John Deere holds sway for Louis Oosthuizen
The record books surely don't document such a thing, and the memory clearly is not good to sift through the clutter. So it's possible -- but highly unlikely -- we missed something.
In what likely is a first, a defending British Open champion elected to play this week in America so he could tour a John Deere facility and drive a tractor.
"It was a big dream for me,'' Louis Oosthuizen said.
The reigning Open champion grew up on a farm in South Africa and even bought himself a tractor last summer after winning the Open at St. Andrews. So for him, a visit to a small town in Illinois for the John Deere Classic is really something special.
"Since I was a little boy, my dad loved John Deere, and I always imagined myself driving one,'' he said Tuesday. "That dream came true last year; after the Open I decided to buy one. I'll tell you what, when I walked away today, my manager said he wants my credit card because 'you're not buying anything.' But it was just great to see everything, and yeah, I'm very tempted.''
Oosthuizen admitted it was a tough decision to play the week prior to his Open defense at Royal St. George's, which is six time zones away. He actually struggled with what to do, wanting very much to visit the John Deere headquarters and play the tournament while wrestling with the idea that his game might be better served to head to Europe early.
Making the call easier was the fact that for the fourth year, the John Deere Classic has chartered a plane that will leave from Moline, Ill., on Sunday night and head straight to England. No worries about lost luggage, connections or flight delays.
Then there was the matter of playing both the PGA Tour and European Tour. Oosthuizen is a member of both and, because he withdrew from the Memorial last month, figured he needed to add a tournament.
Throw in the fact that he wanted to play the week prior to the Open, and you found a South African British Open champion skipping this week's Scottish Open to test tractors in Illinois the week before the third major of the year.
"You're going to play in perfect weather over here,'' he said." In Scotland you can get not great weather, and I just felt -- I'd rather have proper week where I can play and work a bit on my game. I've known links golf quite a while, and I didn't feel that it was too necessary to play a links golf course before the Open.
"So I think if the guys that play over in Scotland, they definitely have a little bit more of an advantage playing a golf course like that before Royal St. Georges, but to me it's a lot to do with the numbers, getting the numbers up for the year.''
Bubba and Paris
Bubba Watson understandably took a lot of grief last week when he was less than gracious at the French Open, complained about fans and lack of security and showed a lack of knowledge for some of the more iconic tourist destinations.
Not everyone should be expected to know everything there is to know about France, but sometimes it can be all about the delivery. Watson, for instance, came off poorly when he didn't properly refer to the Eiffel Tower. And yet, Boo Weekley, who also is from Northwest Florida, came off as a friendly outsider a few years ago when he made his first trip to the British Open.
"It's different eating here than it is at the house,'' Boo said. "Ain't got no sweet tea, and ain't got no fried chicken.''
Boo went on to say there was no way he would get behind the wheel of a car and operate it on the left side of the road in Britain. "I ain't drivin' nowhere,'' he said.
For Weekley, it wasn't complaining, and it came off as humorous. For Watson, who has emerged as one of America's best players, he made himself look foolish.
In a form of irony, it wasn't long ago that British agent Chubby Chandler, who has gotten good at tweaking Americans for their lack of scheduling diversity, lauded Watson for signing up for the French. He said it was a good thing, that he'd see the world and his golf would improve. But after a couple of 74s and complaining of being homesick, Watson isn't even a lock to follow through on a commitment to play the Scandinavian Masters the week following the British Open.
What's particularly troublesome is that Watson was not going up against the strongest of fields. He was one of the highest-ranked player to tee it up and the only player among the top 20. And he couldn't even make the cut, letting small nuisances bother him.
The view here has always been that American golfers have good reason to play their home circuit and not travel. Although the PGA Tour is often criticized for its lack of diversity of venues, it is hard to see how playing in some of the far-flung locales of the European Tour is of much benefit when you have big purses and plenty of choices at home.
Still, in what has truly become a global game, players are lauded for seeing the world and trying new places (while collecting appearance fees or honoring sponsor contracts). And yet, Watson goes to France from having just played the U.S. Open and the Travelers, was to head home and then go back to Europe for the British Open and the Scandinavian Masters? No wonder he was in a lousy mood.
Watson has since apologized.
Yani and Annika
It was 16 years ago that Annika Sorenstam won her first LPGA Tour title. Back then, she was a shy Swede who let it be known that growing up in Sweden, she sometimes tanked tournaments to avoid an acceptance speech. Her victory in 1995 at the U.S. Women's Open set her on a path toward the LPGA Hall of Fame and came at the Broadmoor in Colorado, where the Open returns this week.
And where many eyes will be on Yani Tseng. At age 22, Tseng has already won four majors -- two years before Sorenstam won her first. Nobody is suggesting that Tseng is going to go on to win 72 tour titles, but she might. And certainly you have to think that Sorenstam's haul of 10 major titles is a real possibility.
It was just two weeks ago that Tseng won the LPGA Championship by 10 strokes. It was her third LPGA victory of the year and fifth worldwide. And were it not for an unusual lapse in judgment -- Tseng tempted karma by holding the trophy before teeing off in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship -- we could be talking about her achieving a Grand Slam.
As it is, the U.S. Women's Open would help her gain a career slam, which is no small feat. And a fifth major by age 22? Would anybody be surprised?
… what Tiger Woods will do if he really does want to get some significant golf played the rest of this year. Because of his position in the FedEx Cup standings -- 116th and dropping -- he is not guaranteed of any tournament spots beyond the PGA Championship, unless he elects to tee it up in Greensboro, N.C., the following week. Then it's the top 125 headed to the Barclays, followed by the top 100 to the Deutsche Bank, top 70 to the BMW and top 30 to the Tour Championship.
Then comes four Fall Series events. Two of them he won in a long-ago era: Las Vegas and Disney. Would he enter either of those?
If not, surely European Tour events would open their arms. How about the Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews, the home of golf, in late September? Or the Valderrama Masters, where in 1999 he won a WGC event?
If healthy, Woods would seem a good bet for the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, which is two weeks prior to the Presidents Cup in Australia. Would captain Fred Couples pick him?
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Nick Watney. A bogey-free final round helped Watney win for the second time this year and pushed him to No. 10 in the world, giving American golf a nice boost.
2. Patrick Cantlay. What a run it has been for the UCLA freshman. In three consecutive starts on the PGA Tour, he was low amateur at the U.S. Open, shot 60 at the Travelers Championship and then made a third straight cut at the AT&T National.
3. Charles Howell III. It wasn't good enough for a victory, but Howell's closing 66 at Aronimink moved him up to a tie for third, which punched his ticket to the British Open.
1. Rickie Fowler. He's only 22, but he's shown an inability to close the deal when it comes to winning -- as was the case at the AT&T.
2. The Bob Hope Classic. Now known as the Humana Challenge, the inevitable has occurred with the entertainer's name being dropped from the event it had been part of since 1965.3. Bubba Watson. Among his French transgressions: refusing to share a ride in a courtesy car to the course with another player.
• This week's new Scottish Open venue, Castle Stuart, is getting rave reviews. Hailed by many as the best course built in Britain since World War II, it is a links that will far better approximate conditions at next week's British Open. The tournament had been played at inland Loch Lomond for the past 14 years.
• Both the John Deere Classic and the Scottish Open are offering a spot in the British Open to the highest finisher among the top five not already exempt.
• For the fourth straight year, the John Deere Classic has chartered a plane that will have all first-class seats and take participants in the tournament on a nonstop flight to England leaving Sunday night. More than 20 players are expected to take the tournament up on the offer for a $1,250-per seat donation to the tournament charities. Players are allowed three guests and the plane lands 6 miles from Royal St. George's.
• Jim Furyk is having a rough time as reigning FedEx Cup champion. He missed the cut at the AT&T National, his fourth straight and five out of six.
• Martin Kaymer's fourth-place finish at the French Open moved him back to No. 3 in the world ahead of Rory McIlroy and behind Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
• Former U.S. Women's Open champion Betsy King, 55, a Hall of Famer, came out of retirement and qualified for this week's tournament. She has not played on the tour since 2005.
Catching up with '10 champ
On the same day that Paul Goydos made history at the John Deere Classic last year in the first round by shooting 59, Steve Stricker came in at 60 and went on to win the tournament for the second straight year. It was his second victory of 2010 and ninth of his career, and it helped lead to one of his best seasons, as he earned more than $4.1 million and finished fifth in the final FedEx Cup standings.
Stricker has continued to play well this year, extending his tour-leading streak to 34 consecutive cuts made when he tied for 19th at the U.S. Open. Prior to that, Stricker won his 10th tour title, capturing the Memorial Tournament. So far this year, Stricker has four top-10 finishes and has earned more than $2.5 million, ranking 12th in the FedEx Cup standings.