We’ve all heard about how winning a major championship can change a player’s life.
We know that off-the-course, huge sums of money are thrown at major champions, there are more demands on their time and they may never again be able to walk down the street or go out to dinner without being recognized.
In 2003, while Tiger Woods was revamping his golf swing, four players won major championships for the first time. One was ready for the challenges that came with being a major champion, while the other three were not quite prepared.
Mike Weir, who had previously experienced some success on the PGA Tour, won the Masters.
Jim Furyk, who was a world class player and Ryder Cup participant but had not yet taken that next step towards golfing immortality, won the 2003 U.S. Open.
PGA Tour rookie Ben Curtis joined Francis Ouimet as the only other player to win his first major championship when he won the 2003 British Open (called The Open Championship everywhere else in the world).
And Shaun Micheel produced yet another shocking moment in a year that was defined by shocking moments when he drilled a 7-iron to less than two-feet on the 72nd hole of the 2003 PGA Championship to complete the foursome of first-time major champions.
Exactly how did the lives of these players change upon winning a major championship?
Well, New York Times Best Selling Author John Feinstein brings us inside the homes, hotel rooms, board rooms, and most interestingly, the minds of these four men as well as the men that came so close to major championship glory in his latest book “Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf.”
With unprecedented access, Feinstein provides readers with a true behind the scenes look at the 2003 major championships and the leading characters involved.
I recently had an opportunity to speak with Feinstein about his latest book and here is some of what he had to say:
You’ve written several books that kind of chronicle the underdog or struggling golfer such as , “Tales From Q-School,” Rocco Mediate in “Are You Kidding Me,” some of the guys in “A Good Walk Spoiled,” and now some of the players you wrote about in “Moment of Glory.”
How much do you enjoy telling the story of the so-called “other guys” on tour and how important do you think it is to get these stories out there and show a lot of people that the majority of professional golfers don’t just leave college, turn pro and immediately start raking in millions of dollars.
John Feinstein: Right. No, that’s a good question and really that goes back to “A Good Walk Spoiled” with me because as I was researching that book it occurred to me that the 10 or 15 guys who might make it on air on a Saturday or Sunday during a golf telecast are just a tiny fraction of those playing golf for a living. And in fact, those on the PGA Tour are just a tiny fraction of those trying to play golf for a living.
You’ve got the Nationwide Tour, you’ve got the Hooters Tour, you’ve got mini tours all over the country and guys trying to climb up that ladder. So I’ve always believed that the best stories don’t have to involve the rich and famous.
I’ve always said that anyone can go out and cover Tiger Woods, but it’s far more of a challenge and far more fun for me to write about some of these guys who aren’t necessarily in the limelight. That’s why I did an entire book on Qualifying School, which was about guys just trying to get to the tour or back to the tour in many cases.
And this book was fun for me in that aspect because…Jim Furyk is obviously a very well-known player and I think a lot of people know Mike Weir. He’s a hero in Canada. But, most of the guys in this book, whether it’s Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Stephen Leaney - who was the runner up at the Open - or Len Mattiace or Thomas Bjorn are guys that aren’t familiar to most people, even to a lot of golf fans.
So, to tell their stories and to try to show people that they have an interesting story to tell is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing.
There was a part of the book in chapter 4 where you kind of talked about how Mike Weir was working tirelessly with Mike Wilson out in Palm Springs prior to the start of the 2003 season. And there seemed like a point where he had just kind of had enough of working on his golf swing and not getting the results he was looking for and went off by himself to a part of the golf course and starting hitting a few five woods with a swing that felt comfortable while concentrating more on the golf shots rather than the swing mechanics.
It seemed like at that point something kind of clicked for Weir that he carried into the 2003 season.
Kind of a two part question from here – in your opinion, how important was that single moment for Weir heading into the 2003 season, and again in your opinion, do you think that’s the type of thing that other golfers on tour might benefit from with all of their coaches, putting gurus, psychologists and whatnot, you know when their struggling kind of taking a step back from it all and going back to what feels comfortable?
John Feinstein: Yeah, you know it’s an interesting question for several reasons. One is that I’ve always believed coaches and psychologists are vastly overrated. You know, Tiger Woods would have been Tiger Woods if you or I had been his teacher. He had the talent. He had the drive. He had the competitiveness. But you need someone there kind of reinforcing things for you I guess.
I think, yes, it was very important to Mike, that’s why he told me the story.
I said to him, “look 2002 wasn’t a good year for you and then you came roaring out of the shoot in 2003 and had won twice before the Masters,” and he described the scene to me that day in Palm Springs and that, you know, that was when things really clicked in and he started to feel like he had a good golf swing and get his confidence back again.
And I think you see that happen with players. You know, there’s a moment where something happens. I mean Tom Watson always talks about how when Bruce Edwards was still caddying for him they’d be on the range and hitting balls and Watson would be trying different things and something would happen where he’d hit two or three shots the same way and just the way he wanted to and he’d look at Bruce and say “I got it,” and Bruce knew that Watson never said he got it unless he really had it.
And I think that does happen to players. They can remember a specific shot when something they’ve been working on in their swing clicked in and they knew that they were about to start playing well. Or, you know, maybe they’ll make a putt and that gives them confidence. But frequently it is something like that and not a specific moment where a coach says do this on your takeaway or do this at the top or whatever it might be.
That’s why I think that more often than not guys do get it on their own rather than someone saying do this and then they get it.
Considering today all the news forms of media such as the internet, all the 24 hour per day news channels, ESPN, the Golf Channel, and all the money that’s now involved in sports marketing and advertising, how much more difficult do you think the off-the-course challenges are for first-time majors winners today when compared to, say, 30 years ago?
John Feinstein: Yeah, no it’s very different because they are faced with all these decisions and all these opportunities. Their agent, whether it’s IMG or somebody else, is going to come to them and put every offer on the table and encourage them to take every offer because that’s how they make their money.
I think it’s a tough thing for any player to decide, ok, do I want to resist the urge to grab every dollar and try to just focus on continuing to play good golf - because obviously you’re playing good golf when you win a major - or do I grab the opportunity now knowing that it may not come again.
Knowing that even if I do work at my golf there’s no guarantee that I’m going to win another one. Maybe in two or three years, or almost surely in two or three years that money won’t be on the table anymore. So it is a difficult decision.
Ben Curtis agreed to play overseas in 04’ and 05’ and he ended up regretting it because it affected his golf game.
You know, I remember Mark O’Meara back in 1998 after he won the two majors played everywhere. He took every single appearance fee he could possibly take and never was a good player on tour again. And, you know, in 1998 he was the best player in the world. So, it really is a hard thing to decide do you take the money or do you say no, I’m going to take a chance that I’m going to continue to be a really good player and that the money will be there in the long run and not in the short run. It’s a tough call for anybody I think.
Most of us where not around when Fancis Ouimet defeated Ted Ray and Harry Vardon at the 1913 U.S. Open.
Most of us where not around for Bobby Jones’ run at the grand slam in 1930.
Most of us where either not around or too young to remember the 1960 U.S. Open when Arnold Palmer erased a seven stroke deficit during the final round at Cherry Hills to defeat Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus and capture his second consecutive major championship title of the 1960 season.
But, most of us were not only around, but clearly remember the shocking events that took place during the 2003 major championship season, which makes Feinstein’s inside account of these moments that much more enjoyable for readers of any age.
If there’s one knock on “Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf” it’s that more attention could have been given to exactly how the lives of all these men changed following their major championship victories.
It would have been interesting to learn about things such as how much money a major championship victory can actually generate for a player, or the details of what their daily/weekly schedules looked like in the days, weeks and months following their victories.
Although Feinstein certainly delves into some of the details about how the lives of the four major champions changed, far more attention was given to the tournaments themselves than to the aftermath.
But, that’s just nitpicking at what was otherwise a quite enjoyable book.
If you’re a true fan of the game – young or old – “Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf” is a book that’s certainly worth reading, and if you’ve already read it, it’s one of those books that you just might read again.
For the full transcript of my interview with John Feinstein, including a preview of the Golf Channel’s upcoming documentary about Bruce Edwards based on “Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story”, check out The Tour Report .