FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
British Open 2022: A writer reflects on how golf, St. Andrews and his life are inextricably intertwined
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
ST. ANDREWS — As I sit in my room at the Rusacks Hotel, peering out a window that overlooks the greatest venue in golf, on the week of the 150th Open Championship, as players, caddies and a wide variety of people in the golf industry pass by like fish in an aquarium, I can’t help but reflect on how and why so many of these folks have impacted my life.
I’ll start with Old Tom Morris. I’m not here without him. None of us are. The “Grand Old Man of Golf” gave us this championship, which started in 1860 at Prestwick in Ayrshire, Scotland, after the death of Allan Robertson, his friend and a mentor of sorts. Robertson was the OG “Champion Golfer.” He was virtually unbeatable. After Robertson was gone, there was the need to identify a new champion. And with the exception of a few years lost to wars and pandemics, we’ve been gathering annually ever since to identify one.
Old Tom died in 1908, gone at the age of 86, but he is still here in spirit. His bust is in the wall near the clock on the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, forever overlooking the 1st tee. Having outlived his wife and five children, it seems fitting he now fills the role of Father Time. I see that face in the wall near that clock as a reminder that it all comes to an end, even for the game’s grand old man.
Which is why these moments of reflection are so important.
Growing up in Northern California, I was taught the game by my uncle, Tony Kielhofer (below, left). I give him credit for showing me the grip, preaching “belt buckle to the target,” and most importantly, teaching me about how golf connects souls. Uncle Tony’s greatest gift, far beyond his ball marker that I still use to this day, was teaching me that the game is really about the hang: the people you meet, the places you play, and everything that comes with the cultural immersion that happens as we move through the world of golf.
Which brings me back to this Open.
To the players, caddies and golfy people I keep bumping into, I have repeatedly said this week feels like an intersection of so many paths that we’ve all taken to get here. The marketing campaign plastered across the course by the R&A is “EVERYTHING HAS LED TO THIS.” It’s good because it’s true.
Look over there, in front of Hamilton Hall. It’s Mark Mulvoy walking around with two of his grandsons. Mulvoy is the former editor and publisher of Sports Illustrated, which is where I started my career in 1995 as a unpaid intern in the communications department. My first cubicle was directly across the hall from Mulvoy’s office on the 19th floor of the Time Inc. building in midtown Manhattan. He resided in a big corner office for most of his career, and in ’95, when there was a “bake-off” to decide who would succeed him, he gave up his baller office and serendipitously moved in next to me. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversations with media moguls and dignitaries as he prepped for the Atlanta Olympics. Mulvoy started Golf Plus, the popular insert for the news weekly, which would lead to the job I got as the golf photo editor in 1996. I started the same week Tiger Woods turned pro at the Milwaukee Open. I got that job because Ward Haynes, who was nearly a son to Mulvoy, pulled me aside and told me he’d be leaving his position as golf photo editor in a month and that he was going to train me as his replacement. That would make it nearly impossible for Heinz Kluetmeier and Steve Fine, the men who ran the photo department at the time, not to hire me.
Haynes trained me. Kluetmeier and Fine hired me. And I was off and running, choosing pictures shot by some of the greatest photographers in the world, which would be used to illustrate stories for some of the best writers in the world. And like so many of us, then and now, we’ve been drafting off of Tiger Woods ever since.
I had the job at Sports Illustrated until Sept. 10, 2001. On that day, a Monday, I told SI I’d be leaving to take the job as photo editor of Golf Digest and Golf World magazines. We partied that night, because the magazine’s weekend was Tuesday and Wednesday. I had given my two-week notice. I would make the jump right after the Ryder Cup, which was scheduled for later that month.
The next day, the world changed. After Haynes left Sports Illustrated, he started a career in the financial world, which led to a job at Cantor Fitzgerald. He started a month before 9/11 and was among those who died that day. On Sept. 12, I got a call from Jim Herre, the editor of Golf Plus, letting me know that Michael Bamberger would be writing a story on Davis Sezna, a prominent figure in the golfing world, who had lost his son Deeg when the towers collapsed.
I always say my job has never felt like work. That I’ve never looked at my watch. Well, time stood still that day, and for several others after it. The phone call to Sezna to coordinate photographs for Bamberger’s story was the worst day of work I’ve ever had. It was a call no one should have to make, and a phone call no one should have to take. But Sezna answered. And after starting the call with my apologies and condolences, Sezna defused my angst and trepidation with his own grace and empathy. He said he appreciated I was just doing my job, and he wanted to help.
We got the pictures, and Bamberger filed a beautiful, wrenching story. In my calls with Sezna I got to know his story better, including the heartbreaking fact he had lost the second of his three sons to a boating accident. Still, I never really connected with Sezna until a few years later, when Tim Rosaforte invited me to play Seminole. Sezna would be our host.
Rosaforte, a writer for Golf Digest and Golf World, which is where I was working at the time, was a lot like Uncle Tony. They both liked connecting people, and they both had mastered the art of the hang. In this case, I was hanging with the man I called the day after 9/11, and it felt therapeutic to shake his hand, give him a hug, and again, let him know how sorry I was for his loss. Sezna has become a great friend. We played golf with Rosaforte on Aug. 20, 2020. Rosaforte (below, green shirt) had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so we went to visit with him, play a few holes, smoke cigars and reflect on our friendship. Barely a year later Rosey was gone.
Back to St. Andrews, and there is Sezna, with his wife, Barb, headed to play Kingsbarns. They’re joined by Paul Spengler, another well-connected man in golf who for years ran the golf operations at Pebble Beach, and who has also become a friend. Spengler hired Alan Shipnuck to be a cart boy at Pebble Beach. It was Shipnuck who saw Mulvoy on the tee sheet one day in the early ’90s, and that encounter led to the internship during which Shipnuck became the youngest person to write a cover story for SI. He has been typing ever since. Now Shipnuck and Bamberger are writers and partners in the Fire Pit Collective.
When I joined the Seznas and Spengler at Kingsbarns, we reflected on Rosaforte, his life and legacy. (A large photo of a smiling Rosey adorns a wall in the press room at the Old Course, and his absence has been deeply felt this week.) Barb Sezna made three consecutive birdies and had an eagle putt on the 5th hole to go 5 under. Gross! Barb’s a 12-handicap. After the round, we toasted her with pints. And we toasted the game and the friendships and opportunities it generates. It was Spengler who in 2015 invited me to play in the famed Swallows event at Cypress Point, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. The Swallows can be described as an elite slice of the game’s most influential businessmen gathering for one of golf’s greatest hangs, and it was there that I forged relationships with folks who would become some of the biggest investors in the Fire Pit Collective. Barb Sezna gave up her seat on Friday of this Open week so that Davis could take me as his plus-one to lunch in the R&A clubhouse.
“I’ve asked the Tardes to join us,” Sezna said as we climbed the steps to the dining room.
Of course he did. More connections and reflections. Jerry Tarde was the longtime editor of Golf Digest and was the man who not only hired me as the photo editor but also, after I had received my journalism degree from Columbia University, took a chance on me as his new travel writer. It was Tarde who gave me the keys to the world of courses and resorts and the avid golfers who play them. It was Tarde who gave me the opportunity to make the jump from helping illustrate the stories to writing them.
That’s the “job” that led to so many more relationships and opportunities.
As we walked out of lunch, I bumped into Robert Trent Jones Jr., who renovated Poppy Hills in 2014. And while I was there covering that reopening, I learned about Youth on Course, the grow-the-game initiative that was started by Paul and Brian Morton in honor of their father, Tom. I became a huge fan of this program, which subsidizes green fees for kids, junior caddie programs and college scholarships. I’m now on the board of Youth on Course and the Morton brothers are investors in the Fire Pit Collective.
Cheers to Mulvoy, Haynes, Bamberger, Shipnuck, Sezna, Spengler, Tarde and the Mortons for their impact on my life and career. But the list goes on.
Courtesy of Momentum Golf Photography
On the deck of the Rusacks Hotel, owned in part by Rob Skinner, another investor in the FPC, is Mac Barnhardt, the most soulful agent in golf, who I’ve known for 25 years. He coaches me up on the business of the game. Dan Robertson is having a beer with Marty Carr. It was Skinner who gave me the room that got me access to the deck that day, and it was Robertson who introduced me to Carr (above) at the Conde Nast Building in New York City not long after I had moved into the writing job at Golf Digest. It was at a 2007 lunch with Carr and Robertson that we plotted my first travel stories to Ireland. Carr owns and operates Carr Golf Travel, and he has become like a brother to me. The stories, moments and memories Carr and I have forged over the years is a book in itself, but it’s the people I’ve met playing in Carr’s Father/Son event in Waterville that culminated in an invite to the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor last week. Carr once paired John Ashworth and me with McManus and his son, Kieran. We had a helluva day and match. JP made every putt that mattered. We’ve remained friends. And to play in that pro-am, with Carr as my caddie, was one of the greatest weeks of my life.
As for Ashworth (above), I could write another book about our moments together and the memories we’ve made. He has also become a big brother to me. Although Ashworth isn’t in St. Andrews this week, I’m thinking about him a lot. Heck, I often call him Old John Morris, for his role in resurrecting Goat Hill Park, my home course in Oceanside, Calif. Like Uncle Tony, Ashworth appreciates the hang. He started a company he called Linksoul; he links souls through a lifestyle brand committed to a “golf for all” mentality. That was the Old Tom Morris way.
At the big municipal we refer to as the Old Course. Which on Sundays closes down as a golf course and becomes a park where families and dogs roam around like they own the place. Because they do. And Ashworth has reimagined Goat Hill Park with the same inclusive vision — it’s where I bring my family and dogs on a regular basis.
So cheers to Barnhardt, Robertson, Carr, McManus and Ashworth for their impact on my life. But the list goes on.
On Wednesday of Open week I connect with Izzy DeHerrera, a best friend and former colleague at Golf Channel, for a pint up the street. He’s with Matt Hegarty, Rich Lerner, Ari Marcus and Jeff Fabian. All Golf Channel guys. All guys I miss working with, so I’m excited to catch up. The meetup is at the bar in the Russell Hotel. Coincidentally, Geoff Russell was the editor of Golf World magazine when I was the photo editor. He’s the husband of Molly Solomon, who hired me from Golf Digest to be the lifestyle guy on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.” Russell also made the jump from Golf World to Golf Channel, and although he’s now semi-retired, we’ve hired Russell this week to help edit our stories, in what is surely the beginning of a fruitful relationship. “Morning Drive” and Golf Channel gave me the platform and the opportunity to build a brand that has led to the Fire Pit Collective. Also editing for us is Mark Godich, a former editor at Sports Illustrated, who was also hired by Mulvoy in 1995 and often worked with Bamberger and Shipnuck on their stories at SI.
So cheers to Godich and Solomon for their impact on my life. At the Russell Hotel, the Golf Channel guys and I posed for a picture (above) and toasted our reunion and Geoff Russell for his impact on our lives. The night went on.
As we approached midnight, on the eve of this Open, we made our way to the cemetery on the other side of town. We jumped fences, crawled under another and paid our respects to Allan Robertson and Old and Young Tom Morris. I offered a silent thanks to them for the impact they’ve had on our lives.
Now I’m on the rooftop of Hamilton Hall (below). Marty Carr is there, and we’re the guests of Paulo Filho Malzoni and his cousin Fabio Igel. I met the members of the prominent Brazilian family at the Father/Son, and they’ve purchased a flat that gets them access to one of the most incredible views in St. Andrews. Wherever the Malzonis go, there’s always a party. Much to the excitement of the guests and the greedy seagulls, they’ve just ordered more food… and beer.
In walks Rick Rielly, the head pro for 31 years at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles. He’s the son of Pat Rielly, the past president of the PGA of America, to whom Bamberger paid tribute to after his death just before the PGA Championship in May. Rielly was scheduled to come with his dad, but instead he brought his daughter Josephine. Rielly played at Arizona with Ashworth, and “Riles” has become a great friend to my family and me. He is also a regular at the Uncle Tony Invitational, the buddies trip I organize every year at Bandon Dunes. So are Ashworth, Shipnuck, DeHerrera, Hegarty, Carr and Russell. This year Bamberger will be coming for the first time.
Cheers to the Malzonis and to Riles for the impact he and his family have had on the game of golf. And the list goes on.
It’s Friday, and there’s Sheila Walker, in her window, taking in the breeze and the scene on the Old Course’s 18th hole below. I call up to the great-great granddaughter of Old Tom Morris from the road below. She has been watching Tiger finish up from the same window that Old Tom used to watch the golf. I thank her again for the time we had together leading into this Open, for the stories she helped us tell as we paid homage to her great-great grandfather. I thank her for the flowers she gave me, which I brought home to my wife, Katie, who I met at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. It’s the least I can do for the woman who not only gave birth to our son, Bandon, but also supports my career and takes care of our home while I spend time at places like the Home of Golf exchanging pleasantries with the woman who lives in the home of the Home of Golf.
So cheers to Sheila Walker and Katie Ginella for the impact they’ve had on my life. But the list goes on.
There’s Greg McLaughlin, again, at the Rusacks bar. McLaughlin was one of my playing partners at the JP McManus Pro-Am. He runs the First Tee and the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was there, on the 18th green at Pebble Beach in 2019, when I got the trophy for winning the amateur competition of the Pure Insurance Championship, which benefits the First Tee. I was invited by Steve John, the tournament director, who has become a great friend (and another Uncle Tony regular). I was holding the trophy in one hand and my 2-year old son in the other. Yet another one of the greatest moments in my life.
Courtesy of @WeinsteinPhotoBooks
I met McLaughlin when I went to a Tiger Jam event in Las Vegas with Rosaforte. I was at Golf Digest at the time, almost 20 years ago. It’s always great to reconnect.
On the subject of Tiger, there’s Joe LaCava, in the corner of the Rusacks bar, sitting with Scott Seymour of Octagon, a friend and business partner at the Fire Pit Collective. Steve Sands is there as well. And here comes Todd Lewis. Both were colleagues at Golf Channel who were always gracious and shared tricks of the trade as I tried to learn how to do TV.
LaCava, who has been on the bag for 31 PGA Tour wins and two Masters titles (Couples in 1992 and Woods in 2019), looks tired. And noticeably bummed that his boss missed the cut. Although I’ve seen LaCava a lot over the years, we haven’t really connected since the Match Play at LaCosta in the early 2000s. I sit down next to him and we all order drinks. I ask LaCava for his thoughts on the week.
“We’re not happy we missed the cut,” he says.
Like Tiger, LaCava was here to win. Anything other than that is not acceptable. But he is also appreciative of the experience. The idea that Rory McIlroy was walking down the 1st fairway as Tiger was coming up 18 was “incredible,” says LaCava. “The R&A know what they’re doing. A bit of a baton passing from Tiger to Rory, and JT [Justin Thomas] was on the tee.”
Kevin C. Cox
Someone asks, “Was there ever the thought that Tiger and Rory would talk in the fairway? It looked as though that might happen.”
“No,” LaCava replies. “I think Tiger has too much respect for the fact that Rory is playing his round, that he’s trying to win a major. He wouldn’t have done that.”
Was letting Tiger walk out front of the group and up the final fairway on his own discussed among the other players and caddies?
“No,” LaCava says. “No one mentioned it. There was no need to. We all were aware of what was happening. I went to the side, so I could get a better perspective.”
LaCava keeps saying that although it was special to have a small part in the proceedings, it was also sad. “Does that make sense?” he asks.
Of course it does.
It is a perfect summary to the swirl of emotions this week has brought to all of us. Jack Nicklaus, back to St. Andrews to get the keys to the city, cried when talking about what St. Andrews and the Old Course mean to him.
Last question for LaCava: What did Tiger say to you after the round, as you hugged off to the side of the green?
“He just said, ‘I love you, buddy.’ And I said, ‘Thanks for having me.’”
On that note, cheers to the impact Tiger has had on my professional life. McLaughlin, John, Sands and Lewis too.
I love this game. I owe so many of the good things in my life to it. This has been a humbling week to reflect on all the people and connections that have been part of my journey, including the fans who have followed along. From me to you, cheers.
And thanks for having me.