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

Missing The Boat

I have to say that the greatest disappointment at the Quicken Loans National this past weekend was not Tiger’s shabby short game and him missing the cut, but rather his unconscionable decision not to be a presence on the final day of a tournament that has poured so much support into his personal foundation.

The Washington heat and the lack of reps had Tiger in a lather

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This was an opportunity for Tiger Woods to respond to those who criticize him for his unwillingness to reveal anything personal other than a clichéd description of the current state of his game. A friend of mind said, it was a shanda that Tiger was not at the awards presentation to thank the volunteers and patrons for their support and bestow the oversized check to Justin Rose.

This event has struggled in recent years to get a top players to participate. Only a thimble full of guys from the top 20 were present this year and Tiger has flat out refused to recruit in the locker room to enhance the field. The gate and the TV ratings are in serious decline and the head of the major beneficiary of the event is not inclined to try to do anything about it.

Contemplating his ball and not much more

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Further he could have made that cameo appearance in the broadcast booth on Sunday providing a little personal insight into how the players were coping with the major-like challenges of one of his favorite courses. That would have been worth a tick or two in the Sunday TV rating. With Sir Nick and Jim Nance, the king of softball questions, he would have been in a non-hostile atmosphere that would have allowed him to provide a teeny glimpse of his personal side without revealing any trade secrets. Instead we got a four-star general in a golf shirt telling us how much the rank-and-file appreciate all of Tiger’s support for the military.

Tiger seemed in a hurry to get out of Dodge

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I know the forced time off for Tiger has helped him appreciate his two lovely kids, the yacht, and the personal time in Jupiter but he could have made waffles for the family Sunday morning, hopped on the Gulfstream at noon, and been on the grounds in plenty of time for some positive image exposure and a chance to do the right thing vis-à-vis his corporate patrons.

Tiger’s Privacy…where he likely spent Sunday afternoon

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At their marquee events Arnie and Jack never fail to appear behind a mike on Sunday for some 19th hole jabber and await the winner coming off the 18th green with a big smile and a shoulder handshake. There is a reason for that-it elevates their brand and proves that they are engaged with supporters on a level that has nothing to do with their current or previous golf aptitude.

Entertainment superstars understand the importance of polishing their image and using controlled PR opportunities to tout personal aspects of their lives. It is just good business, especially when it benefits the gates and coffers of events that support their causes. Tiger buffets the criticism that he really does give a hoot about anything but chasing majors when he does not seize these opportunities.  If nothing else he is setting a bad example for his children.

July, 2014

 

Keep Your Head Down

PGAProfessionalLogoThe most common unsolicited remark a golfer hears from a playing partner when a shot goes awry. Doesn’t matter if it was popped up, skulled, foozled, or socketed, the advice is usually the same. Depending on the chutzpah level of the person rendering the remark it could also be you are lunging, swaying, coming over the top, or the over-rotation of your hips is affecting your club head speed (if the Traveler’s dog happens to be in your group). My thought when I witness these retorts is “Do you have your name embroidered on your bag or do you have a PGA teaching certification I don’t know about”?

Why a 20-handicap guy who breaks 90 twice a year feels it is his obligation to try to instruct a fellow player on the error of their ways is beyond me. The worst iteration of this helicopter partnering is when it involves a husband or father. There is some familial
obligation being implemented here to direct their helpless wife or inexperienced child through the trials and tribulations of discovering a competent golf game.

The problem with all of this is three-fold.

A. The guy giving the corrective directions is not objective, the weight of the personal relationship blinds him to the real athletic aptitude of their relative.

B. The guy barely can hit it consistently out of his own shadow so his advice is like the
blind leading the blind out of a burning building.

C. Who asked.

It is really no better if these kind of “suggestions” come from a single digit advisor. There is a reason there are so few good certified teaching pros, it takes a gift for full speed diagnosis, lots of fundamental knowledge, and an ability to communicate. Just having a low handicap does not mean you have any of those.

I have been playing golf for going on 55 years and have enjoyed the golfing company of my wife and/or son for a good half of that. When my wife asks me on a particular shot what club to hit my response is “you are 120 to the center of the green, slightly uphill”. If my son asks me what was wrong with the swing that just rendered the snapping turtle ball flight that has his Titleist now residing in the knee-high stuff on the left my answer is “so what did the pro tell you the last time you were together?” Truth is golf is a game of self direction and self discovery it needs no tour guides unless they are professionally trained and being paid for their services.

My idea has been that couples and father/son tournaments should have a stipulation that you must have someone of no relation as your partner. It would remove the urge for frivolous on course correction, be more fun for your partner, and give your team a much better chance to win sweeps.

This tirade extends to all kinds of advice given on the course. How many times did a person in your group standing above the cup on a steep green ask you whether it is fast or not? Your answer is “like a greased duck on a slip-n-slide”. The result is they leave it hanging half way to the cup with a four-putt now hovering in the balance. Or they are 130 to clear the pond in front of the green and want to know if they should lay up. No matter what you say they manage rinse the next one botching the aggressive or conservative advice rendered.

Best answer to these kinds of rhetorical inquiries is “you’re holding the club, go with your gut” it usually leads to an acceptable result.

It is my hope that when the USGA finishes the Pace of Play/While We’re Young advocacy campaign they will tackle this one. My suggestion is Charles Barkley as the spokesperson of the Zip-It…No more golf disinformation please.

In the meantime, if you hear “Keep your head down” in your group politely respond with
“Keep it to yourself”. It should help your game the rest of the day.

June, 2014

Up To The Challenge?

Pinehurst 2 US Open LogoMartin Kaymer, Pinehurst #2, or Erik Compton….in all three cases an emphatic YES!

Martin Kaymer torched the field by 8 shots in this U.S. Open return to Donald Ross’s fabled Pinehurst #2. As the fourth biggest margin of victory on record, this performance is on level with the runaway wins of Tiger at Pebble in 2000 and Rory at Congressional in 2011.

The scoreboard doesn’t lie

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His back-to-back 65’s in the first two rounds were the first time anyone has had two 65’s in a U.S. Open. The 9-under finish was the third lowest score to par in U.S. Open history. With stats like 77% fairways hit, 63% greens in regulation, average driving distance of 305 yards, and 110 putts, an average of 1.53 per hole, he was hitting it in play, sticking it close, and making the putts that mattered. There is no wonder he waxed the competition.

Another first, Kaymer has won a quasi-major (The Players) and a major (The U.S. Open) in just six weeks……and he beat two of the strongest fields of the year….leading wire-to-wire. This is Ubergolf if we have ever seen it….it puts him comfortably among the top performers of his generation.

Kaymer got everything he asked for and more

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Golf journalist Rex Hoggard said, it was like Kaymer was playing the more pedestrian Pinehurst #5 for four days while the rest of the field was playing the championship Pinehurst #2. As we saw with Tiger and Rory sometimes one player shows up at a major with a game the rest of the field cannot recognize.

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Pinehurst #2 held up to the expectations of the USGA in fine fashion. Mike Davis continues to break the mold of playing U.S. Opens on monster long emerald green layouts with knee high rough. It started with bringing the Open to a municipal course at Bethpage Black in 2002 and continued by returning it to the more modest distances of Merion last year. Aligning with the Pinehurst powers to restore #2 to it’s original Ross character by removing 40 acres of Bermuda rough and allowing the adjacent areas to the fairway to return to their native roots, the USGA presented a fast and firm challenge that looked more like an Open Championship than a U.S. Open. With Chambers Bay and Erin Hills on the schedule two of the next three years this sand based, brown is beautiful campaign will likely continue.

Pinehurst #2 was not your typical day at the office for these guys

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The players seemed to relish the challenge presented by unpredictable lies off the fairway and the unique domed greens of Pinehurst #2. Sand shots took on a totally new connotation when any ball was wayward. The green side recovery shots we witnessed were a far stretch from the typical hack and flop of a U.S. Open weekend. Putts on greens in regulation took on a whole new meaning since more than one of the guys putted off a green he had already hit in regulation. If you remove the outlier of Kaymer’s 9-under performance there were only two others in red figures at 1-under par. That passes a U.S. Open litmus test every time.

Then there was the Erik Compton story. Clawing his way to a second place finish at 1-under par in the pressure cooker of a U.S. Open with his second transplanted heart (the useful life of his original and it’s first replacement had been spent) Compton mustered resolve, courage, and fortitude that would make John Wayne feel proud. For the last three days Compton did what major winners like Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, and Jim Furyk could not do-he took on every challenge that #2 presented shooting 3-under when it mattered and did not give any ground to the blitzkrieg of Martin Kaymer.

Erik Compton handled all the challenges at #2

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This from a man who has seen his life pass before his eyes at least twice already and who takes more medications in a month than many of us take in a life time.
As Randall Mell said of Compton’s inspirational play, “They’ll never forget what this remarkable man did here……nearly trumped the Miracle at Merion, Ben Hogan’s victory in his return from a nearly fatal car accident in the 1950 U.S. Open”.

LPGA pros in the on-deck circle

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And if you haven’t had enough of the all-you-can-eat Pinehurst experience the Women’s U.S. Open Championship begins at the same venue starting today. Shorter tees, hotter temperatures, same native rough areas and turtle back greens…..just another stern USGA test with a different set of protagonists in soft spikes.

June, 2014

Donald Ross Meets The Wayback Machine

Pinehurst 2 US Open LogoWhen the head honchos of Pinehurst called on Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2008 to consider restoring the famed Pinehurst #2 to it’s original Donald Ross character they had to feel like Mr. Peabody and Sherman cranking up the old Jay Ward Wayback Machine.

Coore and Crenshaw (C & C) were the obvious choice for this task because of their success with sand based terrain in Nebraska and Oregon and their reputation for copious attention to architectural detail of the classic golf courses. With the USGA’s Mike Davis enthusiastic in supporting this change it added to the pressure that it would need to be done in time to showcase #2 for unprecedented back-to-back appearances of the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships at Pinehurst in June of 2014.

From it’s introduction in 1907 Pinehurst #2 was Donald Ross’s obsession. He spent the next 35 years tinkering with a flat piece of North Carolina sand hills terrain turning it into one of the most captivating strategic golf challenges in the states. It built it’s reputation through the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s hosting some of the most important annual professional and amateur events and national championships in the game of golf.

Bronze tribute to Donald Ross the famed designer of Pinehurst #2

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Ross’s architectural principles were pretty simple-use the sandy base to create a wide open hard and fast running layout with interesting twists and curves into accessible small convex green arrangements made up of sharp falloffs, grassy hollows, and bunkers. In the original design there was virtually no rough just wide fairways between the tree lines and primitive adjacent landscape full of sand, scrub brush, and wiry vegetation.

This put a premium on making the right positioning decisions off the tee for the day’s flag position. Executing precise approach shots into these mounded green complexes would be the key and being able to play creative recovery shots when they were rejected would be equally important.

This style of design lent itself to flexibility in strategic approach and enjoyment of the game by players of wide ranging golf aptitudes. As George Waters says in his book “Sand and Golf-How Terrain Shapes The Game”, “Too many golf courses focus on separating a good shot from a bad one. The real goal should be to separate a good shot from a great one, while allowing the bad shots to eventually find their way home”. Pinehurst #2 was always a championship caliber course playable by every man.

Time and taste in golf course design changed all of that and the owners of Pinehurst #2 let it morph over decades into a Bermuda grass laden array of 18 lush green bowling alleys between the pine trees. It lost the unique rugged look and strategic character that Ross had envisioned. Worse, the holes meandered off the original strategic lines that Ross had created.

By the end of 2008 the groundswell of criticism got to the owners and C & C were brought in to rediscover and reveal the original Donald Ross intent. They were given a Carte Blanche to do whatever they felt need to happen to bring #2 back to it’s original glory. For the most iconic golf resort in the U.S. this was not without great risk since the American golfer’s appetite for the lush Augusta Green look had not abated.

C & C started the work in 2009 and two very fortunate things happened early in the process. First, Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of course maintenance, told Coore that the original center fairway irrigation line installed 80 years ago and long since abandoned was still in the ground. Revealing that line and an associate 30 yards on either side of it gave them the original fairway borders to work with. They now had an accurate skeleton of the original design.

Second, Craig Disher, a Pinehurst resident who knew spent much of his retirement years studying course design, revealed a cache of low-level aerial photos taken by the War Department in 1943 which would provide them with the blueprints they would need of original green sizes, fairway lines, and shapes of bunkers. These photos proved invaluable during restoration in understanding and implementing the original design and intent.

Over the next four years the C & C operatives marshaled the stripping of over 35 to 40 acres of lush green Bermuda rough grass and the reintroduction of the natural sand and scrub off fairway areas of Ross’s day. The replacement of this rough with sparse native planting created natural looking inconsistent rough areas with a perfect balance of penalty and recovery available. Pros and schlubs alike meandering off the fairways would be presented with a new set of strategic decisions to make off of unpredictable lies.

Approach and recovery from this makes Pinehurst #2 unique

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As Waters says, “On well designed sandy courses, the interplay between firm conditions and clever architecture places approach and recover shots among the highlights of any round”. The added bonus was the restored #2 had 700 less sprinkler heads and needed 40 percent less irrigation to maintain it’s firm and fast playability.

The routing of the course did not change so the basic 70 par and strategic approach to playing is in tact.  Mike Davis of the USGA did prevail on C & C to flip the par on the 4th and 5th holes.  The 5th was the hardest par 4 on the course and with a new tee lengthening the yardage into the high 500’s it will now be the hardest par 5 on the course.  The main difference is that the 6 or 7 some of the players would have made on the hole anyway will seem less of a self-esteem issue.  The 4th had the tee relocated to the original Ross location  further to the left.  It now will be a seriously long wrap around dogleg left par 4 where a pitch and a putt may be needed to save par.

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With the two U.S. Open Championships now at hand it will be up to the professionals to give the renewed Pinehurst #2 their blessings as an appropriate venue for competitive golf at it’s highest level. It will remain for the owners to convince the green’s fee paying public that brown is the new green. Then this entire experiment might turn out to be, pardon the Jay Ward pun, a watershed moment in the time-line of American golf course design.

June, 2014

Stealing A Beamer

The BMW PGA Championship is the flagship event of the European Tour and it has been 50 years since an Irishman has hoisted this prestigious trophy. Starting the day seven shots behind the leader Thomas Bjorn, it seemed highly unlikely that Rory McIlroy would be the guy to break that streak. What it took was a frantic afternoon of jockeying bumper cars at the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, England.

It was all blue skies for Bjorn until this unforced error on the 6th

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Starting the day five shots clear of Luke Donald, Bjorn seemed on cruise control when he made a two-putt birdie on par five fourth to get to 16-under par. But the yarn in his socks began to unravel when he bogied the par 3 fifth and then tried to do too much from the fairway bunker on six, heaving it into the bank the ball settling at his feet. A few more misdirected blows and the Dane made a triple bogey 7 to watch his lead enter the vortex. Another bogey on 9 and two more on 14 and 15 and you can say it was not Bjorn’s day finishing at 12-under.

His playing partner Luke Donald was hovering about but the sixth did him in as well with a matching triple bogey. Luke valiantly threw five birdies down the rest of the way but could not muster anything under par on the two five pars that end this unusual track. He too finished at 12-under par.

Lowry looked strong after his birdie putt went down on the Par 3 10th

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Shane Lowry was the hottest Irishman on the course most of the day and Bjorn’s main concern. An eagle-birdie sequence at four and five got him to 12-under and clearly in Bjorn’s rear view mirror. The ninth was a speed bump for all the leaders and a bogey there seemed to stall Lowry’s advance. He showed perseverance with five birdies on the inward half but two bogies in the stretch were enough to leave him one short at the end of the day.

McIlroy off the course looked like a dead man walking in the wake of his public breakup with Twitter gal and tennis starlet Caroline Wozniacki. Somehow he put all distraction at bay and played some of the most focused golf he has in the last year. A solid 69 on Saturday that included 5 birdies after an opening double bogey got him at least a mention in the pre-game talking head circles.

After a strong mid-iron into the par five 4th he buried the putt for an eagle that seemed to jolt the rest of the field as he got to double digits at 10-under. He watched the leaders behind him veering off the leader board and saw an opening developing for a run to the finish. A short miss at nine and a short-sided leave on the par 3 10th narrowed the opening.

Like a bolt Rory crashed the party with this unlikely short side birdie

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What separates superstars from regular stars is the bottled lightening in that back pocket they can call on when you least expect it. From a hairy lie with little room to work with, Rory holed the pitch on 10 to make birdie and pry his way back into contention at 10-under.

It was now a question of putting his foot down to post a score and see if the competition could match him. Birdies on 12 and 13 got him to 12 and a marvelous up and down save on 16 set up an opportunity for an heroic sprint to the finish line.

On the first of the finishing two par fives he needed his short game prowess once again to get a birdie and the lead. His length off the tee on the risk-reward finishing hole left him a conservative approach on the way to a two-putt birdie. Rory set the number to beat in the house at 14-under.

Birdie-Birdie on the final two leads to a vindicating dance

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It would have taken a holed approach from the fairway from Shane, Bjorn, or Luke to force a playoff and the golf gods apparently were going to have none of that. As Rory said in the post game, the guys ahead of him made enough mistakes to give him an opening and an opportunity to apply some magic and steal the most prized event on the European Tour for the first time.

Rory has the look of a man who got away clean

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Against the melancholy hovering above his personal life this win cast a beam of light into his sporting closet just in time for the second Major of the year at Pinehurst in three weeks time.

May, 2014

KO’ed

swinging skirts logoWho would have thunk they were referring to fisticuffs and not hemlines when they named this event? For four days a couple of world-class bantamweights (maybe 118 clothed and drenched) traded jabs and hooks in a classic toe-to-toe donnybrook at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco in the first LPGA Swinging Skirts Classic.

Any thing but Peace and Love at Lake Merced
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The young phenom Lydia Ko, who just turned 17 this week, vs the grizzled veteran Stacy Lewis in “take this, no you take this” as they never left each other’s sight over the four days of the event. It wasn’t decided until the last two phenomenal up-and-downs for birdie on the par five eighteenth. Ko prevailed by a shot, looked elated, and Stacy looked drained like Sponge Bob Square Pants after a week in the Mohave Desert with no canteen. This was golf competed at it’s highest level.

Playing together in the lingering marine layer on Thursday Lydia opened with 68 to Stacy’s 69. Chilly rains on Friday and Stacy answered with 69 to Lydia’s 71 to take a one shot lead.  Saturday the weather improved and the two playing together again matched cards with a pair of 68’s to set up Sunday’s showdown with Stacy up one at 10-under par.

The skies were clear on Sunday and they treated the fans to a major-like struggle between two of the best in the game today. Lydia had a roller coaster front side with a bogey-bounce back birdie barrage over the last four holes to make the turn at 10-under. Stacy matched the scorecard with nine pars on the outward half and the two were tied as they headed to the 10th tee.

They both flinched with a bogey on 10 but stayed even through the 12th at 9-under par. At this point Lydia found another gear and birdied 13 and 14 to take what appeared to be a commanding three-shot lead as Stacy dropped a shot with a bogie on the 13th.

But as anyone who watches the LPGA Tour regularly knows Stacy Lewis never leaves the table until the counting is done. She throws down a pair of birdies on 15 and 16 and all of a sudden was within one again.

As always Stacy Lewis is all business
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What happens next is the stuff of lore. Lewis hits it within 20 feet on the difficult 17th and Ko is over the green with a very difficult downhill pitch from the heavy rough. Displaying a short game all week that would make Phil drool, Lydia delicately filters her pitch to gimme range to save par and Stacy cannot convert the birdie to tie. In the spirit of full disclosure Jenny Shin has quietly snuck her way into the mix at 10-under and one behind heading to the last tee.

The par five eighteenth has not yielded birdie to any of them all week but it is evident it will take just that to force or stave off a playoff. Three solid drives and both Jenny and Stacy lay up on Main Street about 100 yards from a tight front pin on the elevated green above. Lydia makes an unforced error and pulls her lay up into the heavy rough just off the fairway.

Lewis and Shin play a pair of remarkable pitches to strong birdie range and now it is obvious that Lydia needs match their deed with a ball she cannot spin and no green to work with. Perfect judgment and perfect execution, one bounce on the front collar and it trundles up to six feet. Lydia delivers the haymaker by slamming the birdie putt home leaving Stacy distraught and dismayed over a now meaningless birdie putt.

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Final putt splits the uprights
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The LPGA Tour suffers from a lack of TV viewership and the recognition that would bring but it does not lack for talent and competitive feistiness.The ladies’ game is in good hands, with or without Allstate, as was shown by the riveting, competitive display of these two champions over four days in the hills of northern California.

All smiles, Lydia hoists the glass honorarium

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April, 2014

The Most Interesting Champion In The World

Greater Gwinnett Champ LogoMaking his Champions Tour debut at the Greater Gwennett Championship this week Miguel Angel Jimenez continued to build his resume as the golf guy in the Dos Equis commercials. He was always a someone who enjoyed fast cars, fine wines, and a bit of revelry but his golf of late is developing an eclectic reputation of it’s own.

This is a man who marches to his own drummer…., ”he gave his father ‘the talk’”. Witness the now famous Miguel on course warm up routine as recounted at the Open Championship by Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger.

The beginning of his pre-game warm-up

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No stranger to the winner’s circle Miguel has won 20 times on the European Tour over his 22-year career. He became the European Tour’s oldest winner in December when he won the Hong Kong Open in a playoff with Stuart Manley and Prom Meesawat. So far this year he is 8th in the Race to Dubai standings with over 670,000 Euros in winnings to his credit. Apparently, “Superman has pajamas with his logo”.

Just last week Jimenez, at age 50, was low European at The Masters. His Saturday 66 at Augusta National put him in contention and a solid 71 on Sunday got him to 4-under and earned him a 4th place finish behind winner Bubba, Jordan Spieth, and Jonas Blixt. He is currently 9th in the Ryder Cup European Points and has a good chance of being a veteran anchor for the European squad at Gleneagles this fall. Makes sense that “The Holy Grail is looking for him”.

After besting the youthful Rickie in the final round of The Masters

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Since he was in the Georgia neighborhood and just passed the age requirement, he decided to throw his pony tail and aviator shades into the mix at the Champion’s Tour Greater Gwennett Championship this week. Miguel came out of the gate on Friday shooting an unbelievable 7-under par 65 in on and off monsoon conditions. Freddie Couples, playing with him, said that he made it look easy, I guess this is expected from a guy who’s “lives vicariously through himself”.

A solid 70 on Saturday got him to 9-under and one ahead playing in the final group with two of the powerhouse icons of the Champions Tour, Bernhard Langer and Freddie Couples. This is a man who “has never waited 15 minutes after finishing a meal before returning to the pool”. After starting the day with five pars he made five birdies over the next eight holes to distance himself from the field at 14-under. He did not make a bogie in the last 32 holes of the tournament and his tight iron game down the stretch put him on cruise control to win by two. He is only the third man to win wire-to-wire in his Champion’s Tour debut.

The man has a bit of Jerry Garcia style for a senior

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Now Miguel has the luxury of deciding whether to spend the next five months on the home European Tour turf collecting more Ryder Cup Points or pursuing the low hanging fruit that is within his grasp competing with the round bellies on this side of the Atlantic.

Either way, I am sure his advice to Bernard, Freddie, Jay, Colin, and the others is:

“Stay thirsty my friends”.

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April, 2014

 

The Best and The Brightest

Drive Chip Putt Champ LogoThe inaugural Drive, Chip, and Putt Championship was held this weekend with great fanfare at Augusta National Golf Club. Say what you want but sometimes a monarchy is better equipped to effectively launch an advocacy program that is long overdue. The Green Blazers took it upon themselves through the Master’s Foundation with help of the USGA and the PGA of America to bring this to life.

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Dignitaries of all kinds in attendance

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PGA of America organized local and regional national qualifying including close to 17,000 kids to whittle it down to 88 invitations for boys and girls in age groups of 7-9, 10-11, 12-13, and 14-15. Surviving those stages and getting the envelope in the mail inviting them to travel with their family to compete in the finals at Augusta had to be as good as getting an acceptance letter to the Ivy League school of their choice.

Murder’s Row…Boy’s 7 to 9 Year-Old Division

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The final competition included three segments: Longest drive, best of two, short pitch, best of two, and cumulative putting proximity-three putts-6 feet, 30 feet, and then the15-footer that Mark O’Meara made to win the 1998 Masters. Unfortunately most of the kids were not watching live in 98 to get the 18-inch right-to-left read.

High five with the Green Blazer after the make on 18.

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Greens were running at Masters competition speeds. There were some great fist pumps from the kids who buried that one. It is not hard to imagine 15 years from now one of these kids, on this same green, making that gesture celebrating a win of the Big Green Enchilada.

Rich Lerner and Peter Jacobsen anchored the Golf Channel coverage of the event. They had just the right balance of informal hamish and honest respect in their comments about these special “young men and women” living a dream of competing at Augusta National.

Lots of family support along the way.

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Each kid had a personal bio. Included was favorite golfer, Rickie Fowler won hands down. Also they revealed what they would serve at a Master’s Champion’s Dinner, my favorite was the kid who would serve his mom’s Sloppy Joes and his aunt’s Green Bean Casserole. One kid from New England has named his hamster Keegan.

These kids are range rats with a live Golf Channel feed-they have lived and breathed the game from a very young age. Some of the interviews were priceless. An 11-year old after smoking his drive to win the the first stage driving competition for his age group said, “Feeling much better for the next two stages now that the nerves are settled down.” Older than their years?

The winner’s in the two older divisions-a future Tour star possibly among them?

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The special bonus had to be meeting Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, among others prepping for the coming week’a Masters. The kids and their families will get badges to the Monday practice round and an opportunity to see their heroes in action on these hallowed grounds.

How cool to see your name on this official leader board at the end of the day.

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Every competitor showed grace and maturity walking off the 18th green at the end of their competition making eye contact and shaking the hand of the Master’s and PGA officials who made all this possible. Kudos to the three organizations and Golf Channel for etching this competition indelibly on the golf map for many years to come.

April, 2014

Slow Play-Throw A Flag

This past week’s 5 1/2 hour death march in the final round at the Valero Texas Open once again drove home the obvious point to nearly everyone but Commissioner Finchem, the Slowskys look like Usain Bolt compared to the guys with the white pants and the da Vinci yardage books.

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Tight pin positions, 20 m.p.h. winds, and threesomes are no excuse for grown men taking 30% too long to walk five miles and make about 70 swings. Slow play is ruining the game. It is turning off people who don’t want to spend five hours watching the final round on Sunday or the round of the group in front of them every other day of the week.

The answer to this problem is simple…..throw a flag on them…..25-yard penalty for delay of game. Seriously, institute a 45-second clock that begins as soon as the previous player’s ball comes to a stop. If a guy exceeds the allotted time before he starts his actually backswing, a sideline official tosses a yellow flag in the air and proceeds to relocate the offender’s ball 25 yards farther back in a lie of similar or worse difficulty. Bet having to hit two clubs more will get his attention.

If it happens on the green the ball is moved 15 feet further away from the hole on the same line. You will see less needless ball realignment and triple going to the green crib sheet and probably more putts being made.

Using the Strokes Gained Charts it won’t take these guys long to figure how many shots these delay of game adjustments are costing them. Shots are money on the Tour and I can assure you a few embarrassing penalties of this sort and all the guys will be playing like Trevino with a leaky bottle of hot sauce in his back pocket.

What will actually happen is the pros will start preparing to play their shot before it is their turn which is what we tell our fellow amateurs they ought to do to speed up their play. When those amateurs see this example on the tube on Sunday’s maybe it will finally strike home that faster play is just a matter of better choreography.

As Arnie likes to say, “While We’re Young!”

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April, 2014