Inside the ropes with the dream foursome of Watson, Miller, Palmer and Nicklaus at The Golf Club of Harbor Shores
We’ve already blown out the coverage for the very cool Champions for Change charity shootout at The Golf Club of Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
It was fascinating to walk all 18 holes with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. Standing within 15 feet of the four legends most of the day, I tried to listen in on every conversation and watch their every move.
Here are some stories:
* At the clinic before the round, Johnny Miller was in heaven, holding court with his mouth, not his swing. It was clear who gets paid to talk for a living these days. Miller, the lead golf analyst for NBC, was chatting up the crowd telling stories while the three “super legends” (Miller’s words) were hitting shots. Miller brought up a picture of Nicklaus’ swing when the 18-major champion was a youngster, talking about how exaggerated Nicklaus’ heel twisted off the ground during the swing. “No, no, no” Nicklaus barked in denial. “You struck a nerve,” Watson chimed in.
* Miller later added: “I don’t think Tiger will beat your record” of 18 major championships as the crowd roared in approval.
* Palmer, 80, unfortunately was showing his age. He regularly couldn’t carry hazards, dropping balls into the wetlands and Paw Paw River of the challenging course. On the sixth hole, he hit a spectator with a shot. The King might be slowly losing his game, but not his charm. He came over, signed the ball and made one fan’s day. “That was totally worth getting beaned,” the fan said, smiling.
* Miller tried to motivate Palmer by begging him to nail his tee shot on the eighth hole. “What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do,” Palmer said, prompting a roar from the crowd.
* The best showmanship of the day came on the par-5 10th hole. Miller was contemplating hitting a lob wedge from a lower-tier of the green when Nicklaus stepped in. “You want me to show you how to putt that?” Nicklaus challenged. Nicklaus threw down a ball and whacked a putt that climbed up a severe slope and somehow dropped to the bottom of the cup. The roar from the crowd sounded like something from Sunday at The Masters.
“For it to go in was pure freakin’ luck,” Nicklaus said later. “That was what I got a biggest kick out of today.”
* Even the best putters in the history of the game had trouble reading Harbor Shores’ severe greens. On the 13th green, Miller asked “is this good” for a gimme after his first putt grazed the hole but rolled four feet by. Watson joked: “It wasn’t bad.”
On the 14th green, Watson gave Palmer a read: “I like the right edge.” Just as Palmer was setting up to putt, Watson shouted: “No, go left edge.” As Palmer’s putt fell offline, Watson apologized with “I was right the first time.”
* Walking up the 18th hole, I had the chance to chat up Watson. “Going to Belvedere next?” I asked, referencing the northern Michigan golf course where Watson honed his game as a youngster. His eyes lit up. “I hear they are hosting another Michigan Amateur,” he replied. “Have you played it?” With that he walked off to make a clutch putt for birdie. Belvedere has hosted the Michigan Am. 39 times with a return date set for 2014.
* Having just completed the day, Miller and Watson stood near the 18th green. “These greens are pure, aren’t they?” Miller said. Watson agreed: “They are good.”
Watson followed up by saying “If you drive well and putt well, that’s all you need (to win).” Miller, ever the TV analyst, countered with: “It’s amazing how the No. 1 and No. 2 player in the world (Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) can’t drive it a lick.”
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