March 31, 2009

A Tip Of The Lid To 'The Golf Girl' - Patricia Hannigan

Being an inveterate blogger myself (Statefans Nation and Red and White From State before that) I had often toyed with starting this blog, "Me and Old Man Par." I never knew if I would have the time to undertake another online enterprise, given that I am very active on SFN and also because I oversee its technical underbelly -- and given that the site enjoys thousands of active users each day and gets over three million unique visits a year, that can keep me pretty busy.

Still, golf is one of my true passions, and the one sport in which I am an active player. I also watch a lot of golf on television, after the weekend rounds, not to mention reading about it all of the time...something I have done throughout my lifetime. As it is with most of the things I have an intense interest in -- photography, music, sports and brewing beer, among others -- I also have my opinions and have never been too shy about sharing them. It's not that I think I am smarter than anyone else, instead, I just enjoy talking about the things I love, and listening to other folks attention too.

That led me to Google up "golf blogs" one afternoon, and I came across one that I have found consistently interesting and consistently excellent in its presentation: "The Golf Girl." Its writer, Patricia Hannigan, is an intelligent and erudite woman with a passion for the game that she shares on a wonderful site well worth the time it takes for a daily visit. That and she has an active Commentarium beneath her entries, something that always makes a blog worth reading.

In short, Patricia's work inspired me to finally put my own blog together, and hopefully, it will become half as interesting a place to visit as is hers.

Reading: "A Course Called Ireland" by Tom Coyne

Sitting in an office Monday through Friday may pay the bills, but it does give rise to Walter Mitty-ish fantasies: winning the lottery, NC State mattering in basketball again, writing the great golf novel, or perhaps taking several months off and playing golf overseas. These daydreams sometimes fill the interstices of a busy day, and somehow they can help a regular guy like me trudge through another assignment or another meeting. Don't get me wrong, I like my job and enjoy my coworkers, but at the same time, living the life of Riley doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Tom Coyne may disagree, but that's really what he got to do for himself as he trekked around Ireland, playing golf all the way and getting to know the land of his forebears:for a time, he got to be Chester A. Riley. Even though he got lonely, had sore feet, spent more time underneath pouring rain than he'd like, spending four months playing golf in Ireland can't be described anything but life lived well. And I would bet anyone who has read 'A Course Called Ireland' would agree -- and maybe looked out of their office window, wishing they could have an adventure like Coyne's. Sore feet and drenched clothes would be a small price to pay for getting to explore a special part of the world and getting to play a lifetime's worth of great golf courses.

You may remember Coyne as the guy who took a year to see if he could become a PGA caliber player if he used the same training techniques, regimens and teachers as the guys who make a high living playing the game. In the end, he fell a little short, but reading Coyne's journey in his book "Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer's Quest to Play With The Pros" was a delight for those of us who have harbored that particular fantasy. Difference is, Coyne gave it his shot, and wrote a great book in the process. And while he may not have sharpened his skills sufficiently to be the next Tiger Woods, he did sharpen his pencil and become the next golf-writing version of George Plimpton. Plimpton wrote one of the most literate and funny books on the 1960's era of golf, "The Bogey Man" and "A Course Called Ireland" approaches that level of writing. Coyne's writing skills are also reminiscent of a young Tom Wolfe in his groundbreaking "The Last American Hero." That's pretty heady company for a writer, and that's where Coyne belongs.

Here's the premise of "A Course Called Ireland:" Coyne spent sixteen weeks trekking his way around the coastline of Ireland, playing roughly sixty golf courses, playinh over nine hundred holes and covering more than one thousand miles. On foot. He said that in Ireland, you walk golf courses, and since he considered his trek 'a round' of the linksland courses of Ireland, he'd walk too. That's a lot of walking. His golfing itinerary included the famous resort courses and also the unknown local nine-holers where sheep and barb-wired pastures marked the edges of the fairways. Not being an experienced hiker he discovered a lot along the way about the Irish, things not covered in the guidebooks and he also discovered a lot about himself he never knew before. Reading through "A Course Called Ireland" it seemed like Coyne had one helluva time along the way -- in both senses of the the word. In that sense, you come away from Coyne's book with a feeling that he was honest about travel writing in a way not seen since Paul Theroux.

Coyne visited places I had never heard of, for example the Cruit Island Golf Club (click link for photo), in County Donegal -- and I have an Irish stepmother from Dublin. He described Cruit Island as a hidden gem, and looking over their web site, you get that exact feeling: a special golf course off of the beaten tourist track that's so authentic that they don't have a fancy web site for the looks like a place where a visitor is more than welcome but one that is designed for the members. I like that. As nice as Pebble Beach is in California, a trip there leaves one feeling a bit...overdone. Coyne didn't get that experience at Cruit Island and I suspect that no one else would either. That's golf the way it's meant to be, and something that American golf needs to return to if it wants to grow the game here.

Another thing that Coyne comes back to repeatedly is the uniquely Irish thing called "the craic." Pronounced like "crack," the craic is a Gaelic work describing something akin to "fun, with enjoyable company." That's my stepmother's best definition of the word, but she says that the craic is much more than that, yet somehow even simpler than the definition. That's always intrigued me, and when Coyne writes about it many times in the pages of 'A Course Called Ireland' it intrigues me even more. Coyne makes me want to have a craic or two of my own, and the only place you can truly have one is on the Emerald Isle. Perhaps that's why a trip overseas to visit is now on the forefront of our 2010 vacation thinking.

(pictured: Waterville Golf Club, one of Coyne's Irish desinations. Photo: George P. Burdell, via Flickr)

In summary, "A Course Called Ireland" will make you laugh, feel sad, feel sorry for Coyne, feel jealous of him and also may have you in front of a computer checking out the prices for flights and hotels for your own Irish adventure. For summertime reading, I can't recommend it enough. No matter where you are on this old Earth, reading it will be a craic of a good time.

You can read an excerpt here.

To purchase "A Course Called Ireland", click the photo of the book, or visit your local bookseller.

Photo of Tom Coyne, above, courtesy of the author.

I'd Be a Great Golfer If I Only Played My Usual Game, Part 2

Another chapter in my endless chase of Old Man Par.

Thank goodness a friend talked me into playing yesterday afternoon. After a demoralizing slog in the mud and wind on Sunday, my clubs found their orientation in the proper direction yesterday in the calm air of a cool early spring day, and I managed to shoot a 42 on the front nine of a more difficult course than my home track as the sun set over central North Carolina.

As it always is with this game, the score should have been a 38, tops, but my putting was distracted by hairy and sandy greens that were recently aerated. Ah well, on another day I will make it so.

If You Are A PGA Golfer, Never Say "Here Kitty Kitty!"

The World's #1 is officially back. Back as in he's going to take your candy, steal your girl's heart and beat you on Sunday, if you are a member of the PGA.

If Tiger can win on one leg, as he did in last year's US Open, can anyone seriously question whether he would take a long time to hoist a trophy once he was healthy and had shaken off the rust of not playing on the PGA Tour?

Tiger’s comeback in the Bay Hill Invitational was awesome, but in reality Sean O’Hair did everything he could to help him. O’Hair didn’t hit a fairway until the sixth hole or a green until the 10th, and then he settled down and made it a bit interesting until the 16th, when he sent his ball to sleep with the fishes.

Woods hurt himself on 17 with a somewhat weak iron while going for the hole (when the center of the green would have been good enough) and there we go to 18 at Bay Hill, a hole Tiger owns like no other.

You almost knew when they teed off that Tiger would birdie and O’Hair wouldn’t.

When they both landed in the fairway (it’s a three or five wood tee shot, I forget) you had to know what was coming next.

When Woods dropped his ball 15 feet closer than O’Hair and was within makeable birdie range, call the kids to watch some history, this tournament will be over in about three minutes.

That’s what makes Tiger great: when he needs a shot and especially when he needs a putt, he performs. Everyone else, Phil Mickelson included, you never know…but Tiger Woods is predictable.

The best part of that putt on 18 was the slo-mo replay that showed Tiger’s eyes when the camera flashes were going off. First they look like concentration, then wide-eyed hope and finally, with the ball about 5-6 feet away, celebration. He knew that putt was going a moment after he hit it.

If he tightens up his iron game just a little, expect him to get another Green Jacket in a couple of weekends. He’s back and his knee is close to 100%.

My Usual Game, Part 1: "Why Do I Play This Game, Again?"

Spring golf can be the greatest experience, or it can be something that makes you wonder why you ever chose to pick up a crooked stick and chase a white ball through the fields.

I played yesterday on the home course after three days of heavy rains. 90% of the fairways were casual water, and that's no exaggeration.

Add to that a cold front came through overnight, and we left the first tee in steady 20 MPH winds with gusts reaching towards 40 MPH.

And finally, there's something about Eagle Ridge that makes the winds blow in your face no matter what hole you are on, save for the opening three.

Sounds like a bunch of excuses, right? Well, no, I should be able to handle a breeze and I should be able to work my golf ball the way I like. I know how and I know better...but somehow that escaped me for most of the day yesterday.

It's my fault I almost threw up my first triple digit score in nearly forever and it's certainly my fault that I chose to swing too hard, to give the club death grips and to not rotate my body back and through. And it's my fault that I was so far away from the hole on most greens that I wasn't able to save my own keester with the flatstick.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I have changed my short game technique and I chipped in and saved par on two other holes with my new swing. Plus, I finally replaced Larry Mizuno, my old trusty 60 degree wedge with Andy Taylor-Made, and Andy earned his pay with the par save chip into the hole.

All in all a very frustrating day on the links. Then again, a bad day on the links is always better than a good day at work, and I got home in time to watch the full round of the final pair from Bay Hill. Tiger's back and it was a pleasure to sip my Fat Tire, lick my wounds and watch golf being played the way it ought to.

There's plenty of blank scorecards in the clubhouse and my game is on the come, even if it took three steps backwards yesterday. A blank scorecard is hope renewed, and a good round is faith found once more.