The Match: Greg Norman and Marvin R. Shanken vs. Raymond Floyd and Rush Limbaugh
The Track: Old Palm Golf Club, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
The Weather: Mid-80s, one-club wind
The Prize: A case of first-growth Bordeaux, 2000 vintage
This was a match made in heaven. Two giant former PGA Tour professionals playing along with two amateurs (18 handicappers). In my mind our opponents had an edge, as Old Palm, a magnificent two-year-old course, is the home course of Raymond Floyd. He also is the course architect. Raymond, 64, has been playing fairly regularly on the Champions Tour this year and doing quite well. Greg, 52, my partner (the lucky guy!) has pretty much given up playing golf for a living. Rather, he is busy designing golf courses in places like Dubai, Vietnam, Russia and Jordan, among others. Rush and I were pretty evenly matched, both having the same handicap. Over the last few years we have played together in Puerto Rico and California. My recollection was he hits a much longer ball, but I had a better short game.
What I didn't know was that Rush was now playing a minimum of twice a week in Florida and has had many lessons to sharpen his game. And sharpen it he did!
The group met the night before the match—a casual dinner at Rush's home in Palm Beach. Since we all love wine, Rush pulled out all the stops by serving a 2000 Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti and a 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild as aperitif wines. For dinner, he served a 1961 Château Haut Brion and a 1947 Château Petrus. Not bad for a casual get-together!
During dinner we talked about the toughest golf courses (Shinnecock), golf course design, the Don Imus affair, and who will be the next president of the United States. Rush and I listened while Greg and Raymond shared stories about their golf-world life experiences. It turns out they have been golfing buddies for about 25 years. Thus they had lots of interesting tales to tell. We had lots of good laughs.
After dinner, Rush and I enjoyed cigars from his walk-in humidor. We tried to get Raymond and Greg to join us, but they weren't interested. Thank you, Rush, for hosting such a great evening!
We arrived on Monday morning, April 30, at Old Palm about 8 a.m. and met for breakfast. No one admitted to having a hangover from the night before, but we were not having our blood tested!
Over breakfast it was agreed that Rush and I would get one stroke a hole. Greg and Raymond would play straight up on the Gold tees (6,810 yards), and Rush and I the Blue tees (6,215 yards). The purse was also finalized. If Greg and I won, Rush would deliver to Greg a case of first-growth Bordeaux from 2000. If they won, I would ship a case to Raymond.
We moved to the first tee and Raymond threw a tee in the air. The tee landed directly aimed at him. They had the honors. We were off.
Things started off a little shaky for our team. Greg drove his first drive into a trap 100 yards from the flag of a par-4, 391-yard hole. Raymond and Rush were there in two. Greg and I were both just off the green, but neither of us was able to get up and down. Raymond parred the hole. Rush made a bogie. After one hole they were one up.
The second hole was a beautiful par 3, 188 yards, with a slightly elevated green. We were all on the green with our tee shots. Greg was away. Amazingly, he sank a 45-foot putt for a birdie. I walked it off because I couldn't believe it. The rest of us parred the hole, but since Rush gets a stroke on every hole (as I do), Greg's birdie didn't win the hole. I was devastated. We were still down one after two holes. Was this an indication of things to come?
We "pushed" on holes three and four. On the fifth hole, a par 4, Rush scored a spectacular natural birdie and won the hole outright. We were now down two and the pressure was on. We pushed 5, 6 and 7. On the eighth hole, Raymond won with a par. And on the ninth, Rush shot a par on a par five, plus one stroke for a net of four. They won the front nine four up!
I now realized that we were in an impossible situation. Rush shot an amazing 41 on the front.
Greg and Raymond each shot a very legitimate 36. I was out of it with a bloated 48. With Rush playing lights out and getting nine strokes a side, Greg would have to break the course record for us to contend. I was absolutely no help to Greg. I felt terrible!
On the back nine, the wind kicked up quite a bit and we were about to face some very difficult water holes. Raymond won the long par-4 10th with a par and we held them off until Raymond won the 16th.
They were ham and egging supreme! Greg pointed out that he had never before played in a match, in his entire career, when he didn't have honors off the tee at least once. My heart sank. I was embarrassed. Humiliated. Defeated. Greg birdied the par-5 17th. Thank God! We now had the tee box for the very first time, on 18. If we won the hole, we would be even on the backside. The Shotmaker (at least that was my nickname) reached the green in three, or net two. If I two-putted the hole we would win the 18th hole. Alas, it wasn't my day. Any golfer knows what I'm talking about.
But at least we did push on 18. The results were humbling:
Raymond Floyd 36-37 -- 73
Rush Limbaugh 41-47 -- 88
Greg Norman 36-38 -- 74
Marvin R. Shanken 48-50 -- 98
|Marvin R. Shanken|
We all shook hands and had a good laugh. Ray and Rush were a formidable team to play against.
And Greg Norman, what can I say? A super guy who showed great sportsmanship playing with an amateur golfer who only dreams of playing well in matches like this.
Inside, I was sad that I (The Shotmaker!) did not show up this day and help my partner. But what does Greg say to me when it's over? "Marvin, that was great fun. Let's do it again."
Greg, in my book, they don't come any classier.
Until next time,
Your weekend golfer friend,
P.S.: Over lunch, Raymond slipped me a card with his summer home address in Southampton. He said, "You can ship the wine there anytime after June 6th." As far as I'm concerned, it was well worth it to play with the likes of Raymond, Rush and Greg.
Photos by Lucien Capehart