Sometime this afternoon I will arrive at Sedgefield Country Club and I suspect a lot of memories will come flooding back to me. Sedgefield is the site for The Wyndham Classic---which to me will always be The Greater Greensboro Open (GGO). The GGO at Sedgefield was the first PGA Tour event I ever attended or covered. I was a Duke junior and I applied for credentials to the event figuring the worst that could happen was that I'd get turned down. The pass, which looked like gold as far as I was concerned, arrived in the mail about two weeks before the tournament--which was held in April back then.
I drove down on Saturday morning and spent a few holes following Arnie's Army, then picked up the tournament leader, Al Geiberger. My goal though was to interview Doug Sanders because I'd read he was a real character and I knew was a very good player. People forget that Sanders won 21 times on The PGA Tour although his career and life were changed forever when he missed a three-foot putt on the 18th green at St. Andrews that would have won the 1970 British Open. He lost in a playoff the next day to Jack Nicklaus.
I walked back to the clubhouse as Sanders was finishing but, being new to how golf worked, somehow lost him as he came off the 18th green. I walked into the locker room--stunned that no one tried to stop me--and found Sanders standing at the bar in the grill with several people. Gingerly I introduced myself and asked if it might be possible to talk.
"Who do you work for?" Sanders asked, sounding incredulous.
"The Chronicle," I said (we never called it The Duke Chronicle, the proper name was just The Chronicle). "It's the student newspaper at Duke."
I was fairly convinced he was going to laugh at the thought of talking to me and I was going to find myself back outside trying to think of another column idea in about five minutes.
"Would you like a beer," he said. "Pull up a seat. We can talk here."
So we did. He was funny and honest and didn't bridle at all when I brought up the putt at The British. "Don't think about it much," he said. "No more than three, four times a day."
That was my first foray into golf writing. A year later I went back to The GGO and interviewed a player named Gary Groh. He had won The Hawaiian Open earlier that year and Bob Green, the veteran golf writer for The AP had written, "Arnie lost again," as his lead. Groh had beaten Arnold Palmer by two shots and Green knew the story was more about Palmer losing--just like Sunday when Y.E. Yang beat Tiger Woods--than it was about Gary Groh winning.
"I made $40,000 for winning that tournament," Groh said, sitting at almost the same spot at the bar where I'd sat with Sanders a year earlier. We were drinking sodas, not beer. "If not for Arnold Palmer I probably wouldn't have won half that much. I have no problem with him being the story. He IS the story."
The interesting thing is I liked both Sanders and Groh even though they could not have been more different. I also enjoyed the fact that, with my media credential, I could go almost anywhere on the grounds without being hassled by anyone. I didn't even realize at the time that I could request an armband in the media room that would have allowed me to walk inside the ropes. Those GGO experiences stayed with me after I went to The Washington Post and I always wanted the chance to cover more golf. I didn't get many opportunities early on but eventually I did and found that my initial instinct--that golfers were good guys to deal with--had been correct.
The GGO left Sedgefield a few years after I graduated and moved to Forest Oaks Country Club. By the time I began covering golf on a regular basis that's where it was held. But it's moved back to Sedgefield now--and to this stifling August date--and today I'll be there for the first time in (gasp!) 32 years. I wonder if I'll remember the place at all.
I'm going there to do my last long interview for the book I'm doing on the winners of the '03 major championships. Interestingly, '03 was a year not unlike this year. Tiger Woods didn't win any of the majors. The four winners--Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel--were all first time major champions and in the case of the latter two, first time tournament winners. Curtis, like Y.E. Yang, had been at Q-School the previous September. The only real difference is that Cabrera won his second major when he won The Masters this year. The book is about sudden fame and how it changes your life--for good and bad.
I'm supposed to talk down here with Shaun Micheel, who has been through major shoulder surgery and is dealing with his mom's cancer right now. As of this moment, Micheel isn't even in the field--third alternate--and is fighting to keep his exempt status on the tour for next year. Golf is really a hard game--even for major champions, even, as we saw on Sunday, for Tiger Woods.
Tonight, before I leave the clubhouse, I'm going to walk down to the grill room--which probably doesn't look at all like it did in 1976. But I'm going to stop in there anyway and have a beer and drink a toast to Doug Sanders.