September 30, 2009

Tiger Woods Is Sport's First Billionaire

According to Forbes Magazine, Tiger Woods is the first athlete to ever pass $1 billion dollars in total career earnings.
"Our calculations show that the $10 million bonus Woods earned winning this year's FedEx Cup title nudged him over the $1 billion mark in career earnings"
Woods closest competitors? Michael Jordan, the former NBA superstar, who continues to rake in well over eight figures from various endorsement deals, and Formula One racer Michael Schumacher.

Considering that Woods is only 33, and may compete for another 10-15 years, it is not inconceivable that he could double that earnings amount prior to retiring from competitive play. Hanging up the sticks won't mean the end of Woods as an marketable entity, however, as we have seen with not only Michael Jordan, but also golfers like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Unless Tiger buys an island (or a small country) and disappears from the media, his earnings potential has another 40-50 years, assuming good health.

My Link For The Jack And Jill Golf Marathon

I'm just getting started fundraising for the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation's golf marathon, and have a lot of work to do to get to my goal of $2500 for the event. Then, I have to play a lot of golf on a tough course!

If you're interested in helping me help kids have lasting memories of a parent who is late stages of cancer, please click the link below and make your pledge. This is NOT for me, it is for the kids.

Old Man Par @ Jack and Jill

I am driven by memories of my late mother, who died nearly sixteen years ago to the day from Bronchioalveolar Lung Cancer. My loss was tragic to me as a young adult, and I can only imagine (with a shudder) what going through that pain must mean for a child. The Jack and Jill Foundation does outstanding work to help families make important and lasting positive memories at a time when those things are critically important...these are the ones that last forever.

So thanks, and please make a pledge today!

September 28, 2009

Want To Help Me Help Kids By Sponsoring Me In A Golf Marathon?

Ryan Ballangee over at the incredible Waggle Room blog posted this first, but since it is a mere 20 miles away from my house - the other side of the city, actually - I thought I would post it anyway:

The TPC Wakefield Plantation course is going to be the site of a golf marathon on October 12th for the benefit of the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation. Thirty-six golfers will play as much golf as they can in a single day (and I can and do play as many as 54 holes on a single vacation day). The charity is looking for pledges to play $1 or $2 a hole, with a goal of $2500 per person in the event. Eighteen golfers will participate.

Here what the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation does:

When Mom or Dad is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, children find their immediate world turned upside down and face the reality that the rest of their lives will never be quite the same. The Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation helps kids and their parents spend quality time together in the face of these hardships and uncertainties.

While there are many resources and support services available addressing cancer patients' medical, spiritual, financial, and psychological needs, through stringent analysis of the oncology community nationally, we confirmed there is no other resource to focus on the family structure as a whole, particularly in offering memory opportunities at a point where the family can experience and share the opportunity together.

Having lost a parent to cancer myself, I can only imagine what it's like for a child to go through the agony of watching their Mom or Dad go through that. I was old enough to understand, and even though it has been sixteen years (as of yesterday) some of the pain still lingers in the form of wishes that we had been able to do this, or to see that together. The Jack and Jill charity does something about it while there is still time.

Naturally, I will sponsor myself, and will ask my parents and in-laws, some friends and the like...but I also wonder if any of you would like to help out a great charity and send me round and round one of Raleigh's best tracks for a day of helping out those in need. If you are interested, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you on how you can help.

September 26, 2009

My Usual Game: Amino Vital - It Works, And Works Very Well

Here in the so-called "sultry south" summer weather is best described as "sweltering and suffocating." I often say that if Hell is truly a hot place, the Devil started working on the design down here and got the climate part of it right somewhere in Louisiana or Mississippi.

Even though it is barely autumn, the weather has yet to realize it in North Carolina - the high temperatures are still pushing 90F (32C) most afternoons, with the relative humidity roughly equivalent to the deep end of a hot tub. In short, it's hot, it can be miserable to be outside all afternoon and even a round of golf can leave one dripping sweat by the gallon and feeling as thought they're completely exhausted and moping after a few short hours. Obviously, that's not a good thing for a sport where concentration and fine motor control is essential for success.

Tired of feeling tired after 12-15 holes, over the years I have tried everything. Plenty of water, limited caffeine, no alcohol, vitamins, diet, Gatorade, you name it. Obviously, staying well hydrated helps, but even that is no match for weather that better resembles the last thing a lobster feels on his way into a pot of boiling water. So when my doctor (also a dedicated golfer) suggested I try Focus Zone by Amino Vital, I thought it worth a shot, but to be honest, I really had my doubts. Nothing else really worked all that well, and I thought that Focus Zone was just another Johnny-Come-Lately. Well, I was wrong. Completely wrong.

Manufactured here in Raleigh by Ajinomoto, the Japanese firm that has over 100 years experience in research, development and usage of amino acids, Focus Zone is a mix of electrolytes, Vitamin C, and amino acids, all elements that are lost or consumed by one's body when they exercise strenuously, or in a golfer's case, when they are active in the heat. Basically, the product replaces or enhances some of the materials that are necessary to maintain a good mental state and a high level of concentration, which are the first thing to go when heat stress hits.

Using Focus Zone is easy enough, you pour a packet into a bottle of water, shake it and drink it down. The taste is pleasant and not "medicine-y" and it doesn't leave an unpleasant aftertaste. In that regard, Focus Zone is unlike many other products I have tried - Gatorade included - that can make your tongue hate the hand that's holding your glass.

Does Focus Zone actually work? Yes.

I tried it for the first time this past week, on a day that was sunny and warm after a night of heavy rains. The course was literally steamy in the morning, and we teed off around 11:30am - the beginning of the hot part of a summer's day here in North Carolina. My home course, Eagle Ridge, is a hilly track with plenty of hills and low areas, and walking 18 holes is a good bit of exercise for anyone, much less a middle aged man closer to 50 than 40. Usually by 10th or 11th hole, both of which have a good bit of elevation changes, one can feel it in terms of diminished strength and with that concentration. That can lead to sloppy shots, and even more sloppy marks on the scorecard. That's not what you want when you're trying to win a Nassau or lower your handicap to single digits, both of which I was intent on doing that day.

With Focus Zone, I felt just fine all day, even when we started out second round of the day - a full 11 miles of walking when finished. In fact, to finish that second round, I needed to hit our 18th green after a 200 yard forced carry over water and then two putt at worst, all of which I was able to do. My concentration and strength levels were all still high, and instead of a tired jerky get-this-thing-over shot that can lead to a ball that sleeps with the fishes, I hit a high arching draw after a smooth swing that had solid contact. Normally, after that much walking in that level of heat and humidity, my shot would not be as crisp and my interest would be more on the beckoning clubhouse with its air conditioning and the cool drinks that await inside. I am certain that using Focus Zone saved the day that day.

Science bears out my perception. Amino acids are a building block of proteins and living cells need them carry out normal functions. Electrolytes are essential for normal nerve function, and sweating and stress can diminish those in the body. Without an ample supply of both, physical and mental performance are diminished, and diminished function lead to large numbers on the scorecard.

PGA Tour players like Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink swear by Amino Vital products, and now I can see why. I've used the Focus Zone and the Endurance products, and both worked exactly as advertised, which is quite frankly an extremely pleasant change in the supplement market. Neither of the products rely on tricks like stimulants to fool one into thinking they are feeling good, and neither are loaded with sugars that lead to an inevitable crash. They are priced reasonably, and are a good value. If you play golf in high heat or high stress situations like your club's championship, or a Golf Channel Tour event where every shot counts, I cannot recommend give Focus Zone any higher of a recommendation.

Give it a try, it might help your game too.

Important Note: I am neither compensated nor solicited by Ajinomoto or any other vendor to evaluate or review their products. My opinions are my own, and use should use your own judgment before choosing or using any nutritional supplement.

September 23, 2009

Golf Bloggers Tribute To Bobby Jones

Since this is the week the Tour Championship makes its annual return to East Lake, the course where Bobby Jones grew up and learned to play golf, several members of the golf blogging community decided to pay tribute to the legend. Ten different blogs are featuring posts devoted to the life and legacy of Bobby Jones, each focusing on an aspect of Jones' life related to his or her blog; you'll find the complete list below.

Before you watch the tournament, learn a few new things about the man whose home course it is played on.

Gayle Moss over at Golfgal has posted My Favorite Bobby Jones Golf Tips. She writes, "His swing was a bit unorthodox, but no one can deny his amazing talent. Here are some of my favorite swing tips from the self-taught legend - Bobby Jones."

Art Murphy from LifeandGolf gives us ...We Play the Ball Where It Lies, a collection of miscellaneous quips and quotes about golf and golfers from Bobby Jones.

Mike Southern at Ruthless Golf wonders Could Bobby Jones Have ‘Cut It' Against Today's Pros?, and shows us what science and Jones's own notes have to say about the debate.

Vince Spence from The One-Eye Golfer writes about An Affair to Remember - Bobby Jones and St. Andrews, as he looks at the affection of the champion golfer for the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland which started in 1921.

Greg D'Andrea at From the Rough talks about Golf's Proper Place. "Bobby Jones played competitive golf only three months of the year, always keeping in perspective the game's original intent - 'a means of obtaining recreation and enjoyment.'"

Michael Green at Aussie Golfer tells about Searching for Bobby Jones, where a search for Bobby Jones in Australia finds remarkable similarities to modern day golf.

Jon Blackburn from The Common Golfer looks at Bobby Jones: Golf's Original Common Golfer. It's a celebration of Bobby Jones' life, and what made him unique amongst his golfing peers.

Apryl DeLancey at Women Like Sports features in her weekly Wild World of Wednesday post about how good friends Alexa Sterling and Bobby Jones continued to play golf during WWI in order to raise money for a good cause.

And Ryan Ballengee from Waggle Room sends us a vlog from East Lake about how Jones' spirit influences the club and community today.

September 22, 2009

Bobby Jones' Competitors: Many of Them Were Good, One Was Great

In perhaps the best era of them all, the 1920's is called the Golden Age of Sport. In it, the titans that are Babe Ruth in baseball, Jack Dempsey in boxing, Red Grange in football, Bill Tilden in tennis all set standards of excellence that others aspired to - and usually fell short of.

Perhaps the greatest of them all from the Golden Age was a Georgia gentleman who conquered the world of golf as no other player had ever done before him - all while playing only part time, three months a year. Until 1930, Bobby Jones dominated golf, gracefully powering his way into not only the record-books but also America's heart by winning thirteen major championships with a winning percentage over .600. Jones not only set a standard for victory, but by the way he conducted himself he set the gold standard for sportsmanship, honesty and grace that may never be surpassed, and in many a golf fan's heart, never can be.

Modern legend may tell the tale that Bobby Jones was fated to win his championships, that every battle on the golf course that the Atlantan fought was pre-determined in his favor. That would be completely untrue. Jones' victories were all well-earned and many were hard-fought, and he didn't win every tournament that he entered, even though today that may seem to be the case. The truth is that he had many worthy competitors. Jock Hutchinson and "Long"Jim Barnes, at the end of their careers, often gave Jones fits (sometimes literally) at the beginning of his. Denny Shute and Nebraskan Johnny Goodman would challenge him later. Frances Ouimet won the 1913 US Open before Jones, and would win the US Amateur again after Jones retired, in 1931.

Jess Sweetser was considered the second-best amateur after Jones, and was a player perfectly suited for the rigors of match play. Sweetser played with such great concentration at times that he was considered unsociable, something that Ben Hogan and later, Tiger Woods, would become famous for in their own right. Sweetser was not a man to given an opponent an opportunity to recover in a match once behind. With a careful precision from tee to green, Sweetser rarely made mistakes and even more rarely three-putted. In between shots, Sweetser would talk to himself to keep the steel in his psyche, and as a result, most galleries were intimidated - but appreciative - of his competitive ardor. Sweetser won the only other British championship that went to American hands in the 1920's when he won the 1926 British Amateur.

One, Walter Hagen, stood above all the others as Jones' most worthy competitor. While Jones was a Southerner born into a life of privilege and ease, he was born in New York into a lower middle-class family in which a tradesman's blue collar life was the norm, and one was never expected to rise into a high station in life. Hagen also changed golf and set high standards, and was without doubt Jones' most fierce rival.

The two so thoroughly dominated the British Open between 1924 and 1930 that only one other competitor - Jim Barnes - would win it during that time. Conveniently for Barnes, neither Jones nor Hagen was entered into the 1925 Open in Prestwick. Barnes won that tournament by backing in - some say twice, given the absence of the world's two best players - by taking advantage of a tragic collapse by Macdonald Smith, the player who looked to be the sure winner from the second round on. In a case of playing not to lose, Mac Smith did exactly that - in the final round, he played so conservatively that he shot a 42 on Prestwick's front nine. Smith, the crowd's favorite that day, was also feeling the pressure of being cheered on at extremely close quarters by the gallery. Suffocated and reeling, he finished with a final round 82 and opened the door for Barnes to come and take the win.

Opposite sides of the same competitive coin, Hagen would win 11 major championships and 52 wins professionally, while Jones won 13 majors. The two would often play exhibition matches against one another, and quite often, those matches were legendary unto themselves.

Matches between Jones and Hagen were legendary. The two had great respect for one another, and in fact, Hagen had given Jones some useful advice on how to handle major championship play that Jones later said was a turning point in his competitive career. They were at the least casual friends throughout their lifetimes, despite a fierce rivalry where both refused to give the other quarter on the golf course. The respect between the two, no matter their personal bond, was great.

(pictured: Bobby Jones' letter to Walter Hagen congratulating him for 25th anniversary of his first US Open win.)

One match in 1926 was probably the lynchpin in Jones' decision to remain an amateur throughout his competitive career, which of course later led to the only Grand Slam ever recorded in golf. Had Jones turned professional, he would have been ineligible for the British and US Amateur championships, and thus no Grand Slam.

Late in 1925, Hagen approached Jones with the idea of putting on what Hagen would promote as "World Championship;" a 72-hole exhibition match between the two men, which would be played at the two golfers' respective clubs in Florida, where both had real estate interests to be played shortly after the beginning of the next year.

The idea of the "World Championship" was hardly new, in 1922, Hagen and Gene Sarazen had played one, and another contest in 1925 was held between Hagen and Cyril Walker, who had won the 1924 US Open, while Hagen won the 1924 (British) Open and PGA Championship. It was not much of a match, with Hagen winning 17-and-16 in that 72 hole affair.

The 1926 "World Championship" might be different, according to many sages of the sporting world. Jones had won the 1924 and 1925 U.S. Amateur and nearly won the US Open that same year. Hagen was the PGA Champion, his second running, making the pair two of the best, if not the best golfers in the world. Surely, the conventional wisdom of the day held, this "World Championship" would be a neck and neck affair perhaps decided by the last stroke of the last hole.

For his part Hagen figured that this particular "World Championship" match would not only draw a great deal of interest in the media and among fans everywhere, it would also draw spectators to the courses where they would be played, and of course those spectators would mean potential sales leads. Coupled with the caveat that Hagen would keep any and all financial proceeds from the match (Jones was an amateur and could not accept monetary benefits) it was a no-lose situation for The Haig -- his kind of match. Indeed, fan interest was keen and loyalties largely divided amongst those rooting for "the amateur" Jones, or "the pro" Hagen. For weeks leading up to the event, the press debated the merits and flaws in each players' game.

The match itself didn't live up to it's heavyweight title fight billing. Hagen handed Jones a humiliating 12-and-11 defeat, which Jones took it as a clear sign that he wouldn't be able to rely on his ability as a golfer to pay his bills, and that he would better be served by depending on his law practice for his salary.

The rest of Jones' story is legend. Time would of course, prove that Bobby Jones had every bit of ability one would ever possibly need to earn a living on the links, but the die was cast for the Atlantan to remain an amateur. Jones would go on to win golf's only true Grand Slam, retire shortly afterward and start a personal project that would come to be known as Augusta National and The Masters.

Lesser noticed was "The Rematch." It was not long after the "World Championship" that Bobby Jones had a chance to redeem himself when the pair competed again two weeks later in the Florida West Coast Open. This time, Jones fared better but Hagen still bested him by two strokes to win the medal play event.

Of that period, Jones recollected in his autobiography that "the biggest golfing year of my life, 1926, began with the most impressive trouncing I ever got -- and it was by a professional, Walter Hagen." Jones added "Walter was just too good for me." Jones then concluded that "I have plenty of distinguished company among the victims of Walter's rampages."

For his part, Hagen called the 1926 'World Championship' "my greatest thrill in golf."

As a sportsman, Hagen may best be defined not by winning, but by losing. In 1950, a vote among golf writers was held to determine who was the greatest golfer of the first half of the 20th century, and there, Jones edged out Hagen. Afterward, The Haig told reporters that "I would have voted for Jones myself. He was marvelous."

History often creates legend, and over time, legend becomes myth. It is there that legend and fact often go into two separate directions, the myth a romanticized version of the truth that's somewhat incomplete in its telling. Sports heroes are stronger, faster and invincible in myth, while often the truth is that the real person had to earn each bit of glory and success that they attained. Sometimes that is better than the myth.

The Donald Versus The Scotsmen

Donald Trump is a man who is used to getting exactly what he wants -- no matter the difficulties in attaining success, high costs, the damage to the environment, or even the wishes of the people who own and live on a piece of property he has in his gunsights.

Such is the case in Balmedie Village, near Aberdeen, Scotland. The Donald bought a piece of property near there, a place called Menie Estate, which roughly 200 acres of land surrouding the Menie House, an 18th century mansion that was built atop the ruins of a medieval castle. Trump is planning an extensive development there, including two 18-hole golf courses, a 450-room hotel, conference center and spa, 36 golf villas, 950 holiday homes, accommodation for 400 staff and residential developments comprising 500 houses. The project will be called Trump International Golf Links.

Trump has had problems with the local residents since he purchased the estate in 2006. He changed the name of Menie House, which he plans to turn into the clubhouse of his development, to the Macleod House, a tribute to his mother Mary. Mary MacLeod was born in the Scottish western isles, far away from Balmedie Village, while the Menie family's association with the property dates back some 700 years according to Scottish historians. Michael Woodley, the Baron of Menie and a supporter of the project told the London Times that "The Menie name has been around for hundreds of years, it’s part of Scotland’s heritage. I am disappointed he’s changing it but overall I do support Trump’s golf proposal because I think it will create a lot of jobs."

Local resident Shuna Jenkins said that “it will always be known as Menie House. Trump may have taken away the name plate but he can’t change history.”

The name change may have ired locals, but that row pales in comparison to the environmental battle fought over the property. The Menie Estate property is contiguously a part of a conservation area labled legally in the UK as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), part of a law that protects the interest features of a given SSSIs from development from other damage, and (since 2000) also from neglect. While the ban on development is not absolute under the law there, it is a strong discouraging factor when a proposal for development is raised. When news of Trump's plans traveled, environmental interests joined in with locals opposed to his project.

The site is part a series of sand dunes and other natural habitat; and groups like the Scottish Wildlife Trust bemoan that if it is developed that its natural features will be lost forever. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds even employed golf course designer Mike Wood to develop an alternative routing for a golf links through the area that avoids the SSSI and leaves much of the environment intact.

Trump's own Environmental Statement acknowledged that the project would cause very significant adverse effects on habitats and biodiversity in the Menie Dunes, one of the main qualifying features of the Foveran Links SSSI and that they would effectively be destroyed by the stabilisation necessary to build one golf course. Trump plans two in his master plan.

After much quarreling and bother, the Aberdeenshire Council rejected the projected but were overruled the national government. The Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney approved the proposal, saying there was "a significant economic and social benefit" in the project.

First Minister Alex Salmond added that "the economic and social benefits for the North East of Scotland substantially outweigh any environmental impact."

Now, emboldened by the national government's support, Trump wants surrounding land -- 200 acres is small for even one golf course, much less two and five hundred additional structures. Trump asked for and received permission to add four homes and two plots of land to his master plan, and if the homeowners do not want to sell to him, he has asked He recently received permission to add the plots to the blueprint – and has asked the Aberdeenshire Council to use eminent domain, known as a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to garner him the land he wants should the current landowners and his organization cannot come to an agreement.

Such an agreement seems extremely unlikely in the current climate. While Trump has offered 15% over the current assessed market value and other amenities, one resident, whose property has stunning coastline views, called the offer "pathetic."

David Milne, the owner of one of the parcels Trump is seeking, said that Trumps offer is "is somewhere between laughable and insulting." Milne added that he has no intention of living in one of the "sdtandard boxes" Trump plans to build and that the assessment of his property is suspicious because "appraiser could accurately value his home having never stepped foot inside."

In response, Donald Trump Jr. said that "throw anyone out of their homes – we are trying to accommodate them.”

By forcing the homeowners to sell their land and homes at a price that his firm finds acceptable, under force of government order if necessary.

September 21, 2009

East Lake Closed After Heavy Rains Over The Weekend

A deluge of near-Biblical proportions struck the Atlanta area over the weekend, forcing the East Lake Country Club, site of this week's Tour Championship, to close today.

While East Lake area escaped the worst of the heavy rain - they received only about 5 inches - forecasters are calling for continued locally heavy downpours in and around metropolitan Atlanta with up to an additional 5 inches possible today alone. As much as 24 inches of rain fell on counties west of the city since Sept. 18, leading to flooding and two deaths.

East Lake, about five miles east of downtown Atlanta, escaped most of the heavy rain. More storms may come each during the upcoming week, according to local forecasters. ThroughSunday, forecasters are calling for between a 30-60% of continuing shower and storm activity, giving residents and PGA Tour golfers alike little relief.

(pictured: screen capture of the 9/21 3:10pm weather radar for metro Atlanta)

A Quick Look at East Lake Golf Club

Golf season effectively ends sometime Sunday, weather permitting, when one of thirty players stands over a final putt and then one of them lifts the FedEx Cup as the winner of of the PGA's movable feast that it calls its playoffs. Much-maligned and oft-criticized, the FedEx Cup is in its third year and for the first time, its final tournament may well offer some compelling golf during the heart of the NFL and NCAA football season. Any of the top five in the points standings right now can take away the Cup from points leader Tiger Woods with a win, and the rest of the 25-man field can do the same if events all turn their way. That makes things interesting, and for the PGA, they plan to profit from the old Chinese curse of living in interesting times.

East Lake, the former home course of one Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones is an old-school gem for this final and hopefully epic battle to take place. Once a sparkling center on the map of golf in the US, this course is a sterling example of urban renewal and reborn hope. East Lake began as a summer getaway for prominent Atlantans located just outside the city, but over the years it had be swallowed by the ever-burgeoning metropolitan area and had decayed into a cesspool of crime, fear and despair.

That was before Tom Cousins, an Atlanta developer and sportsman (he once owned the NHL's Atlanta Flames, now the Calgary Flames) took notice and got involved in the area. The golf course and clubhouse were dilapidated shadows of the former glory and the East Lake area ranked last in the crime statistics in the city. Cousins didn't go the route of the quick-fix gentrification, where a blighted area's land is bought pennies on the dollar and its residents relocated (meaning forced out.) Instead, Cousins formed the East Lake Foundation and worked with - and not against - doubtful area residents and slowly forged bonds of trust with them as old housing was replaced with newer domiciles, a charter school was built and the golf club restored to what it once was.

Since then, residents have turned from doubting or hostile to trusting and inspired. Violent crime has dropped a full 95% in the East Lake neighborhood. Scholastic achievement for residents has skyrocketed. Reading and math scores for students in the area's charter school have climbed to the point that now a full 100% of its alumni are now on track for high-school graduation. Another noticeable outgrowth of the East Lake revival was the First Tee program, which uses golf as a platform to teach life skills to children. It got its start at East Lake, and has since spread outwardly with robust growth. Not bad work for Cousins and the Foundation, better still for the residents who've gotten a golden opportunity to better themselves.

Originally formed in 1898, the Atlantic Athletic Club formed when area businessmen united for the purpose of enjoying athletic activities with their friends. The nascent club had Georgia Tech football coach John Heisman as its director of athletic activities for several years from 1904 -1918. Heisman, who had recently left Clemson University in upstate South Carolina to take over the Yellow Jackets' football fortunes, oversaw swimming, tennis, basketball and track activities at AAC when he wasn't directing the Georgia Tech team to an impressive string of victories on the gridiron, including the still-record 222-0 dismemberment of Cumberland College. In 1918, due to the growth and importance of college football and its time demands, Heisman cut back on his duties outside Georgia Tech and left his duties at Atlanta Athletic Club. Today, of course, the award given to college football's best player bears his name, the Heisman Trophy.

(pictured, John Heisman, left. Right,Bobby Jones, age 14, at Atlanta Athletic Club)

Also in 1904, Atlanta Athletic Club members realized a growing need for golf and began looking for a site for a place to build a course. They found one at East Lake, on the site of a former private amusement park in the Atlanta "suburbs." Tom Bendelow began construction of the East Lake course, seven holes of which opened in 1906. The Southern Amateur championship was held there in 1907, but it was not until the next year on the Fourth of July that East Lake had its formal grand opening for the golf course. A young six year old was present for that ceremony -- Bobby Jones. Jones would, of course, become one of the great icons of the game of golf, and East Lake would be his home club for most of his life. In 1913, Donald Ross, the famed designer, was brought in to improve on Bendelow's work, and the East Lake as we know it today was completed shortly afterward.

In 1966, the Atlanta Athletic Club pulled up its roots from the East Lake site and moved to its current location in Duluth, Georgia. East Lake was already becoming a downtrodden urban area back then, and the area around club would fall into further decay until the 1990's when Tom Cousins stepped in and began its revival.

Now a modern symbol of rebirth and renewal, East Lake hosts the Tour Championship, the logical end to the golf season. Other tournaments follow this event, but it is unlikely that they will draw the top names that this tournament will, on the course that was once home to perhaps the greatest golfer of the first half of the 20th century.

September 19, 2009

This Game Of Golf IS Supposed To Be Fun

There are days that the world is a beautiful place to be a part of – the sun is shining, the temperature pleasing, flowers are abloom and troubles seem to be as far away as Mars. It’s in those moments that all is well and life is good.

Except on a golf course, or so it seems if you watch players going about their rounds on nearly any course on a gorgeous Saturday morning. Instead of enjoying the beauty of the day and the game itself, all too often we as golfers spend our time on the links completely obsessed with the numbers we mark on our score card, and hardly a round can go by without some frustration and consternation that things could somehow be better.

I one was playing with a well-rounded friend, one who loves to golf, fish, hike, camp and spend time outdoors. He had just had a horrible hole in a casual round where no money nor pride was on the line. We rounded a corner and sitting in a tree was a Peregrine Falcon. They are the fastest living things on the planet, and capable of reaching 200 MPH (322 Km/H) when they strike down on their prey. The fairways of a golf course are an ideal place to see exactly that: a grey streak hurtling down from the sky on a soon-to-be-departed rodent that will quite literally never see it coming.

A Peregrine is quite a rare sight in this part of North Carolina, one you might only get once in your life...if you are lucky. I pointed this out to my friend, a fellow who normally enjoys that sort of thing. His reply shocked me. "F_ing seven! Can you believe that s__t?"

That is a man whose priorities are very much out of order. He'll make plenty of sevens in his life, as will anyone who ever chases a little white ball down a pasture towards a stick far in the distance. But seeing one of nature's ultimates, something he'll probably never lay eyes on in the wild during the rest of his days?

Ask yourself: if you beat down your handicap by ten strokes, will you be able to apply to play on a professional golf Tour? Probably not. On the other hand, if you go in the wrong direction, and you fail to break your worst score of the past two years, will that mean you are going to lose your job and your home, or will your children suddenly hate you? Undoubtedly not.

Competition is a good thing, it stirs the blood, it steels the nerve and sharpens our gaze. It gives us the acute joys of success and failure, and in golf, that can be on the same hole. Winning is of course great fun and hard work that seems easy. Even in victory, one would do well to remember that with winning, there is also losing, and no matter who the player, given time they will feel both sides of that well-worn coin. It is the nature of this thing, and both winning and losing are good things. A man who wins too often and too easily is rarely challenged and even more rarely humble. One who loses constantly is almost invariably downtrodden and pessimistic. One side tempers the other and both are a necessary part of the sporting life.

All too often, we take competition too far and far too seriously. A casual round with friends is not the Battle of the Somme. A Nassau is not the Civil War. Nor is a putt delicate surgery with a beloved child’s life hanging in the battle. The golf, it is supposed to be fun. Battles, war and operating rooms, those are truly serious things and different matters entirely. That's hard to tell, however, if you go to a challenging spot on most any golf course on a weekend day and watch the players traverse that part of the terrain. It won't be long until you hear words and phrases that blanch gentle ears, and maybe even a thrown club to boot.

All in the name of fun? Get real.

Consider this the next time you hit a poor shot and are tempted to fling your club into the turf: golf is a game.

Keep in mind when you almost get a hole in one: that's great, but your kid's smile matters even more.

And set your mind to it on the first tee when your card is blank and the promise of the day lay in the shiny new ball in your hand: have fun, have grace and make good memories you’ll pleasantly recall long into the future.

“You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” - Walter Hagen

September 18, 2009

The Female Golfer Who DID Make The Cut At PGA Tour Events

These days, when a woman tries to compete against men in professional golf, an argument often comes forth that it is impossible for a woman to compete successfully against men, in other words, to belong in the competition in the first place.

On the surface, that argument seems to bear witness to the facts: at the height of her golfing powers, champion Annika Soremstam was unable to make the cut at the Colonial Tournament in 2003, after which she said that "it was a great week but I've got to go back to my tour, where I belong. I'm glad I did it, but this is way over my head." Soremstam was in Forth Worth a year after she shot two 59s in tournament play, and 13 of the 25 tournaments that she entered. Clearly, she was the best player in the world of women's golf, but the 7,080-yard Colonial CC course that was longer and tougher than anything she had ever played.

Michelle Wie's attempts at competing on the PGA Tour have been a lightning rod for criticism of the 19 year old golf prodigy, with many fans pointing to her participation in these events as evidence of mismanagement by her parents and her management group. Wie never made a cut in several tries, and thus far in 2009 she has focused exclusively on the LPGA Tour, where she continues to hone her game and look for her first professional win.

Other players, like Suzy Whaley and Izzy Besiegel have also tried to play with the boys in recent years, and both have had less success than even Wie or Soremstam, both of whom looked for a time as though it was possible that they might make it to the weekend after making the cut on the bottom side of the field.

The Greatest Female Did Play Against The Men, And She Proved She Belonged.

All of this has fueled and fortified the idea that women can't compete with men in golf played on equal terms, especially in professional tournament golf. History, however, tells a far different tale. Babe Didrickson Zaharias competed in several PGA Tour events in 1945 and she also made the cut in a few of them and collected a check for playing on the weekend.

That The Babe is one of the greats in the history of women's golf would be an understatement. In fact, she may have been the greatest female athlete of all-time. Writing about her in 1939, Time magazine described Babe as a "famed woman athlete, 1932 Olympic Games track & field star, expert basketball player, golfer, javelin thrower, hurdler, high jumper, swimmer, baseball pitcher, football halfback, billiardist, tumbler, boxer, wrestler, fencer, weight lifter, adagio dancer." Among other things - tennis and diving, and she also was a champion seamstress and a vaudeville performer. Anything that The Babe tried, she succeeded in, and that includes playing at the highest level of golf, the American men's tour.

Zaharias didn't even take up golf seriously until her 20s, and it, like most sports, came naturally to her. Her taking to golf may have come from an event in the pressbox in the 1932 Olympiad - where she won two gold and a silver medal, after being allowed to complete in only three events. Watching her, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice told a group that included Will Rogers, Paul Gallico and Damon Runyan that The Babe could hit a golf ball like no one they had ever seen. The group told Rice that he had clearly let his enthusiasm for the Olympic heroine get the better of him, or maybe had enjoyed too much whisky the night before. To prove his point, Rice asked Didrickson up to the pressbox and asked her if she'd like to play golf the next day. She told the men that she hadn't been on the links for over a year, but if someone could find her some clubs and cleats, she'd be glad to play 18.

The next day at Brentwood Country Club, Didrickson took nine holes to get used to not only playing golf again, but also using borrowed equipment in a time when clubs were highly individualized. On the back, she fired a very respectable 43, including banging two shots to the apron on a 523 yard par 5 17th -- into the wind. On the 18th hole, Didrickson scorched a 250 yard drive down the center of the fairway. Keep in mind that this was long before modern balls, modern equipment, and that a 250 yard tee shot was equal to or longer than what most professional males players like Ben Hogan or Sam Snead would hit.

Zaharias turned professional shortly thereafter, trying her hand at Vaudeville before realizing that performing indoors was not for her. Afterward, she would do exhibitions of athletic skills, including pitching an inning for Brooklyn Dodgers versus the Philadelphia Phillies. By 1934, Didrickson was tired of mere exhibitions and wanted the thing she craved the most: competition, and winning. It was then that she turned to golf. It took several years to hone her game from one merely of smashing long drives to the champion's skills of exacting iron shots, precision in short game and putting, not to mention the creativity and skills of escaping the inevitable foibles of hazards and woe. After she started competing and gained her footing, she never looked back. By the time she was done, she was the greatest female golfer ever, one whose records and standing have never come close to being eclipsed.

"The Babe is here. Who's coming in second?" - Babe Didrickson Zaharias

Wins: LPGA - 41
Other - 41

Majors Wins Professional - 10
• U.S. Women's Open: 1948, 1950, 1954
• Western Open: 1940, 1944, 1945, 1950
• Titleholders: 1947, 1950, 1952

Amateur - 3
• U.S. Women's Amateur: 1946, 1947
• British Women's Amateur: 1947

"When I come in second to her I feel as though I have won. It's kind of like the Yankees. They're the champs and you want them to win," Patty Berg once said of Zaharias. The record is clear: as a player in women's golf, Zaharias had no equal and no player to come since her has come even close. But women were not the only competitors Zaharias would square off against - she loved a challenge, and never backed down from one.

In January 1938, at the beginning of her career, The Babe entered the PGA Tour's Los Angeles Open, shooting 81-84 and missing the cut. Later, after establishing and improving her game drastically, she would try the PGA Tour again, and she would never miss the halfway cut in any event that she entered. In 1945 she again played in the L.A. Open, this time making the 36-hole cut with rounds of 76 and 81. In that tournament. there was also a three-day cut, which she missed. She continued her cut streak at the Phoenix Open, where she finished in 33rd place. At the Tucson Open she shot 307 and finished tied for 42nd. Unlike other female golfers competing in men's events, she got into the Phoenix and Tucson opens through 36-hole qualifiers, as opposed to a sponsor's exemption.

While The Babe never won against the likes of Hogan, Nelson and Snead, she more than proved that she belonged on the same couse with them, and she proved for all time that in some cases saying that women cannot compete against men in golf, even at its highest levels - is merely folly.

The Pick Norman DID Get Right: The Japanese Tiger Ishikawa

While much has been made about Greg Norman's selection of Adam Scott for his International side of the upcoming President's Cup, relatively little attention has been paid here in the US to Norman's other selection -- Japan's Ryo Ishikawa.

Ishikawa turned 18 this week. While the young prodigy has yet to make a splash on the PGA Tour, he has had his moments that show clearly that he belongs among the Big Three Wonder Kids: Rory McIlroy, Danny Lee and himself. All are winners, with Lee boasting a European Tour win as an amateur, McIlroy one as well and Ishikawa with six wins on the Japanese Tour. While some deride the Japanese Tour as being far inferior to the PGA or European Tours, it is nonetheless impressive that Ishikawa has managed six wins on it -- all before his 18th birthday. In fact, when Ishikawa won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup, he became the record holder in the Guiness Book as the youngest winner on a professional tour - 15 years and 245 days. Clearly, Ryo has skills, game and the ability to play well when it matters the most.

And like McIlroy and Lee, Ishikawa has an eery maturity for a young man just coming of age. After missing the cut at this year's Master's tournament, Ishikawa was non-plussed in his press conference following his second and final round. “I want to make an even bigger effort over the next twelve months to be ready to come back next year," he said. "I want to put the fruits of my training to the test here." These are measured words of determination in a moment of great disappointment from Ishikawa, who in his elementary school graduation essay wrote of his dream to win the Masters in his twentieth year, or three years from now.

Of course, he has one major obstacle in his way: one Eldrick "Tiger" Woods, and an entire host of talented and established golf stars, all of whom are capable of winning on the hallowed grounds that are Augusta National. That and the rising ascendancy of his young peers - Rory McIlroy has the best showing in a major so far, with his third place finish in this year's PGA Tournament. Lee has a US Amateur win under his belt, as well -- a major victory by any measure in the amateur ranks. To achieve his schoolboy goal, he has much to overcome, but if the past is any measure, it may be folly to discount the possibility of his dream coming true on schedule.

All of that considered, it makes Norman's choice of Ishikawa a savvy one -- from a golf standpoint, he may well contribute points to his team, and from a marketing standpoint, he will bring the eyes of the Japanese press with him, thus raising the exposure of the President's Cup in the huge Japanese golf market exponentially. For Ishikawa, he will have the chance to grow as a player and once again measure himself against the best America has to offer, which in turn will give him much-needed experience in the highest altitudes of the golfing world.

September 16, 2009

The Q-School Of Hard Knocks Is Back In Session

Pipe dreams die hard, it's said, and this week, a lot of golfer's dreams are either on life support or will experience unexpected fatal trauma at Q-School Pre-Qualifying. Two courses will host the pre-qualifying tournaments, Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club, Dade City, Florida, and East Valley Golf Club, Beaumont, California. Players who make the cut will be at one of nine PGA Q-School First Stage Events scattered at eleven different sites. Those events take place either October 21-24th or October 27-30th.

Isabella Beisiegel, the former LPGA player, will be teeing it up with the fellows in another attempt to become the first female to hold a PGA card. Beisiegel has never done things the east way. Izzy, the name she goes by, was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in November 2005 and she had a successful surgery to remove her thyroid and successful thyroid hormone replacement. She's fully recovered now, and seems to be focusing on making the cut in one of the traditionally men's tours.

Biesiegel has long been mocked in her attempts to join a men's tour. She's sometimes called "Dizzy Izzy" by her detractors, and ocassionally derided as being on a Don Quixote-like quest, but for her part, she says on her website that she "believe(s) it is a myth that women can't play against the men. The ball doesn't know whether it is a man or a woman hitting it." The scorecard doesn't care, and that's where this will be settled, and thus far, despite some encouraging streaks, Biesiegel has yet to make it to the PGA Q-School finals.

Brandt Snedecker's brother Haynes will be teeing it up, as will Andrew Giuliani, the former Duke player who was kicked off of the team last year. Sports Illustrated writer Gary Van Sickle's son Mike is also in the pre-qual field, and will be making his first attempt at getting a Tour card.

$50 For A Golf Towel? People Have Paid That For an Amino Vital Club Wiper

Most of us take our golf towel for granted. Sure, we might have a special or a favorite one -- I've got a well-worn towel from The Masters, and another unused from the 1999 US Open, but other than that, this sometimes vital golf accessory is one or the other that I've gathered up through the years. When it gets dirty, I change it out, toss it in the wash and don't think about it again until the towel gets covered in mud once more.

I've never really thought of them as collector's items, but apparently that's not true of everyone. Some folks have paid fifty bucks or more (plus shipping and handling) on EBay for an Amino Vital towel, something that's taken on a bit of a cult status item. That's probably because the majority of PGA golfers carry an Amino Vital towel on their bag displaying their usage of the product. That practice that became widespread after Stewart Cink began using Amino Vital and ravedthe product and aided his performance. More than 180 Tour pros currently use Amino Vital including the past three Master's champion and Y.E. Yang, the current PGA Championship champ.

(pictured: an actual E-Bay lising for a used towel.)

Now the Amino Vital folks are offering a pretty neat contest to go along with the upcoming President's Cup - with prizes ranging from a week long pass for four to the Cup events to one of only 500 of their version of the President Cup's towel. That's for third place, and presumably not the grand prize.

September 15, 2009

Just Deserts For The Man With An Alligator Mouth And a Hummingbird's Tail Feathers

Some people seem to have congenital Cranial-Rectal Inversion Syndrome, a sadly less than rare condition in which every time they open their mouths they seem to stick their head straight into their own rear end. In short, they are "The Jerk." When people first encounter them, they ask themselves "what the heck is wrong with this guy?" Later, when the behavior pattern inevitably repeats itself, they mutter "what a jerk!" After that, they rarely listen.

Golfer Rory Sabbatini seems to be determined to be the poster-boy for the afflication. Last week, Sabbatini was at it again. At the BMW Championship, Sabbatini went into a diatribe about missing the President's Cup team, where he couched the situation in his feeling slighted because no one called to tell him that he was not going to make the team.

This caused a few ripples around the golf world for about, well, fifteen minutes. That said, golf fans sighed collectively sighed and wondered if Tiger would use three-wood or driver on his next hole.

If Sabbatini was trying to make International captain Greg Norman look bad, he failed. If he was trying to re-position himself as golf's anti-hero, well, he failed in that regard too. Sabbatini has drained that well far past dry, and anything he says that is intended to stir controversy barely lasts a news cycle.

With Sabbatini, we've heard it all before and will almost certainly will hear it all again. Like the little boy who cried wolf, no one much listens to Rory these days. As Frank Nobilo, a co-captain of the International Team said from behind his desk at Golf Channel, "There are two sides to every story." Nobilo, a well liked commentator, added that Sabbatini would eventually get his phone call.

Truth is, a lot of PGA Tour members never got a call from either Greg Norman or US Captain Fred Couples. None made any headlines about it, and if they had a problem with feeling slighted, they handled it privately.

With Rory, It's All Happened Before, And (Sigh) Will Happen Again

You might remember that Sabbatini also made waves following the 2007 Wachovia Championship in Charlotte when he was the third round leader and then gave up five strokes to Tiger Woods to lose the tournament on Sunday. Inexplicably he proclaimed that Woods was "more beatable than ever." Since then, Rory has one once. Woods, two majors, and a couple of handfuls of wins, despite being out for months thanks to major knee surgery. If Tiger is more beatable than ever, it certainly isn't Sabbatini that's doing it, then or now.

Sabbatini's animus towards the World's #1 didn't get left behind in Charlotte. Later in 2007, during the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational he had a fan removed who heckled him with a question about Tiger Woods. Steve Banky, the fan in question, asked Sabbatini if he still thought Woods was beatable. Sabbatini took exception and had Banky thrown off of the course. "I figured he was talking a better game than he was playing,'' said Banky in a article. "I wasn't trying to dog him. At the press conference he had, he said Tiger was beatable. I just called him on it.''

In the press conference following that particular round, Sabbatini addressed the situation by saying, "we're out here to do our job - let us do our job. Have a little bit of decorum, a little bit of class out there. " This is something that apparently only applies to fans, as Sabbatini has repeatedly shown. Granted, Steve Banky probably should never have called out Sabbatini, but Sabbatini should have known well that he couldn't possibly win in the eyes of public after his remarks in Charlotte largely resulted in him being pilloried by not only the press but also by golf fans generally. At the Bridgestone, he only added fuel to the fire of fan dislike towards him.

Then, in December of the same year, more controversy was stirred when he withdrew from the final round of the Target World Challenge, an off-season event hosted by Tiger Woods. He cited "personal reasons," but once again Sabbatini failed to recognize that he would not be the winner in the public eye. That's because he was dead last going into that final round. He still collected a $170,000 check.

Of Sabbatinis behavior at the Target, Woods said in a USA Today article

"I've heard he had shin splints. I heard he pulled out for personal reasons. He packed his locker up at 3 o'clock yesterday, I think headed to Hawaii. A lot of different things going on. And I'd like to try and get to the bottom of it when I'm done here, and we'll see what happens."

Later, he was asked if he minded that Sabbatini left, and a cold stare spoke volumes.

While Sabbatini had no chance of winning the prestigious sixteen man event (chosen on the basis of world rankings) he did repeat as winner of Goat of the Month in not only fan's eyes, but also in those of his peers. Fred Couples said that Sabbatini should turn his "winnings" back into the foundation that hosted the event. Mark Calcavecchia was more direct, saying that the situation was "Rory being Rory. I think I could have toughed out one more round," Calcavecchia said. "I don't think the fans missed him."

Nor will fans likely miss Sabbatini in Atlanta next week at the Tour Championship.

As for the International Team for the President's Cup, Norman will almost certainly enjoy the quiet that will come with Sabbatini's absence. It's doubtful fans will bother to miss him there, either.

Those are the spoils of a man whose alligator mouth constantly overloads his hummingbird, err, tail feathers.

Jack Nicklaus's Grandson Is a Top College Football Prospect

Nick O'Leary's grandfather knows a thing or two about championships -- he won twenty major ones in his career. That would be Jack Nicklaus, the man still considered to be golf's greatest champion. Nicklaus was a natural athlete in his prep school days, and not only in golf. He was a star basketball player at Upper Arlington High School in the late 1950's, playing several sports before narrowing his interests into golf, the sport in which he would rewrite the history books.

As for grandson Nick, he can golf too -- at 12 years old, he shot a 77 during his second-ever round. His true sport, however, is football.

According to the college sports recruiting service, O'Leary is a top college football prospect out of Florida:
As of last week, O'Leary - a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior who is expected to be one of the nation's best tight ends in the 2011 recruiting class - already had received written scholarship offers from Florida, South Carolina, Miami, Tennessee, West Virginia, Boston College and Florida International.

Interest has picked up from Ohio State (his grandfather's alma mater), USF, UCF and Wisconsin.
By his coaches' accounts, O'Leary is a natural athlete. His coach at Palm Beach Gardens (FL) Dwyer High, Jack Daniels, says O'Leary has "the best hands I've ever seen on a high school player."

Nicklaus's pride in his grandson is barely concealed, where he quipped that
"Nick is such a natural (athlete). From the time that kid was 5-6 years old - if they put him in the outfield in baseball, at the crack of the bat he would be on it. You don't teach somebody that.

"In football, if he can touch it, he catches it. If the ball is in the air, he's going to be the first one there."
As for O'Leary, he's said to be humble and a good teammate who doesn't mention his family's (meaning Nicklaus's) history. "Somebody has to talk about him for Nick to say something about him. He doesn't bring him up," said Dwyer wide receiver Robert Clark, a 2010 Virginia commit. Sounds like O'Leary is a young man who will make a name for himself by earning it the old fashioned way: by his own merits. Just like his grandfather did.

September 12, 2009

A Great Peter Kostis Tip

Not many know that CBS announcer and Golf Digest staff instructor Peter Kostis has a Twitter feed, and on it you will find some entertaining wit and incredible insight into the golf swing and his television job. Peter Kostis is, after all, a top expert on the golf swing, and if he doesn't know something about the PGA Tour, it's probably not worth knowing. That said, if you have a Twitter account, it's well worth it to follow his posts.

This morning on his feed, Mr. Kostis posted one of the best aphorisms I have ever come across about competing, whether it is on the PGA Tour, your club's championship, or even with your buddies in your weekly Sunday Nassau:

"To play your best, you must try hard to not try hard."

Indeed. Golf is one of the few sports where one can't really grit their teeth and as we say in the South, "bow your neck and go at it hard." In other words, it is a game where success comes from being calm, cool and collected in all circumstances, whether it is in on the tee, in the middle of the fairway, in a bunker fifty feet from the hole or standing over an eight foot putt to seal the match. In any of those situations, trying too hard will usually result in a bad effort because trying too hard is a quick shortcut to tension, and that in turn will lead more often than not to losing rhythm and using our smaller fast-twitch muscles instead of the larger and more powerful muscles at our body's core. Have you ever wondered why almost all of the top pros make their golf swing look so easy: it's because they are trying hard to not try hard.

Think of it this way: if you are honest with yourself, you usually hit a good shot when you are not trying to hit the ball hard, and instead swing in a smooth steady rhythm. When you "go hard" at the ball, the result is usually not as good and quite often, the ball ignores the flight path you had in mind. That's trying too hard, and just like Mr. Kostis says, it's smarter to try hard to not try hard.

Bobby Jones made the same point, and in far fewer words than I did above:

"You must swing smoothly to play golf well and you must be relaxed to swing smoothly."

So next time you are in a tense situation, like a forced carry, take a deep breath, slowly exhale, and consciously relax yourself before you take your swing. Take a couple of practice swings where you are concentrating on being smooth and mentally picture the ball going right to the target you have in mind. Don't say don't and keep it positive. If you can pull that off, you'll have a far better chance of pulling off that difficult shot.

September 11, 2009

Golf Courses Are Not All THAT Evil To The Environment

Some folks like to constantly deride golf courses as wasted acreage that are bad for the environment, but as it is with any extreme viewpoint, the whole story is not told. Even though it is geared towards lawns, here are some interesting facts:
  • Oxygen production: a 50'x50' backyard produces enough oxygen for a family of four.
  • Cooling effect: eight average healthy front lawns have the cooling effect of 70 tons of air conditioning - enough for 16 average homes.
  • Pollution control: dust and smoke particles from the atmosphere are trapped by blades of grass. Lawns also convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.
  • Water quality: dense, healthy turf slows down and filters runoff, removing contaminants and trapping soil from running off as well.
Consider the first point: 50'x 50' is 2,500 square feet. An acre is 43,560 square feet, and roughly estimated, a typical golf course has 175 acres of grass. That means that a golf course has about 7.64 million square feet of grass, and if you do the math, again roughly estimated, a golf course produces enough oxygen for over 3,000 familes of four -- or 12,222 people each and every day.

In so doing, living grass converts Carbon Dioxide, the voodoo daddy of global warming into oxygen. Additional CO2 is sequestered as well, so with all things considered, it is very fair to say that golf courses have a negative effect on global warming. Whether or not you "believe" that manmade global warming is a huge problem, the point remains that golf courses are good for the air we breathe.

Additionally, all of the turf on a golf course does cool the air, which certainly offsets all of the hot air that the players on it may produce. More seriously, as a living thing, the cooling effect is another side benefit.

While it is an absolute truth that many if not most golf courses use too many chemical additives and insecticides in their ongoing maintenance, one hardly if ever hears of the overall effect of filtration that the turf provides in removing air and water pollutants. Superintendents are increasingly aware of over-use of the fertilizers and insecticides they use, and overall they are reducing them where ever possible. While there is still progress to be made, it is equally fair to point out the progress already attained and the other benefits seemingly never mentioned.

Folks that are singleminded in an environmentalist or anti-golf mindset may not like those facts, but it is certainly fair to point them out in riposte the next time they blather on about how golf and golfers are doing nothing but wrecking the environment. And if you really want to have fun, ask them about all of the toxic and hazardous materials that their hybrid vehicle has built into it. Or for that matter, their solar power panels.

As with all things, a balanced viewpoint is the best. While we certainly must take better care of our environment, it is unwise to accept an extremist point of view at face value without any critical analysis.

Phil Leaning Towards Playing In President's Cup; Amy May Come Along

The World's #2 golfer seems to be on board the US team for the upcoming President's Cup matches at Harding Park in San Francisco, October 6-11.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that
Phil Mickelson, unable to commit to the event because of his wife Amy's breast-cancer treatment, is leaning toward playing in San Francisco. He also might bring Amy, who hasn't made a public appearance since her diagnosis in May.

It's wonderful news that Mrs. Mickelson's health has improved to the point where she may be able to accompany her husband and also withstand the inevitable media scrutiny that would come along with her making a sustained public appearance. Cancer treatment ravages one's body and spirit, and for Amy to even consider coming to San Francisco with Phil is a very good sign for her indeed.

September 10, 2009

There's Too Much Confusion, I Can't Get No Release

Ever heard the term "release the club" but wondered just what the heck your pro or some guy on TV is talking about? I know I did, and for the longest time. No one ever explained in a way I could understand just what an early release was (which will probably give you a right-to-left shot, or a hook) or a late release (which will give you the dreaded left-to-right "slice") or right on time, which will probably give a powerful shot that's right on line.

Without going too far into physics - that tends to make non-engineers sleepy pretty quickly - what the release does is let go of all the energy that you stored up in your backswing. In its essence, it is the rotation of the hands and wrist through the impact zone, which in turn rotates the face of club while it's happening. Sounds complicated, but it really isn't. In in it's simplest terms: release equals power through greatly increased club speed. Doing it at the right time means accuracy, and power with accuracy is a great shortcut to lower scores.

Here's a great video of how and when to release that club and access all of that stored energy at the right time:

Finally, apologies to Bob Dylan for mangling the lyrics to "All Along The Watchtower" in the title.

The Day I Met The Once and Future King

Tempest Fugit: Latin for "Time is Fleeting."

It seems like the day before yesterday - Arnold Palmer storming through golf fields with ease, with an army of followers cheering his every move. He was The King, The Man, and The Guy Who Made TV Golf What It Is.

And today, he is 80. Happy Birthday, Mr. Palmer.

The Day I Met Mr. Palmer -- A Day This Kid Golfer Has Never Forgotten

When I was a very young kid, perhaps five years old, I got to enjoy watching Arnold Palmer is his prime. Little as I was, I didn't see much, mainly legs of adults straining against gallery ropes for a glimpse of the world's most famous golfer as he strolled through. What I remember the most is the palpable excitement, followed by the instant hush as he prepared to swing, and that different sound his driver made as it crashed through a golf ball. Palmer's swing sounded like power. Afterward, I saw a white dot against a clear blue Florida sky, blasted into the heavens almost as if it were one of the rockets that my grandfather and my father launched at their jobs at Kennedy Space Center.

As soon as the ball disappeared, there was a stampede to follow Palmer down the fairway, and being little, it was almost as if I were in a human version of the Running of the Bulls in Pamploma, Spain. My grandfather held my hand tightly to keep me safe, and we would follow after the crowd thinned. We did this shot after shot, roar after roar, mile after mile. On young legs, 18 holes is a very long way. By the end of the day, I was exhausted.

Then the best part: as we walked towards our car, my grandfather, a man infamous for his shortcuts, ducked through the ropes and away we went besides the clubhouse. No one seemed to notice, and if they did, they didn't seem to mind. We turned a corner, and there he was: the man himself. Arnold Palmer.

My grandfather was a senior manager at Kennedy Space Center, a fellow who the nightly news interviewed from time to time to get the latest on the Gemini Project and some insight into the upcoming Apollo Project that was going to take men to the moon. During his career, he met often with politicians, celebrities and reporters regularly, so meeting a man like Mr. Palmer was something he could handle with ease. Thing was, he seemed to know The King, at least well enough to say "good to see you again, Arnold. How's Winnie?" From there, they made a bit of small talk. Palmer asked about the space program, my grandfather asked Arnie about his game. Then Palmer noticed me standing there quietly.

(pictured: on the right, my grandfather mans his instrument panel during Alan Shepard's flight into space in the Mercury Control Room at Cape Canaveral.)

"Who's this?" Palmer asked my Papa, looking at me.

My grandfather beamed. "This is young Charles," he said. "He loves to play golf."

"Nice to meet you, young man," Palmer said to me, smiling. I was dumbstruck. The man I saw most weekends on television was me! "Do you like to golf?" he asked."

"Yes...yes sir..."I stammered.

"He wants to be just like you," my grandfather interjected.

Palmer smiled, looked at me and said, "well, you look like a fine young man. Just keep on practicing and maybe you will one day, Charles."

"Yes...yes sir..." I replied.

As soon as I got home that afternoon, I grabbed my Spalding kid's set out to the yard without hardly a word to my parents. I was headed out to the yard, to practice, just like I had been told by Arnold Palmer.

It may not have worked out for me to ever be the golfer that Arnold Palmer was, but that day, it all seemed possible. And today, when I look at a blank scorecard on the first tee, it still seems possible. I just need to keep practicing...

September 8, 2009

Ben Hogan Explains His Swing Thoughts

Almost any golf aficionado knows the story of Ben Hogan, and most know he is regarded as perhaps the best ball-striker ever. But not many of us have actually seen Mr. Hogan explain his swing. Here he does that:

Note Hogan's incredible extension through the ball, and how it, coupled with his coil creates incredible power. My personal opinion is that having an active lower body such as his is an invitation to having a huge slice, because not many amateurs are strong enough to release the club fully through the impact zone. I would recommend looking at Sam Snead or Byron Nelson videos for the picture-perfect golf swing, but that's just me. Your mileage may vary, of course, and far be it from me to give you any swing advice. That's best left to your pro.

From The Mouths of Babes

My wife and I spent yesterday afternoon watching Deutshe Bank Championship's final round.

After an hour or so, she asked me: "Who is that guy who says something negative after every shot?"

Me: "That’s Johnny Miller."

Wife: "Was he any good when he played?"

Me: "Yes, he won a few majors in his day."

Wife: "He sure sounds bitter now."

Me: "That’s because he can’t putt any more."

Wife: "Well, I like that British guy..."

Me: "Faldo?"

Wife: "Yeah, him. I like Faldo better. He makes me laugh. Miller just sounds mean."

That's hard to argue with, and love or hate Johnny Miller, that's straight out of the mouth of a casual golf fan.

The Yips: It Can Be Kryptonite For Great Players And A Curse For Any Golfer

It is said that from tee-to-green, Ben Hogan was probably the greatest player that golf has ever seen, even in the long shadows of his late career. Hogan was one of golf's first technicians, a man who rebuilt his swing after fighting a tendency to hit nasty hooks early in his career by (in his own words) "digging it from the dirt."

Despite a horrific car accident that left him nearly crippled, Hogan would go on to win a career Grand Slam with two Masters titles, four U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships and the 1953 Open Championship in his only appearance in that that tournament.

So why didn't Hogan win more majors, given his greatness ball-striking? He was extremely competitive in many other tournament, and in many of them, the reason he did not win was simple: he was cursed with the yips, and a three foot putt was as much an adventure for him as a typical 20-footer.

What Are "The Yips" And What Is Modern Science Doing About It?

The Yips, a curse for any golfer as bad as a Sunday golfer's swooping slice, can wreck any golfer's scorecard. The phrase is said to have come from Tommy Armour, an early 20th century great of the game whose competitive career was cut short by the condition.

Essentially, it is a condition where a twitchy, jerky putting motion replaces the smooth, pendulum-like action of an unaffected player. The Mayo Clinic estimates that between 33% and 48% of all players are affected at one point in their career, and for a professional, it can often mean the end of their effectiveness as a competitor.

While many say that the nervousness naturally accompanying competitive pressures are the cause of The Yips, a number of researchers say that a condition known as Focal Dystonia is the true cause of the condition. Described as a neurological condition affecting a muscle or group of muscles in a part of the body causing an undesirable muscular contraction or twisting, Focal Dystonia is often the result of chemical changes that happen inside the brain as a result of aging. Paradoxically, it affects people with a high degree of training in a given muscular movement - musicians, athletes, artists and others who has spent a lifetime learning how to repeat complex motions as part of their respective crafts. Treatments for Focal Dystonia range from Botox injections for temporary relief from the symptoms to muscular retraining through excercise training. No complete cure has been found, and reseach is ongoing in the field.

Hogan, Bernhard Langer, Harry Vardon, and Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller are all major champions, and all experienced the yips, and in many cases, it ended their career. Langer switched to a long putter, as have a number of golfers, Snead used a side-saddle putting motion until it was banned under the Rules of Golf and others tried any number of remedies available to them at the time. In Ben Hogan's case, he actually began to avoid practicing putting later in his career, so severe was his condition. In competition, most notably in the 1960 US Open, the Yips may well have cost him one last major victory.

September 3, 2009

My Usual Game: Disrespect the Easy Putt and Lose The Match

Yesterday: Dormie, with a three foot sidehill uphill putt to win the 17th hole and continue the semi-finals match of our Club Match Play Championship, I did the unthinkable: I half-heartedly tried to guide the ball to the cup and hit it so weakly that the break took over and let the ball slide by. Match over, handshakes, and the empty feeling of ultimately beating myself when it mattered the most.

That's golf. It takes a strong mind in order to win. Not only that, a singular constancy of purpose that might best be described as Zen on the green. And on that 17th green, I blinked, plain and simple.

I thought I knew better. So much for that theory!

Now then, I might have lost the next hole, or merely tied it and still lost the match. My opponent, Jerry, was more than capable of beating me, and I won't denigrate his well deserved win in our club's match play by claiming that I merely beat myself. That would be inaccurate and disrespectful. The guy's a solid golfer he played solid golf and took me to the limits of my capabilities and then beyond them. In other words, Jerry beat me, fair and square, and well done for him. Let me be 100% clear about that. And not only that, he is a gentleman and a guy that's fun to play with, not only for the golfing challenge, but also because he's damned pleasant to be around. I like to laugh and Jerry will make you laugh if you ever play 18 with him.

But it is the way that I lost in this tournament that eats at me, and it will serve as a lesson for me in the future. Instead of putting the deciding putt when my mind was ready, I took it for granted and gave an effort I don't think was my best. It was so easy that I made it impossibly hard because I wasn't committed. There's a fine line between thinking too much and thinking too little and in the case of a three footer that I would make 98 out of 100 times, I didn't think enough. Even little three footers deserve your respect, especially when the match is on the line. By doing that, I took away the possibility of continuing the match to the 18th, where anything could happen.

The experience gave me new respect for the old Bobby Jones aphorism about the toughest part of a golf course being the five inches between the ears. I may never have the magical powers of concentration of Ben Hogan or Tiger Woods, but next time I have a critical putt, you can bet I will remember this, and then clear out my head before the putter blade moves back a millimeter.

I also found another level of respect for the men and women who play tournament golf for a living. For them, the stakes are many magnitudes higher, with more people watching and way more people asking questions. I miss a putt in a club event and we go to the 19th hole for a cold beer. They miss a putt with a tournament on the line, especially a major, and their career can careen in a different direction. Not many folks remember who finished second in a major more than a few months later. No one remembers who finished second in the 2003 Quad Cities Open. But the folks who did certainly do. And they probably rue the key miss more than I do.

Ah well, even an old dog can learn a new lesson.

Finally, an open message: Jerry, best of luck in the Finals. I will be rooting for you and will buy you your first drink when you hoist the Champion's Trophy. Or not, either way. Hit 'em well, sir.