PITTSFORD, N.Y.— “I will be better tomorrow.”
This is the idea that pretty much sums up golf. It is what keeps the average person coming back, believing all the time that one of these days, that slice will be gone. More important, it is the thought lodged in the head of every professional golfer, regardless of whether he is the No. 1 player in the world, or is a club pro trying to make a go of it among the big guys in a major championship.
Tiger Woods, having played an unspectacular round and finished it with a discouraging double bogey, was undaunted after the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday. “I’m still right there,” he said after shooting 1-over-par 71, having made only two birdies on a day that was a birdie festival at Oak Hill Country Club. “I mean, as of right now, I’m only six back and we have got a long way to go.”
No argument there, especially considering that Woods shot 61 in his second round last week in a tournament that wasn’t a major but wasn’t a picnic either, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. What was interesting, though, was the fact Woods sounded almost exactly like Rob Labritz, director of golf at GlenArbor in Westchester, who was unbowed after shooting 8 over.
“There could be a low one out there tomorrow. There’s no way I’m giving up. There’s no way. I can shoot 4 or 5-under on this golf course,” he said, even though he made no birdies yesterday.
Thinking like that has allowed Labritz to win a bunch of tournaments in the Metropolitan section and, as a matter of fact, to get here. He made a 95-yard pitch shot at the club pros’ national championship to win a playoff and grab the last berth in the PGA.
So give Labritz credit for being neither dejected nor just happy to be here. “Disappointing,” he called it, “because I’m hitting the ball well enough to contend in this fricking ((cq-should we change it to “freaking?”)) tournament and you know the breaks just weren’t there. Maybe something magical is going to happen. I always think something magical is going to happen.”
It has been said that golf is a game played on a course that is 5 1¿2 inches long, from the left ear to the right ear. So golfers, especially pros, have to give themselves non-stop pep talks. So not only do they tend to ignore the fact that their game wasn’t all that hot, they tell themselves that they actually played well.
“I played really well today,” Woods said.
His problems, as he saw it, were the result of outside forces such as having to rush because his group-with Keegan Bradley and Davis Love III-was placed on the clock from the first through fourth holes because it was playing too slowly (it looked like Love was the biggest culprit). He also cited a tough lie on his final hole, No. 9, after he took a wild swing and before he chunked a wedge shot into the bunker.
The average observer might have seen it a bit differently. He or she might have noticed that Woods was playing a U.S. Open round-nothing fancy, lots of par saves-on a course that was ripe for the picking. Someone with a good memory might also recall that he made similar claims about being right in it at various times during his five-year major drought.
But hey, he knows his game better than we do. He knows golf better than just about anybody who ever has played it. We’ll see if he is better on Friday.
More than anyone else, Woods has given golf followers reason to think something magical is going to happen. He just didn’t have much magic on Thursday, a day that the inner voice might eventually call the one that got away.