Whistling Straits Course-Flyover

Whistling Straits LogoWith Whistling Straits playing host to the Ryder Cup this week, Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg has dispatched his drone to put together a timely video exposition of the course and paired it with his thoughtful and knowledgeable analysis of how the Pete and Alice Dye’s architecture will provide strategic challenges in this match play competition.

There are two things that are startling about The Straits. First it is essentially a links style course in the middle of America and second, everything you see that makes this a links style course, except for the ocean sized Lake Michigan over your shoulder, was manufactured by man (and woman).

Besides the engineering feat of importing and placing a bazillion truckloads of dirt from Indiana to sculpt the land, they had to conceive of a routing to expose as many of the holes as possible to the lake winds to create the real look and feel of links golf in Wisconsin.

As Andy points out, it is a figure eight routing with the front nine going south along the lake shore and then looping back upon itself to catch more shoreline on the way back in. The back side does the same thing going north along the shoreline and looping back for more shore on the way back to the clubhouse. This puts 8 of the 18 holes with direct interface to the lake and another six within eye view. The influence of the wind off the lake can be profound and since the holes go in both directions on both sides you rarely get but a couple of holes in a row with the same wind effect.

Seventh Hole Par 3 green presents pure intimidation-especially the right pin

The par threes on this course are all stunners-forced carries over huge waste areas to precipice greens with the backdrop of the lake behind. This lack of topological backdrop can make frame of reference of the shots hard to discern. The wind influence on the three pars is at it’s max because they are the most exposed holes on the course.

The harsh reality of Number 17 will challenge the world’s best players

Andy goes through the full Dye collection and from his analysis you will have a much better appreciation of how these pros will negotiate their way around this unique layout under the intense competitive heat that only a Ryder Cup can provide.

Set aside ten minutes to watch this on a PC screen so you can truly appreciate the artistry of this video and it’s subject as well.

The Fried Egg Podcasts (2021)

(Click to see Andy Johnson’s video analysis of Whistling Straits)

Green Speeds…Get Over It

How many times have you looked forward to playing a course of special interest, maybe on a vacation or in an event in your area, only to come away disappointed because they had the greens jacked up so fast that only gutter bumpers could save you from three-putting all day long. My guess is this is experience is all too familiar to many of you.

In the attached article by John Steinbreder in this week’s Global Golf Post a strong case is made by many of the biggest names in golf architecture that the “Arms Race” for faster and faster green speeds, at private and public courses all over the country, is totally out of control. As a result, the courses are just no fun for anyone who does not carry a handicap index in the low single figure range.

There is little question that a kabal of low-handicappers who dominate green’s committees at these places are driving the bus and, in an effort to keep the “rating” of their course” in the top quartile, have made them virtually unplayable for the bulk of their membership.

This started out isolated to “premier” show-off events like the annual Member-Guest, but now has creeped into their Club Championship, Opening Day, Calcutta Event, and even day-to-day play at their courses. Who wants to compete in these things if you have to wear protective gear just to get through the experience.

We visited this issue in our “Is Faster Really Better” posting back in 2011 that featured an article by Ian Andrews a renowned architect from north of the border. The issues have not changed in 10 years, in fact the incidence seems to have gotten worse in my humble opinion.

It is long overdue for the decision makers at golf facilities to bring a little sanity back to daily course set up and let all players smell the roses once again.

John Steinbreder

Golf Global Post (2021)

(Click to read Global Golf’s article “Slippery Slope”)

Lee Trevino

In the late 1960’s Lee Buck Trevino was a disruptive intrusion to the Big Three Plus One status quo on the PGA Tour. No one really knew what to make of this Mexican-American upstart with the flat swing, low left-to-right ball flight, non-stop wise-cracking chatter, and gunslinger’s no-fear attitude playing against Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, and Casper.

In this Shotgun Start Spotlight Podcast Brendan Porath and Andy Johnson provide an informative historical perspective of the early career of Lee Trevino. This podcast is a deep dive into the challenging path Lee took from an impoverished Texas upbringing to being the most significant foil to the dominance of Jack Nicklaus in the early 1970’s.

Lee was not a product of the country club mold that is for sure……

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As Andy points out, in the 10-year period from 1968 to 1977 Lee Trevino was arguably the most dominant player other then the GOAT himself. Over his storied career Trevino won six majors-two U.S. Opens, two Open Championships, and two PGA Championships. In 1971 he was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year”. Over a three-week period in June and July of that year Lee garnered three national championships, beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff at Merion to win the U.S. Open, won his first of two Canadian Opens, and outlasted England’s Tony Jacklin and Taiwan’s Lu Liang Huan at Royal Birkdale for his first British Open Championship. No one else in the golf history has ever done that.

The podcast is rich with Lee’s legendary personal musings as well as the entertaining perspective of Dan Jenkin’s the premier golf journalist the time. There are lots of revealing quotes from his peers that leave little doubt as to the impact Trevino made on the staid order of the PGA Tour. The language was not always politically correct by today’s standards, but it was representative of the mood of the time.

Set aside the time to listen to this 90 minute podcast, you will not be disappointed. This is a nostalgic romp from those of us who grew up with Lee challenging the golf establishment. For those who only know him only as a golf myth, it is an opportunity to put his accomplishments in real perspective.

Brendan Porath and Andy Johnson

Shotgun Start (June 2021)

Lip Outs

Lipping out a well struck putt that you were sure was going down when it was six inches from the hole is one the most excruciating experiences for most golfers.  But like everything in this crazy game, there can be two sides to every story.

In the attached article from The Golfers Journal this month, the Club Pro Guy gives you a different perspective on how to look at these disappointments as the grandest of all “Buts” and use them to your post game advantage.

It may not help your score, but it will do your self esteem a world of good.  I like his attitude.

In a further bit of self-deprecating humor I note that the author claims he led the Mexican Mini-Tour over a 10-year period in SPGOS-Strokes Gained: Punching Out Sideways.  Guess that qualifies him as an expert.

Club Pro Guy (2020)

The Golfers Journal (#14)

(Click to read “Coming In Hot” from The Golfers Journal)

Playing Augusta National-Architect’s Perspective

Augusta National is a course whose strategic approach the avid golf watcher would say he understands just based on the sheer number of times he has seen The Masters broadcasts over the years.  Yet every year there is one shot a leader or a chaser hits on Saturday or Sunday that leaves the TV patron scratching their head wondering why did they try to do that.

The answer to that question and many, many more can be found in this in depth Fried Egg Podcast interview with major champion and golf course architect Geoff Ogilvy.  Andy Johnson plies Ogilvy’s knowledge of every hole at Augusta-one to eighteen-from both a playing and competitive standpoint to give you a much richer understanding of the challenge the top professionals in the world face as they wend their way through the tournament set up at The Masters.

Because of his accomplished playing career and his subsequent devotion to golf course architecture and design, Ogilvy is uniquely qualified to provide this guided tour.  He had 16 professional wins over his career-8 on the PGA Tour that include a U.S. Open and 3 World Golf Championships.  His record in the four Majors during the height of his career speaks to his deep understanding of championship golf courses and the challenges they present in major championships.

The fact that Augusta National is an Alister MacKenzie design and Ogilvy grew up and is cutting his course architecture teeth in the Sand Belt Region of Australia where MacKenzie also plied his craft adds to the depth of understanding he has of the strategic approach of this unique venue.

Ogilvy points out that Augusta National is routed in such a way that the holes traverse the severe topography of the land which is why their is so much movement on the fairways and the greens.  This also lends itself to severe side hill stances on approach shots that often are counter to the shot shape required to get at specific pins.  A good example is the hook stance from the fairway on the Par 5 13th into a green that favors a fade to most pins to counter the risk of traversing the diagonal relation of Rae’s Creek to the putting surface.

On almost every hole there are repel pin positions and collection pin positions, so the tournament powers that be can change the difficulty factor dramatically from day-to-day simply by the location of the hole.  As Ogilvy points out this also changes the preferred driving position and angle of approach in each round. 

The wide variance of potential score on a hole in a given day based the hole positions is what makes the course endlessly interesting for the player and the viewing patron alike.  Depending on the player’s position on the scoreboard on Sunday afternoon there are holes that they must make decision after decision to either take on the challenge or protect their score. In the vernacular of risk and reward Ogilvy’s experience at Augusta is that takes a care-free aggressive approach to be successful at Augusta National.

Fair warning, this interview is almost two hours in it’s entirety but it is chock full of stuff you have not heard before so it is well worth it if you have the time.  Even if you just listen to a chunk of it, your understanding of what you see the next time you are watching The Masters will be greatly enhanced.

(Click to listen to Geoff Ogilvy’s Interview on the Fried Egg)

Geoff Ogilvy-Episode 196 (2020)

The Fried Egg Podcast

Rocco

There are a handful of golfers like Tiger, Phil, Jack, Rory, or Brooks whose first names alone bring to mind their huge accomplishments in the game. Rocco Mediate is one of those guys but not because he won the big one, but because he lost it in a memorable playoff……..to Tiger Woods

No won will forget Rocco’s name or his performance in his 2008 loss of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines to Tiger.  In some of the most riveting playoff golf we have ever witnessed, Rocco took Tiger, the #1 Player of our time, to the 19th hole of a playoff watched by a gazillion golf fans playing hookey from Monday’s work. He was not intimidated by the task of playing Tiger one-on-one in a playoff for a Major. Rocco relished the moment and would not have wanted it any other way.

Wearing his emotions on his sleeve-an air of quiet confidence always prevails

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This interview on the No Laying Up Podcast, couched in Rocco’s own devilish story telling style reveals all that has been through over a 35 year professional career-including 6 wins on the PGA Tour, years cast out to the hinterland because of chronic back issues, more then a few flirtations with winning a major, a colossal train wreck on #12 at Augusta in 2006, the aforementioned playoff in 2008 at Torrey Pines, and a second life winning 4 times on the PGA Tour Champions including a Senior PGA.

Rocco methodically won 13 times over his professional career

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Growing up a drive and a 5-iron from Latrobe, Rocco talks at length about his relationship with Arnold who served as a second father and a life coach throughout his career.  Rocco played hundreds of rounds with The King over the years, including walking with him for his final two rounds in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, a home game for both of them.

But it was his golf mentor Jim Ferree, one of the great ball strikers of all time, who taught him the fundamentals of the game that would serve him so ably for years on the Tour.   To this day he still has the same neutral grip that Jim taught him as a teenager and does not wear a golf glove just like his mentor.

As to Tiger, Rocco literally saw him coming, he was in attendance when Tiger won his first U.S. Am at Sawgrass where Rocco was living at the time. Tiger’s immediate success on the Tour was no surprise to Rocco, he knew that this kid had a set of skills the Tour had never seen before.  There were a few Tiger tales of course, the tallest of them all being that fateful week they shared in La Jolla at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Wearing red for the Monday playoff Rocco and Tiger were equals that week

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There are plenty of other nuggets in this interview, you just have to play really close attention since Rocco’s hyperactive pace of delivery can make it a real challenge to follow the details of the script.

My favorite part of the interview was Rocco’s description of his last PGA Tour win at the Frye’s in 2010.  He holed out four times over the four days, the last time on the 17th on Sunday where he asked his playing partner to mark his ball even though Rocco was 116 yards from the pin.  The rest is history.

Take a listen to this one, it is full of giggles and grins…..just like Rocco.

(Click to hear the No Laying Up Interview with Rocco Mediate)

Rocco Mediate-Episode 365 (2020)

No Laying Up Podcast

Phil Being Phil

As is usually the case, in this interview on The Clubhouse With Shane Bacon we get the Phil MIckelson unvarnished authoritative views on a range of subjects from the importance of the Majors to his enterprising made-for-TV matches with Tiger.

Shane Bacon, an experienced golf broadcaster who has been an unfortunate casualty of Fox’s decision to let go of it’s hold on the USGA TV broadcasts this year, does an expert job in staging this entertaining interview with one of the most knowledgeable and opinionated stars of the modern era. 

He starts right out of the gate with the question burning in every golf fan’s mind, how did Phil feel about being chosen by Alex Trebek and crew as the Final Jeopardy answer in a recent broadcast.  Phil was honored but his ego took a little hit when no contestant got the right answer.

Shane moves on to Phil’s view of the PGA Tour Champions where he is currently undefeated in his first two events and playing to a stroke average of 65.  He throws in a few good stories about his relationships with guys on both tours and some insight into his respect for and his evolving friendship with Tiger.

The most interesting part of the interview for me was Phil explaining why he is such an insightful commentator on live golf broadcasts when he has been invited up into the booth after his day’s play.  The detail with which he looks at the consideration of each shot challenge for the players is a function of his own preparation to play each week, but it is his ability to relate this in intelligible terms an average viewer can comprehend that makes him so interesting.

There are plenty of snippets in this hour long broadcast like his recuperative preparation of his Match III partner Charles Barkley swing, the relentless pursuit of driving distance on the PGA Tour, his most memorable Phil elevator shot, and his view on personal health and fitness as it relates to him remaining relevant for such a long time on the tour.

Phil is one of the most thoughtful and engaging golf personalities of his generation and this interview does nothing but enhance that view.  It is why so many people want to hear what he has to say and why it is worthwhile for you to click the link below to listen to his interview.

(Click to hear The Clubhouse With Shane Bacon Interview Of Phil Mickelson)

Phil Mickelson-Episode 162 (2020)

The Clubhouse With Shane Bacon Podcast

 

Dogs and Fleas

In 1904 American Walter J. Travis, who had won the U.S. Amateur three of the previous four years, traveled to England to play in the British Amateur Championship at Royal St. Georges Golf Club. Taking motivation from perceived indignities he says he experienced at the hands of his British hosts Travis remarked:

“A reasonable number of fleas is good for a dog, it keeps the dog from forgetting that he is a dog.”

In the end this dog had his day…..he went on to win match after match against the best British amateurs of the day and become the first “foreigner” ever to win the British Amateur Championship. 

Walter J. Travis

The Story of American Golf  (Herbert Warren Wind 1948)

Playing With Hickories

The personal isolation created by the pandemic has given us all lots of time to catch up on things we have meant to do for a long time. For me this included the idea of someday “playing with hickories”, something I wanted to do for years but just never found a way to get to it.

You see the problem had always been where does one get a reliable set of hand made clubs that are 100 years old. The point was not just to own a few hickory clubs as collector’s items but to play with them, not just once, but often enough to understand how guys like Jones, Hagen, Vardon, and Ouimet were able to play the game at such a high level with this antiquated hardware. There were plenty of hickory shafted clubs from different sources out there on the internet but how could I be sure if they were authentic, still in playable condition, or were worth anywhere near what people were asking for them.

Then in my covid catch-up reading I stumbled on an article in The Golfer’s Journal about a small artisan company called Louisville Golf that had been making custom persimmon head clubs for the last 50 years and had taken up reproducing hickory shafted clubs in the 1990’s in an attempt to survive in what was a shrinking persimmon niche market. Four older gentlemen made all the clubs by hand and the reproduction of lines of vintage hickory clubs became the staple that kept them in business.

A little more research revealed that there were only two companies in America that still made hickories to the original specifications and Louisville Golf offered the widest variety of woods, irons, niblicks, and putters that were authentic reproductions of the most famous products of the hickory era. Sure seemed like the avenue I had been waiting for to explore this world of hickory first hand.

A study of the Louisville Golf website followed by a conversation with the owner Jeremy Wright got me out of the gate. Since a full set of these would be no small investment, it made sense to get a couple of clubs to begin with to see if it was even feasible for me to handle the clubs proficiently enough to enjoy the challenge of playing with them on a regular basis. I started with their 1920’s vintage Precision Series Mashie (an equivalent to a modern 8 iron) and a 21-degree persimmon headed Jack White Special Cleek (an early version of a utility wood).

A couple of weeks worth of range and on course work with these two convinced me that there was nothing intrinsically difficult about hitting hickory clubs and with some patience and perseverance it was possible to play them on the regular course and appreciate the skills of the ancient greats of the game.

Within a month I had my own custom crafted set of hickory shafted clubs-made up of a 14-degree Wilsonian Brassie for driving and fairway play, the Jack White Cleek, the full array of Precision Series dimpled faced irons, and a replica Bobby Jones Calamity Jane blade putter.

Now the fun would begin, exploring the parameters of this new set of old clubs to find out just how playable they would be on my regular hunting grounds. Sessions on the range with my Rapsodo launch monitor would supply ball speed, club head speed, launch angle, and carry distances for comparing the performance of clubs of the same loft from my hickory set vs my modern equipment.

The dimple faced Precision Series Mashie and Pitching Mashie are identical lofts to a contemporary 8 and 9 iron respectively

For someone like me with a relatively modest swing and ball speed, 80 and 100 mph respectively with my PXG 6-iron, the launch monitor numbers were surprising in that the differences in the irons were statistically insignificant.  Launch angles were a tinch lower with the hickories but the club and ball speed and the carry distances were less than 3 percent apart throughout the iron range.

The hickory shafts make the clubs heavier in hand then their composite shafted relatives from my modern set, but choking up an inch and concentrating swing rhythm and timing seems to take care of it.  The dimpled face does not impart the kind of spin we get off grooved face irons today so some adjustment for roll out is necessary on carry shots into the greens.

The forgiveness of these irons is surprisingly adequate so I really did not pine for the cavity backed feature of modern irons.  But the club head seems more sole weighted and balls that climb up to the thinner part of the face, especially in the rough, can come off with insufficient enthusiasm and a dampened trajectory.

Shape of the Niblick and the SM Niblick behind looks pretty to the contemporary eye

The Mashie Niblick (PW), Niblick (GW), and SM Niblick (56 degree SW) do a good job for the approach distances of 110 yards and in.   Trajectory is very similar to my modern versions of the same clubs and, except for a little less spin off the face, hitting the click-stop array of half, three-quarter, and full shots has been very manageable.

The close-in pitching and chipping game around the green is very familiar.  I have found that the sole weighting on the irons gives a little more aggressive roll out in these shots so I have actually lofted up one notch using the Mashie-Niblick (PW) for shots I usually play with a 9 iron and the Niblick (GW) for shots I most often play with my modern wedge.  The 56 degree SM Niblick has plenty of lift for the lofty pitches and the bounce is appropriate for playing the array of sand shots we generally run in to.

The heads on the Brassie and Cleek will remind you of the persimmons you played with as a kid

The Brassie and the Cleek had significantly lower launch monitor numbers then the high tech hybrids and driver in my current set.  The more significant factor had nothing to do with the hickory shafts but rather the persimmon heads.  As you might remember from playing persimmon heads from the 60’s though the 80’s, the sweet spot on these woods is the size of a dime, so the mishits are real foul balls and could be seriously off line and 30% shorter than a solid one.  The practical playing yardage of the course at 6200 yards gets seriously longer as a result.

Calamity Jane, complete with the Bobby Jones’s three extra whipping shaft wraps, has great strike balance with the offset hosel

Maybe the most pleasant surprise was the putting experience with the Calamity Jane blade putter.  Having played a heel shafted putter most of my golfing life the overall feel is not unfamiliar to me.  The tall unscored paddle face does take some getting used to but they engineered the balance of the club with the offset head so you get a good aggressive roll on it time-after-time.  On the slick downhill putt the toe putting trick works very well to dampen the speed.

Having played more than a dozen rounds with my hickories I have a some of takeaways on how to play these clubs effectively.

1. The differential in the carry yardage of the driving clubs coupled with the variance of distance and direction on the mishits puts real pressure on recovery shots.  Acceptance and humility are very important in these situations.  On the four pars when this happens it seems prudent to give up the hope of reaching the green and play a lay up to an intelligent  short iron distance from which an up-and-down save is possible.

2. Recovering from the rough, given the tendency of the ball to ride up to the thin part of the face on the irons, favors playing finesse shots with the Cleek or choking up on the irons to intentionally hit them a little thin on the meaty part of the club.

3. In planning shots from the fairway, the lower launch angles off the face and the lack of spin control favors a more links-like, ground game approach into the green openings allowing for roll out.  Three quarter and half shots are an art with these clubs and it seems to me the shaft and the club head weighting makes them very conducive to success on these type of plays.

4. The 13 inch long leather grips take some getting used to.  First of all they are a little firmer then the softer rubberized grips on most clubs today.  In the heat, if you do not wear a glove, they can get a little slippery from your hand sweat.  Most peculiar, since the grips are 3 to 4 inches longer then what you are used to, when you grip down on the chip shots around the green or on less then full shots in the fairway you have to recalibrate how far down the grip to set your hands to get the club length right. It took me a couple of sessions at the short game area to work this out.

5. Scoring to your normal handicap is going to be a challenge because some of the precision the new technology gives to your equipment is not there, so you have to adjust your expectations accordingly.  I suggest you track a separate handicap for your hickory rounds so as not to distort your regular index.  Playing the course a tee up may make sense to increase your enjoyment by taking some of the pressure off the wood club differentials and allowing yourself the opportunity to play approach shots with irons you are used to.

6. Most important, embrace the challenge and allow your strategic approach to playing to be more old school.  Most of us grew up playing in a time when the hard turf and less manicured conditions left a strong bit of existential outcome in the game.  The style of play with the hickories matches up to that way of playing nicely if you can accept the mind set and play accordingly.

A minimalist canvas walking bag with a Truckin’ theme seemed right

I have had to put up with the snickers of macho friends who wonder why in the world a sane person would give up current technology to play with a bag full of antiques.  But it is like joining a vintage car club and going off on a sunny summer day for a country ride in a classic fin back convertible with your favorite squeeze.  Some things just have to be experienced to be appreciated.

U.S. Women’s Amateur 2020

This week a national championship comes to our place as the USGA unfurls their flags for the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club. As the annual stop the last 38 years for the men’s U.S. Open Section Qualifier, we have built a strong relationship with the USGA as a deserving venue for this prestigious event.

Woodmont has polished all the silver in preparing for this year’s event

132 of the finest amateurs will converge to play two stroke play qualifying rounds followed by five days of single elimination match play to determine the national champion.  As you can read bios in the USGA Media Release, the field of young hopefuls and past USGA champions include players from all over the globe with plenty of street cred on their career resumes.

A strong history of hosting USGA regional qualifiers as well as local golf competitions

For many in the field this is their chance to take the next step toward fulfilling a life long dream of a career on the LPGA Tour, while for others adding their names to this list will be a shining moment in the sun that they can simply cherish forever.

Under the architectural guidance of Joel Weiman, Woodmont has given this Alfred Tull/Arthur Hills layout a major facelift with new bunkers and green surrounds and some strategic adjustments throughout.  At close to 6,600 yards for the competition, players won’t be fooled by the finely manicured appearance of this undulating terrain, the course’s strategic challenge and the summer heat will present a stern endurance test for those in pursuit of the championship.

They will play the 5th from the tips, 510 yards to an uphill green complex with plenty of static to contend with along the way

Native grasses frame the path to the 183 yard Par 3 6th but it is the yawning bunkers that protect this two-tier Redan style green that players will have to worry about

One deep flash-faced bunker is complemented by a 270-degree short grass chipping surround on the 421 yard Par 4 9th hole-it will take real creativity to make an up-and-down save here

The postcard view from behind the 17th belies the danger fraught on the approach shot if their match comes down to the last two holes

The pageantry of a national championship has been captured throughout the grounds.  It has taken the determined vision of our Director of Golf, David Dorn,  the expertise of our Supervisor of Greens and Grounds, Ryan Severidt, and their staffs, as well as the leadership of Ron Bubes and Joann DiMeglio leading our Tournament Committee to bring this all together.

For those who want to follow the action, Golf Channel will provide extensive coverage of the match play portion of the championship from Wednesday through Sunday August 5th to the 9th.

The official uniform will be worn by over 220 member volunteers helping to pull this off

At the end of the day on Sunday a new national champion will hoist this elegant piece of USGA hardware as the Women’s Amateur Champion of 2020.

Morgan Pressel, a Woodmont member,  won the Women’s Am in 2005 at the tender age of 17