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.