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Childhood Dreams Come True

By: Jay Flemma


Think back for a moment. Take a deep breath, let the world around you dissolve away and drift back for a fleeting glimpse of those heady, halcyon days of youth. Those carefree days when you were free to play golf and love golf as much as you wanted. Rise and shine at daybreak, scarf down Captain Crunch, leave breadcrumbs from your toast all over the table, shout "Mom! Don't sweat the small stuff!" as she grouses while you dart out the door to the course down the street to meet - whoever. I'll call them Brian, David, and Mark. But you can substitute the names of friends from your youth, if you like.

It could be Brian, Dave and Mark. It could be Morgan, Bryce and Philip. It could be Joe Bob, Skeeter and Duane. Heck, it could be Fat Albert, Mushmouth and Weird Harold because it's a scene played out everywhere in America, at all times at any youthful moment . . . "I have this putt to win the U.S. Open."

Today is Championship Sunday, the day childhood dream comes true for someone. All the arguments over who got to be Jack or Seve or Tiger, all the one-hole playoffs, all the putts on the practice green for the title and, of course, all the "MISS IT NOONAN MISS!" you could shout come down to this day. It's the day players have yearned for their whole lives. Whether it was Valley View in Utica, Mountain View in Murfreesboro, Teeter Loo in Texas, or Ballyzoo in Bangor, the scene repeats itself city to city, generation to generation, kid to kid - rich or poor, tall or short, black or white. The dream is the same.

David Toms, who knows a thing or two about scraping out a four to win a major, did it. "My buddies Ronnie, James and Joe and I would have putting matches for the U.S. Open on the green at Palmetto Country Club before we all went home for the night. We were young teenagers, about 12-13, but we did it all the way till we were 18."

These are the words of dreamers: "This putt is to win the U.S. Open."

"We all did it as kids," agrees Vaughn Taylor, brightening as he thinks back. "I'd be chipping and putting with my buddies Jamie and Jeff until night would fall at my home course of Goshen Plantation (in Augusta, Ga.). We never pretended we were Jack or Arnie, but we sure had a lot of U.S. Opens on that practice green."

A lot of kids really do pretend they are Arnie or Jack or Tiger. Think back again. You know you had this conversation at least once in your life.

"I wanna be Jack," I hollered to Dave.

"No way!" he'd shout back.

"Yes, way!" I'd bellow in reply, not giving an inch.

"You're not Jack! You stink too much," he'd say puffing out his chest. But I'd stand my ground.

"Oh, yeah right, Mr. 70 for nine holes, like you could ever be Jack. You swing like an octopus falling out of a tree."

"Yeah, well you have to aim two states left to find a fairway, Boomerang Boy!" he'd retort snarkily.

"Well I'm Greg Norman!" shouted Mark.

There was a pause. Brian, Dave and I looked at each other. More blank expressions. Then we nodded. "OK. You be Norman."

There'd be another pause, and the "But I'm Jack!" would start again. "Fine!" David huffed. "Then I'm Seve. Who wants to be Watson?

Another pause. A little louder, "Who wants to be Watson?"

Finally, Brian, selfless kid that he was, decided he actually wanted to play golf rather than stand there continuing this scintillating conversation. He took Watson. He putted like Watson on occasion, too, but then again, as kids, we all did. I made everything I looked at before I got into college and started thinking about life.

Anyway, now that the important things were settled, we could actually play golf. But the ribbing continued. "I hate this hole," moaned David as he looked at the tree-lined, sharply bending dogleg. "I'm not featuring a strong draw right now."

"Dude you're 'featuring' stubbed chips, three-jacks and thrown clubs," I quipped. That did it. Everyone else started falling over laughing. I ducked as a Pinnacle golf ball viciously whizzed by my head. He came at me like a charging rhinoceros. Good thing I was faster. Short legs whirling, I hurtled down the fairway, David in hot pursuit brandishing a rusty 8-iron and barking horridly.

Act your age and shoot your handicap indeed.

These stories are everywhere, from the rusty-gate swings of kids playing for sodas, to the buttery-smooth shoulder turns of major champions. Ben Curtis grooved his major dreams as a kid in Ostrander, Ohio, into a do-come-true life for himself, his wife Candace and their daughter. "It's like that commercial, 'I am Tiger Woods,' " the 2003 British Open champion said. "Kids wanna be Tiger or Ernie or Vijay. I was the same way watching Jack growing up. You wanted to play like them and you wanted to play against them as well. I did it too. I used to play with my older cousins. We'd go till five or six at night, then have dinner and play till dark."

Heck, this dream is so viral it pops up half a world away in Chile.


Ureta looks warmly at girlfriend Christine and smiles. Then he adds, "You know when it hit me that it was real? My first practice round when I got paired with Tiger. Then another wave hit me on my first putt of the tournament Thursday."

Pinch yourself, Martin. You're here.

This is Championship Sunday, the day these players have dreamed about all their lives. For some, today is about redemption, washing away a bad taste. Yes, Jim Furyk is a major winner. But he still has to live with the miss on 18 at Winged Foot last year that cost him a shot at Geoff Ogilvy in a playoff. For Mickelson and Harrington, and Montgomery, it would have also been about redemption - if they had made the cut. Oh well. Torrey Pines is a reasonable enough layout to ensure they'll be in the mix.

For younger, hungrier players, it's about the end of a long, long road and not just seeing the end of the tunnel, but steering towards it and reaching the brightest sunshine a day can offer. Take Aaron Baddeley, who slept on a two-shot lead last night. Baddeley is 1-1 against Woods in majors when paired with him. He lost one 73-79 and won one 72-74. He has more than just a puncher's chance and knows it. He can taste it.

If by chance Baddeley falls short, everyone else will have to beat Woods today to win. That's a dream of kids now: "This putt is to beat Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open." Only today it's the U.S. Open at Oakmont, not the Bushwood Junior Club Championship. As kids, our misses cost us a Coke or a burger. Loser bought the tickets to go to the movies and see Eddie Murphy in "The Golden Child" or some juvenile summer flick. But today is the rise or fall of years of toil

Some will fail. They will freefall from contention, their faces dark and furrowed, careworn, stressed and beaten for five hours over the dark bloody ground of a U.S. Open venue. For them, next year begins tomorrow. But it's back to days on the range that drag on like a tailpipe and nights that are short, cold and lonely. You can't eat a trophy - but it can warm the night a little.

Play till you can't see the ball. Play to beat Jack or Arnie, Norman or Tiger. Today that dream is the dream of many men. Beat Tiger (and Baddeley) to win this U.S. Open. It's what they've dreamed of all their lives. Carpe diem, gentlemen. Carpe diem.

Night is falling. The sun is down. It's about 9:30. "How much longer can you play, Jay?" asked Brian.

"Play till we can't see the ball," I replied. "That's what it takes to win the U.S. Open."

I still play till I can't see the ball. And I still can't win the U.S. Open. Yet someone's childhood dreams on Sunday will come true. Someone like you, who bantered with his buddies, hugged them through the victories, teased them through the losses, quoted Caddyshack like a cart boy, and kissed his girlfriend at night on the practice green while night-putting. Only today, D'Annunzio is not screaming for Noonan to miss. He's rooting for him.

See your future. Be your future. Today is the day.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.