Almanac (Golf) Archives: Golfing Heaven and Hell

Golf is arguably the most difficult game devised. A game with the fiendishly simple objective of striking and finessing a stationary ball around a course in the minimum number of shots. Golf has destroyed the stoutest of competitors. It is a game that a mentally feeble flog like me tormentedly calls ‘whack-fuck’.


Rory Sabbatini is one shot behind leader Zach Johnson with three to play at the 2007 US Masters. It is still his green jacket to don. However, if Sabbatini lets his mind wander and begins setting next year’s Champion’s Dinner Menu (medium to well-done wild boar or bobotie perhaps?), it is also his green jacket to lose. He will know that a venerable Augusta official who probably organised Raymond Floyd’s green jacket has summoned a green jacket that fits Sabbatini’s dimensions.


In late Sunday afternoon shade at Augusta National’s 16th tee, Sabbatini reaches for a six iron. His golfing destiny and legacy could depend upon the final destination of this shot. His future fiscal and emotional well-being could be determined during these next few moments.


After picking up imaginary grass from the green, surveying a tiddler for what seemed an eternity and ultimately missing that tiddler to win the 1970 British Open, it’s a notion that Doug Sanders now comprehends only too well.


Sabbatini undertakes his mechanistic pre-swing routine. The robotic ritual begins his pursuit of the ideal. That is to execute the perfect swing of a golf club in the most highly pressurised and most beautiful of golfing environments. On a golf course and a hole that is the result of architectural genius.


As Sabbatini addresses the ball, gets set in his stance and begins waggling the club, he should be thinking land it in the middle of the green and let the slope draw the ball down towards the hole. Find the right line and an ace is possible.


We sit expectantly on our little green chairs a few paces left from where Tiger Woods holed that chip shot two years earlier. Physicists Penzias and Wilson listened hard enough and long enough to hear the cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang. If you close your eyes and listen hard enough and long enough around the 16th green like Penzias and Wilson did, you can hear echoes of the roar as Tiger’s ball dropped. Augusta National sure has spooky acoustics.


Sabbatini hits. We pick up the ball’s flight. It looks like a big draw. The patrons are transfixed.


It’s looking long and left.


It is long and left.


The ball takes a couple of bounces, rolls off the green and ends up at my feet.


Wow. How long has this been going on?


As Sabbatini acknowledges the patrons on the famous walk past the pond, officials instruct us to pack our chairs and inch backwards to give both player and caddy space. I make sure I remain the patron that is closest to the ball.


Sabbatini and his caddy arrive to survey the task at hand. Sabbatini is pallid. His skin is vanilla coloured with a tinge of grey. Little beads of sweat are visible between his mouth and his nose. He resembles a cadaver. Punters note that Sabbatini looks like somebody who has just been nutted out of the Derby Day quaddie by a final leg upheld protest.


Incredibly, he is shaking.


What a challenge it must be for Sabbatini to attempt to conceal this inner Krakatoa upheaval?


Given the enteric chaos inside’s Sabbatini’s body, his decision to wear white pants does not appear to be a sound one.


He aims way left of the pin. He takes innumerable practice swings. Each one accompanied by shot visualisation and iterative geometric calculation. All the while he continues to shake.


Finally he commits to the shot and plays it. He duffs the chip ever so slightly. The ball lands before the green, curls around and around, runs away past the flag and finishes about 15 feet away. Phil Mickelson watches on from behind the pond-side bunker.


His dichotomy on the 16th dawns on me.


The guy who is in golfing heaven is also in a golfing hell.


Sabbatini misses his par putt and bogeys the hole. Zach Johnson goes on to salute and gets to choose the menu for Palmer et al at the next dinner.




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  1. Brilliantly told PJF. Pressure makes strong men weak, and surprisingly, weak men strong on occasions.
    I was reading some articles on my teenage golf hero, Tom Weiskopf, over the weekend. He had a majestic swing and physique, but his career was the role model for Greg Norman. Weiskopf won one major – the 1973 British Open by 3 strokes – but was runner up at Augusta 4 times.
    Gary Player often says, “How in the hell did I ever beat Tom Weiskopf? So strong, such an incredible swing, hit the ball better than anyone — much better than Jack.” After a long pause, Weiskopf says, “Gary knows better than anybody that there is more to it than that. It’s what’s in the mind and what’s in the heart.”
    Weiskopf hit 5 balls into Rae’s Creek on the par 3 12th hole in the first round of the Masters in 1980, taking a ‘hole record’ 13. Heaven and hell – as you say, Flynny. Weiskopf’s last tour victory was in 1982, and he became an alcoholic, which cost him his game, marriage and friendships. He has not had a drink since January 2, 2000 and is now a happy man with a successful golf course design business.

  2. Nice tale PF. Golf is just freakin’ torture in a nice setting.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    PF if only , Sabbatini had yelled out he was a cats man with the ball coming towards you I am siure you would have come forward and magically come to his assistance !
    As a casual and non player of golf ( no patience ) Augusta is the course and tournament for me number 1 by a considerable distance . Well told story PF you describe the emotions of the moment perfectly thank you

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Spot on Dips.

    Cheers PB. My hazy memory tells me that Weiskopf used to call the action at 12.

    Rulebook, Badds eagled the 13th. On the way to the 14th, I yelled Go Cats.

    He Go Catted me back.

    He double bogeyed 14 and may have finished with an 80.

  5. I see the Masters has always been a Cats tournament.
    The hyphen’s great grand daddy Horton Smith won the first Masters in 1934 and again in 1936.
    Looks like they used Augusta fairway grass for Kardinia Park’s returf.
    You were just visiting the alma mater, PJF.

  6. David Downer says


    Supreme use of “how long has this been goin’ on?”.

    Your opening tirade did arouse memories of…

  7. You wouldn’t be dead for quids. Because you would miss all this.

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