I have to say, I’m really glad to be back. I usually go to Florida this time of year to bask in the sunshine, play or watch a little golf, do a little work and, of course, have some fun. This year was a different story.
I managed to contract a particularly rough case of pneumonia and got to spend six days in the wonderful Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center followed by further complications. Thankfully, I have finally turned the corner and put “Ol’ Man Pneumonia” to rest. That part was no fun, but covering The Players Championship was.
As you all know, The Players Championship is the showcase event on the PGA Tour and they put all their efforts and resources in it to be the best. It’s not a “Major” but it does sport the strongest field, it is their pride and joy, and it’s played on the iconic TPC Sawgrass course that the legendary Pete and Alice Dye designed.
Tiger has won it twice, Jack Nicklaus three times, as well as many other top players, but until this week, in nine attempts, Rory McIlroy had struck out. Now that has all changed. Rory is the new Players Champion and it might even be a miracle that he walked away with the shiny new trophy.
If you stretch your memory, you might remember the 2012 Ryder Cup that was tabbed the “Miracle at Medinah,” where the European Team erased the big-point deficit to claim the Ryder Cup. Rory McIlroy was part of a second miracle that week and it played a huge part in Rory’s Sawgrass victory.
In that 2012 Ryder Cup, it was noticed by Erica Stoll, an intern working for the PGA of America, that Rory was nowhere to be found as his tee time was rapidly approaching. Erica took it upon herself to call the Ryder Cup hotel, reached Rory, who had slept through his alarm, and let him know that he was in grave danger of missing his tee time.
Erica arranged a police escort to the course and Rory managed to show up in just the nick of time and help Europe complete the Miracle of Medina. More on Erica Stoll later.
Leading into The Players, Rory had been playing well and had finished in the top six in his previous six events. The only problem was that he hadn’t gotten into the winner’s circle in those events and, in fact, his last PGA Tour victory was the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
So, fast forward to Sunday’s final round at The Players. The weather was less than ideal — chilly, windy, sometimes rainy — not typical Florida weather, but maybe just right for a Northern Irishman. The leaderboard was crowded with big-time names. At one point on Sunday, there were 18 players within two shots of the lead.
One of those players was 48-year-old Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk, whose single major win came at the 2003 U.S. Open. Jim’s hometown crowd was certainly urging Furyk on and he put up a battle for the ages. Even more remarkable was the fact that Furyk’s caddie was 70-year-old Mike Cowen, better known as Fluff. Remember? He caddied for Tiger when he burst onto the scene.
It was a Rory story at the end of the day. He now boasts 15 wins, including four major championships and he’s not even 30 years old yet. The elite under-30 club only has three members: Rory, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
Now to get back to the 2012 Ryder Cup, and the quick-thinking Erica Stoll. Obviously, she saved the day for Rory that week and I’m sure he pondered the best way to show how much he appreciated her efforts. Well, he certainly found the answer to that question as that race to the course led to a much slower chase to the altar. On April 22, 2017, Rory married Erica, completing the second miracle at Medinah.
It ended up being a great week for me. First, any time you walk out of a hospital it’s a good thing. Second, last week before play began, I was asked on talkSPORT radio out of London who I thought would win The Players, and I picked Rory McIlroy.
It turned out to be a great pick. What could be more natural than a Northern Irishman winning on St. Paddy’s Day?