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Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

Overcoming odds and being recognized for great accomplishments

Posted Friday, October 21, 2011, at 2:19 PM

The PGA Grand Slam of golf was held this past week in beautiful Bermuda. This is the toughest tournament in the world to qualify for, though there is only one entry requirement. Win one of golf's major championships and you are in. Sounds simple enough, right? If only.

This was the 29th Grand Slam of Golf and it featured four first-time major championship winners. I always enjoy watching and talking to golfers after their first major championship win, it's great to hear their excitement and enjoyment, knowing their place in golf history is secure. Their lives are forever changed with that victory, but their drive and determination hopefully do not. And to have four first-time major champions multiplied that enjoyment for everyone.

Even more, though each golfer represented a different major, and have unique and different backgrounds and histories; I couldn't help but notice they had one important trait in common as we all convened in Bermuda. But we'll get to that in a moment. First, let's remember what brought them there.

Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa, represented The Masters. Last April, he made tournament history when he finished his run at Augusta with four straight birdies to earn the famed green jacket. Scwhartzel also made Grand Slam history when he showed up at a couple of evening functions this week wearing that famous green jacket. That jacket is seemingly as famous as any golfer that wears it. It was a treat for us for Charl to bring it to Bermuda.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, represented the U.S. Open. His torrid play in June at Congressional Country Club was even hotter than the blistering Washington D.C. heat. McIlroy fired a 72-hole Open record of 16-under par as he lapped the field and beat the previous scoring mark by 4 shots. It was a sweet victory for the curly haired Irish kid after his heartbreaking Sunday at The Masters, but more on that later.

Another native of Northern Ireland, 42-year old Darren Clarke, scored the most shocking major championship victory of 2011 as he held off Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson to grab the British Open title at Royal St. George's. Clarke appeared to be on the downhill side of his career before he battled through tough weather to win the Claret Jug in July. Clarke had seen his career slide after he lost his wife to breast cancer several years ago and because of that, he probably stands as the most popular major championship winner of the year.

Keegan Bradley, the PGA Champion, certainly was a surprise winner as well. He was on the sidelines as a spectator during The Masters as well as the U.S. and British Opens. And though Bradley did not qualify for the year's first three majors, he did make the field at the PGA Championship and took advantage of it by winning the famed Wannamaker Trophy. And with his victory at Atlanta Athletic Club, he became one of only three players to ever to win the first major he ever competed in. Bradley was five shots behind with four holes to play and pulled off a stunning playoff victory over Jason Dufner.

So how do these things tie in? Stay with me, I'm getting to that.

One of the best parts of the PGA Grand Slam is the fireside chat that takes place between the four major champions and Jim Huber, Emmy Award winning essayist for Turner Sports and PGA.com. Huber interviews each of the men and his style exposes the human side of these great players.

Many will remember the 2011 Masters for McIlroy's final round 80, including a 43 on the back nine. Schwartzel began the final round four shots back. He chipped in for birdie on #1 and then holed his second shot for eagle on #3 and was all of a sudden tied with McIlroy for the lead.

"I knew it was going to be my day when I made that 2 on the third hole. Then when Rory went looking for the loo (term for British bathroom) on the 10th, things really started going my way. That changed everything," laughed Schwartzel.

McIlroy acknowledged the story with a grin and wave. It was on the 10th hole when Rory snapped hooked his drive between the cabins on the left of the hole and proceeded to make a triple bogey. This was the start of his demise. As Schwartzel finished his chat with Huber and exited the stage, it was McIlroy who arose first to give the Masters champion a standing ovation. The Irish kid gets it.

Huber summoned McIlroy to the stage and talked about what happened in the weeks that followed The Masters.

"It was apparent at Augusta that I wasn't ready to win a major," said McIlroy. "I went to Haiti a few weeks later for Unicef. When I saw the devastation and destruction in Haiti it put losing The Masters into a proper perspective. It meant nothing compared to what those people were going through."

And Huber asked Rory about the best part about his record breaking U.S. Open championship?

"No doubt, it was walking down the last fairway and spotting my dad. He was wearing a green shirt. I walked by him and gave him a nod," said McIlroy.

Clarke talked to Huber about how bad he was playing early in the week at Royal St. George's.

"I really thought about withdrawing, it was so bad. I played a practice round with Rory early on Wednesday. We caught Charl and Louis Oosthuizen (defending British Open champ) on the 13th hole, they always play dreadfully slow," chuckled Clarke. "I said let's play a game, Ireland versus South Africa. Rory birdies the next couple of holes.

"I am still slogging it around and I walk off the tee about ten feet in front of the other three and Rory says, 'Hey Old Man, where is your major?'...I showed him on Sunday," smiled Clarke who actually brought the Claret Jug to the Grand Slam and let people pose for pictures with it later that night.

When Bradley made a triple bogey on the 14th hole during the final round of the PGA it looked like his run at a major was over. He revealed something very insightful to Huber.

"I chipped that ball across the green and into the water. I had a bad lie, but hit a poor shot. It really shook me up. So much so, that I walked across the green right through Scott Verplank's line of putt. He was still in contention to win the tournament," said the St. John's University grad.

"I immediately apologized to Scott. He was great and didn't make a big deal out of it. Many players would have and Scott could really have thrown me off my game, but he didn't. I would never have come back and won if not for the way Scott reacted. I will never forget that," said Bradley, the son of a PGA pro.

Throughout the week, these four players demonstrated the characteristics that we, as golfers, would hope to see from a major champion. But even more, they showed the characteristics of determination, a hard work ethic, the ability to overcome adversity, persistence and patience. In other words, things we should all expect of ourselves as golfers also.

All four golfers seemed genuinely appreciative of the week, as not only a chance to compete on this stage but to celebrate their year. I hope that's the case because that's what it was meant to be. But just as much, the Grand Slam of Golf celebrates golf. Of setting goals and reaching them.

Of overcoming odds and being recognized for great accomplishments. Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke and Bradley will always be remembered for winning this year's majors. But spending time, enjoying and learning from them this past week - tells me that all appropriately wear the title of "Champion" just as well.

Ted is the former golf professional at Linton's Phil Harris Golf Course. He's currently the vice president of the PGA of America and the PGA Director of Golf at The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin. He can be reached by e-mail at TBLEGENDS@aol.com



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