Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2013 PGA Championship

My first experience with Jason Dufner was a last year’s Ryder Cup. He was a man of few words. He epitomized the phrase “He lets his sticks do the talking.”
Dufner compiled a 3-1 record and was one of the bright spots for Team USA. My “Duf Man” recollection from that week at Medinah was when I found myself one on one with him in an elevator in the team hotel. We exchanged greetings and then he asked me, “Are you having fun?”
I replied, “Sure, how about you.”
Dufner’s response, “If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what is.”
Most Ryder Cuppers would not use the word fun to describe the experience. It would be more like stressful, pressure packed, brutal, nerve racking, etc. But, not Dufner and that probably best describes one of golf’s coolest customers.
It was apparent during last Friday’s second round that Dufner would be a factor in the 95th PGA Championship. He tied the lowest round ever shot in a major championship with a sizzling 63 and I had the pleasure of watching it as I walked with Steve Stricker, Hidecki Matsuyama and Dufner.
On the opening hole he drove it in the deep rough and muscled his second barely over the creek and was 30 yards short of the green in regulation. He pitched up to twenty feet and sank the putt for par. Not a likely start to a 63.
Dufner canned a wedge on the second hole for an eagle 2 and he was on his way. Stricker went to Dufner and high fived him. He embraced Dufner who seemed embarrassed by the attention. Safe to say the normally low key Stricker was giddy compared to Dufner who holed the shot. Duf showed little emotion as he strode to the green and pulled his ball out of the hole.
After two more birdies, he was four under par heading into the difficult seventh hole. Dufner fanned his drive to the right and found the creek. He took a penalty stroke and dropped, which left him a 195 yard shot with a tree in front. Dufner hit a low cut shot that wound up about 45-feet from the hole. He knocked in the putt and saved an unlikely par. It was then, I knew this round was going to be special.
Dufner had three chances on 16-17-18 to make a birdie and shoot golf’s first 62 in a major championship. His best chance came on the final hole, but he left his 20-footer short. Yes, short of all things with history looking him right in the eye.
On Wednesday of last week, Mac Fritz from Titleist left some autographed items in my locker for the Pay It Forward Johnson County silent auction. They included Oak Hill flags, several hats and other things signed by Stricker, Adam Scott and Webb Simpson. But, most notably there was a Dufner wedge. This is significant because a year ago Fritz gave me a McIlroy signed wedge and he went onto win the PGA Championship. History repeats itself and I can’t wait to see whose wedge Fritz sticks in my locker next year.
On Saturday morning, after Dufner’s historic 63, the PGA Officers sat in front of the Oak Hill clubhouse and assumed the “Dufnering” position. For those that don’t know, Dufner made this pose famous last winter and it has been emulated thousands of times since Sunday. “Dufnering” constitutes sitting on the ground, feet straight ahead, neck slightly bowed with an erect back and hands hugging your thighs. It’s the ultimate chilling out position.
During the photo shoot, Zach Johnson who was Dufner’s Ryder Cup partner from Medinah, walked by and tweeted a picture of the PGA’s version of “Dufnering”. The tweet went viral. It was another bit PGA irony. Looking back on last week there were all kinds of little signs that this was going to be Dufner’s week.
Around 7 p.m. on Sunday night I had the privilege to introduce and present Dufner with the Wanamaker Trophy on the 18th green. Two years ago he had a four shot lead with four holes to play at the Atlanta Athletic Club. It appeared that Dufner would be the 2011 PGA Champ. But, Keegan Bradley rallied and beat Dufner in a three-hole playoff.
Last Tuesday McIlroy asked Bradley to speak on his behalf at the Champions Dinner. Bradley mentioned that he had played his practice round with Dufner that day and Keegan was extended a dinner invitation by his playing partner.
Bradley grinned and said, “I told Jason that I already had dinner plans tonight.”
When Dufner walked off of the 18th green on his way to sign his scorecard Sunday, his buddy Bradley was standing there waiting to give him a congratulatory hug. The two embraced and I couldn’t help but think that those two will be dining together every Tuesday night of the PGA Championship for the rest of their lives.
Don’t be fooled by Dufner’s demeanor. He is smart, articulate and funny. He is a student of Ben Hogan. He prides himself in playing with Hogan-like characteristics. This War Eagle from Auburn conducts himself like his idol The Hawk.

During the Champions Toast in the Oak Hill clubhouse, Dufner reminded everyone that he had been picked by GolfWorld magazine to win a major this year. It was his modest way of saying that he had lofty personal goals for 2013. Dufner definitely delivered.

PGA Championship Press


PGA Champ Interview

Friday, August 2, 2013

French Lick

On Tuesday the PGA of America announced that it will hold the 2015 Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid at the Pete Dye Golf Course in French Lick. This championship is the most prestigious in all of senior golf and the announcement commanded lots of attention. Indiana Governor Mike Pence joined Jeff Fettig, CEO of Whirlpool; Steve Ferguson, Chairman of the Board of the Cook Group and President of French Lick Resorts and me in making the announcement.
It was truly an historic day for French Lick, which hosted the 1924 PGA Championship won by the legendary Walter Hagen. Over the years, French Lick has formulated an impressive resume of top flight golf events. Those include the Midwest Amateur, LPGA Championship, PGA Professional National Championship and the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Championships.
For Pete Dye, it will be another major championship feather in his design portfolio, which is already impressive. The Indiana native has many great courses to his credit. None are any more breath taking than the Pete Dye Course at French Lick, which is located on top of one of the state’s highest elevations. This course will challenge the best senior players in the world in a variety of ways.
Indiana’s weather in late May can change in a hurry- several times in one day as a matter of fact. Wind promises to be a factor at French Lick and it could blow in 2-3 different directions during the four rounds of the Senior PGA. Just when players think they have this place figured out, they won’t. The elevation changes of the property will add to the drama. It is a guarantee that players will either like or hate this place.
Kerry Haigh is the Chief Championships Officer for the PGA. He handled the course setup in 2010 when 312 club professionals invaded French Lick and West Baden. Mike Small, the golf coach at University of Illinois, won the event with a score of ten under par. Small carved out a 65 during one of those rounds to set the course record. So, the place can be had and Haigh will make sure that French Lick is fair on top of challenging.
Tuesday was a very special day for Steve Ferguson. In many ways it was the culmination of a dream, which was to bring a major golf championship to Southern Indiana. Ferguson has been the father of French Lick in many ways. He secured the blessings and finances from the late Bill Cook to complete the total restoration to French Lick’s hotels and golf courses. Estimates indicate that this has been at least a $500 million project.           
Between the West Baden Hotel and the French Lick Springs Resort, over 600 hotel rooms await visitors. The ’24 PGA was held at the Donald Ross Course, previously known to many as the Hill Course. It has also been redone and there is no better 36 hole facility in the Midwest than French Lick. 
When Ferguson contacted Dye about building another course at French Lick in 2005, Pete wasn’t sure he could even do it on the property available. Ferguson will smile and tell you that it was good to know Pete let him know that before he started building it.
Dye, whom has done many philanthropic golf course design projects has unfortunately been tagged with the label “that given an unlimited budget, he can exceed it”. Upon walking and mentally surveying the property, Dye reached out to Ferguson and arranged a luncheon meeting.
Pete informed him that a golf course could be built, but Ferguson would need to acquire the mansion and acreage that sat on the highest point of the property. Otherwise, no golf course would be possible. This mansion is now the current clubhouse at the Pete Dye Course as Ferguson was able to acquire it from the landowner for a reasonable price.
Dye immediately went to work and created a true masterpiece. From the time the project started until it was finished, Ferguson had no idea what Pete was charging for the design fee. Dye once joked, “If you don’t like what I build, then don’t pay me.”
Finally in the fall of 2008, Alice Dye called Ferguson’s office in Bloomington and said that Pete needed to be paid now because we just elected a new President and she knew taxes were going to increase. When Ferguson called Pete to find out the price, Dye said, “Now, why would Alice call you and ask for that?”
Ferguson had researched Dye’s normal design fee and shot him a number. Pete responded, “I think that’s too much.”
Too which Ferguson coyly said, “Well, Pete, I will be happy to under pay you for your work.”
The two eventually agreed on the price and payment terms.  Since then they have entered into a consulting agreement which allows Dye to keep his finger prints on French Lick. That costs Ferguson $1 per year. Dye’s expenses are still unclear to Ferguson on whether Pete expects to be reimbursed.
In 2015 the Senior PGA will be televised for 12 hours reaching 130 countries and 430 million households. Those numbers even raised the eyebrows of Governor Pence when it comes to exposure for Indiana and its tourism. This year’s Senior PGA field consisted of 122 players representing 35 states. 34 international players came from 18 countries.
There were 19 major Champions who have combined to win 32 major championships. In addition, this year’s field included five former PGA Champions; eight U.S. and European Ryder Cup captains as well as seven members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Ferguson is a big picture guy. He had the determination, vision, leadership and courage to resurrect French Lick. He looks forward to bringing this major event to Orange County and Southern Indiana. It was a very special day for Ferguson, no doubt. But, it was a bigger day for French Lick and Indiana. This was a proud day to be a Hoosier.