Sunday was the 10th anniversary of Payne Stewart’s tragic death.
I still remember where I was when I heard about Stewart being on the missing flight. At that time, I was a courier for a law firm in Atlanta, so I traveled all over the ATL delivering packages to courthouses, law firms and such.
One of my favorite driving pastimes was—and still is—listening to sports talk radio. I was listening to Atlanta’s 790 The Zone when Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini broke the news that air control had lost communication with Payne Stewart’s private plane.
Hours later, the world learned that Payne Stewart died in that tragic flight.
In the decade since Payne’s death, many in the golf world have told countless stories of his life. The PGA Tour awards “The Payne Stewart Award” each year to a player who loves golf, life, and gives back to the community like Stewart did. Pinehurst has since unveiled a life-like statue of Stewart’s unforgettable fist pump after sinking the winning putt at the 1999 U.S. Open.
In a sport where golfers drift in and out of the national scene—basking in the spotlight for the duration of one tournament, only to be forgotten about for years—Stewart’s life and legacy still impacts the golf culture a decade after his death.
If only we all would make it our goal to be remembered like Payne Stewart.
First off, I love golf course maintenance workers.
Much like cart guys, these fellows are the unsung heroes of the course. They are up at 5 a.m.—cutting grass, raking bunkers, trimming bushes, and repairing the hardly noticeable moose knuckle-sized divots on your greens.
Golf course maintenance workers are a dedicated bunch.
A rare photo of the much-preferred unobtrusive golf course maintenance worker. (Image: CappiT/Flickr)
But there is a breed of maintenance worker unlike any other. If you’ve played golf for any length of time, you’ve had an experience with the Intrusive Golf Course Maintenance Worker. One word describes this man: oblivious.
Usually, you’ll see him puttering down the cart path in the maintenance cart, rapidly approaching as you try to hit your tee shot. Or maybe he’s overagressively raking a bunker as you try to focus on a five-foot putt. Then there’s always the guy who seemingly stalks you for three or four holes, somehow managing to get in your line of sight before every shot.
Things get worse when Intrusive Golf Course Maintenance Workers travel together. One of them is annoying, but a group of them together on one hole can be distracting, at best, and unbearable, at worst.
In each group of Intrusive Golf Course Maintenance Workers, there’s an alpha-male. He’s the guy telling the inappropriate jokes as you line up your putt. He’s also the guy who speeds past you in the fairway as you go through your pre-shot routine. The golf course is his domain, and no golfer will get in his way.
Avoid the alpha-male at all costs.
Sometimes, Intrusive Golf Course Maintenance Workers don’t listen to golfers.
Many years ago, my friend Mike (the same Mike from Chicken Soup for the Soul fame) and I were playing at our home course. After poking our drives on the first hole down the center of the fairway, Mike and I lined up our approaches.
But there was a problem. A group of maintenance workers—soon to be discovered as intrusive—had gathered on the fringe and were digging a hole to work on some irrigation issues.
We waited on them briefly, then gave them a courtesy yell that we were playing up. They waved at us and told us to come through. But they never moved.
I struck my 6 iron well, slightly pulled. And, like a politician runs to a camera, my golf ball barreled through the air directly towards this group of maintenance workers. I yelled “fore!” loudly, frustrated that these guys never moved off the fringe.
My ball struck one of the maintenance workers in the head. He sat down. His head began to bleed. Stitches were later required.
What do you say at this point? They knew we were hitting. We yelled “fore!” They watched us the entire time. But, for some reason, the intrusive maintenance workers never strayed away from the fringe and stood like statues after my boisterous warning.
I never felt to blame for the incident. But, in the weeks to follow, I received quite a few glares from my head-shot victim. He was okay. Eventually, the stitches came off.
So, here’s a fair warning to Intrusive Golf Course Maintenance Workers everywhere: Get out of our way and we won’t hit you in the head with our golf ball.
Previous Golf Pet Peeves
#7: The Drunken Wedding Party
#6: The Distance Exaggerator
#5: The Golf Channel Guy
#4: Stewart Cink’s Green Shirt
#3: The Mulligan Golfer
#2: The Shot Jinxer
#1: The Shot-By-Shot Recap Golfer
Seriously, who won?
Okay, I’ll google it and find out.
This guy is Martin Laird. (Image: rjdudley/Flickr)
Ah, yes, I see that Martin Laird won Justin Timberlake’s tournament, picking up his first victory and earning a two-year exemption to the Tour.
That’s the cool thing about these fall tournaments. The guys who are struggling have the opportunity to come out of nowhere and pick up a win against usually weaker fields.
How cool must it be to have your life change over the course of four days? Forget about Q School. Forget about Nationwide. Welcome to the big time, Martin Laird.
As you’ve guessed, I did not watch a single shot from this weekend’s tournament. To be honest, I generally struggle with maintaining interest in watching golf on television during this time of the year. Too much football.
Thank you Georgia for a win against Vanderbilt. Thank you Atlanta Falcons for a national television win over Chicago last night. Oh, Atlanta Falcons, how I wish your defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, could freelance for his former employer Mark Richt.
But this is a golf blog. So I need to talk golf, even this time of year. Expect Golf Pet Peeve #8 to appear later this week. If we have anything during golf’s off-season, it’s year-round pet peeves.
I have quite a few pet peeves to write during the dead season of golf. Either that or more running stories, and—this being a golf blog and all—I’m sure you don’t want to hear about my upcoming marathon training. Nah.
Warning: This post has nothing to do with golf!
At least that’s what I used to think. You see, it’s green, it kind of looks weird with those strangely shaped florets at the top, and it’s supposed to be good for you.
Anything that’s green and is supposed to be good for you must suck, right?
Until a few years ago, that’s always been my mentality. What’s good for you must not really be good for you, I thought.
But thanks to my wife, these days I eat broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, and squash. I’m the guy who will eat pretty much anything, including sweetbread–and, no, that’s not a cinnamon roll. Look it up.
The point is, I try new things these days. And that’s where my new-f0und love of running enters the picture.
Todd Myers wrapping things up on mile 26.1 of the Country Music Marathon. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)
Back in April, my friend, Todd Myers, came to Nashville to stay with us and run in the Country Music Marathon. I was happy for him. I thought it was a cool deal. I mean, running in a marathon is a pretty big deal, right?
So on the day of the race, my wife and I, along with Todd’s wife Randi, headed out to LP Field–the home of the Titans–to watch the end of the 26 mile marathon. I thought it was just the proper thing to do. I didn’t expect much from it, other than to cheer on a friend who was accomplishing a pretty significant feat.
But little did I know I would get hooked that day.
My wife, Katie, Randi, and I settled in around mile 26.1 and waited for about 45 minutes as hundreds of marathon runners passed us. I watched men in wheelchairs pass us. I watched a man who pushed his handicapped child for 26 miles pass us. I watched guys pass me with calf cramps that literally turned their calf muscles into small golf ball-sized knots. I was inspired.
Todd finished somewhere around 4 hours and 15 minutes on an incredibly hilly 26 mile course here in Nashville. If you’re not a runner, that probably doesn’t mean much to you. It didn’t mean much to me at the time.
But then I got the running bug.
I started running in May. I’m not sure exactly why. I know that I was inspired by watching Todd, and I was inspired by the 50+ people who stood up in our staff meeting at work and shared their stories of running in the Country Music Half and Full Marathon.
But I hated running. I’ve never been a runner. The longest I’d ever run, at that time, was in 7th grade gym class–maybe a mile and a half. So when I started running, I didn’t know what to expect.
My first race: a 5K in East Nashville. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)
Starting out, it was painful. Unlike the broccoli, running actually did suck. My heart seemed to beat out of my chest, my calves cramped, my thighs ached. Everything hurt.
But I kept running. For two months, I ran about 6 miles, spread across three days a week. I ran slowly. I walked a lot. I threw up a bit. But it was a start.
The first time I ran 2 miles without stopping was a small victory, but it seemed like a major milestone. To me, running 2 miles seemed as improbable as shooting a 64.
I started a half marathon training schedule in July. The week after we returned from a July vacation in Florida–a trip in which, for the first time in my life, I actually exercised for three days on vacation–I started running…seriously running, getting ready for a 13.1 mile jaunt on October 3.
Any training schedule will include a “long run”. The long run occurs once a week and is the distance run that slowly and consistently builds your “mileage confidence.”
During my first long run, just three miles, I threw up in a neighbor’s yard. My sister and brother-in-law were visiting that weekend, and must have thought I was about to have a stroke. My face was beet red when I came back home.
The long runs were painful at first. For the first few weeks, I had to incorporate walking into the long run. The shin splints hurt, and my heart wasn’t quite ready to handle it.
Somewhere around my 5th week of training, something clicked. My body decided it could handle the stress of the long run. My running journal tells me I ran 7 miles on August 9 in 1:16:14, without stopping once. Victory.
Like a crazy man, I kept running…and running. After running for 3 days a week, and cross training for 2 days a week, I encountered my longest run ever on September 17…a 12 mile run.
In May, running 12 miles seemed as foreign to me as being a shepherd in rural Turkey. Seriously.
What's a 12 mile run without torrential rain and a bloody foot? (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)
But on September 17, I ran 12 miles…in a steady rain…with a bloody foot (see photo). I ran those 12 miles in just over 2 hours.
The bloody foot looked worse than it actually was…just a bit of a toenail issue, to be honest. And blood, combined with rain and a wet foot, made my shoe look much like a scene from Rambo. But it wasn’t that bad, though it made me feel like some kind of medieval gladiator.
After the bloody foot and the 12 mile run, I began final preparations for my half marathon in Murfreesboro on October 3. In the two weeks leading up to the run, my legs felt tight, tired, and generally achy. I had been running for 5 months, and I was feeling the effects of this unprecedented amount of activity, for me at least.
But on the morning of October 3, I felt freaking great. If you’ve never run in a race, you don’t understand the energy and excitement of standing in a group of 1,600 people, all of whom have been preparing for this day for months.
Starting out at 7 a.m. The first of 13 miles. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)
Fired up, I started out of the gates fairly quickly. My goal for my first half marathon was 2 hours and 10 minutes. Fairly reasonable, I thought.
Around mile 4, I felt incredible. At that point, I swear I experienced my first “runner’s high.” I truly felt like I could run for 50 miles. When I saw my beautiful wife at mile 6, I still felt great.
At the halfway point, my time was 57:02. Suddenly, I thought 2 hours was doable, a thought that had never crossed my mind for my first half marathon.
But fatigue crept in around mile 9. I slowed down a little more with each mile. My breathing remained steady, but my legs hurt like hades.
The last mile of the Murfreesboro Half Marathon is a long straight-away in which you can see the finish line, the Middle Tennessee State University Track Stadium, in the distance. The last mile seemed like an eternity, but I made it through a headwind and into the stadium eventually.
When I turned the corner and ran inside the stadium, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion. If my legs hadn’t felt like they were about to sever from my hip bones, I might have actually cried at that point. I truly couldn’t believe I had ran 13 miles.
I saw several hundred people lined up behind the ropes, the most important of whom was my lovely wife, cheering as I and hundreds of others passed. She was hopping up and down and clapping. She seemed so incredibly happy for me, with an ear-to-ear grin plastered on her face. It was one of those mental photographs I’ll never forget.
The end. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)
Finally, I crossed the finish line.
After five months of training, and after 2 hours 2 minutes and 16 seconds of repeatedly placing one foot in front of the other, I had finished.
In some sort of strange paradox, though, I was a bit sad. After 5 months of talking about this half marathon–the training, the dieting, the lifestyle changes–it was over.
If I chose, life as usual could return: the Cokes, the fried foods, the lazy, inactive afternoons. Freedom, right?
But, not really. Like broccoli, running has become a part of my lifestyle.
I’ve totally become hooked, to the point which I’ve written over 1,300 words about running on my golf blog! What’s up with that?
Golf will not go away. But choosing to run is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My family has a history of heart issues. In my world, things needed to change.
I’m already preparing for my second half marathon next month. I’m considering a full marathon in April 2010. I’m totally and ridiculously hooked to this insane, but unlike golf, healthy hobby.
It’s not going away. I fully intend, like my late grandfather, to be one of those guys who is 80 years old with the heart of a 35 year old.
If you’re not a runner, I encourage you to give it a try. Get past the pain, get past the discomfort, and see what it’s like. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult at first, but it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it.
And, maybe, just maybe, you’ll grow to realize, like me, that broccoli doesn’t suck anymore.