August 31, 2009

You Won't Get a Good Swing From A Poor Posture

80% of what goes wrong with a bad golf swing happens before the club even moves.

That may sound counter-intuitive, because all too often we get caught up in swing mechanics -- swing plane, release, follow-through and the like. These are important, but as it with all things, you really need to start with a sound base in order to make all of the swing elements come together and get a good result.

This I know in spades, as I have recently entered into a small mini-slump from a ball-striking standpoint, one in which I find I am pushing the ball to the weakly to the right and either not getting long draws off of the tee box or hitting targets on my approaches. That in turn has led to too much defensive golf, which makes a day out with the regular foursome a little less fun (and profitable) that it normally is.

Like most amateurs, I have tried this drill and that adjustment, hoping to get the club back into "the groove" -- that seemingly effortless swing where the golf club almost finds its own way back and through, sending the ball on the right way towards the target at impact. None of it worked. These adjustments weren't going to ever work either, because I have discovered that the problem lay in the foundation. I took a lesson last week and the second I saw the first video of my swing, I knew exactly where the problem lay: I was slumping over the ball with a poor stance, and that gave the club little chance to rotate through correctly. So now I have something to work on -- redeveloping the habit of a proper stance.

Here's a video from professional Bryan Pemberton, the Director of Instruction at the Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton, California. Pemberton is a former NCAA All-American, and in this video, he describes in precision a problem many golfers have but never realize:

Palmer and Nicklaus Paired Together As Masters Starters

Let's hope they play the whole 18. That would a big treat for the patrons.

Two of modern golf's biggest icons will serve as honorary starters for the next Masters Tournament in Augusta next April, as Jack Nicklaus has agreed to join Arnold Palmer for the ceremonial first tee shot at the year's first major.

"I have had such a long-standing appreciation and love affair with Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, and this honor is a wonderful way for me to say thank you to the many patrons who have supported me over the decades," Nicklaus said in a prepared statement.

"I am honored that Jack Nicklaus has accepted our invitation," National Golf Club and Masters chairman Billy Payne said in his prepared statement. "[H]aving Jack join Arnold on the first tee next April will be a special thrill for his many loyal fans around the world."

And a fitting capstone to two of the greatest careers in golf history. Nicklaus, for winning the most professional majors; Palmer, for ushering golf into the era of television and setting the stage for the growth it saw as a result of the exposure. Both were and still are compelling characters, and seeing them start what is generally the most anticipated golf tournament of the year a great way to remember how much current professionals owe the two men.

One has to wonder how many years it will be until Gary Player joins them on the tee, thus reuniting the entire Big Three of the 1960s. Player was in last season's field for his 52nd Masters Tournament, which was his last, he said.

Previous Honorary starters
Jock Hutchison 1963-73
Fred McLeod 1963-76
Byron Nelson 1981-2001*
Gene Sarazen 1981-99
Ken Venturi 1983
Sam Snead 1984-2002
Arnold Palmer 2007-09

Tiger's Putter Infected With Acute Sergio Syndrome

This past weekend at Liberty National set up perfectly for a stalking Tiger Woods: one shot off of the lead on the 18th green, all Tiger had to do was stroke in a birdie putt to insure a place in at least a playoff, if not an outright win. Problem was, he did what he'd done all week -- he barely missed. From seven feet.

That is most unlike Tiger Woods.

"To miss as many putts as I did this week, to still have a last chance on the last green with a putt, it goes to show you how good I'm hitting it," Woods told reporters later. Then he added the lament of tournament golfers all the way back to Old Tom Morris back when the very idea of professional golf and tournaments to determine champions was being invented. "I just need to make a few more putts."

Faced with a twenty footer for par on the same green a few minutes later, journeyman Heath Slocum calmly brushed his ball into the cup, all but insuring victory for himself.

That is most unlike Heath Slocum.

"I didn't even know if I'd be here. I came in here with the attitude that I had nothing to lose," he said afterward. Indeed, Slocum was 124th in FedEx points, and barely got into the field after missing the cut in last week's Wyndham Championship. By a mere two points he was on his way to New Jersey, and to victory.

Now he's ranked 3rd in the FedEx Cup standings, not bad for a fellow who honed his golfing skills in the Redneck Riviera town of Milton, Florida with high school teammate Boo Weekley.

As for Woods, while he still has a solid grasp on the FedEx Cup points lead, this is his second consecutive tournament that he has let slip away thanks to a balky putter. Woods putting more has resembled his sometime nemesis and rival Sergio Garcia's of late, and he's let a major and now a playoff tournament slip away consecutively with sloppy flatstick play.

It's fair to ask the dreaded question about Woods: is in he in a putting slump?

Tiger never made a putt longer than fifteen feet all week at the Barclay's, and despite his five wins this season. Tiger may say that infamiliarity has bred contempt lately, but this week he will have no excuses. He'll be back on a familiar course at the Deutsche Bank in Boston this week, the revamped TPC Boston, which is hosting a FedEx Playoff event for the third consecutive year. Tiger has played this course many times before, and he will be far more familiar with the greens than he was at Hazeltine of Liberty National.

Whether Tiger Woods can putt like Tiger Woods or like Sergio Garcia is the biggest question heading into round two of the playoffs.

August 28, 2009

The Best American Courses To Never Host a Major

Much has been made this week about "the pros not liking Liberty National" -- and perhaps they don't. My take is that if you put 10-12 million dollars on the line, and promised the winner a seven figure check, I think that the pros would play in a cornfield as long as it had eighteen sticks and a crowd of 20,000 fans to watch.

This is especially true if the tournament is a US Open or a PGA Championship. For any golf course, hosting a major is a badge of honor, one that cements something in the minds of the membership something very near and dear to their heart: the greatness of their golf course.

For most clubs, anyway. Above and beyond some of very best courses in the US are clubs that have courses so great that they are world-renowned works of golfing art. And unlike "lesser" clubs, their memberships' don't particularly give a damn if they get attention from the golfing world. In fact, it can be safely said that they would prefer they didn't. These courses ought to host major championships, but don't, and that's something of a loss to the game itself. What if, for example, St. Andrews was private and decided it was too much of a bother for them to host an Open Championship every so often?

Here are my top 3 American courses that should have a major on them, not that the members are asking me:

1. Pine Valley, Camden County, NJ

With a modest 155 slope from the championship tees, it is said that members say that no one with a handicap higher than 5 will break 100 their first time on the course, and that on at least one hole, that player will score a quintuple -- or worse. That is, if they were even invited -- a rare event indeed.

Pine Valley is one of the most exclusive pieces of real estate in the entire United States -- and it wants to stay that way. Never having hosted any major events (not to be confused with a Major) the reason most often cited is that there is not enough room for spectators on the property. Perhaps, but rhe only time the course ever received much television exposure was a 1962 Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match between Gene Littler and Byron Nelson.

2. Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Nebraska

The web site for this course is blunt: "The Sand Hills Golf Club is a private facility and does not accept any on-line requests for membership information or tee times." In other words, if you ain't already a member, don't bother us, kid.

Established in 1995, and designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, this course regularly appears in the top 100 lists as well as the best new course in the last fifty years in the US. What it looks like is mostly a mystery to golf fans: the entrance road is some 55 miles long, making a stolen glimpse all but an impossibility. It has never (to my knowledge) hosted even a made-for-TV event.

As a club, Sand Hills is all about golf: there is only a tiny changing room -- no bodacious locker room with poker tables, a small clubhouse and no tee times. In fact, there are no clocks on the property. If you can play Sand Hills, you have the time.

3. Cypress Point, Monterey, California

Poor Pebble Beach.

Lauded as it is, Pebble Beach is not even the best golf course on the street it is on. That distinction would definitely belong to Cypress Point, the uber-private club down 17 Mile Drive from Pebble.

Cypress used to host tournament play up until the 1990's, when it was decided that the PGA's new diversity requirements were not amenable to the membership -- they felt it was they themselves who would decide who could be a member, and no one else. Rather than meet the PGA's requirements, they decided to drop out of the Crosby (now AT&T) course rota and keep their global Top 3 course all to themselves.

It is a shame, because this is Alistair MacKenzie's finest course -- better even than Augusta National. The reason for that? Augusta National doesn't lay hard aside the ocean, and Cypress Point does, giving it additional unmatched scenery and the additional element of seaside weather. On top of that, Cypress has pretty much stayed the way it was since it was built - a few tweaks here and there - and Augusta National has been re-engineered so many times that it is almost fair to say that neither MacKenzie or Bobby Jones would recognize the place were they to walk its fairways today.

This isn't the case with Cypress Point. It is what it is, and that is one of the top golf courses in the world, hands down, no additional discussion necessary. No one needed to "improve" the Mona Lisa by adding new paint when DaVinci finished it, and no one has needed to re-work Cypress Point. Perhaps that's because the pros don't bomb it with 330 yard drives, but then again, if the wind is up - as it is most days in the Big Sur - they would be unwise to do so anyway. If there is a heaven, and as a golfer you end up spending eternity there - it probably looks a lot like Cypress Point. But it has never hosted a US Open or a PGA Championship.

August 27, 2009

Arnold Palmer's Grandson Turning Pro

Life Grandpa, Like Grandson? Sam Saunders Certainly Hopes So.

The apple never falls far from the tree, it is said, and this much appears to be true for Arnold Palmer's grandson Sam Saunders. He announced recently that he will skip his senior season of the college game and intends to turn professional sometime in the near future, play in some PGA events and then attempt to earn his card at the annual PGA Qualifying school.

Saunders had been playing for the Clemson University golf team, and has had an up-and-down career for the Tigers. He was all-regional last season on a top-5 team, but this year, he was replaced as a starter in over half of Clemson's matches. His coach, Larry Penley told the Columbia, SC State that "[Saunders] needed another challenge is the best way to put it. He was spinning his wheels playing golf, looking for bigger and better things to do.”

Now, Saunders plans to play golf for a living.

He told reporters that the college life was not for him, and that he had had trouble balancing his academic life and the needs of his golfing career. He also added that essentially he had wanted to quit and turn pro two years ago, but after a discussion with his parents, he had promised to attend Clemson for another couple of years. Now that he's fulfilled that promise, Saunders "wants to do it my way."

Of Saunders game, Coach Penley said the he and his assistant “tried to straighten out Sam’s ball flight, but it never took for him (and) he didn’t see it was an issue. His swing relies a lot on timing. When it was on, he was really good; when not, it was kind of tough for him.”

Penley, who also coached Jonathon Byrd and US Open Champion Lucas Glover, undoubtedly has an eye for a good golf swing, and his analyses accurate and his teaching effective. Obviously, Byrd and Glover benefitted from their years under his tutelage, but Penley could not confer the same skills improvement to Saunders.

Soon, it will be on to real life for the young man, where he will be judged solely by his results, and in a place where he may well find that his lineage is more bane than boon. While being Arnold Palmer's grandson will certainly open doors that would go unanswered for other unheralded prospective professionals, Saunders may find that expectations are higher and that he'll be initially judged more by comparison to Palmer than to his peers. If he can prosper, then the comparisons will be positive. If he struggles, statements not unlike "he's not his granddaddy" will follow him like a dark curse.

But at least he'll be doing it his way.

August 26, 2009

Say It Ain't So: The Top Courses Lists Are Political?

You decide if this is sour grapes or refreshing honesty:

Course architects Bob Cupp and Tom Kite know their handiwork [at Liberty National] will be under the microscope. They are aware the course is yet to land on anyone's list of top-rated golf sites, which, says Kite, is fine with him.

"If you want to play that political game, and buy your way into a list, you can probably do that ... so the ratings I think are very misleading," he said. "We certainly feel like Liberty National is qualified to be on any of those lists. Everybody that follows golf is going to know more about Liberty National than they did a week ago.

It would be hard to argue with that list, although I would probably move Cypress Point over Augusta, but that's just my personal opinion. Lists like these are fun, and good topic for discussion, but let's be honest -- most mere mortals will only see these courses from outside the ropes or in the case of Cypress Point, from the road. They aren't accepting tee times and they don't need the unwashed masses (that would be us) to succeed.

But wait, the list has 95 other members. And like college football or basketball, once you get outside of the top fifteen or twenty, you could put the names of many of the rest of the high-end courses in a bag, pull them out and write their name on the list at the first blank number and be just as "right"as any other list.

Ask yourself: does the average golfer know why Kinloch GC (Manakin-Sabot, VA) is a tad better than Cherry Hills outside of Denver?

That's the opinion of Golf Digest.

Kinloch is within the top 50 and Cherry Hills is #54. That means one course can say it is a "Top 50" and the other can "only" say "Top 100" -- despite the fact that Cherry Hills has hosted seven majors. The answer is that Golf Digest's ratings are opinions and what is one person's opinion might be completely wrong to someone else.

I'm not saying or trying to imply that Kinloch bought its way onto any list, or for that matter did anything at all untoward, but to be completely honest, I do have a hard time with a new club with no speakable tradition being rated over one that the USGA has gone to time and again to host its most important tournaments. That just doesn't make much sense to me.

Make no mistake about it either, Kinloch's web site prominently features the rating on the front of its web site. And that's important, especially for a resort, daily fee or even a new private club. That's where opinion turns to marketing item, and your imagination can take Kite's comment about buying a course's way onto a list would be an investment for some folks.

So perhaps Kite's comment the list being political and for sale does offer some food for thought.

The Next Big Break Will Be A Mickey Mouse Show

Comcast's Golf Channel has announced the cast and locale for its next season of Big Break. This time, they are staying close to home and the contestants will battle primarily at Walt Disney World's Magnolia and Palm Courses.

The show then takes a page straight out of the cross-marketing playbook for alphabet network company, ABCDESPN (ABC/Disney/ESPN), and will hold several challenges in the Disney theme parks:
"Utilizing the unique venue, Big Break Disney Golf’s challenges also will take place at various locations throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, including Main Street U.S.A., Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex and the Walt Disney World Speedway."
PGA Tour players will make several cameos, and undoubtedly, so will several of Disney's personalities.

Perhaps even Lauren Brooke, the glamor model and TNA wrestling interviewer who hosts Golf Channel's Top 10 shows as Lauren Thompson will make an appearance. Okay, I made that up, there's no mention of her being on the show, although I suspect that 12 young 20-something male golfers would not object.

More seriously, this time around, the contestants will be competing for a spot in the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic, marking the first time the Big Break winner will play a Tour event on the same course the show was shot at.

Liberty National: An American Story of Renewal And New Hope

Much has been made about the gloriously gorgeous views of Lady Liberty on every hole of Liberty National. Make no mistake, however, this is a challenging golf course, one that will require distance, accurate placement and precise approach shots in order to garner a winning score. A uniquely American success story, it came from a wasteland that required persistence of vision and hard work to make it possible.

From Sordid and Toxic To a New Beginning

The site of Liberty National had once been a World War I ammo dump that had decayed into a wasteland of rusting tankers, abandoned cars, crumbling warehouses and areas of toxic contamination. If there was a place that lived the cliche' of New Jersey being a dump, this was that hardly would inspire the design team of Tom Kite and Bob Cupp to create one of the newest shining jewels of American golf.

According to the Tom Kite design site, he was "underwhelmed with the site, but loved the location." Indeed, the property offered one of the most picturesque vantage points to view the icon that is the Statue of Liberty. Problem is, it had only a few feet of elevation changes and the land itself was hardly in condition to be sculpted into a championship golf course. "It was the junkiest piece of land I had ever seen," Kite told Sports Illustrated. "But if you could ignore the smell and the garbage, it was an unbelievably exciting opportunity because of the location."

To insure the safety of the public on the site, the site was first decontaminated of toxic and hazardous materials, after which the rehabilitated land could not be disturbed. To build a golf course atop that, it was covered in plastic to create a shield that would leave that area as it was. Above the shield, millions of cubic feet of clay followed by thousands of tons of sand were added, providing the raw material from which the two designers could set to work. From there, according to Kite, not a single square foot of the course was not man-made.

Kite added that this is no minimalists' course, and that course designers with that philosophy would have passed on the chance to build Liberty National. Then again, the site was not one that naturally cried out for eighteen flags and tee boxes in order to be what nature intended, a golf course. Instead, because of the checkered past and existing problems that still made the land sketchy, it was a course that needed to be made by man's hand if it was to exist at all.

When Kite and Cupp got started, Liberty National's property was no more than ten feet above sea level with only a two foot rise anywhere. By the time they were finished, there were some places with 52-foot rises, and overall a rolling area of hills and undulations that would serve as their canvas for the 18 holes to come.

By the end of their work, Kite and Cupp built a 7,400 yard course surrounded by knee-high grass, a plethora of water hazards, bunkers positioned imprecise drives and then offer a high risk and reward option, all leading to the signature Kite/Cupp lightning-fast multi-tiered green complexes where a wayward approach will make a three-putt a challenge.

This weekend, even for the best 125 golfers in the world, Liberty National will not be a course for the faint of heart, or one who laggardly wants to protect a lead. Nothing will be given or can be taken for granted at Liberty National, and for those who dare to do so, the price paid may be quite high indeed. Winning here will require courage and moxie, much as the immigrants who passed by offshore required when they arrived on the shores of the United States, also passing by the Statue of Liberty along the way.

August 25, 2009

The Tour Returning to Westchester in 2012

Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y. will once again host The Barclays tournament in 2012. The club had been a regular PGA Tour stop for more than 40 years until 2007, when the Tour pulled out of its agreement and moved to one year stops at Liberty National, Ridgewood Country Club next year, and Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J. in 2011.

Various golf writers have commented on the move away from the mainstay location in Westchester, all saying that two reasons existed for their exit from the annual Tour rota:

“We won’t be mourning the loss of Westchester C.C. Neither will players, who complained of aging rooms, lack of hot water for showers and a definite feeling of being unwanted by the staff.” –Gary Van Sickle

“Moving the Barclays to Liberty National was a good move–Tiger Woods simply was not going to play Westchester again…” –Jim Herre

“Tiger didn’t like Westchester. That’s why the Tour isn’t playing there. Period.” –Farrell Evans

In some corners, Westchester is hailed as one of the last old-style courses on the PGA Tour schedule, while in others, it is derided as having a ridiculously demanding membership. Last year on, Sam Weinman noted that Tour officials said Westchester's "club's members were too demanding and out of touch, insisting that they be allowed to continue to play tennis and golf in the middle of a $7 million Tour event."

In the same article, Weinman said at the time (2008) that it was unlikely that the Tour would return to Westchester, especially after tense buyout negotiations complete with recriminations and leaks to the press by the Tour and Westchester camps. Apparently, however, that's water under the bridge and the Tour will return to its former site, at least for one year -- no mention of 2013 and beyond was noted in the article.

Et Tu, Tiger?

As for Woods not playing Westchester, the issue is a study in the swirling debate of "is Tiger good for the game?"

While some insist that he has brought golf far more than he demands in return - vastly increased purses, incredible TV ratings, etc., others seem to take that for granted and are incensed that Woods would choose to skip a particular event. That latter group always seems to forget that no PGA Tour member plays every single event, and that many willfully choose to skip tournaments because they don't like the course, the club, or maybe even the town the event is held in. Whatever their reasons are, they are their own and moreover, they are not required to play...and that applies as equally to Tiger Woods as it does to Tim Clark or to James Driscoll. Certainly, Woods is primus inter pares -- first among equals -- on the PGA Tour, but with all due respect to the likes of Clark or Driscoll, you won't hear many fans griping about them skipping Westchester or anywhere else.

That said, it appears that the PGA Tour has willfully chosen to return to a course that they know that Tiger doesn't care for. Whether he chooses to show up in 2012 is his own decision, but at least for once, the PGA Tour has given the Tiger naysayers at least part of what they have been carping about for years now.

August 24, 2009

The Trials And Travails of Being Sergio

The former world's #2 golfer seems to have lost his touch and his confidence. He needs both if he is to fulfill his vast potential.

Last week was just another bad week for Sergio Garcia. This time, just when he thought he might be able to turn around a rotten 2009, victory once again eluded him - or, as some say, he eluded it once again. Your pick, but for Garcia, recent times have not been glad tidings.

After a year of turbulence in both his professional and personal life, yesterday afternoon, he was leading the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, NC, and pointed towards a possible revival of his season -- and also some much-needed momentum heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

As he left the seventh green, Garcia had just made his third consecutive birdie, and led the tournament by three. For once, his balky putter was aiming in the right direction and his putts were finding the bottom of the cup. Unfortunately for him, that good feeling was not to last long. Withing minutes, Garcia three-putted the eighth hole, and that re-opened the door to the house of horrors that the the Spaniard has seemingly call home all season. He would bogey three holes consecutively, lose his lead and ultimately miss a sudden-death playoff berth by one stroke when he achingly missed a bunker shot at 18 by less than a camel's hair, one that would have gotten him to the 19th tee, still with a chance to win. As the putt rolled by, Sergio ended the day as he has ended every Sunday thus far in 2009: with more questions than answers.

“I should have been in a different position,” Garcia said a few minutes later. “It's a shame.”

It is a shame. Last year, Garcia was within a few steps of the loftiest peak in golf, the #1 ranking. He won The Players Championship and lost to Padraig Harrington in the PGA Championship, and for all intents and purposes, he looked ready to challenge and rival Tiger Woods -- whether or not Woods was healthy and playing his best. Not long after that, however, Garcia's touch around the green turned to stone. Not long afterward, his world ranking also began to sink like a stone, and for the most part, that stone has yet to find the bottom. Garcia is winless in fifteen months on the PGA Tour, and he has not won this year on the European Tour either, a place where he spends a significant portion of his playing time.

No wins this season may not seem like much of a drop-off for a touring pro, and for many that may be true...but Sergio is not an average player, he is one blessed with incredible talent, an effervescence of charisma and seemingly, a desire to take his game as far as it can take him. He was once Europe's Next Coming, a player that would take the place of his hero Seve Ballesteros as the face of European golf, if not the game itself.

These days, that Next Coming moniker has been given to Irish wunderkind Rory McIlroy, and many doubt that Sergio even has the dreaded title of "Greatest Player to Have Never Won a Major." Kenny Perry and others are given that dubious title by many in the golf press, and as for Sergio Garcia, well, his 0-44 streak in the majors only underlines the opinion of him being a good, but not great player, and one with a penchant for losing leads when the heat is at its highest settings -- the closing stages of a tournament. Golf writer Alex Miceli of Golfweek quipped yesterday that "I got goosebumps when that ball rolled across the edge of the hole, but still Garcia found another way to lose an event he had in his back pocket." In a nutshell, Miceli encapuslated Garcia's year.

After a slow start, in April, Sergio was clearly not himself.

After struggling to a tie for 38th at The Masters in Augusta, he said that "I don't like [Augusta National Golf Club]...I don't think it's's too get mud balls in the middle of the fairways." After being pressed to clarify what he said, and perhaps to offer suggestions to the Men of the Masters on how they could improve their course, Garcia replied curtly, "I don't care, they can do whatever they want. It's not my problem. I just come here and play then go home." Undoubtedly, these comments didn't go over well in a certain white house at the end of Magnolia Lane in Augusta, not to mention the legions of golf fans who consider Augusta National to be the hallowed heavenly grounds of the game itself.

Despite his reputation as a fiery competitor, those comments came as a surprise from a player who is long-accustomed to the white-hot media spotlight that follows top touring pros. Garcia no doubt knew better than to say what he did, but did it anyway. Clearly, he was disgusted. But was it at the golf course in Augusta that had just whipped him or was it something else?

A clue to that would come later on in May, when Garcia admitted that his girlfriend, Greg Norman's daughter Morgan-Leigh, had broken up with him. While he was practicing at Turnberry for the upcoming Open Championship, he told the London Times the breakup had hurt him deeply and that "it was probably the first time I have been really in love. It took me a while to get over it.

"I haven't been that comfortable on a golf course for two months," he continued. "Obviously the break-up with Morgan didn't help. You get over some things. Others take a little longer. I haven't been playing well. The last seven months of 2008 I would give myself a 9 out of ten for my golf. The last two months a 2 or 2½."

That poor play would continue on and off, but mostly on throughout this season, but it looked for a short time as if his personal drought might end yesterday on a rain-soaked course in North Carolina. That didn't happen, however, and that is the bad news for Garcia.

Last Chance For Redemption

The good news is that by playing almost well enough to win, he solidified his FedEx Cup standing, and gets another chance at redeeming his 2009 starting this week at The Barclay's. The site of the tournament, Liberty National, is a place where he will be able to see the Statue of Liberty up close and personal on many holes. There, perhaps he will be remembered why he came to this country in the first place: to play with and to win against the best golfers in the world...a group Sergio Garcia certainly belongs in, especially when he is playing his best.

Perhaps Sergio is hoping that the statue is his version of Lady Luck. He needs it. For Sergio Garcia, winning the FedEx Cup is all he has left in 2009. Playing well and advancing in the playoffs would go far to restoring his self-confidence, and put him in position for a much better 2010.

Greenskeeper Unearths 10,000 Year Old Tooth On Michigan Green

A groundskeeper recently stumbled onto something interesting on one of the the greens at Morrison Lake Country Club: A tooth from a 10,000-year-old mammoth.The 10-pound tooth surfaced last week when Patrick Walker, 18, was going about his duties.

When he went back to the clubhouse to show course owner Dixie Riley what he found, she was dismissive. The Grand Rapids (MI) News reports that

"We were really busy and I was like: 'Patrick, I don't have time for this.'" Riley said Saturday. Fortunately, Riley knew a Portland couple who unearthed a mastodon skeleton while digging a pond earlier this summer.

They gave her telephone numbers for the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology.

After hearing details, Scott Beld, a research assistant at the Ann Arbor museum, told Riley he could drive out that afternoon.

Beld verified the find and said there may be more out there.

"We went out on the course and could see the vertebrae and a portion of a tusk," he said. Recent rains had brought the tooth to the surface.

The 18-hole Morrison Lake course in Saranac is a 5,423 yard par 70 affair from the tips. It is rated at 65.7 and it has a slope rating of 102. The course opened in 1926.

While there may be more fossils on the golf course site (and not just in the morning scramble) Beld said that the University of Michigan doesn't plan any further digs.

August 22, 2009

Keys To Match Play Success

Today is the penultimate day of the Solheim Cup, with the USA currently leading the European Team 4.5 to 3.5. Personally, I am still waiting to play my Club Match Play semi-final (I've already won my flight, and am now in the Final Four) and this time, I am playing a golfer who is clearly better than I am and will not make tactical mistakes to save me should I have an errant hole.

Even when one is playing a better player, the same principles of match play success still apply. Here are my keys that have served me well thus far:

Play the course, not your opponent.

This key comes from one Bobby Jones, one of the great golfers and most fearsome match play opponents in the history of the game. Even though match play is mano y mano, it is still you versus the golf course first, and most likely, last. Don't get caught up in the emotion of what your opponent is doing, and take dead aim with your own ball and do the best you can -- this will serve you longer than trying to out-do everything your opponent does.

Always play first.

It's always better to play first, because that leaves your opponent in the position of answering your good shot.

Walter Hagen, who won five PGA Championships at match-play, would often start a game by hitting a 3-wood from the tee. That assured him of being in the fairway, leaving his opponent in the position of having to do the same. If s/he is not playing the course first and trying to best you instead, s/he'll have a lot more pressure on them, which already gives you an edge.

Get the ball into the hole first.

This is anotiher way of increasing the pressure on your opponent. Don't rush, but by putting out, you're done, you can relax and catch a mental break before the next tee and you will leave your opponent feeling the pressure to beat or match your score.

Always, always, ALWAYS assume that your opponent will make the putt or make a great shot.

This might be the most important rule of match-play.

There's an old saying about assume: there are two words in assume, ass and me. By taking for granted that you've already won a hole or that there's no way that your opponent can do what s/he needs to do, you've given them the edge by letting your guard down and with it your dropped concentration.

Take one shot at a time.

You can only hit one shot at a time, so give each one your level best. That doesn't mean don't play each hole to your game plan, but you can get yourself into trouble with half-baked layups or lag give each and every one your total concentration.

On the other hand, what's done is done, and if you made a poor shot last time, forget about it. You can't undo it, and you can only deal in the present. Even more importantly, if you just made a GREAT shot, that was also in the past and don't let it make you overconfident. Overconfidence also leads to dropped concentration and dropped concentration leads to bad shots. That in mind, keep your head level and take each shot as if it were the most important one in the match.

Watch your opponent. Closely.

There are two reasons for this: first of all, by watching your opponent, you can see where their head is at, and you can tell if they are struggling. If you notice that your opponent is struggling or has gotten out of his or her routine, it's a golden opportunity to stay relaxed and try to increase the pressure even more. You do this by making a great shot on your own.

Secondly, and let's be honest: people make mistakes, or worse, cheat. The Rules are your friend, and if your opponent breaks the rules, you've just won the hole. Don't feel bad about calling them on it, because you are bound by the rules, and obliged to follow them. So are they. And besides, if you call them on an obvious rules violation, that will get in their head and very possibly will give you a major mental edge.

Study the Rules of Golf and Its Decisions.

You have to know the Rules, for the reasons listed above - you have to follow them and so does your opponent. Even as an amateur, you should have a solid working knowledge of the rules and how they are applied. While the USGA and the R&A's rulebooks can make for dry reading, go through them in the offseason and learn them well.

Then, as I have advised in the past, read Barry Rhodes' "999 Questions On The Rules of Golf." Mr. Rhodes has written a very-easy-to-read book that's enjoyable and will allow you to improve your knowledge as much at a time as you are willing to take on. You can also read Mr. Rhodes' fine web site at

I cannot stress enough or too often that the rules are in place to help you -- and the only way that they can do that is if you know them. They are your friend, so visit often.

Finally, never, ever, NEVER give up!

I once heard the great basketball coach, Jim Valvano say that as he was stricken was cancer and close to death. Valvano was using his NC State team's 1983 run through the NCAA tournament as a metaphor for life - and his battle with cancer. In that run, NC State found themselves in a position where they had to win their conference tournament to even get to the larger NCAA tournament, and to win that, they had to beat the defending national champion -- the Michael Jordan led North Carolina team. They did that, and were rewarded with playing the University of Virginia - only the #3 team in the country and the heavy favorite in their game. They won that too.

In the NCAA tournament, NC State found themselves often trailing and in dire circumstances. They never gave up, they never gave in, and by the time all was said and done, they won despite all odds. "The Cinderella Slipper fits!" was the exclamation of NC State's play-by-play announcer, but the truth was that hard work and a never-say-die attitude is what carried the day.

That applies as much to golf as basketball -- by never, ever giving up you can do what you think you can't do. A positive attitude is key. You can't say can't, because as soon as you do, the next word that follows will be "couldn't."

It's a simple truth that in match play: "It's never over until it's over." You may pull off a miracle shot or your opponent may surprise you and miss a relatively simple shot, and let you back in the hole - or even the match.

August 20, 2009

Sam Snead's Swing Thoughts

Being that this is the week that the PGA Tour stops in Greensboro, Sam Snead comes to mind. He won eight times in Greensboro, still a PGA record.

Snead was described as having had a perfect golf swing, and indeed, in his younger days, he could drive the ball 300 yards off of the tee -- and that was long before high-tech 460cc drivers and modern three piece golf balls, all built with space-age materials. Self-taught, Snead's swing was a thing of beauty to watch, and his philosophy on how to do it priceless:

Whispers of a Possible 59 At Sedgefield?

Donald Ross may be spinning in his grave up in Newton, Massachusetts.

According to a quick blurb on Golf Channel's "Shag Bag" blog, writer Todd Lewis reports that players are saying that Sedgefield Country Club's Ross-designed course is "vulnerable," no doubt thanks to soaking thunderstoms over the past few days. Lewis added that there are "whispers of a possible 59 on the par 70 course."

On a Donald Ross course?


Were that to come to pass, one has to wonder how it would play at the next meeting of the Donald Ross Society, a group of more than 1,200 devotees that includes Ben Crenshaw, Rees Jones, and Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus and Rees both sometimes include design cues from Ross, for example, inverted bowl, domed green complexes that repel shots not aimed at a plateaued landing area. They are a Ross staple, and are featured prominently at Sedgefield. Those shots that ricochet off of the edges almost invariable land in a tight-lie greenside, leaving a difficult up and down. That's not the recipe for a 59, but still, if the pros think they can do it, perhaps it will happen.

Weather for the Greensboro area
is calling for a front to push through with a good chance of storms until Sunday.

US Team Getting To Know "The Real Wie"

Michelle Wie has already won at this week's Solheim Cup, according to her teammates. She's won a lot of their friendships, they say.

"As teammates, I think that we've all gotten to know her in a different way. She's made a lot of new friends this week. It'll be a really good experience for her. I think it already has been," quipped Morgan Pressel to reporters on Wednesday.

That could be a major boon and stepping stone in Wie's growth both as a person and as a golfer. Despite never having won a 72-hole event, the 19 year old is already the highest paid woman golfer, thanks to her abundant endorsement contracts. Rumors and innuendo swirled around her in the press, something that US Team Captain Beth Daniel addressed on Wednesday as well. "We always read that the players didn't like Michelle. They thought she was given everything and that when she plays golf, she's very controlled," Daniels said.

Then she continued on, saying that Wie "is one of the funniest individuals I've ever been around. She's got a very quick wit and she's really a sweet person. She's so appreciative of this opportunity."

While it is an opportunity, it is one that will come with great scrutiny. Wie's play, particularly if a match she is involved in is tight at the end and/or key to the US's victory hopes, will be examined, dissected and displayed on national television by NBC analysts Johnny Miller and Dottie Pepper.

Miller is known for his blunt style of calling it like he sees it, especially when he thinks he's seen a bad mistake. His evisceration of golfers great or unknown on NBC coverage is the stuff of legend, and Miller's commentary is possibly the most direct seen from a network announcer since broadcasting legend Howard Cosell retired. For example, in 2006, as Phil Mickelson was melting down and losing the US Open on the 72nd hole, Miller quipped that "you couldn't have [made] worse decisions than he's had on this hole."

Pepper, for her part, has her own record of direct commentary even when she doesn't mean to do so. In 2007, Pepper said that the US Team were "chokin' freakin' dogs" on air, later saying that she thought Golf Channel's coverage had gone to commercial. Naturally, that didn't sit well with the US Team, who were narrowly leading a tight event at the time. For that comment, even European captain Helen Alfredsson criticized her, calling it "totally inappropriate."

With that in mind, Wie has the chance to be a real hero, or perhaps a scapegoat this weekend, something that will surely be underlined by the commentators covering the event. The US Team is heavily favored to win, but as it often is in match play events, the winner will likely be determined on the last day, when each team sends out everyone to square off in singles events. There, Wie will need to muster her best golf from tee to green and show a grit coming down the stretch that has eluded her thus far in 2009. If she can do that, she will earn the praise of golf fans everywhere. If not, well, she'll get a difficult and painful lesson.

Still, she's inured herself with many of the top players on her tour, which can do nothing else besides making her life easier when it comes to the week in, week out nature of professional golf. That may well inspire her confidence, which has been fragile, and in turn, that may allow Wie to play more confidently and boldly -- which is a dangerous proposition for her opponents, given her prodigious talents.

Yang Yong-eun Gets Call From South Korean President

How big was Y.E. Yang's win in South Korea? Big enough to earn a congratulatory call from the country's President:

Koreans Celebrate Over Yang's Victory

President Lee Myung-bak gave a call to Yang and conveyed his congratulations on his victory, which he said boosted Koreans' morale.

"I woke up early to watch the broadcast and you played well, in a calm manner," Lee told Yang, according to presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan.

"You have overcome hardships to earn a great victory. You boosted the Korean people's morale by winning the major event for the first time as an Asian."

And when Yang goes home, he'll be given a huge welcome by the Korean PGA, which said the organization is planning to hold a large welcoming ceremony for him.

Given South Korea's difficulties in the face of the global recession, its never-ending troubles with its northern totalitarian neighbor and the recent death of an ex-president, one can gain a bit of perspective from the president of the country taking the time to congratulate an athlete for his success.

August 19, 2009

Tough Times In Tiger's Neighborhood

Whenever Tiger Woods' new house in Jupiter, Florida is finally finished, he may have a hard time selling his old digs in Windermere, Florida's Iselworth community. Apparently, there is a glut of mansions for sale in the neighborhood as some well-known and many not-so-well-known (but well-off) homeowners are looking to sell:
"Sports stars Grant Hill, Mark O'Meara, Stuart Appleby and Ryan Longwell all have homes up for sale in Isleworth.

"In fact, at least 45 mansions, or 15 percent of the subdivision, are on the market."
As for Tiger, he still has a way to go until he can move his trophies and toys to the east coast of the state

Woods, his wife, Elin, daughter, Sam, and new son, Charles, won’t be moving into their new home on Jupiter Island anytime soon.

While much of the shell of the 10,000-square-foot, two-story mansion is complete, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Granted, that report is six months old, but homes the size and scope of the one Woods is building can take a very long time to complete. In the meantime, he might want to do an extra good job of sprucing up his Orlando-area house, perhaps by filling the divots in his yard.

In the meantime, he and his family can always pack up and spend their summer in the Hamptons, where Woods recently purchased a $65 million seaside estate.

After Winning His Seventh Tournament In Greensboro, Sam Snead Was Invited to Not Come Back

In 1960, after golfing legend Sam Snead had won the Greater Greensboro Open (now the Wyndham Championship) for the seventh time, he was handed a check for $2,800 and a microphone to address the fans who stayed to watch the awards ceremony. What happened next is a part of golfing lore.

Snead, who always had a reputation for being blunt and direct when something was on his mind, started by telling Starmount president Edward Benjamin that he needed to do something about his "lousy" golf course. Snead was hardly done after he hurled that one brickbat, as for several minutes, the Slammer explained in great detail his complaints about Starmount, concluding that "big name golfers" would avoid the GGO in the future if "something wasn't done."

Benjamin, clearly insulted to the core, replied to reporters afterward that "I regard as sheer affrontery the statements made by Snead about the Starmount Forest Country Club golf course and the thing the statements reveal that the man has been in the limelight too much."

Benjamin then went further, disinviting Snead from playing at any further events at Starmount. "Although the Greater Greensboro Open is conducted by the Junior Chamber of Commerce and not by the Starmount Forest Country Club in any sense, I for one would be happy if Snead did his golfing elsewhere."

Today, the official site of the Wyndham Championship states that Starmount was in poor condition that year due to a harsh winter. While that may strictly be true, Snead's comments included this: "they have not done a thing to this course since I started coming here [in the 1930's]." It was clear that Sam Snead was not talking about a course ravaged by cold weather, instead, his ire was clearly pointed towards the ongoing upkeep and evolution of Starmount generally.

The next year, 1961, the GGO was played at Sedgefield Country Club, a Donald Ross course in another part of Greensboro.

And Starmount? It is still open, and is located at One Sam Snead Drive, in the Gate City.

August 18, 2009

Golf's Confusing And Contradictory Origins In America

"The first" of anything important is usually a matter of high prestige, and as such, you will find a lot of hyperbole that borders on fabrication surrounding it. For example, what was the first golf course in America? Who started the first golf club? You will sometimes hear nearly as many different answers as the number of times you ask the questions, and all of them will be "right." Well, most of them, anyway.

Many claim it, some even advertise it, but only one can legitimately claim it -- and even then, given the spotty records surrounding sport a couple of centuries ago, it is difficult to claim primacy without fear of contradiction.

The USGA says this:
"The origin of golf clubs in North America can be traced to the year 1786 with the founding of a club in Charleston, S.C., and the charter of the Royal Montreal Golf Club in 1873. Golf was played at Oakhurst, W. Va., in 1884, the Dorset Field Club, Vt., in 1886, and in Foxburg, Pa., in 1887. The St. Andrews Club in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., has been documented as the longest continually running club since its founding in 1888."
The Charleston club they mention was t
he South Carolina Golf Club, which was founded by Scottish merchants on September 29, 1786. The club was a social organization at first, and it is difficult to ascertain if they even played the game from the outset of the club's formation. It is recorded that members did play golf not long afterwards on Harleston Green, a public park in the center of Charleston that was also used by other city inhabitants for horse races, cricket matches, picnicking, and walking. Harleston Green did not have a dedicated golf course as we conceive of them today, so while the SCGC was almost certainly the first golf club, it had an arrangement where it used a public park as its field of play.

One could even question if South Carolina Golf Club's activities were golf as we know it. History does not make the dictinction between the game they played at Harleston green as being the "short" game - similar to ‘kolf’ played in the Netherlands - a commoners’ game round churchyards and village greens, hitting balls at targets in the landscape, or whether there were holes specifically cut for the purpose of golf.

What is interesting is that a shipment of 96 golf clubs and 432 golf balls was received by one David Deas of Charleston in 1743. Surely they weren't mantle decorations or party favors -- a featherie golf ball from that time would be worth an average worker's annual salary. That said, it is safe to say that golf was played even before the formation of the SC Golf Club forty-three years later. Again, the specific type of game that was played with that equipment is still questionable and the subject of debate amongst interested historians.

Royal Montreal claims to be the oldest golf club in North America, having been founded in 1873. In that year, a small group of eight gentlemen sat in a dockside office and formed the Montreal Golf Club. That claim, however, is contradicted by well-documented South Carolina Golf Club, which is 87 years older. Perhaps the claim is the oldest golf club continuously operated since it was formed, but that's not the claim on the club's website - they lay claim simply to being "the oldest."

In America, in February of 1888, Scottish-born John Reid and several friends played a "friendly game of gowf" in Yonkers, New York and later formed the historic St. Andrews Golf Club, which was of course named after the Scottish town that is the home of the game. St. Andrews lays claim to being the oldest continuously operated club in the United States, and given its role in forming the USGA, and its recognition in the golf world, that fact is almost impossible to dispute. Among many of the early clubs, St. Andrews is the thoroughbred.

The Foxburg Country Club is founded in Foxburg, Pennsylvania, where in 1887, the Foxburg Golf Club was organized, a course built and it has been in use continuously ever since. Since Oakhurst Links closed for roughly 70 years in the 20th century, Foxburg could lay claim to being the "oldest" course in the US, given that its fair links have never been used for any other purpose besides golf since their contruction.

Oakhurst Golf Links
claims to be the first golf course in the United States, having been laid out in 1884. That may be strictly true, however, once again, the South Carolina Golf Club may still earn primacy, because they played one or the other forms of golf on Harleston Green in more than 100 years before Oakhurst was cut into the West Virginia hills.

Granted, Harleston Green was either a temporary or a shared course when the SCGC played, but was still a course when its members were whacking featheries from a tee towards a hole. Perhaps the most accurate claim is that Oakhurst Links is the oldest dedicated course, a claim that would withstand historical analysis. Whether it is truly the "oldest" may well depend on one's definition of a "golf course." The Scots, who undoubtedly can lay claim to the provenance of the modern game say simply that "‘links golf’, played with a variety of clubs to holes, marked by flags" constituted a "golf course." In fact, the Scottish Golf History website states flatly that "this is golf as we know it. "

So perhaps Oakhurst Links is indeed the first golf course in the United States, at least one as defined by the Scottish.

For Sale: One of America's First Golf Clubs

The site of one of the first golf club in the United States -- Oakhurst Links, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia -- has been put up for sale. Asking price? $4.5 million. Although it is often overlooked in the accounts of the history of golf in the United States, Oakhurst Links was established at least four years earlier than the St. Andrews Golf Club in New York, making it America's first organized golf club with a dedicated course to call its own.

The course opened in 1884, and was built by Bostonian Russell Montague, who came to the White Sulphur Springs area at the recommendation of his doctor. At the urging of his neighbors, Montague built the course and established the club prior to the arrival of founding member George Grant's cousin, who was a noted English player who was coming to the area after serving in India. Grant didn't want to disappoint his cousin, and thus Oakhurst Links was born.

The club may have been largely lost to history because it fell apart in 1910 when most of the members moved or passed away. In 1992, however, Lewis Keller, working with course architect Bob Cupp (who also c0-designed my home course, Eagle Ridge) began to restore the property. Fortunate in that the site had remained undeveloped and untouched since the decline of the original Oakhurst Links, Cupp and Keller were able to locate the orginal tees, greens and by using records of the course, its fairways as well.

The course was restored as closely as possible to its original form, and given that it was a site designed for the game as it was played in the late 19th century, Keller decided to also restore the experience of playing golf as it was played during that time. He worked closely with clubmakers in St. Andrews, Scotland, obtained period-replicas of the the hickory-shafted wooden clubs along with the gutta-percha balls that were played back then as well. The course opened in 1994 with Ping's founder Karsten Solheim and golfing legend Sam Snead hitting the first shots.

Now 86 years old, Mr. Keller says that it's time to pass along the custodial and operations duties of Oakhurst to someone else. Working with a local realtor and a Florida broker, he is looking to do just that, and to preserve the history of America's game at the same time.

August 17, 2009

What Happened Yesterday Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again

The very first line in Disney's Peter Pan is "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." Life is filled with repetition and golf is no exception, and what happened yesterday at Hazeltine has happened before to great players and to journeymen, and indeed it has provided much of the lore of the game: Ouimet beating two of the Great Triumvirate in Vardon and Ray at the 1913 US Open. Jack Fleck defeating Ben Hogan at the 1955 US Open. And yes, it will happen again, sooner or later.

Yesterday, it was Y. E. Yang winning the 2007 PGA Championship over the supposedly invincible Tiger Woods. But if one takes a close look at the upstarts' victories, Yang's included, and they will find that the "favorite", that is, the players that history records as the truly great ones, all had miserable days with their putters in the final round. Vardon, Ray, Hogan and even Woods all missed putts they normally would have made and happening, underdog stories for ages were written in the history books. Yesterday, it was simply Tiger's turn, and this has been happening in golf ever since championship golf was first played in 1860 at Prestwick. In fact, in that first Open Championship, Old Tom Morris was upset by Willie Park -- and on a course that Morris designed, built and maintained at that. And the difference between the two that day? Morris wasn't holing his putts as he normally did.

(pictured: Willie Park Sr. wearing the Open Championship Belt in 1860.)

For Woods, yesterday's loss was inevitable. And inevitable is the only word one can accurately use to describe it. Eventually, the Gods that control golf will turn their backs at just the wrong time, and the rubs of the green will all go in the wrong direction. Some days, even when you seem to play well, it feels like you just choked on a mouthful of dry sawdust. And after watching shot after shot fly a yard too far, putts burning the edge of the cup and not dropping, the great Tiger Woods must have been asking himself "what in the hell's going on here?" The same thing that happened to Vardon, to Hogan, to Snead at so many US Opens, and to anyone else who has teed it up in tournament golf long enough.

Tiger has played enough golf to know about these days - even a man of his enormous talents will have them. Of course, they seem to be coming with more frequency for Tiger -- this year, he missed his first midway cut in years, and yesterday he finally failed to win a major tournament that he led going in to the final round. It was a bad day to have a bad day, and last night Tiger surely tossed and turned as he lay in bed asking himself repeatedly, "what if?"

A Holiday For Nattering Nabobs Of Negativity

Today, the questions are beginning about whether Tiger has "lost it" or if his having a wife and two children has made him lose focus or even worse, his killer instinct when all the chips are on the line. Yes, Tiger has gone four majors without winning any, and yes, he even (gasp!) missed the cut in one. That doesn't mean he's still not Tiger Woods, however, and implying differently is a cop-out in my view.

Consider for a moment Jack Nicklaus, the only golfer that Tiger truly compares to, with all due respect to Sam Snead's 83 win total. In 1967, Jack had "only" won six majors, and went through a dry spell of his own, leading to the same questions we are reading today. The questions were so pervasive at the time, that after Jack won the 1967 US Open at Baltusrol, after which he penned an article for the July 3rd edition of Sports Illustrated entitled "What's Wrong With Nicklaus?" that answered his critics line-by-line. In the opening lines, Nicklaus's words could be exactly what Tiger Woods is hearing and maybe even thinking today:

"I guess there are times in the life of any athlete when circumstances force him to ask himself, "Am I really any good?" Never mind all his old press clippings; forget the self-confidence that he has had to build within himself to have any chance of success. Just face up to that simple question. It is a question that I had to ask myself after I failed to make the cut at the Masters last April, and a lot of other people were asking it, too. "What's wrong with Nicklaus? Has he lost it already?"

"Suddenly I began to wonder if perhaps I had played badly the last five years. Maybe I had been lucky to win my six major championships. So I put it to myself: "What is wrong with Jack Nicklaus?"
You can almost hear the mocking tone leaping off of the pages. What's wrong with Nicklaus, indeed.

The rest of the story concerns how things came together for Nicklaus at the 1967 US Open, and how he won the tournament. The story, however, could not write what was to come: that Nicklaus would win another 11 professional majors and set the high water mark for all pro golfers that followed. Tiger is second on that particular all-time list, and at the incredibly old age of 33 years. Clearly, he is not past his prime, and clearly he has not lost his competitive fire. While he did lose yesterday, it was only on the 18th fairway that the tournament was decided, and beating Tiger Woods took a spectacular three-wood from Y.E. Yang and one more unlucky bounce for Tiger to decide matters.

Call it a choke if you like, it's a word that seems to be overly popular with sportswriters when they talk about golf. I think personally that many of them who use that word loosely simply don't understand the capricious nature of the game and how we are all subject to its whims from time to time...even players as good as Tiger Woods.

(pictured, left: Hogan, in the middle of "choking" to Jack Fleck in 1955)

And in closing, only a fool would think that Tiger has lost any of his competitive fire or superlative golf game. Tottering in old age as he surely will be in Augusta next spring, he won't have the game to win there any longer. Nor will he have the precision needed to win at Pebble Beach or in St. Andrews next summer. 34 is over the hill, that is if you read between the lines of some of the lazy hyperbole that's being written today. And if you do believe that, please email me regarding a tract of Florida swapland I have for sale.

August 14, 2009

By The Way, You're On Lipitor And Like White Collar Crime

Don't you love being painted with a broad brush? I know I do hate it. This morning, I logged into the that font of political wisdom known as "Huffington Post" to read something Bill Maher, the HBO host, had to say about golf:
"Golf, if you're not familiar, is a pastime where you basically walk outdoors with a bag, muttering and cursing. It's like being homeless in loud pants. Anyway, Time magazine is reporting that since he became president, Barack Obama has taken up golf with a passion, playing almost every weekend for the past few months -- and I feel betrayed. He campaigned as a basketball player. It said to us, "I'm urban and athletic and hip and a team player." Golf says, "I like Lipitor and white collar crime." And it's not just golf -- he's been purposefully eating a lot of hamburgers in public lately, to prove he loves meat."
So, because I love golf, I take Lipitor and white collar crime, huh?

Well, thankfully, I am not on Lipitor, not yet anyway, and in my position, "white collar crime" is limited to not much more than stealing a pen from the company supplies.

But I play golf. It hardly jibes with Maher's caricature.

Whether you like or dislike Barack Obama or the job he is doing, you have to agree that what he does in the paucity of spare time he is afforded away from the Oval Office should be spent the way that he likes, so long as the activity is legal and safe. If it is on a golf course, all the better. And guys like Bill Maher should mind their own business and quit pretending that they are the ones who decide these things not only for Barack Obama but any president. Or for the rest of us, for that matter. The only thing Maher proves in his opinion hit-piece is that it's true that there are two things everyone has, and one of them is an opinion. And like the other thing, Maher's opinion stinks to high heaven.

Frankly, I like the fact that Obama enjoys golf. I completely understand how it can help clear the head, and provide a mental refreshment for anyone. I like that he plays a game of honor and his own referee. And I like that apparently he doesn't cheat at golf the way that Bill Clinton does, something that revealed more character to me than his box of cigars that he kept in the Oval Office ever did. So I added this comment to Maher's screed, something I expect will be fully eviscerated by the typing heads over there:
"Generalize much, Bill?

"Your ad hominem attack on golf is nearly as silly as you telling President Obama what he should do in his rare moments of spare time. You voted for him to do a job, not to live the way *you* think he should and it is utterly ridiculous for you to presume yourself to do so.

"All golfers "like Lipitor and white collar crime?" That's as dumb and wrong-headed as the racist mutterings still heard in some dark corners of the south. Golf is a game well over five hundred years old, has been played by paupers and kings, and still is. I would bet that the majority of those who play neither take Lipitor or partake in white collar crime.

"In case you missed it, Barack Obama played golf before he ran for president, he played before he was sworn in and he plays golf now. So what? If it gives the man a chance to get away from people like you, you know, the ones who tell him how he should act based only on YOUR idea of how a president should act, all the better.

"Me, I will happily take an Obama who heeds his own counsel and doesn't let his presidency or his personal time be conducted by talking television heads who only add more noise than signal to the discussion of our time."
Let 'em have at it. Tear me a new one. It will only make me laugh.

I do hope that golf blogger Stephanie Wie, who also pens columns for the Huffington Post, will write one of her patented concise, clear and well-thought-out responses to Maher. That will make me laugh even more.

August 12, 2009

I'm Bracing Myself For Four Days Of Ads Aimed At My Groin

It seems like every other TV ad during a golf tournament these days is aimed at men with, ummm, performance problems. And lately, for those that just don't measure up, if you know what I am saying. There were at least eight ads per hour by my best guestimation, and I think that the actual number may be a lot higher. And judging by the number of spots they are buying these days, the drug companies must have a lot of customers.

Now then, I am by no means a prudish fellow, but when is too much enough? Do golf fans really need to be bombarded week after week after week with blurbs exclaiming how they can have a "better sexual experience" and how they can "increase their size" if they plunk down a few $20 bills for a bottle of magic potion?

And will I get a pair of bathtubs to go along with my first prescription? One product seems to think that a successful sexual experience involves two old-fashioned bathtubs sitting outdoors just waiting for an amorous couple to climb in (flying solo, one to a tub, thanks) to watch the sun set while they wistfully touch each others' arms with their fingertips. Sounds like fun -- "your tub or mine, honey?"

If I can't have the bathtubs, then I can always go get a bottle of pills, and then pick up a Harley-Davidson, so I can pick up my wife on her way into the house on a Friday and then drive her at 20 miles per hour through the hot desert on her way to a hotel in the middle of nowhere. I've been married a while, and I am certain that the Missus would just love to go out into the boon-docks with no extra clothes, none of her female stuff (makeup and whatever else comprises the 13,304 things she carries when she travels) or any of that. No sir, the Harley would tell her emphatically -- I've been to the drugstore, so let's go NOW! Naturally, she'd climb on the back with a smile, ready for some...ummm...adventure.

I guess that experience would also make her completely overlook that particular female penchant for personal hygiene, because after that sweaty seductive experience, the first thing she's going to want to do is go to the bathroom head to bed for some awesome pill-powered personal time. And no need for check-in sir, your love shack will be waiting! The only thing I would have to do (besides finding a glass of water to toss down the magic pill) would be to put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign. Life is really like that, right?

Powerful stuff these pills are.

Thing is, deeply ensconced as I am in middle age, I suppose I am squarely in their target demographic. At the same time, they seem to be missing out on the fact that I am a guy and that means that 1) I hate going to the doctor and 2) if I do go to the doctor the last thing I want to talk about are my "performance" problems, that is, if I had any.As it is , he rushes in like he is late for a date with Maigan Fox, asks me what's wrong, and then dispenses some wisdom on his way out the door to his next appointment. There's hardly time to get out multisyllabic words like "performance problems" and even if I did say that, he'd probably ask me if I had called my golf teacher about them to get some help. Or maybe to slow down my backswing.

These companies are pretty smart, however, because they seem to have corrected the phrase they used to use, the one where the ad would seriously intone "after four hours, seek professional help." That didn't exactly make me think of calling my doctor away from his candlelit dessert and coffee with Maigan, instead it made me think that I would need to find a lady of the evening to set things right. Professional help, right? Obviously someone doesn't know what they are doing here.

That would be pretty hard to explain to my wife, as I hurriedly dressed and headed to the car.

"Where are you going?!" she would say.

"Downtown. To seek professional help. Like the prescription said." I would supposedly have to explain to her.

I'm sure that she would be understanding, and waiting for me in one of the bathtubs - the outdoors ones, mind you -- when I got home.

Riiiight. I guess they were alerted to this unfortunately turn of phrase by an angry wife or seven dozen, but now the warning is "seek medical help." In other words, leave the lap of luxury and head down to the emergency room for a six inch needle....WHERE??!!?!? Dear God, no. Not a chance.

All things considered, none of this seems like the most satisfying or pleasurable experience I could possibly have when it comes to alone time. And to be honest, neither will be the endless onslaught of ads that will start as soon as I turn on the PGA Championship tomorrow and will continue relentlessly until the trophy is lifted on Sunday night. Surely, please, surely golf can find other advertisers?

Venezuela's Chavez Condemns Golf, Yet The Sport Is Slowly Taking Off Once Again In Cuba

Yesterday, news came from Venezuela that Hugo Chavez and his political party had found a new target of opportunity: golf. Chavez himself denounced the sport on Venezuelan national television in July, saying that “Golf is a bourgeois sport." He then repeated the word bourgeois with derision, driving his point home to his loyalists. Since then, his henchmen have closed in on well-known Venezuelan clubs and shut them down...proving once again that Chavez is less about true democracy than he is about totalitarian control where what is allowed is only what meets his approval.

We have seen this before -- in Cuba.

After the 1959 revolution there, Fidel Castro ordered the country's golf courses bulldozed because they were a symbol of "the bourgeois excesses of American capitalism." After that, few golf courses remained in the country, which was once the center of Caribbean tourism and a haven for golfers seeking to escape the winters of the colder northern latitudes.

Perhaps you have seen the famous photograph of Castro and his cohort Che' Guevera playing golf -- that was the symbolic "final round" that kicked off what was meant to be the end of the sport in that country. Dressed in army fatigues and combat boots, Castro played his final round with cameras clicking all the way. Ever aware of symbolism and the power of mass media, he used the time on the course as a way to expound upon the evils of the game and the need for its removal from Cuban society. That day, Guevera, ironically an avid golfer, beat Fidel which did the sport no favors in that country.

Bulldozed, But Not Dead

Somehow, despite the official condemnation of Castro and the Cuban Communist Party, golf survived in Cuba, though greatly diminished. Though there were only a very few courses -- Varadero, Habana, and the “off limits” course at the US-held Guantanamo Naval Base, the game never completely disappeared.

In 1998, however, Castro's attitude changed. A communist country -- like any other, no matter the form of government -- needs money to survuve, and with a 29-year embargo in place and little in the way of international trade, Cuba shifted its policy in 1998 and decided to gather hard-currency in order for the Castro government (and the country itself) to survive. The government decided to revive its dormant tourism industry, and as part of that, it planned to meet the need for the recreational activities of their customers by bringing back the sports it had previously condemned: golf, tennis, and others. The government then began a systematic plan building new golf facilities, in conjunction with Canadian and Scottish partners. Today, golf is doing quite well in that country, if only for the touristas that spend their much-needed Euros there.

For example, Varadero Golf Club was rebuilt on the site of a mansion formerly known as Xanadu, then Dupont Mansion and later, Las Américas. The layout was built by the past owner Irénee Dupont de Nemours - of the famous DuPont family. Originally opened in 1927, the course was redesigned by architect Les Furber of the Canadian company Golf Design Services LTD (GDS) and is nearby the "Breezes SuperClubs" -- surely another place of bourgeois excess. It costs the equivilant of $75/US to play and golf carts are required -- something that Hugo Chavez said was proof of the "lazy" nature of the game.

Another par of the past was not completely erased, either. The old Havana Golf Club, a Par-35 nine-hole affair was re-opened, and is the only golf course in the capital city. Located ten minutes from Jose Marti Airport, it is described as being in rough but improving condition, and is thought of as an experience in golf the way that it once was played in the pre-Revolution 1940's and 1950's.

The Missing Ingredient: Yankee Dollars

Cuba, unlike favored nation Red China, does not enjoy the influx of American industry and tourism, nor the hard currency that comes with it. While the Chinese have seen an expansion in manufacturing not seen since the Industrial Revolution, the old Cuban Embargo remains in place, essentially unchanged since it was put in place in 1960. While Europeans and Canadians enjoy free travel to the country, along with some industrial activity, it is illegal for US companies to do business there and illegal for American families and individuals to travel there. This was codified into law with the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, and can result in jail time and heavy fines for Americans who defy the US law. That in mind, it is easy to understand the slow pace of Cuban golf's rebirth, given that its most ready market faces time in a penitentiary for the mere act of visiting the country.

Despite the lack of American currency, as many as ten courses are in various stages of construction, according to the Cuban government, along with a $146m/US upgrade in other tourist infrastructure, but with Cuba's ever cash-strapped economy, none have reach opening and the infrastructure upgrades lay incomplete. Coupled with the global economic downturn, which has hit tourism particularly hard, Cuba's European and Canadian partners have also scaled back their ambitions for the moment, leaving the country's golf expansion plans largely incomplete or still of the drawing boards. Still, Cuba's government has not signaled a shift away from its plans to enhance golf in the country, and Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and ostensible successor, has stated that golf remains a vital aspect of Cuba's plans, especially in light of the success it has brought the nearby Dominican Republic in reviving its own lagging tourism industry over the past 20 years.

Is What's Good For The Goose Bad For The Gander?

One has to wonder, if golf is good enough for Chavez's hero and mentor Fidel, why is it not good enough for Venezuelans? The answer is undoubtedly that the game itself is not the issue, but controlling the people and their activities is. There, Chavez seems intent on building a "worker's paradise" by making life a living Hell for his countrymen. That failed in Cuba and one has to suspect that golf in Venezuela will also survive and live far longer than Hugo Chavez.