John Merrick’s win in the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. provided further evidence than any PGA Tour player can win any tournament, anytime. Merrick, 30, grew up in nearby Long Beach and attended UCLA. He was ranked 241st in the world and moved up to 74th after his win. Merrick was playing his 169th PGA Tour event, and his win means the Augusta National Golf Club will send him an invitation to play the Masters. His win on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff against Charlie Beljan again demonstrated the folly of trying to predict the winner of any PGA Tour event, and also of picking big names every time they’re entered (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and a few others). If a player has a PGA Tour card, he’s good enough to win. Anytime. And one more thing on the Northern Trust. Graham DeLaet finished with a 71 and a total of three-under-par 281 to tie for 21st and win $66,000. He moved up to 56th place on the money list with $223,824. DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., is one of those golfers who could win anytime.
Lydia Ko was tied for the lead with Jiyai Shin heading into the final round of the Australian Women’s Open at the Royal Canberra Golf Club but fell to a final-round 76 to finish third. Shin, the 2008 and 2012 Women’s British Open champion, and a former world number one player, won, while Ko still did remain the big story coming out of the tournament. The 15-year-old New Zealand amateur who was born in South Korea had opened with 63, and again set the golf world buzzing. She’d recently won the New Zealand Women’s Open, and last year had won the New South Wales Open and the CN Canadian Women’s Open. Ko was going for her fourth win in a pro tournament. She did come up short, but she again demonstrated her immense talent and promise. There’s plenty of discussion about whether or not she will turn pro soon. Ko said after her win that she has a couple of years until she turns pro. It’s going to be interesting to see whether she’ll be able to resist the temptation to turn pro and give herself a chance to make some–or a lot–of money.
In winning the Champions Tour’s ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla., Bernhard Langer demonstrated both the frailty that can come to any golfer, and the determination of one who has conquered the yips more than a few times during his career. Langer, 55, missed some short putts in the last round that, he said, “really shook me up a bit.” He went so far as to change his putting grip during the last round, and in the end he made a short par putt on the final hole to win by a shot over Jay Don Blake. Langer thereby won his 17th Champions Tour event. The two-time Masters champion has suffered from the yips for his entire career. Three-time major champion Nick Price played European Tour events with Langer when they were each young and relatively new professionals. He told me that he noticed that Langer, even then a superb ball-striker, would slow up as he approached a green. It was as if Langer didn’t want to get to the green, because putting worried him. It’s still worrying him, and he’s still winning.
The big news around Jupiter, Fla., where I live during the winter, was that President Obama had arrived at Palm Beach International Airport Friday evening and was headed up to The Floridian Yacht and Golf Club in Palm City to play some golf on the weekend. Some friends of mine flew in from Toronto Sunday morning and saw Air Force One at PBI. They sure didn’t see Obama. Very few people, not even the White House correspondents who travel with him, did. Golf World’s and Golf Channel’s writer Tim Rosaforte, however, was on site at The Floridian and was able to report a few bits and pieces, although he wasn’t allowed to follow Obama, who played Saturday with his companions and then 18 holes Sunday with Tiger Woods in a foursome, and another nine holes with his pals, including Floridian and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. Rosaforte lives in Jupiter, about 45 minutes south of Palm City. He knows everybody and anybody involved in golf in the area, and has worked hard to become the most well-connected golf writer in the business. He had broken the news on Twitter Sunday of Obama playing with Woods. The New York Times reported today that Rosaforte “emerged as the best source of information.” Butch Harmon and his son and fellow teaching professional Claude, whose state of the art teaching facility is at The Floridian, had been called in to work with Obama. They apparently advised him on his alignment and helped him square up his shoulders at address; the southpaw’s right shoulder was too open, so they fixed that.
Meanwhile, the White House press corps was not happy that their members who travel with Obama had no access to him, and that Rosaforte scooped them by tweeting the news of Obama’s game with Woods. Rosaforte reported about Obama’s visit on Sunday to MSNBC, and to Golf Channel, and wrote a piece for Golf World Monday. Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, issued a statement Sunday evening about the lack of access to Obama during his golf buddies’ weekend. “Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend,” Henry said.
In other golf news, the biggest match-play event of the year starts Wednesday in Marana, Ariz. at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain. The Accenture Match Play Championship’s 64-player field is divided into four brackets. The feature match and the one you can be sure the telecast will focus on has to be Tiger Woods against Charles Howell III. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy will go against Irishman Shane Lowry, while his fellow countryman Graeme McDowell will go against Ireland’s Padraig Harrington. The Accenture is a highlight of the year. I’m looking forward to parking myself in front of my television and following the matches. Here’s hoping many come down to the last hole, or go into a playoff.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein