Courses & TravelFebruary 13, 2008

Think Like A Champion. . .

I told you about Jim Mahoney in my previous post.  The other very cool cat I met on my recent trip to LaQuinta Resort and Club is Artie McNickle.

McNickle is Jim McLean's Premium Lead Master Instructor at PGA West. A formal way of saying he knows a lot about the golf swing. He played the Tour from 1972-'84. He never won, but he did finish second three times, played in the Masters twice and qualified for the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open in the same year.

McNickle (top right) is smooth on and off the golf course. Off the course, he has cougar-taming talents[#image: /photos/55ad7083b01eefe207f66feb]|||Pgawest_artie_mcnickle|||

that would draw the envy of the likes of Clooney and Clinton. On the course McNickle wears a Fedora and pulls it off. He's in his mid-60s and still plays to a scratch handicap. I played with him at the Jack Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West. There are five public/resort courses at La Quinta Resort/PGA West and three private courses (Nicklaus, Palmer and Weiskopf).  I tend to like Jack Nicklaus courses. I usually know I'm playing one when I get to a very short but very difficult par 4. This is one of the better Nicklaus courses I've played. It's well manicured, greens are hard and fast and there are several scenic/memorable holes.

Early in the round I had about 230 yards left after a tee shot on a par 5. I usually go for it in two but I[#image: /photos/55ad7083add713143b421bf4]|||Clooney_7|||

was trying to "play smart"--a club I rarely carry. I hit a 5-iron, then a wedge and two-putted for par. After I hit the 5-iron, McNickle, my cart partner, told me to remind him to tell me a story about Tom Watson and par 5s later in the round.

Curious, I reminded him on the next hole to tell me the Watson story.

Watson and McNickle were in contention for the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in 1978. They were paired together on Saturday and Sunday. On the par-5 17th hole, McNickle laid up on his second shot each[#image: /photos/55ad7083add713143b421bf2]|||Clinton_8|||

day and birdied it twice. Watson went for it both days, hit it in the water both days and made a pair of bogeys. Watson finished four back of winner Andy North and in a tie for sixth.

"After the tournament I saw Tom," said McNickle, who finished in a tie for 16th. "I told him that I noticed if he had gone 4-4 on the 17th, like I did, he would have been in a playoff. Without any pause Watson fired back, 'If I had gone eagle-eagle I would've won by two.' I'll never forget that," McNickle said. "The way a champion thinks on a golf course. As long as it's within reason always go for it in two on a par 5."

It makes me feel a lot better having made all the 8s I've made over the years going for par 5s in two.  I wasn't being an idiot--I was thinking like a champion.

--Matty G

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