The Wishbone Brawl Delivers, Again
Geoff Ogilvy and Colin Featherstone prevailed in a feel-good exhibition that highlighted the community spirit at Goat Hill
by Alan Shipnuck
The other day, under bluebird skies, a golfer in shorts and a t-shirt was walking his dog, Chewie, down the 16th fairway at Goat Hill Park. This is a pretty common site at the Goat, but the golfer in question happened to be Xander Schauffele, the sixth-ranked player in the world. And this wasn’t just any day at the Goat, a beloved muni in Oceanside, Cal. No, Schauffele was competing in the 6th annual Wishbone Brawl, a feel-good exhibition that attracted a raucous crowd of locals who snapped up all of the 1,000 tickets, plus a few hundred kids who got in for free and innumerable other pooches. (Nearly $100,000 was raised for the North San Diego County Junior Golf Association and the Goat Hill Park Junior Caddie and Leadership Academy, with help from sponsors Truly Hard Seltzer, Linksoul and OluKai.)
Schauffele’s relaxed stroll with his dog perfectly encapsulated the laid-back vibe of the Brawl, which is a celebration of all that is right with golf at the grassroots level. But the Wishbone is also a display of elite skill, as the competitors employ persimmon woods on a tight, twisty, undulating course that tips out at 4,500 yards. Schauffele may own seven PGA Tour wins and an Olympic gold medal but he and his partner Chris Riley couldn’t keep up with U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy and Korn Ferry Tour member Colin Featherstone, a Goat regular who three times has posted 9-under 56’s wielding persimmon. Spurred on by the crowd occasionally chanting his name (“Feather! Feather!”) Featherstone birdied three of the first four holes. Walking off the fourth green, he said with some heat, “Protect the Hill.” That’s a rallying cry for Goat loyalists.
Ogilvy flew 14 hours from Melbourne, Australia to support the Brawl, skipping on to Scottsdale after it concluded. (“You’d be hard-pressed to prevent me from being back here for this every year.”) His silky game travels, and Ogilvy’s birdie on the fifth hole, plus another Featherstone bird on 8, pushed their lead to four strokes in the better-ball format.
Regardless of what the scoreboard showed, the stars of the day were the Leovao twins, sisters who have grown up at Goat Hill Park and now play for Long Beach State. Janae was the only player to birdie the 6th hole, and after her putt dropped her fist-pump sent the crowd into a tizzy. Her and Jasmine marched up the hill to the next tee box high-fiving every fan in sight. Waiting near the tee was their dad Jan, who offered enveloping hugs. “It’s the pinnacle of the pride I have for them,” said Jan, who, along with his wife, Bobbie, and son, Justin, were all wearing shirts emblazoned with the faces of the twins, sort of like what the U.S. Ryder Cup Team wore on Sunday at Brookline.
“Before they teed off, we gave them hugs, told them we loved them, and reminded them that we’re proud of them regardless of the outcome,” said Bobbie.
The twins birdied three of the last five holes to finish at -5, four strokes behind the winning score of Ogilvy and Featherstone; if Riley hadn’t made an unlikely par-save on 17, the twins would have tied him and Schauffele. It should be noted that Xander, a San Diego native, is the only player to have teed it up in every Wishbone Brawl. “This reminds me of when I was a kid and why I love playing golf,” he said. “So it’s really cool for me to connect back to that part of my life. Something like this is definitely more fun for me than even playing in some big events for work.”
As with every year, the Wishbone is a chance to see the continued evolution of Goat Hill Park under the stewardship of caretaker John Ashworth (above). Ogilvy, a discerning critic, was certainly impressed. “These greens are running as fast as Augusta National,” he said. He donated the Titleist irons and Scotty Cameron putter he used for the Brawl to a silent auction that can be found here; wedges used by Schauffele and Featherstone are also up for grabs. Ashworth was deeply appreciative of the support and enthusiasm for the course he watches over but instinctively deflected the praise, saying, “This is about the kids.”
When it was over, the kids, parents, golf fans and dogs crowded around the final green for a low-key ceremony and heartfelt words from the competitors. As always, Ogilvy struck exactly the right note. “This might be my favorite tournament in the world,” he said. “Like, there’s lots of famous places, but there’s nowhere that compares to the spirit of this place. You should all preserve this, it’s an amazing spirit you have going here. This is everything golf is meant to be. Every town should have a Goat Hill. It’s just a special special place to be.”
For a deeper dive on this year’s Wishbone Brawl, we prepared two Fire Pit Podcasts in which you’ll hear from Ashworth, Beames, Featherstone, the Leovao twins, and more.
Part 2 with Xander Schauffele.
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.