The 2014 American Century Championship is in the books, and it was one of the best in recent memories, despite the ugly weather on Sunday which saw action delayed for around three hours.
Here are my top five memories from last week’s event plus a couple of opinions regarding the yearly tournament.
The finish by Mark Rypien was amazing. He hit two of the best pressure-packed shots I’ve seen — the 6-iron to 15 feet on the par-5 16th and the 8-iron to 6 feet on the par-3 17th. It’s too bad because of the weather delay hardly anybody was on the course to see them. Tournament officials evacuated the course, and most of the fans left Edgewood because there was nowhere to stay out of the weather. Rypien recorded 12 points over the final three holes to break the deadlock with Jeremy Roenick and win the tournament. I’d love to know if he could have made that great of a shot on 17 if the zoo, also known as the whacky fans on 17, had been out there. We’ll never know I guess.
Annika Sorenstam. The LPGA Hall of Famer played three solid rounds of golf and finished in a tie for second thanks to Roenick’s late collapse. At least on the days I followed Annika’s group, she always acknowledged the remarks fans threw her way with a smile or wave as she walked down the fairway or was walking between holes. She was great in the interview room, taking the time to answer all the questions directed her way. It was a great idea to add her to the field, and it’s my wish she comes back. She promised to be better prepared if she did come back, and I have no doubt she will be. She remarked how well she was accepted by the rest of the players. And, her presence certainly boosted the female attendance at the tournament.
Chad Pfeifer. The Iraq war veteran was the feel good story of the tournament, and he was the first-round leader. Pfeifer, who lost part of his left leg in 2007, showed he can really play golf. He probably had the most pressure on him in the sense everybody wanted a piece of him — media, fans and people in the military. He shook hands, posed for pictures and did plenty of interviews. It was a heart-warming scene in the interview room when Rypien talked about playing with a hero and he was inspired by Pfeifer. I’d love to see Pfeifer come back next year if he hasn’t realized his goal of playing professional golf by then. Pfeifer was gracious throughout the tournament.
The jovial Charles Barkley. Big Chuck made his first appearance on the course Thursday, and gave Pfeifer a hug and playfully asked Pfeifer if he wanted to play for money and asked how many strokes he was going to get. Pfeifer must have said eight, causing Charles to remark “eight a side for $100 a hole. Do we have a bet.” Pfeifer should have taken him up on that. Charles’ swing was as ugly as ever and he was around plus-98 for the tournament. He may have had a bet with Digger Phelps, who came into the interview room each day checking to see if he was still ahead of Charles.
I felt bad for Roenick’s problems on 17 and 18. His first ACC title was in reach, but Rypien snatched it away. Roenick was nowhere to be found after his final round, and obviously didn’t come into the interview room. I was surprised by that because he is in the media himself now as an analyst for the NHL broadcasts, and I’ve always thought he was a stand-up guy. Oh well.
More ACC thoughts
I would have liked Greg Maddux to make himself available to the public. The former Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves pitcher is being inducted into the Hall of Fame soon. It would have been a natural, and most media members I know would have liked to hear what he had to say about his induction. He took a couple of minutes to answer a couple of questions, but you could tell he really didn’t want to ... I picked Billy Joe Tolliver to repeat as ACC champion in the winner-take-all media pool, but I was secretly hoping for Jack Wagner to win it. Wagner is the only non-athlete to ever win the event, and he’s done it twice. Wagner has a sweet swing, and he does a pretty good job playing to the gallery, On the par-3 7th, he kiddingly chastised the group for its lack of reaction after his putt ... I may be in the minority, but I’d love to see the event extended to 72 holes. It couldn’t be that hard. Most of the guys are in town by Tuesday or Wednesday, so to play an extra round. I don’t think it would affect the crowd count at all.
There were plenty of people roaming the grounds last Thursday.