Up close and personal with some of the Nationwide Tour's bestJuly 10, 2007
By Dave Shedloski PGATOUR.com Senior Correspondent
UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio -- The proposal was enticing: play 18 holes with a member of the Nationwide Tour during a practice round prior to the newest event on the schedule, the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational.
The Nationwide Tour has been touted here and there as the second best tour in the world, but recent results in the Ryder Cup have the Europeans sniffing about that one, and, well, maybe we'll give them that. But the quality of play on the Nationwide Tour is quite extraordinary, and we only needed to spend a couple of hours with a trio of competitors to be reminded.
Tour Media Official John Bush, as conscientious as he is competent, had arranged a tee time for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday on the Ohio State University Scarlet Course with Nick Flanagan, the 2003 U.S. Amateur champion who this year has broken through for two victories on the Nationwide Tour. Flanagan was returning to active duty after a forced layoff for hernia surgery, about which I had greater interest after playing from the Buckeye Tees at Scarlet. Recently renovated by OSU product and golf legend Jack Nicklaus, the Scarlet Course now stretches to 7,455 yards. He charged his alma mater $1, or about 33 rounds of golf, given that the Golden Bear always played with three pennies in his pocket.
Unfortunately for Flanagan, a native of Australia, his layoff was extended by the airlines, which lost his luggage. He arrived at Port Columbus Airport on Sunday. On Tuesday morning, he was still wearing the same clothes and had no clubs. At least, that's his story and he was sticking to it.
Bush implemented Plan B: Nine holes with three of Flanagan's compatriots -- Jason Day, Greg Chalmers and Peter Tomasulo. Eighteen holes with one man just became nine holes with three, a net gain of nine. Hmmm... maybe the wrong Bush is sitting in Washington.
Anyway, Day was still on a high from his big day Sunday when he made a visit to Cleveland more palatable (easy, I would know, being a Cleveland native) by claiming his first victory at the Legend Financial Group Classic presented by Cynergies Solutions. Day was born in Beaudesert, Queensland on November 12, 1987. Quick math... geez, he's 19! My son, Alex, who caddied for me, is 12. Obviously, they stood to have more in common -- music, swing speeds, flexibility.
But enough about them; let me tell you about the little 40 I pasted on Jack's upgraded front nine. I would love to report on the play of my three companions, but I rarely saw their shots. I mean, without binoculars I can only see so far.
Yes, these boys hit it hard. But I think Nationwide Tour players get a bad rap sometimes. Word is, the younger generation is all about power -- bomb-and-gouge golf. Hardly. Chalmers teed off on No. 6, a 618-yard par-5, with a utility club. Didn't want to challenge the ugly bunker on the left. Day pounded his driver perfectly -- at least it sounded that way. But as they marched down the fairway, a lively discussion among players and caddies ensued about how to best attack the hole. Day finally decided he would select a 3-metal off the tee come Thursday, telling Chalmers, "If you do it, then I probably should do it."
Remember, the kid is 19, but he's got poise and smarts along with talent. He's been playing golf since he was six years old. "I'd run over to the golf course right after school everyday," he said.
Good career move, we think.
All the way around we could overhear discussions about strategy and shot placement. The three men and their bag mates were working at it, hitting various shots, chipping around the greens to predicted hole locations and trying to decipher the Alister Mackenzie examination that the Golden Bear had buttressed with his own hands. Still, they couldn't have been nicer, more polite, and more congenial. They never made Alex and I feel excluded -- except for the driving-it-where-we-couldn't moments.
Chalmers, a lefty who played several years on the PGA TOUR and finished second at the 2000 Kemper Open, is a real beauty. Warm, funny, gave Alex the needle a few times in a good-hearted way. He has some great stories. Now living in Dallas, Chalmers, father of two boys, has been on the road for a few weeks. Monday night his wife, Nicole, informed him that their youngest, Lachlan, had just started walking.
The same thing happened to me, I told him, in 1998 when my daughter, Ellie, picked herself up and started motoring around while I was covering the British Open. "Tough deal sometimes, you know," Chalmers said.
We step up to the seventh tee, a 404-yard par-4 that bends to the left around a yawning bunker that the evil Mr. Nicklaus expanded. Needless to say, I had been in there before.
The carry over it is 293 yards. Chalmers smartly bunted another utility club to the 150-yard marker. Then Day and Tomasulo unleashed venom on their golf balls, sending them right over the sandy tract. Tomasulo struck his so pure that his approach was a mere 50-yard flip wedge, which reminded me of that line from Gary McCord, who once said of Tiger Woods' swing, "If I tried to turn my hips that fast, my groin would fly off."
With humidity and humility ratcheting up, we were grateful when the ninth hole appeared. We all shook one another's hands. Alex got a close-up education in real golf. I got a wonderful story that allows me to now recount my round hole by hole. ...
Just kidding. I'll save the game stories for the tournament -- and bring binoculars.