Sun shines and wind stays away as Memorial’s Indian sign seems to have been lifted
Native American curse vanishes at Muirfield Village leading to a relaxed weekend and a tribute to Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam (L) poses with Jack and Barbara Nicklaus following the memorial induction ceremony prior to the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
There were some exceptional moments last week in Muirfield Village golf club in Dublin Ohio at the Memorial tournament. In recent history it is the first time in 20 years that the event has not been hampered by the weather in the form of rain and thunderstorms.
For some reason the hallowed ground of Jack Nicklaus’s course in his place of birth has been jinxed with bad weather. Local folklore has it that as the course is built near an Indian burial ground, the spirits are not happy about the lack of respect that white man has shown to the natives.
The tale was recounted to me by an elderly local resident about Leatherlips, a Wyandotte Indian who was killed over loyalty he showed to his white friend. The scene of the murder was on the other side of the Scioto River to Muirfield Village. But the weather has been consistently bad enough over the 40 years of tournament history here to warrant those closest to the event paying some heed to bad Indian spirits.
After 11 out of the first 18 Memorial events being rain delayed and 1993 being the fourth straight year, Jack Nicklaus’s wife Barbara decided to try to placate the Indian spirits. Barbara was told that leaving a glass of gin under a tree beside the current driving range was a way of mollifying old Leatherlips and would surely keep the rain away from the weather doomed event. She did and it didn’t.
I assume the Indians had a reprieve on their golf spell this year to allow us enjoy a week of uninterrupted sunshine and a gentle breeze for the entirety of the four rounds. The phenomenon was the talk of the locker room and caddie shack.
On a personal level I got to share a rare moment of intimacy and camaraderie in the half way house to the side of the ninth green. The pavilion, which is set on a lake, has got to be Jack’s architectural memento of his experience in Japan. With the subtle Asian influence and even the school of lapping carp beneath us, our impromptu lunch on the terrace of the pavilion was one of the more enjoyable moments I have shared with a player on tour in America.
Traditionally life on tour in the States is quite a segregated affair with players being most definitely isolated from their bagmen beyond the range and course. It is, after some years of resistance, probably a good thing for all concerned that we get some respite from each other during the long days that we tend to spend with each other at an event.
It has been a special feature at Muirfield Village that players and caddies can eat in the half way house when they like. As we completed our first round on Thursday at around lunch-time and the scoring room for the front nine finishers was based in the pavilion it was convenient for us all to share a light lunch in an unusually relaxed manner on the deck of the half-way house.
My player Ernie Els had shot a good opening round of two under par. Players are always more open to conversation after a decent round. Doug Ferguson, the ever present Associated Press journalist, Ernie’s father, his manager and I got to impart our views on certain players and the way their careers were going. Despite journalistic presence it was a frank and open conversation that was held in total confidence. As the carp flapped for our lunch scraps and the light breeze made the sunshine more bearable we shared one of those rare sociable moments on the US tour that reaffirmed my feeling of belonging to something unique.
Of course Jack Nicklaus’s prestigious event is more than a just a time for the Indian spirits to get agitated. Held on the week after the Memorial weekend where fallen heroes of war and service are remembered, there is an annual ceremony to pay tribute to golfing heroes, most of them still living. This year it was the most successful female golfer ever, Annika Sorenstam’s turn to be immortalised in the Muirfield Village Memorial garden.
Annika won 89 times including 10 Majors in her relatively short 15- year career. Beginning as a shy and retiring young Swedish golfer who thought it was enough for her clubs to be her voice, she matured into a golfing legend and a vociferous ambassador for the game.
In a game that has very much moved with the times of instant gratification the Memorial garden is a haven for those who appreciate the understated and graceful nature of the game. In its leafy setting between the clubhouse and the first fairway it lures you with its subtle and tranquil charm. The bronze etchings of the inductees and short list of their achievements and personalities are befitting of the decorum of this golfing temple.
Let’s hope that the spirits in the memorial garden never get together with old Leatherlips or we may never complete a four round event at Muirfield Village ever again. The Memorial is an exceptional event on tour, this year even more so for its memorable good weather.