The Fan Slam of Golf
by Peter Kravitz
Tennis fans can do a fan Grand Slam by visiting all four Grand Slam events in one season. But what about golf? Let’s make it easy, just attend each of the four major golf tournaments—the US Open, the Masters, The Open (aka the British Open), and the PGA Championship—in your lifetime.
I’ve attended ten majors—eight US Opens, one Open at St. Andrews, and one Masters, a tough ticket procured by my favorite golf partner, Joel Joachim. So I now only need the PGA. While the PGA has often been within driving distance, the August heat has kept me away. This year, though, it’s been shifted to a much cooler mid-May, and it’s just an eight-iron shot away from my home at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York.
My Fan Slam experience thus far has been enhanced by occasional interactions with big-name golfers or their relatives. At a crosswalk during the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, for example, I realized that Wayne Gretzky was standing next to me. (His daughter is engaged to the current World No. 2, Dustin Johnson.)
“Wayne, do you like my Flyers hat?” I asked.
“Love it,” said the Great One.
“You broke my heart in 1987 when your Oilers beat my Flyers to win the Cup,” I said.
“Rick Tocchet tried to break my legs in that series,” he said, laughing.
Five years earlier, at the 2013 US Open at the Merion Golf Club in Haverford, Pennsylvania, I met a gentleman hawking handheld periscopes in the merchandise tent. I suspected it was Phil Mickelson, Sr. “Are you Phil’s dad?” I asked. Suspicion confirmed, we chatted for about 20 minutes about how Phil came to play the game lefty—though he’s right-handed—and win five majors.
In 1981, also at the US Open at Merion, I had a dream-like experience. I was lying in the rough during a practice round. Like any other 20-year-old after a late night, I had passed out. I was awakened by a voice saying, “Excuse me.” Tom Watson stood over me. He’d nearly hit me with his drive and politely asked me to move so he could play his next shot.
Watson’s lack of annoyance won me over. Prior to that I had rooted for his rival Jack Nicklaus. But a year later, I cheered in front of the TV when Watson chipped in from the deep rough at Pebble Beach to stun Jack en route to his only US Open win.
Traveling to the United Kingdom in 2015 for The Open—played on a rotation of courses in Scotland, England, and Ireland—required serious planning. My English friend Mat Scanlan created an itinerary for us to golf in England and Scotland and take in the Friday round of the 144th Open at St. Andrews. This would be Tom Watson’s goodbye to The Open after playing in nearly every one since 1975.
Watson won eight majors, including five Opens, the second most ever—more than Tiger’s three, Bobby Jones’s three, Hogan’s one, Jack’s three, and Arnold’s two.
Scheduled to tee off Round 2 in Game No. 38 at 1:34 p.m. with Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, Watson was delayed about four hours due to a morning deluge. By 10 p.m. the tenacious cloud cover broke and the Scottish skies brightened, spilling enough light for Watson to finish. Mat and I were there with a few hundred hardy souls to see Watson end his brilliant Open career in the Scottish gloaming.
My US Open experiences at Bethpage Black have been intensified by having played that course approximately 80 times over 30 years. Though my handicap index is around 11, even from the white tees (which are 6,600 yards, as opposed to nearly 7,500 yards from the tips), the Black has abused my golf game. I trudge across Round Swamp Road, exhausted, and schlep up another steep hill to the 15th green. Number 15 even derailed Tiger Woods in the 2009 US Open as he double bogeyed it (then bogeyed it Sunday) and finished four strokes behind the winner, Lucas Glover, in a sixth-place tie.
I’ve hit Bethpage’s narrow par three 17th green in regulation maybe four times. That hole cost Phil Mickelson in 2009, as he and his caddy Bones Mackay appeared to misread the tricky Sunday crosswinds. His tee shot was short, leading to a bogey and one of his six runner-up US Open finishes. Phil has never won the US Open, denying him a career Grand Slam.
At Augusta, Georgia, for the 2011 Masters, we entered the course as the gates opened. We bought green Masters’ chairs and placed them flush against the 18th green. We left our coats on the chairs and roamed the course. When we returned a few hours later our stuff was there, our chairs unoccupied. You could leave your wallet on your chair at Augusta and no one would touch it.
Near the 12th hole, at Amen Corner, I was trying to figure out the accent of the gentleman we were talking to when I noticed his nametag: “Wayne Player.”
“Are you related to Gary?” I asked.
Indeed, Wayne is the son of the South African legend who won nine career majors, including three Masters and the career Grand Slam. Player complained to us that his father wasn’t an honorary starter with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The Masters honorary-starter tradition began in 1963. In 2011, we witnessed Jack and Arnold hit the first shots of the tournament. Perhaps someone with a green jacket heard Wayne Player’s gripes, as Gary Player joined Jack and Arnold in 2012, and now, after the passing of the beloved Palmer in 2016, it’s just Jack and Gary.
Hopefully I’ll complete my Fan Slam in May at the 101st PGA and have more anecdotes from the links to share with you!
Photo credits by Peter Kravitz
Peter Kravitz is the author of So You Wanna Be a Teacher, a former Philadelphia reporter and retired New York public high school Journalism teacher. He's a regular contributor to Silver Sage Magazine.