The last time I was allowed into super swanky and super stealthy Shadow Creek Golf Course was almost two years ago. It was the forgettable day after Thanksgiving when superstars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson turned the mystical emerald fairways and greens into a mine field.
Fittingly, the made-for-TV match during which almost nothing worked — including the technical hookup for the pay-per-view broadcast that failed more miserably that the players’ irons and putters — was decided in the darkness of sudden death. It took four trips over a makeshift 93-yard hole essentially drawn up on a cocktail napkin before Phil was declared the winner.
As guest commentator Charles Barkley famously said as Tiger and Phil hacked away on match-play shots before the portable generators were turned on: “This is some crappy golf. Y’all know that.”
To use Chuck’s vernacular, the golf at Sunday’s CJ Cup at Shadow Creek was a lot less crappy.
Jason Kokrak shot 64 to finish 20-under for the tournament and defeat playing partner and second-round leader Xander Schauffele by two strokes.
These were names far less familiar than those of Tiger and Phil. And in the case of the runner-up, much more difficult to pronounce.
What’s in a name
About the time he started hitting the golf ball long and straight and his putts firm and true, Schauffele made a video about the way people had mispronounced his name.
It’s pronounced Shaw-flea. Zander Shaw-flea.
With four PGA Tour wins and a fifth-place finish at the recent U.S. Open, golf fans are starting to say his name more often.
Even if they don’t always say it correctly.
Kokrak (pronunciation: Coke-rack), on the other hand, was winless in roughly 235 starts on tour. But he did not speak of finally getting a large monkey or bogey man off his broad back and shoulders.
As a host for MGM Resorts, the 35-year-old journeyman estimates he has played Shadow Creek more than 25 times. I’m guessing that may place him among the leaders in its classic green and white clapboard clubhouse although, like most things about Shadow Creek, the identity of the golfer who has played the most rounds there is either unknown or a well-kept secret.
A decade of no regrets
“Ten years out here. If you said at the beginning of my career that you weren’t going to win but you’d have 10 straight years on the PGA Tour, I’d be more than happy with that,” Kokrak said after signing his scorecard.
No, this wasn’t Tiger vs. Phil, not that the final round and the tournament in general didn’t offer some weirdness of its own.
For starters, it was played 6,190 miles from its home on Jeju Island in South Korea.
Many pro sports events have been canceled because of the pandemic virus. But this was one that happened because of it.
If you think thousands of golf fans swilling mass quantities of Michelob Ultra would have been allowed to tread upon the pristine grounds of Shadow Creek with their big feet in a nonvirus year, you may have been the one who pronounced Schauffele as “Shovel.”
While the first three CJ Cup winners — Justin Thomas (twice) and Brooks Koepka — were former No. 1 ranked players, none of the household names were able to make a charge Sunday. Jason Day, world No. 1 in 2015, started the day five shots back but withdrew shortly after making triple bogey on the first hole with an apparent neck injury.
That left Kokrak and Schauffele to decide it among themselves. And by themselves. After Day’s early departure, Schauffele said the contenders played slowly by design.
The deliberate pace gave Schauffele a better look at Kokrak’s majestic drives amid emerald fairways and panoramic vistas.
“He beats the crap out of it,” the runner-up said of the champion, and though he didn’t add “y’all know that” like Charles Barkley did after watching Tiger and Phil become mystified by the mystical links of Shadow Creek, we all knew it.