Sunday, June 26, 2005

Three If By Sand! Miracle Birdie Makes Pressel A Bridesmaid, Kim A Ju-Yun Bride

The events depicted in this story are true. Only the name has been changed to define the champion.

Nine months after presciently conceiving her nickname, Ju-Yun "Birdie" Kim delivered. From the sands of Cherry Hills Country Club's seemingly impregnable 18th hole, Kim produced a bouncing, bunkered birdie - a miraculous shot and one of the greatest in golf history the moment it fell - to win the mother of all ladies' championships, the U.S. Women's Open. It's Kim's firstborn American victory, and oh, baby, is it a whopper.

A week that commenced with the most popular player in women's golf, Annika Sorenstam, already halfway home toward the Grand Slam ended with perhaps its most anonymous contestant on top of Cherry Hills. In truth, Annika had been upstaged long before Sunday afternoon. A gaggle of teenagers and college kids contending for the holiest of grails in women's golf made the week play more like a slumber party than major championship.

The sports world had conveniently used Annika's Slam quest to get another peek at 15-year-old phenom Michelle Wie, who didn't disappoint but did inspire a fresh layer of hyperbole. Opening with a 2-under-par 69, Wie worked her way into a tie for the lead through 54 holes and onto NBC analyst Johnny Miller's top five list of best swings in all of golf.

Wie has chosen to spend her middle and high school years testing herself against grown-ups instead of taking the critics' preferred path of "learning to win" by beating up on kids her own age. Her ultimate desire is to play against men in major championships. Sunday, Wie proved the plan isn't working by folding with a final round 82. Good players, especially grown men, just don't shoot 82 with a U.S. Open on the line. Instead, they shoot 81s and 84s like Retief Goosen and Jason Gore last week. Had Wie "learned to win" against her peers the way Rookie of the Year lock Paula Creamer did, maybe she would've matched Creamer's Sunday 79.

I say let her play against whomever she wants. Sure, she blew it Sunday while the nation's top-ranked female amateur, Morgan Pressel, hung in 'til the bitter end. But there's a big difference. Pressel, who's taken the conventional route of racking up junior titles, is merely an exceptionally talented young player with Hall of Fame potential. Wie, on the other hand, is from another world and could wind up in another Hall, as in the men's.

Annika, of course, is already in the LPGA Hall of Fame, but she was and is still is interested in transcending women's golf into the pantheon of sports immortals by achieving the Grand Slam. She was in good stead after an opening 71, but three straight bogeys Friday left Annika six shots back and in a major funk. Needing a weekend aggregate of 1-under 141, she instead signed for 73-77 and saw her Grand Slam aspirations fizzle into a pedestrian tie for 23rd. I suppose the fact that Annika left Denver with only two legs instead of three proves she's human after all.

As is so often the case in U.S. Opens, the final round was less about great shotmaking and way more about survival. Which helps explain how Lorena Ochoa came to the final hole at +3, needing a par four to get into a playoff but left having taken twice that many whacks. And why Natalie Gulbis with a birdie could've posted +4 but bogeyed instead for yet another near-miss. And why Brittany Lang, fresh off an NCAA team title with Duke last month, was such an interested spectator when Birdie's birdie fell at the last. Lang was the only player in the final 10 groups to match par, and her chances of at least earning the right to a Monday playoff looked good until Kim lived up to her name.

Pressel played beyond her years, too, though she's been doing that for nearly as long as she's had any years at all. You may recall four years ago she became the youngest to qualify for this championship. Pressel missed the cut then, but now at 17 and a grizzled veteran of three U.S. Opens, she finally proved she's capable of playing on the grandest stage of women's golf and whetted our appetite for the day she'll be out here full-time. And she should take home from Cherry Hills considerable comfort in knowing she didn't lose this U.S. Open nearly as much as Kim won it.

This was a weird event and one reflective of what happens when the USGA plays Marquis de Sade with a classic course. A half dozen of the best players in the women's game had so much to gain and in the end lost a commensurate amount. Annika's Grand Slam bid was left begging. Paula Creamer and Lorena Ochoa both missed opportunities to establish themselves as the best young player in the game. Michelle Wie surrendered 11 too many strokes Sunday and, thus, instant immortality as a 15-year-old major champion. Calendar girl Natalie Gulbis, now starring in her own eponymous reality show on The Golf Channel, could've ended any and all Anna Kourni-komparisons by winning her first LPGA title. Karen Stupples left some wondering which was the fluke: her eagle/double eagle start en route to victory in the final round of last year's British Open or the 78 she turned in Sunday playing with a share of the lead. Pressel could've upstaged Wie. Lang could've been the first amateur champion in nearly 40 years.

But somehow, the player with the least to lose gained the most. Birdie not only hadn't shown signs of being one of the best players on tour, she wasn't even the best player named Kim. She could've quietly shot 77 Sunday, picked up a top ten plus a nice check, and made a lot of people in the press tent happy by not requiring them to actually flip over to the modest half page she occupies in the LPGA media guide.

Instead, Birdie Kim now occupies a place in golf history more rarefied than Denver's mile high air. And that name, prophetically altered, now occupies space on the U.S. Women's Open trophy and may give new birth to the belief that what's in a name matters after all.

by Pulitzer Boone

Monday, June 20, 2005

Just Maori-ed! New Zealander Campbell Hitches Himself To U.S. Open Title

You can set your watch to it: every 42 years, a New Zealander wins a major championship. In 1963, lanky lefthander Bob Charles won the British Open. And yesterday, Michael Campbell survived the U.S. Open at Pinehurst's No. 2 Course on a day in which most of his opponents looked as if they were playing left-handed.

Of the final four players to tee off Sunday, three couldn't break 80: defending champ Retief Goosen (81), who squandered not only his three-shot final round lead but also a chance to cement his name in golf history; Jason Gore (84), who like his political namesake is likely demanding a recount; and Olin Browne (80), whose Sunday meltdown means Mr. Dutra, winner of the '32 PGA and '34 Open, remains the only major champion named Olin.

Campbell not only broke 80, he beat the U.S. Open's toughest perennial opponent, Old Man Par. A 1-under 69 gave Campbell, a 36-year-old native of New Zealand's Maori tribe, an even par, 280 total for the week and a measure of respect among his peers for staring down Tiger Woods that will last much longer. Tiger's spirited but shockingly fallible charge Sunday left him two shots short of continuing his quest to win all four majors in the same year. Now, he can only divert his Grand Slam aspirations to good friend Annika Sorenstam who's already won the first two legs of the women's Slam and goes for a third this week at the U.S. Women's Open.

In fact, after winning the LPGA Championship last week, Annika text-messaged Tiger, "9-9," to flaunt the fact that she'd matched his major win total at nine. He said his jocular rejoinder to her mobile missive can't be reprinted in polite company, and I'm guessing whatever he was thinking to himself as he stood on the 72nd tee Sunday can't either. No sooner had he clawed his way back from eight shots off the lead early in the final round with birdies at 11 and 15, Tiger bogeyed both 16 and 17. This pair of out-of-nowhere, unforced, eleventh-hour errors - reminiscent of the gifts he often received from would-be challengers down the stretch - would ultimately provide his own margin of defeat.

The name of this course now has new meaning to Tiger: the world's No. 1 player made a big No. 2 out of those two holes and now must wait another month for the British Open at St. Andrews for his 10th title in a Grand Slam tournament. Worse yet, as he waits he must wonder what's happened to his major mojo.

Once a lock in opportunities to win one of the big four, Tiger's fingers seem increasingly buttery. At The Masters in April, owning a two-shot lead on Chris DiMarco with two holes to play, Tiger bogeyed 17 and 18 and needed both DiMarco's birdie pitch to lip out (which it did) and his own dramatic birdie putt on the first playoff hole to drop (which it did) to finally win.

Sunday, after brilliant ball-striking put him in position to win his third Open in six years, Tiger couldn't get up and down from a relatively easy spot on 16 and then three-jacked the 17th to fall three behind Campbell. That remained the margin after Tiger's birdie at 18 was matched by Campbell's clutch 2 at 17.

During a week in which the ghost of Payne Stewart - Pinehurst's Open champion in 1999 - was eerily present, Tiger could only hope the specter from another '99 major would apparate on the 72nd hole. Only a Jean Van De Velde-ian triple could keep Campbell from redeeming the last decade of unfulfilled potential and validating himself as a player worthy of golf's biggest stage.

Instead, just a harmless bogey left Campbell at level par, two better than Tiger and now firmly and forever entrenched as a national hero among his Maori people and all of New Zealand, which is now on the clock with 42 years to celebrate its newest major champion.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Something About Mary

Knowing that Annika is a big fan of the boone box, I'd intended to keep the recap of the LPGA Championship at the top of my blog until she'd had a chance to read it. But circumstances compel me to submit the following post. (Annika, scroll down to the next story to see how I fumbled all over myself trying to describe how great you are.)

Our dear friends, Scott and Emily Glisson and their four children, have given up their little slice of the American dream to live in a Ugandan nightmare. Two years ago, the Glissons left everything - family, friends, SUVs, 401(k)s, normalcy - and moved to Mbarara, Uganda to join a small group of Americans who are serving the natives there through medical help, education, and friendship. No quid pro quos. No insistence that the locals come to church if they want help. Just lots of love in very tangible ways, including being the hands, feet - and as you're about to read - the arms of Christ.

June 6

Hi Amy,

Just wanted to tell you about the last couple of days I’ve had - - good ones for sure, but crazy busy…

The hospital called and said that there was an abandoned baby that needed a short-term foster home - - effective immediately. Our family has been SO interested in doing that and I usually go to the hospital on Fridays just to check in and to see if there is any way our family can help with those babies, but today was the first day the actually needed us.... Our kids were so excited about our first foster baby (we all were!) and I hoofed it over to the hospital to check it all out. Well, the baby is sick, so very sick. Her mother died this morning and there were no relatives to take the baby back home (and how do you even find them with small villages dotting the map?). She has pneumonia, malaria and is severely malnourished, and even though she is 8 months old, she looks like an alert newborn. It is so sad! She is not ready to be discharged yet, due to her ailments.... So we’ll just go and check on her every day (taking clothes, blankets, maybe even milk??) until she is released. And then we will love on her for a short time and help her get back on her feet before we deliver her to an orphanage an hour and a half away. On my walk back home, I kept thanking the Lord for such an awesome privilege to care for a baby who has absolutely nobody in this world thinking about her tonight. And I prayed for that anonymous lady who died all alone this morning. Who was she? What was her story? And does anybody even know that she is now gone?

Tonight, my four little ones are snug in their beds and I’m feeling exhausted physically....and a little melancholy for those babies who just don’t ever have a chance…



June 14

Hi there,

What really has me sad is our poor baby….she is the saddest thing you have ever seen! We call her “Mary” even though we don’t really know her name. Her mom was Mbabazi, and that seemed too hard for our kids to pronounce. She is 8 months old, but can’t sit up or even control her head very well b/c she is less than 8 tiny pounds! Her arms are the size of my index finger – just a poor little bag of bones. Anyway, I’ve been going up to the hospital once or twice a day to feed her or take her medicine (the hospital ran out) since she doesn’t have anyone to take care of her. One day last week, I held her for a long time outside in the sunshine and sang little songs to her, changed the sheets on her bed, gave her a sponge bath with my WetOnes antibacterial wipes, sat with her during her blood testing, and fed her some high energy milk. I was hopeful – I was seriously thinking about bringing her to my house to ensure that she has good feeding and care since the nurses just don’t have time. (There are 100 children and only 2 nurses!) I figured I could always go up there once or twice a day to get her injections and just keep her at home, setting my alarm to feed her every 2-3 hours. BUT when I went back the very next day, she looked absolutely awful…and she was gray and cold. Not a good sign. While I was there, the doctor moved her immediately to critical care and we started feeding her through a feeding tube in her nose since she was literally on her death bed. It broke my heart. (And then I passed out, which was not a pretty sight right there in front of 50 traditionally dressed Ugandan mamas and their snotty nosed kids.) And when I went back that afternoon, they had removed her from critical care and taken the feeding tube out of her nose and completely given up hope – she was in the last stages of AIDS. And so, she has moved even further down the line of priorities at the hospital. It has been a hard week as I contemplate the “whys” and “what nows” of life, and of baby Mary’s life specifically. But even then, I have felt a tremendous sense of fulfillment caring for this baby in her last days. No baby deserves to die alone. The last few days I have been dosing her up really good on Children’s Tylenol, and we all are praying that she rests peacefully and dies quickly. Did she ever have a mama who loved her – who delighted in her smile? Or has she been wimpering and moaning for her entire existence?

When the hospital called me on Saturday, I assumed they were calling to say that Mary had passed away. So I braced myself. But they were actually calling to say that there was ANOTHER abandoned baby who needed some TLC, and to please come quickly. This one was only a week and a half old and her mother had died of pneumonia the day before. This tiny baby is just that – tiny!! She seems to be in perfect health, but she weighs only 2 pounds. I fed her with a syringe in one of the rooms in the hospital while stomping my feet to keep the rat who was running from wall to wall away from me! When the doctor opened an official file on the baby, he asked me what her name was. Well…? I had just met her five minutes before and wasn’t really planning to name a baby that day…but I named her “Grace”. And I am praying that the Lord gives her plenty of it as she struggles to grow and thrive in this fallen world. After what feels like a million trips to the hospital over the weekend, I was able to bring baby Grace to our home yesterday afternoon. She is very alert and sweet and did I mention – tiny?? We aim to feed her 1 ounce of formula every 3 hours and she fits nicely inside a shoe box! I’ll have to send you pictures…

Meanwhile, I’m delivering baby Mary to the orphanage on Thursday. I know the Catholic sisters who run the place and I know they will give her lots of love and attention in what may be her last days. She is so sick and yet she knows my voice; when I sing to her over her bed, she reaches for my hand to pull closely to her face; her stiff and severely malnourished body relaxes completely when I hold her in my arms….I will never be the same after loving on her. Please pray for all of us as we make that tearful transfer on Thursday.

Love and Miss you,


June 16

Our sweet Baby Mary passed away last night…Of course, I am sad. But I am also so very thankful that she is now completely out of her pain and with the Lord Jesus - - his arms are much more tender than mine.

Thank you for your prayers.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Upper Crust

America's secondary education system is clearly failing us. Neither Michelle Wie, a sophomore at Honolulu's Punahou Academy, nor the newly-minted graduate of Pendleton High in Bradenton, Florida, Paula Creamer, could get closer than three shots to Annika Sorenstam at the McDonald's LPGA Championship. Then again, neither could anyone of drinking age. Sorenstam won her third straight Mickey D's, even though they switched venues from DuPont Country Club to Bulle Rock (pronounced "bully," as in what Sorenstam's doing to the rest of the LPGA).

Another Anni-kakewalk, her 6th in 8 tournaments this year and 62nd of her career, puts Sorenstam halfway toward her ultimate goal of winning women's golf's Grand Slam. And the fact that her closest competitors aren't old enough to know how to use a cassette tape irrefutably reveals just how wide the gap is between Annika and everyone else.

It's not unlike Tiger's run from 1999-2002 when he racked up 7 of his 9 majors while none of the rest of the best were playing at a consisently high level. For sure, Annika would be getting her fair share of trophies no matter how anyone else was playing. But this eye-popping stretch of 39 wins in the last 4 1/2 years and five victories in the last ten majors has either caused or coincided with a downturn in the careers of what had been her chief challengers: Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Meg Mallon, and Juli Inkster. Each has managed a major or two during Sorenstam's streak, but none has posed a consistent threat.

That's actually a very interesting question to ponder. Has Annika merely taken advantage of her peers' less-than-peak performances since 2001 or were those players simply unable to respond when Sorenstam took her game and her body to a higher level?

You could argue that Inkster, 44, and Mallon, 42, are a tick or two past their primes and, thus, unable to keep up with one of the most dedicated athletes, male or female, in all of sports. But the Webb and Pak cases are more curious.

Webb's still just 30. She was narrowly but decisively #1 from 1999 through the summer of '01, racking up 15 victories during that span, including five majors. But she's won only four times since, and none of those were majors.

Pak's even younger, just 27. She burst onto the LPGA stage in 1998 when she made the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open her first two career victories, as a 20-year-old, no less. But after consecutive five-win seasons, Pak's won just four LPGA events (no majors) since 2003, which is great...unless you're one of the best players in the world.

It's an impossible question to answer, but I'd suggest Annika's work ethic has at the very least contributed to the others underachieving. Consider that in 2000, Sorenstam had won five times but had been upstaged by Webb's seven Ws, two of which were majors. That's when Sorenstam decided to take matters into her own hands, feet, abs, traps, delts, quads, etc.

Her first event of 2001 was the Takefuji Classic in Hawaii, which I happened to be broadcasting for The Golf Channel. We'd heard about Annika's off-season conditioning program and how she'd been in one, continuous abdominal crunch all winter. When I interviewed her on the putting green at Kona Country Club the day before the tournament started, I jokingly referred to the then-30-year-old Sorenstam as a "crusty veteran." As with most mentally stable people, she didn't get my joke. She quizzically countered, "Crusty? Why do you call me crusty? I'm not crusty." Oops.

Since that interview, Annika's been relentless, with me and more importantly with the rest of the LPGA. While never letting me live that dubious question down, she's hardly let other players up. Sorenstam has completely reshaped her physique - from skinny to sleek to superwoman - and her game, adding power to her trademark precision and making a conscious decision to hang out with her friends on the PGA TOUR, most notably Tiger Woods, to see what she could learn from them, which she has admitted was a lot. Now, she's without a doubt the most complete player in all of golf, men's or women's. And, yes, I'm including Tiger.

Annika gave Webb, Pak, and the rest of the LPGA her best shot, and no one's had a counterpunch. It tends to be a bit demoralizing when you know the best player in the world is also the hardest worker.

The only hope for the rest of the LPGA may be for Annika to quit pushing herself or for me to quit asking her dumb questions. I wouldn't bet on either.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Black Bart Steals The Show

CBS spent the better part of its broadcast of The Memorial golf tournament promoting "the funniest new reality show on television," Fire Me...Please! (It's apparently based on Gary McCord's performance at the 1994 Masters when he said about the 17th hole at Augusta National, "they don't mow this green, they bikini wax it," thus ending his Masters broadcast career.)

Still, the best reality show going is the PGA TOUR, itself. Impossible to predict week to week (now that Tiger is susceptible to kryptonite). And certainly no scripts, as evidenced by Bart Bryant's improbable victory at the Memorial in Columbus, Ohio.

If a reality show is hosted by, say, Jeff Probst, producers have some control over the outcome. With Jim Nantz, no way. Otherwise, everyone else would've been voted out of Muirfield Village except Fred Couples, Nantz's best bud and former teammate on the University of Houston golf team. But Freddie was sent packing in the tournament's final 45 minutes when he: missed a short eagle putt, couldn't get up and down from a greenside bunker at 16, missed a makeable birdie attempt at 17, and blew his approach to 18 halfway to Palau.

Couples is the gallery's most beloved player among those still active, but Tiger Woods is still the most captivating. And he had his chances, too. Three straight birdies put him within two of the lead until he double bogeyed a short par 3. That left him no room for error coming down the stretch, such as the bogey he made at 14 that left him with his pockets full but his trophy case undisturbed.

One by one, storylines the fans and media hoped to see develop never did. David Toms, humble and preppy, imploded. Jeff Sluman, the smiley veteran playing with borrowed credibility having been granted a sponsor's exemption by tournament founder and host Jack Nicklaus, faded. Even Bo Van Pelt would've sufficed. Unknown by most, for sure, but at least his dad played in the NFL. And they like their football in the land of The Ohio State University. But Bo still don't know winning on the PGA TOUR after splashing his approach to the par 5 15th and bogeying 18 when a birdie would've given him the clubhouse lead.

When it came to dotting Is and crossing Ts, no one was more efficient coming home than Bryant. His front nine scorecard looked like an argyle sock with three red numbers, three green, and three black. But an inward 32 - capped by a soggy, scrambling par at 18 after his tee shot found the creek - was enough by one to earn him his second TOUR title but his first with anyone paying attention. Bryant's maiden victory at last year's Texas Open happened opposite the Ryder Cup, which no one was watching on Sunday either, come to think of it.

As scripts go, Bryant certainly wouldn't have wished the one written for him the last 15 years on anyone. A native of Gatesville, Texas, about two hours east of nowhere, the 42-year-old Bryant has had as many injuries and operations as full seasons on TOUR. Hogan was said to have dug his success out of the dirt. Bryant's previous claim to fame was an older brother, Brad, known as "Dr. Dirt." Hardly the champion pedigree for the graycoats and bluebloods at Muirfield.

In fact, you'd sooner peg Bart as a plumber than PGA TOUR player. And he'd lived on similar wages for most of his career. But that par putt he drained on 18 earned him both a $990,000 first prize and a firm handshake from Nicklaus as he walked off the green. Talk about your pipe dreams.

As Bryant has discovered the hard way, sometimes reality bites. Give a guy credit when he bites back. And be glad the TOUR doesn't always work off the script we want. Bart Bryant is a real Survivor.


Congratulations to Annika Sorenstam. Her victory at the ShopRite Classic yesterday was not only her fifth of the year and 61st of her career, it also gets her halfway to the Grocers' Grand Slam. With a win at the Safeway in March already in the bag, Annika turns her attention to the Wegman's later this month and the second Safeway event in August in Portland. Remember Annika, more than 10 wins and you can't use the Express Checkout Line.


Finally, the Kansas City Royals got all hot and bothered Sunday when Texas Rangers' reliever Francisco Cordero glared into their dugout and grabbed his crotch after getting the final out of an 8-1 win. They thought he was showing them up after they'd complained about his hitting one of their batters in the 9th inning. But my sources tell me Cordero was merely showing his support to Michael Jackson, who'll find out this week if he'll be sent to the showers.