Looking back on the year in sports, golf again provided thrilling moments and heart-warming stories.
It is a true pleasure to cover golf and to be on location at the Majors and other tournaments throughout the year to share with listeners and readers, the updates, the drama and information about the people who make the sport so special. And it was a thrill of a lifetime to have the opportunity to play in the Bob Hope Classic as the 4th female celebrity in the tournament's 51-year history (and the last of what has been the Bob Hope Classic, as it becomes the Humana Challenge, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, in January 2012).
Here are some of my favorite golf stories and memories in 2011:
Whether you are fortunate enough to be at Augusta National in person or are glued to the television during the four days of coverage, golf fans will agree that The Masters never fails to come up with the goods as far as excitement and drama go. This year, South Africa's Charl Schwartzel showed the world how talented he really is, as Gary Player predicted long ago. And in story book fashion, Rory McIlroy was able to vindicate his meltdown on the back nine of the final round in Augusta, when, two months later, he broke all kinds of records on his way to winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.
In July, Darren Clarke, "the man of the people," pulled off an incredible victory at Royal St. George's, winning his first Major Championship at the age of 42. He had not contended in a Major for 10 years prior and after his stellar play in the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland just a few weeks after his wife, Heather, passed away from cancer, Clarke had fallen off the 'top 100' map. But again, in true storybook style, to everyone's surprise, including his own, Clarke won the British Open, thrilling golf fans and the media throughout the world! What a year for Irish Golf!
Yani Tseng's dominating performance on the women's Tour in 2011 has been dazzling! Tseng won 12 times worldwide with seven LPGA titles. When Tseng won the British Open this year, she became the youngest player ever, male or female, to have won five Major Championships (at 22 years, six months, eight days).
I so enjoyed covering the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in Ireland this past September. Walking inside the ropes and talking with legends Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam and Pat Bradley while watching the American team battle the European players, is a memory I will always cherish. Lopez's voice was hoarse from rooting the American team on. Pat Bradley was personally thanking Americans in the galleries for traveling across the pond to support the American women. And Bradley was beaming with pride when we talked about her nephew, Keegan Bradley, winning the first Major Championship he had ever played in -- the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club!
My personal all-time most memorable golf playing experience happened in 2011 -- having the opportunity to play in the Bob Hope Classic this past January. The first day I played with Brandt Jobe, the nicest guy on the planet, who went out of his way to make the amateurs in the group feel comfortable and have fun. The second day I played with none other than Bubba Watson. What a thrill to see him bomb his drives and get up-and-down from all kinds of places on the narrow and challenging LaQuinta Country Club course. The third day I played with PGA Tour rookie Daniel Summerhays and on the final day, I had the great pleasure of playing with Harrison Frazar, who so graciously helped me read putts all day, including a long, dramatic putt on the very last hole that found its way into the cup! It was quite the exciting finish after playing four straight days (and three practice rounds) with the pros in the PGA Tour event!
And to add to the thrill of meeting and playing golf with these guys, their 2011 Bob Hope Classic post-scripts are equally as exciting:
Bubba Watson, one week after I had the pleasure of playing with him in the second round of the Bob Hope Classic, won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego! He later earned his second PGA Tour title in 2011 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and helped the Americans win the President's Cup with a 3-2-0 record.
Harrison Frazar, at age 40, and after 354 starts on Tour, won his very first PGA Tour title! He beat Robert Karlsson in a play-off at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. It was yet another heart-warming golf story and earning this important milestone could not have happened to a nicer guy. Plus, Frazar had been talking about quitting the game and finding another job.
Brandt Jobe's comeback story has been quite astounding. In 2006, he suffered a freak accident in his garage, severing the tip of his left index finger and the base of his left thumb. He underwent surgery and has spent the last several years fighting his way back. The scars from the surgery on his hand and arm that he showed me while we navigated SilverRock Golf Club in the first round of the Bob Hope Classic made me appreciate his determined comeback even more. And what a year he's had! He earned eight top 25 finishes this year in 25 starts, including a tie for second at the Memorial Tournament, his first top three showing since the 2005 season. Way to go Brandt!
And I'm happy that Daniel Summerhays achieved his best PGA Tour performance at the 2011 Bob Hope Classic - tied for 11th!
I am so happy for these guys, and all the male and female golfers who made 2011 a wonderful year in golf!
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