Brothers Zach (left) and Luke Guthrie at last year’s John Deere Classic.
The heck with Tiger, we found Luke
Column by Ken Cohen
March 8, 2013 So we’re in Florida last week, it’s cold and cloudy, and we're looking for something to do. I suggested going to the Honda Classic golf tournament about 15 minutes away from where we were visiting my mother. At first, we wanted our daughter to come, then realized that she didn't want to go she says she doesn't like watching golf.
Off we went to PGA National on Friday to take in some golf and our daughter spent the day shopping with my mother. Perfect.
My wife only knows a handful of golfers so when I asked her who she wanted to follow, it really wasn't much of a question. But, as usual, she had an answer. "Anyone but Tiger," she said. Not because of the huge crowds that typically follow Tiger and make it impossible to see anything. But "because he's a jerk who cheated on his wife."
I had no problem with that. I'm not a big fan of Tiger either, and I really didn't feel like battling for position to see every shot. I suggest to my wife we find a no-name golfer and follow him. There won't be any gallery, you'll be able to get up close to see every shot and, who knows, you might even engage the player or his caddie in some conversation.
By chance, we were walking toward the eighth green when I see a group coming up the adjacent third hole with absolutely no one watching them. I said, "this is our group." It turns out one of the players in the threesome was Luke Guthrie, a guy I picked on my fantasy golf team. I didn't even know what he looked like in fact, I had to ask one of the marshals surrounding the green which one was Guthrie. All I knew about him was that he was a rookie on the tour after winning twice on the Nationwide Tour last year.
Once I established who he was, I looked at the placard which accompanies each group and saw he was six-under par for the tournament, just two shots off the lead. He started on the back nine so he was playing his 13th hole. We followed him to the clubhouse and what a treat it was.
Actually there were seven other people following the group four of them relatives of one of the other players in the group, a local club professional who qualified for the tournament by winning the South Florida sectional championship. We found this out because when there are only a handful of spectators, you strike up conversation with them.
Anyway, Guthrie birdies the third hole when we first started watching. He then missed a short birdie on four and made a nice par save on five. On six, his 15th hole of the day, he hit two beautiful shots and canned a 10-footer for another birdie. He was now 8-under par and tied for the lead. The seventh hole is a long par three and he hit a nice tee shot about 25 feet right of the hole. Unfortunately, the gallery is not allowed to go up by the green on this hole, so we couldn't see his putt. But we heard a loud "yes" shortly after he took his putting stance. He made it and was now 9-under par and leading the tournament. Sure, it was just Friday and there were still two more days to go an eternity on the PGA Tour. But this was getting exciting. Not only was he the leader, but we kind of discovered him out there. We felt like part of his inner circle.
On the 8th tee, he had to wait before hitting as an ambulance came on to the golf course to transfer an injured spectator. He proceeded to hit the first errant shot since we were watching a rope hook that fortunately hit a marshal and bounced back into the rough. It was under a tree, but had the ball not hit the marshal, it was headed for the water. Interestingly, the brother-in-law of the club professional who had followed this group the day before, told us that was the second lucky break for Guthrie on this hole. "Yesterday, he hit the tree on his tee shot and bounced left toward the fairway," the brother-in-law said. "That's two days in a row he could have been in the water and got lucky. It's his week."
Guthrie was able to line his second shot under the tree and on to the right side of the green some 75 feet away. Just to the left of the green is a huge leaderboard and his name was alone on top. I said to my wife he should soak in that leaderboard it's the first time he has ever led a PGA Tour event and who knows when it will happen again. Life on the PGA Tour can be very fickle and fleeting.
Guthrie left his first putt six feet short but made the par putt to remain at nine under. As he's coming off the green, there is a massive wave of people making their way down the third hole. It was Tiger. I said to my wife, "how great is this we're going to strut right past Tiger and stay with our man Luke!"
Guthrie proceeded to make a 10-footer for par on No. 9 to shoot a seven-under 63 and remain in the lead, which he held throughout the day. After the round, we spotted his caddie alone outside the clubhouse. We thought all day it was his brother because they looked alike. I went up to him and said, "Nice going today. Luke is your brother, right?" He said, "Yes, my younger brother."
I had noticed earlier in the round that his bag had the University of Illinois emblazoned on it. I asked the brother if Luke played with Chris DeForest at Illinois and he said yes, adding that he was the assistant coach. We started talking about Chris who is from Ulster County and someone I've known since he was a little kid. Then we ended the conversation talking about the weekend. I asked him if he thought Luke would be nervous about playing in the final group for the first time. I loved his answer. He said, "It's something we're going to have to talk about tonight. We both have never been in this position so we're going to have to figure out how to stay calm."
Guthrie had a solid weekend in some brutal playing conditions. His putting let him down a little on Sunday, but he ended up finishing a very respectable third. Better yet, my wife kept asking me all day Saturday and Sunday how Luke was doing. Even my daughter was interested, pausing her Ipod a few times on Sunday to watch Guthrie on television. Perhaps, she will want to watch golf again this weekend.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.