Who, What, Where, Now!
The Longest Putt: the 2012 Ketchum Wide Open
Before anyone could even say “Roosevelt,” the Ketchum Wide Open stole my putter. Now the only memento I have from the day is a foggy memory of a wild bar crawl and a few thoughts on the tourney’s enduring greatness.
I now realize is that the trick to winning the Open, which turned an incredible 29 years old this year, is balancing the game. See, half the tournament is a legitimate, two person mini-golf game, in which you and a partner need a putter, a ball and a scorecard. The other half is a semi-legitimate drinking game. Hence my fogginess (and the missing putter). Saturday’s winning team, whose name is hilariously unsuitable to print, had to balance both like champions, as sobriety was technically a handicap. Since the 10 holes were all watering holes (the hosts included Grumpy’s, Lefty’s, The Casino, The Roosevelt Grille, Smoky Mountain Pizza, Rico’s, The Cornerstone, Whiskey’s, The Sawtooth Club and The Cellar Pub) buying drinks was rewarded. Chug a beer from the funnel at Rico’s, take a stroke off. Shotgun a Natty Light at Grumpy’s, take a stroke off. Very official stuff. But for one day a year that’s just how golf is played in our quiet community.
Although this was my first exposure to Ketchum-style golf, in which prizes were awarded for everything from best costume to farthest traveled (Vermont!), I wholeheartedly approve. Why? Golf is already a crazy sport. Think about it: somebody cuts a huge swath of grass, puts a deviously small target at one end, adds a requisite amount of sand/water features to make finding the hole both difficult and discouraging, and then watches as groups of well-dressed competitors pour from the clubhouse. Forgetting that golf is stupid hard, these men and women of poise are cheerful and optimistic. But as they chase their balls into the woods after that first drive, those grins disappear. For the next nine holes, at least, they’ll be slicing and cursing, slicing and cursing. Happy Gilmore, screaming at his own pock-marked friend, nailed the sentiment: “Why you don't you just go HOME? That's your HOME! Are you too good for your HOME?”
Behind golf’s polish is an absurdly difficult goal, and one that regularly throws mild-mannered weekend warriors into fits of rage (i.e. my dad, your dad, everyone’s dad). You want me to put this tiny ball in a tiny cup that is hundreds of yards away?! Okay ... combined with golf’s poised stereotype, this task creates an atmosphere of palpable intensity. By the time you arrive at the pin, after all that build up, emotions are teetering. Double-bogey the hole and there could be trouble. Triple-bogey it and the green’s getting some divots. Thankfully, though, what really sends golfers postal is the most favorable outcome: sinking the long putt. I just pumped my fist thinking about. To have guided the ball over every booby trap and then to watch it --- Can it? Will it?? --- find the cup on its last legs ... there’s just something so inherently jubilant and satisfying about it. If the green is where the game’s intensity climaxes, then sinking the long putt is about as good as it gets.
Personally, this is why I think the game of mini-golf was invented, and why the Ketchum Wide Open held my attention hole after hole. Basically, putting is where the magic happens. So why not get rid of all the crap that crushes our spirits beforehand? Or at least make everything smaller? Then put a drink in my hand. That way, even if I do triple-bogey Lefty’s tubular insanity, I wasn’t forced to walk head down for three hundred yards to do so. And I had a drink in my hand.
Mini-golf is a microcosm of its parent, so scaled down that it’s almost entirely trivial. Yet therein lies the Open’s greatness: the long putt, the most celebrated of golf shots, is really the only thing that matters. Every hole is just another window to be the man with the golden putter, the Ketchum champion. Mini-golf is a crazy sport not because it pushes players in collared shirts to emotional breakdowns, but because its size ensures that everyone can sink the long putt. And if they miss it, who cares? On Saturday, you could always buy another drink and get your score dropped anyway (and, at the very least, take the edge off).
So whether you’re a golfer or not, the Ketchum Wide Open is not to be missed. The event turns 30 next year and plans are already being made for a blowout. Needless to say, it’s going to be John Daly big. Thanks to all the bar owners and employees for an impressive nine holes, the badass drinks specials and putting up with more weirdos than usual!