Thursday, December 20, 2007

Naked lady tees (no!) and other gifts

Golf and Christmas can be a dangerous combination.

The problem, other than convincing the family a leisurely 18 would be a wonderful way to spend Christmas afternoon, is gifts.

Not the ones you’re giving.

The ones you might get.

It’s probably too late in the game for many golfers, but in the spirit of public service, here’s a short list of dos and don’ts you may want to subltly give to your significant other, your aunt or your wife’s mom to let them know what a golfer wants and, more importantly, doesn’t want.


-- Anything with an Augusta National logo on it because it can only be bought on the property there and they don’t sell anything cheesey;

-- Golf balls, preferably Titlelists. It may seem like a cliche gift but golfers love finding a dozen or two under the tree. It’s like payback for all those we’ve lost under other trees;

-- Shirts that look like something Fred Couples might wear. I’d say shirts like Tiger wears but most of us don’t have the abs or the biceps to look good in some of his form-fitting stuff;

-- Tickets to the Wachovia Championship;

-- A surprise weekend trip to the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head;

-- An HDTV, the better to see how Phil Mickelson plays shots around the green;

-- A DVD of the 1986 Masters. No matter how many times you watch it - and we all know Jack wins - it still gives you a tingle.


-- Golf balls that aren’t white;

-- Any kind of score-keeping doo-dad;

-- Golf sandals;

-- Anything with John Daly’s logo on it;

-- Iron covers;

-- An 11-wood;

-- Sweaters with golfers on the front, the back or anywhere;

-- Naked lady tees (sorry, I couldn’t resist a ‘Caddyshack’ reference).

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sabbatini off Tiger's Christmas card list

Surely, Rory Sabbatini didn’t just pack his swagger, his family and his $170,000 last-place check from Tiger Woods and the Target World Challenge and fly away to Maui a day early without saying thank you and offering an explanation.

Surely, Sabbatini is smarter than that.

Then again …

It’s still unclear exactly why the mouth that Rory-ed became the first person in the history of Tiger’s pre-Christmas bash to withdraw – reports ranged from shin splints (hmmmm) to a desire to get to Maui early – but it looks worse than the belt buckles Sabbatini likes to wear.

In case you missed it, Sabbatini was in last place in the 16-player field with one round remaining when he bolted California for Hawaii without, if reports from the scene are accurate, telling the host how much he appreciated the chance to pay for Christmas and then some.

As Fred Couples told reporters, Sabbatini is messing with the wrong guy.

Sabbatini picked at Tiger all season – it started here at the Wachovia Championship – jabbering about this and that like a man desperate to be taken seriously. He never beat Tiger when it mattered, though Sabbatini had an otherwise outstanding season.

It’s one thing to challenge a guy. Sports are about competition and if you don’t believe you can beat a guy, you won’t.

But it’s something else to get invited to the guy’s private party, show up, eat his shrimp, drive his courtesy car, take his money and leave without finishing the tournament. Sabbatini’s agent said his guy had been bothered by shin splints and that’s why he withdrew.

“Sure he did … and Roger Clemens’ agent said he didn’t do steroids,” Couples was quoted as saying.

If Sabbatini’s shins were hurting him – everybody who believes that one raise your hand – he should have at least had the class to make sure his host understood the situation. That’s what most of us would do, I hope.

At the very least, maybe Sabbatini will donate the $170,000 he left town with to somebody who needs it more than he does.

Tiger – and the rest of us – would appreciate it.

And Rory can make other plans for mid-December next year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

There's been a Tiger Woods sighting ....

We interrupt this run-up to Christmas and run-down of the Carolina Panthers to point out that Tiger Woods is playing golf this weekend.

It's been nearly three months since we saw Woods on the golf course, back-slapping new American hero Woody Austin at the Presidents Cup. Since then, he says he hasn't done much. He hasn't been skiing yet but he's been on his boat and went to the Floyd Mayweather fight last weekend.

Tiger's been busy being a dad, hitting golf balls once in a while, and now he's back -- briefly -- to play in the Target World Challenge he hosts as a fund-raiser for his foundation.

Woods' real golf season won't start until sometime in January -- he's playing typically coy about his early-season schedule -- but the chatter has already begun about whether 2008 is the year he wins the true Grand Slam. I like his chances.

Recently, Woods raised some eyebrows when he said if he were the ruler of golf, he'd have us all playing persimmon drivers and balata balls again. He'd make shot-making and skill priorities again.

Wouldn't it be fun to see players step back in time -- just 15 years -- to see how good they would be with older equipment?

We know who'd win -- Tiger, of course.

In the meantime, it'll be fun to see him playing golf again -- modern equipment and all.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Payne opens Masters to next generation

When Augusta National chairman Billy Payne says he wants to inspire the next generation of golfers, he has a nice source of inspiration -- the Masters Tournament.

Payne and the club announced Thursday that beginning next April, accredited patrons will be allowed to bring a youngster between the ages of 8 and 16 to the Masters tournament rounds for free.

That doesn't mean if you're using someone's Masters credential for a day that you can bring your son or daughter. Only the person whose name is on the badge application can bring one child with them each day and the tournament will have a way of verifying who the badges belong to.

So, no, there won't be 25,000 kids roaming the property during the tournament.

Still, it's another nice touch by Payne, who has made so many good moves in his still-young tenure as club chairman. The intent, Payne said in a statement, is to expose youngsters to golf and the Masters. There's no better way than letting them see it in person.

Payne has been aggressive in his efforts to bring golf to more people, particularly to young people and the international audience. He sees it as a way to follow through on the vision of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, whose spirits still guide the club.

As part of that initiative, the popular par-3 tournament played on Wednesdays before the tournament begins will be televised by ESPN, the new cable partner for the Masters. The telecast will air from 3 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and give viewers a sense of the fun that has made the par-3 event an integral part of the Masters experience.

"These initiatives are important first steps and a great kickoff to our ongoing mission of growing the game," Payne said.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Two Gloves has firm grip on tour card

When the 2008 PGA Tour season begins next month -- you'll recognize it when you see the palm trees and Stuart Appleby at Kapalua again -- you may find yourself with a new favorite player.

Tommy 'Two Gloves' Gainey, who made his living playing mini-tour golf when he wasn't working in a South Carolina mill, made it through the tour qualifying school this week, punching his ticket to places like Pebble Beach, Phoenix and the same locker room where Tiger Woods changes his shoes.

Gainey won one of those 'Big Break' shows on The Golf Channel a while back, introducing himself to those of us who spend a little too much time watching golf.

He has a touch of Boo Weekley about him in that he's a natural. He wears two gloves when he plays -- hence the nickname -- and he can really play. Just ask the guys who've played mini-tour golf against him through the years.

Now Gainey gets to prove it to the world.

He's only played in one PGA Tour event in his life -- the Wachovia Championship last May -- and he already had a gallery following him.

Now he's the pride of Bishopville, S.C., and maybe, just maybe, a new star on the PGA Tour.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Charlotte's Tucker plotting comeback at 50

Chris Tucker has been playing golf around Charlotte for decades and had a two-year run on the PGA Tour in the early '90s that gave him a taste of what could be his.

Tucker never made it back to the PGA Tour but now has a chance to play the Champions Tour in 2008.

The opportunity doesn't come with any guarantees -- by virtue of his high finish at qualifying school, Tucker is now eligible to play Monday qualifiers for most seniors events -- but all Tucker wants is a chance.

"The Monday qualifying will be harder than the actual event if I get in," Tucker said.

Tucker jokingly calls the Champions Tour the "most closed society in the world" and it's close to that. The qualifying school he recently completed doesn't award tour spots to the top finishers. It just gives them entree into the Monday qualifying events where 50 to 60 players vie for nine spots most weeks.

Tucker, who turned 50 in November, is just over a year removed from rotator cuff surgery that some thought might end his competitive career. They were wrong.

Always a terrific ball striker, Tucker putted his way through qualifying school to earn his chance to play alongside Jay Haas, Loren Roberts and many of the other guys he played against in his brief PGA Tour career.

To get ready, Tucker played mini-tour events on Carolinas Pro Golf Tour as well as Carolinas PGA Section events.

He hopes to secure some financing to help him through his first crack at the Champions Tour and plans to be in Hawaii in mid-February when the tour season begins.

"If I can play well enough in the one-round shootout to get in the tournament, I feel like I'll have a chance to win," Tucker said. "I may be shocked but I think I can win. I know I can compete with them."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ochoa has confidence to dominate

Lorena Ochoa is quiet, conscientious and the new undisputed queen of women's professional golf.

For all the talk about Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and the once-inspiring Michelle Wie, Ochoa has redefined the hierarchy of women's golf with the season she completed Sunday in winning the ADT Championship.

In winning eight tournaments and a record $4.36-million, Ochoa definitely replaced Annika Sorenstam as the game's best player and the distance between her game and everyone else's may require a yardage book.

While Sorenstam will continue to chase history, her best days are behind her.

Though it's tough to imagine a season being better than this one, it's possible Ochoa's best days are still ahead.

She always had the game. Now Ochoa has the confidence to finish what she starts and that means winning tournaments in bunches.

Ochoa had a Tiger-quality year and there's no reason to think next year will be any different.

Plus, she donated $100,000 of the $1-million she won Sunday to a relief fund in her native Mexico and she has worked quietly but diligently to help those less fortunate than herself.

She's the new face of women's golf and that puts a smile on many faces.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Golf is always surprising

When you've played golf for more than 40 years and the only holes-in-ones you've encountered are three you've seen other people make, you've quit stepping to the tee on a par-3 hole and thinking this might be the swing.

But there I was at the Quail Hollow Club Thursday watching the wind take my 6-iron shot on the par-3 13th hole and drop it 15 feet left of the hole. And there we stood, my host David Clark, Buck Wearn and Greg Currie watching my ball roll to the right, closer, closer, closer to the hole.
And then it disappeared.

Part of golf's charm is the way it can surprise you. Every once in a while, a 50-foot putt will fall in or a bunker shot will come out perfectly, skip once and dive into the hole.

If you're lucky, there are times in your golf career when you can walk up to a green, thinking your ball is in the hole but you're not entirely sure, and you have the thrill of peeking into the cup and seeing it staring back at you.

As we approached the 13th green Thursday afternoon, my golf ball was nowhere to be seen.

They let me go first toward the hole.

And there was my golf ball.

On the back fringe.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Justin Timberlake reviving a golf trend?

The announcement Monday that Justin Timberlake is the new host of the PGA Tour’s annual stop in Las Vegas raised one important question - are bright red Sansabelt slacks about to be in vogue again?

The official name of the event will be the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital For Children Open - rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? - but it’s what the move represents that sends those of us old enough to remember the 1960s and ‘70s rushing back to the glory days of celebrity golf.

There was a time - and I know I’m showing my age here - when a handful of tournaments were known by their celebrity hosts rather than banks, car manufacturers and hotel chains.

It started with Bing Crosby’s event on the Monterey Peninsula and included Bob Hope’s annual birdiefest in Palm Springs.

Glen Campbell, the Rhinestone Cowboy, had his name on a tournament. So did Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis Jr. and Andy Williams.

It was a time when golf clothes were as wretchedly ugly as the Panthers’ offense and ‘double knit’ was what people wanted to wear - at least until they figured out they could make you sweat in places where you didn’t need to sweat.

Gradually, the names disappeared like the stars, leaving Hope’s name as the only one still affixed to a trophy.

Now Timberlake is bringing back the celebrity event. He can sing. He can dance. He can even tell secrets about Britney Spears if he wanted.

Maybe more celebrities will follow his lead.

Al Pacino could host the ‘Hoo-ah’ Classic.

Rachel Ray could host the ‘365 Ways To Make A Bogey Championship.’

Diddy could host the ‘Diddy Open.’

Tiger Woods could have his own tournament. Oh yeah, he has three - his Target World Challenge, the AT&T National in Washington and the Masters.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

PGA Tour season ends -- quietly

The 2007 PGA Tour season officially ended Sunday -- almost two months after it felt like it ended at the Tour Championship in Atlanta -- with the last important order of business being finalizing the top 125 money winners.

That was the focus of the seven-event Fall Series, which produced some interesting golf but didn't exactly captivate the sporting public like the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

The Fall Series did several things -- it reminded us that Justin Leonard still has some game left, as does Jesper Parnevik. It also made winners of George McNeill and Daniel Chopra.

Nine golfers played their way into the top 125 over the final seven weeks including Charlotte resident Johnson Wagner and Charlotte native Bill Haas. The others who secured their 2008 status were Alex Cejka, Parnevik, Mark Hensby, Cameron Beckman, Shigeki Maruyama, Mathias Gronberg and Michael Allen.

And if nine guys played their way in, it meant nine guys slipped out. Those nine -- who get a free pass to the final stage of tour qualifying school next month -- are Ben Curtis, Brett Quigley, Harrison Frazar, Bob Heintz, Doug LaBelle II, Steve Allan, Ted Purdy, Craig Kanada and Joe Durant.

Another guy who didn't make the top 125 was former Wake Forest golfer Billy Andrade, who had made the list for 18 straight years.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One boo-yah and you're gone

Please tell us there will be no ‘boo-yahs’ at the Masters.

That was the first thought that came to mind last week when news broke that ESPN will take over first- and second-round coverage of the Masters beginning next April.

Talk about an odd fit.

The Masters is all things traditional, right down to the white bread on its pimento cheese sandwiches.

ESPN is all about being cool, hip and loving itself.

Now they are married, or at least engaged for a year. The Masters believes in one-year television contracts and you can believe ESPN’s treatment of the world’s best golf tournament will be carefully crafted to fit the template.

For years, the first two rounds of the Masters have been on USA Network, but it’s getting out of the golf business.

ESPN has essentially been out of the golf biz since the PGA Tour decided to put its weekday product on The Golf Channel, a questionable decision given that ESPN reaches the non-converted as well as the devout golf fan, unlike TGC which is for those of us too close to our 6-irons.

By shifting the telecasts to ESPN, it broadens the potential audience even more, enhancing the vision of tournament chairman Billy Payne, who is doing a nice job of embracing the past, the present and the future at the Masters and Augusta National.

And, it’s better than a safe guess that Mr. Payne doesn’t want to hear any ‘boo-yahs’ when somebody holes a 15-footer for birdie at the 12th hole.

The face of ESPN’s Masters coverage will be Mike Tirico, who gets golf and won’t try to make it about himself, like too many of his ESPN colleagues tend to do.

He will host the show while the regulars from CBS Sports - David Feherty, Peter Kostis, Peter Oosteruis, et. al - will handle their usual duties.

ESPN will do right by the Masters.

The Masters wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More changes at Augusta National

There have been more changes to Augusta National Golf Club, though none will have a dramatic impact on the course.

Change, of course, is perpetual at Augusta National, though most of what has been done in recents was to enhance spectator viewing during the Masters each April.

Four holes - Nos. 1, 7, 9 and 11 - underwent modifications while the club was closed during the summer.

The Masters tee at the first hole was extended 10 yards in the front to accommodate the possibility of a strong northwest wind while the back of the tee was reduced to help spectator flow. The length of the hole - 455 yards - didn’t change.

At the seventh and ninth holes, the greens were slightly altered for agronomic reasons, adding a couple of hole locations on both.

At No. 11, more trees were removed along the right side of the fairway to enhance spectator viewing.

The other significant adjustment was to create more spectator seating on the hill to the left side of the par-3 16th hole. The enhanced viewing area will allow more than 2,000 fans to watch play on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mickelson apparently enjoyed Montreal

Behind the scenes at the Presidents Cup:

During the Americans' press conference Sunday evening, Phil Mickelson was asked about his singles pairing with Vijay Singh with the questioner alluding to the anticipation surrounding the match.

"Why?" Lefty deadpanned.

It's no secret. Mickelson and Singh aren't friendly with each other and they didn't talk much on the course. Phil did manage to get in a little jab later while talking about one of Singh's par saves.

"He was like 50 yards left of the green on No. 4 and looked like he had no shot," Lefty said.

"He and I have played a lot of golf together the last month or so and, I guess you play enough golf with someone you start to play like them. He was hitting it like I usually do and getting it up and down."

Even Tiger broke up laughing.

Mickelson evidently kept up a steady stream of chatter with his teammates through the week. When Mickelson was asked to expound on a question, Woody Austin piped up, "Don't encourage it."

Phil was even playful with Tiger, more evidence their supposed cold war was history.

When players were asked where they would donate their money from the event, Lefty volunteered to speak for Tiger, who seemed amused.

"The Tiger Woods Foundation will be receiving Tiger's and I can tell you about the Tiger Foundation," he said.

"It was a $25-million commitment. It's a place where a lot of inner city youth can go and study and play golf and learn. And he's going to do one in Washington, D.C. I say this because I do know what he's doing and I think it's incredible. He has an ability to make an impact on so many people's lives and he takes advantage of that opportunity and we're all appreciative."

Asked about his own foundation, Mickelson said, "I know a little bit about that, too."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Observations from Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 28, 2007

Woody Austin stands out in this field

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

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Presidents Cup no pressure

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

Let’s ask David Toms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Presidents Cup, Canadian style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Charlotte 49ers invited to prestigious tournament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems to be working.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tiger numbers to remember: 18, 82, 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bobby Jones celebrated at East Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mickelson designing N.C. course, too

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

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

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

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

How long and how daring?

How about:

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

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

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Quail Hollow deal means dream can build

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they keep building on the dream.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fed Ex Cup has trouble delivering stars

Phil Mickelson is conflicted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere Tim Finchem probably asked for a Rolaids.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Club championship weekend upon us

To many golfers, especially around here, Labor Day weekend means club championship weekend.

Many private clubs devote the three-day weekend to determining the best player in the club and, in the process, reinforcing what most members already know – which members have the most ridiculous handicaps.

Beyond the free beer that’s usually included, club championships can be great fun if you like playing competitive golf where there’s no such thing as a gimme. Putt ‘em out, boys and girls.

That means, sooner or later over the course of 54 holes, you’re going to miss at least one that makes you blush. Maybe two. Maybe more if the inside of your brain starts sounding like a Metallica concert.

If you’ve ever played tournament golf, you know it’s a different game than the one you play most days. It’s not for everyone. Tournament golf will expose you quicker than ’60 Minutes.’

Make a couple of bad swings and suddenly things start to go bump in your backswing. Pitch shots over bunkers look like something from Indiana Jones’ nightmares. Fairways look as thin as Charles Howell III’s calves.

But there are days – so I’ve been told – when it all comes together and when it happens in the club championship, you have a fleeting sense of how Tiger must feel at Firestone.

OK, that may be an exaggeration. The closest you get to feeling like Tiger is pulling on a red Nike shirt on Sunday. Your private jet is actually a 2001 Camry with an ‘I’d rather be driving a Titleist’ bumper sticker on the back.

Golf is the ultimate tease, as anyone who’s ever chopped it around for 17 holes then holed the 35-footer on the 18th green already knows.

But once the game gets its hooks in you – symptoms include checking out your takeaway in the reflection of a window and being able to recognize Briny Baird from 200 yards away – it never lets go.

The weird thing is, no matter how many hosel rockets you’ve hit, you still believe the next shot, the next round, the next tournament is going to be a good one.

That’s why club championships are so much fun.

Until the guy with an 11-handicap shoots 74 and ruins it for everyone.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Did Tiger help PGA by not playing?

The success or failure of the FedEx Cup playoffs - forget for a moment they’re not actually playoffs - can’t be judged on one week, but if Steve Stricker’s victory in The Barclays Sunday was any indication, the concept has potential.

The best part of the first playoff event was Stricker’s victory. He’s one of the nicest men in professional golf and for him to finally win again after six years warmed many hearts.

It wasn’t long ago that Stricker seriously considered abandoning the game. It had torn him apart and he had lost his playing privileges. But Stricker hung in there and has played his way back among the top-ranked players in the world.

If you want to be a fan of someone, Stricker’s your guy.

Perhaps Tiger Woods’ absence helped, in a backhanded way, the first playoff event. With Stricker, K.J. Choi and Rory Sabbatini playing well, they leap-frogged Tiger in the standings.
It doesn’t mean Tiger won’t win the FedEx Cup but it means it won’t be automatic.

Wouldn’t it be fun if Phil Mickelson won this week and got in the middle of it?

Give CBS credit for using graphics to show how players were moving up and down the standings during the final round. It gave viewers a sense of the dynamic at work. It may be more interesting this weekend when only the top 70 will advance.

Then again, Tiger’s back this week. We may know by Sunday how it all ends.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Want the right club fit? Try Z Golf

Okay, so you know a little bit about club fitting in golf.

You know you need your clubs to be two degrees upright, standard length and have stiff shafts. You know the 10-degree driver works for you but you’re not sure why.

It’s amazing how much the guys who run Z Golf’s custom fitting operation can tell you about your golf swing, the clubs you’re using and the clubs that can honestly – and they’ll give you the statistical evidence to prove it – help you hit it 10 yards longer.

The third branch of Z Golf – the first two are in Memphis and Chattanooga – recently opened at the Ballantyne Golf Resort, bringing the latest in high-tech club fitting to Charlotte.

Club fitting came into vogue a few years ago and, like computers, it keeps evolving. If you’re thinking of buying new clubs, you’d be making a mistake if you didn’t get properly fitted first.

"You don’t wear a pair of shoes that’s too small for you," Dana Rader, a member of Golf Digest’s top 50 teachers, said. "You get a pair that fits.
"It’s the same with golf. You don’t have to get the top of the line stuff. It’s more about the fit. You need the right fit."

That’s what Z Golf gives you.

Utilizing the latest technology – a device called TrackMan – and enough club options to fill a superstore, Rick Spangler of Z Golf can break down the flight of every shot you hit with every different club into enough numbers to dazzle a NASA scientist. The good thing is Spangler will decipher the numbers, tell you what they mean and help you pick your equipment accordingly.

You can probably even forecast the weather while using TrackMan since it incorporates Doppler radar technology that provides 18 measuring points on each shot. It’s not just launch angle, clubhead speed and spin rate, it measures the angle of the clubface at impact, the angle of descent on shots falling out of the sky and other elements.

Because Z Golf’s program isn’t tied to any club manufacturer, it allows golfers to test almost everything – Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway, Adams, Nike, whatever. It has more combinations than Starbucks and, should a player find a club or clubs he wants to purchase, they don’t cost anymore than at most retail shops.

"We have no brand identity so we’re not focused on touting specific clubs," Spangler said. "This is all about finding the right club."

It’s available for players of all skills levels. Beginners may not need the latest and greatest equipment but they need clubs that fit them properly.
Having analyzed hundreds of swings and players, Spangler has discovered a couple of things most players have in common.

First, many who come in determined to buy a specific brand of driver are surprised to find they often hit and like something else better;
And, almost no one hits it as far as they think they do.

"No one hits it 300 yards," Spangler said. "I tell them PGA Tour players fly it an average of 260 yards with their drivers."

Okay, sometimes the truth hurts.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

FedEx Cup starts with no Tiger and lots of questions

The PGA Tour's super-hyped, vaguely understood FedEx Cup playoffs begin this week with No. 1 seed and - even if he doesn't make another cut this year - player of the year Tiger Woods deciding to give himself a first-round bye.

That's called starting with a whimper more than a bang.

No wonder PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem opted not to visit the media center in Greensboro Sunday afternoon while he was at Forest Oaks Country Club, where you'd have thought he might want to pump up the volume on golf's so-called playoffs.

No one, players included, is quite sure what to make of this new four-event format that is intended to give the PGA Tour a finish with the unrelenting action of "The Bourne Ultimatum."

It's a worthwhile experiment. Pro golf gets lost in football season and trying to bring it all together for a big finish before everyone gets settled into their Barcalounger is a good idea.

I remember standing behind the 18th green in Greensboro a couple of years ago on an October Saturday afternoon watching the final groups finish. Players in three consecutive groups walked off the last green and immediately asked about college football scores.

At the Presidents Cup two years ago, U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus finished his Saturday afternoon press conference that included unveiling the Sunday singles pairings then, as he was walking out, had a writer call up the day's college scores on a computer so the Golden Bear could check on his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes and the other games.

Regardless of who wins the FedEx Cup - my guess is Tiger followed by Vijay Singh with Brandt Snedeker as the darkhorse - we already know Woods is the player of the year. That's not going to change.

But it's hard to get hyped up about the money they're playing for because A) they already play for so much and, B) it's s not like they get the money now.

The winner will have to wait until he's 45 to access the $10 million annuity. It's nice to know that it's coming down the road, but wouldn't it be more fun if FedEx rolled out one of its big trucks to the 18th green at East Lake and stacked the money around the champion?

There are interesting questions as the FedEx Cup begins:

- Will Phil Mickelson really play all four events as he says he intends to do and, if he does, will he be a factor? Lefty usually shuts it down this time of year, but because he was one of the guys asking for the shorter season, he needs to play. Plus, is his second-half slump entirely attributable to his wrist injury? If Phil can get it going, the FedEx Cup will get some extra juice.

-How much will the attention focus on the "cut" after the second week when only the top 70 in points advance? My guess is it won't attract much attention.

-Is this tailor-made for Jim Furyk, who is seemingly always in contention?

-What if Tiger and Vijay are battling for the FedEx championship on Sunday at the Tour Championship but neither is in contention to win the tournament? Does the tournament winner get overshadowed like happens when the Nextel Cup champion is determined?

-Will the format be the same next year?

-It's time to start getting some answers.

-Ron Green Jr.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What will Tiger's course look like?

The secret was out before the official word Tuesday afternoon that Tiger Woods’ first golf course design in the United States will be at The Cliffs at High Carolina, located about 15 minutes east of Asheville.

"I guess we all know why we’re here," Woods said upon his introduction at a standing-room-only press conference inside the clubhouse at The Cliffs Valley course just north of Greenville, S.C.

Everyone already knew.

What’s still to be learned is what kind of course designer Tiger Woods will be.

High Carolina will be only his second design, following the course he’s still completing in Dubai. He admits to learning on the job but Woods has such a great eye for detail and an appreciation of the game’s classic elements that he figures to be an outstanding designer.

Here are a few of his thoughts about course design and his new project he shared during his media conference:

On his interest in course design: "It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to do it. As a kid playing the game of golf, you always wanted to create something that people would love, that would last and (people) would find challenging but enjoyable as well…

"Take a look at this piece of property, it’s absolutely amazing. You really can’t mess this up, okay? Even an idiot can’t mess this up…I think I’m a little bit above that."

Why he chose The Cliffs opportunity: "You have to experience the property. Once you get up there and experience how peaceful this is, how tranquil and (serene) it is, it’s just a no-brainer. You want to be part of this…

"With our southern view, it’s absolutely breathtaking. You see for, I think about seven mountain it’s pretty remarkable."

What courses or designers influence him: "I love what Perry’s (Maxwell) done or what (Alistair) McKenzie’s done. I just enjoy the older-style golf courses. I enjoy golf courses that are right in front of you. I thoroughly enjoy playing links golf courses where you utilize the ground. I enjoy playing the Aussie sandbelt courses…I thoroughly enjoy what we play most of our U.S. Opens and PGA Championships on."

On what he’s learned about design work in his first project: "Well, everything. How extensive it is to design a golf course. You just go play golf and you say, okay, they put a lake here, they put a bunker here, trees there. Why would they do that?

"As I’ve gotten into it, I’ve started to understand why and how. When I play golf courses now, I look at them differently."

Will he be like Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus, who tend to move large amounts of dirt in their designs, or take a more minimalist approach?: "I’m more of a minimalist."

Will he have a design trademark?: "If it had to be one specific thing, probably bunkering. I just enjoy playing a golf course that has fantastic bunkering."

Where does this project stand on his list of business priorities? "Very high. Extremely high. One of the reasons I’m moving to this is that (it’s) different, challenging. I figure I’ve done enough commercials and stuff like that. That part was fun for a while. Now I want to try something else, something that’s stimulating.

"As I’ve gotten into it, I have been stimulated more than I ever thought I would and I actually love that."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tiger's path to 19, major-by-major

Now that Tiger Woods has won his 13th major championship - so much for the notion that Southern Hills with all its dogleg par-4s doesn’t fit Tiger’s game - he’s one step closer to breaking Jack Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 professional major trophies.

Five more to tie.

Six to break the record.

Probably 10 more majors by the time Tiger calls it a career.

So where might Tiger make history?

Let’s look at it year by year and it may come clear to us.

2008: Tiger hasn’t won the Masters since 2005 (gee, two whole years) but he’ll get No. 5 next April. That gets him to 14 majors. The U.S. Open goes to Torrey Pines near San Diego so Tiger gets No. 15 there. He wins the Buick tournament there every year and it’s like a homecourse advantage to Tiger. The British is at Royal Birkdale and, since he can’t win every major every year, let’s say this one goes to someone else as does the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

2009: Let’s figure Tiger wins the Masters every other year for a while so he doesn’t win at Augusta in ’09. The U.S. Open returns to Bethpage where he won the first time it was played there. Tiger likes to collect things so he collects another Bethpage victory, No. 16. The British Open goes back to Turnberry, one of the great links in the world, and Tiger loves links golf. He hasn’t won at Turnberry, where the great Nicklaus-Tom Watson duel was waged. He gets No. 17 within sight of the Ailsa Craig, letting someone else win the PGA at Hazeltine.

2010: Tiger’s been keeping track of Jack’s major championship record since he was big enough to swing a 9-iron and he has a knack for the big stage. Tiger ties Jack’s record of 18 majors with a victory at the Masters, which would also tie Jack’s record of six wins at Augusta. It’s the perfect scenario. And No. 19 comes two months later at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the spot where Nicklaus said if he had one round to play, he would play it there. It’s also the place where Nicklaus waved goodbye to the U.S. Open.

And the rest is more history.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Catching up with Mark Love, Davis' brother

Thursday afternoon while his brother, Davis, was playing his first round in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in sweaty Tulsa, OK., Mark Love – who has caddied for his brother off and on through the years – was in a golf cart taking another look at the redesign work they’ve done at the soon-to-open The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis.

There was a time when Mark, who followed Davis to the University of North Carolina, would have been marching through the Oklahoma heat with his brother’s golf bag slung across his shoulder, relishing the possibility of being in contention on the weekend.

But Mark Love was where he wanted to be Thursday, riding in the North Carolina heat, looking at what he, his brother and their design company are creating at what used to be Kannapolis Country Club.

"I don’t miss caddying," said Love, who became a familiar sight beside his brother. "When I do an occasional week with Davis now, I enjoy seeing my friends and the tournament rounds, but that job is so much about sitting and waiting."

These days, Mark is president of Love Golf Design, a company with an increasingly impressive reputation. The Love Course at Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach has earned national praise, as have several others among the 20 or so projects the Love group has handled.

When Irish Creek opens to members this fall, word will spread fast about the dynamic redesign Mark, Davis and their group – including Bob Spence and John McKenzie – have produced.

They have taken the best parts of the existing layout, created new routing and new holes in places and fully utilized the lake, transforming the course into a more dramatic and appealing golf course. It’s a place people will want to go play – often.

"We think traditional-style golf is more fun," Love said, riding the course Thursday afternoon. "When we’ve been at majors, Davis has always said, ‘Why can’t we build courses like this anymore?’ "

That doesn’t mean difficult enough to torment touring pros. It means incorporating classic design styles such as grass-faced bunkers, generous fairways and subtly contoured greens into natural settings. It means utilizing the land rather than creating something artificial.

"The creative part of it is my forte," Love said, looking across a lakeside where the fifth, seventh and eighth greens sit.

At the par-3 eighth, Love explains how two bunkers had been built on the right side of the green but, with the green guarded on the left by the lake, the decision was made to go with just one bunker, leaving the front right side clear for sliced tee shots.

"We’ve given a nice big target now for the average guy, but with the green we’ve designed the good players will have a lot of different type shots they can hit," Love said.

A few minutes later, standing on the 18th tee, Love looked around at the course coming to life.

He liked what he saw.

And he liked where he was.

Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lots of questions as PGA Championship gets under way

The primary order of business at the PGA Championship this week at Southern Hills Country Club, aka the world's largest outdoor grill, is determining who will be handed the Wannamaker Trophy Sunday afternoon when the sweating finally subsides.

That, of course, presupposes that enough guys will put up with the heat long enough to play 72 holes in the Oklahoma sizzle.

Who wins - and don't we all think it's going to be Tiger? - could give some needed definition to this PGA Tour season.

Normally at this point in the season, Tiger has already locked down player of the year and master of the universe awards again. But not this year, not yet anyway.

All the important awards - including the perpetually hyped FedEx Cup points race - are still undecided.

Rory Sabbatini has secured the most amusing character award and The Golf Channel is a lock for most improved, but everything else is, like John Daly, fuzzy around the edges.

Some people are still making the case for Zach Johnson as player of the year, though it's Tiger's again if he wins the PGA.

Maybe Padraig Harrington doubles up with a win at the PGA. Maybe Phil Mickelson suddenly returns to form and makes a dynamic run down the stretch.

Maybe Sergio Garcia finally bags the big one despite playing against luck, fate and everything else he believes works against him.

Maybe Ernie Els is rediscovered.

It's time for some answers.

Ron Green Jr.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Big thanks to Rory Sabbatini

We all owe Rory Sabbatini a big thank you for tugging on Superman’s cape again and giving us back the Tiger Woods we’re accustomed to being dazzled by.

The Mouth That Rory-ed popped off again last weekend about Tiger’s supposed vulnerability, drawing the featured Sunday pairing with Tiger at the World Golf Championship/Bridgestone/Woods Family Annuity Classic at Firestone.

Of course, Woods won by such a wide margin that he could have played two extra holes and still been the winner over Sabbatini, who probably wanted to hide behind his giant belt buckle the way he played on Sunday.

Sabbatini has made a habit this year of saying Woods is “as beatable as ever” and he’s been right. Woods is as beatable as ever, which means just about never when he has a scent of the lead on the weekend.

You knew Saturday night that Woods was going to have ‘the look’ on Sunday, knowing he had Sabbatini in his pairing. My guess is Woods is amused by Sabbatini’s chatter, knowing that Sabbatini is a brash guy and knowing that he’s going beat Rory almost every time they play.

Give Sabbatini credit for making things interesting. His remarks at the Wachovia Championship here started the storyline and it’s been fun to watch it stay alive through the summer.

Some had suggested prior to Firestone that Woods’ focus and game had dulled. He hadn’t won in five starts - and that tells you how ridiculously over the top our expectations of Woods have become - and he remains winless in majors this year.

Tiger reminded us at Firestone that his game is just fine. He missed by a whisker of winning the Masters and U.S. Open but the focus was on why he hadn’t won.

My guess is he won’t win the PGA Championship at Southern Hills this week. It’s not a course that seemed to suit him when he’s played there previously but he’ll keep himself in contention.

Then again, if Sabbatini gets in the chase at Southern Hills, count on Tiger shadowing him. And we know how that story will end.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Long, short of winning a major

Sergio Garcia could have done more than just win the British Open Sunday had his eight-foot putt on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie tumbled into the cup.

He would have become the first player to win a major championship using a belly putter or a long putter.

Instead, those forced to desperate measures with a putter are still winless in golf’s most important events.

Vijay Singh, who goes back and forth with his putters, had gone back to a conventional-length putter when he won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits three years ago.

Putting, as anyone who has ever tried it knows, is a hateful thing. It has ruined more men than wine and women.

That’s why players try all the things they do in an effort to roll the ball into that little hole. If a snow shovel worked, golfers would use it.

But there’s something about the long putter, or the shorter belly putter that you anchor to that spare tire around your waist, that runs contrary to the spirit of golf’s rules.

There may come a day when I’m forced to use the long putter, at which point my opinion will change 180 degrees but, for the time being, I’m glad no one has won a major using a long or belly putter.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sadly, a bitter ending for Sergio

Late Sunday evening, the sound of Irishmen singing – someone suggested they’d had a few pints – could still be heard at the Carnoustie Golf Links after Padraig Harrington won a British Open that had been a long time coming.

It was worth singing about.

Let’s take a moment here to appreciate Harrington. He’s an exceptional player who’s not spectacular at anything other than getting the ball in the hole. That’s a nice skill to have when you’re in the business of major championship golf.

He’s a tireless worker who’s come close enough times in majors to know how wickedly difficult it is to win one of these things.

Harrington is also immensely popular with players on both the PGA and European Tours because he’s a good guy who works hard, tells you what he’s thinking and goes about it the right way.

Even Sergio Garcia had to be happy Harrington won.

At least you hope so.

Garcia is a strange case. He’s a terrific player who has seemingly everything going for him except for a putter, that occasionally sticks needles in his eyes, and an attitude that works against him.

After his playoff loss to Harrington Sunday, Garcia played the woe is me card, citing all the ways the world is out to get him.

When he hits the flagstick, like he did on the second playoff hole, his ball always bounces away from the hole instead of landing beside the cup. He never gets any good breaks. The guy raking the bunkers at No. 18 took too long. Blah, blah, blah.

Come on, Sergio.

It’s easy to understand his frustration and that’s great. If he didn’t care he wouldn’t be where he is. Sergio’s passion is who he is.

He played terrific golf for three days and when he got wobbly, Sergio pulled it together in the pressure of Sunday afternoon and made you admire his toughness getting to a playoff.

When he lost, though, he started blaming fate. But fate didn’t shoot 38 on the front nine or plug his approach shot in the bunker on the first playoff hole.

It was a bitter way to go, for sure, after such a good week.

Maybe Garcia didn’t hear the Irishmen singing Sunday evening. He wouldn’t have liked the tune.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's there for Sergio's taking

The British Open couldn’t be set up any better for Sergio Garcia to win.

He has a three-stroke lead over Steve Stricker with 18 holes to play and he’s six clear of everyone else.

Best of all for Garcia, Tiger Woods is eight strokes behind.

This is Sergio’s moment. Now he has to seize it.

Garcia has grown justifiably weary of answering questions about why he hasn’t won a major championship so far. This is his 35th professional major and it’s time he finished one off.

He’s leading at Carnoustie because he’s played better than anyone else. Saturday was a fine example of managing himself around 18 holes, avoiding the costly mistake while taking advantage of the scoring chances he gets.

Garcia hit long irons off the tee on several par-4s to make sure he didn’t find the fairway bunkers that are, effectively, a one-stroke penalty.

He’s not making every putt but the difference this week is Garcia is putting with confidence. Having made the sensible move to the belly putter after the U.S. Open last month, Garcia feels good on the greens again. When he looks up, he sees the ball starting on line, something he wasn’t seeing often enough with a conventional putter.

There are plenty of doubters when it comes to Garcia but I feel like this is the one he wins. It’s important for him to get off to a good start in the final round and it would help Garcia if the conditions aren’t severe. He doesn’t look forward to playing in difficult conditions.

Just imagine the party Garcia might throw if he wins the claret jug on Sunday.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shoot, it's fish and a barrel

The culinary offerings in Scotland are, at least by American tastes, different.

That’s not to say bad, just different.

They love their potatoes and black pudding and grilled tomatoes for breakfast.

They’re quick to throw a cucumber slice on a sandwich, too.

But when you go looking for a Scottish delicacy at the British Open, you just follow the smoke. When you find its source, you’ll find Iian Spinks’ original Arbroath smokies.

And you’ll also find a line of people waiting for them. At noon local time Friday, the line happened to include a substantial portion of the American media corps, each taking turns forking over four pounds ($8) for a headless, boneless golden brown haddock on a paper plate.

Spinks’ little tent is set up near the main spectator gate and beside it is half a whiskey barrel dug into the ground and covered with damp Hessian sacking or, what we’d call burlap.

The fish, which hang tied by their tail to a stick before being smoked, cook for about 40 minutes over oak and beech and when they emerge, they’re bronze on the outside and beautiful on the inside.

The bones are pulled out and the fish is handed to you on a white paper plate. You tip it over slightly to drain a little fish juice out and then go at it with a plastic fork.

Wonder if the guy has any interest in coming to the Wachovia Championship?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

British Open weather: Cold, rainy, perfect

This is the way the British Open is supposed to be – cold, gray and wet.

And the bad stuff is expected to arrive by Saturday.

A local joked that summer came to Scotland last Sunday and has left again for another year, and it feels like it.

Walking around Carnoustie today requires a rain suit (they’re called ‘waterproofs’ over here), a hat and a strong constitution.

It’s been a while since the Open has felt like this. Last year, sunscreen was in high demand, as was anything icy cold. This year, hot chocolate is the drink of choice.

It would be OK if it were just cold. It would feel like the Masters this year.

It would be OK if it were raining.

But put them together and you have a perfect day to sit in front of a fireplace, not play golf.

“If it had been windy, too, I might have been inside drinking something,” said Joe Durant, who was the first player out Thursday at what they call “half-six” in the morning here.

It’s not often you see Tiger Woods walking the course with his hands tucked into thick mittens, but it happened Thursday.

Puffs of steam sprouted from the mouths of players and fans who braved the elements.

It didn’t feel like a day for golf.

But it felt like a day at the British Open.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Clothes come off in Scotland

Don’t take this the wrong way but your clothes come on and off a lot when you’re in Scotland.

It’s a weather thing.

One minute it’s warm and sunny, the next minute it’s cold and breezy. Even if it’s not raining, it looks as if it could at almost any moment.

In the media center at the British Open, daily weather updates are distributed, offering reasonable guesses at what the conditions will be later in the day and later in the week.

As I write this, I’m reading a forecast that says there’s only a 20 percent chance of “heavier showers” today. The long shot came in because it’s raining so hard outside, it’s hard to hear inside the big media tent.

To their credit, weather forecasters here make no promises. Beside their forecast for Saturday (stormy and cold as Colin Montgomerie on a bad day) are the words “low-medium confidence.”

Beside the Sunday forecast (cloudy with a 50 percent chance Tiger Woods will win) are the words “low confidence.”

In other words, they’re not bragging about their Dopplers.

Because the weather never stays the same on this edge of the North Sea, dressing properly has more layers than a James Joyce novel. Beyond the obvious necessities, there’s a shirt, a sweater and a rain jacket. The Scots, by the way, don’t call them rain suits. They call them waterproofs.

Sometimes you wear all three. Sometimes two. Sometimes one. Sometimes you do all three during one walk around the golf course.

More later.

I need to go get my jacket.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Charisma, spellbinding play lasting memory of Ballesteros' career

If you ever saw Seve Ballesteros play golf in his prime, you haven’t forgotten it.

He played golf with a rare passion and imagination, unlike anyone in today’s game and like few others ever.

When Seve announced his retirement from competitive golf Monday at Carnoustie, his game had long ago faded away, leaving him to chase balls out of bad spots, unable to summon the magic that once marked his game.
But his impact was enormous.

At his best, Seve was spellbinding. He attacked the game and the course, winning five major championships in a career that can’t be judged solely by the trophies he won.

Seve reached beyond the scores he shot. His impact was in how he played and how he changed the sport.

Ballesteros was Europe’s Arnold Palmer.

He never seemed to grasp the notion that American fans and journalists admired his style while remarking about his ability to make pars and birdies from seemingly impossible places. Seve seemed offended by the remarks but he shouldn’t have been.

Perhaps that’s why he apologized to writers Monday for any times when he might have been rude or gruff and there were some of those.

He was brilliant around the greens and had a movie-star charisma about him as he marched around golf courses, his brow creased.

When he smiled, Seve could light the world.

His legacy may ultimately be his effect on the Ryder Cup. Before Seve, it had become an exhibition, neither competitive or emotional. He made it both.

Seve breathed fire into the Ryder Cup while inspiring a generation of European players who altered professional golf’s global landscape.

He called it a career Monday.

It was a great one.

Ron Green Jr.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A day at the Old Course

I had always imagined what it would feel like to stand on the first tee at the Old Course at St. Andrews with a driver in my hands and the eyes of the townspeople and golf’s ghosts watching me.

Now I know.

I felt nervous. Excited but nervous.

And, not wanting to miss what appears to be the widest fairway in the world, I hit a 3-wood just to be safe.

After years of anticipation, I finally played the Old Course last Thursday and, having already fallen under the spell of St. Andrews during the 2005 Open Championship there, my affection for the place was deepened after a day ‘round the auld sod.

It’s no great revelation that the Old Course is a quirky place, a relatively flat, tree-less piece of linksland that starts and ends close enough to town that it’s possible to fire a golf ball into someone’s apartment.

Some people don’t like or don’t get the Old Course. The story goes that when Sam Snead first passed the place on a train, he remarked, “It looks like there used to be a golf course there.”

I loved it.

The humps. The bumps. The double greens. The gorse. The pot bunkers. The views of the town.

I loved it all.

It didn’t hurt that we caught it on a beautiful day, partly cloudy, temperatures in the upper 60s and barely a breeze until late in our round.

Playing the Old Course, especially for the first time, is about more than making pars and bogeys and (one) birdie. It’s about hearing the whispers of time and knowing you’re walking the most historic ground in the game.

It’s not the kind of golf we’re used to playing. You play the Old Course on the ground, bouncing shots into greens, watching them twist and turn on their way.

The fairways are not perfect. There’s no special grass on the greens. It’s just grass and it’s mowed shorter on the greens.

When you play the 17th – the famous Road Hole – it’s unnerving when you’re told to aim your tee shot over the ‘H’ in the Old Course Hotel script painted on the shed directly in front of you. But it’s a thrill when you do it and find your ball one foot off the fairway and an equally bigger thrill when you rip a 4-iron onto the front of the green while the people watching from the Jigger Inn alongside the fairway applaud you.

They didn’t applaud the three-putt that followed.

When you walk over the Swilcan Bridge on No. 18 and to the final green, tucked beside a street, you remember seeing Jack Nicklaus birdie the last hole he ever played in major championship golf.

You remember that Bobby Jones and Sam Snead and Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods have won the Open at St. Andrews.

I will remember more than my 81. I will remember the feeling.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ranking the top 10 N.C. golf courses

If you’ve ever seen the marvelous movie, ‘High Fidelity,’ starring John Cusack as a lovesick music buff, you know that guys love to rank things. Top 10 songs. Top 10 movies. Top 10 cheeseburgers.

The Golf Channel has a series of Top 10 shows running this summer and, seemingly every day, somebody has a list about something.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled my 10 favorite courses in North Carolina. It doesn’t mean they’re the best, though most are familiar, just that they’re courses I like to play when I get the chance.
Some familiar ones aren’t included because I’ve never seen or played them. Wade Hampton, the Country Club of North Carolina, Diamond Creek and Eagle Pointe are just a few of those. Everyone who’s been to Wade Hampton raves about it but it’s hard to include it if I’ve never seen it.

My top 10 is:

10. Cedarwood Country Club in Charlotte. OK, it’s my home course so I’m playing favorites here but it’s a terrific members’ course, originally designed by Ellis Maples then retouched a couple of years ago by Kris Spence. The last five holes are one of the best finishing stretches around.

9. Old North State Club in New London: Some lists have this course near the top in the state, though I can’t put it that high. It’s great fun to play, even if the par-4 ninth hole is harder than boot camp. The 16th, 17th and 18th holes play along Baden Lake and are as much fun to play as they are to look at. If anyone ever invites you to Old North State, go.

8. Elk River in Banner Elk: It’s a beautiful Jack Nicklaus design with two distinct nines. One plays through a meadow while the other climbs and twists along a hillside. It would be a great place to spend the summer.

7. Linville Golf Club in Linville: This is a classic, old-style mountain course that you could play every day without tiring of it. The par-4 third hole has been included on many best holes in the world lists and justifiably so. Linville doesn’t beat you up the way some courses can. It caresses you like a cashmere sweater.

6. Pinehurst No. 4: When this course was remade by Tom Fazio a few years ago, it went from good to excellent. It’s not unlike its sister, Pinehurst No. 2, in that it challenges you around the greens with its sweeping run-offs. The putting surfaces aren’t as contoured as No. 2 but reaching the greens asks a lot of players. There’s a reason the U.S. Amateur will use it next August.

5. Pine Needles in Southern Pines: Everything about Pine Needles oozes comfort. The lodge. The staff. The course. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy golf course. Pine Needles, as the Women’s Open showed, is a superb test that continually gives you fun shots to play.

4. Charlotte Country Club: It’s the old classic in Charlotte golf and figures to be even better when the current renovation is complete. With its huge trees and rolling layout, it has the feel of the clubs in the Northeast and it’s as good as anything you’re going to find. It tests every part of your game, charming you in the process.

3. Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte: There’s a reason the best players in the world play the Wachovia Championship every year - and it’s not the money nor the Mercedes they get to drive. It’s the golf course. Look at the list of winners in the five years of the Wachovia - David Toms, Vijay Singh, Joey Sindelar, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods. It’s major championship worthy.

2. Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville: For sheer beauty, nothing matches Grandfather. It’s gorgeous. It’s always wickedly hard. Don’t hit it sideways because you’ll never find your ball in the rhododendrun and mountain laurel. Putting the always-slick greens is serious business, and the only bad thing about the stunning par-4 18th hole is it means the end of your round at Grandfather.

1. Pinehurst No. 2 (shown in photo): It’s golf at its purest. It’s not filled with dramatic beauty. It has just one small pond. But it’s where every great American golfer has played and it’s better now than ever. The genius in Donald Ross’ design is in forcing players to play the correct shots into the greens, which are small works of art. It’s the kind of course where you can hit every club in your bag and the more often you play it, the more you appreciate it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Observations during another weather delay at the Open

Observations from the U.S. Women’s Open, at least that part of it that has been played between three weather delays:

-Michelle Wie has some serious problems in her golf game.
She sounds like someone on the verge of developing the driver yips as she talks about how uncertain she is of her ability to hit fairways off the tee. It’s not her wrist but her confidence and that’s harder to get back than a healthy wrist.

-When Wie said Thursday there was a thin line between 69 and the 82 she posted, you had to shake your head. She saved herself several strokes by holing medium-length putts in the first round.

-However it happened, it’s a very good thing she won’t be playing in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.

-I’m surprised by how high the scores are at Pine Needles. The rough is not killer but the greens and the areas surrounding them have extremely demanding. Players are having trouble getting the ball close to the hole and really struggling to save shots when they miss greens.
They’re getting the full Donald Ross effect.

-USGA officials knew they were gambling with the weather by playing the Open at this time of the year but this has been a bad draw.

-The two previous Opens at Pine Needles were played about a month earlier when the chance of afternoon storms is not as great. The trade-off for playing the Open now is to have the Bermuda grass fully grown in, making the course play as it was designed to play.

-The weather delays are a nuisance but they don’t mean the Open won’t return to Pine Needles in another eight to 10 years.

-It’s fun to watch Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel play golf. They have a style about them that so many players lack. What a story it would be if they could get in the mix here on Sunday – or whenever this Open eventually ends.

Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

PGA needs drug-testing

Last week, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the PGA Tour intends to adopt a drug-testing plan to alleviate any concerns about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional golf.


And why has it taken so long? For the record, let me admit that stories and chatter about drug-testing makes my eyes glaze over. To borrow a line from a Dan Jenkins book, put the words steroids, deficit or committee in a
headline and it's guaranteed to make me read something else.

But since we live in a justifiably skeptical sports world, there's no reason the PGA Tour shoudln't adopt a drug-testing policy. I understand it's not as easy as just saying you're going to do it and having it done but the tour has been slow to act, believing -- probably correctly -- that it doesn't have a signfiicant problem.

Still, when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and others say the tour should be pro-active, they're right. The LPGA tour will begin drug-testing next year as will the European Tour, though the details on the whats and hows and whys are still vague.

David Fay, executive director of the USGA, said Wednesday that drug testing is "inevitiable" but he couldn't say exactly when it will arrive. He put the onus on the professional tours to take the lead but said the major golf organizations, including the USGA, need to be involved.

Most of golf's testing has been directed at equipment, aimed at identifying non-conforming drivers. The PGA Tour needs to get a strong plan -- with strong penalties -- in place and eliminate any questions about what players may or may not be using. Golf does not lend itself to the kinds of abuses we've heard about in other sports but it would be naive to think golf hasn't had guys who have experimented with performance-enhancing drugs.

There are gray areas with golf. Do beta-blockers count? I have a friend who's a sports psychologist who has worked with tour players for years and when the subject of having a couple of beers on the golf course came up one day, he said they probably help allevate tension by working as beta blockers.

John Daly, however, proves that's not always an effective way to deal with your demons.

It's time for the PGA Tour to get on with its drug-testing plan. Make it as tough as Oakmont and no one will dare test it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's hard not to like Angel Cabrera

Trying to make sense of a U.S. Open that managed to be compelling despite fewer birdies than an Optimist Club outing:

· It’s hard not to like Angel Cabrera. I mean, here’s a guy who can absolutely mash a golf ball and isn’t afraid to light up between shots. That was perfect for Oakmont, in Arnie’s back yard, considering the King was always being photographed with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
“There are some players that have psychologists,” Cabrera said. “I smoke.”

· And I wonder, does El Pato (the duck) always wear yellow on Sundays?

When Tiger Woods reflects on this near miss, two things may come to his mind - how much better his Saturday score could have been and the skulled pitch shot he hit from behind the third green Sunday that led to his only double bogey of the week.
The 69 he shot in the third round was as high a score as it could’ve been and it easily could’ve been three or four shots lower.
He didn’t play particularly well Sunday - he never seemed to find his rhythm - but he relied on his heavenly short game to continually bail him out of trouble. But the skull he hit at the third hole was shocking and, as he said so many times, you can’t win the Open if you make doubles.

In his last four majors, Tiger has finished 1-1-2-2.

And consider this stat: In his first 21 majors as a pro, Tiger won seven and never finished second. The next 21, he’s won five and finished second four times. Sound like Nicklaus?

Bubba Watson impressed me. I didn’t think he had it in him to be as consistent as he was at the Open.

Really now, other than Tiger, who’s going to look good wearing that red shirt he had on Sunday afternoon? I know Nike isn’t trying to sell shirts to those of old enough to remember Orville Moody but I don’t see a big rush coming for those Tiger shirts.

Aaron Baddeley. Oh no.

You can bet that the Open will be back at Oakmont in about 10 years. And it should be. But make it just a little bit easier, please.

Did Jim Furyk learn anything from Phil Mickelson’s mistake last year at Winged Foot?
Why did he hit driver at the 17th hole, knowing it brought bogey into the equation? Hit an iron off the tee, wedge it into the green and try to make birdie that way. That was a crushing way to go after birdies at 13, 14 and 15 were writing a classic comeback story.
Furyk said he didn’t know he was tied for the lead at the time and he’d hit driver again in the same situation. It killed a great story about a western Pennsylvania guy winning at Oakmont.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Woods was teasingly close to flawless

History will record Tiger Woods’ third-round score at the U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club Saturday as a 1-under par 69 and it will look, days and years from now, like just another good score in a long line.

But Woods flirted with Johnny Miller territory Saturday and had he been able to redirect his golf ball a total of, say, three inches, he might have shot 63 himself.

That’s how good Woods was in terms of ballstriking in the third round. When he birdied the third and fourth holes to get the attention of the tournament leaders before they teed off, a ripple of excitement was finally in the Oakmont air.

It looked and felt as if something spectacular were going to happen thanks to the chiseled man in the turquoise shirt. He was in control of a golf course that had been in control of everyone – save Paul Casey on Friday – since the tournament began.

Walking the back nine with Tiger on a Saturday afternoon warm enough to put a sheen of sweat on most faces, it was like watching a master at work. The few fairways he missed – until his tee shot at No. 18 leaked right into a bunker – were by a yard or two.

He kept firing iron shots at the flag, posing after them.

"Very clinical," playing partner Nick Dougherty said.

And the putts kept burning the edge of the hole. An eagle putt at four peeked in. A downhill slider at the fifth singed the lip. A birdie at the 13th played peek-a-boo with the hole.

It was teasingly close to flawless.

And it left Tiger teasingly close to another major championship.

Ron Green Jr.