting into the wash. Storing photographs in digital form is extremely convenient, but there’s a danger. You wouldn’t be happy today if, a dozen years ago, you had decided to archive your children’s baby pictures on Iomega Zip disks.

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The solution is to employ a picture-storage format that can’t become obsolete. For more than thirty years, I’ve been a semi-obsessive compiler of physical photo albums, which now fill two large shelves in my living room. The earliest of those albums contain printed photographs glued to paper, but I’ve become a total convert to self-published photo books, which consume less shelf space, are easier to assemble, and can easily be recreated if they’re damaged or lost. The first one I made covered a family trip almost a decade ago. Since then, I’ve made at least twenty, including several that document golf trips abroad. 

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I’ve used four different online services to make those books, and I’ve watched the technology improve steadily. My current favorite service is Mixbook, which lets you easily edit, resize, crop, and arrange photographs on pages whose design you can customize as much or as little as you like. Here's what a spread looks like when you're working on it. The yellow lines are alignment aids; they appear each time you fiddle with a picture:

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You can add text. You can scan scorecards and add those. You can invite friends to contribute material, too. You can work on a project a page or two at a time. You can wait to place your order until whatever service you're using is offering a deep discount -- as they all do repeatedly.

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If you're stuck for a tee gift for your member-guest  how about giving every player a photo book full of pictures taken during the tournament? You could even give each one a different cover, featuring a photo of the recipient. And, if you're stuck for a birthday present for your wife, why not give her a book that lovingly documents what you're up to when you're not around?

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Incidentally, if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can store an unlimited number of photographs on Amazon Cloud Drive -- an easy way to unclog a hard drive.

MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Making awesome golf stuff even awesomer

A group of professional caddies is suing the PGA Tour for requiring them to wear bibs bearing the logos of companies that pay fees to the tour but not to the caddies -- and I hope they win, because it’s true, as one sportswriter said, that the tour is forcing the caddies to serve as “unpaid human billboards.” It’s a good thing they didn’t ask me to represent them in their lawsuit, though, because my own first reaction would have been “Wow! Free caddie bibs!”

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My friends and I not only happily wear logo-covered golf stuff that nobody pays us to wear; we even spend money of our own to add additional logos to our already-logo-covered stuff, the better to emulate Jim “5-Hour Energy-and-Web.com-plus-SunGard-Financial-among-many-other-companies” Furyk and his fellow tour members. We may not be able to play like those guys, but we can dress like them. Someday, maybe, we’ll even be able to dress like NASCAR drivers.

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Recently, we had quite a bit of additional stuff embroidered on our beloved Jagermeister sweatshirts, which Jagermeister gave us in recognition of our demonstrated eagerness to serve as unpaid shills for that company’s main product, the official cold-weather intoxicant of the Sunday Morning Group. We had the embroidery done at another company we’re proud to endorse: Full Circle Promos, which customizes all sorts of clothing for all sorts of people, including us.

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Recently, Michael Giacona, who owns Full Circle, gave me a tour of his operation. Here he is in his shop, standing in front of part of his inventory of embroidery thread:

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Embroidering stuff on stuff is more complicated than I had realized. You can’t just scan an image and let a machine do the rest, Giacona explained, because if you did that you’d end up with a flat, featureless expanse of thread, rather than the sculptural magnificence you see in, for example, these police-department patches, which Giacona created. Notice in particular the patch that’s second from the far right: the silver part looks like bas relief, even though the thread is just one color.

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To create effects like that, Giacona uses a computer program that allows him to assemble embroidery images stitch by stitch. Here’s what his computer screen looked like when he was converting our two-dimensional scan of the Jagermeister logo into the three-dimensional logo he added to our official Sunday Morning Group winter knit caps:

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And here’s what his screen looked like when he was doing the same thing to our faked version of the famous Jagermeister typeface:

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Once he’s created a map of the image, he loads the file into his embroidering machine and snaps a frame on the garment:

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Then he locks the frame into his embroidering machine:

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And then he lets it fly. The machine can do six items simultaneously,up to fifteen colors each (although nobody ever actually uses that many colors at one time):

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Many years ago, a plumber taught me how to sweat copper tubing (in exchange for an ancient wood-burning furnace that I never used), and I was so excited that I told my wife we ought to have running water in every room of our house. Similarly, when I learned how to install plastic laminate, I thought about how convenient our lives would be if our dining room table and piano had Formica-covered tops. Now I feel the same about embroidered logos. There's still some space available in my closet, but it's going fast.

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MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Nine holes with a mysterious stranger, plus losing on purpose

Dayton Olson was a talented amateur who turned pro in 1965. He played in one PGA Tour event and one Champions Tour event -- the 1983 U.S. Senior Open, at Hazeltine -- and made the cut in both. He also won the 1963 Manitoba Open, a PGA Tour Canada tournament now known as the Players Cup. He owned driving ranges in Minnesota, and died in 2011. 

daytonolson.jpgRecently, his son Mike, a reader in Oregon (and a talented amateur himself, with a lifetime low handicap of plus-2) wrote with some reminiscences:

Winning the Manitoba Open got my dad a 10-year exemption. We lived in Minnetonka, and every summer we would go up to Winnipeg for a little vacation, and my dad would play in the tournament. When I was old enough, I would caddie for him, and he would let me bring my clubs. I played with him during a practice round before one of the Opens, and at about five in the evening, when we were on the tenth tee, this guy comes walking around some shrubs and asks if he can join us. I thought he was a nut, or an old hacker, but he and my dad knew each other, and my dad whispered, “Just watch him.” He teed his ball on a golf pencil, and I was thinking I don't want to play with this clown -- but then he striped it 260 down the middle. He played very fast, and would often talk while he was swinging, but he kept hitting near-perfect shots. It was intimidating for me -- but he was very friendly, and when I would hit one of my few good shots he would say, “There ya go, kid -- good one.” He seemed like he was just fooling around, and he took zero time, especially for putts, which he didn’t even line up, but he still shot about two-under for nine holes.
Moesmiling.jpgThe stranger was the Canadian golf legend Moe Norman (photo above), who, among numerous other accomplishments, had won the Manitoba Open three years in a row, in 1965-’67. Olson saw him again at the same tournament in 1971, when he was 15:

I caddied for my dad, and he did well in the tournament, and when he was finished we left his bag by the practice green and he went into the clubhouse. Moe was leading, so I stayed. He ended up in a tie, and 60 or 70 of us went out to watch the playoff. On the second hole, Moe has about a 40-footer for birdie, and he lags it up, like, two inches from the hole, and the other player, a young guy from Florida, says “Pick it up” -- and Moe scoops up the ball with his putter. As they’re walking to the next tee, some tournament officials come running up, and they’re telling Moe he can’t pick up his ball like that, because this is stroke play, not match play. And Moe can’t believe it. He says, “He gave me the putt -- are you guys deaf?” And then, “Well, this sure is a bunch of crap. I’m never coming back here. Winnipeg is a bush town anyway.” And he starts walking off the course.
The other player was John Elliott, Jr., then in his early twenties. He had served in the Army in Vietnam, and had won the Bronze Star. He was married to Sandra Post, a Canadian pro, who won eight times on the LPGA Tour, including the 1968 LPGA Championship. (The marriage didn’t last.) Today, Elliott is a teaching pro in Florida and an occasional Golf Digest contributor.

JEJr.jpgElliott told the tournament officials that he was responsible for Norman’s violation, and that he didn’t want to win because of a mistake that he had caused. The gallery and the tournament sponsor got involved, too, and, in the end, the officials decided to let the playoff continue. Back to Olson:

They ran after Moe, and begged him to come back. You could tell he was really angry, and that he didn’t want to keep playing. But eventually he did. They let him replace his ball and tap it in. When they got to the eighteenth green, Elliott almost made a 15-footer for birdie, and made par. And Moe -- who had hit one of the most beautiful 7-irons I’ve ever seen -- had maybe an eight-footer for birdie. He doesn’t even look at it, but hits it way too hard, like six feet past the hole, and then he hits the next putt almost without stopping, and misses that one, too. And it was obvious to me that he had missed on purpose. He shook Elliott’s hand and walked straight into the parking lot. The whole thing was strange, but also kind of humorous, because to me Moe seemed funny when he was mad.
Elliott won $1,500, Norman $1,125. (One stroke back: John Mahaffey.) A week later, at the Alberta Open, Norman and Elliott tied for the lead and played together again, in the final round. That time, Norman birdied four consecutive holes on the final nine and won by three.

moefairway.jpgOlson and his dad spent a lot of time together on golf courses, and they won a father-son tournament conducted by the Oregon Golf Association when his dad was a super-senior. Olson continued:

I have won four club championships and my lowest score ever on a par-72 course is 65, but I have never been and never will be one tenth as good as my dad was. He was just an outstanding player. The only rotten thing is that he had horrible arthritis in his fingers, wrists, and hands. And he didn't have it just when he was old; it started when he was in his forties. He still managed to play good, though. I caddied for him all the time -- Carson Herron, the father of Tim Herron, was a member of his regular foursome -- and he never ceased to amaze me.
Here are a few photos of Norman swinging, from 1987, courtesy of Tim O’Connor and Todd “Little Moe” Graves, who have just published The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Better Golf the Moe Norman Way. (The autograph at the bottom is from my copy of an earlier book of O'Connor's, a biography of Norman called The Feeling of Greatness.) Graves teaches Norman’s swing at his own school, the Graves Golf Academy. I’ve played several rounds with him, and I once played a round with both him and Norman, and I wish I could strike the ball one tenth as well as either of them. Make that one hundredth.

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My Usual Game

An empirical proof of golf's superiority to tennis

Gary Levering, a lawyer and real-estate developer in Houston, died last year. He played on the golf team at Northwestern from 1957-’61 (photo below, courtesy of Northwestern Athletics), and once he’d established himself in his career he reimbursed the university for his scholarship. He believed that golf was a more difficult sport than tennis. To prove it, he signed up for lessons at the Houston Racquet Club and won the club championship two years later: Q.E.D. He earned a perfect score on the test the U.S.G.A. uses to certify rules officials, and was known to friends as Dr. Golf. I learned about Levering from Keith Kimmick, a reader and a commercial-insurance executive. He heard Levering give a talk about bipolar disorder, from which he suffered, at River Oaks Country Club, and when the talk was over Kimmick asked what he could do to help.

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Kimmick has served on the advisory board of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Greater Houston ever since. “Fortunately, I don’t suffer from this illness,” he told me recently, “but I admired Gary for stepping out to tell the world about himself. The D.B.S.A. provides free assistance for those that suffer from bipolar and depression through trained facilitators. I spend most of my time working a booth at various health functions throughout the city, spreading the word.”

Levering and Kimmick became golf buddies, too. Levering owned a house in Pebble Beach and was a member of Cypress Point Club, which always hovers near the top of Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest. During guest rounds there, Kimmick got to know Mike Reese, a longtime Cypress caddie. Reese died of a brain aneurysm in 2007, at the age of 49, and Kimmick wrote a tribute, of which this was part:


Casey Reamer, Cypress Point Club’s head pro, remembers Mike as a true perfectionist on the golf course. One day when Mike was caddying for him, Casey had accidentally left his Bushnell (electronic measuring device) in his golf bag. They are not permitted at Cypress Point Club, but Mike insisted that Casey test his yardages. On the 7th hole, Mike said he was 178 yards from the pin and the Bushnell indicated 179 yards. On the 8th hole, Mike said he was 134 yards and the Bushnell flashed 134 yards to the mark. On the 9th hole, Mike said he was 117 yards and the Bushnell indicated 116 yards. Casey responded to Mike that he was very impressed that he was right on target with the Bushnell once, and within a yard the other two times. Mike very professionally flipped the Bushnell over where the sticker read within one yard up to 1500 yards, and said, “I believe the Bushnell was off one yard on those other two holes.”

Kimmick and Reese shared a love for Cypress memorabilia. Kimmick’s collection is extensive, and he has shown me images of some of his favorite items. I’m going to write about one of them in a future post. (Not the photo below, which is part of my own Cypress collection. It’s of Alister MacKenzie and his wife, Hilda, on the fifteenth green when the course was new. That box in Hilda’s hand is a camera -- and check out her shoes.

MyUsualGame

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My Usual Game

Amy Alcott, Walter Keller, Dean Martin and Riviera

On Saturday, Jim Nantz interviewed the great Amy Alcott -- who won 29 LPGA Tour events, beginning in 1975, when she was 19 -- during the CBS broadcast of the Northern Trust Open (nee the Los Angeles Open), at Riviera.

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In 1995, on assignment at Riviera for Golf Digest, I met Walter Keller, who had been Alcott's teacher. He told me that he first saw her on the practice tee at Riviera when she was a young girl. “I fell in love with the kid right there,” he said. “She hit a beautiful shot, and I said, ‘Hit another.’ She did. ‘Hit another.’ She did. I turned to her mother and said, ‘You are a blessed woman.'” Keller arranged for Alcott to become a member of the club -- and here he is a little later, with Alcott and Tony Sills (another student of his) and a significant collection of junior trophies:

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Keller, who died in 2003, at the age of 95, said that Alcott had a difficult relationship with her father but that club members looked out for her. “She had 20 fathers here,” he said. “Dean Martin would see her on the driving range, swing by in his cart, and say, ‘Hey, Amy, let’s play nine holes.” One of many, many reasons to love Riviera.

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