An Fire

BMW Championship LogoIn the flagship event of the European Tour, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in Surrey, England 23-year-old Byeong Hun An floated his boat in royal style winning with a record setting score of 21-under par. Probably the strongest field each year on the European circuit and this young South Korean wonder, who won the U.S. Amateur at the tender age of 17 at Southern Hills in 2009, closed with 7-under 65, the round of the day to win for the first time on this tour.

An’s textbook finish served him well all day long at Wentworth

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This storied championship is 61-years-old and is one of the most cherished trophies in golf to have on your mantel. Faldo won it four times, Peter Allis, Bernhard Langer, and Monty 3 times. Jacklin, Ballesteros, Woosnam, and Luke Donald won it twice each. Having your name on this trophy is a very big deal.

Francesco Molinari hand a hand an a half on this title leading through the first three rounds. But his driving accuracy and putting abandoned him on the way to a final round 74.  He watched playing partner An make five birdies and stake one for a tap-in eagle on the Par 5 12th on his way to lapping the field. Except for a stirring back nine which included 4 birdies in a five hole stretch by the most interesting golfer in the world, Miguel Angel Jimenez, on his way to a tie for second at 15-under, no one could stay in Byeong’s rear view mirror.

An’s career has been a slow march under the watchful eye of his teacher David Leadbetter and his agent Chubby Chandler. Since he turned pro in 2011 he has earned his stripes on the Challenge Tour and the European Tour with total winnings from 2011 to 2014 of around 112,00 euros. Three top tens so far this year the progress has been steady adding another 288,000 euros to the pile but no one would have figured that his breakout win would have been on a stage of this magnitude.

The 833,000 euro winner’s check and a jump from the 132nd ranked player in the world to the top 60 will change everything. Spots in the U.S. Open and Open Championship as well as sponsors invites to prestigious PGA Tour Events and opportunities to play in WGC World Championships should give An an opportunity to establish himself as a regular part of the conversation of the up-and-coming Asian 20-somethings who are making their indelible mark on the world golf scene.

Getting his arms around his potential-An wins by 6 shots over a world class field

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As we could see today with his stoic demeanor playing with the lead Ben An is not uncomfortable being in the limelight. His father and mother were both Olympic class Ping Pong players from Korea and China respectively, his mother is one of the most famous champions China has ever produced. I have a feeling when he makes the President’s Cup Team this fall he could be a dominating force in the team room ping pong competitions.

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May, 2015

WGC Member-Guest

WGC Match Play LogoThe latest format iteration of the WGC Match Play Championship is an effort by the golf powers that be to deal with the dual problem of finding a new long term sponsor for this troubled event and satisfy the TV network’s need for an appetizing broadcast offering on the weekend. The traditional single elimination approach for this Match Play event does not and has not guaranteed that marquee players are still on the screen come Saturday and Sunday.

So they have come up with a flighted/round-robin approach that many places use for their match play events which should insure that the fan favorites get to play at least three matches before they face elimination and a courtesy car ride to the airport Friday evening. For the traditionalist this waters down the more mercenary win or go home pressure that characterizes a true match play competition.

Their hope is that improving the likelihood that half of the Sweet Sixteen include top twenty players from the World Rankings will help find a willing $10 million dollar sponsor to underwrite this event going forward and salve the concerns of the broadcasting network that Sunday’s semi-final and final matches will still contain recognizable stars with made for TV golf personas.

As I think about it, match play is truly exciting on TV as a Two-Man Team format-witness the Ryder Cup, Crosby Clam Bake (a.k.a. AT&T Pro Am), and the Champions Tour Legends of Golf events. Much like your club’s Multi-Day Member-Guest the Two-Man Team played in a round-robin format addresses both of their concerns. They could designate the Top 32 players in the World Rankings as the “members” and let them invite as their pards anyone else in the professional spectrum as their “guests”.

With only 32 teams it comes down to 8 four-team groups-the winner of each goes right to the Elite Eight thereby eliminating one round of play shortening the broadcast window by four hours.

Like the Two-Man events mentioned above they would actually get partners who enjoy each other’s company and the high fives and belly bumps would be done with affection. As a Two-Man affair it doubles the offering of quality shots in each match. The “members” would take great pride in picking a partner they know they can win with and this should result with some entertaining pairings.

Just would need two of these instead of one

Just would need two of these puppies instead of one

All that is left is for the sponsors to up the quality of the on-course food stations to fresh seafood catches and steak tartare and give out a color coordinated wardrobe for event. It would feel just like the home course Member-Guest for the devoted millions watching on TV.

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April, 2015

Reflections: A Visit To The Masters

Masters LogoThe coronation of Jordan Spieth as the next Lion King provided the perfect backdrop for our first experience at Augusta National. Watching him handle himself with a combination of athletic virtuosity and personal grace was something to behold. His arrival to contend with the Irish Prince portends great things for the game in the post-Eldrick era.

We witnessed a lot of this on Friday and Saturday

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Masstahs1 (1)For us it started early in the morning on Thursday while catching our flight down to Atlanta. We knew that every person wearing a Titlelist hat or a FootJoy wind shirt was heading for the show. A pair of millennials from South Boston were handing out their own version of Master’s memorabilia.

 

iPhone/Camera held hostage in the glove compartment

iPhone/Camera held hostage in the glove box

 

There are Masters Do’s and Don’ts and you do not want to do the Don’ts. On real tournament days no cell phones, cameras, outside food, unauthorized chairs (those with arm rests), backpacks, or even handbags over 10 inches across. No autograph seeking on the course…no matter how cute your 10-year old is. The age of Osama has brought the mandatory metal detector moment for each patron walking through the gate….at least you don’t have to take off your belt and shoes.

 

 

Once on the grounds the first impression is how expansively green, impeccably manicured, and drop dead gorgeous the place is. The flora is beyond description, the azaleas are so oversized as to make you think they were genetically engineered. The stark white bunkering accentuates the emerald fairways, every blade of grass has been trimmed in the last 18 hours. If it were not for tens of thousands of patrons meandering about you could swear the place was originally a tree nursery…..which it was.

Augusta National pays homage to all the elements of nature’s beauty
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Even the pine straw under the towering stands of pine trees seems like it has been fluffed for the day’s play.

And meticulously manages whatever nature cannot handle herself

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The second impression is how hilly the place is-it is by no means an easy walk even if the most cumbersome thing you are carrying is a beer and a pimento/cheese sandwich. The elevation changes begin instantly off the tee of #1 and #10 ….Franz Klammer would feel at home staring over the edge from the tenth tee box.

From the high ground of the 1st tee the property plummets below eventually down to Amen Corner
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More startling than the elevation changes of the holes are the intense topographical features in the green complexes. HD does not do it justice. The bunkers, swales, and hollows that surround the greens collect any timid approaches. The severe slopes and terracing of the green surfaces themselves require a dramatically different approach line for each day’s pin placement. One cannot fail to recognize that these complex green arrangements seriously mitigate the intended size of the driving area on the seemingly sprawling fairways. Tactically considered pinpoint driving position is the ticket to birdie opportunities at Augusta National. Those approaches that do not work out lead to diabolical up-and-down challenges.

Spieth’s Friday approach pitch into the 2nd Green-it was anything but simple

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It does not take long to realize that the entire emphasis of the membership that put on this major championship is to make the patron experience as enjoyable as possible. Clifford Roberts, an early adopter of the term “Continuous Quality Improvement”, set this standard from the tournament’s inception in 1934. To this day, a almost 30 years after his death, the powers that be still ask “what would Cliff think” when they are making a decision about the management of the event.

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This is embraced by the Green Jacket volunteers, wealthy CEO’s and celebrities whose weekly pay stub have six figures on them yet freely offer their time for a week to answer questions and offer advice to anyone patron who needs it. Every employee from retail clerks, to food service people, to the folks who wipe down the sinks in the public restrooms immediately after you finish washing your hands ask you if you are enjoying your day at The Masters. This is a total commitment to the patron experience.

Condi explaining to Lindsey Vonn that this might not have been the most appropriate clothing decision for a golf tournament

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Masters rules and traditions are unique and give this tournament a character all it’s own. The limited number of tickets insures that all patrons can move about comfortably to follow the golf. There are plenty of planned and designated places from which to view the action. The grandstands often sit in places where you can watch the action on multiple holes. These are not your typical bleachers but have comfy molded backed seats where you can sit and watch for hours.

An Amen Corner Three-For:  Putting on 11, Approach to 12, and Tee Ball on 13.
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Masters ChairOr you can spend about fifty bucks to buy the Authorized Master’s Canvas Fold-up Chair to take advantage of a very hospitable practice at Augusta. You write your name on the back of your chair in Sharpie and then when the gates open in the morning each day you walk……do not run…..to the place where you would like your Authorized Master’s Chair to remain all day until you are ready to sit in it.

 

 

As you can see there are large designated viewing areas to place your Authorized Master’s Chair which will guarantee you an intimate view of the action. The coolest part, no one will sit in your chair all day. You can place it, spend the morning walking the course following your favorites, and return to the chair that awaits you next to the 16th green to watch the final groups come through in the late afternoon. It is like having your own personal reserved box seat.

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The regular grounds ticket comes with free parking across the street from the club. When was the last professional sporting event you attended where the parking was free? The food pavilions are plentiful about the course with a full selection of sandwiches, munchies, drinks, and beer at 1978 prices.   Take a gander at the price list:

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Sandwiches: $1.50 – $3.00
Soda: $1.50
Water/iced tea: $1.50
Beer: $4.00 domestic, $5.00 imported (Not available on the main course after 4 p.m.)
Coffee: $1

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They even have fresh fruit, nuts, and a pack of baby carrots for 75 cents…..you cannot find baby carrots at a Wawa for 75 cents. The lines can be long but the logistics are so efficient that your wait is rarely longer than 5 to 10 minutes at times of peak demand. You have not seen operational efficiency like this outside of Disneyworld.

The cheap beer does encourage lots of domestic and imported consumption, which should surprise no one at a sporting event. Apparently there is an unwritten tradition among male patrons to collect the commemorative plastic cups with the Masters logo so by days end you see guys carrying a stack of ten cups with the eleventh beer of the day propped in the top of the stack. These are the same guys who had the beer can pyramids in their frat rooms in college. It is high anxiety in the concession line around 3:55 when the taps are closing at 4 p.m. sharp.

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Masters Price Tag 2The golf shops situated on the grounds are equally impressive both in the scale of their offerings and the efficiency of the operation. You can spend $500 on your Platinum Amex Card on hats, shirts, towels, and a few other Masters chotchkies faster than you can say “don’t leave home without it”. Not missing a beat they provide a free bag check service just past the register area so you can bunk your purchases for later pick-up after the tournament viewing is over.

 

Masters Badge 2If you are truly connected, blessed, or just wealthy you can get the uber Berckmans Place Ticket which gives you access to Augusta’s latest upscale enclave. They added this permanent structure in 2013 that easily covers 90,000 square feet. It includes half a dozen distinct waiter served dining areas covered by the price of the Berckmans ticket, walls of Masters history, a golf shop with fine Italian golf shirts, areas from which to watch the tournament, and a practice putting area that’s includes replicas of the 7th, 14th, and 16th greens at Augusta National kept at tournament speeds. After 20 minutes of putting these greens you will have new respect for the phrase “these guys are good”.

Bobby Jones Grand Slam Collection on display in the hallway

Bobby Jones Slam TrophiesMeanwhile back out on the course a golf tournament was breaking out.

For the first 27 holes it was not going well for the pre-tournament favorite

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But the cacophonies of fan exuberance were cascading over the pines from all directions as birdies and eagles were aplenty.  Sitting beside the green on the Par 3 16th late Saturday afternoon we witnessed birdie bedlam three times in fifteen minutes.  The pin was on the top shelf front right in a position that no one could seem to keep their approach and no birdies were being yielded.

It began with Phil burying a 40-foot snake up the slope….the pines reverberated

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5 minutes later Justin’s bunker recovery gets nothing but net

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Then the tournament leaders Charlie Hoffman and Jordan Spieth hit lawn darts to about 7 and 15 feet respectively right in front of the hole.  Jordan buried his putt for birdie which lengthened Hoffman’s attempt by about 20 feet and his lead by another stroke when Charlie failed to convert.  The crowd at this point was in full hysteria….it felt like a Springsteen concert at the Jersey Shore.  Spieth would carry a four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round.

Tiger had his moments but concealed obstacles were lurking everywhere

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Sunday proved to be anything but a cake walk but playing beside a major champion in Justin Rose Jordan made 6 birdies to post a round of 70, tie the tournament record at 18-under, and win what is likely to be the first of many majors.  At the end of the day Simba seemed to take his first steps up to the mountain top.

At 18 this familiar gesture seemed like Deja Vu all over again…..

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April, 2015

James Finegan: Voice of the Links

Your relationship with James Finegan probably started like mine. Back from a first trip to Ireland, talking with friends about the experience and chomping at the bit to get back for more, someone who had been to the British Isles a second time says, “Then you got to read Finegan”.

What ensued was typical…off to Barnes and Noble, fingering through a copy of “Emerald Fairways and Foam Flecked Seas-A Golfer’s Pilgrimage to the Courses of Ireland” I am drawn in by personal accounts of places I had played-Ballybunion, Rosses Point, and Royal County Down. Finegan’s visual of RCD is typical, “What strikes us-in truth, assaults us-are the massive sand hills, the profusion of gorse (overpoweringly golden in spring, impenetrable at any time) and the heady views”.

Once owned the romance with his writing accelerated as he described courses large and small, quaint hotels and B & B’s, town histories and antiquities, and his experiences with the locals. He captured the lure of Ireland through this descriptive of a chance encounter with an Irish immigrant-that is to say a Philadelphian who had moved to Dublin.

“This free spirit fascinated us. The very notion of simply picking up and going to Ireland to live because the golf was ideal-well, this was so preposterously at variance with such things as discipline and roots….it was dizzying to contemplate….Think of it: a golf expatriate, an expatriate not because of taxes or career or love but for golf. I had to concede that it was not a noble rationale for self-exile. Nor was it ignoble.”

Whether it was this one or “Blasted Heaths and Blessed Greens” about Scotland or a third about England and Wales, or his seminal collection “Scotland-Where Golf Is Great” becoming a James Finegan fan just happens. The rapture of his prose, his unique voice on links golf, makes recalling your last trip or planning your next one a vibrant and exhilarating experience.

James W. Finegan passed away this week in his hometown of Philadelphia at the age of 85. You can read Michael Bamberger’s stirring tribute to “another member of golf’s greatest generation…an extraordinary voice in the game, both as a speaker and writer”. Bamberger says, “Alongside Herbert Warren Wind, no other American writer captured the windblown, rugged beauty of golf in the British Isles with such wild enthusiasm”.

The true fans of the game have lost a chronicler, a scribe of all that is good and great about links golf. Thankfully Finegan’s links voice will continue to influence the itineraries of golfing pilgrims for generations to come through the cherished impressions he has left with us.

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(Click to read Michael Bamberger’s tribute to James Finegan on Golf.com)

March, 2015

 

Best Down Under

ISPS Australian Open LogoLydia Ko at 17 years old became the youngest player to reach the #1 ranking on the LPGA Tour a few weeks ago with a second place finish in the Coates Golf Championship. If anyone had doubts about her credentials at such a young age they were put to bed with an impressive win today of ISPS Handa Australian Open at Royal Melbourne.

Lydia’s Aimpoint putting technique emphasizes her ranking

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Royal Melbourne is a true championship test that has befuddled professionals of both genders with it’s Alister MacKenzie green complexes. This week was no exception as the hot Australian summer presented parched hard and fast fairways and greens stimping a major championship speeds. Lydia played with metronomic patience on the composite par 73 layout with scores of 70-70-72-71 to win at 9-under par.

This was Lydia’s 8th professional win on the LPGA and European Ladies and caps off a 14 month period where she has won 4 times with 18 top 10 finishes in 29 events. She has not missed a cut and won $2,400,00 over that span.

The stretch began with a gripping toe-to-toe 1 shot victory over Stacey Lewis in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced last April. Lydia then added the Marathon Classic in July with a 1 stroke win over So Yeon Ryu. Then she put herself seriously in the #1 ranking mix with a playoff win at the CME Group Tour Championship in November. The only thing missing from her trophy case is a piece of major championship hardware and that cannot be far away.

Since she splashed on the scene with her first LPGA Tour victory as an amateur at age 14 in the CN Canadian Women’s Open Lydia has shown a mature approach to playing that belies her years. Her game resembles the consistency of Annika Sorenstam in her peak years. Lydia has hit 85% of the fairways this year and this week on a Royal Melbourne course with serious fire in it’s belly she has consistently hit 89% of the greens each day.

Ko’s proficiency with hybrids reminds us of Annika’s Callaway Metal Wood Game

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The final day began with Lydia tied for the lead at 7-under with Ariya Jutanugarn and Amy Yang one back at 6-under. It pretty much became a head-to-head competition between Ko and Yang as the rest of the field faded fairly early in the front nine.

Ko asserted herself with an amazing pitch in on the third hole for eagle to take the lead outright at 8-under. She was on cruise control with four straight pars until she hit an approach pitch into the 8th green two steps past the flag only to see the hand of Alister shuttle it off the back of this devious green complex and end up 30 yards over the green in a thatchy lie with an impossible elevator pitch back up to the flag. The unforced error cost her a bogie and a two-shot swing tied them at the top when Yang buried a 50-footer on the 9th hole in front of her.

The momentum further shifted in Yang’s direction when she laced her second shot on the par 5 10th to inside 15 feet for a good eagle opportunity. But the golf goddesses interceded as the storm alarm sounded before she could putt forcing an interruption in play that stifled her charge. After play resumed she missed the eagle putt settling for a birdie which Lydia matched on the 10th to bring them both to 8-under.

Lydia asserted herself again with a good birdie opportunity on the 11th but left the putt in the jaws and settle for par. On the par 4 12th she hit it to 25 feet and calmly rolled in a curling birdie putt to regain the lead alone at 9-under.

When the birdie putt found bottom on the 12th the Fat Lady was humming

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Yang, just one back on the par 5 14th, hit her second into the green side bunker and made a gutsy up and down for birdie to once again tie the lead at 9-under. But her putter was to be her undoing as she missed a short one on 15 to make bogey failing to get up and down from in front of the green. A miscue on 17 led to another bogey and her final second place position at 7-under par.

From the 13th tee to the trophy presentation it was fairway and greens for Lydia without a dropped shot on the card as she proved once again to be a stoic front runner once she has the lead.  This performance was hauntingly similar to her win over Stacy Lewis at Lake Merced.

These victory speeches are becoming old hat for Lydia

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At 17 this young woman is maturing quickly shedding the Annie Hall spectacles for contact lenses, embracing make-up, and wearing more stylish attire. The new look still has a ways to go to catch up with the maturity of her golf game which has gotten her to #1 and will make it a formidable task for anyone to dislodge Lydia from that perch.

February, 2015

Bib Bondage

PGA Tour caddies filed a class-action lawsuit claiming they are sick of being unpaid sandwich sign board shills for the corporate sponsors of PGA Tour events. The caddies at tour events are required to wear the logo-covered bibs which bear the tournament sponsor’s moniker and are paid nothing in endorsement fees for this powerful marketing effort each week.

For months the caddies have been attempting to negotiate a deal with the PGA Tour that in lieu of being paid for this the tour would contribute money to a retirement and health insurance fund for the benefit of the caddies. Those talks broke down hence the filing of this lawsuit followed.

The tour sucks gazillions of bucks out of big corporate sponsors like Waste Management, Farmer’s Insurance, and A T & T for sponsoring PGA Tour stops. The signage for the sponsoring corporation is everywhere-in ads, on tickets, programs, placard signs around the course, and on the bibs of the 125 to 140 caddies that walk across TV screens with the players each week.

The only one seeing green from this each week is the PGA Tour

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Considering that these events are covered for nationwide broadcast audience on the Golf Channel on Thursday and Friday and then the networks on Saturday and Sunday that is a lot of eyeball time for selling product. Every time the leading players commiserate with their caddies over club selection or putting line it is another 20 to 30 seconds of uninterrupted exposure of the sponsor’s corporate logo. What do the caddies get remunerated for their invaluable role in this marketing exposure ….bupkis ….nada …zilch….apparently not even a thank you.

In our area retail merchants are often prohibited by local governments from putting temporary advertising signs on the curbs in front of their stores. So they resort to hiring people with sandwich board signs across their shoulders to walk the highway median strips to do their marketing bidding instead. Apparently this kind of expression tied to a person has first amendment free speech protection along with monetary compensation.

Tim Finchem’s reaction to the suggestion that the tour should share the spoils of this marketing arrangement with the caddies, “Most people don’t understand the way a caddie/player relationship works…it goes back a long way. The player makes an arrangement with somebody to carry their bag …..and they work out a financial arrangement …..the historical process is the player handles that.”

He did explain that in spite of the fact that the Tour’s policy has been to never negotiate compensation with caddies, the tour does currently give caddies a $2,000 annual stipend for health insurance. Sounds like he is talking out of both sides of his mouth to me.

Tim has a seven figure salary, a Bentley of a benefits package, and a golden parachute to boot so he is probably not aware that $2,000 a year does not buy very much in the Affordable Health Care Market today. $166.67 a month is not buying a PPO Insurance Plan with major medical coverage for your dependents. Given how much time these guys spend out in the sun they probably need a melanoma rider that would cost that much.

Displeasure with this free marketing labor arrangement on the tour is not recent. Steve Williams, the caddie for a decade plus for Eldrick Woods, used to pull off his bib and ball it up in his fist as soon as Tiger’s putt crossed the lip of the final hole. For all the winning that Tiger did on Steve’s watch Williams became one of the most highly paid sports figures in his home country of New Zealand. But even he sensed he was not getting his fair share of the weekly entertainment take and was adamant about expressing that displeasure.

Most of the caddies on tour barely make enough to make ends meet, not many are going into early retirement to live off of their stock portfolios. It seems only fair that since they are such an ever present element of the presentation of golf on TV they too should get some benefit from being an accessory to marketing the product.

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February, 2015

The Glimmer Is Fading

Hyundai TOC LogoThe Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii has always been one of the bright lights on the hill for desperate golfers in January aching for a golf season that still seems so far away. The tournament is played on the Kapalua Plantation Course in Maui, one of the most stunning venues we see televised all year, especially in HD.

Historically this was low hanging fruit as the first PGA Tour event of the year with an exclusive field of previous tournament winners and no cut and guaranteed money. With all that it seemed to always provided drama and intrigue for the anticipated golf season to come.

But global professional golf awash with cash and greed that drives it, this tournament no longer pulls the best players in the game to compete. Too many tournaments world wide over the full calendar year, the 45-event PGA Tour Season now beginning in October, and fat appearance fees beckoning from foreign events mitigate against the best players
showing up for this plunder in paradise. That is a huge shame since over the years we have seen some very compelling championships played on this unique venue.

The look down the Par 3 11th gives the full Maui flavor of the Plantation Course

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What makes this event so special is the Plantation Course that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw created over 25 years ago. The course is uniquely suited for dramatic championship play. Expansive driving areas, billy goat topography to traverse, huge green complexes often north of 8000 square feet, and severe green slopes that make even 25 footers into three-jack possibilities. Throw in the typical 25 mph trade winds and you have an Open Championship experience in January.

The course rewards a swashbuckling driving attitude and crafty wedge play. Big driving areas seem overly kind, but like at Augusta wide driving areas afford lots of options on the driving lines and they need to be carefully planned depending on the day’s hole position.

There are shortish par fours, maybe reachable depending on the daily wind direction, on 3,4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 14, and 16 which can provide reward for risk successfully taken. But, as mentioned above, meander from the correct approach line and getting it close enough to two-putt can be a chore even with a wedge in your hand.

The green complexes themselves have false fronts, false shoulders, false everythings and combined with the swerves in the green surfaces themselves it takes all short game of a links course maven to get up and down to save pars.

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Three of the four five pars go in the direction of the prevailing wind which makes going for them in two a thought for everyone in the field but Zack Johnson (speaking of crafty wedge players). But missing these three greens in two can easily lead to double or worse so this is where the swashbuckling attitude comes in.

The 17th and 18th guarantee a fanatical finish. The  Par 4 17th may be the hardest par to make all day. After the first of two bungee cord drives over these last two holes players have to right-to-left side winder into a green with enough swerve it could be the second turn at Daytona. Yet flawless execution can leave a player with a makeable uphill birdie putt.

Top of the world…the tee box at the 18th….

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The 18th is like hitting your drive down the downhill run at Kitzbuhel-there is a150-foot drop from tee to the landing zone below. The second is eminently reachable if you can hit a fairway metal off the sloped hood of a Jaguar XKE. If a player is in the hunt, a 3-3 finish is a distinct possibility……but so is a 6-6 finish.

Remember the duel between Ernie and Tiger in 2000. In regulation, from well over 250 out on the dramatic Par 5 18th, both guys hit amazing shots to within 15 feet to make eagle 3 and force a sudden death playoff. On the first playoff hole at 18 again both hit the green complex and made birdie to keep the playoff alive. On the tricky 1st hole Tiger rolled in an unlikely down hill log flume bomb for birdie that Ernie could not match-leaving his birdie putt two feet short right in the jaws. This dashed Ernie’s dream of a head-to-head victory against Tiger.

It is just a shame that guys with names like McIlroy, Kaymer, Spieth, Rose, Woods, McDowell, and Stenson no longer have the incentive nor the interest to play at Kapalua. The Tournament of Champions has lost it’s glow and become a corroboration venue for the emerging young guns rather than coronation championship for the Top 10 players in the game.

January, 2015

Spieth Ability

aus_open_logoBy any measure 21-year old Jordan Spieth has had a phenomenal first two seasons as a PGA Tour player. With his first Tour Event in 2013 at the John Deere Classic at age 19 he became the first teenager in 82 years to win a tour event. Garnering close to $3.9 million in winnings he was a “within the leather” for Rookie of the Year in 2013.

In 2014 with a 2nd at the Masters, 8 top tens on the PGA Tour, and a successful Ryder Cup appearance he took the next step forward with another $4.2 million in tour earnings. The lack of a second tournament win was the only “blemish” in an otherwise accomplished season.

Young Spieth and Reed held their own at the 2014 Ryder Cup

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Taking a page from the Peter Uihlein/Brooks Koepka book of young player development, Jordan Spieth took his game on the road, the global road, the last two weeks, playing in the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Tour and then the Australian Open in Sydney with good results.

As Aussie Mike Clayton was quoted in Geoff Shackelford’s website posting, “It is more than heartening… he seems to understand the importance of developing his game outside of America. Players can make fortunes without ever owning a passport….but to be judged a truly great golfer one needs to venture beyond the shores of the United States and both test and develop a game in unfamiliar conditions.”

Foreign time zones and reverse toilet flushes aside, Jordan stood up to the test nicely finishing tied third behind Hideki Matsuyama in Japan and then bested a talented field in Australia, which included World #1 Rory McIlroy and the favorite son down-under Adam Scott, with a final round bogey-free 63 to win the Australian Open at 13-under by six shots. The Stonehaven Cup bears the names of many of the games greatest players including Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Greg Norman. The significance of this was not lost on Spieth.

Trying to defend was a trying experience for the World #1

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The Australian Golf Club, host venue for this year’s Emirates Australian Open, is one of the oldest clubs in the country dating back to the 1880s. Recently renovated with an unlimited budget under the direction of Jack Nicklaus the course may be the best championship test in Australia.

This place has an Americanized look of tight driving throats, serpentine fairway routings, threatening water and sand, and small segmented greens with lots of facet.  It has more of the feel of a Sea Island, Georgia course then the Melbourne Sand Belt tracks we have come to associate with Australian championship golf. The green complexes in particular, many raised from the fairway and presenting narrow segments for pin placements meant that a creative and adept short game and nerveless putting would be required.

In a zone Jordan had more than his share of fist pumps on Sunday

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Add more than a spot of wind this week and scores in red numbers were hard to come by. Only eight players were under par for the week. Jordan played an unperturbed final round with 8 birdies and no bogies. His three birdies in a row on the front side kept all the competitors at bay and three birdies over the last four holes on the inward nine slammed the door with authority. His 21 putts in the final round is something Aussies will be talking about for years to come.

Jordan said, “This week was big because I was able to close it out. If felt the pressure and felt the nerves and performed the best I’ve ever performed.” Rory Mcilroy’s tweet to Jordan afterward is revealing, “You could give me another 100 rounds today at The Australian and I wouldn’t sniff 63….well done…very impressive”.

Spieth is forever connected to the great names who have won here

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On what handling the pressure in this international win means to future “major” successes Spieth said, “In order to do this in majors, it’s going to take a lot more than it took this week”.  Pretty sobering thinking for a 21-year old.

From what we have seen this week Spieth has the full set of skills and is not afraid to use them. It is not going out on a limb to predict that a major tournament trophy will bear his name sooner rather than later.

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November, 2014

A Welcome Voice

When the chatter around the 19th hole gets to golf announcers it is undoubtedly about who hates Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Lanny Wadkins or one of the other color commentators. Rarely does it focus on the other voice in the booth, the play-by-play person, who probably has more to do with your viewing enjoyment as the maitre d’ of the broadcast.

When it comes to the golf broadcasts the top accolade for set-up man has to go to Terry Gannon who currently does this for the Golf Channel coverage of both PGA and LPGA events. Along side of Nick Faldo or Judy Rankin Terry Gannon makes the broadcast informative but uncluttered, with a casual flow that keeps your attention without being pedantic. Compared to the rest who hold this position…….there is really no comparison.

Terry Gannon is the crème de la crème of golf play-by-play guys

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The worst by far has to be Dan Hicks. Without his duffle bag full of clichés like “not sure if he has what it takes down the stretch” or “we will have to see if he can seal the deal” the man has nothing to add. He is predictable to the point of annoyance and does little other than suck up to Johnny Miller’s next premeditated outrageous golf revelation.

Mike Trico is the encyclopedia man-very bright but relentlessly overprepared. In covering all sports Mike scours the available research ad nauseam to fill a yellow legal pad with a cache of trivial facts with which he feels compelled to impregnate his broadcast descriptions. His sentences get so cumbersome that you often lose track of the point he is trying to make. As a wily college professor once said after reading an overly verbose term paper I submitted, just because you found 100 facts in your research does not mean you have to include every one of them in the final paper. A little white space around the ad copy makes it much more intelligible to understand the pitch.

Unfortunately, we have the insufferable Rich Lerner for some of the Golf Channel coverage. He is a very smart man with incredible recall of historical golf facts at his behest. The problem is that he is overly dramatic about the simplest point always trying to sound erudite when just saying it without embellishment would do. He is stuck in Jack Whitaker mode and ought to be wearing a tweed jacket and a matching tweed driving cap every time he arrives on the set. Rich is way to much into his brand.

Then we have all-is-right-in-the-world Jim Nance who has exactly the same schtick whether he is with Phil Simms, Clark Kellogg, or Sir Nick Faldo. His woefully Pollyanna attitude about everything is clinically sterile, like white bread with the crust trimmed off. He feels the necessity to drop the names of all the famous and influential people with whom he hob knobs and apparently has not spent near enough time actually listening and gleaning any valuable information from them to share with us. It is enough to cause a sane man to mute the remote.

Terry Gannon is the ultimate professional having cut his broadcasting teeth and built an impressive resume over the last 30 years doing college basketball, college football, FIFA soccer, international figure skating, the Tour de France, and even the Little League World Series. He is a craftsman. Much like Al Michaels or Keith Jackson, he has a way of relating the progress of the competition to the viewer without encumbering it with any baggage.

In 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack Championship Team Photo (row 2-2nd from the right)

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More significantly, unlike the others, he has worn the shoes of the competitors he is commenting on. As an all-whatever basketball and baseball player in high school he went on to have an illustrious four-year career with Jim Valvano at North Carolina State and played on the 1983 Cardiac Kids team that won the NCAA National Championship. If you have seen the ESPN 30 in 30 documentary “Survive and Advance” on this team you realize that Gannon was in the eye of that storm, heard all the locker room speeches, shared all the drama first hand in the pressure packed games. This provides him just enough dispatch to talk about the pressures of pursuing a Major Championship with a personal perspective.

When he does the broadcasts with heralded champions Judy Rankin or Sir Nick Faldo he does not cower to their knowledge, rather he prods them to uncover even more than they may have intended. He brings a certain degree of puckishness to the conversations that helps them avoid the pitfall of making the golf competition they are reporting a do-or-die life experience.

Gannon singular in his ability to get the cool Judy Rankin to show all her feathers

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With Judy Rankin in particular Gannon has a way of nudging her out of her comfort zone. It is like a churlish younger brother egging on his older sister at the dinner table to try to get her to reveal something the he knows parents probably would rather not hear. Rankin takes and runs with it which makes her an even more provocative contributor. When Gannon refers to Faldo as Sir Nick it seems tongue in cheek. Faldo gets a bit of the same egging from Gannon though it is more linguistic fencing. Once again it adds extra content and flavor to the broadcast.

I don’t know about you but when I turn on the golf and Terry Gannon is doing the lead play-by-play I am relieved I will not have to manage the mute button so I can get through the broadcast. Like listening to Feherty or McCord, I actually turn up the volume because I don’t want to miss one morsel of the afternoon’s entertainment.

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August, 2014

After All That

Open Champ 2014

Peter Allis’s admonition after Phil and Bones had a small Yalta conference before a 92-yard pitch on his third shot into the Par 5 16th ended up 40 feet right of the hole. The unfamiliar wind direction for the second round of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool proved an enigma for the players leading to extra flipping of the pages of the yardage book trying to triangulate the appropriate shot playing lines for the day. Indecision was the watchword on a very difficult morning for scoring.

Peter Allis a breath of fresh English air……

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One of the coolest traditions of the Open Championship broadcasts is listening to the charismatic voice of Peter Allis. Allis has been involved with the Open Championship for over 60 years as a player and an announcer primarily for the BBC. But his guest appearances on the American broadcasts over the decades have provided insight and a true sense of the flavor of links golf.

To paraphrase a few Allisisms from today’s commentary:

On Rickie Fowler’s oversized hat…a golf hat shouldn’t cover your ears…it is hard to hear

On the current golf fashion preference…white trousers….dangerous

On a capable caddie…like a good wife…gives his man what he needs….

On today’s golf shoes…they used to be solid…with metal spikes….now they are like bedroom slippers

On a player on the bubble possibly making the cut….he should not be rushing to check airplane schedules

On iron man Ivor Robson, the legendary starter of the Open Championship, spending the entire day never leaving his assigned post next to the first tee….must have those special continence trousers used by the astronauts

The blustery wind for the morning wave made treading water an accomplishment. It was incumbent upon the players to find a line off the tee to deal with the wind that leaving the ball in the fairway with the proper angle into the day’s pins. Distance control into the greens from the weedy lies were very difficult to control especially downwind where more times then not the next shot was a low running recovery from behind the green. The front bunkers got lots of traffic on approaches into the wind without sufficient conviction.

They were all following Rory’s lead today….

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Typical were the morning rounds of defending champion Phil Mickelson and former Master’s winner Adam Scott. Coming off a mediocre 74 in the first round and a ragged start today Phil nearly jarred in on four to make a birdie and then eagled the par 5 fifth from a challenging lie. After another negotiation with Bones on shot intention from the high stuff at about 100 yards out on the final hole, he made birdie with a vintage Phil up and down to end the day at even par.

Scott stood at four-under and two back of Rory at the beginning of the day. He was all over the lot through the morning with four bogies in the first thirteen holes. But you just have to hang in and wait for the links goddesses to change their tune and Adam managed to birdie seventeen and eighteen to finish just one for the worse at 3-under at the end of the day.

Only birthday boy George Coetzee seemed to have the mojo in the morning posting 6 birdies on the way to 69 and reach 5-under one back from Rory McIlroy.

The wind tempered considerably for the afternoon wave and players seemed to take advantage of the opportunity resulting in jockeying at the top of the board.

Sergio hit it in the eighteenth fairway off the first tee on the way to an opening bogie and then stuffed it on two for an eagle to jump within one of the lead. Fowler bogied the second but found more of his first round magic with 3 birdies over the next nine holes to reach 5-under. Jim Furyk was steady and had reached the 5 under total as well.  Francesco Molinari rode a hot putter to 6 birdies and rival Sergio’s 6-under.

As the afternoon wore on other name brand players like Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama, and Ryan Moore all took advantage of the tamer winds to fill out the first page of this quality leader board.

With the first round lead at six-under Rory was fielding questions about how he would avoid another “Freaky Friday” score that have haunted his performances most of this season. He could not have felt good about the bogey on his first hole of the day, but as he has done in two previous major wins, he just seemed to slip into another gear with four birdies in six holes to reach 9-under and a three-shot lead after the tenth hole.

Rory must have experienced low blood sugar because only a couple of drive-by birdie putts that would not go in kept him from stretching the lead to five.  With most of the pack now stalled at 6-under Rory put his foot to the floor making birdies on three of the last four to shoot a book end 66 to match his first day score and set the halfway bar at a lofty 12-under par.  Only Dustin Johnson was able to keep within shouting distance with a 65 of his own and a second place total of 8-under.

All smiles for Rory….no Friday demons…..

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It seems that the only thing that can slow Rory down now is a large English low pressure system and some really foul play on his part.  After all that, Rory looks poised for another major to go with his two previous ones at the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA.  As Peter Allis would say, when Rory is in the right state of mind he can play a tidy game of golf.

July, 2014