Viewers of thisweek's U.S. Women's Open will be impressed by the 18th hole, which rises likean exclamation point toward the Newport Country Club's landmark yellowclubhouse. A stout, 448-yard par-4 with a sandy maw bisecting the fairway and agreen perched on the edge of the hill, the hole will punctuate the finale withzest.
But the ascent upthe finishing fairway won't be a climb up Newport's number 18. The USGA hasreversed the routing, so the hike's actually up number 9. I should know itsnumber. The hole certainly has mine.
I admit to lovingthis hole shamelessly and have since the day we met, in the early 1990s,shortly after I fell for a woman whose mother went into labor with her whilescaling its slope. Across the next decade the relationship between me andnumber 9 only grew deeper.
Playing Newportregularly with my better half's uncle--a tall, courtly man who had beennavigating its privileged sward for 60-plus years (14 as club president)--I wasawed by his command of every hump and bump. Members' bounces? Uncle Guy's weremystical. When he brandished his ancient Bulls Eye putter, the rub of the greenrarely rubbed him the wrong way. The course captivated him, every hole anarrative layered in lore he adored passing on. And number 9 was where the plotthickened.
July 2, 2006
Like the time hepointed to a distant cottage and said, "Aim for Jackie's window." Forit was the former First Lady's childhood bedroom at Hammersmith Farm thatmarked the ideal driving line. There was also his revelation that the forestbedeviling me to the right of the fairway was planted the summer he turned six;its purpose was to deter Newport's pre-jet-set crowd from turning the fairwaysinto runways.
Uncle Guymeasured his golfing life against this hole. Approaching 80, he resignedhimself to negotiating its cross bunker in two. Yet he wasn't too old (orcourtly) to squeal when I yipped an unconceded gimme for par. Despite myadmiration, my ongoing struggle with the hole became a story. After a match, noone asked who had won, only how I had butchered number 9 this time.
In August 2004Uncle Guy, sapped by chemotherapy, rallied for a daily nine when his niece andI visited. During our last match--the final round of his life--he curled in asnake on number 9, then handed me his Bulls Eye. I drained a 12-footer. I'm notsure which of us was more stunned. "A par," he said at last, nodding."I've seen everything. I can go."
He did, threemonths later. On my first round at Newport last summer, I carried his BullsEye, using it only once, on the 9th, to convert a six-footer for par. The clubhas hung in my office ever since, but I'm bringing the Bulls Eye to the Open,ladies, and it's available for use on No. 9. We'll be easy to find. Just aimfor Jackie's window.
GOLF PLUS willnext appear in the July 18 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
by JAMES P. HERRE
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