February 8, 2002
Most of the time, amateur golfers can only dream about playing on the PGA Tour. Those guys are so good, so smooth, so unflappable.
Last Sunday’s finish in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am gave its audience a glimpse of how a very good player can lose it, just like the rest of us.
Tour rookie Pat Perez owned a four-shot lead as he began his final round, but began to falter on the seventh hole. By the time he overshot the green on his approach shot to the par-4 13th hole, Matt Gogel managed to tie him.
Perez calmly chipped to the fringe above the hole, which took just enough off the ball to have it glide slowly into the cup for a birdie and a one-shot lead. The crowd roared, and Perez killed his drive on the par-5 14th.
He then sliced a 3-wood shot out of bounds to the right. Dropping a new ball, he swung again with the same club, and this time it landed in the left rough, about a half-wedge from the tiny green.
Perez whaled his 3-wood into the fairway, twice. He created two clubhead-sized pot bunkers in the turf in about two seconds. As Perez finished the hole with a double bogey, Gogel birdied 15 for a two-stroke lead.
Perez gamely kept going. He hit a great second shot on 15 to two feet, for an eventual birdie. Gogel could only par the 16th. Perez then parred 16, and made a great birdie on 17. Meanwhile, Gogel had slipped to a bogey on 17, and had a short wedge shot to the par-5 18th hole for his third shot. At that point, Perez had regained the lead by a single stroke.
If Perez could hang on for a par, Gogel could only tie him for a playoff. If Perez birdied 18, he would win outright even if Gogel birdied it.
Perez then hit a high right drive that landed in a hedge, just barely out of bounds. While Tour officials checked and re-checked its position, Gogel rapped in a 25-footer for a very happy, tournament-winning birdie.
Perez trudged back to the tee for his third shot. It landed safely in the fairway, but his next shot hooked left into the Pacific Ocean.
Perez lost the tournament, and lost his temper again. The offending club absorbed a few more slams into the turf, and Perez then tried to break the club shaft over his knee. The shaft didn’t break, but appeared to bend enough that its playing days were over.
I’m sure millions of golfers watching on television muttered the same thing: “Been there. Done that.”
I try hard not to lose my temper on the golf course anymore. After burying a pitching wedge more than a half-foot into the turf several years ago, it finally dawned on me that at my very modest skill level, getting mad about my golf game was frankly ridiculous.
I can still empathize with others, however.
A while ago, another Cape Region golfer lost it while playing. We’ll call him Tom D.
Four of us were playing at Kings Creek Country Club. By the time we reached the 331-yard 15th hole, Tom had not had a good day.
He teed up and swung. The ball popped up and traveled about a yard. He swung again, and it disappeared into the wetlands that created a forced carry of about 170 yards to the fairway.
After another full swing from the tee, the new ball rolled slowly down to the edge of the wetlands.
Tom calmly walked down and picked it up. He reared back and threw the ball over the wetlands, like right fielder trying to throw a runner out at home.
The ball didn’t make it all the way across, and dropped out of sight among the phragmites.
Tom walked back to his golf cart and sat down.
We understood perfectly.