How to best describe what happened last Sunday at Bellerive. Maybe an analogy can get the job done.
Imagine that instead of the Senior PGA Championship you were at the Brickyard for the Indy 500. All day the race had been everything you expected. The leaders were the favorites and they had been trading places through the 500 miles. Even the German driver, who had engine trouble at the start of the race, was back in tune and turning pole sitter laps.
The white flag dropped for the final lap and it came down to the two favorites with a sprint to the finish line. Then on the back of the oval both drivers got a little loose. Coming into the final turn they both lost control and careened into the wall. Debris was flying everywhere and through the chaos a driver in a four door Toyota Celica emerged to take the checkered flag. Ladies and Gentlemen the winner of the 2013 Indy, uh, Senior PGA Championship, Kohki Idoki.
Let’s be clear about the win. It was a great performance. Idoki improved every day at Bellerive (71-69-68-65). He birdied his first hole and never was out of red numbers for the remainder of the week. His closing 65 was the second lowest final round score by a winner in the 74-year history of the event. He tied for the tourney lead in birdies and total putts. He had all the necessary ingredients to be the champion he became.
Having said that I would suggest his win was the most anonymous win by a player in a major that perhaps the game has ever seen. Sure Roger Chapman’s win a year earlier was as unlikely, but Chapman had been a part of the tournament conversation all four days. He had visited with the press to detail his story leading up to his dominant win. Idoki was a name on the leaderboard few considered and no one investigated.
How much of an unknown was Idoki in the Championship picture? The media guide included only one short paragraph about him, citing two professional wins in Japan before he turned 50 and adding he was “powerfully built for his size.” How unknown? The day after his win a search of Google produced the first thirteen pages only identifying him in light of his Sunday win. When Google doesn’t know about you, that’s anonymity. The only thing we knew about Kohki Idoki was his ‘Mighty Mouse’ description and his parents seemed to have a talent for rhyming.
When the final putts dropped the guy climbing out of the Toyota was un-researchable. NBC’s Jimmy Roberts drew the short straw in trying to get some insight from the winner. The guys in the truck were unsuccessfully scrambling for some background. He was playing in his first tournament in the US and was isolated by the language barrier. His fellow players from Japan celebrated giving him a St. Louis appropriate beer shower and he joined the media afterward to detail the moment. At least that was the plan.
The PGA media staff had scrambled to find an interpreter and secured the services of a female reporter also from Japan – good in theory but a little lacking in execution. While the language intermediary was way better at English than I am in Japanese, the ensuing press conference had all the flavor of a John Belushi bit from an old Saturday Night Live. Questions submitted from the press were only marginally understood, even when moderator Kelly Elbin would repeat and paraphrase what was said. Each question was eventually followed by a brief exchange, usually some laughter and a few somewhat disconnected words.
Professional golf tournament press conferences are often transcribed by stenographers for later reference. Having never learned to type with Brother Wilfred at CBC, I have always been envious as I have watched these keyboard magicians capture every word on their steno machines. I was mostly sympathetic to the interview room technician on this occasion. As the answer would come from the interpreter, those dancing hands on the keyboard were halting in trying to piece together sentence structures from the phrases being tossed out.
When the tortured session finally ended, the new major winner stood and proudly proclaimed to the frustrated writers, “Thank you very much. I am sorry.” Followed by laughter and applause.
Five years from now the PGA Championship will be staged at Bellerive. Early in the tournament week a player will find himself at a locker bearing one of the names of the previous professional winners at the club. People like Nick Price and Gary Player. He will turn to the player next to him and ask, “Who is Kohki Idoki?” And the other player will respond, “I don’t know. Who is Camilo Villegas?”