By Josh Sens
We golfers are a famously self-punishing lot, keen to wallow in our own misfortunes, to revel in the memory of our rotten luck.
Masochism comes so naturally to us that it’s easy to forget: there’s always someone out there who’s got it worse.
I say this as a segue into the mention of Craig Wood, who took his share of lumps during his career, with an agonizing five second-place showings in majors. Compared to him, Greg Norman had a horseshoe up his you-know-what.
It’s not just the fact of Wood’s narrow losses. It’s the manner in which he fell.
At the 1933 British Open, he lost in a playoff at St. Andrews after nuking a drive that flew so far it wound up plunking into the Swilcan Burn.
In ’34, Wood became the bridesmaid at Augusta when Horton Smith drained two long putts on the final holes to triumph by a single shot. Later that season, more foul fortune: Wood lost in a playoff at the PGA Championship to a former assistant pro.
But his most famous defeat came in ’35, when he led the Masters in the final round only to be tied improbably on Sunday by Gene Sarazen and his double-eagle: the shot heard 'round the world.
The Squire won in a playoff the next day.
Like a lot of golfers, I’ve been consumed for so long with my own troubles that I’d never paid much heed to Wood’s frustrations.
But there his name appeared, shouting out to me this past week in an unlikely forum: a non-golf-related article in the New York Times.
The piece focused on the writer Gilbert King, who, it just so happens, was playing golf in Florida earlier this month when he learned he’d been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America.
The book is the true tale of true misfortune: it recounts the story of four black men who were falsely accused of raping a young white women in 1949.
Reading the Times piece, I also learned that King had written recently about Craig Wood, whom King describes as “the unluckiest golfer of all time.” If you haven’t seen that article, it’s worth a look.
Among the indignities King’s article describes is how Wood, at Augusta in ’35, was safely in the clubhouse after his Sunday round, his name already written on the winner’s check, when Sarazen carded his historic deuce.
If Wood was ever bitter, he never showed it.
And even if he was, golf doesn’t have him to kick around anymore. Wood died in 1968, a final misfortune that came a few months shy of his 67th birthday.
For all its dark fringes, I liked reading Wood’s story: feeling sorry for him was a welcome distraction from my own self-pity.
I recommend it, next time you’re feeling a bit woe-is-me.
Photo: Craig Wood in 1954 (Time/Life Pictures).