A Carolina State of Mind

By: Marino Parascenzo


[Editor's Note: Cybergolf's Jay Flemma and Marino Parascenzo were in South Carolina for this week's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Here's Marino's second report.]

South Carolina has a "state" for everything. They have a state insect - the praying mantis, presumably the staple food of the state bird - the Carolina Wren. There is the state dance - the shag; the state shell - the lettered olive, and the state reptile, which one would think is the alligator, so rich in its abundance, but it's not. It's the loggerhead turtle. Maybe that's to keep the tourists from thinking about alligators.

(On Sunday morning, the final day of the 94th PGA Championship, CBS was reporting that two on-course microphones had been eaten by alligators. Question on the media bus: "Was there anybody holding them?")

All told, South Carolina has 16 of these state things.

Now there is also a state house. This became evident during the PGA. It looks like a bus. Not any old bus, but the great, big tour-type bus.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is roughly 30 miles from Charleston. Whoever was at the tournament lived on a bus for the week. You got on the bus to go to the golf, you stepped off the bus to watch some golf, and you got on the bus to come back. Posh resort. Two-lane road, in and out.

It's not often, if ever, that traffic is the story at a sports event. It was this time.

But seriously, folks - any time a guy saves par out of a tree, he's the favorite. That was Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, at No. 3 in the third round. Till then, it was the Tiger Wood-Vijay Singh-Carl Pettersson show, give or take.

But McIlroy birdied the first two holes, and at the third - then shortened to 317 yards, he took the bait and tried to drive the green. The ball was plummeting toward Earth, then disappeared, and then he was burning those allowable five search minutes hunting for his ball, which was last seen headed for that gnarled, dead-looking cypress. The TV blimp to the rescue. An aerial view showed that his ball was stuck in a branch just overhead.

For the rules aficionado: If McIlroy hadn't found that ball, he would have to take a one-stroke penalty and go back to the tee; in effect, a stroke-and-distance penalty. But having found it, he could take his penalty drop at that area. Which he did, saving par with a pitch and about an 8-foot putt.

"I'm just glad I didn't try to play that ball from the tree," McIlroy said. He has a thing with trees. He hit a big one at No. 10 in the final round of the 2011 Masters, and lost the lead and his chance for his first major. And in the 2011 PGA, he hit a tree root and hurt his hand.

The 2012 PGA was his, pretty much. If he could stay away from trees. And the way it turned out, if he'd lost that ball and got hit with the penalty, he'd have only won by seven shots.

Legends Grow at Kiawah Island

There was some parking on the island at a shopping area named Freshfields Village, said to be for public only (no officials, etc.). The fans were shuttle-bussed to and from the course, a half-hour trip, minimum. The parking fee was $20 a day (not included in the $500 ticket package). One source said the resort figured to park 100,000 cars for the week. Or $2 million worth.

Thousands of the parkers got their $20 worth Saturday, after the big storm. They were still inching their way out of that place at night, some five, six hours after play was suspended. It was a 4 -mile backup. A hurricane evacuation might be something not to watch.

Wrote Dan Jenkins, tweeting on golfdigest.com earlier Saturday: "Good leaderboard, but the real heroes this week are the fans. What it takes to get here, be here and leave here is legendary."

The PGA is the last of the four majors every year, and seems always to end up as grand theater. Like, for the most recent example, in 2011, a script that wouldn't have played in "Caddyshack." Former Nationwide Tour player named Keegan Bradley blew sky-high coming down the final stretch, even triple-bogeying the par-3 15th, and he trailed by five with three holes to play. Then he caught the staggering Jason Dufner and beat him in a playoff. Then there was 2009, when an unknown South Korean named Y.E. Yang ran down Tiger Woods and beat him by three. Unknown Shaun Micheel picked off the 2003 PGA by sticking a 175-yard 7-iron that was more needlepoint than golf shot, 2 inches from the cup on the final hole. It was his only victory.

Joost Luiten - Willibrordus Adrianus Maria, to the folks back home in Holland - was the candidate-in-progress this time. He's 23 and in his first PGA, thanks to a discretionary invitation from the brass. What a start. He was bogey-free and leading at 8-under through the 14th in the first round. Then, it seems, he realized where he was.

"You can't deny that you get nervous when you start playing so well in a major and take a big lead," he said. He bogeyed the last four for a 68. He even managed a 76 in the wind-battered second round, when the average score was a PGA-record 78.11. He still had at least a chance until, late in the third round when he found a new way to get penalized. He was giving that casual, one-handed tap-in at the par-5 16th, and on the short and gentle follow-through, the heel of the putter hit the green, twisting the toe into the moving ball for another hit. He called this to the attention of the officials. They had to consult the books on that one. It worked out to a bogey six, a 75, and there went that legend. He closed with a 69 and moved up 11 spots and tied for 21st at even-par 288. Why would anyone remember Joost Luiten? Under the circumstances, how could you forget him? Joost, by the way, rhymes with "roast."

Maybe because the golfers are wearing out by August, or maybe because the fates are getting more playful, but the PGA seems to come up with more than its statistical share of singular events.

"The Arnold Palmer Story," for example, got a bright star in failure in the 1960 PGA at Firestone. "The Monster," the par-5 16th, playing then at an unthinkable 625 yards, had never been reached in two (this was in the day of regular old golf balls and wood-headed woods). Palmer couldn't stand the thought of turning away from a challenge. He went after it. But he landed in a little run, made eight, and he never won a PGA.

The great "Shark Harpooning" took place in the 1986 PGA at Inverness, at Toledo, Ohio. This was Bob Tway, holing a shot out of a greenside bunker at the last hole to beat Greg Norman. Lost in the smoke and groans was the fact that Norman was leading by four with nine holes to play and shot 76.

Too late for that knowledge. This thing was already an instant urban legend. In 1987, the PGA fulfilled a contractual obligation to a real-estate developer by holding the championship at its headquarters, PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The idea was to show prospective buyers that people could play golf in South Florida in August. It proved just the reverse. TV viewers saw, for example, sweat dripping off Arnie Palmer's nose as he prepared to tee off at the first hole, everybody drenched through.

Paul Azinger made a bold and warming statement for cancer sufferers everywhere by laboring through the mysterious pain in his shoulder and beat Norman in a playoff in the 1993 PGA. After debilitating months of chemotherapy and radiation, he came back to play again.

In 1996, the world saw a personable Kentucky boy, Kenny Perry, at Valhalla, near Louisville, closing with a 68 and then going up into the TV tower to put on the headsets and chat with the announcers. Apparently he didn't notice that Mark Brooks was closing in, and that perhaps he ought to warm up in case of a playoff. Brooks did catch him. The unfortunate Perry wanted to warm up. Too late. No time. Brooks beat him on the first extra hole.

And the rainbow for Davis Love III. In the 1987 PGA at Winged Foot, as Love was about to roll in a 12-foot birdie putt to clinch a five-shot win, a rainbow arched across the sky, framing him at his most triumphant moment. It was as if his late and beloved father were saying, "Well done, son."

The August Sunday on Kiawah Island was winding down, and with every swing that Rory McIlroy took, dreams were dying a little at a time, like a sputtering candle: Tiger Woods was looking for his fifth PGA and 15th major, and another year had passed and still he had gained no ground on Jack Nicklaus and his record 18; a rejuvenated Vijay Singh was seeking his third PGA, and better, to become, at 49, the oldest to win a major, and this chance probably would not come his way again; and there went the chances of Ian Poulter and Carl Pettersson, getting that first major.

Of course, life would return to reality, as it must. There was no escaping it. When the good glow of the tournament cooled, when Rory McIlroy gave a last smile, there would still be the question of getting off Kiawah Island.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.


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