It Is All About The Money

Or maybe it’s not!

For 20 year-old Maverick McNealy, the number 2 ranked amateur in the world, winner of the Haskins Award given to the #1 collegiate male golfer in the country,  a U.S. Walker Cup standout, and a participant in a number of PGA Tour events , the world could be his oyster if he goes the standard route of pursuing fame and fortune on the PGA Tour.

Morning foursomes at the Walker Cup-Royal Lytham and St. Annes last fall

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Or maybe he will be the exception to the rule and simply make amateur golf part of a bigger life that could include pursuit of success in the business or non-profit world. Now that would break the american sport prodigy enterprise mold with a sledge hammer.

Toiling with the pros at the Greenbrier Classic in 2015

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You can read an interesting story from the Wall Street Journal’s Brian Costa and decide for yourself.

(Click to read “Why America’s Best Golf Prospect May Never Turn Pro”)

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Brian Costa

Wall Street Journal

June, 2016

 

The Long Form

The Players Championship LogoThose of us who grew up reading “the long form” articles in periodicals like New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Magazine always enjoyed the half hour and a cup of joe it took to digest a full compilation of research and opinion on a current topic of interest.  The trend today in the print media as well as the digital world is to give us stories in bite-sized doses that seem more like executive summaries than full conversations.

Other than a few specific websites and a bunch of individually supported blogs the art of covering an issue in sufficient depth to be informative seems to be fading in the rear view mirror.  It is not that it cannot be done and maybe done even more effectively with the varied digital tools that are now at hand, it seems that the will of publishers and their dues paying advertisers to support long form writing is just not there.

This incredible article about Rickie Fowler, called  “The Natural”, was written by D.J. Piehowski and presented on PGATour.com this week. It is a refreshing testimony to what can be done when the long form and the digital age intersect.  An enlightening biographical look at one of the rising stars in our game comes to life as if in a documentary film with plenty of time for the reader to stop, reflect, and peruse related insights into this story.

The storied island green strikes fear in the hearts of contenders on Sunday

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To those who watched it on TV, Rickie’s come from behind win at The Players Championship last year was one of the exhilarating performances on the PGA Tour in the last five years.  He came from eons back nine on Sunday, playing the final four holes birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie, to outpace all but Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner by the end of regulation.  He then survived a three-hole aggregate playoff and eventually won in Sudden Death when he birdied the feared 17th Hole at TPC Sawgrass for the third time in about two hours.

Through the imaginative compilation of great research, clever writing, and supporting still photos, graphics, and live video Piehowski relates a riveting tale of Rickie’s rise to stardom.  He says of Fowler, “the way in which he won, and the way he made it to the PGA Tour in the first place……As unorthodox as the story is, The Players also felt like another stop on the ride toward the inevitable.  Fowler’s rise to the forefront of golf has always felt more like destiny than possibility”.

This enjoyable read is enhanced by a seamless presentation of correlated information from Fowler’s childhood, developmental years, and his early pro career in all modes the media has to offer.  It seems to move magazine story telling from simple composition to elaborate production but does it in a digestible way that in no way seems overwhelming.

The only questions is what took it so long for this to happen and why aren’t we seeing this all over the journalistic spectrum.

Kudos to PGATour.com for committing the resources required to pull this off and D.J. Piehowski diligence in providing us with a new school long form version of Rickie’s story we could sink our teeth into.

(Click here to read D.J. Piehowski’s “The Natural” from PGATour.com)

D.J. Piehowski

PGATour.com

May, 2016

 

Making A Splash

The Players Championship LogoThe Players Championship celebrates it’s 34th year at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass. Deane Beman’s concept was another Major to be played on a punitive course drawn out of the swampy muck of Ponte Vedra, Florida by the most notoriously devious designer of them all Pete Dye.

As you can read in this retrospective article by Gary Van Sickle from the SI Vault, Deane threw the PGA Tour into the deep end of the cash pool with his reinvention of the Players Championship in 1982. Though it took the impish act of an impetuous young pro, Jerry Pate, to galvanize the interest in this event and change the public perception of the PGA Tour forever.

Full Extension….Pate joins the commish and the evil architect in the pool

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Bruce Litzeke says in the article, “It was the end of the Tour slipping quietly into town, playing its event, and slipping quietly out. After Jerry’s dive the Tour make a bigger noise. When more TPC courses started showing up, golf got bigger and wilder and louder…..It all started there that week.”

Other than Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, Deane Beman is probably most responsible for the generous livelihood enjoyed by players and their wives today. As the new commissioner Deane had a horde of new fangled ideas on how to increase the visibility and the popularity of a stodgy PGA Tour. He dragged them kicking and screaming into a new era of bigger TV contracts, inflated purses, and broader player exemptions-all of which greatly enriched the bank accounts of guys in Sansabelt slacks and white shoes.

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Deane’s concept included this 5th Major that would attract the best field of the year playing “Stadium” course that put the players feet to the fire, especially coming down three infamous finishing holes with everything on the line. This would be a career changer for many guys-big payday, prestige of winning a quasi-major, and one of the most generous tournament qualifying exemptions ever conceived. Win The Players and a journeyman could almost settle his playing schedule for the rest of your PGA Tour life.

Snoopy’s perspective of the final stage for this drama

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Over it’s history unexpected winners like Craig Perks, Fred Funk, and Stephen Ames have survived the pressure, as well as “best players never to win a major” like Sergio, Stenson, and Kooch. But it is the list of true major champions like Tiger, Phil, Adam, Greg, and Freddie that have won and moved the popularity needle for this event over the last three decades.

The Players has grown in it’s stature because of the difficulty of the test, four excruciating days over the most testing stadium course of them. The final chapter is always riveting as the players face a true risk-reward decision on the par five sixteenth followed by a raucous crowd and a devilish pitch into the island green at 17. Finally they must negotiate the hardest finishing tee shot on tour to find the fairway on the Dye-A-Bolical 18th if they want to plant a smacker on this piece of crystal

Rickie staring at a career change after last year’s Player’s performance

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Last year it was Rickie Fowler doing a cannonball on the field. He was five shots back with about an hour to go in this final round but was five under over the last four holes to set up a dramatic four hole playoff with Sergio and Kevin Kisner. His remarkable play continued through a three-hole aggregate playoff and he finally ended it all in sudden death with a lawn dart into the island 17th for his third two of the day on that hole-one last bit of birdie drama.

It should be interesting to watch who makes waves at Ponte Vedra this year.

Gary Van Sickle
SI Vault
March, 2004

Arnie At The Turn

ArnieAt40Leave it to the capable hands of the legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins to capture a cameo image of the most telegenic golf champion of our time as he turned the first fateful age corner of his career. This jewel of an article from the annals of the SI Vault, “Thanks For The Memories”, written in September of 1969, reminds us of the unique relationships between sports writers and the heroes of sport in the day. Dan’s intimate familiarity with a star and a major event has all but been lost in our era of media overload.

Jenkins cuts right to the chase in recognizing Arnie’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune for what it was-a timely nexus of his competitive drive, good nature, humility, and access to the first world wide web-color television.

“He was a nice guy, of all things. He was honestly and naturally gracious, un-temperamental, talkative, helpful and advising, unselfish of his time, marvelously good-humored; he had a special feeling for golf’s history and he was honored by its traditions.”

The anecdotal perspective of Palmer’s stunning win at the U.S. Open in 1960 sounds like it is being told from a bar stool at Toots Shor’s…which it probably was about twenty times over the previous ten years. Jenkins puts you in the moment like no other writer can and you feel like Arnie is talking to you inside the ropes on the fifth tee when he incredulously says, “Fancy seeing you here…..Who’s winning the Open?”.

Palmer did so much for the pro tour in his first 10 years and for the state of the game over the next 46. Whether it was designing courses with Ed Seay, bringing the Bay Hill Golf Resort to full flourish, stewarding the Senior Tour, or creating the Golf Channel, Arnie has left his indelible fingerprints on the positive growth of the game for six decades.

Jenkins says, “He has become, they say, something more than life-size, something immeasurable in champions….. If this is true, it is not because of what he has won but rather because of the pure, unmixed joy he brought to trying.”

You will enjoy this flashback moment captured by Dan Jenkins for SI celebrating Arnie’s 40th birthday year.

(Click to read Dan Jenkin’s article about Arnie “Thanks For The Memories”)

SI Vault
Dan Jenkins (1969)

 

Great Bunkering…Deal With It!

“Almost all golfers’ critiques revolve around the look and playing characteristics of the bunkers and often fail to notice the quality of all the other elements that make up a golf course. A great set of greens are far more important than great bunkers but everyone is drawn to evaluating a course by the bunkers since they are far easier to judge and far more obvious to the eye.”

In his treatise “A Complete Look At Bunkering” Ian Andrew points out that there is no subject that leads to a contentious discussion at the bar of the 19th Hole than the perceived fairness or unfairness of the bunkering of the course just played.

The Road Hole Bunker….the most infamous of them all…

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His view is that most of this contention is misguided because the modern player and influential board member have embraced the notion that even the hazards need to be fair for all players. This ignores that the basic purpose of the bunker as a “recoverable hazard” is to penalize the bad decision making or execution of the player trying to pursue the most advantageous strategic playing line of the hole.

The fact that almost every famous course designer, from MacKenzie to Coore and Crenshaw, is quoted therein with a similar view of the purpose and value of well placed sand bunkers as a strategic hazard pretty much says it all.

As Max Behr once said, “The golfer wants the most direct line he can find to the hole, while the architect uses bunkers and other hazards to create risk and reward options that suggest the ideal line for the player, or the line of charm.” Forcing players to consider strategic choices and making the proper execution of these options a necessity to avoiding deleterious effects on their scoring outcome is the main purpose of these hazards. Without that the game would be a boring four-hour stroll in the park.

Ian Andrew thoroughly delves into the aspects of bunkering in the modern game including depth, fairness, psychology, strategy, and aesthetics. He even covers why the trend of golf committees and tour decision makers demanding better maintenance of these hazards is actually undermining their purpose and making the game less interesting.

Ian concludes that, “It’s the one architectural element that creates contrast as it acts the counterpoint to all the other harmonious elements of a golf course. It’s the feature that clearly distinguishes one course visually from others. When exceptionally well used bunkers can take the most pedestrian piece of ground and leave the player with a complex puzzle to solve. “

Do yourself a favor, get a Vente Arnold Palmer, pull up a chair,  and take the time to read this fascinating study on the subject of proper bunkering. It may defuse some of your own criticism or that of your buddies the next time they elicit the misguided comment that the “bunkering is unfair”.

(Click to read Ian Andrew’s article ‘A Complete Look At Bunkering’)

A Complete Look At Bunkering
Ian Andrew (2015)

 

Old School Thinking

This quote from Ian Andrew, an accomplished Canadian golf course architect, reflects the Golden Age of Golf design philosophy that he brings to his current new designs and restorations.  It is why players of all capabilities find courses from the hands of Raynor,  Ross, Tillinghast, Macdonald, and other sages from this age infinitely fascinating and playable.

“I believe in playing freedoms. I think you should have a choice between challenging yourself and playing for fun.

For the elite player, along the ideal lines of play, there must be strategic slopes and hazards that complicate the direct line. The more challenging the recovery shot, the more strategically important the hazard. This in turn must be counterbalanced by offering up a reward for successfully challenging the hazard. This will compel the elite player to actively flirt with disaster in order to score. That type of course is very exciting to play.

In contrast the average player requires the additional room to safely play away from danger. They can avoid the worst of the pitfalls and enjoy tacking their way across the property. They will be able to make a few pars for fun, but not enough to reward them for their passive approach.

And this is where the greatness in this approach lies. As players begin to show more skill and competence, this style of architecture will encourage them to take on more risk to shoot lower scores. And this is where the dance begins …

They will flirt ever closer to the key hazards to gain better positions. But as soon as they find the hazard and begin to lose strokes they will play far away from trouble the next time out. But they can’t score from the outside line and so the dance will begin all over again, ever closer to the key hazards … that’s the golf I believe in.”

Ian Andrew

http://andrewgolf.com/

 

Dormy Done?

The rules of golf are full of nuance but it is still a rare moment when the tour players and even the officials are not fully aware of the impact of a ruling. Leave it to Lefty to unearth one of the most obscure rules and it’s odd impact at a high profile event as he and his partner Zach Johnson actually managed effectively lose two holes at one time in their four ball match in the President’s Cup.

Two guys you would expect to know the rules

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The “One Ball” rule is a common one that is present at most Tour competitions-it dictates that a player cannot change the make or model of his ball between holes in a competition. Since it was not in effect for the foursomes matches Phil incorrectly assumed it was not in play for the best ball matches as well.

Wrong!

He changed to a longer distance Callaway ball on the Par 5 7th only to find out down the fairway he was in violation of the One Ball and would be assessed a one hole “match adjustment penalty” when the hole was done. The bigger mess was that neither Phil nor the tournament official on hand realized that Phil was not required to pick up his ball and drop out of the hole. He could still play out the hole in an attempt to support his pard possibly win the hole and offset the match adjustment penalty.

By the time they realized their mistake in advising him to pick up his ball the tournament officials could not let him replay the shots and Zach lost the hole so they effectively went from even to two-down on one hole in the match.

If you think about it a “match adjustment penalty” like this could effectively make a dormy go away. Imagine if they had been dormy and two up with two to play on the 17th tee and made this bone head mistake. Losing the hole with the match adjustment would have rendered the dormy moot and they could have lost the match on the last hole.

Just another immutable circumstance that can be subject to override by a lurking phrase in the rules of golf.

(Click here for a Golf Digest explanation of their conudrum)

October, 2015

Ron Jaworski Golf: Knowing Your X’s and O’s

Ron Jaworski is known to most of us as the ever present quarterback pundit on ESPN football shows….the guy who breaks down tape every week to explain why some quarterbacks have QB Ratings in the 70’s and 80’s and and why others spent too much of their Sunday prone on the stadium turf.

Broadcasting gig included being the color guy on MNF from 2007-2011

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We might also remember he got his broadcasting gig based on a very successful 17-year NFL career where he once held the NFL record for consecutive starts by a quarterback at 116. He has since been surpassed in this regard by a bunch of no name NFL players that include Brett Farve, Peyton and Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers.

9 years with the Eagles included a Super Bowl XV appearance in January 1981

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Bottom line is that Ron Jaworski has always been an over-achiever in anything he has pursued and this is because he focuses on the basics and outworks his adversaries.

Little known to most of us one of those pursuits has been the very successful enterprise of owning and managing golf courses under the moniker of Ron Jaworski Golf. In this current iteration he has five courses in his stables in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania area.

Ron Jaworski Golf LogoIn this article for Sports Illustrated by Dan Greene you can read about his chain of profitable Jaworski Golf Courses.

This is not a high end “Donald” collection of posh golf courses but, rather like Jaws, a amalgamation of efficiently run modest golf facilities that put an emphasis on playability, affordability, atmosphere, and quick pace of play. These are not courses done by pedigree golf architects aimed at business executives and wealthy individuals. Rather they cater to average Joe and Jill who are interested in good golf value not golf hype.

As Jaws proudly points out in the article and accompanying video in an era when golf courses are going out of business at an alarming rate his courses pull in annual six-figure profits. He does this by employing economies of scale to his business in the bulk purchase of everything from fertilizer to food. His course maintenance staff often works across a number of facilities allowing him to operate at much lower overheads than single operator owners. He emphasizes his marketing of the courses to the masses, including women and children who are often ignored by higher end facilities.

An ad on his website for “Girls Golf Outings”

Girls Outing

The Jaworski Golf Card gets you a $10 greens fee at all of his courses

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You see Ron is a man with a plan. If you go to the Ron Jaworski Golf website you will find this document called “Driving Business-Ron Jaworski Golf”. It is a detailed business plan for running this successful golf operation. The attention to detail….the X’s and O’s…..pours off of every page. There is a reason this man’s golf operation is successful and growing and this and his other business exploits have attracted the investment interest of a slew sports and entertainment celebs and Wall Street investors.

His annual Celebrity Golf Challenge in AC attracts all kinds of stars

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In a time where golf has been characterized by some as an atrophying industry because a five hour time commitment and exorbitant greens fees can put it out of reach of most people we should be reminded that the greatest percentage of the 27 million people who played golf in the United States last year did not do it at a snobby private country club or posh resort facility.

Ron Jaworski understands that and he has employed a golf business plan providing these players a well presented, no frills golf experience at an affordable price with a tasty meal waiting for them in his bustling 19th hole sports bar after the round . Success is in minding all in the details just like it has been in his playing and broadcasting careers.

Dan Greene

Sports Illustrated
September 2015

Throwing Caution To The Wind

In case you missed it on Friday Rory McIlroy, the current #1 in the World Golf Rankings, let his temper get the best of him on the 8th at Doral after hitting his 3-iron approach into the drink and flung the disobedient implement a good 75 yards into the water next to him.

Rory wasn’t entirely enamored with his play on Friday at Doral

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To his own admission, it wasn’t his proudest moment, but it felt good at the time. Henrik Stenson, his playing pard and a man known to display a personal anger tempest from time-to-time said, “Well, if you can’t get on ‘SportsCenter with your play, at least you can do it with something else”.

As far as being a bad role model with this show of temper, let the record show it did not take very long. Marcel Siem, a fellow European Tour stand out, replicated the act on Saturday after stuffing his long iron in a green side bunker on the same hole. Rory may have to anchor a public relations campaign against helicoptering long irons to tamp down a brush fire among young Rory-ites..

Take a look at Bob Harig’s ESPN.com article on the affair which includes full video of the fling as well as Rory’s version of contrition in his post game press conference on Friday.

BTW, as Bobby Knight, a man who knows from where this comes, said in his interview with David Feherty a while back when asked about the proper form for flinging metal objects, it is all about getting to your left side on the follow through. You will note that the true athlete in Rory came through in his fling form, there is not a hint of a duck hook in the flight of the iron.

Good news is a diver was back in the pond yesterday to retrieve the club and it seems to have survived the swim with it’s dignity in tact. Only question is whether this 3-iron now shows up on EBay or in a glass case at Doral for the sake of recollection.

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(Click to read Bob Harig’s article about Rory’s Frustrated Fling)

March, 2015

Does Tiger Have The Yips?

I don’t think so. Nor do a number of other folks with serious golf smarts including Tour Putting Guru Marius Filmalter.

Of late these short pitches have spawned more frowns than smiles

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Check out Marius’s recent article on golf.com where he clearly believe’s Tiger’s short game problems are not neurological but a matter of proper technique confidently applied. He should know since his client list includes a who’s who of top global players from the PGA, European, L.P.G.A and Champion’s tours.

I for one think Marius has it right. In spite of his pathetic short game performances at the Hero’s Challenge In December and the Waste Management and Farmer’s more recently there is really nothing in his short game that resembles the yips to me. Tiger has simply lost his way on short swing technique. But the question is why?

For me the answer lies in Tiger’s unrealistic quest for golf perfection. He not only wants be the best player the game has ever seen but he wants to have the perfect golf swing as well. Throughout the early part of his career he repeatedly said he wanted to “own his swing” in a Hogan-like sense. For a guy who pretty much had the perfect swing back in 2000 under the tutelage of B.H. he has repeatedly wandered from expert to expert in search of something more perfect. The bad news is that the more he has tried to refine his swing the further from the truth he has found himself.

I buy the fact that as he says, his current short game performance problems are because he cannot synchronize his new little swing pattern to bottom out properly. But the question is why try? It may be inherent that a player’s big swing and little swing tend to look alike but it does not have to be that way.

As Phil said in comments about Tiger’s pitching woes, “There’s only one way to chip effectively. So regardless of how you swing the club, regardless of how you putt, there’s only one way to chip, because the leading edge on a 60-degree wedge is coming into the ball first. And everything you do chipping is to get, keep the leading edge down. So there’s three or four fundamentals on chipping that everybody has to do to chip well. No matter who you are. And it has nothing to do with your swing.”

He needs to forget about synchronizing methods of his long and short swings and focus on the fundamentals of quality short game shots that are the same for all players, regardless of swing principles.

Tiger’s never ending quest to reinvent his big swing to meet his latest sense of perfection has leaked into what was the best short game on tour and wreaked havoc. Marius is correct when he says Tiger needs to get back to fundamental sound technique around the greens and harmonize it with the self awareness that he is doing it properly.

It is time for Tiger to stop soliciting the advice of any tour player within earshot and listen to the familiar voice of a short game expert he knows. If he brings this short game to Augusta, the most demanding tight lie short game shot course in the world, he will not break 80.

(Click to read the Marius Filmalter article “Tiger Woods Does Not Have The Yips”)

February, 2015