COOPERSTOWN, NY – If you want your faith in Americana restored, look no further than the Revolutionary War, frontier-age bucolic splendor of Upstate New York. It’s alive and well, in all it’s “Golf, God, and Country” greatness.
Now we’re not talking “upstate” like the way NYCers use the term – to them “upstate” is anything north of Yonkers! No, to everyone else, it’s the frozen I-90 corridor, Erie Canal country, “from Albany to Buffalo” as the old song goes, where every house proudly waves a flag, where stone buildings still stand from the time when John Burgoyne and Barry St. Leger were marching through the state, (ultimately meeting defeat at Saratoga and Fort Stanwix respectively), and where both local and national pride warm the hearts of the hardy locals through some of the country’s fiercest winters.
Bu summers are sublime, and perhaps nowhere is as idyllic as fabled Cooperstown. Hard by Lake Otsego – “Glimmerglass” as the locals call it, the town is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Glimmerglass Opera House, countless Revolutionary War sites, and one of the country’s great Golden Age golf courses – Leatherstocking Golf Club, a Devereux Emmet design from 1909/1919, (front nine/back nine respectively).
We’ve already broken down Leatherstocking like a fraction HERE***, but with summer waning, it was time to come back and bask again in the glorious dappled sunshine blazing off Glimmerglass, the soothing breezes wafting between the verdant, tree covered hills, and the stately majesty, yet refined elegance of the Otesaga Hotel.
Like the Otesaga itself, Leatherstocking Golf Club is a Grande Dame who is still as sharp, sprightly, and salubrious as she was the day Devereux left her and headed back to Bermuda in that interesting pith helmet he used to call a hat One can’t help but feel invigorated seeing the 18th green hard by the lake and taking the walk down the stone path to the first tee. The setting is an elixir, restorative in every way.
“Leatherstocking has always been regarded by golf design intelligentsia as one of the great resort courses in America,” stated broadcaster and golf design Bruce Moulton. “It’s got as gorgeous a natural setting as you could ask for, it’s got tiny, but lightning fast greens with lots of contour, and the terrain is fantastic – tumbling up, down, and around the rugged lakeside hills. But best of all, it still has all the design features Emmet built there 100 years ago.”
Moulton is right: plenty of golf courses have lakeside or Oceanside settings, but it’s the clever design tricks Emmet used on the course that make it play much longer and harder than the mere 6,400 yards on the card.
“It’s the longest 6,400 yard golf course I’ve ever played!” said golfer Lee Lemon, (who by the way makes the “All-name” team with golfers Fred Funk, Stew Cink, and Mona Mennan). “Emmet deliberately routed the shorter par-4s like two and seven so that the approaches play straight up the most severe hill on the property. And between the reverse camber of the 11th fairway and the angles over the water on 18, just try hitting either of those par-5s in two!”
Indeed, the par-5s in particular are especially strong. Emmet always built show-stopper par-5s and the set at Leatherstocking are the equal to any course he ever designed, even venerable Garden City. Indeed 11 and 18 are true three-shot holes, but four and 15 may be even more interesting architecturally, with sod-faced bunkers criss-crossing the fairway, making the golfer carefully plan his way through, around, or over them.
Sure the new holes at 16 and 17 are modern water holes that don’t quite fit with the rest of the golf course, but 17 is a shorter, Blackbird Bay-side version of the 16th at Cypress Point, (hit it way left and play it as a short par-4).
“Emmet was also a friend and contemporary of Macdonald and Raynor, so some of their favorite templates appear at Leatherstocking, including an Alps, a Short, and a Cape,” added Moulton.
For all those that lament the loss of great Emmet work at courses like Congressional or despair that so many of Emmet’s best designs are fiercely private, Leatherstocking is a museum piece where so much of Devereux’s work has been so ardently protected and promoted.
“We want to preserve all the great work he did here,” stated a rightfully proud Director of Golf Dan Spooner. They did a terrific job of that. If Dev were alive today, he’d certainly be elated to see that even in this age of 500 cc drivers and laser beam irons Leatherstocking not only still befuddles the best golfers in the game, but still enchants everyone who visits her.
Coming up this week on Jay’s Plays: Mon-Wed: author Neil Sagabiel and writer-producer Ryan Ballengee
Starting Wed and through Sunday: Architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and golf expert Bruce Moulton.
Enjoy the show!
We have a new Tiger.
Like Woods, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy beat all the best golfers in the World while they were at their best at the 96th PGA Championship. In doing so he turned Valhalla Golf Club into TPC Anytown with a blistering 16-under, 268 aggregate, winning back-to-back majors to close the season, and claiming his fourth major overall in the last 15 contested.
While he won his first three in Tiger-esque runaways, this one was a prize-fight. With a Pantheon of the games greatest names all throwing haymakers, roundhouses, and uppercuts at him all day, McIlroy endured, putting in a full 15-rounds, swinging, counter-punching, and finally rope-a-doping everyone over the difficult stretch of 14-17, edging out five-time major winner and fan favorite Phil Mickelson by one shot, and rising stars Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson by two.
Nobody blinked, everyone played well – it was one of the most exciting final rounds in recent major championship history. The top 12 players all shot rounds in the 60s due to the soggy conditions, and each player had their flashes of absolute swashbuckling brilliance.
The first fireworks were ignited by four-time major winner Ernie Els who fired front nine 30 on his way to a 65 that made him leader in the clubhouse for a time at 11-under, along with Jimmy Walker, who also shot 65. But as the afternoon wore on and everyone kept firing carronades at a defenseless Valhalla – the mighty city of the Gods laid low once again by ludicrously low scores – we knew that was just a prelude.
Indeed, like the Norse Gods of old, our Sunday heroes battled as fiercely as the old myths say: past FedEx Cup-winner Henrik Stenson also shot 65, putting him at -14. Fowler joined him there with a feisty, up-and-down 68, finishing in near darkness along with Mickelson, who’s 66 to close was as gritty and gutsy a performance as you’ll ever see out of a golfer. Twice he rolled in 30-foot putts, sending the fans into frenzied cheering.
Steve Elkington said it best on Twitter: “Phil Mickelson missed greens in tough spots at 5,6,12,17 got all those up & down & almost holed it at 18…. Freak.”
Indeed, every one of those superstars played as well as they could ask themselves to play on Championship Sunday…
…And like with Tiger, it just wasn’t enough to hold off McIlroy
We have a new Tiger, and he’s as ruthless as the old.
Need a birdie? Sure, no problem! How about an eagle? After all, when you’re down three shots with just nine holes to play, there’s no time like a par-5 10th to find that extra gear…like Tiger used to. Our new Tiger is also as astoundingly long as the old. The defining moment of the tournament was when McIlroy uncorked a 284-yard 3-wood to seven feet at the par-5 10th, paving the way for a back nine 32 that seized the Wanamaker from everyone else’s grasp.
“The ball flight was probably around 30 feet lower than I intended. And the line of the shot was probably around 15 yards left of where I intended,” confided McIlroy candidly, his honesty a far cry from the guarded, laconic Woods. “It was lucky, it really was. You need a little bit of luck in major championships to win and that was my lucky break. I didn’t hit a very good shot there but it worked out well and I made eagle from it.”
It looked darn good from where we were…
We have a new Tiger and, like the old, he doesn’t blink in the clutch.
Though Valhalla surrenders birdies like bourbon shots from 1-13 and at 18, we all knew that the player who survived the gauntlet of par-4s from 14-17 without a bogey would claim the trophy, and everyone made one down the stretch except Rory. Fowler and Stenson both bogeyed 14 and Phil bogeyed 16.
Rory birdied 13 and 17.
“I set myself a target walking off the 10th green. I just made an eagle. I was like, okay, let’s try and shoot 30 on this back nine,” McIlroy stated. “I knew there were birdies out there for me. I’ve played the back nine really well all week. I’ve probably played it better than anyone in the field, and I knew that,” he concluded. We have a new Tiger, all right: He sees throats, he steps on throats. Ruthless, like the old Tiger used to be.
We have a new Tiger, and like the old one, he can make birdies on command and turn major championship venues into flotsam and jetsam in his wake. McIlroy is now 32-under par in his last 12 PGA Championship rounds and is 48-under par in his last 12 competitive rounds of 2014.
We have a new Tiger, and he closes the deal like the old one used to.
McIlroy missed out his first chance to win a major, wasting a four shot lead by shooting 80 in the final round at Augusta in 2011, but since then he’s been perfect: Four leads going into the final round, four times he cashed in his chips for the trophy. Those four final rounds he shot 69-66-71 and 68, a total of 12-under. He’s become the youngest player to ever win four majors, joining Jack…and Tiger.
“I thought winning The Open Championship a few weeks ago had sort of put me on a higher level in this game. But then to win a fourth major here, to be one behind Phil, one behind Seve, level with Ernie, level with Raymond Floyd; I mean, I never thought I’d get this far at 25 years of age, said McIlroy. “It’s something that I’m just going to have to come to terms with in a way….I was happy being a two time major championship coming into this year, and all of a sudden I’m a four time Major champion and going for the career Grand Slam at Augusta in 292 days, 291 days or whatever it is; not that I’m counting,” he concluded with a wicked grin.
See that? Ruthless….That ruthlessness spawned the best Twitter joke of the week: Someone asked a friend “If Rickie shoots ___, he wins.” The answer came back “Rory.”
We have a new Tiger, all right. And he, too, wins majors in bunches. For openers, McIlroy joins Nick Price, Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen, and Padraig Harrington as the only players to win both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship in the same year.
“That’s heady company right there,” noted well-respected golf expert and historian Bruce Moulton. “Rarified air.”
We have a new Tiger. He can run away and hide to win majors by record numbers, like at Congressional and Kiawah Island. At Congressional he set the 36, 54, and 72-hole aggregate scoring records, as well as lowest score-to-par, (16-under). Then at Kiawah, he shattered several records owned by Jack Nicklaus – something the old Tiger also used to do routinely.
We have a new Tiger – one that can rally from behind on Sunday after losing a lead, like Tiger did 14 years ago against Bob May to keep the Tiger “Slam” alive.
We have a new Tiger – and this one signs autographs for the fans. e tweets fun pictures like he and his friends putting Jagermeister (Yuck!) in the Claret Jug, and holding both trophies at once!
By the way – overheard when the two trophies got together:
Wanamaker Trophy to Claret Jug: “I’m way bigger than you are , slim…biggest trophy in golf in fact…”
Claret Jug to Wanamaker: “That’s because your butt is so large. Talk about your wide loads! Mix in a salad, fatty…”
We have a new Tiger, and this one doesn’t scream at cameramen, swear like a sailor in front of women and kids. He doesn’t give canned answers, hold grudges, treat women like a buffet table, or take everything for granted. And he almost never complains about anything. Finish the tournament in darkness? Sure they let him hit up on 18, but our new Tiger would have gone on with a tiki torch, a yardage book, and a Sherpa if he had to.
The guard has changed, the page has turned, a new hero has arisen. For what it’s worth, Tiger Woods is not out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since week before he won Bay Hill in 2012. He won’t qualify for the FedEx Cup, and he likely won’t be picked by Tom Watson for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Woods not only hasn’t won a major in six-and-a-half years, he hasn’t even been close. The bells are tolling, and they toll for you, Tiger Woods. Your reign has ended, the sun has set.
We have a new Tiger now. The King is dead, long live the King.
NEWS, NOTES, AND QUOTES
PAR SAVE OF THE YEAR – JASON DAY
In sopping wet grass and mud, well left of the creek bed, shoes and socks off, pants pulled up to shorts, he still made an All-World four from the deck of that sinking ship. (There’s even snakes down there! That’s how badly he wanted to win!) Day was so far in Deliverance-land with his tee shot on two on Saturday, he told his caddie, “Hurry up, I hear banjos playing…” (KIDDING! KIDDING!).
With his T-3 finish in the PGA, Rickie Fowler joins Tiger Woods (2000, 2005) and Jack Nicklaus (1971, 1973) as the only players to finish in the top-5 in all four major championships in a season in the modern era. “He’s going to run the table soon, and win a lot of these,” Tomn Watson said at Royal Liverpool, and he was almost proved prophetic.
HEY BILLY HORSCHEL! THE SLEESTAKS WANT THEIR PANTS BACK!
Meanwhile Billy Hoschel either got bitten by the Krynoid, or is auditioning for the role of a Sleestak in Land of the Lost 2. Polo Ralph Lauren, fashion clean-up needed on aisle 2!
IS VALHALLA TO EASY?
Pros routinely pay it like a xylophone. 21 times in 55 years people have shot all four rounds at the PGA in the sixties…and five people did it this year.
PHILLIN’ OUT THE RYDER CUP TEAM
Hat tip to my buddy Bob Harig of ESPN, who wrote, “8 days ago in Akron, Phil lamented his game. Asked if he had time to get it together: ‘It would be out of nowhere.”” Well nowhere must be just east of Indiana and north of Tennessee, because with his 9th runner-up finish in a major for Mickelson, he’s a lock for the Ryder Cup team on heart, chemistry, and experience alone.