There’s something utterly enjoyable about “the links”.
It goes back to the days before artificial turf and artificial grass. They were real, not made-up. Unlike par for the course courses, the British would guarantee you the fairways were all the same length to allow for a similar comfort level for all. Beyond that, it was anyone’s guess where the ball might hit – except if there were a dimpled green hidden underneath.
Fast forward from the past to the present, and while the brain cells are still those old firings and
tees, the game has been distilled into very simple yet extremely effective strokes. There’s no need to worry about shot shaping or 60-degree slopes. You just apply the same fundamental principles.
However, all of this was no guarantee of a high degree of success, which is why the participants in the Annual Open held by the Capistrano Beach Country Club in Newport Beach, California were under no illusion that they were operating in a particular section of the sport. And judging by the feedback afterward, they proved right.
The first hole, with the wind blowing in a dead straight northward, was the one that undid most players on Thursday. Beginning at 35 yards from the green, the fairway was a yawn of a space, while the landing slope was a stiff pebble mound in and around the hole.
“It’s the narrowest thing you’ll ever see,” said Phil Lechem, the club’s president and a man who knows his game.
With such limited playing surface, the assignment didn’t get much easier after the eagle seven. In fact, it got a whole lot worse, as three-putting was a regular occurrence in this day and age, when patience is more of a virtue than ever.
“Even though I was doing OK, it was not enjoyable,” said Rick Reedy, a member of the Public Links Championship team in 2001, who played with Cal Pappajohn, an 18-year-old prodigy from Woodhaven, Michigan.
There were a few pleasant surprises on the West Coast. Junior Phil “Brink” Pappajohn – who just started playing – perhaps saw the full extent of his potential, as he claimed a hole-in-one at the 13th, hitting a 200-yard drive right up the middle before going on to make an even bigger one at the 15th.
In tandem with Reedy, he made an eagle and six birdies to post a seven-under 65 for a share of the lead with Cal Pappajohn, a nearly non-existent gallery aside from his mother along with others arriving late from northern California.
Others entered the fray. Former Ryder Cup player Ed Fritsch birdied three of the last five holes and eagled the 538-yard 6th to improve by four on his opening score. Also picking up on the positive sentiment was Reedy, who revealed he shot even lower before being forced to retire due to a back injury.
Certainly, it was some experience for the former Onyx Records executive, who has entered the Pro-Am tournament, the Hale Irwin Open at Oakmont next week, in the shadow of his old golf game.
“I did a 180 for a while, but now I’m back to what I like,” he said.
In fact, there’s some irony involved with the club seeking contributions for the Mac Cone Foundation, which benefits children with cancer. While many of the participants did keep their eyes trained on the fairways, they also noticed the tunnel of empty seats where members occasionally pass through to reach the snack bar.
That’s some kind of camaraderie. But the enjoyment factor wins in the end, as the members who do well on the Central Coast Junior Open are reminded that many life lessons can be learned in a game.
Greg Kersey currently serves as FOX Sports’ lead MLB play-by-play announcer, and leads FOX Sports’ golf coverage. He also is the host of “A Closer Look” at FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregKersey.