Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golfby John Feinstein, L. J. Ganser
In 2003, after winning six of the twelve majors from 2000 to 2002, Tiger Woods struggled with his swing, leaving him lagging behind the field at both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. With Woods out of the picture, the stage was set for a newcomer to claim the top position. Nobody expected that four virtually unknown players would rise to become first-time
In 2003, after winning six of the twelve majors from 2000 to 2002, Tiger Woods struggled with his swing, leaving him lagging behind the field at both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. With Woods out of the picture, the stage was set for a newcomer to claim the top position. Nobody expected that four virtually unknown players would rise to become first-time champions.
In his debut appearance in a major, Ben Curtis became the only player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to prevail on his first time out. Mike Weirwho was considered a good player but not a great onetriumphed in The Masters, becoming the first Canadian to win a major. In the U.S. Open, Jim Furyk was victorious, and the PGA Championship was claimed by the unknown Shawn Micheel.
But after each player's history-making season, the four have had little further success. 2008 is the first year since that unexpected year, when it will be possible for the four golfers to qualify for the tour. In MOMENT OF GLORY, John Feinstein returns to the unlikely year of 2003 and chronicle the personal and professional struggles of these four players. With great affection for the underdog and extraordinary access to the players, he then looks to the 2008 season, giving readers an insider's look into to how winning (and losing) major championships changes players' lives.
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"John Feinstein's golf books have succeeded in giving equal billing to headliners and journeymen...Feinstein's genius is his ability to peel back several layers on the personalities involved that year, reminding you in the process that even the most obscure players have a story worth telling."
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Moment of GloryThe Year Underdogs Ruled Golf
By Feinstein, John
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2010 Feinstein, John
All right reserved.
EARLY IN THE EVENING of June 15, 2002, Butch Harmon stood on the driving range at Bethpage State Park waiting for his star pupil to arrive. It was already 7:30 and there was barely an hour of daylight left, but Harmon knew his day wasn’t close to being over.
This “range” wasn’t actually a range. It was part of Bethpage’s Green Course—one of the five golf courses that make up the massive park—but for the week of the 2002 United States Open, which was being conducted on the park’s famed Black Course, it was serving as the driving range. The real driving range, located on the other side of the parking lot, was being used to house structures like the media tent, and, given that it was normally covered by mats for players to hit off of, it hardly would have been suitable for the world’s best—and most pampered—golfers.
There was no doubt that Harmon’s pupil, one Eldrick Tiger Woods, would be more than happy to be hitting golf balls a parking lot away from where the media worked rather than right next to them. At that moment, though, where the range was located wasn’t Harmon’s concern.
He knew that once Woods finished his obligations in the media tent, he would cross the parking lot and walk onto the range in a sour mood.
“When he starts to get the club inside a little too much, he sometimes gets caught coming down,” he said, the techno-talk of a swing coach coming to him easily after a lifetime of teaching. “When that happens, it’s fairly simple to get him out of it, but that’s not always good enough. One of the things that makes him great is that fixing a mistake isn’t good enough. He wants to fix it and improve on what he’s been doing, often all at the same time. Even for him that’s not easy. But it’s what he expects of himself and what he always wanted from me.”
Woods had just completed his third round of the Open. He had shot an even-par 70, not a spectacular round but a solid one on a brutally tough golf course. He had started the day with a three-shot lead on Padraig Harrington and had ended it with a four-shot lead on Sergio Garcia. A four-shot lead with 18 holes to play in a major championship would send most players home with a smile on their face and a dream of kissing the trophy the next day.
If anyone should have felt good about a four-shot lead—or any lead—with one day left in a major, it was Woods. At the age of twenty-six, he had already won seven major titles, including an extraordinary stretch during which he had won four in a row. Seven times he had led a major after 54 holes, and seven times he had been the winner a day later. There was absolutely no reason to believe that his eighth such lead would be unlucky.
Woods didn’t see it quite that way. All he knew as he and his omnipresent caddy, Steve Williams, walked onto the empty range that evening was that he wasn’t comfortable with his swing, and he had less than an hour of daylight to figure out exactly what the problem might be. He and Harmon had worked together since Woods’s days as a teenage phenom, so Harmon knew exactly what he was dealing with when the grim-faced Woods strode onto the range to the cheers of several hundred people who had packed the grandstand once they spotted Harmon. Golf fans knew that if Butch was on the range, Tiger was likely to be there shortly.
“I’m getting stuck again,” Woods said as he walked up to Harmon.
Woods isn’t one for small talk, especially during a major. There was no chatting about how the day had gone or any discussion of the lead or about playing the next day with Garcia. The two men were focused on one thing: Woods’s golf swing.
“I know you are,” Harmon said. “Let’s get it fixed.”
They went to work, Woods hitting shots, Harmon, arms folded, standing opposite him, watching. Every once in a while, Harmon would stand next to Woods and show him the kind of motion he wanted him to make. Woods would nod and hit more balls.
Even though the sun wouldn’t set until 8:30, Woods and Harmon knew they were rapidly running out of time. The sun dropped in the western sky, and the air began to cool. Woods kept hitting ball after ball; Harmon kept watching and talking.
It was dark when they finally stopped. Harmon liked what he was seeing. “By the time we finished, he had it exactly where we wanted it to be,” Harmon said. “Even so, I could tell he wasn’t happy.”
It is that perfectionist nature that is part of Woods’s greatness. Every time he wins a major title, he celebrates for about fifteen minutes and then turns his mind to the next one. At that moment, he wasn’t just thinking about winning the U.S. Open the next day, he was thinking about winning all four majors in the same year.
He had already won the Masters in April, and he was now 18 holes away from winning the Open for the second time in three years. But he wasn’t especially happy with his golf swing. Harmon knew that.
“He always wants to tinker,” he said. “If I say to him, ‘I like what I’m seeing; that’s fine,’ that’s not what he really wants to hear. He wants me to tell him something—anything—that’s going to make him feel better about his swing.
“That day at Bethpage, I knew what was going on. It wasn’t just that his swing hadn’t been great that day. It wasn’t bad, just not great. But he had been talking to [Mark] O’Meara and Hank [Haney] about Hank’s swing theories. I got that. I know how close he and Mark are and how much he respects Mark. But I could tell he wanted to make some swing changes. I wasn’t going to give him some kind of new move just to tell him something. His golf swing was good—hell, he was about to win his eighth major title and his second in a row. Why would I tell him to change that?”
As Woods walked to his car, followed by Williams and his security retinue, Harmon watched him. It occurred to him at that moment that he might not be Woods’s teacher for very much longer.
WOODS WON THE OPEN the next day by three shots over Phil Mickelson. The only thing that could have stopped him was darkness. A rain delay kept him on the golf course until dusk, and it looked as if he might not finish until Monday morning. But, with a comfortable three-shot lead, he eagerly played the 18th hole, even in terrible light, so he could take the trophy home with him that night.
Four weeks later, Woods arrived at Muirfield, which is located outside Edinburgh in Scotland, to begin preparing for the British Open. As always, Harmon was waiting for him, ready to go through their normal premajor ritual: spend some time on the range, then walk with Woods around the golf course as he played his practice rounds. This is standard procedure for most teachers and their pupils.
When Woods spotted Harmon waiting for him on the range at Muirfield, he walked over, and the two men shook hands.
“Look, Butch. I’m okay this week,” Woods said quietly. “I’ve got it.”
Harmon understood exactly what Woods was saying, but he wanted to be sure.
“You don’t need me out here,” he said, making it more a statement than a question.
“No, I don’t. Thanks.”
“Good luck, Tiger.”
That was it. Eight years after they first began working together—eight major championship victories later—Woods, in a matter of about thirty seconds, had fired Harmon. Woods walked to a spot on the range that had been cleared for him to start hitting balls—without Harmon watching him.
Within forty-eight hours, the story was out that Woods and Harmon had split. That Saturday, playing in gale-like conditions, Woods shot 81 and blew himself out of contention. Within months, he would turn to Hank Haney as his new teacher and make over his golf swing.
Prior to splitting with Harmon, Woods had won seven of the previous eleven majors in which he had played. He would not win any of the next ten and would be a nonfactor in most of them. His absence at the top of the leaderboards in the majors changed the lives of many golfers because it gave them a chance—in many cases, a once-in-a-lifetime chance—to win a major championship.
During that ten-tournament stretch, seven players won their first major title. Since Woods began winning majors again at the start of 2005 when he won the Masters for the fourth time in his career, he has won six more of the golf tournaments that matter most. Of the seven players who won a first major during his “slump,” only one—Phil Mickelson—has won another. Mickelson has now won three.
It was Mickelson who best described what the absence of Woods on a major leaderboard means to other players. Tied for the lead after 54 holes at the Masters in 2004, he was asked how he felt knowing that Woods was nine shots behind and, realistically, not in contention. Usually players answer such a question by saying something like, “You aren’t just playing one player, you’re playing the whole field. Your real competition is always the golf course.”
Mickelson did none of that. Instead he shook his head, smiled, and said, “It doesn’t suck.”
Woods seriously contended twice during his drought. At the 2002 PGA Championship, before the remaking of his swing had really started, he chased Rich Beem to the finish line, making birdies on the final four holes on Sunday, only to fall two shots short and finish second. At the 2003 British Open he was one of a number of big names, including Vijay Singh and Davis Love III, who had a chance to win coming down the stretch. All of the big names came undone over the last few holes, opening the door for Ben Curtis to win the championship.
Yes, that Ben Curtis.
When he arrived at the British Open that year, Ben Curtis was a rookie on the PGA Tour and had played in a total of thirteen tournaments. He had qualified for the British Open because the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which administers the Open, had agreed to exempt the top eight finishers at the Western Open who weren’t already qualified for the championship. The Open did this to get more players from the PGA Tour to make the trip; few American golfers were willing to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, stay in a tiny bed-and-breakfast, play a 36-hole qualifier, fail, and then fly home if they didn’t make the field.
Curtis had shot a four-under-par 68 on the last day of the Western to finish tied for 13th—his best finish on tour up until that point—to become one of the eight to make the British Open field. He was thrilled, and he and his fiancée, Candace Beatty, flew to England four days later. On the night before the championship began, Ben and Candace were eating dinner at a house rented for the week by the International Management Group (IMG), the management company that represented Curtis.
Curtis looked up from his food and saw Mike Weir, who had won the Masters a few months earlier, sitting down across from him with a plate of food. He introduced himself to Weir, introduced Candace, and congratulated Weir on his remarkable win at Augusta.
“Oh, thanks very much,” Weir said. “So, what brings you guys over here? Did you come for the tournament?”
Curtis smiled sheepishly. “Well, actually, I’m playing in it,” he said.
Weir was embarrassed. “Oh God, I’m so sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know…”
“Don’t be sorry,” Curtis answered. “I’m just a rookie. Why should you know?”
Later, Weir would laugh when he retold the story. “I had no idea who he was,” he said. “Four days later, he was the British Open champion.”
Four days later, Curtis’s life changed forever, just as Weir’s had—even though most golfers already knew Weir was a golfer—when he won the Masters.
The same thing would happen to Shaun Micheel when he won the PGA Championship in August, the first victory of his career, almost ten years after he had first qualified to play on tour. Even Jim Furyk, that year’s U.S. Open champion, established as one of the best players on tour, admits that his life was different after winning the Open.
“Most of it was good,” he said. “Certainly it was good financially. But I’ve always liked the fact that most of the time I can fly under the radar and let guys like Tiger and Phil and Vijay and Sergio be the stars. You become a U.S. Open champion, you become the number two player in the world, you can’t really do that anymore.”
The four major champions in 2003 were Weir at the Masters, Furyk at the U.S. Open, Curtis at the British Open, and Micheel at the PGA Championship. None of them had ever won a major before, and in fact only Furyk had finished in the top 10 in a major. Curtis and Micheel had never won on tour prior to their victories. On the same July weekend in 2002, Curtis had been playing on the Hooters Tour, which isn’t just one level below the PGA Tour but two.
Perhaps just as startling, none of the four has won another major title since his breakthrough moment. Furyk has contended on several occasions—missing playoffs at the U.S. Open by one shot in both 2006 and 2007—and Curtis made a run at the PGA Championship in 2008. Weir finished in a tie for third behind Furyk at Olympia Fields and was three shots behind Micheel and Chad Campbell after 54 holes at that year’s PGA. Micheel finished second to Woods in the 2006 PGA but was five shots behind him as Woods cruised to an easy win. Micheel hasn’t been in the top 20 in any of the other majors he has played in since his victory at Oak Hill.
Life doesn’t just change when you win a major; it also changes when you come agonizingly close and don’t win. Len Mattiace, who lost the 2003 Masters to Weir in a playoff, tore up both his knees on a skiing trip later that year and has not been the same player since. He is no longer a fully exempt player on tour and ended 2008 playing in South Africa, searching for his game. He played all of 2009 on the Nationwide Tour, hoping that would be his ticket back to fully exempt status on the PGA Tour. When the 2003 Masters comes up, he admits that, even now, it is difficult to talk about. “It’s still raw,” he said five years later. “There’s a lot inside me I still haven’t purged.”
Furyk beat Stephen Leaney, a young Australian who had been trying to play his way onto the PGA Tour for several years, for his big win at Olympia Fields Country Club. Leaney’s life also changed as a result of his runner-up finish, because it allowed him to move to the United States and play on the world’s most lucrative golf tour. He played well enough to remain exempt through 2008 but never finished as high as second again. In 2008 he struggled with what doctors finally became convinced was vertigo due to an inner ear infection, and began 2009 with a partial exemption because he had been sick with that long-undiagnosed case of vertigo the previous year.
Thomas Bjorn was the runner-up when Curtis won. Bjorn had been one of the most successful players on the European Tour heading into that year’s Open Championship (as the British Open is called everywhere in the world except the United States), and it seemed to be only a matter of time before he won a major.
But after taking three shots to get out of a bunker on the par-three 16th hole on Sunday to lose the lead, Bjorn finished second to Curtis. He did contend again at the 2005 PGA, but his career has not been the same since the near miss at Royal St. George’s. Six years later, he still couldn’t bring himself to talk about what had happened in that bunker. He wouldn’t even answer questions by e-mail. Other players on the European Tour told stories about Bjorn “seeing demons” whenever he walked into a bunker.
Among the 2003 runners-up, the one who has been the most successful is Chad Campbell, who finished second to Micheel at the PGA. He still hasn’t won a major, but he’s won four times on tour, been on three Ryder Cup teams, and finished 24th on the 2008 money list. Just prior to the PGA in 2003, Campbell was chosen by his fellow pros as the next player likely to win his first major in a survey done by Sports Illustrated.
He came agonizingly close again at the Masters in April 2009, losing in a three-way playoff that included Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera, the eventual winner. Still only thirty-four, he remains convinced his time to win a major will come. And yet, it is worth noting that Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson won their last majors at age thirty-four.
“It’s one of those things where you have to play well and get a little bit lucky,” he said. “I’ve been close a couple times but haven’t quite gotten there yet. I still believe I will.”
Of course, there’s no way to know if it will ever happen for Campbell. It never did for Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s best player for more than a decade but never a major champion, although he came up just short several times, twice losing playoffs, and finishing second on two other occasions. Perry has now lost two majors—the 1996 PGA and the 2009 Masters—when a par on the final hole would have made him a winner.
I FIRST THOUGHT ABOUT writing a book like this one in 1990, as I watched Mike Donald and Hale Irwin play off for the U.S. Open title at Medinah. Irwin was already a two-time Open champion, a future Hall of Famer who would end up winning twenty times on the PGA Tour and another forty-five times on the Champions Senior Tour. Winning was important to him, but it wasn’t going to be life-changing.
Donald was having the week of his life. He was the quintessential “journeyman” pro, really a misnomer if you think about it, since journeyman implies “mediocre,” and anyone who stays on the PGA Tour for almost twenty years (Donald played in 548 tournaments) has to be an excellent player. Donald won once on tour during his career. Winning the Open would have left him set for life financially and in the golf world. Once the words “U.S. Open champion” come before your name, there’s no door that isn’t open to you in golf and, for the most part, in the world.
Irwin ended up winning the playoff in sudden death, after Donald, who had led by a shot going to the 18th, made bogey and gave Irwin the chance to birdie the first hole of sudden death and win.
Two years later, Irwin was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Two years after that, Donald finished out of the top 125 on the money list and was reduced to partial status on tour, forced to scramble for sponsor exemptions and to get into weaker fields later in the year when the stars went home. Donald turned fifty in 2005, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. As a past Open champion, he would have been able to play wherever and whenever he wanted to play. As a near Open champion, he has to scramble each year to get into tournaments.
Unlike a lot of players, Donald has talked candidly through the years about how different his life might have been if he had made a par putt on 18 on that Sunday or Monday in 1990.
Donald flashed through my mind in 1998 at Royal Birkdale as I watched Mark O’Meara and Brian Watts play off for that year’s British Open title. O’Meara had been a star for years but had solidified his place in golf history that April by winning the Masters for his first major title. Watts was an Oklahoman who had spent most of his career playing in Japan because he hadn’t been able to secure a spot for himself on the PGA Tour.
My sense was that this was Watts’s moment the same way Medinah had been Donald’s moment. He lost the playoff, but the money he made allowed him to come home and play the U.S. Tour. Watts had some success but never won a tournament, never contended again in a major, and was eventually knocked off the tour by a series of injuries.
But the moment when I truly knew this was a book that needed to be written came during the Weir-Mattiace playoff at Augusta. By then I had been around golf long enough that I knew and liked both men. Each had pieced together solid careers. Both were very comfortable financially by that point in their lives.
Even so, there was no doubt in my mind as they walked down the 10th fairway on that gorgeous late afternoon/early evening that their lives were about to go in entirely different directions. One would always be a Masters champion no matter what happened the rest of his life. The other would always wonder what might have been if one more putt had gone in the hole over the course of four days.
Nerves affected them both on the playoff hole, and Weir ended up winning by making a bogey.
My thought as I watched the two of them shake hands was that the book I would write would be about guys who got into contention at a major knowing this was a chance that might not come again—and how winning or losing changed their lives. At that moment, I had just agreed to do a book on my friend Bruce Edwards (Caddy for Life), so I tucked the idea into a corner of my brain knowing I wanted to come back to it.
As the rest of 2003 unfolded, I knew I had been handed the keys to the book I wanted to write. Jim Furyk was hardly an unknown or a one-time wonder when he won the Open that year, but the other winners and runners-up were players who had never before contended in a major. Or, in the case of Ben Curtis, had never played in a major. Only time would tell if they were one-win wonders.
In a very real sense this book began on the range at Bethpage on that Saturday evening in 2002 when it occurred to Butch Harmon that Tiger Woods was getting ready to fire him. The Woods-Harmon split led to the longest drought of Woods’s career and opened the door for the events that unfolded in 2003.
Six years later, none of the winners or contenders in ’03 has won another major—unless you want to count Vijay Singh and Woods, who finished tied for second and fourth, respectively, behind Curtis at the British Open.
What is clear after spending time with all these men is this: their lives were never the same after their Moment in 2003. And the difference between first and second is a lot wider than the gulf between first-place money and second-place money.
On the Tuesday before the 2004 Masters, Weir hosted the annual Champions Dinner in the second-floor dining room of the Augusta National clubhouse. He sat between Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer and listened to the two of them—and the other champions—tell stories all night.
Len Mattiace was at the Masters that year, but he was nowhere near the Champions Dinner. He was in the process of trying to come back from surgery on both knees only four months earlier.
The Masters was Mattiace’s fourth tournament back after the surgery. He had rehabbed for three months—five months less than Tiger Woods would take after his knee surgery in 2008—before returning to the tour. One reason he had pushed to come back so soon was that he wanted to be ready to play at Augusta.
As it turned out, he came back too quickly. Not only did he miss the cut at the Masters, he went on to a disastrous year, playing in twenty-five tournaments but only earning $213,707, more than $1 million less than he had earned a year earlier, prior to the injury. Because he had won twice in 2002, he was still a fully exempt player in 2005, but he played even worse that year: thirty-four starts, earnings of $209,638. That sent him plummeting to 191st on the money list, which meant he was exempt in 2006 only as a past champion. In other words, he only got into tournaments after the top 125 on the money list from 2005, after all those who came through Qualifying School and the Nationwide Tour, even after those who finished between 126th and 150th on the money list.
Because he had a reputation as a good guy, Mattiace received a number of sponsor exemptions that year from tournament directors who liked him and remembered his close call at the Masters. On tour, players often refer to this as a one-year “good guy” extension. The good-guy extension got Mattiace into twenty-two events, but his golf got worse. He earned $66,540, making just four cuts. A year later, without the extension, he played only ten events, making zero cuts and zero dollars.
By 2008 he was playing almost as much on the Nationwide Tour as on the PGA Tour, still searching for his swing, his game, and his career.
Mike Weir also missed the cut at the 2004 Masters, which was a disappointment but nothing more. Weir knew his spot in the Masters field and in the champions locker room was secure—for life.
Mattiace has not been back to the Masters since 2004. In fact, he has not played in any of the major championships since the 2005 U.S. Open. The case can be made that the best day of his life playing golf produced the biggest disappointment, a memory he can’t shake even though he played brilliantly for 17 holes.
Four days can change your life forever. And at the end, in the white-hot crucible of those final moments, one swing, one putt, one lucky or unlucky break, is often the difference between a lifetime of happy memories and telling and retelling a story that makes you smile, and a lifetime of wondering, years later, if you’ll ever be able to shake that memory.
Sudden fame can mean radical life changes—for good and for bad. Seven years after fulfilling their lifelong dreams, the four major winners of 2003 have taken very different roads: Jim Furyk is still one of the most successful players in the world but wonders, as he turns forty in 2010, if that Open will be his only major title. Mike Weir, who was born on the same day as Furyk (Furyk is a few hours older), is still very successful but has been through some serious valleys in recent years.
So has Ben Curtis, who struggled to deal with going from being a golfer other golfers didn’t recognize to being a major champion. He struggled for two years, found his game again in 2006, almost won the PGA in 2008, and then struggled again in 2009.
At least the first three remain fully exempt players on the tour. Shaun Micheel ended 2009 at the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School, trying to regain his status as a fully exempt player on tour but still battling to come back after having major shoulder surgery in June 2008. He came up short of the top 25, which would have made him fully exempt again, finishing in a tie for 64th place in the 170-player field.
“There are times I tell myself I should just walk away and do something else,” he said one night late in 2009. “I’m forty, I’m in good shape financially, so why not give it a shot?”
He shook his head. “But then I remember how much I love golf, how much I love to compete. I’ve loved it since I was ten years old. I want to win again. I want something close to the feeling I had that day at Oak Hill.”
He paused. “Then again, maybe that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If it was, well, I guess I should consider myself lucky that it happened once.”
They all feel that way. All four want to win again, but they know how privileged they were to win once. And if they ever forget that, they might want to spend a few moments with Len Mattiace, Stephen Leaney, Thomas Bjorn, or Chad Campbell, in whose shoes they almost stood.
Excerpted from Moment of Glory by Feinstein, John Copyright © 2010 by Feinstein, John. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
John Feinstein is the bestselling author of Let Me Tell You a Story, Caddy for Life, Open, The Punch, The Last Amateurs, The Majors, A Good Walk Spoiled, A Civil War, A Season on the Brink, Play Ball, Hard Courts, and two novels. He writes for Inside Sports, Golf, Tennis Magazine, and Basketball America and commentates on NPR and CBS. John Feinstein lives in Potomac, MD, and Shelter Island, NY.
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Lucky watches them fro the shadows.
Very insiteful, I throughly enjoyed the inside stories. I thought the book even helped me in my own game.
This was the the 6th or 7th Feinstein book i've read and its my favorite after "A Civil War". Even though golf fans know whats coming and what happens in the end, Feinstein recaptures the intensity of each of those majors in '03 and you find yourself cheering for each golfer, including the ones who fell short (ie, Thomas Bjorn). For me the part covering Ben Curtis' dramatic Open Championship victory was my favorie part. Don't read this if its winter time. Reason being, you just feel like grabbing your clubs and chasing that little white ball around aftr reading it.