It’s still the greatest 4-wood shot I’ve ever witnessed. After a down-the-middle drive on the par five eighth hole in the Doral Open, Gary Player squinted in the dewy distance at a narrow green, guarded in front by a huge lake. Out came the 4-wood – real wood in those days, not metal – and Player started the back swing, his body coiled like a rubber band twisted in knots, the muscles in his forearm as hard as rebar.
The ball shot from the club head as if propelled by gunpowder, rocketing skyward toward the distant flagstick until it nestled six feet from the hole. The gallery ooh-ed and ah-ed, particularly a certain 16-year-old lad who would be writing about that shot 40 years later.
First played in 1962 with a purse of $50,000, the Doral Open operated until the WGC-CA Championship took its spot on the schedule in 2007, but the Dick Wilson-designed “TPC Blue Monster” remains an epic battlefield that’s seen more duels than the Coliseum, albeit with gentler forms of clubs. Past champs include Jack Nicklaus, Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. Billy Casper won $9,000 for his victory in ’62 while Els's winning check was $1.4 million.
I even once played in a Doral Pro-Am with the legendary Sam Snead. At one point Sam removed his hat, his baldness gleaming like a new trailer hitch ball. Noting my astonishment, Sam snarled, “Even the top of my head looks better than your face, kid.”
Colorful history aside, the new days of Doral look rosy.