April 28, 2009

Congress to Vote on Giving Arnold Palmer a Gold Congressional Medal Today

Some good can come from our nation's capital, no mater what your politics are: sometime today, the US House of Representatives is set to vote to give Arnold Palmer an award for his service to the country through golf.

The Thomas Register has the story:
H.R. 1243 - To provide for the award of a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Arnold Palmer in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf.
The bill is sure to pass, as there are 302 co-sponsors of it, and later today, Mr. Palmer will get another bit of commendation for all he has done for the game. Palmer has already won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, and it was awarded to him by George W. Bush in June, 2004. At the time, Mr. Palmer joined the likes of Nelson Mandela, Hank Aaron, concentration camp survivor Simon Wiesenthal and many others in the heady company that the distinguished award's alumni share.

Good for Arnold, and good for golf.

April 27, 2009

Whither Now, LPGA? Opportunity Missed, For No Good Reason

This weekend the women's circuit had a classic duel no one could see, while the men and the old men occupied the golf spectra.

After my morning round yesterday and a quick beer-nap (one beer and a 30 minute siesta) I flipped around looking for the LPGA. It was nowhere to be seen, not on Golf Channel, none of the major networks, not even on We or Oxygen or any of the Fox and ESPN family of networks. To be completely forthright, I wanted to see if the Wie One had managed to right her ship on Sunday, but I was also curious to see how Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Petterson would handle the remaining holes in their tournament. Anyhow, it was what I went looking for first.

There was a mildly interesting playoff in Champions Tour, then a fairly decent war of attrition on the PGA Tour's New Orleans stop, but the best golf of the day was in Mexico and it was a knockdown, drag-out battle between Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Petterson in the final round of the Corona Classic.

Or so I hear.

Even finding a decent story about this tournament on the Internet was hard to do. In fact, I found endless repititions of this:

Defending champion Lorena Ochoa shot an 8-under 65 to take a 1-stroke lead over South Korea's Na Yeon Choi yesterday in the LPGA Tour's Corona Classic.

The 27 year-old Mexican had a bogey-free round with eight birdies on the Tres Marias course.

Okee dokee. Sounds very nice. Thing is the stories streaming out on Twitter and on the LPGA Facebook page were describing a classic...perhaps the best tournament golf played since last year's men's US Open. And here in America, well, we were in the dark.

Question: if a golf tournament happens, but isn't shown on TV, did it really ever happen at all?

In terms of gaining the attention of the average American sports fan -- the one that advertisers spend billions to reach -- the answer is no. It never did happen. So the Corona Classic goes in the books and for all intents and purposes down the drain unseen and unknown in the largest sporting market the LPGA competes in.

It didn't have to be that way and the solution is so obvious, I cannot fathom why the LPGA brain trust hasn't put it in place by now.

If anyone in the golf press has so little to do that they read these pages, please ask Carolyn Bivens a question for me:

"Has the LPGA ever considered using Internet live streaming tournament coverage?"

Honestly, to me, it seems like a no-brainer. If the LPGA isn't on TV, then they should televise it themselves on the Internet. Surely it was on TV...somewhere. Mexico, surely. Korea probably. The LPGA could have used the video feeds of either of those networks and used a two-person announcing team to describe things in English.

This isn't rocket science. ESPN has been doing it for some time with ESPN360, and there's justin.tv, the renegade feed collection of out-of-market events. In golf, the Masters recently streamed coverage of portions of that tournament through their site.

In my house, I could have actually seen the tournament on my television had there been an Internet feed. Without going all geek on you, the XBOX-360 is as much a media center as a game console, and it meshes in very well with Windows, and both are connected to the Internet. A couple of clicks and I am watching the 'Net on the home theatre. (That's the future of TV, by the way. Like the traditional telephone, traditional broadcast/cable TV will be obsoleted soon, and if it doesn't happen beforehand, Internet2 will finish the job.)

Twitter and Facebook are nice, but actually being able to see a good dual between two great golfers yesterday afternoon would have been even better. At the end of the day, Twitter is an advanced version of the telegraph sending telegrams widely to anyone interested, and Facebook is essentially the equivilent of a whiteboard on the door of a student's college dorm room. Neither compare to the immediacy of TV when it comes to sporting events and both were poor substitutes for a video stream, at the very least.

If the LPGA is going to survive, it is going to have to be creative and nimble, and use every single tool it can grab. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and all of the in vogue social social media, but also using the tools that interface the Internet and the old guard of media. Streaming broadcasts is the most obvious, and the most glaringly absent one in the LPGA toolbox. If I can watch the Carolina Hurricanes hockey club play a regular season game while I am in Paraguay, and have two unique sources for the video feed, then the LPGA should be able to create a single stream source for its tournaments.

April 24, 2009

My Usual Game: Goal Accomplished, Sort Of

I went out yesterday for a sunset round after work with no expectations and no pressure. Since there was a foursome in front of me as I took to the first hole, I decided to play the two golf balls in my pocket: a Bridgestone Tour and Pro V1X, and gather two scores at the same time.

The first hole was rough because I didn't head to the range to warm up and as a result my drives were...awful, and I took a beating. After a deep sigh and a moment's relaxation, I dropped the second pair onto the smooth carpet and started playing better.

Finally, on the eighth, I noticed a nice scorecard was under construction. Not thinking too much about it, I finished up as the sun touched the rim of the horizon and added up my scores in the gloaming. This is the uncorrected version - the 40 is actually a 39, and I fixed it before entering them, but breaking 80 with my "new" swing has happened.

Now it is time to make it happen again. And after that, nearly every time I hit the links.

Golf is an easy games some day. I bet a throw a 95 out this afternoon now that expectations will creep in once again.

April 21, 2009

In A Fawning Article About Phil Mickelson, John Huggins Makes Lefty Look Like a Sexist Boob

Scottish golf writer John Huggan penned an article for 'Scotland on Sunday' that can basically be condensed down to this: "Phil Good, Tiger Bad." Actually, entitled "A Wedge Between Them," Huggan's take is that Tiger Woods is boring and unaccommodating, and feels threatened by Mickelson. Mickelson, on the other hand, is an underappreciated genius and gadfly who is misunderstood.

I am sure it was unintentional given the general tone of his article, but Huggan reveals Mickelson's socially inept and sexist side when he illustrates an exchange at the recent Masters champion's dinner between Lefty and CBS Analyst and six-time major championship winner Nick Faldo:

Phil (loud enough for everyone to hear): "Gee Nick, I didn't realise that you are such a big guy. How come you used to hit it so short?"

Faldo: "Listen Phil, when you shoot 19 under par to win the Open at St Andrews you can start giving me a hard time."

Phil: "I understand that. But how come you hit it like such a p****?"

Faldo: "I played golf the proper way."

Phil: "Yeah, like my wife."
(note: Phil's perjorative slang was omitted to spare gentler readers' eyes.)

Huggan didn't report what Faldo's riposte to Mickelson was, exactly, but Faldo could have leveled Mickelson with ease simply by replying

'I bet your wife wouldn't have gotten home at least in five at Winged Foot back in 2006. Speaking for myself, I know I would have gotten at least a par.'

I wonder what Mickelson's face would have looked like had Faldo said such a thing. I bet he was thinking it, but it seems that Faldo was the bigger gentleman there.

One thing is for sure: if that's an example of Mickelson's outward attitude towards other players, even ones as distinguished as Faldo, it's pretty easy to understand why Mickelson is hardly the most popular player among his peers on Tour.

Not only is the exchange coarse and incredibly ungracious behavior towards Faldo -- who has won twice as many majors as Mickelson, by the way -- it also shows a bit of a sexist side on Phil's part. No matter his intent, I am sure that more than a few women would find his final two statements insulting. That's probably not a wise idea for a man who makes most of his living off of his perception in the public eye.

Huggan may deride Woods for being controlled and elusive in public, but then again, you will probably never hear something as incredibly boorish come out of Woods mouth as what he reported Mickelson as saying. Woods might curse every now and then, or flip his club with a purpose, but one thing he's rarely done is stick his foot in his mouth in a place where the story might find its way to a reporter.

April 20, 2009

Bill Murray Doinks a Spectator And Still Makes Her Laugh

A hooked drive got away from comedian Bill Murray during the Outback Pro-Am down in Florida last week, and it found a spectator watching the tournament from her back yard. Unfortunately, when people line the edges of the fairways in golf tournaments, this happens, and sooner or later even top-flight pros accidentally hit someone.

Murray, however, showed some real courtesy and class when he found out what had happened, and "came over and laid down on the ground with me and he was very concerned, asking if I was OK," [Gayle Dimaggio] said. "Once he knew I was OK and not seriously hurt, then he started joking with me, asking how many fingers he was holding up."

Ms. DiMaggio only asked Murray to sign a copy of "Caddyshack" for her, which I'm sure that he will be gracious enough to do. And maybe let her keep his wayward ball as a souvenir too.

Don't know about you, but Bill Murray making jokes with me would make just about any pain go away, save for pain in my gut from laughing so hard. Murray is a genuinely good guy and has been a great ambassador for the game of golf. I think every guy who's ever swung a stick has imitated Carl Spackler, the infamous character from Caddyshack as played by Murray.

Best Comment on Kenny Perry At The Masters I Have Seen

In my other blogging life, one of my buddies writes about a rival school (UNC) and is a raconteur and gadfly-about-town nonpareil. He also is a reformed golfer who still loves the tournament game, and in his blog made this comment about everyone who said Kenny Perry "choked."

Bob Lee Says: "It Wasn't Dead Solid Perfect, But..."

To ”lose The Masters” on the last few holes is a distinction much rarer than a hole-in-one. Lots of human sideshow freaks have hit holes-in-one. [...] Who knows …. Maybe a Somali pirate has hit a hole-in-one. No Somali pirate has ever been in a position to win The Masters after 70 holes. Ergo ….. neither Kenny nor Chad could be Somali pirates.

Nimrods who know nothing about golf (aka the “it’s not a real sport because _____” crowd) decry it because the little white ball just sits there waiting for you to hit it …. and everybody has to be really really quiet while you do that. Anyone who has actually “played the game with any level of expertise” (less than 8% of all golfers qualify to that level) knows how paralyzing that “waiting to hit it” can be. Kenny Perry squeezed just a smidgen too hard with his right hand on two shots between 6:35 and 7:15 Sunday afternoon. …… and nose-picking palookas from Spokane to Fuquay snort that “he choked.”
Bob's a great guy and he has the right perspective on things, especially the crazy world of college sports. In this town, four Division I programs are crammed within 20 miles of one another and the passion for hoops and football approaches the level of enthusiam I had for Farah Fawcett Majors back in 1977, when I was 15. Bob "gets it" with sports here, and it seems that he gets it where golf is concerned too.

My Usual Game: Old Man Par Was Kindly But Stingy This Weekend

Tournament golf in a typical club here in America are events where the ego is on the line, and suddenly the little three-foot rake-ins that are gimmes in a casual round become testers. It is the members' rare taste of a higher level of golf, something I like to call "real golf" that contrasts greatly from our usual Sunday foursomes. Someone once said that there is golf and then there is tournament golf, and to me at least, the latter can be far more enjoyable. Especially when you win, which is what we did this weekend.

It was our annual Spring Member-Member here, and while I cannot boast winning the gross or the net prizes, my partner and I did win our Calcutta (2nd place the first day, 1st the second) as well as second in the club's prize pool the first day as well. In other words, we doubled our entry money in the two prize pools, and for that, we were both happy. It's always good to roll to the house with a few crisp new portraits of Ben Franklin.

You may ask why we were pleased, given a relatively mediocre showing. After all, we didn't win outright, which was our goal (and ending a three tournament winning streak) and there was money left on the table. The answer is simple: we played below our handicaps, which are true handicaps and not bags of sand. We both buckled down, played great partner golf and we made nearly all of the shots and the putts we needed to make to get us into the money. Getting beaten by someone else who played a little better doesn't bother me, all I can do is golf my ball and let the chips fall where they may. You're just not going to beat a 53-55 nets for a dazzling -34 total.

That, and being a good sportsman and a gracious competitor means I slept very well last night and had some thoughts and ideas about how to play even better next time. There's always a stroke or three left somewhere out on the course, and something to work on no matter what kind of golfer you are.

For example: sitting 126 out from the green on "Home" -- the hole I live on -- I pulled a seven iron to make sure I got aboard safely to an island of short grass surrounded by a churning sea of death. That club is normally a 155 yard club for me, but this shot was in a four club wind. I hit a piercing draw that bit into the wind, the kind of ball that feels like butter as it comes off of the center of the club face. The ball flew true, turning left, and then a gust of wind turned the ball around, ballooned it skyward then slammed it one yard to the right of the putting surface and down towards a watery grave. But it didn't go into the coffin. It stopped one foot short and I was able to save par with a nifty up and down.

Now then, why tell you about a bad shot that fell shy of its target? Well, if you have read the early entries from this blog, you may remember that the wind is no friend of mine out of the golf course. I've let the wind get in between my ears and inside that empty chamber there, it has caused some of the poorest games I have had in years.

In the case of this particular shot (and it was critical in the standings,) with a difficult carry facing me and a strong wind challenging my nerves, I hit precisely the shot I visualized beforehand, executed it calmly and got the result that I wanted. At least until the breeze turned a three clubber into a four clubber for the wrong three seconds. That the breeze stiffened and gave me less than I hoped for was a rub of the green that no one can account for and that's just golf.

I did let out a John McEnroe-ish "you have GOT to be kidding me!" when I saw it come up short, but I collected myself and took the next shot that was given to me, and pulled it off. I also made a good shot in a difficult position just before that and didn't let any tension ruin my thoughts or my swing. And the tee after that, I hit my best drive of the day and that also showed me something.

That's a great case of sometimes even when you lose you still win, and that calm before and after is what I plan to carry into the next tournament. All too often we beat ourselves in this game, but this was not a weekend where I let that happen, and that's a win no matter what the final score.

April 16, 2009

The Temper Of Tiger: It's Far Over-Stated

Over at Real Women Golf, Heather writes a wonderful riposte to The Huffington Post's article, "Why Tiger Woods Is Bad for Golf," by Ron Galloway. Galloway claims that Woods behavior on the golf course is unsuitable for junior golfers and that Tiger Woods is "bad for golf" because of the way he acts in the heat of competition.

I suppose that Galloway is unaware of Woods' work with First Tee, and that he is an inspirational hero to kids because he is a living example of the level of success that can be achieved by good ole dedication and hard work. Those are the examples that Woods best represents: achieving success through his work and giving back to the game that has given him so much.

I think Heather's post puts it best, because as the parent of junior golfers, she is "in the trenches" so to speak:

"I am a mother. I am a golfer. And I am far from perfect. Further, I admit to having uttered a four letter word (or two) on the course from time to time. I am very restrained when playing with Golfing Son and Golfing Daughter, but I have "slipped" on occasion. Apparently, Mr. Galloway is a much more properly disciplined person than I am.

"I actually remember an incident a couple years ago when Golfing Son missed a putt on an family golf outing. He threw his hat on the ground (coincidentally a Tiger Woods hat), stomped off the green and said, "Damn It!" I glared at Hubbie because I knew exactly where GS learned that stellar move. We had a little "chat" about proper behavior on the course, and I am proud to report the incident has not been repeated.

"However, I do not believe Mr. Woods or any other golfer is responsible for GS's behavior."

Well-stated, and I cannot agree with Heather more in either her opinion and how she handled the situation with her son. That was good parenting, something seemingly in increasingly short supply from some of the behavior I have seen recently.

My Take:

Galloway needs to go to the entrance of a coal mine, then take a look at their rear ends and see if they can determine the difference between the two. If you know what I am saying.

Tiger Woods' temper is probably more well known that other PGA pros simply because he is on television far more often than any other PGA pro out there.

Here is what a survey of the PGA Tour pros revealed when they were asked who had the worst temper on their tour:

  1. Pat Perez: 28 percent
  2. Woody Austin: 24 percent
  3. Steve Flesch: 12 percent
Note who is not listed in the top three -- and this is a survey conducted by players who see and hear everything when they are on the course with their fellow players.

Tell me, how many times do you recall Perez losing his cool? Rarely because Perez is rarely in contention. That's not hard to understand, but apparently that escapes those who only follow golf peripherally.

Kudos to Golf Channel's "Golf In America"

The first episode of the new Golf Channel show "Golf In America" is airing this week over on the cable station, and judging by the first episode, it promises to be must-watch TV for golfers.

The first episode opened with a profile of singer's Justin Timberlake's involvement with Big Creek Golf Course and its transformation from bankruptcy into the United States' Platinum green (as in U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards) golf facility. Timberlake is involving his family in the project, and the course, when finished, will be of the destination variety that's still affordable for local residents to play on - the course is listed as being $32 for weekend play.

Not being of the age to be a fan of his music, I became a huge fan of Timberlake as a young man with his head and his heart in the right place, and I also gained an interest in playing Big Creek when I next visit the Memphis area.

Another story were equally interesting: a young Canadian immigrant teaching his children golf and how his daughter is now the world's number one for her age group in juniors, and how all of this is happening despite the family's limited means. "I am teaching my children golf to teach them about life," he said, "not to teach them to become pros. That is their decision and I will respect what they decide." That family was heartwarming and inspiring.

If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend catching it (GC will undoubtedly have it in heavy repitition over the next week) and see if you like what you see.

Note: interesting that Golf Channel has no apparent link to Golf In America on their website as of today. You would think that they had this all in place prior to the premiere.

April 15, 2009

Do You Know The Right Way To Fix a Pitchmark?

Imagine this: your record score sits one makeable four-foot putt away. Maybe it's breaking 80, maybe par, who knows, but it doesn't matter. That putt does. You carefully read it from every direction, pick an aim point rehearse the putt and say to yourself "See it, roll it, hole it." You're confident...you know you are going to make this putt, and your stroke is as smooth and confident as your thinking. The ball rolls towards the cup.

It's good every inch of the first two and a half feet. Then inexplicably, the putt moves offline as if flicked by an invisible finger. Your eyes widen as it rims around the edge of the cup and comes back towards you. Sick now, you watch the ball stop.

You stare for a second where fate seemed to turn the ball away, and you see it -- an almost cured pitch mark a few days old that wasn't smooth. Some son-of-a-biscuit eater didn't repair his mark correctly and left that spot of the green lumpy where it should have been smooth.

It may have happened to you already. Maybe it will on your next round. Thing is, it doesn't have to happen at all.

Or maybe it will happen to a friend. That's worse, isn't it? Messing up another golfer by being lazy or not knowing the right way to do something simple?

Don't be that child of the biscuit lover and fix your mark correctly. Here's how:

Click to embiggen

Artwork courtesy of the Golf Superintendents Association of America

Peggy Kirk Bell: These Girls Can Play Too

Let me brag about one of our own here in the Carolinas:

One of our area's golfing gems is Peggy Kirk Bell, a founding member of the LPGA, the owner of Pine Needles Golf Resort in Southern Pines (it's down the street from Pinehurst) -- the site of the 1996, 2001 and 2007 US Women's Open, and an unabashed supporter of the women's game all the way from the top to its grass roots: women taking up the game and talented teenage women who need a place to compete and hone their games prior to their going to college.

(Pictured: Bell, left, with Babe Zaharias, right)

Ms. Bell first took up golf at 17. She got a membership to a golf club by chance, even though she didn't know anyone personally who played. In fact, she thought of golf as "an old woman's game." Little did she know that she had stumbled into the game of a lifetime, and that she would be playing it nigh on seventy years later.

Ms. Bell learned the game quickly, and well. She won the International Four-Ball in 1947 with pioneering sportswoman Babe Zaharias as her partner, as well as the first of three consecutive Ohio State championships. She totalled 10 tournament wins, among them the the North/South Amateur and the Titleholders in 1949. And she became a pioneer member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

In 1953, she left competitive golf and with her husband bought the Pine Needles Golf Result here in North Carolina, a Donald Ross cathedral to the game. The Needles is a place that golf writer Brandon Tucker said that he would "rather play than Oakmont."

Peggy started the Ladies Golfaris (a golf safari) in 1960, and it has run for nearly fifty years.

Peggy also helped set up the Peggy Kirk Bell Tour here in the Carolinas, whose mission is to
  • To ensure the future of the game by providing a “Girls Only Tour” that will actively increase participation and interest in girl’s golf
  • To provide a venue for aspiring collegiate golfers in the Carolina’s to develop, compete and be recognized.
  • To provide affordable, top-level tournament competition
That they do with aplomb, and the PKBT is a growing training ground for tomorrow's collegiate women's golfers, some of whom will undoubtedly make it in to the LPGA itself.

The tour stopped here in Raleigh last weekend, at a course on the other side of the city from me:
The Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour was in Raleigh this weekend for the Wildwood Shoot Out at Wildwood Green Golf club.

The strong winds kept the girls from firing any sub-par scores, but Raleigh's Sarah Bae posted a score of 75 for the victory.

Wildwood Green is a good course for competition - not overly penal, but tough enough to score on to make tournaments interesting. Sounds like the girls had a bit of a tough time in the strong breezes we had Saturday and got a taste of competing under trying conditions, which will serve them well at some point in their golfing future.

Thanks to Ms. Bell for helping to get the ball rolling in this venture and thanks to her for her fine golf courses (Pine Needles and Mid-Pines) as well as everything else she has done for the game. Pine Needles is a course I can play again and again, and never feel like I have completely solved all of its puzzles. It's the course I got my first eagle on, many years ago, and I love it like it were my home course.

Want to know more about Peggy?

Take a few minutes and read about her in her own words.
Here's a radio interview with her from NPR's "The Story" (MP3 format)

April 14, 2009

Paddy, Sergio, Tiger and Vijay Throw in Support For Olympic Golf

Many of the world's top men's players are showing support for golf to return to the Olympics:

Reuters: Woods Leads Top Players in Support of 2016 Olympic Golf
"Tiger Woods is one of 18 of the world's leading golfers to back the International Golf Federation's (IGF) bid to have the sport included in the 2016 Olympic Games.

"Woods has written personally and sent a 32-page brochure outlining the bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) member for the United States.

"Ireland's Padraic Harrington, winner of two majors last year, Fiji's Vijay Singh, Europe's 2010 Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie and Spain's Sergio Garcia, have also written to their respective IOC members to try and restore golf to the Olympic fold for the first time for more than 100 years."

A Recent Failure To Return Golf To The Olympics:

In October 1992, the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee announced that it would seek recognition of golf as an official sport for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and that it planned to hold the event, for men and women, at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

The basis for this was laid during the Atlanta bid for the 1996 Olympics. Atlanta Organizing Committee Chairman Billy Payne was permitted to entertain several IOC members at the Augusta National Golf Club, courtesy of club chairman, Jack Stephens. Payne and Stephens decided that golf should become an Olympic sport in 1996 with Augusta as the venue. The idea was sold to then IOC Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch when Payne told him that the Augusta National could host a field of the top professional players in the world.

Unfortunately, as we now know, the idea never came to fruition. Augusta National has no female members and few African-American members, a fact that was quickly seized upon by activists eager to use golf and the club's exclusivity to make a point for their particular causes. Additionally, Payne blundered politically by not wooing Anita DeFrantz, a black former Olympian and then the only IOC member from the US. DeFrantz did not like the plan and offered no support. The plan died shortly on the vine thereafter.

Also unfortunately, it deprived the world of a glimpse at Augusta National in a season other than early spring and it deprived the world's top womens' players from competing on the hallowed course. By making political points at the expense of Augusta National, activists actually caused golf to suffer and at the end of the affair, in my opinion, hurt the women's game. Seeing Annika Soremstam hitting shots that meant something on the back nine of Augusta would have made a powerful statement indeed. Now, at least in any foreseeable future, that remains an impossibility.

A New Hope, And A New Tack May Work:

Chicago, the host of the XXXI Olympiad, also has a number of extremely private courses -- Chicago Golf Club and Medinah come to mind -- that may be superb choices.

Then again, perhaps the USOC and the USGA could strike a blow for equality by holding an Olympic tournament on the Windy City's Jackson Park Golf Course, a South Side course which is where a lot of the city's minorities and lower income players first get their taste of the game.

According to the course's site:
"In 1890, Chicago won the honor of hosting the World's Columbian Exposition, and Jackson Park was selected as its site. Olmsted and Chicago's famous architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham laid out the fairgrounds. A team of the nation's most significant architects and sculptors created the "White City" of plaster buildings and artworks. The monumental World's Fair opened to visitors on May 1, 1893. After it closed six months later, the site was transformed back into parkland. Jackson Park featured the first public golf course west of the Alleghenies, which opened in 1899."
That in mind, there is no doubt that Jackson Park has the history to provide a worthy venue, although it would need some tender loving care to ready it for the world's top players, should the IOC approve the 2016 plan. It were all to happen, Tiger, Phil, Sergio and the world's top golfers walking a refurbished and revitalized Jackson Park would say more than ever holding an extra competition at Cog Hill or Medinah. And at the end of the competition, golfers who rarely have access to top courses would have a gem of their own to hone their games -- and maybe even become the next Tiger.

As for the women golfers (you didn't think I forgot them, did you?) I would like them to play Chicago Golf Club. Even though CGC has limited minority or female membership, it does offer an incredibly challenging course that it would simply be awesome to see the world's top women players golfing down.

Jackson Park Course Photo via Golf Illinois

April 13, 2009

Augusta National Is Alister McKenzie's Second Best Course

"Being a Scotsman," McKenzie said, "I am naturally opposed to water in its undiluted state."

Don't get me wrong, I love Augusta National, and I think that the Masters is probably the best run tournament in the world. I also think that Augusta National is an incredible golf course.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I do have to say that I do tire of the endless hyperbole that comes with the Masters. It seems that every other sentence from the announcers must be a sycophantic kiss to the golf course, its upkeep and naturally, its membership. Most all of it is deserved, of coursebut goodness gracious sakes alive, it really goes over the top by about 3pm on Saturday afternoon. Anyone with a television can tell you how fantastic the National is.

Fantastic, But Perhaps Not The Very Best

In my opinion, Augusta National is not even the best golf course that Alister McKenzie designed. As beautiful as the parklands course of the National is, it is surpassed in almost every phase of the game by Cypress Point in California. That's because Alistair McKenzie was heavily influenced by St. Andrews' Old Course, and like the Old Course, Cyprus Point sits aside the sea. And the sea adds a dimension that simply is not available to Augusta National. To pay homage to the Old Course without the elements of the sea is like asking Van Gogh to paint without using yellow or blue paint.

The sea, they say, is as capricious as any woman, liable to change its mood on a whim and with no notice. And near Monterey Bay, where upwelling ocean currents mix with relatively warmer shallower waters, that romantic description is incredibly accurate. The weather can change from hole to hole on courses located along the bay and its nearby waters. This adds another layer of complexity to Cyprus Point and requires a flexibility and adaptability rarely needed at inland courses.

If you like #12 at the National, and if you love Amen Corner, consider #16 and #17 at Cypress Point. Not only are the holes more dramatic, they also have an additional element the National can never have: seaside winds that can be as gentle as a butterfly kiss or as raw as a hurricane's fury. And that's on the same afternoon. Anyone who has played Cyprus will tell you: any golfer - and that's any golfer - will need every bit of their game to get round and score on those links.

Consider this: how rousing would it be to watch the pros hit driver on a 3-Par with a major on the line? That's often the case at Cyprus's #16. That, my friends, is goat or glory riding on a single swing and a rub of the green. And don't think that the course is only those holes -- it's an 18 hole roller coaster than makes its brother down the street, Pebble Beach, look easy by comparison.

Also consider this: Cyprus Point is so exclusive a club they feel no need whatsoever to host a tournament and display their embarrassment of golf riches. They used to, back when the Tour was smaller, and Cyprus was part of the rota of courses for the old Crosby. After 1990, however, Cyprus members said, "thanks but no thanks" to diversity requirements by the PGA Tour. This is a threat oft-made by the Men of the Masters, but it is one that has been carried out by the members of Cyprus.

I also find it deeply ironic that Cyprus was created at the behest of a woman, Marion Hollins. Hollins and Mackenzie built Cypress together. Now, in our supposedly enlightened time, the beauty and challenge of Cyprus Point is the exclusive domain of men - on a course founded by a woman. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

(For the record, I think that the 250-odd members of Cyprus Point were wrong to take the tack they did. I personally would never be a member of a club where minorities or women weren't allowed as full and regular members. It's the 21st century, not 1935, and it is time to go up and accept people for what their character is, not their color or sex.)

The 1990 decision was a shame from golf's point of view: now golf fans only know Cyprus through iconic photos, thus missing one of the world's gems. And depending on the conditions, Cyprus gave a pro a chance to shoot in the fifties -- or over 100. Depending, of course, on the weather and on the golfer's skill grappling with Old Man Par on a masterpiece of a golfing test.

I'd love to see a US Open battled at Cyprus. Sure, it would need to be lengthened from its current length of 6,600 yards, and the members will never do it, even if it were possible. Besides, I doubt Cypress's members would ever let the USGA come in an monkey with their course the way they do for any course hosting a US Open. But I can dream.

For that matter, I would love to see The Open at Old Head or the European Club, but that's just me. More about that when the time draws closer.

A Perfect Weekend: Walking Off The Course When The Masters Comes On TV

Spring was not perfect only in Augusta this weekend, as the southeastern US generally had a crystalline blue sky and perfect conditions. Temperatures were in the low 70', greens were soft, fairways fast and the winds, for a change, gentle and not howling. The Tifway Bermuda is waking up, making most courses a mix of winter leftovers and fresh green, with emerald islands at the end of the fairways. In short, it was gorgeous.

Fortunately for me, I also had two 10:09 tee times, which I took full advantage of.

There's nothing like finishing up on 18, driving ten houses down the street and watching a round of The Masters in high definition and surround sound with a cool beverage of choice -- beer on Saturday and Sunday, a concoction of Fidel's finest Cuban Rhum Agricole, fresh lime, and mint fresh from the garden. Hemmingway would have approved, and clinked my glass as we enjoyed our version La Bodeguita del Medio's Mojito. The bar is still in Havana, if you ever are that way, and they say Ernesto's spirit fills the place.

The tournament spoke for itself, with the most deserving golfer getting the green jacket, and as for me, well, let's just say I'm quite pleased by the swing changes I've made over the winter and am now ready to take my game to a new level.

April 8, 2009

Pop Quiz: Who Is This Golfer?

From 1964 to 1970, he won 27 times on tour, with three of them being in majors. That is three more wins than Nicklaus in the same period. Seven more than Palmer and Player combined.

He also competed on eight Ryder Cup teams and has the most points of any American in the history of the event.

Question: Who is this golfer?

(no Googling, I would like to see if you know it off the top of your head.)

Most importantly, why is he not given his due by the golf literati of our time? That question really makes me scratch my head and wonder. To hear the modern golf press tell it, you'd think that every tournament was won by the Big Three until Lee Trevino and Tom Watson took over the 1970's -- and even then they forget about some guy named Johnny Miller who shot a 63 in the final round of the 1973 US Open.

Then again, we never remember other golfers like Dr. Cary Middlecoff, who won 40 tournaments from 1946-1961 and won three majors in his own right so it doesn't surprise me. When one mentions the 1950's and talks about Hogan and Snead, they should not forget The Dentist. After all, Bobby Jones said that "I'd give the world to have a swing like that," when asked about Middlecoff.

No offense to modern golf writers and historians, but sometimes it seems that hyperbole and oversight and the general norm and that too many great golfers from the past are forgotten, making it seem like the greats fought out every tournament amongst themselves. It didn't happen that way then and it doesn't happen that way now.

April 7, 2009

Augusta National - Not In An Exclusive Part of Augusta

For those of us around the world who have only seen television coverage of The Masters, all we have seen is the surreal perfection of the golf course, which is perhaps the most manicured acreage in the entire United States. It seems that not a leaf or a blade of grass is out of place, and that this little corner of golfing heaven must be surrounded by similar beauty.

Of course, those of us who have been to The Masters know better. Augusta National is actually a bit of an island, a place of perfection set in the middle of a typical mid-sized southern Army town. That's not to say the National is in a sketchy part of town (for that, visit East Lake in Atlanta) but the contrast between inside the gates and outside is definitely interesting.

For some reason, it's never occurred to me to take even a snapshot of Washington Road when I was down there, but fortunately, Google Maps has a Street View of it, which you can see below. On your left is the National, and and everywhere else, Anytown Southeast USA.

(Click photo to embiggen)

Weather For Augusta Looks Nearly Perfect

If there's one thing that can change a golf tournament on its ear quickly, its the weather. For example, if there's a lot of wind, a player like Paddy Harrington has a built-in advantage, because he can control his ball better in a gale than most anyone, even Tiger Woods. Rain can also affect the speed and softness of not only the greens, but also the fairways. And so forth and so on.

From the early looks of it, there doesn't appear to be a major threat of weather changing the course of the PGA season's first major, and aide from a stray thunderstorm passing through on Friday, the weather looks to be picture-perfect in Augusta for the Masters. Winds are forecast to be light Thursday and Friday, ranging between 3-10 MPH on Thursday.

April 6, 2009

A Conversation With Author Tom Coyne

Last week, I wrote a review of the new book "A Course Called Ireland" by Tom Coyne. Coyne wrote a fine golf and travel book, and I wrote him and asked him if he would mind answering a few quick questions. Tom graciously took the time to answer, and here's what he had to say:

Old Man Par: Given the number of great courses you played during your round of Ireland’s linkslands, it’s probably hard for you to name an absolute single favorite…but I am sure you have a few that would make the final cut. If someone were to head over for a once-in-a-lifetime trip and could only play a handful of rounds, which tracks would you recommend as not-to-be missed?

Tom Coyne: It's tough to narrow down the choices, but if I was heading back and had a helicopter and I could travel to any golf course in a half hour's time, I'd start with Carne in Belmullet, hope over to Enniscrone, head down to Old Head in Kinsale, stop off at the European Club, jump up to Portstewart for the front nine, head down to Tralee for the back nine, and finish up at Ballybunion, playing the old course more than once. I could add a dozen courses to this list, and this itinerary makes zero sense if you're traveling by car (or by foot, as in my case), but this list would give you access to the absolute joy and madness of Irish links golf. If you're trying to plan a reasonable trip and you've never done Ireland before and might not do it again, I'd go Old Head, Waterville, Dooks, Tralee, BallyB, Doonbeg, Lahinch, Enniscrone, and Carne, sticking to the south and west of Ireland. There's incredible golf t o be found elsewhere in Ireland, but these courses are all stunners, the best of the best, you couldn't possibly leave Ireland feeling cheated with that itinerary.
Old Man Par: Your praise for Pat Ruddy’s European Club in County Wicklow was effusive – you seemed to really hit it off with Mr. Ruddy not only as a course designer but also as an interesting man. Have you kept in touch with him since you were there on your walkabout?
Tom Coyne: I haven't kept in touch with Mr. Ruddy since the trip, but I hope to run into him on a future trip to Ireland. He's an accomplished writer in his own right, so we'll have to see what he thinks about how I've written about his country and his golf course. It's interesting to hear the Irish react to the book -- all positive so far, but I wonder what some will think about this American's opinions, thoughts, impressions about life in Ireland.
Old Man Par: You mention in “A Course Called Ireland” that the social aspects of golf are (my words) more democratic, at least in the local non-resort courses like Cruit Island. That seems a lot different than here in the US, where golf seems to be a vehicle for business and social status more than the game itself. What in your opinion could the USGA do to help grow the American game at all levels, so that it more closely resembled the Irish and Scottish ideals?

Tom Coyne: I think golf as I experienced it in Ireland is an absolute ideal arrangement that we should strive to imitate here at home, but practically speaking, probably never will. Golf courses in Ireland are a part of the community. For the most part, they're not about status or class or wealth -- they're a place to go play a game when the sun is shining, or to go walk your dog if you're not interested in golf (or to even graze your heard as I found in some places). Memberships are not prohibitively expensive, kids and women have run of the course same as everybody else--if you want to play, grab your clubs and have at it. What a simple idea that completely got lost in the landscape of American golf. I'm speaking from the frustration of living in a part of the world (Philadelphia) with some of the best golf in the planet, but short of winning the lottery or Warner Bros buying the rights to A Course Called Ireland, I'm not going to have access to any of it, because golf here is a members only experience. There's a dearth of decent public golf here, and who knows how one changes that. You go to Ireland, you can play any course you would like, provided you've got some room left on the Amex. I'm stuck playing six hour rounds on cow pastures, while tee boxes in private golf America sit empty. But it's so fundamental to the way the game is organized here in America that I don't think it will ever change, nor do I sense any interest from the powers that be to do so. Consider the fact that in order to have an official handicap, the USGA has decreed that you have to be a member of a golf club. They might have the same rules in Ireland, but when everybody in town is a member anyway, it seems a less exclusive sort of thing.
Old Man Par: Any plans for a new golf book? Care to give us a peek as to what you have in mind?
Tom Coyne: I told my wife I was going to do Scotland on a motorcycle, golf clubs in my sidecar, and she threatened divorce. I'm tinkering with some new ideas, potentially less golfy this time, but you never know. The reception to this book has been strong from golfers and non-golfers alike, so I'm a bit up in the air about which direction I might go. That it won't involve any walking, or any Ireland, are about the only two guarantees I can make.
Thanks again to Tom Coyne for taking to time to answer my questions, and also for his wonderful golf books. "A Walk Called Ireland" is definitely a book that most any golfer and daydreamer will enjoy, and one the I recommend that you add to your bookshelf sooner rather than later. It is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.

Scientists Say That Not Concentrating Makes You Golf Better

An interesting story popped up in the London Telegraph that claims that "a lack of concentration is the secret to playing good golf."

Personally, I say bullocks and bravo. More on that later.

Research carried out by John Toner, a post-graduate doctoral student located at the University College in Dublin, concluded that "When people feel under pressure they start to focus more on their technique, but this study shows that is exactly what they should not do."

"They should certainly not try to adjust their technique at all and should stick to what they know."

True enough about sticking to what you know, because on a golf course you are supposed to play the course, not your swing and try to limit any adjustments you might be tempted to try. Practice is for the driving range, the course is for putting the ball in the jar in as few swats as possible. Fiddling with your swing on the 7th tee and again on the 10th fairway is quite often the final ingredient in a a recipe for disastrous round.

HOWEVER, if you are like me and are trying to groove in a new element or even two to your swing, it takes a certain amount of concentration to groove it. Much of that comes from the practice range, of course, but also it comes when real numbers are being written on a scorecard and every shot has some effect on the final outcome.

For example, I personally have allowed my swing plane to creep too high over the years. With it came a dozen bananas per round and a handicap that got me a special license plate and prime parking spot down at the club. In fact, at one point, our official handicap calculating computer listed me as an "ED" -- as in handicapped -- and they had to invent a special flight in any championship we had. That was the "you should quit but we still like you" flight and half the time, I couldn't even win that.

You might ask "why would you do that and why didn't your teacher fix you up?" Fair questions, and the answers are that when the new titanium drivers came out I could blast them 300 yards consistently. For some reason that came with an all-arm high plane swing. Problem was that one day it would be Banana Splits, the next day Captain Hooks and then on a magical day, I would find the fairway all day. I thought at the time on those days I was getting things right, but in retrospect, it was just random distribution giving me a desired outcome and me fooling myself into thinking that was how it was supposed to be done. That's all just so much talk-talk-talk for this: "my swing simply sucked."

Various teachers gave me lessons, but for some reason they never noticed this basic flaw -- that I couldn't possibly release the club or even clear my right shoulder adequately. So I was never taught better. That is, until I met my current teacher, Robert Foxworth, a man who has gotten me well on the way to consistency, and whom I have given high blood pressure or at least an assured income. He noticed these flaws right away, gave me the right drills and most importantly, taught me how to feel the right way...and it is that feeling I take with me out onto the links.

Out there, in the heat of a Nassau or just beating my buddies' scores, bad habits try to return...and the way to keep them in their place (hopefully the depths of golf hell) is to have some concentration and focus on technique. In other words, if I want a good drive, I certainly need to "feel" the right way in my pre-hot routine and to replicate that feeling during the real shot.

So in that way, Toner is wrong. Completely, totally, dead wrong. At least for me. I have to think a little bit about my technique or the Bogey Monster will come out to play and he's not a fun fellow to ride around the golf course with.

Now here's where your mileage may vary:

We've all played with Mr. Serious, the club member or the guy who is hooked up with your threesome that is so serious about his golf he might as well call it his second job. He always has the latest and great best-stuff equipment, because this new driver is going to be his golfing Jesus and those new irons are so good that they make your two year old set not even worth scrap metal. Of course, his handicap hasn't dropped a tenth of a digit in ten years. Usually, in fact, it is increasing, but don't mention that to Mr. Serious, because it is an invitation for a dissertation of his vast knowledge of the golf swing. Somehow, you probably don't want advice from a 22.1 Indexer, but I will admit I am just guessing.

Anyway, Mr. Serious talks about his game as though he were a NASA scientist at a meeting planning Martian landing logistics. Mr. Serious is super-slow as he rehearses the 11 swing thoughts he has written down and reads before every shot. Then he duffs the ball, and comes back to the cart doing his own color commentary. "Sorry fellows, I must have pronated my left wrist only 23.5 degrees when everyone knows that 36.5 degrees is the optimum.

You, on the other hand are looking at your buddies and trying not to laugh. As long as Mr. Serious keeps up, though, he's a good enough guy, but someone ought to tell him that he is never, ever, EVER going to make a living golfing, much less break 85, so perhaps he ought to treat it, well, just a little bit more casually. You know, like a hobby or something.

Mr. Serious is the guy who never stops to smell the roses along the way, as Walter Hagen recommended, and makes a round of golf an ordeal for himself with no hope for a satisfactory outcome.

I think there, that Dr. Toner over in Ireland couldn't have hammered the nail any harder.

So there is a middle ground, and that's where you need to be. Awareness of what you are doing, but not going so overboard you out-think or b.s. yourself. Or make golf something that isn't fun. It's a game and it's a sport, have fun playing it. That's the whole point, right?

After all, in any sport, when you are playing your best, you usually go "out of your mind" and just play...because it seems easy. Golf's no different there.

April 4, 2009

The LPGA Was Wrong Not To Suspend Play In Yesterday's Kraft-Nabisco

A strong desert wind tore through the Kraft-Nabisco Championship yesterday, changing the balance of the competition and moving a new set of leaders to the top of the board in the competition. Kristy McPherson and Christina Kim teed off well before the wind started howling in the Coachella Valley, and both moved into the lead at 6-under 138 at the halfway point of the first LPGA major of 2009. Both played earlier on Friday when winds were relatively calmer, giving the two good scoring opportunities that were not to be found later the same day.

In the afternoon games, winds picked up to a steady 25-30 miles per hour with strong gusts that made Lorena Ochoa lose their balance, sent a palm frond into Angela Stanford's ankle and infuriated Ji Young Oh by blowing her ball some 30 feet off the 18th green and into a lake, leading to a one-stroke penalty.

After the incident, a frustrated Oh complained to an official that the course was unfair and unplayable, and was told to play on.

I believe that Ji Young was correct and that play went on far longer than it should.

You could say, on the other hand, that everyone plays the same golf course, but that's not necessarily so. Winds pick up or die down through the course of a given day and it really had gotten to the point where it was an unplayable condition. That's how today's leaders came to the top of the leaderboard, and when a golfer has a ball land well on the green only to watch it blown into a hazard, that's beyond the rub of the green, that's simply an unplayable condition.

Later, in a press conference, Doug Brecht, the LPGA's VP of Rules and Competition, said "we were looking for was an exorbitant amount of movement of balls on the green due to wind situations. We did have some. At last count, it was somewhere between five and 10 balls that actually had some movement that was definitely attributable to the wind."

"[F]rom what I saw, the 18th green, which again was giving us the most difficulty, remained in a playable condition throughout the day," he added.

Ji Young Oh would no doubt disagree. Perhaps Brecht missed her misfortune. Or perhaps he simply overlooked it. "In our opinion, the golf course played very, very difficult, very tough, but it was still playable. That's why we made the decision never to suspend play today," Brecht said.

When asked about the wind creating danger to spectators, fans and ostensibly players, Brecht said "We had an occasional limb blow out of a tree. We didn't see a large amount of palm fronds or anything like that. We had no reports of that. And we were stationed, three officials on the front (nine) and three officials on the back (nine), spread out over the entire golf course. If that would have happened, that definitely would have weighed in our decision and would have actually changed our decision."

Apparently, Brecht and his team missed the palm frond that flew from a tree and into Angela Stanford's ankle.

In my opinion, the LPGA blew it here. The tournament is being covered by ESPN, giving the struggling Tour much-needed exposure, but this is not the sort of coverage that they need. These are the best women players in the world, and they are masterful golfers. Unfortunately, by choosing to continue playing yesterday, the LPGA let them look worse than Sunday hackers, because no one -- not even the best -- can golf in conditions like that.

April 3, 2009

Flight 1549 Survivors Given Replacement Clubs by Acushnet

Back in January, Jim Stefanik, Jorge Morgado, Jeff and Rob Kolodjay, Rick Delisle and Dave Carlos were heading to Myrtle Beach for their annual golf trip.

They never made it to the Grand Strand. Their trip was far shorter -- they were on the ill-fated Flight 1549 only made it to the Hudson River after departing Laguardia Airport. While providence spared them their lives or serious injury, their golf clubs were lost.

Good fortune came to these men again, as this week Acushnet, the parent company for Titleist (among others) replaced their clubs at a custom fitting section at the company's headquarters.

"We knew that they had lost everything, so we reached out to them," [Acushnet Director of Communications Joe] Gomes said. "One of them, Jim Stefanik, is an assistant club professional at one of our accounts, Edgewood Country Club in Southwick. We found out they had rescheduled their trip for April 20, so we invited them to come down."

"Each man received new clubs, shoes, hats and gloves Thursday, courtesy of the Acushnet Co. Each club was customized to its user, thanks to the cutting-edge technology deployed at the secluded test site, where every strike is tracked by radar."
Like I said the other day, golf doesn't build character, it reveals it. In this case, it was the character of a company like Acushnet.

Get Your Picks In...

I am not a big fantasy-sports player, often to my friends' chagrin. Thing is, I am just too busy to spend a lot of time to be good at fantasy baseball or football. This, however, seems to be pretty easy, and I bet you might find it the same:

PGA of America Announces '09 Majors Fantasy Challenge
The PGA of America has launched The 2009 Majors Fantasy Challenge, an online fantasy sports league available exclusively on PGA.com where fans make picks for the four major championships and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Prizes will be awarded after each major championship with the grand prize of a trip to Bermuda for the 2010 PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
The prizes are nice, it's free and easy. Why not? After all, most of our NCAA brackets got torn up a week or more ago!

April 2, 2009

Are Imaginary Monsters A Hazard?

Apparently, parts of the bottom of legendary Loch Ness in Scotland are covered with golf balls.
"WHEN the US scientists lowered their high tech, cameras 800ft into Loch Ness, they were prepared for anything – except golf balls.

"It is believed holidaymakers and locals are using the loch as a golf range.

"Mike O’Brien. of Louisiana-based Sea Trepid. sent remote cameras down in the hope of discovering Nessie for the US TV show, Monster Quest.

"He said: “There’s a lot of debris down there, including, literally, a coating of golf balls. It’s a shame really.”

Naturally, extreme environmentalists used this news as a platform to espouse their views, calling golf balls "mankind's signature litter." To folks like that, I say that they make too much hot air and by shutting their mouths they might reduce global warming a degree or two. Really, it makes perfect sense to take prudent care of our planet, but some folks are off the deep end in their viewpoints. Actually in both directions, but that's a story for another day on another blog.

Whimsically, let's take a look at the rules of the game and see how they can help us in a situation like the Loch Ness Monster. I realize that the R&A covers Scotland, where Loch Ness is, but under USGA Decision 1-4/10 addresses the case where a player's ball has come to rest in a place that is dangerous to the player, such as near a live rattlesnake, alligator, or a bees' nest. Take relief using Rule 25-1b, if the golfer feels that they are in imminent danger. If I smacked a legendary sea monster on the head with a Pro V-1, however, that might be the least of my worries.

The Ladies At The Kraft-Nabisco Might Need Radar Detectors On The Greens

If you're a typical golfer, you've no doubt seen some fast greens in your time. In fact, some courses may even have a reputation for them. Faster greens put more pressure on your game because they reduce the margin for error, magnify breaks and can make things tougher all around for even the shortest of putts. Once those challenges get inside your head, look out...after all, too much thinking is a golfer's worst enemy. In championship golf, not having every bit of confidence over putts can make the difference between winning and losing, or even playing on the weekend. And that's what the LPGA players will be seeing this weekend at the Kraft-Nabisco championship that tees off today:
"The greens were rolling about 12 on the stimpmeter early in the week (a measure of how far a ball rolls out a notch in a stick on a flat surface) and someone even tossed out the possibility of the greens reaching 13 by the end of the week."
How fast is a twelve? As a recreational golfer, it's unlikely you've ever had to play greens that glassy. Here's a chart from the Turf Management school at Michigan State University to give you an idea of what a typical non-pro sees on their home course:

Speeds for Regular Membership Play (measured by Stimpmeter)
8'6" Fast
7'6" Medium-Fast
6'6" Medium
5'6" Medium-Slow
4'6" Slow

Speeds for Tournament Play
10'6" Fast
9'6" Medium-Fast
8'6" Medium
7'6" Medium-Slow
6'6" Slow

The main reason a superintendent doesn't keep greens at your club that quick are simple: many climates won't support it long-term in the summer. On top of that achieving fast greens on a daily basis requires more maintenance. Due to labor, material and equipment costs that makes it prohibitively expensive, and if anything is missed, or things go wrong the grass on the greens will die very quickly. Again, from Michigan State, here's a look into what is necessary:
Fast greens must be mowed more frequently. They must be verticut more frequently. They must be topdressed more frequently. Fertilization must be on a light and frequent basis. Watering must be done more carefully. Lower mowing heights needed to achieve fast greens also place the turfgrass plant under more stress. A reduced rooting depth can be expected under lower mowing heights. The shorter roots require more frequent irrigation and syringing during the summer to sustain the turfgrass plant. Shorter roots also reduce the grass plant's ability to recover from insect and disease attack. An increase in insecticide and fungicide use may be needed.
And if you're the super or the head pro, you can expect your higher handicap golfers to howl about how "unfair" the greens are. For example, on "Home" -- the 17th hole at Eagle Ridge, where I live, the green is a slope from left to right as you face it on the fairway, and Tom Kite and Bob Cupp, our course's designers, saw fit to put a false side along the right edge of the narrow green, with a 20-foot dropoff to a creek below that. Miss it right, you are dead, and in the water. A draw is a necessity, fades or slices are punished severely. I've seen dozens of golfers hit the green from the fairway only to watch the ball trickle off and roll all the way down into the gully. In fact, it is cheap entertainment to sit on our back deck and watch this happen over and over during golf season. And we've seen some incredible temper tantrums and flying clubs as a result. Can you imagine a green like that cut at tournament speed?

Pictured: Eagle Ridge's 17 Green looking back up the fairway. You can't see the drop off from the right side, but it looms over the top of the green in this picture. I call it "The Valley of Sin." Photo by Charles Boyer.

April 1, 2009

Seve Still Swinging Hard In His Fight With Brain Cancer

Even if you "hated" Seve Ballesteros, you had to love him.

Spain's Seve Ballesteros was a guy who could bring conflicted emotions, especially when one was rooting for the US side in a Ryder Cup event. Ballesteros was the killer, a gamesman, the guy who could hit it in the woods, be stymied against a tree and still figure out how to drop the ball within birdie range, and not only that, he'd be inside the approach shot of an opponent laying aside the 100-yard marker out in the middle of the fairway. Coupled with José María Olazábal , he was part the most successful duo in the history of the Ryder Cup with 11 wins and two halved matches out of 15 pairs matches.

At the same time, despite being a diehard partisan for "my" US team, I just loved Seve. It was impossible not to. Seve was a master magician in a trainwreck.

He was a gentleman and an ambassador for golf all around the world, and when he was working his magic, he drew all eyes in his direction. Seve won five majors; The Masters in 1980 and 1983, and The Open Championship in 1979, 1984 and 1988. And he won them all in style. He won on the European Tour fifty times. Not only that, he was a master at match play, he won the World Match Play Championship five times.

In Seve, I saw nearly everything I'd read about Walter Hagen -- no lead was safe when he was in the chase, no lie too bad for him not to advance his ball and put it in a good spot on the green, and like Hagen, Seve was an extroverted character who seemed to be flamboyant in everything he did, either on or off the course.

Recently though, Seve undertook his toughest match and is playing his toughest course: he's fighting brain cancer, and he's going through all of the pain and suffering that goes with fighting that dreaded disease. Still, somehow, he's still Seve, in that his outlook seems to be preternaturally upbeat and hopeful. He is a man who is who he is, and that will serve him well as he works towards regaining his health.

In an interview with Spanish sport daily Marca published Wednesday, Seve said his fight with his cancer was “the most important shot of my life” and said he was “fighting to win my sixth major.” He also outlined plans by saying “my first hope is to get back to normal. After that, a course in Santander. That has been my dream for a long time.”

If I were to walk into a Ladbroke's branch and place a bet on the outcome, I wouldn't bet against him. In fact, I'd plop down a fiver on a new Seve course in Santander being a masterpiece.

Special note: When I say "hate" I mean "sports hate" -- meaning you were a fan of the other side or the other team. Real hate, c'mon, there's too much of that already. I don't really hate the NY Yankees, for example, or their fans. I did rather disliked them beating my Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series, however. That's what I mean, just so we are clear.

18 Holes Can Tell You Everything About Someone

Many years ago, Johnny Revolta, a PGA Tour pro (and major winner) active in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's quipped "golf doesn't build character, it reveals it."

That's a statement so true, it seems obvious. Golf is a game of honor where the player is his or her own referee, and how a given player conducts themself on the course can truly identify what sort of person that player is.

Knowing that, when I came across a 2002 article in USA Today about CEO's and golf, I was once again struck by how accurate Revolta was:

Chad Struer has played golf with almost 20 Fortune 500 CEOs. One in three cheats, he says. Struer finds that rather peculiar, because those same CEOs hire him and his Salinas, Calif., company, USA Diligence, to investigate the honesty of start-up companies so the CEOs can decide whether to invest. One CEO, whom Struer calls "good-hearted," so habitually shaves strokes that he consistently scores in the mid-80s when it is obvious he would never break 100.
Interesting. And perhaps the game of golf could have identified some of the scoundrels responsible for our current economic crisis? Maybe more than we think. It's food for thought, anyway.

Michelle Wie Needs To Show Us Something This Week

As it stands now, Michelle Wie's career more closely resembles Ty Tryon's than Tiger Woods.

Tryon, you might recall, was the youngest golfer to ever make it through PGA Q-School at the age of 17. He then joined the Tour, was given million-a-year endorsement deals with Callaway Golf and Target, but he never lived up to his hype as the Next Big Thing. These days, Tryon can be found playing the mini-tours, and he has yet to find his mojo and live up to the expectations he had eight years ago.

Michelle Wie, on the other hand, has never won a 72-hole tournament at any level, anywhere. Her biggest win to date came in 2002 in the Women's Division of the Hawai'i State Open, a three round affair where she won over Cindy Rarick. With all due respect to Ms. Rarick, that's not a win over Lorena Ochoa or Christie Kerr.

Somehow, however, Wie is the Next Great Hope of the LPGA. As Dan Bickley wrote in the Arizona Sun on March 27th, the LPGA's idea of its future seems to hinge on the future of their young but extremely under-accomplished star:

[A]s the 2009 golf season gets rolling, this much remains true: Wie is the tour's best hope for relevancy. And she may be more important to the future of the LPGA than Woods is for the men's game.

"For sure, it is a new beginning," Wie said. "I'm really excited for this summer to come, this spring and summer. I'm just very excited."

Wie is still a spectacle. That hasn't changed, either. Despite her early tee time on Friday, her gallery bulged to around 500 people in the second round of the J Golf Phonoenix LPGA National. She was the only one drawing a serious crowd, and the only one with a Phoenix police officer escorting her group down the fairway.

The simple question is: why? After all, the LPGA has Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Christie Kerr, an entire contingent of incredibly talented international players such as Jeong Jang, and others. But it's Wie or bust, or so it seems.

Wie was a young phenom, no doubt, but she never has backed up her considerable golf skills with wins where they count the most: the LPGA, the USGA, or even the Futures Tour. And as any fan of Tiger Woods will tell you, the only thing that really counts in tournament golf are wins. And the only thing that make any professional golfer great are wins in major tournaments.

Ask Rory Macelroy, who has won on the European Tour at the tender age of 18. He too is considered a phenomenon, and is Europe's best hope for its next great golfer. Thing is, Rory has hoisted a trophy, and a has a win on the big stage to his name. While his C.V. is far from distinguished at this stage, since Macelroy has yet to prove he can contend and even win a major, he has proven that at least some of the hyperbole that surrounded him as a youngster was on the mark. Wie, on the other hand, has yet to live up to hers -- and questions still remain if she ever will.

As the LPGA's first major of the year prepares to tee off tomorrow, it will be well worth watching Michelle Wie and observing how she plays. If she is to truly fulfill the LPGA's hope of having its own superstar a la Tiger, she will need to not only make the cut but also show that she can compete in the upper echelons of the women's game. If she doesn't, she'll continue to resemble Ty Tryon, pressure will continue to mount upon her, and the LPGA may soon be searching for someone else to raise its profile.

Hopefully for Wie, good things will happen soon, because the window of opportunity won't last forever.

image: Keith Allison, on Flickr