Friday, January 30, 2009

A Beautiful Thing -- Once In A While

The par-3 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale, site of the FBR Open this week, is 162 yards of beer-fueled, bet-making, boo-bringing fun.
It’s everything golf isn’t supposed to be – loud and rowdy with a touch of rock and roll.
It’s as subtle as Anthony Kim’s belt buckles.
And it’s what the PGA Tour could use more of.
Not a lot more, but a little more.
The 16th hole is truly stadium golf, a par-3 completely encircled by bleachers and hospitality tents, holding upwards of 20,000 fans, some of whom are actually there for the golf.
Lousy shots are booed, good shots cheered and memorable shots – like Tiger Woods’ ace there in 1996 – become a part of history.
You wouldn’t want it every week. It’s not the vibe they’re going for at Quail Hollow’s 17th during the Wachovia Championship or the 12th at Augusta National.
But in a sport that too often takes itself far too seriously (tour players who don’t smile after making a birdie or a putt longer than 15 feet should be forced to buy their own lunch), the 16th hole in Phoenix is like a frat party.
You don’t want to go to one every night but once in a while, they’re a blast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aye, Aye, Captain Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie has been named captain of the European Ryder Cup team for 2010.

The 2010 Ryder Cup is still 20 months away but it officially became more entertaining today when rumors were confirmed with the announcement that Colin Montgomerie will captain the European team in the matches at Celtic Manor in Wales.


No one does golf drama better than Monty.

Tiger has his fist pump. Phil has his smile. Monty has his lower lip.

You’ve seen it, pushed up like a 4-year-old’s who’s just had his candy taken away.

That’s Monty, who does for golf chatter what Lindsay Lohan does for ‘Entertainment Tonight.’

I happily admit I’m a Monty fan.

In fact, I still have my ‘Be Nice To Monty’ button on display in the office.

He’s been one of the best players of his generation despite the obvious knock on him that he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour nor captured a major championship.

True, those are glaring voids. Monty owes Mickelson a thank you for throwing away the 2006 U.S. Open or we’d still be fixated on how Monty blew it himself on the 72nd hole.

But he’s won the European Tour’s Order of Merit eight times and been absolute money in the Ryder Cup.

Monty has passion and that’s what the Ryder Cup is about. He knows he’s a character but he also knows how and why the Ryder Cup matters, especially to the Europeans.

There are already questions about how the European players will react to Monty, particularly in light of a controversial rules question he was involved with a couple of years ago.

They’ll be fine with their new captain. He’s a different bird but that’s OK.

Captain Montgomerie – it has a nice ring to it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

We've all been there with Stricker

We’ve all been where Steve Stricker was Sunday afternoon.

Maybe not that exact spot – the 10th tee at the Palmer Course at PGA West trying to win the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic on a wind-blown Sunday – but in that place where everything comes apart.

In case you weren’t watching, or turned your head when it happened, Stricker had lost a three-shot lead over Pat Perez when he triple-bogeyed the par-4 seventh hole.
Then it got worse.

With the wind ripping on the watery 10th, Stricker stepped away from his tee shot a couple of times. When he finally hit his tee ball, what was intended to be a draw into the breeze was instead a nervous cut that got caught in the jet stream and sailed out of bounds to the right.
That was the one, Stricker said later, that hurt the most.

Then, if you’ve ever played golf, you know what happens next. The wind is howling left to right, the left side of the 10th hole looks like Lake Michigan and, the dreaded smother hook arrives.
If there’s such a thing as a good eight, Stricker eventually made one at the 10th hole. By the time he finished the hole, he was four strokes behind Perez, the eventual champion.

“I just got out of sorts a little bit on those couple of shots,” the ever-gracious Stricker told reporters afterward.

In a tournament that had video-games scores through the first four rounds, Stricker’s collapse was a jarring reminder that golf’s little demons can strike anywhere, any time.
If you’ve played much golf, you already know that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Don't count on Tiger hitting the stump

Tiger Woods introduced the U.S. Naval Glee Club at President Barack Obama's inauguration celebration.

Since we've known him, Tiger Woods kept politics out of his public life.

To some, Woods has copped out, opting for safe rather than risking his image. He has been compared to Michael Jordan, who famously explained why he keeps his politics private by saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

But there was Woods during the Inauguration weekend, taking his turn on a celebrity-filled stage, to say a few words on behalf of the United States military and introduce the U.S. Naval Glee Club.

It was a surprise to many that Woods participated in the inauguration, if only because he has so carefully kept his political profile lowered.

Does it mean Woods is becoming more politically active? Probably not.

It means he appreciated the opportunity to be part of something special and his respect for the military runs deep.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fujikawa, 18, may hone game on Tarheel Tour

Tadd Fujikawa, an 18-year-old phenom in the golf world, might use Charlotte's Tarheel Tour to get used to the grind of professional golf and hone his game.

Could Tadd Fujikawa's future be on the Tarheel Tour?

It sounds that way.

During his latest star turn at the Sony Hawaiian Open last week, the 18-year-old sensation said he is considering joining the Charlotte-based mini-tour this summer to get comfortable playing professional golf on a weekly basis.

Fujikawa said his teacher, Todd Anderson at Sea Island, suggested he find a place to play regularly so he can get acclimated to the grind of professional golf. The Tarheel Tour, Fujikawa said, is his possible destination after he graduates high school in May.

"Right now, because I've had exemptions and stuff, I played two tournaments and have a month break, play two tournaments, have a month break, play one tournament, two weeks break, and another tournament. It's hard to get any momentum going," Fujikawa told reporters in Hawaii.

"I feel like I play well one week, and then right when I start getting my game, I feel some confidence coming along and then I'm on a break. So it just kills it.

"It's tough to play like that. (Anderson) wants me to play every week and get into contention as much as I can. And whether it's a mini-or a PGA TOUR event, he said it doesn't matter. He said he just wants me to play and get some experience and go out there and win."

Though he's flashed onto the national scene twice in the Sony and once when he qualified for the U.S. Open, Fujikawa's two-year professional career has been underwhelming. He won the Mid-Pacific Open in Hawaii last year but, otherwise, he hasn't distinguished himself.

There are questions about whether at 5-feet, 1-inch tall he has the physical ability to play the PGA Tour, though his third-round 62 in the Sony answered many questions.

Fujikawa has star power but it takes more than that. It takes following up a 62 with something better than the 73 he closed with on Sunday that left him tied for 32nd at Waialae. If he's really good enough, he'll learn from last weekend and build on it.

He'll learn if he has the game and the temperament to play golf for a living week after week. And he may find out here on the Tarheel Tour.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Charlotte's Patty Moore caps '08 with award

It came as no surprise recently when Charlotte's Patty Moore was again named the women's player of the year by the Carolinas Golf Association.

It will be news when Moore doesn’t win the award again.

In 2008, Moore won the Carolinas women's senior championship, the Carolinas women's match play and the North Carolina women's senior championship -- which explains why the 58-year old Carmel Country Club member was also the women's senior player of the year.

Moore also finished second in the Carolinas women's amateur championship, reached the round of 32 in the U.S. senior women's amateur and qualified for the U.S. women's mid-amateur championship.

It was the second straight year Moore has won the honor and the third time overall.

The men's player of the year was 57-year old Paul Simson of Raleigh, who shows no signs of slowing down.

Simson was the Carolinas men's player of the year in 1998 and 2005, also.

His biggest victory was the British seniors open championship in England to go with three other wins in the U.S.

To give you a sense of what it means to be the men's player of the year in the Carolinas, consider that since 1999 the list of honorees includes Jonathan Byrd, D.J. Trahan, Bill Haas, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson, each of whom is now playing the PGA Tour.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Duke wise to pluck talented 49ers coach

The announcement Friday that Jamie Green has resigned as men's golf coach at Charlotte to become the new men's golf coach at Duke shouldn’t have come as a great surprise.

Green has been too successful with the Charlotte program not to have drawn the attention of other programs. College golf coaches aren't as famous or as well paid as football and basketball coaches, but the system works the same way. If you're good enough, other programs will want to hire you.

And Duke made a wise choice in hiring Green, who coached the 49ers to consecutive top-10 finishes in the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2008.

In five years, Green took a Charlotte program that had never made an impact on the national stage and he turned it into a contender. Some of the talent he inherited. Some he recruited. All of it he nurtured.

It's a stinging loss for the Charlotte program. Athletics director Judy Rose had worked to secure Green's future at the school with a contract extension and program enhancements. Green, in a statement, said the decision to leave Charlotte was the toughest of his coaching career.

But when Duke - with its national stature, its Rees Jones-redesigned golf course and its extensive resources - calls, you listen. And, in Green's case, you move.

There may be hurt feelings for a while but, when the emotion subsides, there should be an appreciation at Charlotte for what Green accomplished with the program.

And there should be a goal of finding the right person to sustain the program Green transformed.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sergio wins U.S. Open, and other predictions

Is this finally the year Sergio Garcia gets a grip on a U.S. Open trophy, at Bethpage in New York?

Before the first official shot of the 2009 PGA Tour season is struck and before John Daly can do anything else, allow me to make five predictions about things that will happen on tour this year.

Like me standing on a tee with trees left and water right, this can’t have a good outcome. But since it’s the first swing, maybe a mulligan will be in order.

1. Sergio Garcia wins the U.S. Open at Bethpage.

He’s going to win a major, probably multiple majors, and I think he gets the first one this year. If he wants to answer any remaining questions about how good he is and if he’s tough enough, a victory at Bethpage would do it.

Remember, that’s where he went through his re-gripping phase and the gentle New Yorkers were so kind to count off each re-setting of his hands. It’s up to him in New York, New York.

2. Tiger Woods comes back as good as ever.

Notice I didn’t say better than ever. That’s a big ask.

When he disappeared after the U.S. Open last June, Woods had won 10 of his last 13 worldwide starts, had two seconds and a wimpy fifth-place finish.

He says he’s better physically than he’s been in 10 years and I don’t think he forgot how to play since June. Welcome back.

3. Quail Hollow lands a major championship.

It’s just a hunch but it’s never been a secret that the club would like to host a major. The Wachovia Championship contract expires after 2014 and it’s not outrageous to think a PGA Championship could come to Quail Hollow sometime after that.

4. Tim Clark finally wins in the U.S.

For several years, the former Wolfpack golfer has been a steady presence on the global golf scene, often in major championships. To this point, however, he hasn’t won a PGA Tour event. This is the year that changes for Clark.

5. Greg Norman makes the cut at the Masters.

Just having the Shark back at Augusta will be great fun but he showed in the British Open last summer that he can still summon some magic from his game. It’s too much to ask for him to contend at the Masters but having there for the weekend would be great.