December 31, 2009

I Resolve in the 2010 To....

New Year's Eve is the last day of the decade, and tomorrow begins a new one. Instead of looking back, however, I am going to look forward, and as many of us do, I am going to make the usual resolutions. Unlike many of us, however, I am going to make them happen, mainly because I plan to make them reasonable and attainable goals.

I won't bore you with the tedious personal ones, yes, I want to get into better shape, eat right and all of that. We all do and we all work at it constantly (if we are smart.) So instead, I will share you the short list of my golf goals for the year:

  • Mainly, I resolve to have fun playing golf and to not let the ups and downs of this crazy, wonderfully stupid game get inside my head

  • I resolve to finally stick to the pre-swing routine that sets me up to hit a good shot.

  • I resolve to practice six foot putts over and over and over so that from there in, they become nearly automatic.

  • I resolve to practice shots from the rough, from sand, from sidehill, downhill and uphill lies so that I can hit them with more confidence. I don't practice them enough.

  • I resolve to use the driver I have (a Taylor Made R9) and not be seduced into believing I will be a better player if I try to buy my game. (personal note to my wife: you're welcome)

  • I resolve to play Pine Needles from the US Women's Open tee markers and Pinehurst #2 in the spring. And if the numbers start adding up towards triple digits (and they probably will) I will quit scoring and just enjoy the day.

  • I resolve to take my 72 year-old Dad out to "caddy" for me when I go, because he would enjoy it. He can ride in the cart and make jokes about my game and we'll both laugh.

  • I resolve to only give golf advice to my wife when she asks. I rarely butt in anyway, but the worst teacher for a novice woman golfer is her husband.

  • I resolve to not put any stars beside any wins any player on the PGA Tour has while Tiger Woods hides from his troubles and refuses to pay the piper for his sins. He did that to himself and no one else should carry his burden.

  • Finally, I resolve to thank my lucky stars for each and every day I get, and for all of my friends. Never take those things for granted, ever. So, Spank-o-saurus, you might beat me from time to time on the back 9 here at Eagle Ridge, but you can bet next time it might not happen. And we'll have fun trying to out-do each other. That's all that matters at the end of the round anyway.

December 30, 2009

Stupidity From The National Review Online

In today's political scene of dangerous polemicism centered more on power than pragmatism, intelligent thought often flies out of the window quickly.  We see it from all sides of the political spectrum, as no one has any patent or solid claim on good sense.  Today's idiocy comes from the National Review Online, the dubious shadow of a once-thoughtful and thought-provoking conservative journal originally started by William F. Buckley.  Writer Michelle Cottle displays a breathtaking lack of any common sense or reason when she says that
[G]olf is a dubious pastime for any decent, sane person
To which she then attempts to tie to our current president
Why would a leader vowing to shake up Washington--to alter the very nature of politics--sell his soul to a leisure activity that screams stodgy, hyperconventional Old Guard?
While I do not agree with every decision Barack Obama makes (as I have yet to have a president in my lifetime I've been 100% agreement with) I do completely agree with his taking respite from the demands of his duties from time to time on the golf course.  Any regular player knows the rejuvenation one gets from playing 18 holes and concentrating not on the problems of the day but instead on the white ball's path down towards the hole.  It clears the mind, and if there is any place a clear mind is needed, it is in Washington DC.

Finally, Cottle summarizes her specious argument with this:
And if we really want to get harsh about it: Golf is a dying game--on the skids for nearly a decade, according to a 2008 report by the National Golf Foundation. The number of Americans who golf has fallen by some four million, while the number who golf frequently (25-plus rounds a year) has plummeted by a third. One observed problem: evolving family dynamics. Men once free to spend all weekend on the links are now expected to help shuttle the kids to soccer, walk the dog, and generally pull their weight on the home front. The first lady may be understanding about her man’s special recreational needs. But does President Obama really want to be associated with a game so antithetical to modern life?
Generalize much, Michelle?  A decline in golf rounds nationally could not possibly be linked to the fact that when economic times get tough, the first belt-tightening move is to reduce the discretionary spending budget to focus on core items like home, food and transportation, right?  Or perhaps another explanation that also fits into the overall picture is that there was an explosion in new players that coincided with the rise of Tiger Woods on television, and after a number of these new players discovered that they would never be as good as Tiger in their own right, they gave up the game.  Yes, there are increasing home demands, but to paint that as the sole reason for any decline in the game is manipulating the facts to fit the story she writes, not the other way around.

To me, the bottom line with this article is that once again we have a writer with such a strong lean politically that she will simply alter or omit facts to make a point, knowing full well that she is writing to an audience that is inclined to agree with what she says without applying any critical thinking to her prose.

That's why I generally avoid the likes of Huffington Post and NRO.  Truth often does not matter there.  And it is truth that is sorely needed yet is in critically short supply in this great country of ours.

I Am Back At It, Sort Of...

Thirteen days after Carpal Tunnel Remediation surgery, I am finally able to "type" with both hands.  When I say type, I am forced to use one finger in a  hunting-and-pecking motion as though I were just learning to use a keyboard.  It's frustrating, because I normally type somewhere near 100 words per minute, a skill well-honed from 35 years of computer usage.  (Yeah, I am that old.)

Anyway, thanks to all for your good wishes and glad tidings for the holiday season.  They cheered me up through the days of an aching wrist and the fog of painkillers, and I can't thank you enough for your thoughfulness.

Enough about me, though, the European Tour season is already underway and the PGA Tour starts its Hawai'ian Swing in a mere week or so.  Hard to believe, but 2010 is almost upon us and before we know it, The Masters will be around the corner!

December 17, 2009

Surgery For Me, See You In Two Weeks

I'm heading to Duke Hospital in a few minutes for a Carpal Tunnel Release surgery, after which I won't be allowed to type for a few least with my left hand.

That in mind, I am going to have to take a brief hiatus not only from writing, but from swinging a golf club too. I've been told I can putt in a couple of weeks but cannot even chip for another four.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I should be able to get some lost grip strength back and once healed, I should be better than ever. That's good, an aching hand is no way to go through life, son.

So all of that said, Happy Holidays, Festas felizes, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, et Bonne Année pour vous!

December 15, 2009

Stiff Competition

Armitage Golf Club, located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania isn't planning to go down easily to big-box retailer Dick's Sporting Goods.

I know what you're thinking.  I got a pretty good laugh from this very creative sign.

December 10, 2009

Ballet Is Like...Golf - According to Star of 'The Nutcracker'

Ballet is one of the fine things in life that I can personally appreciate, even if I don't ever enjoy going to performances of it.  Like figure skating it requires an athleticism and agility that are beyond my imagination, and I can certainly respect the dedication, practice and performance pressure ballet stars go through in order to pull off a successful run. In other words, it takes a lot of hard work to make it look easy.

Sounds a lot like golf, doesn't it?  Show me a well-oiled smooth swing and I will show you someone who has spent a very long time perfecting their craft.  No doubt it is the same for a principle in a ballet.

And if you think it through, is the golf swing not a carefully choreographed dance step that we all spend a lifetime trying to master?

From Texas comes a story of a seemingly rare convergence of the two: Texas Ballet Star Compares His Art To...Golf

This may be a first, but Eddy Tovar (pictured at left), the gifted Cuban dancer starring for Texas Ballet Theater, compares the art form at which he excels to golf.

That’s right, golf.

"You get frustrated. Very frustrated," he said, before a recent rehearsal. "It can be hard, very hard, but it can also be . . . amazing."

Like a golfer who finally reaches a breakthrough on the fairway or green, "you suddenly find in yourself something you never did before. And once you know your body, your movements, how you dance, ballet can finally become . . . easier. But it’s always challenging. It never stops being challenging. You know, like golf."

Those who see Tovar, 27, in The Nutcracker, which begins its Bass Hall run Friday, would undoubtedly commend his gift of making it look as easy as sinking a 30-foot putt. His athleticism is evident as he masters one of the key roles in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the Prince.
 Tovar sounds to me like a thoughtful and intelligent man, the kind of fellow that would be fun to get to know as a friend.  While I may prefer a root canal to another night at a ballet (yes, I've been to more than a few, but that's another story) it seems to me that Tovar is less a prima donna than a decent guy whose life work is incredibly difficult, and one whose hobby is equally challenging.  That sort of person is invariably interesting.

Best of luck to you on-stage this weekend, Eddy.

December 9, 2009

A Zen-like Moment Earns Tour Card for McLardy

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” 

Much is made about golf being like life, or perhaps the other way around, life is like golf.  Hit a shot, and whatever the result, you have to live with it and move on.  In real golf, there are no mulligans, and where-ever the ball lay, it must be played from there.  So it goes for life too, there are decisive moments in everyone's life - a fork in the road, if you will - and what happens from there changes everything that happens next. Once in a while the two converge into one place: a ball laying in a tough spot in an important moment -- one that requires focus and skill, not only for the golfing result, but for life too.

Greensboro, North Carolina's Andrew McClardy was in exactly such a place Monday at the PGA Tour Q-School, in a place where he had to forget his past failures and not worry about what might be.  Ed Hardin, the highly respected sports columnist at the Greensboro (NC) News-Record, picks it up from here:
McLardy played well [in this year's Q-School], stayed on the leaderboard and threatened to win the thing outright. For five days.

"It's such a long week," he said by phone Tuesday morning, back home with a 2-year-old screaming in the background. "The week drags on. There are practice rounds, and then weather came in and delayed the starts. The days started at 5 a.m. It made it all so tiring."

And still, through six holes Monday, all seemed to be going according to plan.

"And then one bad hole," he said. "I assumed it was over. I didn't look at numbers all week. I thought I was three strokes off the number."

And so, strangely, he felt no pressure. While players around him crumbled and broke down under the weight of dashed dreams, he simply played one shot after another. While as many as 14 players withdrew without reason during the final round, as players such as Duval and Micheel and Pernice failed to win their card, as players took breaks to throw up and cry on their caddie's shoulder, McLardy played on.

"Your mind starts racing," he said. "I played so well for five days. It would've been terrible ... "

His voice dropped off. He'd been there before when the number moved after he'd finished, someone else making a birdie at the final hole to eliminate him and send him back to Europe or the Nationwide Tour. His mind wandered, but didn't snap.

"It's important," he said. "But you have to keep it in perspective. It's not life and death. It's not worth crying about."
McLardy had found his Zen-like moment. From there, he soldiered on, and won his PGA Tour keeping his head in the present and on the real prize at hand: an excellent shot that kept him contention.  Now he will have an entire season to prove his worth with the big boys on the world's pre-eminent golf circuit.

December 8, 2009

Paradise Lost: Anguillan Golf Resort Broke and Out of Money

Temenos, an uber-luxury resort on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, has run out of money and now may never be built, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Greg Norman signature golf course, the island's first, was built as a centerpiece for the project, and opened in 2007.  It was to be surrounded by homes owned by the likes of Dan Brown (of 'Da Vinci Code' fame) and American Idol" creator Simon Fuller, among other notable celebrities, but now it is unclear as to the fate of their investments as well as the long-term viability of the golf course.

(Shoal Bay Beach photo by Charles Boyer, (c) 2008)

Anguilla is a flat, low-lying island of coral and limestone in the Lesser Antilles islands, and is immediately adjacent to the more-widely visited and well-known Saint Martin.  A protectorate of the British Government, Anguilla is a place that eschews cruise ships and mass tourism in favor of a quieter high-end resorts and villas.  It's also home to perhaps the most beautiful beach in all of North and South America, Shoal Bay Beach -- a regular fixture in lists of the World's Top 10 Beaches.  It's also the quiet playground of stars -- it's not all that rare to see a famous celebrity enjoying quite time from the spotlight.

December 7, 2009

Grow Up, Ron Galloway (Updated)

Huffington Post author Ron Galloway is making his rounds around the golf blogosphere the past few days. First here, then over to Heather Jones' "Real Women Golf." He's also showing the maturity one would expect of a ten year old boy.

When you write and put your thoughts in the bazaar of ideas for all to see, it is inevitable that someone disagrees with you. It's how it works, and that's actually how it should work: show me someone who's always right and I will show you the True Messiah. We haven't had one of those around here for quite a number of centuries, last time I checked anyway.

So this evening, after watching Jim Furyk win the Chevron post-season tournament, I find this criticism of a column I wrote back in April in my Facebook inbox. I had to read it twice, to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was reading. I found it fairly hilarious, given the immaturity of its scatological reference. If that's mature debate, I'm Abraham Lincoln.

Apparently, Mr. Galloway didn't like my taking him to task for his thesis in his Huffington-Post column that because Tiger Woods displays his temper from time to time on the golf course he is "bad" for children. I think that argument is bunk, and so do a number of parents of junior golfers. The column even quotes one who said "I do not believe Mr. Woods or any other golfer is responsible for [my son's] behavior." She then added that she and her husband are the ones who give their children proper guidelines, surely signs of good, responsible parenting.

Now he wants me to believe that because Woods doesn't know how to behave in his marriage that his argument that Woods' behavior on the golf course is bad for children is somehow now correct. Using his own words, he was right and because I think his estimation of Woods on-course behavior is wrong, well, you can read the rest. Straw man argument atop straw man argument, that.

Um, ok, whatever. Thanks for taking the time to write. Your April column is still bunk, even if Tiger Woods is a cad.


Mr. Galloway deigned send me, a mere "nobody" (to use his own words) another message on Facebook today:

Excuse me if the message offends your sensibilities, but I do think it is important to point out the complete lack of professionalism and tact that this writer -- who ostensibly has a national platform -- uses when someone disagrees with him.

It can't look good for Huffington Post, and I am quite surprised that Galloway's editors would allow this to go on. Actually, I don't think they know about it. Perhaps it is time to make that happen.

December 6, 2009

Thanks to George Franklin Grant, You Don't Have To Pound Sand

One Hundred and Ten Years Ago This Month, The Golf Tee Was Invented By a Boston Dentist.

Sometimes, we take the little things in life as though they were for granted, as if they had always been there. Such is the case of the lowly golf tee, a part of our golf bags that most of us hardly ever think twice about -- they've been around forever, so they must have been invented at the same time as the game, right?

No, actually, golfers used to plop their ball onto a cone of wet sand before Dr. George Franklin Grant invented the wooden tee.

Dr. Grant was a man memorable for many things. The son of former slaves, the Oswego, N.Y. native somehow found work for his hometown dentist as a youngster. He began as many prosperous and successful men do, at the bottom. His first job for the dentist was running errands and eventually he became an an assistant in the dentist's laboratory. When he was 19, Grant moved to Boston, where he worked as a dental assistant. Two years later he enrolled in the then-new Harvard Dental School. In 1870, Grant graduated with honors, becoming just the second African-American graduate of the Dental School.

After receiving his diploma, Dr. Grant worked for the Dental School, where he worked with patients who had deformations and maladies in the roof of their mouth. Grant excelled, becoming a noted forerunner in the nascent field. He was well-regarded in the dental community internationally and eventually left Harvard to open a private practice.

Grant had a passion for golf, and even built his own course aside his home in Arlington Heights area outside Boston. Eventually, he and his family moved to the more toney area of Beacon Hill, but Grant would often return to Arlington Heights to play his beloved game of golf.

Already a patented inventor, Grant eventually grew dissatisfied with the mess and bother of the wet sand tees that were used at that time. In order to tee up a golf ball on the teebox, one had to use a cone to fashion a pile of sand, atop which the ball would be placed and then struck. These sand tees were often inconsistent and fragile, and creating one was hasslesome at best. To fix that, Dr. Grant invented a wooden peg with a gutta-percha crown -- more or less the modern tee. For his invention, he received U.S. patent No. 638,920, (click to read patent) on December 12, 1899.

Grant was not much of a businessman, and he never properly marketed his device. He died in 1910, and the wooden tee largely forgotten outside of his family until another dentist William Lowell of New Jersey, "rediscovered" Grant's invention 1921 and manufactured the 'reddy tee,' which was painted red. To market his product, Lowell gave them to popular golfers of the day, most notably Walter Hagen to play them. Hagen and others reportedly received four figure "incentives" to play with them.

Interestingly, it was Hagen's use of the Reddy Tee that led to another innovation still widely used in tournament golf today -- the gallery ropes. At an exhibition at the Shennecossett Club in Groton, Conn., Hagen teed off with Reddy Tees and fans would stampede the tee box in order to grab up the broken wooden peg Hagen left behind as a souvenir. In order to control the unruly mob, the club circled the playing area with ropes, and the gallery rope was born into modern American golf.

Today, there is probably no piece of equipment in a golfer's bag used more often than the wooden tee. As legendary pro Sam Snead once said that tees should be used even on par 3 holes because of the perfect lie that they provide. "If they let you put it on a peg," Snead said, "put it on a peg, nobody is that good!"

Thanks to Dr. George Franklin Grant, we can all do just that.

December 1, 2009

My Golfer of the Year: Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson may not have won the most tournaments, he didn't win a major, and he wasn't the PGA's Player of the Year, but in my mind, he's my Golfer of the Year.

Here's why:

His 2009 started with two solid victories, first at at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open, then at the WGC/CA Championship at the tough Doral Golf Resort.

Then, the bottom fell out in his personal life. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, to make matters worse, so was his mother. That's quite a load to carry, and it's one that no amount of money or fame can make lighter. Sure, Amy and his mother Mary were afforded the best medical treatment that money can buy. Thing is, even that does not bring complete certainty.

Cancer is a wily, hateful enemy, and if you have never had to experience caring for a loved one going through the throes of treatment for the dreaded disease, let's just say that if you were my worst enemy I still would not wish it on you. Phil not only had to do that for his wife, which is one of the hardest things a man can do in a marriage, he also had to do so with his mother before Amy had completely finished her own treatments. That's like having to face Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson in a boxing ring at the same time.

Somehow, Phil carried on, and despite the pressures of being the World's #2 golfer and the expectations that comes with it, he managed to find respite on the golf course. He took some much-needed family time away from the game, and shortly after his return, he was a factor in the U.S. Open.

Despite falling to Lucas Glover, Phil's Herculean effort in New York at Bethpage should not be overlooked. Like I said above, cancer is a hateful enemy, and if a loved one has it, their cancer invades your psyche and never completely goes away. Its symptoms are sudden metallic tastes of fear, and those are followed by cold shudders when thoughts of the worst coming to pass cross your mind. In that U.S. Open, Phil gave us all a wonderful example of what it means to be a man -- someone who can manage his emotions and still do a great job in his work. In my view, that is a victory unto itself that's far, far larger than the trophy that Glover lifted that rainy weekend.

In the middle of it all, Phil was still Phil, which meant that he still had time to say hello to his fans, to sign a kid's autograph, and to still be one of the greatest philanthropists the modern game has seen. Mickelson does not get enough credit for those things, especially in a time when uber-rich players seem to walk to and from a course as though they were bottled up in a Thermos, seemingly miles away from the fans that paid their good money in the depths of The Great Recession to see them play. Phil is often compared to Arnold Palmer in that regard, and fairly so: The King is still revered by golf fans everywhere for being one of the friendliest people to trod between the ropes. Phil is a lot like him, and it seems like he always has time to say hi to an adoring ten year old, or high five a little girl excited to see him as he strides towards the next tee. The game needs more Phils and it certainly needs fewer Ice Princesses who act as though they couldn't be bothered.

Phil wasn't done with his 2009 after the US Open, however. He wasn't satisifed with his game, and to fix it, he worked with putting guru Dave Stockton. A few mechanical and mental changes later, fix it Phil did, and he came roaring out like a man possessed. Seemingly every stroke he took with his flat-stick sent the ball to the bottom, and with that came confidence on the greens that Phil said he hadn't had since he was a kid. Suddenly with his new-found putting prowess, the rest of Phil's game blossomed and his swashbuckling style from tee-to-green allowed him to play offense on the golf course rather than trying to defensively get each and every approach shot within spitting distance of the cup.

Folks, changing your game that drastically for the better is not an easy thing, not even for one of the best golfers playing the game today. It takes a bit of humility, a lot of hunger and a truckload of practice and preserverance to make it work. Phil Mickelson did it, and it paid in spades. He upstaged FedEx Cup winner Tiger Woods by dominating the field over the weekend for an easy Tour Championship win. At the President's Cup in San Francisco, Phil was lights out. And to end his 2009, Phil won again, this time in Shanghai at HSBC Champions/WGC tournament again featuring most all of the top-ranked players in the game today.

In toto, that means that Phil Mickelson started 2009 well, somehow not only managed to help his family when it need it most, and still nearly won his country's championship. Then, he made a smart move and made himself a better player, one that NBC's Johnny Miller says is the best in the world today, with all due respect to Tiger Woods. The whole way, he never lost himself and never forgot who he was and why he is adored by so many of his fans.

Taken as a whole, that's why Phil Mickelson is the Old Man Par Player of the Year in a runaway victory.