Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Watch Arnold Palmer "SportsCenter" commercial

And now, a commercial interruption: Arnold Palmer does "This is SportsCenter":

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pinehurst offering on-line gift giveaway today

Looking for that last-minute gift for a golfer?

Today, Pinehurst is conducting a 7 Days 'til Christmas giveaway through its Facebook page: http://bit.ly/893WKO. If you friend Pinehurst on Facebook, you can participate in answering questions that will be posted hourly by the resort.

Some of the giveaway items include golf packages, spa packages and apparel, among other things.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tiger deserved to be Athlete of the Decade

Tiger Woods got something he deserved this week.

He was named Athlete of the Decade by the Associated Press, being chosen over Lance Armstrong and Roger Federer, among others.

It was the right call and the obvious call.

Despite all that has happened over the past three weeks, Woods dominated the decade like no other athlete. The fact that more than half the votes were cast since the scandal surrounding him has unfolded speaks to the magnitude of his achievements over the past 10 years.

Woods' numbers are impressive enough: 64 worldwide wins, including 12 major championships. In this decade, Woods' 54 PGA Tour wins are more than all but four players have won in their careers.

But Woods' deserved the honor because he did more than win tournaments. He changed golf and the way it's viewed around the world. He became, arguably, the most recognizable athlete in the world.

Obviously, what we've learned these past three weeks has changed the way Woods is viewed as a person but that doesn't dim what he's accomplished on the golf course. He became the only golfer to own all four major championships at the same time and he made golf must-see viewing when he was in the chase.

Armstong, Federer, Michael Phelps and others did spectacular things over the past decade but none of them did as much as Tiger Woods. While the attention directed at Tiger has turned to his personal life and his sudden fall from grace, he remains the most transcendant and accomplished athlete of the past 10 years.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2010 City Amateur goes back to Quail

Let's forget Tiger Woods for a moment.

Eventually, when the rain and the muck and the cold are gone, there will be golf played around here. Our own.

If you're good enough, you can make the Charlotte City Amateur your goal for 2010.
It will be played next year at Cedarwood, Carolina and Quail Hollow on the weekend of Aug. 20-22.

It's the second year in a row Quail Hollow will host the final round, changing the course rotation slightly. Because the U.S. Women's Amateur is being played at Charlotte Country Club Aug. 9-15, the decision was made not to play the final round of the City Amateur there next year. Quail Hollow agreed to host it the final 24 players again, a testament to the quality of the championship.

The Charlotte City Amateur does more than determine a champion each summer. It recently made a $10,000 donation to The First Tee of Charlotte.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Does scandal change Tiger's place in history?

How does the Tiger Woods' scandal change his place in golf history?

Ultimately, not much.

It changes the way we see Tiger, no doubt. There's a stain that will fade over time but it will never completely go away. The golden image has been forever tarnished but I expect he'll work hard at rebuilding his reputation when he returns to the public eye. It won't be easy to undo the disappointment he's caused.

But he'll get a second chance from almost everyone except a small group that will refuse to forgive him.

As a golfer, his legacy is still being written. He's reached a critical point now, closing in on his 34th birthday and facing the second long absence from the game in 18 months. He didn't win a major championship in 2009 and he's still five shy of surpassing Jack Nicklaus's all-time record. The work is getting harder.

He is the best there's ever been. He doesn't have all the records yet but chances are he will. We've never seen anyone play golf the way he has -- as spectacularly as he has -- for as long as he has.

Woods has always judged himself against Nicklaus's record and that will continue. The public, however, will also judge him against the Nicklaus image and that's where Woods has taken a devastating hit. Time and hitting all the right notes in his public and private life can soften the long-term impact.

It makes for a more awkward comparison now, however.

When he plays again -- and when he wins again -- Woods will remind us of why we were drawn to him in the first place. When the subject is golf, Woods' place in history is secure.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How long will Tiger be gone?

How long will Tiger Woods take an indefinite break from golf?

It's anybody's guess right now.

It wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't play before the U.S. Open in June at Pebble Beach but that's purely a guess. He might be away longer than that.

It's safe to say he won't show up at Torrey Pines for the San Diego Open in late January, which is when he was expected to make his 2010 debut. If he were only going to miss one event, there wouldn't be much need for the announcement he made Friday evening.

That probably takes out the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and maybe his regular stops at Bay Hill and Doral.

If he skips the Florida events, it seems unlikely he'd debut at the Masters. That's not a place for the circus that will surround his return.

Could he return at the Quail Hollow Championship? The Memorial? The U.S. Open?

That's Tiger's call and I'm guessing he doesn't know when he'll come back.

Some have suggested Woods should take all of 2010 off. Repair the personal damage he's done to his family and himself. Maybe that's his plan.

We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Charlotte Country Club wins top honor

Charlotte Country Club's recent renovation project has earned it a high honor -- it has been named the top remodeled golf course in 2009 by Golf Digest magazine.

It's one of the premier honors in the golf course business and further enhances the reputation of the course. Ron Prichard handled the remodeling project, working to bring back the classic elements created in the original design by Donald Ross.

Charlotte Country Club was ranked ahead of Olympia Fields outside Chicago, which hosted the 2003 U.S. Open, the California Golf Club of San Francisco and Austin (Tex.) Country Club in the remodel category.

The Pete Dye Course at the French Lick Resort was named best new public course while Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown, W.Va., was named best new private club. Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club was named best new course in Canada.

“America’s Best New Courses of 2009 are all about old school. All four winners were designed by senior golfers with decades of experience…and all four courses built for the purest of reasons, the sheer enjoyment of the game," wrote Ron Whitten, Golf Digest's senior editor for architecture.

More than 900 panelists were involved in the selection process.

Monday, December 07, 2009

De Jonge regains PGA Tour card for 2010

Charlotte resident Brendon de Jonge fired a final-round 66 Monday to easily secure a spot on the 2010 PGA Tour, finishing tied for fifth in the qualifying tournament at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.

De Jonge is one of several players with local connections who earned their tour cards. Tour veteran Neal Lancaster of Smithfield also tied for fifth to assure his return to the tour after three years without full privileges. Former Duke golfer Joe Ogilvie also secured his tour card for next year.

Five players from the Charlotte-based eGolf Tour also earned tour cards, including Martin Flores, Billy Horschel, David Lutterus, Cameron Tringle and Brent Delahoussaye.

Charlotte resident Bobby MacWhinnie tied for 72nd, former Charlotte 49er golfer Trevor Murphy tied for 78th and Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey tied for 64th. They will have status on the 2010 Nationwide Tour.

Among the notable names who failed to gain their PGA Tour cards were David Duval, Tom Pernice Jr. (who double-bogyed the last hole to miss by one stroke), Jason Gore, Jesper Parnevik, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton.

At the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament, former Duke golfer Amanda Blumenherst earned her tour privileges by winning the event while another former Blue Devil, Liz Janangelo also earned a spot on the tour.
-- Ron Green Jr.

When and how does Tiger story end?

Another day, another rumor.

When and how does the Tiger Woods story end?

On Oprah? That's one rumor. But there are hundreds of rumors, far more of them than facts.

While Woods created the firestorm in which he's now caught, it just keeps burning. When Nancy Grace gets involved, you know it's crossed into a different dimension. When John Daly is piping in with offers of help, it's jumped the shark.

Maybe Tiger doesn't face the public until he shows up at Torrey Pines in late January to start his 2010 PGA Tour season. That's when his caddie, Steve Williams, said he expects Tiger to play again.

On one hand, it's hard to believe he'll let this story continue to spiral out of his control without saying something. Someone dug up Tiger's quote about the Michael Vick situation a few years ago where he suggested Vick needed to get out in front of the story.

On the other hand, it's not like Tiger to go public with private matters. He's done it already with his statement last week. That may be all we get from him.

The only thing for sure is the story isn't going away any time soon.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

de Jonge in third place at Q-school

Charlotte resident Brendon de Jonge is tied for third place after two rounds in the final stage of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.,

de Jonge trails leader Troy Merritt by two strokes after shooting 68-69 in the first two rounds. The top 25 finishers will earn full playing privileges on the PGA Tour for 2010.

Smithfield's Neal Lancaster is tied for eighth after two rounds and former Duke golfer Joe Ogilvie is tied for 18th.

Former Charlotte 49er golfer Trevor Murphy is tied for 111th place while Charlotte resident Bobby MacWhinnie is in 147th position, tied with Tommy 'Two Gloves' Gainey.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Where does Tiger Woods go from here?

Now that Tiger Woods has publicly confessed to his transgressions, where does he go from here?

It had to be incredibly difficult for Woods to release the statement he did today, essentially admitting that what the gossip magazines and celebrity stalkers have been suggesting is true. He is a proud man and, as he said in his initial statement after the auto accident, he is embarrassed. Probably more than any of us can appreciate.

Image agents and brand builders can talk about the damage to the Tiger Woods brand, and there will be some of that for sure. It was so carefully crafted and so polished that it can't help but be dented by the events of the past few days.

People - fans and critics - will never look at him in quite the same way.

Sadly, the same may be said of his family. The personal cost may be far greater than the commercial cost.

But he is still Tiger Woods and once the storm has passed and golf has resumed, he'll go back to being Tiger Woods the golfer. Eventually, the story will become his quest to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional major championships.

There has always been an almost otherworldly view of Tiger. He cultivated it, using his mental and physical skills to create an aura that helped him win golf tournaments. He has always seemed different in an almost imposing way.

Now, he seems terribly human.

It's clear now why Woods was reluctant to offer more details about what happened at 2:30 a.m. last Friday. Beyond the legal issues related to his accident, it's evident there wasn't much he could truthfully say without making the matter more uncomfortable.

It reached a point, however, where he couldn't escape the storm. There's a whole argument to be made about the bottom-feeding style of journalism practiced by gossip sellers, but Tiger can only blame himself.

If we've learned anything the past few years about athletes and celebrities and their failings, it's that we'll eventually forgive them if they'll come clean. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire apparently still haven't figured that out.

Tiger has always kept his fans at a comfortable distance. It would be wise of him to engage them more when he returns to the golf course. Smile more. Bump a few more fists. Let them touch you.

People admire Woods and they want to love him. They may be disappointed in him right now, but he can win them back.

He's shown us he's not perfect. He's told us he's sorry. What we see from him from now on may tell us more than we ever knew before.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Harrell named state's top junior boys golfer

Logan Harrell, an 18-year old senior at Hopewell High School, has been named North Carolina junior boys golfer of the year by the Carolinas Golf Association and the Tarheel Youth Golf Association.

Harrell, who lives in Huntersville, had a consistently strong year that included 10 top-10 finishes in the 13 events used to determine the state junior rankings.

Among the highlights of Harrell's season, he was medalist in sectional qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur where he reached the semifinals of match play; he qualified for the U.S. Amateur; he reached the round of 16 in the Carolinas Amateur; and, he tied for second in the AJGA's Cliffs Championship.

Harrell has committed to play college golf at South Carolina.

Katherine Perry, a 17-year old student at Athens Drive High in Raleigh, has been named the state's junior girls golfer of the year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Show of faith keeps Rock Barn on tour schedule

When the 2010 Champions Tour schedule was released Tuesday afternoon, the first thing I looked for was to see if the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn was on the list.

It is and it was a nice surprise.

There's no guarantee the tournament in Conover will be played next fall but the fact the tour put it on the schedule in late September/early October is a show of faith that Don Beaver, Jim Correll and the others who run the event will resolve the sponsorship issue that threatens the event's future.

"We are so close," Correll, the tournament's executive director, said. "It's one of those things where until we dot the final Is and cross the final Ts we're not quite there. But we're extremely optimistic."

There are bigger Champions Tour events played in larger markets but there's a nice feel to the Rock Barn event. It's comfortable, the players enjoy it and it celebrates the tour.

It's not trying to be the Quail Hollow Championship. It's succeeding in being a good place for the Champions Tour to spend a week each year, tell some stories, sign some autographs and play some golf.

It's a good thing to continue.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Former 49er golfer Murphy makes Q-school finals

Former Charlotte 49ers golfer Trevor Murphy moved one step closer to the PGA Tour Saturday when he played his way through the second stage of the qualifying process at Southern Hills Plantation Club in Brookville, Fla.

Murphy finished tied for 18th (69-73-67-71) in the second stage qualifier, earning a spot in the final stage which will be played Dec. 2-7 at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.

By reaching the final stage of Q-school, Murphy will have at least conditional status on the Nationwide Tour in 2010. Depending on how he plays in the final stage, Murphy could earn a PGA Tour card or full status on the Nationwide Tour.

Also advancing through the second stage were Charlotte resident Bobby MacWhinnie, former North Carolina golfers Tom Scherrer and Matt Davidson, along with former N.C. State golfer Chris Mundorf.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Quail Hollow Championship deserves its honor

When the Quail Hollow Championship was recognized this week as 'Best In Class' by the PGA Tour's Tournament Advisory Council it reinforced what many people already knew -- it's one of the premier events in professional golf.

What tournament director Kym Hougham, general chairman Mac Everett, Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and many others have done is create and sustain an event that gets it right in areas big and small.

It lands the best players in the world every spring because of the golf course, the hospitality and the vibe. It engages the community which, in turn, has embraced the tournament.

Talking with the tournament director of another top-level PGA Tour event recently, he gushed about all the things the Quail Hollow Championship has done so well. It has become a standard of excellence on the PGA Tour.

It would be easy to take it all for granted but the people in charge haven't done that. Each year they keep list of potential improvements and go to work on them immediately. They've scaled back in some places, upgraded in other areas.

Everett may have explained the philosophy best a couple of years ago when he said that unlike many businesses that immediately say no to any request then look for a reason to say yes, the Quail Hollow Championship tries to say yes and only says no when it must.

Each spring, it's Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other the golfers who get the attention but the stars of the Quail Hollow Championship are the many people who make it happen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Second-stage qualifying starts today

Second-stage qualifying for the PGA Tour begins today in six spots around the country, another step in the whittling process for players hoping to earn -- or retain -- their playing privileges on the PGA Tour.

The bonus for players who survive this 72-hole test is the promise of at least some status on the Nationwide Tour in 2010. The goal, though, is to get through this week then play for a tour card in early December.

Drew Weaver, the former British Amateur champion from High Point, is among the players trying to advance this week. So is Jay Haas Jr.

Trevor Murphy, the former Charlotte 49er, is playing as is Charlotte resident Trae Ely.

For some familiar tour players, it's a chance to get back out on tour. Among the familiar names in second-stage qualifying this week are Shaun Micheel, Jason Gore, Kirk Triplett, Joe Durant, Robert Gamez, Mark Hensby and Carlos Franco.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wie's win likely the first of many

Now that Michelle Wie has had a few hours to celebrate her first victory on the LPGA Tour -- the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, in case you haven't heard -- it's time to ask the next question:

How many more will she win?

Hopefully, many, many more.

Though Wie's victory was buried in a mid-November avalanche of football, it was a huge moment for the LPGA Tour, which needs her the way fish need water. In a year when most of its news has been negative, the LPGA Tour finally got the image it's needed -- Wie smiling and holding a trophy.

The 20-year old -- she didn't win as a teenager, it turns out -- can't solve all the LPGA's problems but she help minimize them. Professional golf is driven by stars. Just ask the PGA Tour about its muffled bang last year when Tiger Woods was on the shelf after knee surgery.

Wie is the biggest star on the LPGA tour. Ochoa may have a tournament named for her but Wie makes people pay attention. Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Jiyai Shin are talents with some personality but they're not Michelle Wie.

It took Wie 65 starts on the LPGA Tour to finally win. Is that longer than expected?

Absolutely.

What does it mean?

It means she's just getting started. She's already been through the classic celebrity/sports cycle where she has been adored then criticized, tossed aside as a disapppointment and a bust.

Now she's back with a game that's growing up with her. Wie has refocused, concentrating on succeeding on the LPGA Tour rather than making the cut in a men's professional event. To me, a win on the LPGA Tour is far more impressive than making the cut at a PGA Tour event with a mediocre field would be.

Wie has already shown she can contend in major championships. What she hadn't shown was that she could win -- it had been years since she'd won a trophy of any kind -- an LPGA Tour event.

She proved that Sunday.

It's what Wie -- and the LPGA Tour -- needed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rory McIlroy puts Quail Hollow on 2010 schedule

With the Quail Hollow Championship still six months away, it's a little early to get into the question of who's coming and who isn't but one star has already put the event on his schedule.

Rory McIlroy, the young Irish star, said in Hong Kong on Wednesday that he has joined the PGA Tour and will add the Quail Hollow Championship to his schedule.

McIlroy will play eight straight events in the United States starting with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Champinship in March.

"The big fact in making this decision is that I want to play in the best tournaments in the world," McIlroy was quoted in the Irish Examiner. "I've already played in many of those (PGA Tour events) already and the only events new to me next year will be Bay Hill, Quail Hollow and the Memorial."

McIlroy is considered by many to be the game's next superstar and his 2009 performance strengthened those opinions. McIlroy finished tied for third at the PGA Championship, a fourth-place week at the HSBC Championship in Shanghai and a top-10 finish at the U.S. Open.

McIlroy said the European Tour will continue to be his home tour. He will play eight events in the States during the spring, return to Europe in the summer, then come back to the U.S. in advance of the PGA Championship to meet his 15-event minimum in the U.S.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Has it become Phil's show, not Tiger's?

Has Phil Mickelson supplanted Tiger Woods as the best golfer in the world?

I'm not ready to go that far.

But after the way Mickelson won The Tour Championship and how he left Tiger in his dust in Shanghai over the weekend, there's no question Lefty is right there.

This is the Mickelson we've seen in spurts, the Mickelson brimming with confidence and swagger. He stands over putts now expecting to make them, not hoping to make them and, if you've ever played golf, you know the difference is enormous.

When Dave Stockton tweaked Mickelson's putting stroke earlier in the fall, it was like polishing a diamond. He put Mickelson back where he was comfortable, the hole suddenly looked twice as big and the game became, relatively speaking, easier.

The only downside to Mickelson's resurgence is the timing. He's done now for the year, just as he's hit his peak. Usually, Phil has been long gone by this time of the year, ready for vacation. Now he probably wishes he had another few tournaments to play.

There may be a little rust when he comes back next year but I'm thinking this latest run has reinvigorated him. He posed with Tiger after the Tour Championship, having won that event, and his win in the HSBC event over the weekend was made more noteworthy by the way Tiger went backward on Sunday.

The question isn't whether Phil can beat Tiger right now.

It may be whether Tiger has lost something. He was a mess early in the final round, lipping out putts, hitting a shot in the water, chopping his way out of contention on a Sunday stacked with stars.

Maybe his edge has dulled just a little. It's easy to make too much of the fact that Tiger didn't win a major this year. That's going to happen from time to time but because everything he does is overanalyzed, it raised questions.

Where does Tiger go from here? My guess is he keeps doing what he's been doing, grinding to make himself better, sorting out the little things that kept him from winning this year. There will be calls for him to ditch Hank Haney but that seems unlikely.

He didn't play well on Sunday and it was striking because it so rarely happens. Throw in the fact he lost to Heath Slocum in a playoff event and didn't win at East Lake and eyebrows go up.

Tiger is playing again this week in Australia and everybody will be interested to see how that goes.

Maybe not everyone. It may not matter to Mickelson.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A red flag but what does it mean?

When it was announced recently that Doug Barron had earned the distinction of becoming the first PGA Tour player to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, it drew an interesting reaction.

There wasn't much of one.

It's probably because only die-hard professional golf fans are familiar with Barron -- he hasn't spent many Sunday afternoons on camera -- and what's left of the golf season has been buried beneath the World Series, pro and college football and the ongoing angst surrounding the break-up of Jon and Kate.

Once the Tour and its players decided to have testing, it was inevitable someone would be red-flagged. That it was Barron, who didn't make a cut in four Nationwide and one PGA Tour start this year, came as a mild surprise. But given the tour's general insistence that there is no PED problem, it would be head-turning regardless of whose name first popped up.

Barron, if you don't know, is a 40-year old whose game has gone away. He's made less than $2,000 in his last 16 starts and breaking par has been as difficult for him as it is for the average 10-handicap.

The tour and Barron were suitably vague in announcing the positive test and the suspension that accompanies the result. No one's saying what Barron tested positive for and it's unlikely anyone will.

If you were expecting the drug testing policy to expose some muscle-bound bomber you're disappointed. Barron looks like a lot of 40-year old guys who haven't spent enough time in the gym.

He's had health problems, say people who know him. Maybe that factors into the positive test.

What does it say about professional golf? Not much. If someone wants to avoid detection, there are ways to do it.

If there's a problem with performance enhancing drugs in professional golf, I'd be surprised. Commissioner Tim Finchem initially wasn't for drug testing because he said, in essence, there was no need.

Barron's case doesn't necessarily validate the testing. It hardly moved the public opinion needle. It's the first positive test since the program began more than a year ago.

If it were someone else, the reaction would probably be different. So might the attention.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ten years old, Carolina Invitational still strong

For 10 years, the Carolina Invitational four-ball tournament at Carolina Golf Club has been true to its mission.

The idea was to create a fall event that would feature many of the best players in the region, playing as two-man teams, on a golf course originally laid out by Donald Ross.

It isn't played with a lot of fanfare. It's more about the golf, the competition and the fun.

But if you can wrangle an invitation to the Carolina Invitational, bring your A game.

The 10th annual tournament Saturday and Sunday at Carolina is stacked with good players. The average team handicap -- yes, average -- is + .15. There's no room for choppers, unless you're former U.S. Amateur finalist David Strawn, whose nickname is Chopper.

Strawn is in the field along with defending champions Michael Teague and Robby Kirby. Joe Jaspers, one of the top players in the Charlotte area for years, is playing as is former pro Brett Boner and many others.

What began a decade ago as a tournament designed to bring together the best players in the area continues to do that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In trouble? Pelz has the answer

Dave Pelz wants to get you out of trouble.

When Pelz, primarily known for his deep study of putting and the short game, launched a study on wedge play, he discovered something else along the way. It's usually two or three holes that ruin a round of golf.

Maybe that's not news but after logging in the hole-by-hole results from many thousands of rounds played at the World Amateur Handicap tournament at Myrtle Beach, Pelz was more convinced than ever that if golfers could eliminate the really big number on their cards, their handicaps would drop significantly.

In his latest book, 'Damage Control,' Pelz has a plan for helping everyone from tour players to the weekend golfer avoid -- or at least minimize -- the big blow-up.

"I found a pattern," Pelz said in a recent phone interview. "Almost always, golfers play below their handicap level for 13, 14, 15 holes a round. Then they screw it up.

"They throw disastrous scores in there. If they can just get rid of that, they can lower their handicaps by three to five shots without changing their golf swings."

As you might suspect, it involves practice. Not a lot but some. Pelz points out that everyone practices hitting shots from good lies on level land. The trouble comes when you're having to hack one out of the trees or chop it out of the cabbage and you try to do something you're not prepared to do.

Knowing what to do and how to do it, Pelz said, is the key.

"The first thing I found out is it's not the first shot that gets you into trouble," Pelz said. "Everybody does that. It's the shot that follows the first one. They often hit from the frying pan to the fire. It's the shot that goes from bad to worse that's the real problem."

Pros hit it in trouble, Pelz points out, but they're adept at minimizing the damage. They don't let a one-stroke mistake turn into a four-stroke penalty.

In his book, which includes an abundance of photos, charts and graphs, Pelz lays out a method to improving your damage control. He gives you a practice plan that doesn't require a lot of work. It's more about becoming familiar with shots you may face so you're more ready when the moment arrives.

He teaches you how to make ultra-flat swings, very upright swings, stop your swing quickly, play from severe sidehill lies and other challenges.

"I was always told I needed to work on my driving and keep (the ball) out of trouble," Pelz said. "I'd have been much better off learning how to get out of trouble first.

"If you got mediocre at damage control, (the big number) would go down to one every 10 rounds. A pro only has one every 27 rounds. That's a heckuva difference."

On another matter, Pelz said he's still working with Phil Mickelson, who credited a putting lesson from Dave Stockton with sparking his late-season resurgence. Pelz calls Stockton "one of my heroes" and expects Mickelson to be ready next year if his family's health issues continue to improve.

"I think once his short-game and putting get back to his standards, he's going to be a heckuva player."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pinehurst No. 2 may get Coore-Crenshaw touch

Pinehurst officials are moving closer to hiring Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to handle a restoration of Course No. 2 before the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens are played there.

Tinkering with what is considered Donald Ross’ masterpiece is a delicate matter and Pinehurst president Don Padgett III is taking a careful approach.

He has consulted with Coore and Crenshaw as well as Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competitions for the USGA, who will oversee the set-up for the U.S. Opens.

“They are trying to develop a concept to restore the course to a lot of the original design criteria while, at the same time, have it be a championship venue for the Opens,” Padgett said this week.

Padgett said it is important for everyone – Pinehurst officials, Crenshaw, Coore and the USGA – to agree on any potential alterations to No. 2, which has hosted the 1999 and 2005 men’s U.S. Opens.

Any alterations would focus on restoring many of the strategic aspects to the layout and less on adding length.

The only significant lengthening would likely occur at the dogleg par-4 seventh hole where the tee could be moved back across a road, preventing players for trying to cut the corner as some did in the 2008 U.S. Amateur.

The main alterations would involve bringing back more of the sandy areas dotted with wire grass off the fairways, places where there is now rough. It would be similar, Padgett said, to how the course was in the 1930s and 1940s when Ross lived in the area and worked on it.

“What people expect of No. 2 has gone away,” Padgett said. “I think they (Coore and Crenshaw) plan to bring that back.”

Padgett said if the plan moves forward, it will be at least a year, maybe longer, before work is begun.

“I’m just glad to be headed in the right direction,” Padgett said.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not falling for the Fall Series

The television was on in our den Sunday afternoon, I was sitting with my father and brother-in-law, both of whom are deep into golf and the closing stretch of the Justin Timberlake tournament in Las Vegas was on.

We watched for a few minutes, trying to tell George McNeill from Martin Laird from Chad Campbell when someone asked if we could turn back to the Buffalo-New York Jets game.

"Sure," one of the guests said.

Has the end of the PGA Tour season come to that?

Even Jim Furyk, moments after shooting a final-round 62, admitted he was watching football on a monitor while waiting to do a Golf Channel interview.

In case you haven't been paying attention, the Tour reaches the midpoint of its five-event Fall Series this week at the Frys.com Open in chic Scottsdale, Az. No doubt it will be splendid in Scottsdale this week with lovely weather, quick greens and a field full of pros with whom you're only vaguely familiar.

The Fall Series isn't designed for a big bang. That came with the Tour Championship in Atlanta a few weeks ago and it delivered with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods holding trophies and collecting big checks.

Still, I'm guessing the Tour hoped the closing events would be more compelling nationally than they have been. Unfortunately, they're buried under football season and the baseball playoffs.

The chase to make the top 125 money winners doesn't grab our attention anymore because it's not quite the end-all it used to be. Sure, it's nice for Martin Laird to secure his card for two years with a win in Las Vegas but it isn't exactly must-see TV.

The Tour got what it wanted with the way the FedEx Cup playoffs turned out this year, a credit to their tinkering with the system to make it better.

I'm guessing the Tour will continue to tinker with the schedule to get it right, too. With some holes popping open on the schedule (Milwaukee's gone, Reno may be next) and perhaps a couple more to come, maybe the Tour will try to roll its fall events into the 'regular-season' schedule.

That would make the fall events more meaningful, condense the season and give it a true conclusion.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's the Road Hole -- only longer

Perhaps proving that no hole in golf is untouchable, officials have announced that St. Andrews' famous Road Hole -- the par-4 many consider the most famous in golf -- will be lengthened by 35 yards for the 2010 Open Championship.

The tee, according to reports, will be moved back while maintaining the unusual requirement of forcing players to hit their drives over an old coal shed not far from the tee. It's a quirky thing but it's part of the charm of the great hole as players aim over letters painted on the shed, hitting drives into a fairway they can't see.

I'm not sure the hole needed any additional yardage but R&A officials decided it did. The added distance should put a greater premium on an accurate tee shot, likely forcing players to hit drivers. Approach shots, meanwhile, will be longer, bringing more into play the Road Hole bunker and the road itself, which sits behind the green.

If you've ever played the Road Hole, you know how cool it is. The funky tee shot is just part of the fun. Knowing all the great ones have played there, looking at the green and the gaping bunker, framed on one side by the Old Course Hotel and on the other by the town, it's a fantastic spot.

For more than 100 years, the Road Hole has been essentially untouched. Not any more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A book that takes you where you want to go

Golf books are everywhere and most of them, like John Daly's pants, aren't very appealing.

But 'Sports Illustrated: The Golf Book,' ($29.95) which arrives in bookstores today is worth your time and money if for nothing more than the great photo of a young Jack Nicklaus at the front of the book, Wayfarers on, cigarette dangling from his lips and a hint of Jack Nicholson in his look.

The big, coffee-table style book delivers what SI has done so well through the years -- terrific photos and outstanding writing. I'm partial, obviously, but I subscribe to the George Plimpton theory on sports writing -- the smaller the ball, the better the writing.

That's why good golf writing -- and this book is filled with it -- is distinguished.

This book isn't about golf tips. It's about the glory of the game. It's about the people and the places that have made it special over the centuries.

From Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods, from St. Andrews to Pebble Beach with photos of Fidel Castro and W.C. Fields thrown in, this is a book that reminds golfers why the game means so much to them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Arnie, Wake golf make practice special

Arnold Palmer looked out at the new 17-acre golf practice facility on the edge of the Wake Forest campus Saturday and was impressed.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Palmer said. “This may be one of the best practice facilities in the world, not just the United States.”

Palmer has a right to be proud. He’s both a Wake Forest alum and his company helped design the facility.

And if he’s exaggerating, it’s not by much.

The new facility, a portion of which may be in use later this month, is exceptional. It’s not just a practice tee, some target greens and practice green.

It has four separate tees scattered around the complex and covering 10,000 square feet. The different tees allow players to practice in varying wind conditions.

There are 12 target greens, each surrounded by bunkers, giving players the feel of hitting shots on a course.

It will be possible to shape fairways into the enormous landing area and, depending on the tee being used, players may be able to simulate hitting tee shots around tree-lined boundaries.

The four new putting greens have different functions. One is shaped in a classic Donald Ross style, another features sharper contours. All are planted with A1/A4 bentgrass.

The old practice green has been converted to Bermuda grass, allowing the Deacons to practice on the grasses they most often play upon.

A new learning center is being built that will feature, among other things, five covered hitting bays for inclement days. Each hitting bay has cameras mounted to monitor the swing from five angles.

After the learning center is complete, there are plans to build a small clubhouse on the property. Among its features will be several rooms with private baths where guests can stay during visits to Wake Forest.

Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas said he knows of no other on-campus facility that comes close to matching what Wake Forest will have. He already has four potential recruits planning to visit who heard about the new facility and decided to take a look at the Deacons.

Palmer had the honor of hitting the first practice shot at the facility Saturday, hitting a soft wedge shot in front of a few invited guests.

“To see this, it brings (Wake Forest golf) right upstairs,” Palmer said.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Golf wins by getting a spot in the Olympics

Golf officially became an Olympic sport -- again -- today and the game is better for it.

Not because Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Camilo Villegas might win a gold medal in Rio in 2016 but because the game got bigger through its inclusion in the Olympics.

Winning an Olympic gold will be meaningful for whomever does it (I'm betting Tiger though he'll 40 by then) but it won't replace winning a green jacket or the claret jug. The point of getting golf back in the Olympics -- it was in briefly nearly a century ago -- is to expand the game's global appeal.

We've already begun to see the impact of golf in China, where there's a course-building boom going on, keeping some high-profile course designers in work at the moment. We've seen the success South Korean golfers have had on the LPGA Tour and in Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship.

Angel Cabrera and Villegas are huge figures in South America and the run-up to the Rio Olympics should fuel the golf rush there.

There are still questions to be answered about the Olympic golf format but that will be worked out soon enough. By landing a spot in the Olympics, golf has received a needed boost, introducing it people who might not otherwise pay attention to the game.

The Olympics are still primarily about swimmers, track and field athletes and others whose sport stands in the spotlight only once every four years. Golf won't own the show in the Olympics any more than tennis does but it's now part of the Games.

Wonder how a gold medal would look with a green jacket?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Maybe Tony Romo should stick to golf

Tony Romo can play.

Golf, that is.

While Romo's NFL career may still lean heavier on sparkle than substance, his golf game is something special.

According to Golf Digest, Romo's plus 3.3 handicap makes him the best golfer among professional athletes in this country. Who cares how well he throws the 20-yard out if he can he hit high, soft 3-irons, get it up and down from port-a-jon and putt like Norah Jones sings.

Romo has tried -- unusuccessfully so far -- to qualify for the U.S. Open. Just being good enough to try to better than most. According to the magazine, Romo won two events over the summer, which should ease the sting of that break-up with Jessica Simpson.

Cowboys fans no doubt wish Romo would spend more time watching game tape but I say let him play golf. Maybe Jerry Jones built Romo a putting green somewhere deep inside the Cowboys' new castle in Arlington, Tex.

No. 2 on the Digest list is Craig Hentrich, who isn't really an athlete. He's the punter for the Tennessee Titans. Still, with a plus 2.8 handicap, he's got skills beyond hang time.

How about No. 3? Mark McGwire.

Now we know what he's been doing since we saw him on Capitol Hill all those years ago. He's been playing golf. Hits it long, no doubt. Always did. But, to borrow his line, let's not talk about the past. Let's talk about the future or his next tee time.

Mike Schmidt, No. 4, and Jerry Rice round out the top five.

And what about Michael?

When he's not getting his wrist slapped for smoking his stogie at Harding Park in San Francisco this week (no smoking allowed on public courses in the city by the bay), he's playing golf. And, oh yeah, he's a Bobcats executive.

Michael clocked in with a 3-handicap. That ties him for 35th with Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Lowe, surfer Kelly Slater and Angels pitcher Joe Saunders.

Just wait until Michael finishes his stint as Fred Couples' assistant Presidents Cup captain this week. After a week with Tiger and the guys, Michael's game may be better than ever.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Touring High Carolina with Tiger

It still takes some serious vision to see what will be Tiger Woods' first U.S. golf course design at the Cliffs at High Carolina.

That's because it's still mostly trees and gravel roads and watercolors sketches of what the finished product will be. What was immediately apparent during a visit there Saturday morning was the spectacular setting.

When Woods and developer Jim Anthony talk about the 'viewscapes' that offer views of 40 miles or more, they're not overselling it. From the top of the property where the clubhouse will be located, it's easy to imagine sitting on a porch, looking out across the miles and the mountains.

It won't be for everyone. Anthony said the first 30 lots sold averaged $1 million apiece and, if what I've been told is accurate, that doesn't include a six-figure initiation fee into the golf club. The good news is a membership will provide access to all eight Cliffs courses. The goal, Anthony said, is to make it "the most desirable place in America to live." That's why he spent the money on landing Tiger and it's fair to say the commitment to excellence will run throughout the development.

Tiger spent approximately 90 minutes walking the property with a small group of media members Saturday, talking mostly about his vision, because some holes haven't been cleared yet. A significant portion of the 18th fairway, for example, is still tree-covered.

The par-5 17th hole, however, has gone through a rough clearing and its general shape is easy to see.

The topography will require some significant grading and leveling in spots but Woods and his design team have smartly routed the course so that both the front and back nines will play downhill on their return to the clubhouse. By playing up the slope then back down, Woods wants to feature the views.

Having six sets of tees may seem like too many from a classic design approach but Woods said the variation will make it more playable for golfers of all skill levels. There won't be many forced carries and Woods is designing the course to allow players to bounce shots into the greens, leaving openings at the front of the putting surfaces for players who play the game closer to the ground.

Woods said he wants to keep a dense cover of trees on the sides of fairways, which won't be good news for spray-hitters but he intends to have ample landing areas.

With his wraparound shades, hiking shoes and work clothes on Saturday, Woods spent a portion of his day pitching the project to new and prospective property owners. Against the backdrop of a clear October day, he could let the setting sell itself.

Monday, September 28, 2009

PGA Tour finally gets its playoff payoff

It may be impossible to get the FedEx Cup playoffs exactly right because, as seemingly everyone including me has pointed out, golf isn't a playoff sport.

Still, the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and television had to be pleased with the way things played out this year. Sure, Tiger would have been happier to have won the Tour Championship but he still picked up $10 million for being the best player through the year and, particularly, through the playoffs.

Mickelson admitted he didn't deserve to win the FedEx Cup because he played so poorly during the first three playoff events. Winning the last one, Mickelson said, shouldn't offset what he didn't do in the first three.

Woods was the best through the playoffs despite running hot and cold on the greens. He hit the ball well at East Lake but couldn't get the ball in the hole, especially on Sunday. By the time he finally made a couple in the final round, it was too late.

At various stages of the final round, as many as six players still had a chance to win the $10-million FedEx Cup bonus. Every hole, the permutations changed. It was too complicated to keep up with but it was still fun trying.

There was even a time when it looked possible that Tiger and Steve Stricker might share the FedEx Cup, which would require a $10-million playoff. Now that would have been fun.

It's an imperfect system but a better one than the two previous models. I'm guessing there won't be any significant tweaks for next year. Making sure the top five in points can win the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship added a necessary element of uncertainty, unlike the previous two years when Woods and Vijay Singh had already essentially locked down the cup before landing in Atlanta.

It's probably unlikely they'll change the week off next year either. Though it would be better for the playoffs to play two events, take a week off then play the final two, it's more likely to remain three on, one off, then the Tour Championship.

That's because the Ryder Cup in Wales will follow immediately after the Tour Championship. Tiger, Phil and the other top players would prefer to make the Ryder Cup a second straight week, not a third straight week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Playing crazy eights at the Tour Championship

I'm not one of those who takes pleasure in watching PGA Tour players chop it around like Murray the bartender on the golf course.

If I want to see double bogeys, I can play golf myself.

Let me see them work magic. Let them hole bunker shots, and hit 180-yard 7-irons. Let them make more putts in a day than most of us make in a month.

But it does a heart good to see them make an eight once in a while.

Eights have been in vogue recently on the tour. You may rememeber Padraig Harrington making an eight to end his duel with Tiger Woods in the WGC-American Express Championship last month.

Here at East Lake, Phil Mickelson made a snowman on Thursday when his otherworldly short game look third worldly. Lefty bladed a bunker shot over the green, bladed his pitch shot back over the green into the same bunker, he left the next one in the sand and made an eight the way the rest of us make them.

On Friday, Stewart Cink was tied for the lead until he started hitting big, ugly hooks off the 1oth tee. Cink roped one driver out of bounds, teed up another, and did the same thing. Nothing if not persistent, Cink hit a third driver and it turned left but not far enough to fly the green fence along the property line.

By the time he was finished, Cink had made an eight and fallen four shots behind the leaders.

It didn't take long for someone to call him Ocho-Cink-O. Wish I could take credit for it but I can't. But I can pass it along.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The real success of The First Tee of Charlotte

There were many impressive things about the fund-raising dinner for The First Tee of Charlotte held Tuesday night at the Quail Hollow Club.

There were more than 250 guests, many thousands of dollars were raised through silent and live auctions (the featured item was a trip to play Pebble Beach and Cypress Point with accommodations at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, which drew a winning bid well into five figures) and author Jim Dodson supplied just the right touch of humor and insight with his after-dinner talk.

But the most impressive part of the evening was the three young people who are examples of what The First Tee can do. Arissa McNeal, a 15-year old North Mecklenburg High student, 15-year old Sameer Aery from Ardrey Kell High and 17-year old Stephen Graddick from Olympic High, allowed the guests to put names and faces to the Charlotte program.

McNeal, Aery and Graddick have been in The First Tee program for several years and they're examples of how the program is about more than golf. It uses golf as a framework and a foundation but it's more about life skills. The First Tee program is founded on nine core values including honesty, sportsmanship and integrity and it's touching and helping young people here and around the country.

It has not been an easy road for The First Tee of Charlotte to get rolling but moving into its new building at Revolution Golf Course this summer helped push it over the the top. It has momentum, support and Tuesday night it gave dinner guests a look at the good work it's doing.

Executive director Vincent King and director of programs Brandi Edwards have worked with hundreds of young people, introducing them to golf while teaching them fundamentals of life.

Tuesday night at Quail Hollow, The First Tee of Charlotte showed what it can do.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bad time for a bye week

Between the college football games on Saturday and another NFL Sunday, could you sense the excitement building for the Tour Championship this weekend?

Didn't think so.

Taking a one-week break after the first three events of the FedEx Cup playoffs and before the 30-player money grab/trophy chase at East Lake this weekend may have seemed like a good idea in theory. But it killed whatever modest momentum the playoff series had generated.

If there's goinig to be a break during the FedEx Cup playoffs, it needs to come after the first two events, not the third one. That may create practical scheduling problems but if the goal is to generate as much interest as possible in the playoffs, this isn't the way to do it.

This isn't the Super Bowl, much as the PGA Tour might like it to be.

When Tiger won the BMW Championship, he did what he does like no one else -- shouldered the PGA Tour into the weekend news cycle and video loop on a big football weekend. Tiger makes the world away from golf pay attention.

If he's in contention this week at East Lake -- a pretty good bet -- the interest meter will spike as it always does. First, though, it will require recapturing some of the attention that dissipated during the week off.

The good news is the PGA Tour keeps working to make the FedEx Cup playoffs better. Adjusting future weeks should be among the tweaks for next year, if possible.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tiger wins, Snedeker really loses

It's possible that Tiger Woods can have a win, two seconds and a tie for 11th in the PGA Tour's four playoff events and still not win the FedEx Cup this year.

That's the, uh, beauty of the FedEx Cup playoffs which are taking this week off to allowed all those tired golfers to rest before the 30 still standing head to Atlanta for the Tour Championsnhip next week.

For all Tiger has done this year -- six wins including his dominating performance in the BMW Championship over the weekend -- the playoff scenario makes only one promise:

If any of the players ranked in the top five wins the Tour Championship -- that's Tiger, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum -- they win the FedEx Cup. That means Furyk, who hasn't won in two years, would be the champion if he wins at East Lake.

That's the way playoffs work, even in golf where the points system is like heiroglyphics.

Tiger said he's okay with it. What's he going to say, "Hey, I've won six times, carried the tour again and you're telling me I can finish second or third at Atlanta and still not win?"

There's a difference in winning the FedEx Cup and being player of the year. Tiger's the player of the year regardless of whether he wins the FedEx Cup.

Do the playoffs work?

Well, some people are still paying attention to golf right now, which is an improvement. It helps that Tiger is playing every weekend in the same way that it helps to have oxygen to breathe.

The most compelling story at the BMW Championship beyond Tiger's performance was Brandt Snedeker's 72nd hole meltdown. If you haven't heard, he needed to make a bogey on the final hole to qualify for the Tour Championship. He didn't do it.

Snedeker kept batting the ball around the hole until he'd four-putted himself out of the Tour Championship.

Besides the embarrassment, it cost Snedeker more than $350,000 when you add in the money he lost at the BMW plus the guaranteed money for making the Tour Championship and the hit he took in the final points standings.

"I just showed you why 3-footers that mean something are a lot longer than they look," Snedeker told reporters at Cog Hill.

"I just started thinking about the wrong things, man; I didn't concentrate over the bogey putt and I was thinking about all the stuff the Tour Championship comes with, and I did everything you're not supposed to do. I'm sure Doc [Bob] Rotella and I will have a nice long talk tonight and he'll tell me everything I did wrong and we'll learn from it."

Tough lesson to learn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Arnie

Arnold Palmer turned 80 today.

Golf should declare his birthday a national holiday. Everybody smiles, hitches their pants with their wrists, makes eye contact with others, whips at the ball like a man pulling a vine from a tree, tries a shot they shouldn't, wears an alpaca cardigan with the sleeves pushed up like back in the day and, at the end, everyone raises a glass to the King.

There never has been and never will be anyone like Arnie.

Phil Mickelson comes the closest these days but even Lefty will admit he's no Arnie.

Arnie, at least since he introduced golf to the television age, has always been bigger than the game. He'd argue that out of respect for the game but he remains, even in the glare of Tiger Woods' brilliance, the defining figure in golf over the last half-century.

Age has robbed him of his game but not of his presence. He's still the conscience of golf when he holds court.

He proved that superstars can be accessible. No one may have loved the attention any more than Palmer but he set an example every professional athlete -- regardless of the sport -- should be required to study.

Peter Jacobsen has often told the story of signing autographs alongside Palmer one day when Arnie noticed Jacobsen's scribbled signature. Palmer scolded him, telling Jacobsen that if people were willing to wait for his autograph, the golfer should be respectful enough to sign it so it could be read. You can read both of their autographs now.

I'd love to be there in the Bay Hill clubhouse when Arnie gently reminds a guest to remove their hat while indoors. Society should listen.

Arnie turned 80 today and he may have trouble shooting his age now but it's a happy day anyway. He's still around and he's still the King.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Christina Kim -- like you've never seen her


After her hard to miss performance during the Solheim Cup, there is word that the flamboyant Christina Kim will appear semi-nude in an upcoming edition of ‘ESPN, The Magazine.’

Hey, if Ian Poulter can pose on a magazine cover wearing nothing but a strategically placed golf bag, why can't Christina Kim show a little skin?

Kim is one of three LPGA players – Anna Grezbien and Sandra Gal are the others – who will be featured in the magazine, which is devoting an issue to athlete’s bodies.

The good news is the magazine considers female golfers athletes, which is a small victory for golf.

The LPGA Tour, which hasn't had its happiest season, was briefed on the photo shoot in advance and gave its blessing.

Somewhere Jan Stephenson is smiling.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Aces - times two

Holes-in-one are strange things.

That comes from a guy who's never made one -- but I've only been playing golf for 45 years.

This week, Arthur McDonald made two aces in the same round at Raintree Country Club's North Course. Now that's a good day.

McDonald has been a fixture around Charlotte golf for years, caddying at Carolina Golf Club, learning to play at Revolution and working at Raintree for years. He obviously learned something along the way.

Playing with friends this week, McDonald aced the par-3 fifth hole then, a couple of hours later, holed it on the 17th hole.

Good for him. Doubly good, in fact.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tega Cay and the LPGA Tour? Maybe

It will be interesting to see if organizers and the LPGA Tour can complete the deal to bring a women’s professional golf tournament to Tega Cay beginning next year.

Talking to the local organizers, they’re bullish about their ability to make this happen though they admit there are still sponsorship issues to finalize. That’s a serious challenge in any business right now, doubly so for a golf tournament.

Would an LPGA Tour event work at Tega Cay in the fall? Maybe.

It would have to get most of the top players, something that didn’t always happen for the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic at the Peninsula Club in the ’90s. It would need Paula Creamer, Suzann Petterssen, Lorena Ochoa and Natalie Gulbis, among others, to play.

Getting Michelle Wie is the ticket but she’s still planning on attending college in the fall which could knock her out of playing here.

It was surprising to hear Tega Cay as the host course if only because it hadn’t been mentioned before when there has been talk of a possible LPGA Tour event coming here. Tega Cay has 27 holes and a large clubhouse facility, which helps.

If it all comes together, it would be a nice addition to the local golf calendar at an ideal time to play golf in this area. Putting it together is the hard part.

Monday, August 31, 2009

It'll be Jack and Arnie on the first tee at the Masters

It's going to be Arnie and Jack on the first tee at the Masters next April.

Jack Nicklaus has accepted Augusta National's invitation to join Arnold Palmer as the tournament's honorary starter next year. Nicklaus had initially been reluctant to become an honorary starter but he'll be there next year with Arnie for what should be a terrific scene.

Nicklaus played 45 Masters, winning six of them, including his memorable 1986 victory when he was 46 years old.

Between them, Nicklaus and Palmer won 10 Masters and defined nearly 50 years of professional golf.

“I have had such a long-standing appreciation and love affair with Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, and this honor is a wonderful way for me to say thank you to the many patrons who have supported me over the decades,” Nicklaus said in a statement released by Augusta National.

“I am also delighted to join my longtime friend Arnold on the tee. I have always had great respect for Arnold and his legacy at the Masters, and I did not, in any way, want to infringe on the opportunity for Arnold to have and enjoy this Masters tradition for himself. He is so deserving of this honor, and thus I felt it was his time, not mine.

"Recently, I was invited by both Augusta National and Arnold to join him on the first tee, and because he enthusiastically supported the invitation, it became an easy decision for me.”

Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod began the honorary starter tradition in 1963. Later, Byron Nelson, Gene Sararzen, Ken Venutri, Sam Snead and Palmer took the role.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nagy makes early exit at U.S. Amateur

Charlotte's Corey Nagy made an early exit from the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur championship today in Tulsa, Okla.

Nagy, a senior at UNCC, was eliminated 5 and 4 by Canada's Christopher Ross in the first round of match play at Southern Hills Country Club.

Nagy had finished tied for 14th among 312 players in the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying portion of the U.S. Amateur.

Five questions as FedEx Cup playoffs begin

Five questions as the PGA Tour playoffs begin:

1. Will Tiger play all four playoff events?
It looks that way. The fact he's playing The Barclays this week suggests he's in for the whole thing. He'll definitely play the Deutsche Bank Championship next week (he's the unofficial host)and given his fondness for Cog Hill near Chicago, I suspect he'll play the BMW Championship.

That brings him to the Tour Championship at East Lake in another month where he can lock down a second FedEx Cup barring an upset. It won't make up for a major-less year but, hey, it's $10 million, not exactly chump change, even to Tiger.

2. If Tiger's the favorite, who's the second choice?
I'm going with Lucas Glover. He's continued to play well this summer after his victory in the U.S. Open. He was fifth in the PGA Championship and, had he been a little sharper on the slow greens at Sedgefield last week, he could have been in the fight for the Wyndham Championship.

Glover has already locked down a spot on the Presidents Cup team (Captain Couples has promised him he's on even if he doesn't qualify on points) and he's riding a nice wave of confidence.

3. Three years in, are the playoffs a hit or a miss?
More hit than miss. They've definitely helped bring some focus to the end of the summer season, which was part of the goal. Without the playoffs, the PGA Tour season would have already gone fuzzy with the approach of football season.

Tour officials keep working to tweak the format to produce a big bang finish and maybe it'll happen this year. The top five players in points entering the Tour Championship will be able to win the FedEx Cup if they win at East Lake. That means there won't be a foregone conclusion when the 30 survivors roll into Atlanta.

4. Which stars may be the first to fizzle out in the playoffs?


Obviously, Adam Scott (116th in points) is a mess right now. His game has been a wreck this year and he's taking a break from his work with instructor Butch Harmon. Scott sounds like a man who's not sure what to do next. The best idea may be to take the fall off and let his head clear out.

Sergio Garcia jumped to 89th in points after his fourth-place finish in Greensboro, a hint of encouragement entering the playoffs. But he talks like a man who doubts his ability to keep it going for any extended period of time.

5. Will anyone beat Tiger Woods for the FedEx Cup?
Doubtful. But Y.E. Yang starts the playoffs in seventh place.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Time for Wie, U.S. players to keep it going

It took three months but there was finally another American victory on the LPGA Tour.

In an otherwise miserable year for the LPGA, the U.S victory in the Solheim Cup Sunday had to feel like an early Christmas, generating some genuine interest in what was happening while remaking Michelle Wie into a star again. Now it will be interesting to see where Wie and the tour go from here.

I'm a huge fan of team golf events such as the Ryder Cup, the upcoming Presidents Cup and the Solheim Cup because they change the players and the landscape. Personally, I could do without the face-painting and tone down Christina Kim's antics but it all worked beautifully for the American team over the weekend.

For Wie, it was a potentially career-changing event. The team aspect allowed the 19-year old to be herself and, from all indications, she broke down some of the walls that have surrounded her since she hit the scene several years ago. It had to help not having her hovering parents around all the time, allowing her to immerse herself in the team.

Her game, a mess a couple of years ago, has come back and she holed some putts thanks to the wise decision to talk with Dave Stockton about her putting. Wie looks like she's regained her confidence, which is crtical. Just ask Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, both of whom have lost theirs.

If Wie can begin to win regularly, it would help revive a tour desperately in need of a boost. Tournaments are disappearing, there's an ongoing search for a new commissioner and American-born players haven't won very often. The tour has gone flat and seems in danger of flat-lining.

This should help. With Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome, Wie, Kim and others, the American team showed it has compelling characters. Sure, the European team wasn't as imposing as an international squad stocked with the top South Korean players might be but it was still an important victory for the U.S.

For Michelle Wie, it may be the most important week of her still-young career.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Golf in the Olympics -- a gold medal for the game

I must admit that I've never been taken by the notion of golf returning to the Olympics, something that is all but official now that the IOC's Executive Board has endorsed including golf in the 2016 Games.

Golf has its major championships and Olympic gold, sweet as it may be, won't suddenly leap to the top of the list of most important achievements for players. Plus, I've always thought of the Olympics as a place for other sports -- track and field and swimming, particularly -- to have their moment.

Baseball and tennis, for example, have seemed awkward fits to me. Do you know who won tennis gold last year?

Having said that, golf's return to the Olympics -- it was last part of the Games in 1904 -- comes at a critical time for the sport. It's inclusion isn't so much about whether Tiger Woods wins a gold medal -- he's already the favorite in 2016 though no one's sure where the Games or the golf will be played.

Golf is more global than it's ever been and getting a spot in the Olympics only strengthens the game. It enhances its image in places around the world where it may not be front and center and it's sure to draw more people to the game.

There's a reason all of the game's prominent organizations and many of the game's top stars made an aggressive effort to get golf back in the Games -- to grow the game. Having Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam speak on behalf of the Olympic effort was a strong endorsement and hearing Tiger say he'd represent the U.S. in the Games is huge.

Golf in the Olympics won't change what Augusta means in April or replace the British Open as the unofficial world championship. It will, however, bring the game to more people around the world.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Picking a PGA winner -- besides Tiger

As a prognosticator, I rank somewhere between 'Ishtar' and new Coke.

In the annual pick the winners golf pool in which I participate each year, I typically live near the bottom of the standings, sometimes in but always near what is called the POD -- pit of despair.

With that disclaimer, I have decided to take a swing at picking the winner of the PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at Hazeltine. And, to make it slightly more entertaining (I hope), I'm not going to count Tiger Woods.

He's the obvious choice. Beyond obvious. So, having said that to cover myself when he wins by six this weekend, I'll move on to my picks as if Tiger isn't playing.

1. Steve Stricker
Besides being a really good player with a putting stroke that's as good as that first cold beer after a good round of golf, he's due. He fits the mold this year, too. Like Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink, he's a veteran who's been good for a while but hasn't won the big one.
Stricks has to prove he can handle Sunday afternoon in a major but I like his chances.

2. Lee Westwood
He had a chance to win the 2008 U.S. Open before Tiger and Rocco Mediate did their little dance and the British Open was his to win last month but a couple of late wobbles cost him. Westwood is a very good player and has been for a long time. Maybe it's finally his time.

3. Hunter Mahan
Maybe the top pick behind Tiger right now. He plays well this time of year and he's growing into one of the top young American players. The biggest thing he has to do is prove he can win.

4. Phil Mickelson
I know, he wasn't a factor at Firestone and after all he's gone through recently, it's a stretch to think he can win this week. But he could.
He's Phil. He's long enough to handle Hazeltine's length and if he can get the ball in the fairway and start holing some putts early, it could all fall into place for him. And wouldn't that be a story.

5. Anthony Kim
He's shown signs of life after a lost first half of the season. When he's on -- and he seems to be getting there -- he's seriously dangerous.
Kim still has some growing up to do -- he says that -- but his game is man-sized when he gets it locked in.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's a matter of time

I've long been an advocate for anything that will accelerate the often glacier-like pace of play on the PGA Tour.

Then the PGA Tour uses Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington to make its point on Sunday afternoon, perhaps unintentionally altering the outcome of a compelling battle between the two stars.

They had, according to tour officials, fallen 18 minutes off the pace on the back nine and needed to be nudged with those nerve-rattling words "you're on the clock." There was an open hole in front of them but, as anyone who watched knows, there was no one behind the day's final pairing.

There was no real threat Woods and Harrington would be penalized for their deliberate pace -- the tour has not imposed stroke penalties on players in nearly two decades -- but it wasn't what they needed to hear at that championship in the balance moment.

The warning obviously flustered the notoriously slow Harrington, who chopped his way to an ugly triple-bogey eight at the par-5 16th while Woods was giving us another trophy-case moment with his 178-yard 8-iron that set up the clinching birdie.

Woods said afterward that the slow-play warning was a factor in his victory, a nod to his admiration for Harrington's grinding work ethic and the fact it seemed to have a direct effect on the proceedings.

It doesn't mean the tour was wrong in pushing Woods and Harrington to hurry along. There is a set time-par in every round and obviously they were taking their own sweet time on Sunday afternoon.

Under the tour guidelines, players given a "bad time" during play aren't penalized for the first violation. However, a second bad time in a round costs them $5,000 and a one-stroke penalty.

If you're going to push for a brisker pace, you have to be consistent. That's what the tour was doing. It is on the players to handle the warning and Harrington, who compounded the problem by hitting his ball into a series of bad spots, didn't do that. He admitted he lost his focus when forced out of his comfort zone.

In this case, the nudge seemed unnecessary given the way the tournament had turned into a two-player duel that had reached the last four holes.

Both sides -- the tour officials and the players -- have reasonable points in this situation.

And Tiger has another trophy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Greenbrier is newest kid on PGA Tour's block

As expected, the PGA Tour announced today the creation of The Greenbrier Classic, a new event beginning in 2010 that will take the place of the now-departed Buick Open.

The Greenbrier event will be played on the Old White Course, the original layout at the famous West Virginia resort, which has four golf courses. The tournament will be played July 25-Aug. 1.

The tour has a six-year agreement with The Greenbrier, which has had strong ties to professional golf through the years. It's where the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup matches were played and the resort's two golf pros emeritus have been Sam Snead and Tom Watson.

Since native West Virginian Jim Justice purchased The Greenbrier earlier this year, efforts have been underway to land a PGA Tour event at the resort. With the departure of Buick from the PGA Tour, an opening arose allowing The Greenbrier to fill the void.

It's just one piece of a changing picture on the PGA Tour schedule. Tour officials are working with San Diego golf officials about finding a new title sponsor for what had been called the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, a long-time fixture on the early-season schedule.

There's also on-going discussions about the future of the PGA Tour event in Milwaukee, which is seeking sponsorship, and a possible date change for the Canadian Open, which has struggled to draw a top-level field in its slot the week after the British Open championship.

Monday, August 03, 2009

For Michelle Wie, a big achievement


It may be six years since Michelle Wie has won a golf tournament but being invited to join the U.S. team for the Solheim Cup matches later this month is among her most impressive achievements.

For all Wie has -- a ton of talent, striking looks and the the potential to be an enormous star -- it hasn't been easy for her.

She brought much of it on herself, insisting on playing against the men when she hasn't been able to win on the LPGA Tour while seeming sometimes to care more about being a star than being the best player in the world. It hasn't helped that her parents have been more hands-on than they should have, particularly on the golf side of things.

Finally, though, Michelle Wie may be arriving.

She still hasn't won on the LPGA Tour and there are days when her golf game is ordinary but there seem to be more days when Wie seems on the verge of delivering on her potential. She may never be the game-changing player she imagined -- playing in the Masters, winning on the men's tour - but she's just 19.

Wie's putting has bedeviled her at times, costing her the handful of shots that make the difference in winning and finishing third. But, again, there's a tempation to fast-forward everything where Wie is concerned, in part because that's the way she's been presented to us.

When captain Beth Daniel made Wie one of her two captain's picks -- veteran Juli Inkster was the obvious other choice -- Daniel could back it up with Wie's solid resume this year. She has three top-3 finishes this year and was 13th in the points standings.

This could be a big moment off the golf course for Wie, as well. For years, she was viewed warily, a teen star jumping in and out of tour events, getting the diva treatment whether she asked for it or not. There was, it's fair to assume, some jealousy and animosity.

As a member of the American team, Wie becomes part of the circle. It will be interesting to see who Daniel pairs Wie with during the matches at Rich Harvest Farm in Illinois. Think putting Wie with Paula Creamer or Morgan Pressel would get some attention?

At a time when American women's professional golf is struggling, Michelle Wie may be just what it needs. Beth Daniel thinks so.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Moore, Florence elected to Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame

Two golfers with strong Charlotte connections -- Patty Moore and Terry Florence -- have been elected to the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.

Moore has been one of the area's top women's players for years, piling up victories almost routinely. In addition to dominating area tournaments, Moore has been a fine player on the national level, also.

She lives in Charlotte and plays out of Carmel Country Club but also spends a good deal of time in Pinehurst.

Florence is a Charlotte native who is among the best players the city has produced. He was instrumental in developing Wild Dunes on the Isle of Palms, S.C., into a top-level golf destination. In recent years, Florence has been director of golf at Bulls Bay in Awendaw, S.C.

Moore and Florence will be inducted during Aug. 17 ceremonies in Pinehurst.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Feherty gets it right about Tiger

Leave it to David Feherty to get it right when it comes to the ripple of controversy stirred by Tiger Woods expressing his frustrations while missing the cut at the British Open two weeks ago.

More than once, Woods was shown slamming a club or barking at himself as shots went astray at Turnberry. He was angry and it showed. It's not the first time Tiger has let his emotions show and it won't be the last.

Some critics have scolded Woods for not biting his tongue or gently putting his driver back in the bag after a lousy tee shot. They're overreacting.

In an interview this week with the Argus Leader in South Dakota, Feherty was quoted saying, "Those critical forget about what he did a couple of weeks before for the troops at the tournament he put on (the AT&T National). All the things he did at Walter Reed, all the things that tournament is about. And he bangs his club here or there?...

"I was fly fishing in Colorado - I didn't see any of it. I've read about it since then. If you play golf for a living and you don't swear or throw the occasional club, you should be disqualified.

"It's not that kind of a game - it's not meant to be played with all the hushed tones. You're supposed to show your emotions."

Tiger gets criticized for being too cold and distant by some people and flogged by others (or maybe the same ones) who prefer he channel his frustration differently. I like him the way he is.

Tucker gets another crack at U.S. Senior Open

Charlotte's Chris Tucker didn't expect to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open this year.

He'd never played TPC Sugarloaf, site of his sectional qualifying round, but it didn't matter. Tucker shot 70 to lead the field and earn a spot in the U.S. Senior Open which begins Thursday at Crooked Stick near Indianapolis.

"I had no expectations," Tucker said.

Now that he's in the field, Tucker does have some expectations. He's not putting himself among the favorites but the former PGA Tour player has some positive vibes going at the place where John Daly introduced himself to the world.

"I have a good feeling because Opens are better for me," said the 51-year old Tucker. "Most of the time par is a decent score. I'm driving it better than I did last year (when he missed the Senior Open cut by a stroke)."

Tucker has no status on the Champions Tour though he intends to make another run at qualifying for the tour later this year. He's stayed busy playing Carolinas PGA section events and has received sponsorship help from John Love of Red Rocks, NASCAR driver/owner Michael Waltrip and former driver Phil Parsons.

Monday, July 27, 2009

As Buick goes away, Tiger comes back

Two items of interest surrounding the PGA Tour's Buick Open this week (if the rain-soaked Canadian Open ever ends):

-- This is apparently the end of the Buick Open after 51 years, a victim of GM's financial problems;

-- It's the first of three straight tournaments for Tiger Woods, who will follow the Buick by playing in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and the PGA Championship at Hazeltine.

As for the Buick Open, it seemed inevitable that tournaments would suffer given the economic problems and now it's happening. According to reports, the PGA Tour has another sponsor waiting to take the spot on the schedule but it has to be disturbing news around the tour offices to see a long-time event expire.

The long-term question is how the tour will be impacted when it begins negotiating new television deals down the road. There have been suggestions that purses should be cut and I can see that happening, though reluctantly.

From an image standpoint, it might help the tour.

Commissioner Tim Finchem has already raised the notion of some future 'flex' scheduling with a few events, in an effort to get more players to play tournaments they might otherwise pass. It's just a concept, Finchem said, but it's an interesting one.

As for Tiger, this week immediately became more interesting when he entered (and, by the way, he no longer has ties to Buick so it's not a contractual thing). Obviously, he wasn't sharp at Turnberry and this looks like an effort to play himself back into form leading into the PGA.

It will be interesting to see how his season looks three weeks from now.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Huntersville's Harrell shows he belongs

Huntersville’s Logan Harrell went into the U.S. Junior Amateur golf championship this week with the goal of winning.

He didn’t quite reach that but Harrell’s run to the semifinals still brought plenty of satisfaction.

“My goal was to win and my other goal was to play well. I exceeded the second part because I played about as well as I ever have,” said Harrell, a rising senior at Hopewell High.

Harrell was eliminated in the semifinals Friday afternoon 1-up by his 15-year old friend Jordan Spieth of Dallas, Tex.

In the quarterfinals Friday morning at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., Harrell defeated Cameron Wilson of Rowayton, Cal., 2-up.

Against Spieth in the afternoon, Harrell found himself 4-down after six holes but four birdies in a five-hole stretch allowed him to pull even with five holes remaining before Spieth pulled away again.

Harrell, who plays at Cowans Ford Country Club and will attend the University of South Carolina, had a top-10 finish in the prestigious Foot-Joy Invitational AJGA event earlier this summer and reached the round of 16 in the Carolinas Amateur.

“I proved I can play with the best of them,” Harrell said.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A banker comes to golf's defense

It's nice to see Seth Waugh, the CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, standing up for the value of his company's investment in the PGA Tour event it hosts.

Golf has become a dirty word in some circles these days but Waugh defended spending company money on a golf tournament.

"You can think of the golf tournament as a silly little thing in terms of what's going on in the world but these are the bricks that can build the economy back up. Nobody in the world is going to want to take $70 million less."

Waugh was referring to studies citing the economic impact of the Deutsche Bank Championship at between $40 and $70 million annually. He was speaking to Boston business and charity leaders on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

Last year, the Deutsche Bank Championship donated $3.5 million to charity.

There has been no word from Wells Fargo or Quail Hollow Championship officials about any potential change in the terms of their agreement for the PGA Tour event held here each May. Wells Fargo officials have maintained they intend to honor the terms of the contract they inherited in their purchase of Wachovia, which covers the tournament through 2014.

While the furor over financial institutions, particularly those that received federal bailout money, has subsided to some degree, it's still a tender subject.

A high-ranking official from a prominent resort recently told me that no company wants to be associated with the words golf or spa when it comes to business travel or entertaining, at least not right now.

There are modest signs of improvement, the executive said, but the impact has still been immense on the hospitality industry, which in turn impacts restaurant and hotel workers, course operators and many others.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sunrise...sunset

Some people like to play golf early in the morning when there's still dew on the ground and the greens are as good as they'll be all day. I get that, but as someone whose day gradually improves with my coffee intake, you can have the first tee time.

And the second, third, fourth and fifth, unless it's the Starbucks Open.

Tiger Woods likes to tee off just after dawn. Out of bed. Out of the car. Straight to the first tee without any practice balls. Cold shaft it.

I prefer late afternoon when the shadows are stretching, the edge is coming off the heat and the only thing you're racing is the sunset. Sure, the greens are a little scruffy by that time of the day with bunker sand splashed in your putting line and poorly repaired ball marks dotting the surface.

But there's a peace about golf late in the day, especially if you're out there alone, bag on your shoulder, hoofing it around nine holes playing two balls. You may be by yourself but you're not alone. There's always a demon's voice or two in your head when you're playing.

Even the most ordinary golf course looks pretty late in the day. You can see the contours in the fairways and on the greens. I've seen gators, fox, deer, hawks and rabbits on the course -- and that's without leaving the fairway.

I have a friend who spends his days at the golf course and one day early in his marriage, his wife asked him what time he'd be home that evening.

The man walked to the back porch, opened the door and threw a golf ball in the yard.

"See that golf ball?" he asked his wife. "When it's too dark to see that ball, I'll be home 30 minutes after that."

Theirs has been a long and happy marriage.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Like a hangover, only worse


I received an e-mail Sunday afternoon from a friend who said that watching Tom Watson lose the Open Championship the way he did was the most disappointing thing he'd ever seen in sports.

It certainly felt that way.

A day later and the disappointment is lingering like a hangover.

Nothing against Stewart Cink, obviously, who has been a very good player for a long time and, if you've ever been around him, you'd be very happy for him because he's a really good guy.

Plus, he won the championship as much as Watson lost it. Consider this: Of the players who started the final round within five strokes of the lead -- there were 13 of them -- only one broke par.

Cink.

Still, this was Watson's moment. The first three days it was a sweet story about a 59-year old guy hanging around at Turnberry, rekindling memories of his glory days. Then it became Watson's tournament to win.

When his tee shot on the 72nd hole found the fairway, I thought he would win. When he missed the green long, I still thought he would win. When he had an eight-footer to win, I thought his chance had passed.

When it went to a playoff, I confess I quit watching. I didn't want to see it end the way it did -- plus I was out of town and had a long drive home. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I did listen to it on the radio where the brilliant British announcers didn't attempt to hide their disappointment).

The fact Watson lost the playoff by six strokes to Cink doesn't matter. When it went to a playoff, the outcome seemed preordained.

It had taken so much for Watson to get there and, given the chance to finish the story, he couldn't. The emotional impact had to be immense.

In his post-game media session, Watson talked about how the loss "tears at his gut."

He wasn't alone.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Can Watson win? Never say never

Can Tom Watson win this British Open?

Logic says no.

He's 59 years old, his putting stroke gets shaky under pressure and he has 54 more holes to play at Turnberry, where the conditions aren't likely to be softer than they were Thursday when Watson surged to the top of the leader board for much of the day.

Golf, as anyone who's ever played it knows, isn't logical.

Want to hit it a long way? Swing easy.

A 300-yard drive and a six-inch putt count the same on a scorecard.

So, yes, Watson can win this weekend.

It's not likely. Last year, 53-year old Greg Norman teased us by leading after three rounds only to stumble coming in. He played beautifully but it wasn't enough.

Watson is a different case. He's won five British Opens, three Senior British Opens and comes alive in Scotland.

If the weather turns nasty, as it can quickly do, it may work in Watson's favor. He's one of the all-time great bad weather players. At 59, the larger question may be whether his old bones can hold up to the conditions, not if his game can.

Not that he needed to but Watson reminded us again Thursday of what a special player he has been through the years.

If he fades from the scene this weekend, that's okay. He's given us a thrill already.

But wouldn't it be something if Watson has a little magic left after all these years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ranking the majors, a personal list

For the next few days, we’ll be treated to watching the British Open from Turnberry where we’ll see dozens of images of the famous lighthouse with the Ailsa Craig in the distance.

If this Open Championship lives up to its reputation, it will give us a healthy dose of weather, a lesson in links golf and a Hall of Fame champion.

It got me thinking about the four major championships and how I’d rank them in terms of my personal favorites.

1. The Masters
It’s my favorite for so many reasons. It starts with Augusta National, the perfect stage for tournament golf. The place is beautiful and no matter how often you go there, it’s still mesmerizing.

Throw in the history, the elegance, the ghosts, the 12th hole, the 13th hole, the clubhouse, the big tree behind the clubhouse, the azaleas, Sarazen’s deuce, the spirit of Bobby Jones, even the pimento cheese sandwiches, and, in my mind, there’s nothing better in golf.

2. The Open Championship
I love that it’s called the Open Championship, though we know it more as the British Open. It’s truly the world’s golf championship and more than any other major, it brings everything into play.

It challenges players physically in the wind, rain and chill. It requires imagination to play links golf. It rewards power but it also rewards creativity and doesn’t put an undue emphasis on putting.

Its history is the story of golf and the feeling of being there (I’ve been fortunate to cover two Opens) is unlike any other event. If you’ve ever considered making the journey, take my advice – do it. You won’t regret it.

3. The U.S. Open
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say the U.S. Open is fun, not that it tries to be. It’s big, mean and unrelenting. It’s golf’s version of a marathon.

I like the U.S. Open much better now that Mike Davis has taken over the course set-up, making it fairer and more interesting. The USGA loves creating what it believes to be the ultimate test of a golfer.

Too often, the courses are too hard but the U.S. Open is about handling difficulty. The last man standing usually wins.

4. The PGA Championship

It may be fourth on the list but I really like the PGA, which isn’t so hung up on score as the Masters and U.S. Open. It’s played on an outstanding course and it’s okay if the best players make some birdies.

It may not get the same respect or adulation as the others but it’s a true major championship.

It’s no secret the folks at Quail Hollow want to host a PGA Championship sometime down the road. Don’t be surprised if it happens.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where does the LPGA go from here?

Wanted: A new commissioner for the LPGA.

Requirements: Save a sinking tour in a bad economy without the help of many instantly recognizable American stars.

While the official announcement of the end of Carolyn Bivens' era is expected sometime this week, it's clear the LPGA has already begun looking for someone to steer a ship in peril.

The names of Judy Rankin, Nancy Lopez and Dottie Pepper have been tossed out but it may be someone from the business world who gets called in to help stabilize the process.

Former Bank of America sports marketing official Dockery Clark, who pulled off the brilliant move of getting Annika Sorenstam to play the PGA Tour stop at Colonial a few years ago, was rumored to be a candidate when Bivens was hired and with her sports background (she's worked at Miller beer most recently) she would likely have some strong ideas about how to reposition the LPGA Tour.

It's a tough job. Bivens' aggressive style was intended to secure higher rights fees for tour events. But as the economy weakened, so did the LPGA's position and Bivens' various missteps became more pronounced.

The situation is complicated by the fact the American presence -- both in events and top players -- has diminished. Several long-time tour stops have been lost and, in a worst-case scenario, there could be as few as 10 LPGA events in the U.S. next year. That's not exactly building your brand at home.

While Eun Hee Ji won the Women's Open with a dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole Sunday, the absence of top Americans in contention was a reminder the tour is lacking a compelling set of stars right now.

Just a couple of years ago, the LPGA seemed ready to soar but until Michelle Wie starts winning, Paula Creamer proves she's as good as her marketing and another couple of players emerge, the tour lacks some sizzle. There are some terrific players, Jiyai Shin could be the best down the road, but it's a tough time right now.

Lorena Ochoa is one of the best of any generation but she doesn't move the needle the way Tiger or Phil Mickleson does.

Women's professional golf is a niche sport inside a niche sport. It's a tough sell in good times and a tougher sell right now.

The top players made it clear they're ready for a change at the top. That was the first step.

Where the tour goes from here is the question.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The PGA Tour gets groovy

After much angst, deliberation, analysis, over-analysis, whining, discussion, study and a few too many pitch shots from ankle-deep rough that stuck like Velcro, the PGA Tour announced Tuesday that it will adopt new rules in 2010 about the kind of grooves allowed on wedges used by the game's best players.

Without getting too technical about U-grooves (since I'd only confuse the matter), suffice it to say, the game just got harder for the pros.

Starting next year, the pros will have to use wedges with grooves that make spinning the ball, particularly from the rough, more difficult. It's been coming for a while and there was some thought that the PGA Tour might push it back a year because of carping from some equipment companies and players. Instead, commissioner Tim Finchem announced they're moving forward in 2010.

That was the right move.

Is it a roll back on equipment advances?

Yes.

And it's a big deal.

Talking last year to Mike Davis, the man who sets up the U.S. Open courses for the USGA, he said it would be a more dramatic change than people think. Players will have less control on shots from the rough and it will force many to reconsider the golf balls they use, opting for balls that spin more than the ones they're using now.

The rule only applies to professionals next year. By 2014, it will be in effect for high-level amateurs and it goes into effect for all golfers in 2024, by which time we'll all have worn out the wedges we now have.

If you buy new wedges next year, you'll get the new grooves unless you buy this year's model of wedges.

In theory, the new rule will make it more important for players to drive the ball in the fairway. We'll see if that happens.

If nothing else, it will make the game more challenging for the pros, who are wizards around the greens.

I have no problem with them being able to save strokes from seemingly impossible positions with their wedge play. But it should be more about their skill and less about the equipment doing it for them.

That's what this is about.