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Strokes of destiny

Scott Verplank first became friends with Byron Nelson as a 17-year-old. Verplank is from Dallas, where the icon hosted the tournament that bears his name from 1968 until his death in September.

By BOB HARIG
Published May 1, 2007


Scott Verplank first became friends with Byron Nelson as a 17-year-old. Verplank is from Dallas, where the icon hosted the tournament that bears his name from 1968 until his death in September. Verplank played the tournament every year, calling it his fifth major. And so in the first year after Nelson's death, Verplank wins. Incredible. Golfers cannot will themselves to victory. But if you believe in destiny, then Verplank certainly had a lot going for him last week at the Byron Nelson Championship. How else do you explain his win when he had not done so for nearly six years? Or the fact that constant shoulder pain suddenly disappeared last week? Or that he had posted just a single top 10 this year? Or that he's 42 and had won just four times in his career, including once as an amateur way back in 1985? "Byron knocked that last putt in for me, " Verplank said after his victory. "I couldn't see the hole, I couldn't see the ball. I didn't know what was happening. I saw it bounce and go right, and when it went in ... I think Byron had a hand in this week. (Nelson's widow Peggy) just told me ... that he picked the winner this week. I think he might have. It was a dream." All of which got us to thinking. ... It has happened before in golf. A few examples:

2006 British Open

It's hard to describe any victory by Tiger Woods as destiny, but based on his reaction after his win, perhaps this was the case. It was his first victory since the death of his father, Earl.

"All of the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf, and I just wish he could have seen it one more time, " a tearful Woods said afterward.

2000 Sony Open

Paul Azinger played with Payne Stewart in what turned out to be Stewart's last round of golf. A few days later, Stewart died in a plane accident. And a few days after that, Azinger was giving a moving eulogy at Stewart's funeral. Azinger had not won a PGA Tour event since 1993, soon before he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Azinger came back from cancer but did not win again - until his first tournament of the 2000 season, his first official event after Stewart's death. He won by seven strokes - and has not won again. "How much joy can you feel when life has so much heartache?" Azinger said after the victory. "It really changed the way I perceive life. I appreciate it more."

1995 Masters

Ben Crenshaw was in a slump, then on the eve of the tournament, his longtime mentor, Harvey Penick, died. Crenshaw left Augusta and returned to Austin, Texas, for the funeral, getting back just in time for the tournament. Then he went on to defeat Davis Love by a stroke. "I believe in fate, " Crenshaw said. "Fate has dictated another champion here. I don't know where I gained such confidence, but I played my heart out." It was the last of Crenshaw's 19 victories.

1964 U.S. Open

Ken Venturi played the final round of a 36-hole day while suffering from dehydration and exhaustion, against the advice of a doctor who said the ordeal could be fatal. Venturi shot 66 in the morning round at Congressional Country Club, but the heat was making life miserable. Then he shot 70 (and remembered very little of it) for a four-shot victory. Afterward, Venturi fell to his knees. "My God, I've won the Open, " he said, tears streaming down his face. Although he won three tournaments that year, he had just one more victory after the 1964 season.

1950 U.S. Open

Ben Hogan returned to tournament golf just 11 months after a serious auto accident left him in a hospital for 49 days. Then he finished second at the 1950 Los Angeles, losing in a playoff to Sam Snead. But five months later, his comeback was complete when he won the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff at Merion, defeating Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio. He won 12 more times and six more majors before retiring.

Tiger and historic courses

It came as a bit of a surprise last week when Tiger Woods revealed at Oakmont Country Club that it was one of a few courses he had never played.

Oakmont, which will host the U.S. Open for a record eighth time this summer, last had the tournament in 1994 when Ernie Els won in a playoff. Woods had never played it before last week and said that "it's not even close" in terms of difficulty. "It's this one."

And Woods revealed a few more prominent courses he has never played, such as Pine Valley, Seminole and Merion.

Pine Valley, in New Jersey, is the No. 1 course in Golf Digest's list of America's 100 greatest courses. Seminole is in Juno Beach near Jupiter and gained fame as the place where Ben Hogan warmed up for the Masters. And Merion, where Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open near Philadelphia, hosts the U.S. Open in 2013.

"I just don't ever go anywhere out of the way to play golf, " Woods told the Associated Press. "I'm either at a tournament or getting ready to play in a tournament and working on my game at home. I love to play, but I'd rather stay home with my buds at Isleworth or Newport Beach."