February 5, 1999
Misery loves company, and the game of golf is always having a party.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Golfers details the amazing screw-ups, flubs, blown 2-inch putts, and utter goofs that have occasionally plagued some of the world’s best golfers.
The slim paperback’s title is a straightforward lift from When Bad Things Happen To Good People, but unlike that noble and uplifting text, this book has a much smaller goal. The authors just want you to know that everybody can have a bad day on the golf course.
Even so, you should probably avoid reading this book just before you play your first big tournament of the season. It might be a little too inspirational, in an anti-Bob Rotella sort of way.
On the other hand, if you ever had a round marred by three triple bogeys, two lost balls, a topped drive, and a four-putt on a green-in-regulation, you will find some comfort here. Read this book after one of those rounds, and it will help your recovery.
Bad Things is divided into segments called Major Disasters, Black Holes, Mean Greens, Head Cases, and Cruel Rules. Each category includes some familiar fables of disaster befalling celebrities such as Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Davis Love III, and Lee Trevino. They also include tales of woe suffered by less well-known golfers, such as T.C. Chen, Mark Brooks, and Mike Reid.
Arnold Palmer’s meltdown in the 1961 U.S. Open is set forth here in excruciating detail. Greg Norman’s travails in the 1996 Masters, losing to Nick Faldo, are accompanied by tales of some of his other famous losses. Davis Love’s lack of knowledge of the Rules of Golf costs him a bundle at the 1997 Players Championship.
Lee Trevino gave a perfect example of finding calamity by focusing on avoiding it. He worried all week about hitting to the wrong pin on the double greens at St. Andrews in the 1970 British Open. Naturally, he fired a perfect iron shot to the wrong flag, and blew his chance at victory.
Mark Brooks wouldn’t do an interview for this book, so the authors did the next best thing and talked to the tournament director for the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. Brooks managed to do two bad things in the same tournament. First, he lost a ball high up in a palm tree. The next day, after reaching the green at the ninth hole, he blithely tossed his ball to his caddie to be cleaned. The caddie wasn’t ready, and he and Brooks watched helplessly as the ball rolled into a pond, never to be found.
The description of T.C. Chen’s famous double-hit chip shot in the 1985 U.S. Open shows you how to play this round killer on your home course. I can vouch for the fact that you don’t need to be a professional golfer to make this shot.
I’ve been a fan of Mike Reid for years. His collapse after leading at the 1989 PGA Championship was painful. On the other hand, his reaction to it says something about him:
You can let it bother you if you want to, or you can realize there aren’t many guys who ever get in that situation, and you must have been doing something well. You try to build on it instead of just let it consume you.
Many of the professional golfers whose botched shots and other mistakes are retold in this book have the same approach to their own disasters. They are usually able to focus on the next shot, and move on. That’s the real playing tip to learn from this little gem.