Sometimes it’s the simplest things.
A favorite beverage. Salt and vinegar potato chips. A golf nap.
Of all the things that have been disrupted in these past few weeks and months perhaps nothing has felt so jostled and discombobulated as our sense of normalcy.
A trip to the store means wearing a mask (at least it should). Saying hello means keeping your distance. Handshakes have gone the way of Sansabelt slacks.
So when the Charles Schwab Challenge came to life last week in the Texas heat at Colonial Country Club, it felt like a smile.
It felt almost normal.
Even the cruelty of seeing both Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele lose the tournament on short lip-outs – misses you could feel in your gut – brought the game home again.
Getting back to the business of tournament golf doesn’t change the world. The end of the COVID-19 era still seems frighteningly far away and everyone with a conscience has been pushed to think about his or her role in changing our world as we know it.
But, man, it was nice to see Jordan Spieth back in the hunt and launching into a monologue after almost every shot.
To see Harold Varner III, gracefully wearing the weight of a race, chasing his first victory was heartwarming.
All of it – the 25 pounds Gary Woodland lost and the 25 pounds Bryson DeChambeau found, the microphone Rickie Fowler wore while he played, Schauffele’s quiet insistence that he’s one of the best in the world, Morikawa’s metronomic iron play, even Rory McIlroy’s frustration at seeing another putt miss – felt like diving into a swimming pool on a hot afternoon.
We’re all familiar with the old saying that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
We knew what we were missing when tournaments were being canceled in bunches and schedules were being cobbled together like items in a scavenger hunt. It was gone, just like that, and while there have been more serious issues at hand, getting tournament golf back felt like it was important in a reassuring way.
The PGA Tour isn’t just about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. It’s about the places they play and the people who watch it. Except for a handful of people who set up their own hospitality tents around the perimeter of Colonial Country Club last week, it was a tournament played in what felt like an empty theater.
It was weird but we’ve gotten accustomed to weird.
It was different, especially on the weekend when the noise typically builds like an afternoon thunderstorm, but we’ve been in the quiet and socially distanced long enough that watching golf at Colonial felt special.
After three months without a real tournament, Jim Nantz wasn’t the only person saying, “Hello, friends.”
While we’re left to wonder why Woods isn’t playing at Harbour Town this week and what Phil Mickelson will do to celebrate his 50th birthday on Tuesday (I want to like the shades he’s wearing on the course, I really do) getting tournament golf back restarted storylines and reintroduced familiar characters.
It’s like a favorite television show. Who doesn’t feel like they know Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer on Seinfeld?
That’s the way it is for golf fans seeing Patrick Reed walking down a fairway, Bubba Watson shaking his head at why his golf ball didn’t behave the way it was supposed to and Brooks Koepka being Brooks Koepka. After three months without a real tournament, Jim Nantz wasn’t the only person saying, “Hello, friends.”
At Colonial during the weekend, the leaderboard seemed stacked to remind us of what golf can be. If nothing else, it was proof again that there’s no one right way to play the game.
Daniel Berger’s swing looks more like work than Morikawa’s beautiful fluidity but they both work. As good a player as Schauffele is, it doesn’t make him immune to mistakes like the approach shot he pulled into the water at No. 15 that cost him the win as much as his short miss at 17.
How does McIlroy shoot 74 on Sunday with a chance to win? Why did the circles turn to squares on Woodland’s scorecard when it mattered?
For Berger, the Colonial victory caps a comeback from a career-threatening wrist issue. Once part of the Fowler-Spieth-Justin Thomas group of young stars, Berger’s profile faded with his wrist problems but he hung tough and, surprise, found himself the winner Sunday afternoon.
One week into its re-gathering, the PGA Tour rolls on to Hilton Head Island this week where there will be images of the red and white lighthouse and mentions of Calibogue Sound, shots of boats bobbing on the water and a red plaid jacket (different from the one Berger got Sunday) for the winner.
There won’t be spectators on site but you can believe there will be some fans on the balconies and back porches of the homes that border Harbour Town’s famous 18th fairway, more than willing to raise their own toast to tournament golf being back.
It’s a simple pleasure.
Top: Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson during the Charles Schwab Challenege