The wake-up call came at 4:30 in the morning. I had to be on the air for Golf Channel at 6. That was the bad news. The good news was I was off-air and finished with my TV work for the day by 8 a.m. which gave me some time to get out and actually watch some golf.
There are times, especially at the U.S. Open when I don’t get to watch nearly as much golf as I’d like to watch. In past years I’ve done book-signings in the USGA merchandise tent that, while fun and a nice sales-boost, keep me pretty tied up. There are also frequently radio interviews to do as part of book promotion and times when I need to be around the media tent or the clubhouse to try to talk to people.
Today, for a change, I had none of that. Because the USGA doesn’t control the merchandising at this Open—it’s too complicated to explain but it has to do with the contract they sign with Pebble Beach; it’s a similar deal at Pinehurst—I wasn’t asked to do any book signings. On the one hand, yeah, I’d like to sell extra books. In fact, a number of people walked up to me on the golf course today to say they were disappointed to find I wasn’t signing books this year. I said me too—sort of.
I managed to get most of the book promotion for ‘Moment of Glory,’ done before I came out here, especially knowing that with the time change I didn’t want to get tied down at all sorts of strange hours. So, once the Golf Channel morning show signed off, I had the day free to play reporter. On the one hand, I was really tired from the early-morning wake-up. On the other hand, it was a gorgeous day and it was Pebble Beach so I thought I’d be insane not to get out and walk for a while.
So I decided to walk with the threesome of Shaun Micheel, Rocco Mediate and Graeme McDowell. No, I’m not contemplating a book on McDowell. The other two have already been involved in book projects with me. In fact, when Rocco got in to the championship on Sunday as the first alternate, I e-mailed Shaun and jokingly said that he and Rocco could discuss the pleasures of working on a book project with me while on the golf course.
The afternoon turned out to be more fun that I could possibly have imagined. The first piece of good news came on the first tee when Rocco came over and said, “I just got some unbelievable news. They found a donor for Cindy.”
Cindy Hilfman is probably the reason Rocco is still playing golf. She is certainly the reason why he almost won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines two years ago. After years of back miseries that almost ended his career, Rocco was introduced to Cindy through a mutual friend. She figured out a way to make his back feel better.
The problem was he couldn’t figure out a way to make her kidneys better. Cindy has been afflicted with a rare kidney disease since childhood and has desperately needed a transplant. Finding a compatible donor has been the problem. Now, they’ve got one and her surgery is scheduled for July 20th.
“I found out an hour ago,” Rocco said. “I can’t tell you how good I feel. I’m actually nervous and jumpy about being out here right now and I haven’t felt this way for a long time.”
If this were a movie Rocco would have gone out and shot 68, led the tournament and been the story of the day. He couldn’t quite pull that off, shooting 77, but still I was happy for him, knowing all he and Cindy have been through the last several years with her health issues.
I was also happy for Micheel, who didn’t get off to a good start, but made back-to-back birdies at five and six to get going in the right direction. Shaun has been through a lot himself the last few years. He had a testosterone issue that turned into a battle with the tour because even though several doctors said he needed to take a pill, the tour didn’t want to allow it. On one occasion they denied him a waiver after doctors THEY sent him to said he needed to take the pill.
After getting through that problem, he had shoulder problems and had to have surgery two years ago. In 2009, coming back from the surgery, he had to go back to qualifying school after not playing especially well. Worst of all, his mother is very sick, fighting cancer.
He’s battled back from all that to play well this year, getting into some tournaments on his status as a past champion and a few others—though not as many as you would expect given that he’s a past major champion—on sponsor exemptions. A week ago, he played six great rounds of golf: two on Monday to qualify for the Open, then four in Memphis, to finish tied for fourth place. That check just about wrapped up his card for next year.
Shaun played well all day, tripped up at 17 when he missed a short par putt but bounced back to make a long birdie putt at 18 to shoot a two-under-par 69. That made him the first guy to make it in under 70. I sincerely hope that he continues to play well, NOT because the publicity he might get would help sell books—Mike Weir finished at one-under-par today by the way—but because he’s a good guy who has dealt with some really tough times.
The real highlight though, I must admit, was the golf course. I’ve walked Pebble Beach before but not under absolutely perfect conditions like today. It was cool and breezy and the views—seemingly from everywhere—were spectacular. Standing on the third tee, which is where the golf course really begins, Micheel looked towards the water and said quietly, “how about this place?”
It just gets more spectacular as you go from there on the front nine. The view from the fourth green? Amazing. Five? Great. Seventh tee? Ridiculous. Eight, nine ten? All incredible. And then of course the two finishing holes. You can’t help but be reminded why people deal with the trip to get here and why people will pay $495 a pop to play here.
I’m sore and tired from all the walking but I’m very glad I did it. Early to bed for me tonight. Another 4:30 a.m. wake-up call awaits.
John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show (www.jimrome.com) to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases