Thursday, February 28, 2008

Els on schedule for 8 Tour events

Sorting through the golf scene:

  • Ernie Els is booked to play eight PGA Tour events starting this week at the Honda Classic through The Players Championship in mid-May (unfortunately, the Wachovia Championship is not on his schedule this year). It will be interesting to see if Els can finally win another tour event here. He’s in the second year of what he called a three-year plan to overtake Tiger Woods at No. 1. How’s that working out so far? Els hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since 2004 and he’s had a handful of serious meltdowns in events around the world. There are serious questions about whether he can still get it done like he once could. He may be asking those questions himself.
  • The LPGA couldn’t have asked for a better start than having Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer win its first two events this year. It would be fun to see Sorenstam seriously challenge Lorena Ochoa for the No. 1 spot in the world again. If she can get back to No. 1, it would be as impressive as anything Sorenstam has done.
  • With Fred Couples and Greg Norman as Presidents Cup captains in 2009, the event gave itself a nice PR boost. Now years past his prime, Couples remains a remarkably popular figure with fans – equally so with the players he’ll be leading – and Norman is an enormous personality who can’t help but attract attention. The Couples captaincy isn’t nearly as surprising as Norman agreeing to sign on to anything that has Tim Finchem’s hand involved. The Shark’s disagreements with the PGA Tour commissioner, which came to a boil after Finchem shot down Norman’s world tour idea then created the World Golf Championships, were thought to be too fractured for him to play the Presidents Cup game. But Norman made the right call when he accepted the invitation. Everybody wins.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Golf as it was meant to be

Tiger Woods had it right this week when he said match play golf is “an animal that’s all about the moment.”

That’s why it’s so compelling. Match-play golf changes shot to shot, hole to hole, unlike stroke-play golf which changes more slowly.

And, true to the nature of the maddening game, match-play golf can be terribly unfair.
Ask Phil Mickelson.

He made seven birdies and no bogeys in his second-round match against Stuart Appleby Thursday at the Accenture Match Play Championship - and he lost.

Appleby made nine birdies, giving Mickelson the weekend off despite the fact he’s won one tournament and lost another in a playoff in the past three weeks.

Match-play is cruel. Ask J.B. Holmes, who had Tiger all but beaten until Superman started putting into a bathtub again.

Americans have focused more on stroke play and playing against par than they do in Great Britain, where match-play is the favored form of golf. Designer Donald Ross, for example, didn’t put a par on the holes he designed because it seemed unimportant, especially in match play.

Match-play is why the Ryder Cup is so intriguing. Each hole, each match takes on its own life.

It’s fun. Isn’t that the point?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dana Rader, Golfing with the Stars

Dana Rader and Alice Cooper?


It happened earlier this month when Rader was invited to be one of three instructor/coaches in the Michael Douglas And Friends celebrity tournament at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
Rader replaced Butch Harmon as one of the three instructors/coaches in the event, joining Dean Reinmuth and Jim McLean.

It was a great compliment to Rader to be asked to particpate in the event, which will be shown on NBC June 10-11.

She spent the weekend in Los Angeles, taking limo rides to the course, doing voiceover hole descriptions for the telecast and giving a chipping lesson that will be shown during the broadcast.
Rader coached a four-play team that included Cooper, actors Martin Sheen and Kyle MacLaclin and young actress Emily Osment.

And Rader got some serious up-close time with a number of celebrities.

“One day I was sitting there having lunch with Morgan Freeman, Alice Cooper and Kenny G and I just kinda looked around and thought what am I doing here?” Rader said.

She was having a blast.

Rader attended a private cocktail party in a 22,000-square foot Hollywood Hills house owned by a major movie producer. She spent time with Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones, crossed paths with Heather Locklear and more, than a week later, is still bubbling about her experience.

Osment, the 15-year old co-star of Disney Channel’s ‘Hannah Montana’ show, impressed Rader with her game.

Cooper is “the nicest guy,” Rader said.

And Sheen, well, his game needs a little work, she said.

“But,” Rader added, “he’s so funny.”

So he has that going for him, which is nice.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thanks to those who revived City Amateur

We owe the guys who brought the City Amateur golf tournament back to life a big thank you.

They remember the days when the City Am was the biggest tournament in Charlotte and how it annually drew the best players and gave us a sense of who might be the best amateur player here.

Though the tournament continued to be played until last year when it was mercifully not held, its soul had died years ago. It was played on the wrong golf courses, lost the interest of the best private-club players because of the sites and the fact it took more than five hours (on a good day) to play 18 holes drained the fun from it.

But with Braxton McLennan and Xan Law leading the way, the new City Am – Aug. 15-17 at Cedarwood, Carmel and Charlotte Country Clubs this year – will be better than ever.

The committee, which includes former champions David Strawn, Robbie Kirby and others, has put together an ideal format. It requires players to qualify and the field won’t be cluttered with flighted play. It’s every man for himself, straight up, with the field being cut after every round.

They’ve handled the little things that will make it feel like a big deal. Contestants will wear player badges. The $125 entry fee covers qualifying and the whole tournament if you qualify, including caddie fee at Charlotte if you’re among the 24 to make the final round.

Pace of play will be a primary consideration, the rules already state cell phones and blackberries will not be allowed and it will be run with a sense of style, not merely done to make money and run people around golf courses they don’t want to play.

The goal is to identify the best amateur in Charlotte and most of the best are expected to play, including Charlotte 49er Corey Nagy.

Reviving the City Am has been long overdue.

To the guys who’ve recreated it, thank you.

Well done.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hurry if you want in at Quail Hollow

The announcement earlier this week that the Wachovia Championship is nearing a complete sellout didn’t come as any great surprise, except to the people who realized they waited too long to get tickets for this year’s event.

It has become routine for the Wachovia Championship to sell out, something it has done in its first five years and is days away from making official for a sixth time.

But it’s not routine, not in many other places where golf does very well but doesn’t sell out tournaments nearly three months before they’re played.

Outside of the major championships, there aren’t many PGA Tour events that sell out. Yes, the Wachovia Championship limits the number of tickets - to about 30,000 daily - but that’s a lot of people on a golf course.

Phoenix drew about 600,000 for the week this year but they’re playing a different game there, setting up bars and parties on site and turning the par-3 16th hole into a stadium. They let everyone in who wants to buy a ticket.

That’s not what the Wachovia Championship is after.

The tournament at Quail Hollow has hit all the right notes - it’s played on a beautiful, fan-friendly golf course, the ticket prices are reasonable, it comes at a perfect time of the year, the best players almost always play here and the tournament has become one of those places that people want to be.

As of Thursday, the only remaining tickets are a few Thursday tickets and practice packs for Monday through Wednesday (at this website).

What’s most impressive this year is that the tournament has made no announcements about which players are expected at Quail Hollow in early May.

It helps that Tiger Woods is the defending champion though he hasn’t officially announced he’s returning. He’ll be here, though.

It’s likely that Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh and most of the other stars will be at Quail Hollow, too, though the tournament hasn’t made any public announcements.

And, still, the tickets are almost gone.


It’s a nice problem to have.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gap between Tiger, world widest ever?

Surveying the golf world while waiting for the fairways to dry out:

  • Forget whatever the numbers are with the World Golf Rankings. Has the gap between Tiger Woods and everyone else ever been wider? I don't think so. And the gap isn't shrinking.
  • The PGA Tour is reportedly considering changing to a 54-hole cut rather than a 36-hole cut in light of the controversy that continues over the new rule that makes it possible for players to technically make the cut after two rounds but not play the weekend. The cut rule, which seems certain to be adjusted in some way in the near future, has been a hot topic on tour and has been under official discussion in Los Angeles this week. Instead of low 70 and ties, the cut rule may go to the low 65 and ties, to shrink weekend fields.
  • The people who've seen the new Charlotte Country Club are raving about it. The layout has been reworked in spots, it's been muscled up and a number of trees were removed, changing the look of the property. The U.S. Women's Amateur will be played there in two years and, it's a reasonable assumption, more significant events could be headed there in the future.
  • Speaking of big events, Quail Hollow continues to quietly work toward landing a future PGA Championship and/or Ryder Cup. Don't be surprised if it happens.
  • Sergio Garcia returns to the PGA Tour this week. I'm not as down on Sergio as many people are but he needs a big win over here soon. The sooner the better.
  • The Charlotte 49ers, ranked second in the Golf World college rankings, begin their spring season Sunday in Florida with great expectations. Can they win the national championship? Definitely. They've already beaten the teams they'll have to beat to win the NCAA tournament. The 49ers are solid through their lineup and, right now anyway, have the great intangible on their side -- confidence. If they can keep the feeling they have now, they'll be a factor.
  • I still think Annika Sorenstam has a few victories left in her. She won't be No. 1 again but, if she stays healthy this year, she'll win again.

Friday, February 08, 2008

U.S. Open to introduce Chambers Bay

Never heard of Chambers Bay Golf Course?

You’re about to.

Chambers Bay, built on land reclaimed from an old gravel quarry beside the Puget Sound, has been awarded the 2015 U.S. Open and the 2010 U.S. Amateur, proving the national championship of American golf isn’t forever tied to the same small cluster of old-line clubs.

Two things jump out about the Chambers Bay announcement, made officially today at the USGA meeting in Houston:

The USGA likes holding the Open on municipal courses, which Chambers Bay is, and it’s willing to take its biggest event to a new course, considering Chambers Bay just opened last summer.

The Open now has three truly public courses on its list of sites, starting with Torrey Pines this year, a return to Bethpage next year and Chambers Bay in 2015. Pebble Beach and Pinehurst are also open to the public, though they’re classified as resort courses.

When the Open goes to Chambers Bay, it will be the first one played in the Pacific Northwest. It also means four of the next eight Opens are on the West Coast (including the 2012 Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tiger's message: Be very afraid

I had planned to write about someone other than Tiger Woods today.

The idea was to write about how good it was to see Adam Scott pick up a win immediately this year on the European Tour and how Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were already rattling their sabers this young season.

But Els couldn't close the deal in Dubai Sunday and the Lefthander lost a playoff to J.B. Holmes in Scottsdale, Ariz., and it was Tiger - again - delivering like only he can.

How good can he get?

When Tiger made the turn Sunday in the Dubai Desert Classic, he was four strokes behind someone named Louis Oosthuizen. Two hours later, Tiger had closed with five birdies on the last seven holes to win and he'd landed another uppercut to the psyche of everyone attempting to play the same game he plays.

Tiger has won his past five starts and that may be just the beginning.

Here's how much Tiger has re-framed the discussion already this year: A month ago, the talk was about how this year sets up for Tiger to make a run at the Grand Slam. Now, it's beginning to sound like it will be a surprise if Tiger doesn't win the Slam.

That's stretching a point but Tiger makes us stretch the parameters of what's expected of him. He's taking a couple of weeks off before returning for the World Golf Championship match play event.

The way Tiger's playing these days, even Nick O'Hern - twice a Tiger tamer - may not want a piece of him in the match play tournament. Why would he?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Nicklaus not done at Augusta

Jack Nicklaus has all the green jackets he needs -- six of them -- but he's not completely finished playing golf at Augusta National during Masters week.

During a national conference call Thursday, Nicklaus said he will play in the Wednesday afternoon Par-3 tournament this year and intends to play for many more years, in part to accommodate his grandchildren who want to caddie for him.

Nicklaus also edged closer to accepting the role of honorary starter on Thursday morning, joining Arnold Palmer, who did it for the first time last April.

"I think that first of all I have to be asked to do that," Nicklaus said of the starter's role. "And I think that I've been told that I would be welcome whenever I wanted to. And I think that Arnold Palmer should have his day for a while. Hopefully, I'll have time to have mine at a later date."

Nicklaus often bypassed the Par-3 tournament during his prime, admitting part of it had to do with being superstitious, knowing no one has ever won the Par-3 event and the Masters in the same year.

He's at a different place in his life and career now and is sure to be featured when ESPN televises two hours of the popular event in April.

Nicklaus said once he agreed to let Jack II's son, Charlie, caddie for him in the Par-3, he started a family trend. Asked how long he will continue to play the event with a 20th grandchild due next month, Nicklaus said, "I'll tell you in the next 20 years."