Newport Beach Country Club is one of my favorite courses on tour, too bad I have to fly to get there and it’s close to the Los Angeles area. Flying these days is no fun and the congestion in southern California creates claustrophobia, luckily I get to spend about eight hours a day on a quaint little course nestled in the foothills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. NBCC was built in 1953 and the most drastic changes are the buildings that have grown up around the course. You still have views of the ocean and snow capped mountains, and once you’re behind the clubhouse the frantic California lifestyle can’t reach you.

The Newport Beach memories are great. Murph won his last tournament here in 1997 sinking an eighty foot putt on the ninth playoff hole, number seventeen, and their signature hole. Murph’s good friends, Alan and Kathy Wells, still put me up for the week and we discuss the good old days every night. The only excitement on seventeen this year was me tripping over Fred Funk’s bag Sunday and falling flat on my back. The crowd gave me a nice ovation after they realized I wasn’t hurt and the group discussed their most amazing caddie spills for the next few holes.

All the players love the layout, the wives spend most of their time at the neighboring Fashion Island Mall, and this year only one of the top thirty players missed the event. Jay Hass stayed home to watch his daughter’s team win their second state high school championship. It’s nice to see family gets in the way of golf, sometimes it’s the other way around, and that’s definitely not the way it should be.

It was a long week, starting with a pro-am Monday, late afternoon practice round Tuesday after Jim watched his son Kevin play in a Long Beach State college golf tournament, and two more pro-ams Wednesday and Thursday. Kevin is a sophomore and it was fun watching the two interact throughout the week. There was a lot of subtle needling, some heated discussions about Dad’s mental attitude, plus cheeseburgers and beers at the local sports bar, The Place, in Corona Del Mar.

The Roy family grew up in Syracuse, NY and their small town values are evident. Jim got a kick out of introducing Kevin to all the Champions Tour stars and we were actually late for our Thursday afternoon pro-am because they were chatting with Tom Watson on the putting green. Every time Kevin met someone the hat came off, a firm handshake was extended, and a “nice to meet you Mr. Watson” was heard.

Jim grew up on a course like Newport Beach, he loved the track, but is still a bit uncomfortable out here. The sharply sloping small Poannua greens gave us a few problems and we fired a 70 Friday while playing with Chein Soon Lu who was tied for the lead after shooting 65. Sitting on his borrowed Jeep’s tailgate after the round we dissected shots, strategy, and putts realizing just how close he is to being very competitive out here. As long as he doesn’t get down on himself and swings the club athletically we’ll be fine.

Saturday brought some nasty weather and a frustrating finish. Rains were predicted so tee times were moved up two hours but we were dumped on walking down the sixth fairway. There was hail mixed in and play was suspended for over an hour. In my 22 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen hail while playing, another first. We’ve been snowed out and cancelled for freezing temps but never hail.

We started off slow, two over after five holes, but got it back to two under through eleven then the wheels came off. We bogied four out of the last six holes with a birdie thrown in and finished one over for the tournament. It was a combination swing malfunctions, tentative putts, and not believing in himself and his golf swing. He was visibly frustrated, stormed off a couple of tee boxes mumbling and tensed up, not allowing his naturally fluid golf swing a chance to create a few birdies.

I’ve seen a lot worse behavior on the course and never expected a call from Jim later apologizing for his minor tantrums. Another first in my career, no pro has ever called with an apology, and we had a long talk about Jim’s potential. The gist of the conversation centered on his attitude and not having any fear on the course because his game is good enough to compete with anyone out here. After the round pep talks are a lot more effective than those fabricated proddings during the heat of the battle.

The apology was appreciated but not necessary and our talk cleared the air a bit. Jim came out Sunday ready to hit driver on every tee and his aggressive putting stroke produced some birdies. He fired a 68 but more importantly realized he belongs out here. Sitting in the parking lot discussing the week Jim realized one shot a round would have moved us close to top ten, and most importantly he knows he can do it, I could see it in his eyes.

Two weeks off and then down to the Dominican Republic with Jim. I did get a call from my old boss, Doug Tewell. He’s coming out of retirement for the Legends in Savannah, GA and maybe a few other tournaments. Maybe I’ll do some bouncing around later this year; it’s nice to have options.

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