Olympic Heroes

golf in the OlympicsAs a skeptic of the importance of golf’s presence in the Olympic Games, I now stand convinced that the play of those who who competed in this weekend’s men’s competition and the quality of the venue created to contest it on does indeed matter both to the game today and where it is headed in the future.

The first two days it looked like your weekly European Tour event with quality players of little international recognition leading the way.  Marcus Fraser’s opening round 63 was astounding but few people knew who he was.  The TV Cume reading for the broadcast was barely noticeable at this point.

But that all changed when the heroic play of Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, and Matt Kucher, three of the top players and finest gentlemen in the men’s game, on Saturday and Sunday provided riveting drama and expressed the added intrigue that playing for one’s country and a medal in an Olympic Games can only provide.

Proudly displaying the winner’s hardware on the podium

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Hats off to all three of these gentlemen for their attitude toward playing in these games and their consistent expression of purpose throughout the week on what it would mean to be standing on the winner’s podium at the end of the day.

An equal measure of respect has to be given to the design heroics of Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott for their creation of this gem of a golf course on which these Olympic Competitions is being played. Hanse should get the credit he rightfully deserves as one of the preeminent course designers of his generation, an equal to Tom Doak, Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw, and Pete Dye who seem to get most of the mention these days.

Gil Hanse-the author was on hand for the big reveal

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Those who have played Hanse creations like Rustic Canyon in California or Castle Stuart in Scotland recognize the unique wide and open style of this design and complementary creative short grass green complexes . Together this provides a strategic element to play that can change daily with the prevailing winds and firmness of the ground conditions. The clever sequencing of the first three and last three holes rewarded aggressive play with scoring opportunities and the rapidly shifting leader board on Saturday and Sunday reflected the genius of that design element.

This only portends for more of the same as the best female golfers in the world take on this Olympic challenge in the coming week.

One last up and down led to this triumphant gesture

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In the end it was superlative play-Kucher’s 63 on Sunday, Stenson’s 68-68 on the weekend, and Rose’s clutch birdies on 15 and 18 that punctuated a glorious introduction of golf into the Olympics.

I, for one, am now a believer!

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August, 2016

 

 

 

 

Zika All This

golf in the OlympicsIf you imagine Billy Crystal’s reaction, doing his best Mafioso accent, after reading that another athlete is in the headlines about not wanting to participate in the Summer Games in Brazil.  This is the thought that came into my head when I heard this week that Rory is passing on this supreme opportunity as golf returns to the Olympics after 100 years.

Not withstanding Zika, unsanitary water, fear of being mugged, or the complete fracturing of the political system in the country, who really cares whether any of these high profile super wealthy athletes decide to show up.  More important who cares whether golf returns to the Olympics at all.

To me this is all a cash grab on the part of the IOC and NBC who have very little interest in the health and well being of the sport and only want to collect fees as a result of selling Doritos and Diet Coke to viewers across the globe.

Rory has about this same level of enthusiasm for playing in Rio

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As Greenie from Mike and Mike said this morning on his show, the Olympics should have sports participating where winning the gold medal represents the pinnacle achievement in their game.  That is how it used to be.  Fencing, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, white water slalom….there were no other forums for these athletes to excel and therefore enrich their careers.  The Olympic exposure is there meal ticket.

In spite of the fact that the NBA used the exposure of the Dream Teams of the 90’s  to “globalize” their product-this year 15 of the first 30 guys picked in the NBA draft were international players-this was happening anyway as scouts from the NBA began to travel across the globe in search of new talent.  Once that talent signed on-the TV rights back into those countries followed as did the cash payouts for the league.

Folks like Lebron James, Steph Curry, Candace Parker, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Lionel Messi, and Erin McLeod do not need the exposure, the money, or the additional wear and tear on their bodies just for the chance to add another gold implement to their trophy case.

The selling of golf in the Olympics is particularly puzzling.  On the men’s side there are two majors, a few World Golf Championships, a FedEx Cup Championship, and a Ryder Cup already putting demands on their schedules in a two month period.  Where does a week off in appetizing Rio fit into this.  For the women who already have a dominated foreign presence who needs to expose the sport even more in South Korea, China, or Spain than it already is.

What is worse is that the format for the return of golf to the Olympics is a four round individual stroke play competition.  There is no team aspect to this at all no drama of head-to-head matches.  They could have chosen a cool team format like the LPGA International Crown or a pool version of match play like the revised WGC Match Play but instead decided to make it just another medal play week on either tour.  This will create the absolute minimum of partisan displays by the fans in attendance.

Another lavish Olympic facility that few will use after the games are done

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As to the benefit to Brazil, yes they have an expensive first class Gil Hanse designed golf course as a result. But they do not have the government cash to keep it up after the games and likely do not have the regional demand of well heeled players to support it either.  Ten years from now it will look like another tired, overgrown muni with great architectural bones.

Getting back to the health, welfare, and safety considerations of these uber wealthy athletes, if you don’t need the Olympics to stoke your bank balance and help create your personal nest egg why would you willfully go to a place where you have to bring a personal body guard, a stash of bottled water, and disinfect yourself after you take a shower.  Does not seem like a sound career move.

If it wasn’t for the financial commitment  of NBC and their sponsors the Olympics would have been moved to another safer more neutral venue a year ago.  Conversations about how meaningful bringing golf back to the Olympics for growth of the game have a very hollow sound to me.

June, 2016

Holding The Line

Oakmont US OpenIt has never been more evident to me that the entertainment factor in major championships has been diminished by the ability of today’s professional golfer to hit it long and hit it straight. All the trouble off the tee and into the greens have been muted by the pros ability to see and hold an intended flight line with less trepidation about the ball wandering.

Spring board club faces propel it further, launch it higher with less spin to produce roll out. Asymmetric dimple patterns on the balls are diminishing the side spin on mishit shots and thereby reducing the slice or hook that could deliver the evil decree of the trees, bunkers, or water not on the line of charm.

Scientific advances are diminishing skills required to master the game

Dimple Patterns

To the chagrin of the tournament officials and members of Oakmont they have seen this in spades this week.

The short 17th which was a pivotal hole in so many of the previous majors used to require players to hit a hard draw just to get it far enough up the hill to the reach the green and then have to control the side spin to hold the line and avoid the gnarly hillside rough on either side. A disastrous bogie or worse was as likely as an eagle for those with the moxie to take on driving the green.

Players just look beyond all the mishugas on the drivable 17th hole

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This year even the modest hitters on the tour are taking dead aim over the bunkers on 17 confident that with today’s forgiving drivers they can produce the 270 carry over the nest of bunkers, hold a line to the opening, and trundle one up to give themselves an eagle opportunity. A slight fall to the left or right simply means a sand recovery from the green side bunkers which is like taking candy from a baby for these guys.

The USGA and R & A together have failed to protect the integrity of the game by letting manufacturers of clubs and balls use advanced aerospace technology to turn the game into a bomb, pitch, and putt affair.

Serious teeth have to be reintroduced to the required specs on clubs and balls to bring back the good old days of using and controlling curve to avoid the fairway bunkers and heavy rough off the tee and maneuver past the green side trouble to get at the Sunday pins.

Needless to say this would remove the need to keep lengthening courses to maintain their challenge for these events and reduce the capital budget requirements for all golf clubs trying to keep up. It would also bring back skill level and artistry of shot making and provide a much more entertaining product to watch on these Major Sundays.

June, 2016

Gifted and Talented

Dean and Deluca logoJordan Spieth has quashed the Mark Twain adage “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” as it applies to his golf game with a stunning six birdies on the back nine on his way to 17-under and a three-shot victory at the Dean and Deluca Invitational in Fort Worth.

Colonial Country Club has the storied Wall of Champions next to the first tee and it holds names like Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Trevino, Crenshaw, Watson, and Mickelson. They can now proudly add to it their favorite son’s name as Jordan notched his first professional victory in his home state of Texas.

Ever since his epic collapse on the 12th at Augusta a month and a half ago there have been whispers everywhere that the young knight might never recover from such fall. After missing the cut at The Players people were scratching their heads and with a final round collapse of 74 at last week’s Byron Nelson the growing level of concern turned to full torrent.

But Jordan was determined to right the ship in front of the home town crowd. 67-66-65 was steady improvement and left him with the 54-hole lead coming into Sunday. His record with 54-hole leads is quite impressive for a 22-year old (he has won 4 out of 6 when he led after three round) but then there was that pesky little quad in Amen Corner.

Winning in his own backyard had special meaning to Spieth

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Playing even par over the first nine holes Jordan seem to be ceding his chances to the field but as true champions do Jordan lit it up with three birdies to start the inward nine and sink his nails into the hem of the Red Tartan Blazer that goes to the winner. After a bogey on 13, a huge 14-foot par saving putt on 14 snuck in the corner of the cup to jab fate in the solar plexus. His ensuing par on 15 had him tied for the lead at 14-under with the man with two last names, Harris English.

Here is where championship lore begins once again, a totally improbable finish that will expunge a closet full of demons and put questions of his premature demise to rest. It begins on the Par 3 16th where Jordan hits it into the center of the green leaving a windy 20 footer which he buries for an unlikely birdie. Lead is now 1.

The first fist pump of the trilogy…making birdie on 16…

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On 17 he pulls his drive left seemingly headed for Sherwood Forest only to careen off the leg of a volunteer marshal that propels the ball to a clear line on the edge of the first cut of the rough. From 173 his flyer 9-iron has wings and air mails the green to lodge up against the grandstand. Granted a free drop which makes saving par a possibility Jordan one-ups the field by softly landing his short side pitch on the fringe and feeding it down the short slope into the cup for an earth shattering birdie. Lead is now 2.

Even Jordan was startled by the power of his magic wand on the 17th

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So it only remained to hit it to center of the fairway, center of the green and have three putts to win. Not good enough for the demon dragon slayer, Jordan coolly rolls it in down the slippery slope for one more birdie. Wins by 3.

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One last exclamation point….from 35 feet on the 18th

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@hat we love about Jordan is his realism and humility. Admitting that luck has a lot to do with fate he said of the escapade on 17, “One of the luckiest holes I’ve ever had personally. I hit a guy on the side on the tee ball that goes into the first cut, and then I get that drop and then chip in….If I’m anyone playing against me, I’d be pretty upset at that.”

Anyway you cut it 67-66-65-65 says it all……the Gifted and Talented One Is Back!

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A patriotic look….especially if you hail from the Lone Star State

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May, 2016

Shock To The System

Masters LogoThey say that truth is so much more interesting than fiction.  When a young American hero story turned into a full blown Shakespearian Tragedy over the back nine at Augusta on Sunday this adage was reiterated in spades.

Jordan Spieth the young Lion King of the PGA Tour led The Masters for three days setting a record having led the Masters over seven consecutive rounds including his wire-to-wire win last year.  But a shaky finish over the last two holes on Saturday night was not sitting well with him.  His long time swing coach flew in from Dallas for a little swing triage in the morning.

It had the desired effect and Jordan,exclusively using his three-wood off the tee, corrected his rightward driving tendency of the day before leaving unobstructed approaches throughout the front nine. He seemed to have a second consecutive Green Jacket in his grasp when he got to 7-under par after a string of four birdies in a row closing out the front nine.  His closest pursuer was five back and was steadily getting smaller in the rear view mirror.

In the midst of Jordan’s birdie barrage on the front nine…everything was going down

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But once he stepped on to the tee for the inward half, that swing flaw revisited and the result was three shots wandering aimlessly right into bother resulting in back-to-back bogies on 10 and 11.  Then standing on the tee at the 150 yard 12th , one of the most difficult holes in championship golf, the Green Clad Golf Gods must have sensed his mental vulnerability when they stunned him with a pair of taser shots to the midsection.  What  resulted were two balls into the water and a disastrous quadruple bogey 7.   So quickly golf can take a star from fame to infamy and Jordan got the full brunt of that transition in under an hour.

The second of three approach attempts into the 12th….quite a divot on this one

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As this story goes the White Knight was an unlikely English hero in 28-year old Danny Willett.  Bogey free on the day he seized the moment going birdie-birdie-par from 13 to 15 and then flagged his short iron into the back left pin on the Par 3 16th.  Stoically rolling in the birdie putt to get to 5-under par he built an insurmountable 4–shot advantage over Jordan Spieth in the aftermath of folly on the 12th.

Hats off to the new Masters Champion walking off the 18th green

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To those who have followed this young man’s rise to 12th in the World Golf Rankings this past year this performance is not that much of a surprise.  In 2015 he played steady golf all year taking a share of sixth in the Open Championship on his way to finishing second in the year-long Race to Dubai behind Rory McIlroy.  His 2016 began with a huge win in February at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic against a very strong international field and he followed that with a third in the WGC Cadillac Championship a month later at Doral.

In the tough conditions that prevailed at Augusta this week Danny just seemed to hang around par each day when many with much better golf pedigrees were wilting under the stress of the whipping winds and slick crusty greens.  Jack Nicklaus, who knows a little bit about winning the big one, said of Danny Willett, “What impressed me so much is that when he realized he was in a position to win, he finished it—and that’s the mark of a champion.”

The agony and the ecstasy….from right to left

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To his credit Jordan did not fold up his tent after the 12th hole debacle he made a couple of scrappy birdies on the two five pars coming in and stuck it inside 10 feet behind the flag on the Par 3 16th with a chance to close the lead to one.  What a difference a year makes, Jordan had made a longer putt for par on almost the same line to this pin during the final round of his win last year but he over read the break this time and his chances of a heroic rise from the ashes faltered when the birdie putt did not drop.

To the winner the spoils…. a few pieces of memorabilia for the plane flight home

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There is little doubt that the scars from this jarring incident will not heal quickly for young Jordan, but he can take solace in the thought that all great champions have had Major opportunities slip through their fingers early in their careers.  As Tom Watson said in a Masters swan song interview the other day, in spite of all the wins it is the ones that got away that you cannot forget.  Tom did all right for himself down the road.  I am sure that with his competitive constitution Spieth will find motivation in this disaster and do quite fine as well.

April, 2016

Double Clutch

Cadillac ChampionshipIt did not start out well for Adam Scott in the final round of the World Golf Championship at Doral making two double bogies in the first five holes. But as he did the previous week at Honda he showed veteran resilience and used laser sharp iron play and very steady putting to card seven birdies, four on the inward nine, on the way to his second clutch win in the last two weeks.

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We saw alot of this gesture since he got to Florida

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This win did not happen without a bit of good fortune but sometimes the golf gods are just looking down kindly on you on a Sunday. With his excellent play on the back side Adam had grinded his way to a one-shot lead over Bubba as he stood on the 18th tee looking at the formidable task of finding the fairway to protect his lead. The drive leaked into the right rough and his direct approach to a phone booth back left pin was blocked by a lone palm around six yards in front of him.

The competitive instincts of a veteran forbade Adam from laying up so he laced a long iron with a bit of fade out over the water trying to find the putting surface and set up a two-putt par. The little bit of rough made it hard to get the requisite fade spin on the shot that was struck purely and you could see the angst on his face as a watery grave looked imminent.

Divine intervention was required as the ball carried the hazard but hit the steep bank making it likely it would tumble back in for a rinse. Somehow the ball hung in the thick Bermuda grass within the hazard line leaving Adam a life line to make his par. To his credit Adam took advantage of the break and hit an elegant elevator shot off a severe stair climber stance to six feet and calmly rolled in the par putt for the win.

His approach to the last somehow avoids the tree and the water

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Probably the equally intriguing story is Adam, a poster child for the anchored putter, overcoming years of balky putting with the broomstick to putt so proficiently with a conventional length unit. All the pundits said that guys who had learned to lean on the anchored style would struggle in making the transition.

Adam said in an interview last week that the USGA and R & A edict on banning anchoring may have been a blessing in disguise because it made him focus on his putting deficiencies and face his demons. If you saw the broadcast at Honda NBC did a slow-mo side-by-side of Adams stroke with the long putter and the conventional putter and it was truly amazing how identical his vital shoulder-to-grip-triangle was with the two putters throughout his stroke. It seems like a geometric impossibility to do so but Adam has reconciled how to translate a confident stroke with the long putter to his conventional implement., He made 18 of 18 putts inside 10 feet in the Sunday final round so it is working handily at the moment.

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Peace of mind on the short grass has made all the difference

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Bottom line is that including a second at Riviera Adam has garnered over $3.3 million in the last three weeks jumping him to the top of the Fed Ex Leaderboard and inside the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings. He has found form in the fairways and on the greens just in time for the first string of Majors in 2016.

With Dave Clark on the bag Adam has gotten good direction

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In spite of this success with his new caddie Dave Clark he will not be on the bag come The Masters. Adam is no dummy, he had previously arranged with Stevie Williams to interrupt his racing Mustangs on the stock car circuit in New Zealand for a week of bag work in April. Stevie is the ultimate “Majors” counselor, having been on the bag for 13 of 14 of Tiger’s Major wins. He also knows as much about Augusta greens as Clifford Roberts and carried for Adam when he won at Augusta in 2013. Makes sense to put the band back together.

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March 6, 2016

It’s Gotta Be The Shoes

Abu Dhabi HSBX LogoSpike Lee once said it about MJ in an Air Jordan ad and maybe the same can be said about Rickie Fowler after he won the HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi this weekend in his new High Top Pumas. Winning for the fourth time in nine months against top ranked fields, including The Players, The Scottish Open, and the Deutsche Bank Championship in the Fed Ex Playoffs, Rickie broke fashion molds once again and a few personal glass ceilings as he makes a case for being considered the fourth of the new Big Three.

No one else would have the chutzpah to wear these…..

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Abu Dhabi’s deep pockets and appearance fees guarantee a solid field every year.  Four of the top six players in the World Golf Rankings were not only there but finished in the top six at the end of the day on Sunday-the royal family got their money’s worth. At some time over the four days Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy were in and around the lead so the cream did rise to the top. But it was Fowler who added the final froth when he shot 65 on Saturday to take the lead and then stared down all pursuers on Sunday posting a fine 69 to finish 16-under to take home the flashy Falcon Trophy.

Rickie has a bit of a Ray Floyd stare that has his peers taking notice

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Fowler started his day with a couple of birdies then seemed in cruise control with the lead until he had a double bogey hiccup on the Par 3 7th to squander his advantage. But he had a very unlikely bounce back eagle to regain his position at 15-under on the following hole when he holed from the sand at about 50 paces.

The long bunker shot….hardest play in the game….Rickie made it look easy….

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Making eight pars in a row he had a two shot cushion most of the back nine. But Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, and Thomas Pieters would not go away. Stenson birdied three of the last four to take the club house lead at 14-under. Rory had been playing with indifference through the front nine. But then Rory did what Rory does, he kicked it into gear and shot 31 on the inward half with a spine tingling eagle on the final hole to tie Stenson at 14-under.

The gauntlet went down when the crowd eruption from Rory’s eagle reached the Par 4 17th green where Fowler was sizing up his third shot just off the putting surface. As we saw at The Players Rickie saves his best for last and responded to the challenge by chipping it in for birdie to extend his lead again to two at 16-under.

Thomas Pieters, a young phenom who has won twice in the last year on the European Tour, was playing along side Rickie in the final group. He made four birdies through the 13th hole to get to 14-under but seemed to stall. After Rickie’s heroics on 17 his only chance was an eagle on the last as Rory had done. A solid drive and an elegant fairway metal to about 25 feet kept hope alive for a playoff but his eagle putt deflected off the force field of the cup and he settled for a birdie and second alone at 15-under.

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Rickie and his new pet-the hosting Shiek and his closest pursuer look on

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As Spieth did the previous week winning against a solid field at the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Rickie dominated the five pars at 9-under par. His solid approach play and putting led to 19 birdies and 1 eagle on his way to his winning tally at 16-under par. If he can win a major or an Olympic Gold Medal in the next seven months Jordan, Rory, and Jason will have to make some room for Rickie’s trend setting look in the photo ops of the Big Whatever.

They may not be available on-line yet but I guarantee those Puma High Tops will be displayed prominently at the Puma/Cobra booth at this week’s annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.  The lines will be long at the show, this is a look the millennials can put their arms around.

January, 2016

Breaking Good

Senior Open Champ LogoMarco Dawson has followed a long and winding road in his professional golf career that began in 1986 and includes stints on the PGA, Web.com, and Champions Tour. Until he joined the Champions Tour last year he had only one Web.com tour win in over 30 years and 574 professional starts.

 

Dawson’s mug bears resemblance to nefarious Walter White from Breaking Bad
Marco DawsonBut to his own admission he played most of those years doubting his ability and a bit afraid to succeed. He changed his attitude when he started walking among the apostles on the Champions Tour and has found a new comfort zone and some real success. In the last year and a half he has won once in 30 starts and earned himself over $1.5 million and the respect of his aging peers.

As was the case at St. Andrews inclement weather was a major factor

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It all came to a climax Sunday in face-to-face-to-face duel with two of the stalwarts of the Apostle Tour Bernard Langer and Colin Montgomerie in the weather delayed final round of the British Senior Open at Sunningdale in England.

Week after week Bernard is always in the fray

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In the wind and the rain all Marco did was match 64’s in the final round with Langer, including a back nine 31 to shoot an 18-under par score and win the first major championship of his career.

Monty was fighting the elements as well as his opponents

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Mrs. Doubtfire seemed in control of the affair until he semi-bladed an approach from a fairway bunker on 11 that led to a bogey and a two-shot swing when both Langer and Dawson birdied the short par 4. Dawson birdied the tough 12th and made an eagle on 14 to take command of the tournament for good.  A steady string of pars kept Langer at bay and Dawson buried a 30-footer on the last for an exclamation point birdie to seal the victory.

Steely determination on the final putt put all doubt to rest

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$500,000 and a handsome silver claret jug makes Marco a happy camper

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There are so many stories each week in professional golf but rarely does one play out where a true journeyman pro who has persisted through the ups and downs of a long and difficult career path find all the bounces go their way for one week in a major championship.  Dawson is respected by his peers as one of the truly good guys out there and it looks like the breaks finally fell on the good side of the ledger for this affable and gentile pro.

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July, 2015

Texas Two-Step

Chambers Bay LogoThere were only five guys who have won The Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year….until yesterday when Jordan Spieth shot 69 and outlasted the field to win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He joins the heady group of Craig Wood, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods who have done this Two-Step….pretty sassy moves for a 21-year old Texan.

The week began with a litany of guys complaining about the course style, conditioning, and set-up as inappropriate for a U.S. Open Championship. This reached a fever pitch when Gary Player went into a diarrhetic rant blaming the USGA’s decision making picking Chambers Bay for everything from killing The First Tee Program to Global Warming.

How short are the memories of these critics and touring pros? Torrey Pines 2008 Tiger and Rocco epic duel was played on sketchy greens, Congressional 2011 Rory’s domination was on mushy renovated greens not close to ready for prime time, or Justin Rose at Merion two years ago deftly managed to win on rock hard landing strip fairways between stifling Bluegrass rough. Pick any venue that Open Doctors Robert Trent Jones Sr. or Rees Jones prepared over the last 50 years and you have ample fodder for player complaint. It is a tradition, U.S. Open venues are sadistic and torturous set ups meant to protect par.

Chambers Bay seemed other worldly to some……..

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Truth be told the course came through with flying colors….albeit most of them brown tones not green….in providing a stage of compelling drama until the last putt didn’t fall. For all the carping, Sunday yielded over 20 scores in the 60’s. The USGA should be commended for flexible decision making in the course set up the last two days. Holes 15 through 18, two par threes, a reachable par four, and a wicked risk/reward par five, gave at least six guys a credible chance to capture the flag.

Plenty of red numbers on this final scoreboard

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Dustin Johnson did what Dustin Johnson has done three times before grabbing a major by the throat with accurate long driving and adept short iron approaches. An opening round 65 put him in control of his own destiny and 18 birdies over the four days should have been enough to bring him his first major. But as we have seen with Dustin before mediocre putting, four three-putts in the last nine holes, led to his demise and another major championship slipped from his grasp.

The last one hurt the most…..

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The real crowd pleaser was Jason Day who showed courage on a Ken Venturi scale as he battled Benign Postural Vertigo trekking up and down the severe elevation changes of Chambers Bay. With an unsteady gait and lots of deep breaths to refocus Jason made five birdies in the last nine holes on Saturday putting him in the final group with Dustin on Sunday. But five bogies and a double in the last round squelched the anticipated fairy tale ending.

Jason Day’s steely resolve in the face of adversity….

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Branden Grace, a South African with six wins on the European Tour-two this year, was rock steady for four days using a boring driving trajectory and solid lag putting to adeptly manage the links layout and conditioning. Chugging along nicely down the stretch one untimely errant railroad track swing on the drivable par four 16th on Sunday led to double bogie and put the kibosh on his hopes.

For Branden Grace the one that got away on 16…

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Possibly the best story of them all was Louie Oosthuizen who gave three shots back to par on the front nine Sunday apparently killing his chances, making the turn at 2-over par. He then reminded us that South Africa produces players who are not afraid to go low running off 6 birdies in the last seven holes to shoot 29 on the back side in the final round of a major. Maybe only Johnny Miller understands what that feels like. After opening 7-over par on Thursday Louie simply shot 66-66-67 to set the bar at 4-under in the clubhouse for the others to shoot at.

Louie O was going low on the back nine…..

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In the end it was Jordan, with the patience and perseverance of a cagey veteran, wrapping two birdies around a potentially disastrous double bogey on 17 to post a 5-under score that proved good enough to get the silver.

Putting the double bogey behind him Jordan’s confident approach into 18…

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His bounce back driver/three metal on 18 to set up his finishing birdie was Brett Farve-ian clutch. A friend of mine observed “He has the ability to simply wipe it out and live and act in the present..it’s as though he made that double on the front nine in the opening round, it simply is part of his score going forward..perhaps it is merely the exaggerated ego of youth; perhaps his coal mine/Central Pennsylvania DNA …but whatever it is, it is the rarest quality in a golfer and it will serve him well for as long as it lasts.”

Jordan get used to seeing your reflection in these….

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Now the anticipation begins, can young Jordan continue this major’s streak at St. Andrews next month. The only other player in history to win The Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open in the same calendar year was Texan Ben Hogan. Fire up the band.. this could be the seldom seen Texas Three-Step in the making?

June, 2015

U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier 2015

Woodmont LogoFor 28 out of the last 29 years our place, Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, has hosted the 36-hole final stage men’s U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying. The USGA has even thrown in a few Women’s Sectional Qualifiers along the way for good measure.

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Open Venue Flags and USGA Thank You Citations ring the rafters of our golf shop

OpenQualifyingMemorabilia 1Our members have been blessed with the opportunity to see some of the best players in the land play up close and personal on the home turf. Over the years tour champions like O’Meara, Stadler, Freddie Boom-Boom, Larry Mize, Bubba (apparently there is a spooky connection between Woodmont qualifiers and success at Augusta), Corey Pavin, Tom Kite, Fred Funk, Curtis Strange, Billy Andrade, as well as many of the top amateurs of this era have found their way to the U.S. Open Championship through our neck of the woods. Walking with them…no gallery ropes…watching them play shots on a championship course we are totally familiar with has afforded us a unique opportunity to appreciate the awesome talent level of these guys.

The goal is to reach the masterpiece of Chambers Bay on Puget Sound

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This year’s field of 56 pros and amateurs were vying for 3 spots at Chambers Bay in two weeks. I had the opportunity to walk and score the final 18 holes for the USGA. Wireless Galaxy tablet in hand we provided the USGA with semi-live hole-by-hole scoring of the final round to populate their web portal with developing scores throughout the afternoon. Pretty awesome experience when you realize that the competitors themselves, as well as interested parties across the country, are hanging on the accuracy of your scoring to keep up with the action.

My Bernard Darwin/Francis Ouimet moment penciling the strokes as we went

HoleByHole WorksheetMy group included Denny McCarthy, who along with PGA Tour pro and ex-Navy officer Billy Hurley III, took medalist honors at 6-under par after two trips around our North Course in blustery and hot D.C. summer conditions. The final spot went to Timothy O’Neal who won a three-hole playoff over Joshua Persons-both had finished at 2-under.

McCarthy is a true hot-shot amateur. Born and raised in this area he built an impressive golf resume as an All-Met schoolboy star playing for Georgetown Prep. He has been a stand out on the University of Virginia golf team the last four years, reaching the semi-finals in last year’s U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club. His familiarity with Woodmont’s North Course from his high school days certainly helped him in today’s winning performance.

McCarthy’s Cavalier head cover was laying out and enjoying the sun all day

Whats In The BagAfter a 2-under par round in the morning McCarthy was two-back of the qualifying number when he teed off on the 590-yard Par 5 tenth hole to start the afternoon round. He promptly put a swerving hook left-of-left near the 18th tee but showed his survival instincts sewing a low recovery through the trees to about 100 yards out. Wedging to 20 feet he promptly sunk the putt to make an unlikely birdie. The next eight holes was a collection of wayward tee shots and brilliant recoveries as he made eight pars to reach the turn at 3-under in fourth place-one back from a qualifying playoff.

Informed by his caddie at the turn of where he stood you could see Denny’s bulldog resolve take over as he birdied 4 of the first 5 holes on our front nine to take the bull by the horns. The most impressive of the lot was a rope 240 yard long iron into a Clark Kent phone booth pin position on our arduous par three second. The five footer hit the bottom of the tin and he was in full birdie gallop at that point. His final birdie on the Par 5 fifth was three wood, long iron to 30 feet, perfect lag leaving a tap in birdie to take the lead at 7-under.

Playing the next three on steady cruise control Denny took no gambles giving himself birdie putts on every green but accepting pars as his friend trying to get to the house with the lead.

Rock solid finish all the way to the end to secure his spot

Denny McCarthyOur ninth is a 485-yard behemoth Par 4 from the tips with OB right and lots of tree trouble left, scorecard wrecking double-bogies lurking for those without judgment. Three wood to 220, long iron safely to the front left apron, a pitch and a couple of putts Denny smartly accepted a dropped shot to finish at 6-under tied with Billy Hurley for the top spot of the day.

Hurley 66-72, McCarthy 70-68 punch their tickets to Chambers Bay with 138

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After the cards were signed and the scores were posted I ran into McCarthy’s father milling with his supporters near the scorer’s tent. He was talking on his cell phone when my comment to him “Making hotel reservations in Tacoma for next weekend?” generated a knowing wry smile.

Who knows if this is the beginning of big things for McCarthy over the next year. But given what his contemporary Jordan Spieth has done recently you never know. All I know is that I witnessed a gifted young player producing 18 holes of his best golf in a pressure-packed situation. It was the stuff of a champion and a great thing to see first hand.

(Click to see the full scoring list of the Sectional Qualifier at Woodmont Country Club)

June, 2015