Playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year, I came to the seventh hole and skulled a nice little wedge about 15 feet from the hole. I've been hitting these clothesline shots ever since I took up the game on a Philadelphia muny, gambling against a gaggle of colorful characters.
This time my shot was caught on television, and Phil Blackmar, holding a microphone, came over to interview me.
He said something like, "As the mist rolls off Carmel Bay, tell me about your favorite golf memories."
For no reason I can explain, I babbled a minute about those characters I used to play with: "Guys with funny nicknames like Chief Long Ball and Wawa."
That afternoon when I got back to my hotel room, there was a text message from home: "Our old friend Wawa's funeral was this morning." I don't know if it qualifies as a golf miracle—the theme of this issue—but I hadn't thought of him in 20 years.
The funny thing about Wawa is that his nickname had an alias. Wawa was short for Dennis Collins, which actually wasn't even his real name (Dennis Moszczynski), which I didn't know until we fact-checked this story. I'd called another friend I hadn't talked to in years. The first thing he said was, "Hey, did you know Wawa died? The eerie thing is, I came back from his burial and turned on the television, and you were being interviewed at Pebble Beach saying his name."
A highly improbable event that's not explicable by natural laws—the definition of a miracle—happens every day in golf. Another buddy, Sam Babington, was playing Skytop in the Poconos when his nephew Gus Lang duck-hooked his tee shot off the sixth hole right into the window of a passing car on a parallel road. The next year, playing the same hole together on vacation, Gus hit his tee shot, only this time the clubhead flew off and went right through the window of a car driving down the same road.
Jimmy Dunne once told me the story of Bobby Jones, having completed the first three legs of the Grand Slam in 1930, coming to Merion for the U.S. Amateur after an appendicitis attack and in a terrible playing slump. Following a tempestuous 78 in practice, Jones got a call from the amateur Jess Sweetser: "Hey, Bob, I see you've been throwing your clubs again." To relax Jones and get him away from the crowds, Sweetser invited him to play a practice round at Pine Valley, where Jones continued to hit it poorly, making three Xs and cursing at the ducks on the pond at 14. After his drive off the 15th tee, he walked the long wood bridge to the fairway. As he stepped off the bridge, Jones said an unnatural calm came upon him "like an anvil had been lifted from my shoulders." The slump was over, his shots were pure again, and he swept through the Amateur field, defeating Eugene Homans, 8 and 7, in the final. Some newspaper reports say the epiphany came on the ninth fairway at Pine Valley when he hit a spade mashie to five feet, but I like the Miracle of the Bridge.
We asked readers for miracles, and my favorite was from Paul Gross of Detroit, who told us about shanking a ball out of a greenside bunker and "almost killing" his caddie, who scrambled to duck. The ball couldn't be found anywhere until Paul suggested the caddie look in his pocket, where, like a magic act, it was.
I could argue that Jordan Spieth's last six holes this year at Birkdale was a miracle. Or everything Tiger Woods did from his first U.S. Junior Amateur in 1991 to his last U.S. Open win in 2008 was a miracle.
I asked Tom Watson if he'd ever witnessed one. "Sam Snead's golf swing is definitely in the miracle category to me," he said. "No swing ever had the combination of power and rhythm."
One rival might be Mickey Wright, whose My Shot appears in this issue as a sort of miracle. Senior Writer Guy Yocom has been trying repeatedly for an interview with the semi-recluse since 1999. "It's not a summation of her life, but more than a snapshot," Yocom says. "Her words reflect her values and an appreciation for what golf has meant to her. She paid a heavy price. She says she's not sentimental, but I don't think that's true. She has great nostalgia for people and events, from her early life in particular. In describing people, she often used the word 'kind.' I think that to her it's the most important trait to have."
MOST IMPROBABLE WINS
1.) Francis Ouimet beats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff, 1913 U.S. Open.
2.) Jack Fleck steals Ben Hogan's fifth U.S. Open, 1955.
3.) Jack Nicklaus comes from way back to win the 1986 Masters.
4.) John Daly, ninth and final alternate into the field, wins the 1991 PGA.
5.) Nathaniel Crosby wins the 1981 U.S. Amateur, followed by his mother, Kathryn, like an apparition, wearing Bing Crosby's old hat, jacket and knickers.