Wait until Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh see that Charles Howell III shot a course-record 61 in the Booz Allen Classic. They may break out in hives or turn bright green with envy. Serves them right.
You should have come to Washington, guys. All the fellows who came here after their nerves and putting strokes were frazzled Sunday at the U.S. Open are fixed and happy now.
On Sunday night at Shinnecock Hills after 37 players shot 79 or worse, the clubhouse was full of superstars who said they needed to hit the booze. Turns out they just misspelled it. They should have come to the Booz.
Just four days ago, Howell shot 83 at Shinnecock. He was devastated with disappointment, his confidence in tatters after playing a course whose setup he called "laughable." Now, after taking the healing waters of Avenel, his golf game is whole again, and he's the one who's laughing. "I don't reckon I've ever had a 22-shot swing between two rounds," said Howell, an Augusta, Ga., native.
Shucks, that's nothing. Billy Mayfair had an 89 the last day at Shinnecock. He had a 66 on Thursday, 23 shots better. J.J. Henry had a nasty weekend in New York: 86-76. Now, after a 68 at Avenel, he feels so much better. The Beltway is choked with grinning golfers, such as Adam Scott (66) and Aaron Baddeley (67), who missed the Open cut.
They should rename this course TPC at Valium.
In merely one day at Avenel, more golfers were cured than at a dozen tent revivals. Only one player out of 155 shot higher than 79 here (and his identity will remain confidential because he has won two U.S. Opens and his first name is Lee). Nobody broke par the last day at Shinnecock, but 76 did at Avenel. Don't tell Eldrick Woods. Tigers shouldn't cry.
Maybe the genius superstars of the sport should have planned better.
"I think it's a great idea to play here the week after that," Howell said. "I would not want to go home and think about it. I'd want to forget about it."
Els (80), Garcia (80), Singh (77-78) still have their awful memories. But you better believe Howell has already ditched his nightmares. Eight birdies and two eagles will soothe the nerves. If Howell had not made two bogeys, probably an after-effect of the Shinnecock Shakes, he would have shot a 59.
Actually, it's probably lucky the entire Open field wasn't here. There might have been five 59s and three 58s.
At Shinnecock on Sunday, Howell three-putted six times and four-putted once. "Two of the third putts were 15-footers or I'd have four-putted three times," Howell said. "Bo Van Pelt told me he six-putted the fourth green."
So, how did the greens at Avenel treat you, III? "I've never sunk 130-feet of birdie putts before," Howell said.
The cups were actually regulation size in this first Booz round. Though to Rich Beem and Olin Browne, tied for second after shooting 64s, the hole must have looked as big as a bathtub. "I thought I was going to make everything I looked at," said Beem, who missed the Open cut. "You know you won't, but that's how it felt."
"The whole problem at Shinnecock was the greens," Howell said. "You had to aim away from the flag on some 40-yard chip shots. Here, you could go at the flag with a 4-iron."
Throughout its 17 years as a Tour stop, Avenel has usually been considered middle-of-the-pack for difficulty, certainly not an easy birdie track. Though scoring conditions were ideal in this first round with no wind and greens softened by rain this week, there have been many similar days in the past.
Howell's performance, though, was unique and memorable. Unfortunately, few will actually remember seeing it. Howell played his last eight holes in 8 under by making eight consecutive threes. That's 3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3, for the rest of us who will never see it on our scorecards.
"I don't think I've had eight threes in a row on a par-3 course. Certainly not on a real course. It's the lowest round I've ever had in competition at any level," said Howell, who once shot an 8-under-par 62 on Tour.
However, fewer than 100 fans watched his final hole (No. 9) in his record-breaking round. As he walked to the tee, the idea "flashed through my mind" that a hole-in-one would make him the fourth player in PGA history to shoot a 59 on Tour. "But you look at the [small] size of that green," Howell said, "and the thought is fleeting."
By the time he finished his final par for 61, the crowd was perhaps 200 and dozens were aware enough of the situation to whoop as well as merely cheer. Howell raised his putter, then his hat, in recognition.
"It was a day when everything tends to work. The best thing you can do is get out of the way and let it flow," Howell said. "It's very strange. . . . It's just a feeling that no matter what you ultimately are deciding to do with any shot -- and with a putt, the way you see it breaking -- no matter what happens you have a feeling that you can't do anything wrong. How to recreate that is the $64,000 question."
Ironically, this sensation was the exact opposite of the one Howell had Sunday, when he began in 13th place but discovered that, for one day, every decision was usually the wrong one. "Of all the things I could have imagined since I started playing golf and thinking [about a major championship], never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would tee off on Sunday at 2 o'clock and have it end up laughable," Howell said.
"The USGA did a poor job. The ultimate feeling was disappointment. I guess Tom Meeks [the retiring USGA official who set up the course] wanted to go out with a bang."
Almost all the biggest stars in golf looked at their schedules and decided the smart move was to play the Booz Allen next year when it will be played at brutal Congressional Country Club the week before the U.S. Open.
Great idea, guys. Get your brains beaten out by one of the longest, toughest courses in America, then go to Pinehurst to see if you can withstand the same stress for a second week in a row for a national championship.
The golfers who look truly smart this week are the Shinnecock Survivors who have banded together here on a fair and well-conditioned course of medium difficulty to restore their faith in themselves and the sanity of their sport.
On Sunday, one player at Shinnecock Hills could look at his scorecard and claim he'd matched par. At Avenel, 91 players could make that boast. You can bet, like Howell, they were ready to hoist a toast to the Booz.