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Friday, June 27, 2008

Link Braggart Laid Low

LaVerne Moore was one of the more colorful figures in the world of golf in the 1930's and Leigh Montville tells his tale in all its boisterous glory in The Mysterious Montague, A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robbery.

John Montague, as Moore was better known, was a trick shot artist who could chip a ball into a highball glass or under the sash of a partially-opened window across the room. He reputedly knocked a bird off a power line from 170 yards and consistently drove the ball over 300 yards with a specially-made oversized driver the weighed twice as much as the standard club of its time. Most famously, he once beat Bing Crosby while playing only with a rake, a shovel, and a baseball bat.

Montague had a secret, though. It was why he never allowed himself to be photographed and reputedly why he never entered any professional events. When that secret was revealed, it led to a sensational trial in upstate New York that turned into a celebrity-laden media fest. The secret is told in the first chapter of the book: Montague was wanted under his real name, LaVerne Moore, for the armed robbery of a roadside restaurant in the Adirondacks in 1930. The trial and its aftermath is an interesting window into the media world of the time.

Montville entertains the reader with tales of Montague's prowess, although it's obvious many of them grew to legendary status mainly through the re-telling such feats engender. He also gives us a good look at the celebrities who flocked to Montague's cause. Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Howard Hughes, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, and many more were tied to Montague one way or another. Sportswriter Grantland Rice was his biggest fan.

The end of the book, which chronicles Montague's late-in-life attempt to break into the ranks of professional tournament golf, may be of the greatest interest to players of the game. Weakened by too many years of Hollywood parties and lack of practice, Montague was a miserable failure in his attempts to compete with PGA stars, who had disdained him from the start.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Charlie Sifford & Gary Player - A Class Act

Charlie Sifford, the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour, was presented with the Gold Tee Award by the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association last night. The ceremony was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

What really made it sparkle was Gary Player’s acceptance speech for the Special Recognition Award presented to him by the MGWA at the same event. He graciously accepted the award, but then insisted on turning the spotlight on Sifford, whom he saluted at length as a strong competitor, loving husband, and powerful crusader for human dignity. It was a pure touch of class by the Black Knight, who suffered many of the same types of racial abuse during his playing days as a result of his steadfast stand against apartheid in his native South Africa.

Sifford’s story is testament to an indomitable spirit. He became a caddie at the age of 13 in this home town of Charlotte, North Carolina. Four years later, he turned pro and went on to win the United Golf Association’s National Negro Open six times, including five straight titles beginning in 1952.

He tried to qualify for the 1952 PGA Phoenix Open—a PGA Tour event—but was threatened and racially abused. In 1957, he won the Long Beach Open, a milestone of sorts since it was co-sponsored by the PGA even though it was not an official PGA event.

Finally, in 1961, Charlie Sifford overcame the “caucasion only” rule imposed by the PGA and won a tour card, the first African-American to do so. He became the Tour’s first African-American winner in 1967 when he won the Greater Hartford Open. In 1969, he won the Los Angeles Open. In a black mark that still stands, however, he was never invited to play in The Masters.

Sifford’s story is an inspiring one, and his humor-filled, poignant remarks at last night’s award dinner in Tarrytown, NY, reflected a life filled with both struggle and grace.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Swing Tips From the U.S. Open

Brian Crowell, analyst for NBC Sports and Head Pro at GlenArbor in Bedford, NY, made some cogent observations (as always) about the golf swings of two fascinating players during the Wrap Up Show following the second round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

He pointed out how Phil Mickelson adapts his swing to play a wedge out of the high rough--a place where he spent much of the first two rounds.

Brian also critiqued Rocco Mediate's unorthodox address position and talked about how it compares with what's considered ideal alignment at address.

I've seen Brian on the lesson tee at GlenArbor, and can guarantee that he knows whereof he speaks.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, June 13, 2008

Andrew Svoboda Fun at Torrey Pines

Andrew Svoboda of Larchmont, NY, gave me a prescient comment in an interview last year that previewed his winning attitude about playing in the U.S. Open this year at Torrey Pines. Andy slipped into the field as a last-minute replacement for Brett Wetterich, who withdrew because of a wrist injury.

I had interviewed him for an article about what it takes to succeed in the game, drawing on his experience as a four-time Winged Food club champion who now plays on the Hooters Tour. He qualified for the 2006 Open at his home course, but failed that year to make the cut.

During my interview with the 28-year-old Andy, he offered some wise words about playing good golf. “Learning the game at an early age helps," he said. "If someone takes up golf when they’re in their twenties or later, it’s hard to devote the time to it. Playing once a week makes it hard to get better.”

The solution? “You should just relax and have fun out there.”

Svoboda is having some fun at Torrey Pines. His opening round 77 was a little disappointing, but he roared back Friday with a 71, putting him into the weekend play tied with Masters Champion Trevor Immelman. How much fun is that?

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Brian Crowell Analysis Is U.S. Open Winner

Even if you watched every second of the day's play at Torrey Pines, you'll get a great second look with some good insightful commentary provided by my friend Brian Crowell on NBC's online U.S. Open Wrapup. It's only Brian's second year in the analyst's chair, but his commentary is as pointed and on-target as Johnny Miller's.

In analyzing Phil Mickelson's first round, for example, Brian expressed astonishment that the number two player in the world announced before the championship that he was aiming for an even-par opening round. Brian observed, "Having one of these guys come out here shooting for par really threw me." As he pointed out, even under U.S. Open conditions, a player like Mickelson should certainly at least try to go low.

Brian also pointed out that Lefty's strategy of carrying a strong three-wood instead of a driver so he could stay in the narrow fairways at Torrey Pines evidently didn't work very well; he only hit six of them. With 33 putts, his vaunted flat stick play didn't live up to its reputation either, Brain observed.

The NBC U.S. Open Wrapup goes live online around 10 PM Eastern following each day's round. Brian (whom I know from GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, NY), works with show host Bill Patrick and commentator Jennifer Mills.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Westchester Amateur at Torrey Pines

Michael Quagliano picked up a golf club when he was six and a half and declared that he intended to play the game, according to his father Steve. This week, he’s playing in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, one of eight amateurs in the field.

I interviewed Michael and his parents, Steve and Jean Quagliano, in 2004 as the then-seventeen-year-old was packing to leave his parents' Ardsley, NY, home to begin his freshman year on a full golf scholarship at Duke University in Durham, NC. Michael is a three-time Metropolitan PGA Junior Player of the Year, won the 2008 Met Junior, 2002 MGA/MetLife Boys Championship, and the 2007 Westchester Amateur. Around the time he turned old enough for a driver’s license, he barely missed qualifying to play with the pros by just one stroke at the 2003 Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club. He’s the captain of the golf team at Duke, where he’ll be a senior this year.

I’m avidly following his blog from Torrey Pines, (as told to Dan Berger) where he’s playing his first major championship. Looking back at what I wrote after my interview with him four years ago, I don’t think this will be his last.

"For me," said Michael, "most importantly it's the practice schedule and the work ethic." Michael is a serious person whose bespectacled face is that of a young man whose favorite subject in school is economics, the dismal science. He knows who Alan Greenspan is, even though he confesses to being like the rest of us and not understanding every word the man says. Michael believes in setting goals and working hard to achieve them. He likes to win, too--a lot. "The thrill of competition for me is definitely knowing that you've achieved something and done well, and it also doesn't hurt to know that both you and the other person know that you have prepared better or simply performed better."

Wolfgang Mozart had his father Leopold. Michael Quagliano has Steve, who rowed and coached on the US Olympic team and organizes Michael's career. "Michael's team is fairly large," Steve said. "It's not just Michael and his mommy and daddy. It's Dr. Tom Crawford, director of physiology, Dr. Jonathan Katz, sports psychologist, Dr. Karen Dolan, nutritionist, Carl Alexander, his swing coach, and Jim O'Mara, who's kind of a family mentor. I kind of manage each area and try to hold them together and use what we need to move forward." When I wrote the original article, Alexander was head pro at Glen Arbor Country Club, where Michael is a special junior intern member. O'Mara, Michael's first golf instructor, is Director of Golf at the TPC Golf Course in Boston.

Steve also works out the tournament schedule and arranges trips to the Titleist golf equipment factory where Michael is fitted with custom-made clubs provided at no cost by the company much as they do for PGA tour pros (strictly in accordance with NCAA rules, of course).

One of the biggest roles played by the parents is traveling companion, a job which is tiring and time-consuming, but one which has rewards of its own. Jean Quagliano said, "I wouldn't say that I'm sacrificing anything; I would say that it actually strengthened and enriched our relationship. Think about it: there aren't that many things that would put you together so much like that."
"There are way too many things to achieve and way too many records that have to be broken by someone," Michael says with a steady gaze. "If you like what you're doing and you want that, then there's really no end to it."

Another fun tidbit from the small-world-of-golf department: Dave Gagnon, who will be caddying for Michael at Torrey Pines, is a teaching pro at GlenArbor that I’ve known for several years. My best wishes to both.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the