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


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.


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?


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.