Ranking The Rota

British Open FlagFor true golf fanatics getting up early to watch the Open Championship live in July has become kind of a sleep walking ritual.  Even though the rota only brings this esteemed championship back to the same venue about every 10 years we watch and remember fondly holes we have seen in past years, or if we are very lucky, have actually played in the flesh.

You can read author David Owen’s entertaining personal digest of his Open Championship Rota picks in the attached article from Golf Digest.

A smiling Irishman celebrates the return of the Open to Royal Portrush

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Of the 14 places the Open Championship has been played a number are very obscure or even gone, so it has not been back to those in a long while.  But the Royal’s and the iconic places like The Old Course and Carnoustie we know well for pain inflicted upon unwary professional trying to fashion the biggest golf memory of their life.

It may surprise you what the author picks for the best venue of them all….. but to each his own.

(Click to read David Owen’s Ranking The Rota from Golf Digest)

David Owen

Golf Digest.com

June, 2016

 

 

 

Growing The Game

Drive Chip Putt Champ LogoAngst has developed in recent years about how to perpetuate and sustain interest in golf for generations to come. Of all the initiatives out there for “growing the game”, the national Drive, Chip, & Putt Championship that culminates at Augusta National the Sunday before the Masters has to be the most successful of them all.

In a rare moment of cooperative planning and execution the folks from the Masters Tournament, USGA, and PGA of America have fashioned a national golf skill competition for boys and girls ages 7 to 15. Using the successful template of the NFL’s Pass, Punt, and Kick competition combined with an iconic venue for the finals like the Little League World Series, they have created an enticing competitive treat for kids with an itch for the game.

The cannon fire starts Sunday morning with the opening tee shots

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This has become a huge deal for kids who relish the chance to walk the emerald green fairways, sniff the aroma of pine straw, and emulate the accomplishments of their golf heroes on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. In just three years the participation levels are astounding with tens of thousands of kids from every state in the union registering each year to play in local, sub-regional, and ten regional qualifying events. In the end, 40 boys and 40 girls anticipate a cherished personal invitation to travel with their family for the final stage competition at Augusta National.

The creators of the DCP Championship did their homework and made sure it has all the characteristics to capture the attention of young kids and foster the growth of their interest in the game.

First they picked an iconic venue, Augusta National, that runs it’s events with clockwork efficiency. With the help of the Augusta members as officials everything from the invitations to the celebration dress-up dinner the night before to Sunday’s final competition has all the swag and kool of a major sporting event.

The Golf Channel presentation of the final stage of the competition has all the pomp and circumstance we have come to know at The Masters. Past champions like Adam Scott, Nick Faldo, Bubba Watson, and other celebrity dignitaries put the full polish on the experience for these kids and make it a day they will never forget.

Seen this on TV before….a young matador striking his best Chi-Chi pose

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Second they made sure the emphasis of this celebration is on family. Like they do at the Little League World Series in Williamsport each summer the kids participating have the unbridled emotion and support of their family members in attendance on full display.

As we know of the young stars who make it on the PGA and LPGA Tours, golf takes a family mentor, usually a parent or a relative to introduce the game to a kid and steward their development. Whether it is schlepping them to the course, hanging with them on the practice green doing creative short game drills, explaining the fastidious etiquette the game demands, or spending hours on the course sharing one-on-one time, it takes the dedication of a mentor to nurture golf interest. Of course this is usually followed by the ritual apre-game milkshake run to discuss the blow-by-blow details of the day’s events all over again.

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Hours of practice are required to get this fist pump just right

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Third, the genius of the competitive format is that it tests combined performance in driving, chipping, and putting talents that all young golfers have in their skill set. With real passion for the game and lots of after school or weekend hours of practice any kid who catches this competition on TV can fashion and pursue the dream of making it to Augusta.

In the end it is a real skills competition-a kid cannot simply participate and move one. Only the best in each gender/age group advance at each stage so there is real-time pressure to get to the next level of the competition. As Nick Faldo said while observing this week at Augusta, it is such a unique opportunity for the young kids to set a goal to get here and have to compete to accomplish it. Imagine competing in a skills competition at the most iconic venue in golf-it is like being thrown in the deep and proving you can swim.

The goal for all of them…..seeing their names on a Major Leaderboard

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All 80 kids who make it to the finals learn a host of life lessons from the experience. Maybe the most important one is the humility that golf teaches us every weekend when we compete with our friends. To paraphrase Peter Jacobson, these kids learn that for even the greatest champions in the game there are times when they will win and times when they will lose. In the end it is learning how to handle both of these situations with dignity that matters.

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The annual DCP Championship fans the enthusiasm of kids across the country for the game we love and gives them the rare opportunity to experience it on a field of dreams.
What could be better than this for introducing golf to the next generation and growing the game.

April, 2016

Ships Passing In The Light

As I saw images of Peyton Manning delivering his swan song to football this week and heard an interview with Jordan Spieth talking about his meteoric rise to the top in the world of golf I could not help being struck by the similarity in tone and content as they described their approach to their crafts.

Peyton will now have more time to focus on this

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Though obviously athletic looking and of considerable innate talent in their sports neither Peyton or Jordan would be the first one you picked out of a police line up early in their careers as the guy most likely to dominate their sport. They would not elicit that dominating persona even when interviewed, you would rather presume they would be second tier performers who would have successful but inglorious careers.

This is clearly not the case, the outside wrapping is a bad predictor to the richness of the present inside, and with both of these guys-at opposite ends of their Hall of Fame careers- there is something other than pure athletic talent that elevates them to the stature of superstar in their sports.

No question their dedication to physical training, development of their skill set, and study of others who have played the game before them have a lot to do with their success.
But from listening to them and peers who know them well it is assiduous development of a plan for playing the games and the confidence to stick to it no matter what happens that moves them up to the elite level of performers in their sport.

Peyton has displayed a willingness to sacrifice personal time his entire career to spend endless hours in the film room or the game plan conferences preparing himself and his team to play every game as if it was the most important one of the year. His wife is quoted as saying that going to the movies with Peyton during the height of his career meant sitting with popcorn in her lap going over the film of next week’s opponent. Down to changing up his verbal and hand signal audible commands from week to week to throw off the opposition, Peyton left no stone unturned in trying to find the little edge he needed to improve his team’s chances to win the next game.

Jordan explaining what went down at a Major

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Jordan is of similar ilk, even at the tender age of 22. You can hear it when he describes his approach in press conferences before and after tournaments, it is always what his “team” is accomplishing and how they all contribute to the success or failure in each week’s event. He is relentless in his preparation, studying the venue and the anticipated conditions ahead and building a plan of attack for success. If he has a late tee time on the weekends I am betting he is watching the broadcast of players with early times to see how the day’s playing conditions will affect the plan.

In an interview with Feherty this week Jordan discussed his victory in the U.S. Open in 2015 at the torture chamber on brown grass called Chambers Bay. Having played in similar conditions in missing the Match Play cut at the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in 2010 as a teenager, Spieth said that he would never return to the place even if they held a U.S. Open there. The words of an impetuous youth!

Fast forward to 2016 coming off his first Major victory at Augusta in April Jordan knew what was ahead in June at Chambers and figured out a way to prepare for success. He said that when he and his team got there the weekend before they immediately recognized that negotiating the burnt out, rock solid greens they would be facing would be the key to being competitive. He and his coach Cameron McCormick spent days just working on speed control over the patchy putting surfaces, recognizing that matching speed to line was the crucial factor in avoiding comeback 12 footers at a U.S. Open.

When it came time for the rubber to meet the road Jordan stuck to their plan and focused on approach speed on all putts. Over the course of the tournament his putting was top quartile, 15th in total putts for the week at 126. After it was all done he said, “I did not have my best stuff ball striking and we really grinded over the 4 and 5 footers. That was the difference.” The key phrases are the “we” and “the 4 and 5 footers” which confirm the importance of preparation and sticking to a plan to have an advantage over the field.

At St. Andrews, a course where meticulous planning and tactical approach to playing the conditions of the day are paramount, Jordan was seeking the third leg of an historic march to the rare Grand Slam. In very difficult weather conditions all week Jordan got agonizingly close before a bogey-par finish on the Road Hole and through the Valley of Sin left him one shot short of the playoff for the Claret Jug. The grind over four days was indicative of his willingness to stick to the plan through thick and thin.

Stephen Curry as quarterback of the World Champions Dubs

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Though these two are 17 years apart in age the receding hairline and furrowed brow would suggest the similarity of their mature mental approach to dominating their sports.
As Jordan’s speedboat heads out of port passing Peyton’s yacht on it’s way in,  he might also note Stephen Curry on his left and Russell Wilson on his right who share a similar approach to success at this stage of their careers.

March, 2016

One For One

Kapalua LogoYou will not hear Jordan Spieth say it but I think the world number one is taking a page out of the Golden State/Steph Curry follow-up year motivation script when he implies that there is still something to prove this year.

When asked about his approach to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua he said, “Continue what we were doing last year. That’s the way I’ll keep on thinking about it”. Note that in the most individual sport in the world Jordan insists on speaking in the first person plural.

The man is coachable…whether he needs it or not..

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Spieth knows that everyone will be measuring this year’s performance against the career year he posted last year-two majors, five wins, a tour championship, a FedEx Cup, and $20 plus million in tournament winnings. At age 22 this will be an awfully high bar he has set but given his team’s focus and attention to detail it behooves all of us to just sit back and enjoy their enthusiastic approach to taking it on.

Sky’s the limit and it looks bluer than blue for Jordan

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Against a strong contingent that included all of the Golf World Ranking Top Ten except Rory, Henrik, and Justin, Spieth torched the Plantation Course to the tune of 30-under par beating the field by 8 furlongs (or a mile by my calculation). Ravaging the par fives to the tune of 16-under for the week he just kept his eyes in front of him and never looked back at the competition furiously chasing his wake.

In the midst of the back nine on Sunday, with a five-shot lead his conversation with counsel picking his club into the 13th from an awkward angle in the left rough was typically aggressive-he thought he needed one more birdie to insure the victory. He settled for par but birdies on 15, 16, and 18 applied plenty of whipped cream to the championship sundae.

You can set your watch…we will be seeing this image again and again this year

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Next stop is the appearance money mart at the HSBC in Abu Dhabi where McIlroy, Stenson, Fowler, and the rest of the WGR Gang will have to fashion a response. Trust me, they know Jordan’s 2015 was no fluke and it is going to take a group effort to keep him from winning 24 in a row.

January, 2016

Senior Golf Preparation

First, then, the toenails in old age grow almost as fast as the ears and the nose.  There is nothing you can do about them but you can spend a minute or two trimming the toenails.

Next, swallow a couple of Bufferin against the old back injury.  Next, a swift application of some mild anaesthetic for the bothersome scar tissue from that old haemorrhoidectomy.

Don’t forget the Tums, Bisodol or simply a packet of sodium bicarbonate as precaution against indigestion.

Clean the spectacles. Rub a little resin on the last three fingers of the left hand.

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Stand up straight-think of Raquel Welch (on second thoughts, don’t think of Raquel Welch).

Comb the hair smoothly and think of the swing of Dave Marr. Walk very slowly, masterfully, to the first tee. Put on the cap bought in Edinburgh and think of Hogan.

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Stand up straight.

Alistair Cooke

Golf-The Marvelous Mania (2007)

Dormy Done?

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

Two guys you would expect to know the rules

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

Wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

October, 2015

Junior Ryder Cup

Ryder Cup LogoWoodmont Country Club sponsored a very kool event this past weekend-a Junior Ryder Cup Competition with 14 of our best young players aged 12 to 16 competing in a team event with Ryder Cup flavor.  The squads were the Red Hot Chili Peppers vs The Blues playing four nine hole matches over two days including Best Ball Fourball, Alternate Shot Foursomes, and Singles in match play.  Each match had 9 points at stake with a total of 198 team points available over the four sessions-it would take 100 points to win the whole shebang.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Jon, Jack, Noah, Adam, Spencer, Sophie, Brendan, and Capt. Moe

Jon, Adam, Spencer, Jack, Noah, Sophie, Brendan, and Captain Moe

The Blues

Jordan, Blake, Dylan, Amanda, Ellie, Kyle, Will, and Capt Ron

Jordan, Blake, Dylan, Amanda, Ellie, Kyle, Will, and Captain Ron

These were seasoned players who have competed in club events, scholastic golf teams, and regional competitions, honing their competitive talents.  The display of golf aptitude, rules recognition, competitive poise, golf etiquette, and personal accountablity belied their youthful ages.  Their enthusiasm for the team game and the collective outcome of the event was downright contagious.

The first day’s matches were Two-Person best ball followed by Alternate Shot-a format none of them had played before.  The Chili Peppers got out to a hot start in the first nine but the afternoon Alternate Shot seemed to temper their advantage.  They led by 13 points after the first day.  Points were doubled for the third session Alternate Shot nine on Day Two and it was basically a push with the Blues closing the gap by one point.  It came down to 7 Singles Matches in the final stanza and the Peppers closed strongly getting 34 of the final 63 points available to win Woodmont’s first Junior Ryder Cup 110 to 88.

The Final Tally does not reflect all the accomplishments of this event

Junior Ryder Cup ScoreboardThe talent of these kids speaks to the benefit of access to appropriate equipment, proper instruction, and cultivation of a drive to succeed that must start from within.  Sound fundamentals, an intellectual understanding of how the game needs to be played, and a respect for the traditions of the sport were all evident as we watched them compete.

Adam sets his weight to create the power of an MVP move

Adam MVP

The modern swing…a bit of Adam Scott in Dylan’s follow through

DylanDon’t we all wish we had Jordan’s extension through the hitting area

JordanFlexibility like this leads to Sophie’s club head speed and high arching shots

SophieThey teach how to use the ground to create leverage…Will has it figured out

WillBendan reaches for a little extra…..and gets it

Brendan

It was just a piece of cake for Noah sand saving par on #7

Noah Sandball 7Amanda’s putting technique has balance and control

Amanda Putting 4Ellie was dropping putts all day when they mattered the most

Ellie Putting 4Walking the walk and talking the talk as well

Boys Descending 12 2A long distance lag to push the 12th in the final Singles session

Dylan Putting 12Alternate Shot means having the patience to watch someone else finish your result

Jordan and Kyle 4Often the hardest putt is the one for the halve

Noah and Gang 4On the last green it was as it should be,  hats off, shaking hands, and back slapping all around…followed by a little ice cream and some scoreboard watching.  This event was a display of the true Ryder Cup spirit by a talented group of young players who just get it.

August, 2015

These Girls Are Good

US Open Logo 2015I had the double-interlocking grip on the remote this weekend following the golf on TV with Ricky Fowler outlasting the elements and outplaying the field to win the Scottish Open at Gullane and Jordan Spieth continuing his roman candle season with a come-from-behind playoff win at the John Deere Classic.

But for my money, the most compelling golf drama took place in the Women’s U.S. Open at Lancaster Country Club as 20-year old In Gee Chun from South Korea came charging past Stacy Lewis, Amy Yang, and Inbee Park on the inward nine with a 66 and a record setting 8-under par to claim her first major.

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Classic William Flynn Golden Age design challenged the women to be at their best
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This all took place with the stunning backdrop of Lancaster Country Club course as a canvas. Record crowds totaling 134,000 witnessed unbelievably clutch performances over the weekend from stars like Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Amy Yang,  So Yeon Ryu, Morgan Pressel, and young Brooke Henderson. Throw in an intestinal fortitude performance by Michelle Wie- who looked like The Tin Man in spandex hobbling on a bad hip and ankle- and it was a full monty of the best that global women’s golf has to offer.

Michelle Wie in her original signature heron stoop putting posture

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For most of Saturday and Sunday it looked like a gladiator duel between the world #3 Stacy Lewis trying to claim her first U.S. Open Championship and Amy Yang who has simply owned this event with two runner ups and five top tens in the last six years. They traded blows all day Saturday surviving with a pair of entertaining 69’s on a steeply rolling William Flynn course that was set up for train wrecks.

Yang and Lewis spent lots of quality time together over the weekend

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Sunday would have been the same but Stacy flinched twice with a pair of double bogies that dashed her chances. Amy Yang looked like Cool Hand Luke using the metronome timing of her swing to pound out pars and lead the way comfortably through the first 13 holes. But clearly the pressure took it’s toll as she bogied 14 and 15 to relinquish the lead. With In Gee Chun on a birdie skein of her own from 15 on, including a clutch birdie bunker save on 16 and a no pulse lawn dart approach to the tight pin on 17, it looked like Yang hopes in this championship were going down the proverbial tubes.

Then something rather peculiar happened-Amy gave herself a talking to and regained her gunslinger composure hitting a tight draw three wood to 12 feet to make eagle on 16 and followed with a laser like approach and 7-foot birdie putt on 17 to pull within one. Coupled with the leader’s bogie on the finishing hole a par on the last would set up a riveting three-hole playoff between the two South Korean’s for the whole bulgogi.

Turning her drive on the par 4 18th over just a skotch too much Amy was left with an unworkable lie in the left rough with no choice but to lay up. From there she flagged her 62-yard third shot only to see the steepness of Flynn’s green shuttle it back to 10 feet below the hole. The par putt that would send them to a playoff for the Harton S. Semple Trophy drifted left of the hole leaving Amy Yang with that all too familiar empty feeling that a Women’s U.S. Open got away……again.

Smiles and a ream of birdies down the stretch made Chun the one this afternoon…

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July, 2015

Amen Corner

The name for the pivotal three holes that begin the drama each final Sunday at The Masters was coined by golf writer laureate Herbert Warren Wind in an article for Sports Illustrated in 1958. You can the read the context of the anointment of this phrase in Wind’s lyrical style from the original article in the attached link.

Annual Intersection of Major Success and Failure

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It came in his description of Arnold Palmer’s first triumph at The Masters on an afternoon when he overtook amateur sensation Ken Venturi beginning in the center of Amen Corner.

(Click to read Herbert Warren Wind’s SI Vault article from April 21, 1958)

For a more in depth understanding of Herbert Warren Wind check out this wonderful biographical sketch from the New York Times by Karen Crouse. From this article you will appreciate Wind’s significant imprint on the golf world from his writings on and association with many generations of the games greats.

(Click to read Karen Crouse’s N.Y. Times article on Herbert Warren Wind)

April, 2015