Sunday, September 30, 2007

Observations from Montreal

Observations after four days of the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal Golf Club:

Wonder how long Tiger Woods will go before he hits another golf ball?
He’s done with competition until his Target World Challenge in December. No reason to take the clubs on the yacht where he’s probably headed for a well-deserved cruise with his wife and baby.

They might have set a record for the number of people who can squeeze around one golf hole Sunday when Woods and Mike Weir played the first hole. It looked like everyone in Quebec was there.

The matches proved again that it matters how guys are playing when they come into these competitions. The Americans were playing better and it showed.

K.J. Choi has gone flat in recent weeks, Adam Scott has been drifting along for weeks, Trevor Immelman isn’t sharp, Geoff Ogilvy didn’t win this year and Retief Goosen has become almost invisible.

The Americans, on the other hand, arrived with Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lucas Glover, Woody Austin and Steve Stricker riding big waves of momentum.

There wasn’t a lot of chitchat between Mickelson and Vijay Singh in their singles match Sunday, but Mickelson was wearing soft spikes. If you’ve forgotten, they got into a dust-up at the Masters a couple of years ago because the Fijian thought Philly Mick was spiking up the greens with his metal spikes.

Mickelson apparently switched to soft spikes when he started working with teacher Butch Harmon, not because he was paired with Singh.

If the Americans had been walloped like the International team was, there would be plenty of criticism directed at them not just now but through the winter and in the run-up to next year’s Ryder Cup.

The same goes for the European team, which is asked about the Ryder Cup constantly. It is a perpetual subject among the European media.
But who barks at the Internationals?

Maybe they just get kidded around Isleworth and Lake Nona in Orlando, where so many of them seem to live.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Woody Austin stands out in this field

How can you not love Woody Austin?
I mean, we’ve learned more about him in the past month than we ever imagined.
We know he’s not afraid of Tiger Woods, even if he can’t beat him.
We know he loves playing on this Presidents Cup team, maybe as much as anyone ever has.
And we know he doesn’t embarrass easily.
When Austin went into the pond (picture inset) at Royal Montreal Friday afternoon, it could’ve ruined some guys. It’s one thing to fall in playing with your buds, but to do it with the golf world watching is another thing.
That’s as bad as when I met the parents of one of my first girlfriends and immediately threw up at her dad’s feet. (That’s a true story but as Forrest Gump likes to say, that’s all I have to say about that.)
But Woody rolled with the drenching, toweled himself off then birdied the last three holes to show more guts than anyone thought possible.
Through two days of this Presidents Cup, Austin hasn’t won a match but he’s tied two and provided the kind of fire you knew he would.
He’s not the most talented guy on the American team. In fact, he may come in last in that department. But he plays tough and he cares.
Wet or dry.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Presidents Cup no pressure

So why don’t our Yankee Doodle Dandies play in the Ryder Cup like they did Thursday in the Presidents Cup?

Let’s ask David Toms.

"(The Ryder Cup) gets to be more than golf," Toms said standing beside the 18th green early Thursday evening. "Everybody puts too much pressure on themselves. Then you get to the point where you wonder why you can’t do better and that just adds more pressure. "In this, we free-wheel it a little more."

Then Toms said something most professional athletes wouldn’t say – that some of the pressure comes from reading newspapers and golf magazines. It’s almost part of the professional athlete’s code to say they don’t read what’s written about them but, amazingly, they always seem to know when something negative is written about them. Not that they’re reading.

"A lot of it comes from you guys and the things you write about this event," Toms told a couple of us, alluding to the pounding the Americans get about their Ryder Cup failures.

"We’re like everyone else. We get up in the morning and read the sports page."

Toms also pointed out the European media beats the Ryder Cup drum constantly, adding to the pressure.

And there’s a huge difference in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. One is grim, the other is fun.

The Americans like the Presidents Cup because captain Jack Nicklaus makes it fun for them. And it shows.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Presidents Cup, Canadian style

We're not in Prince William County, Virginia anymore.

That's where the Presidents Cup seems always to have been played -- and there's nothing wrong with that if you want it to be an eternal home game for the Red, White and Blue.

But this Presidents Cup, which begins at the very reasonable hour of 1:15 p.m. Thursday for those of us who are morning-challenged, is being played at Royal Montreal Golf Club, which is about 20 minutes from downtown as the maple leaf flies.

Because it's in Canada, it means it's different from other Presidents Cup matches in several ways.

It means Mike Weir is bigger than Hannah Montana (and if you don't know who she is, you haven't been around anyone between the ages of 6 and 16 recently).

It means the leaves are changing up here and the talk, except for this weekend, has turned to hockey. The shuttle driver who dropped me at the golf course Wednesday felt obliged to mention that the Canadiens were charging $8.50 for a beer at two exhibition games recently. Since the Canadian dollar and the American dollar are now worth about the same price, that's not a very good deal by anyone's measure unless your name is Molson or LaBatt.

It means only George Bush 41 made the trip north for the opening ceremonies. Two years ago, his buddy Bill Clinton was on the scene but he's not here this time. No votes for Hillary to pick up on this side of the border, I suppose.

It's already been amusing. Vijay Singh cracked wise about Phil Mickelson, saying, "Phil who?" when he was asked about their relationship, which is as warm as a Montreal winter.

Gary Player went on and on about any number of subjects and it wouldn't have surprised a soul had he dropped and given us all 50 on the stage Wednesday afternoon.

Give this thing some time and it just might catch on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Charlotte 49ers invited to prestigious tournament

One of the tangible benefits of the Charlotte 49ers’ third-place finish in the NCAA men’s golf championship last spring comes this weekend when the team will play in the Ping/Golfweek Preview tournament in West Lafayette, Ind.

It’s like qualifying for the Masters for college teams because only the top teams from the previous season are invited. It’s played each fall at the site of the upcoming NCAA championship, which is why the 49ers will be playing at Purdue University.

"It’s one of the perks from playing well last season," coach Jamie Green said.

The 49ers, who look to have locked themselves into a spot among the top programs in the country, won their first start of the fall season last weekend at the Scenic City Invitational in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Sophomore Corey Nagy also picked up the first victory of his career in the process as the 49ers hung in rainy weather over the final nine holes.

Green is giving his team room to make some of its own rules, at least as it comes to conditioning.

When he noticed some of the players in a pick-up basketball game recently, Green decided to set some ground rules. Conditioning has become a significant part of college golf and, after a while, running stadium stairs and working in the weight room can get old.

After the players told Green they liked basketball – which has been known to produce jammed fingers and twisted ankles – he agreed they could play but only under his rules and his supervision.

"I call every foul," Green said. "I don’t care about the score or the competitive standpoint. If you foul anybody or go too hard, you run suicides. We goof around and try to have some fun."

It seems to be working.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tiger numbers to remember: 18, 82, 100

The number that has been most commonly associated with Tiger Woods’ rocket ride into history is 18, the number of major championships won by Jack Nicklaus.

Barring injury or something else unfortunate, that number will fall in the coming years and Tiger’s major championship total will probably go somewhere over 20.

Two other numbers are beginning to come into focus now – 82 and 100.

Sam Snead won 82 PGA Tour events, the gold standard in terms of trophy collecting. With his victory at the Tour Championship Sunday, Woods now has 61 victories, one shy of tying Arnold Palmer for fourth on the all-time list.

It’s hardly to stretch to think Woods will take down Snead’s record in the next three to four years, if he continues winning as regularly as he does now. Woods won seven times in 16 events this year, a pretty good batting average by any measure.

If he wins five times a year, Woods will pull even with Snead when he’s 36 and he’ll still have a huge chunk of his career in front of him.

That’s where 100 comes in. It seems like a nice round number for Woods to chase. He’s almost two-thirds of the way there already.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bobby Jones celebrated at East Lake

The spirit of Bobby Jones may live at Augusta National but his life is celebrated at East Lake Golf Club.

Take a walk through the big Tudor-style clubhouse where the season-ending Tour Championship is being played and it’s like a museum to Jones, who called East Lake his home course.

The highlight may be two lighted glass cases in the front room, each of which houses replica trophies from two of the four major championships he won when he completed the 1930 Grand Slam.

There are other glassed in displays from Jones’ career including one that includes a pair of the shoes he wore and Bobby Jones’ golf clubs, still in the boxes they were sold in.

In a hallway, some of the irons Jones used are mounted. Alongside the main staircase to the second floor are framed photos and newspaper clippings recounting memorable moments in Jones’ career.

Near the golf shop, there are 20 photographs of Jones, showing him through his life, from when he was a young man until his final years.

As if to prove the club doesn’t live entirely in the past, there is also a display featuring football helmets from both Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Jones, it should be noted, was a Tech man.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mickelson designing N.C. course, too

Not only is Tiger Woods designing a golf course in the North Carolina mountains, so is Phil Mickelson.

If you’ve ever played golf in the North Carolina mountains, you understand the attraction.

For Mickelson, the course is named River Rock and will be located in Cashiers, the wealthy mountain enclave in the far western part of the state. Ground has not actually been broken on the course but Mickelson’s new company - Phil Mickelson Design - has already plotted the layout.

In fitting with Mickelson’s style, it will be dramatic and daring.

How long and how daring?

How about:

  • A 305-yard par-3. That’s right, par-3. The good news, at least according to topography maps and press releases, it will play 65 feet downhill to a green with a 180-degree view of the mountains. I’m not much with calculus but 305 yards, no matter how far downhill it is, seems a little extreme for a par-3.
  • The third hole will be a 343-yard driveable par-4. Yes, the release, says, it’s driveable - and not just for Phil. The fairway drops 104 feet from the tee. Imagine the cart ride from the tee to the fairway.
  • The fourth and 15th fairways will criss cross, a rare feature for the professionals but not terribly uncommon for the average hack who often plays from one fairway to another.
The course is near the top of a mountain but will have only a handful of uphill holes. However, it isn’t scheduled to open until 2010.

Mickelson is also helping design the residential master plan around the private River Rock course.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Quail Hollow deal means dream can build

The news this week at the Wachovia Championship will be extended through 2014 - the official papers should be signed in the relatively near future - was another example of why and how the five-year old tournament has been able to establish itself as one of the PGA Tour’s premier events.

The current contract has another three years remaining but organizers - that means tournament staff, Wachovia officials and Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris - chose the aggressive route and it has paid off again.

Many tournament contracts expire after 2010 and the network television deals will be redone after the 2012 season. By working to secure the Wachovia Championship’s place on future tour schedules, the event will continue to operate from a position of strength.

It has the best of all worlds with its venue, its early May date and the embrace of the community. By locking down its place on future tour schedules - you can believe keeping the early May date was critical in negotiations - the Wachovia Championship should continue to be one of the most significant events on the tour schedule.

Had the decision been made to wait until later to work on an extension, there was a risk of losing some leverage if the tour wanted to tinker with the date. That would not have been good news on the local front.

The extension also eases any worries about the future of the event after 2010. It’s no secret that some Quail Hollow members have been frustrated by the time and money invested in getting the course and club just right for the pros.

The transition from rye grass - kept alive for optimum tournament conditions - to bermuda has made conditions at Quail spotty in some summers. This past year, however, the transition went much better and the frustration level has simmered down.

Some members will still be frustrated. Find a club where that isn’t true, even if it doesn’t host anything but its own club championship. Some members are just cranky.

But by keeping the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow for at least seven more years, everyone wins.

When the tournament was created, organizers had grand dreams. Those dreams have been met and surpassed.

And they keep building on the dream.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fed Ex Cup has trouble delivering stars

Phil Mickelson is conflicted.

He was one of the guys who pushed PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to change the schedule so it would, among other things, make it easier for him to check out when school starts and not get any grief for putting an early end to his golf schedule.

Phil and Tiger and everyone else got the new, shorter, richer schedule this year and now, two tournaments and one victory into the four-event FedEx Cup playoffs, Mickelson may skip the BMW Championship this week in Chicago even though he’s leading the super-hyped points race.

Tiger did it last week. Phil may do it this week.

Something tells me the FedEx Cup is not the greatest thing since the Pro V1 in the eyes of the guys that matter the most.

Mickelson wants to be home with his family in San Diego when the kids start school this week. If that’s what he wants to do, he should do it. It wouldn’t be disingenuous of Mickelson, whose devotion is well known, though he’ll take a gentle public flogging for not being the good corporate soldier.

Mickelson, as we all know, has stayed home from the Tour Championship to go trick or treating with his kids.

If Phil skips Chicago – he’ll be there Tuesday for a previously scheduled outing but sounded Monday night like a man who’ll be sleeping in his own bed this week – it’s another needle in the FedEx balloon.

Mickelson essentially promised to show up in Atlanta next week for the Tour Championship where he could still duel Tiger or someone else for the big $10-million annuity and distinction of the being the first winner of the FedEx Cup (snicker, snicker).

It was great for Mickelson to finally take down Tiger in a showdown for a couple of reasons. It brought him back to where he was when he won The Players Championship and before he hurt his wrist prepping for “dangerous” Oakmont. It also re-energized the Phil-Tiger dynamic.

What was interesting, too, was how Mickelson talked after his win about how excited he is – for the majors next year.

Somewhere Tim Finchem probably asked for a Rolaids.