Thursday, October 29, 2009

In trouble? Pelz has the answer

Dave Pelz wants to get you out of trouble.

When Pelz, primarily known for his deep study of putting and the short game, launched a study on wedge play, he discovered something else along the way. It's usually two or three holes that ruin a round of golf.

Maybe that's not news but after logging in the hole-by-hole results from many thousands of rounds played at the World Amateur Handicap tournament at Myrtle Beach, Pelz was more convinced than ever that if golfers could eliminate the really big number on their cards, their handicaps would drop significantly.

In his latest book, 'Damage Control,' Pelz has a plan for helping everyone from tour players to the weekend golfer avoid -- or at least minimize -- the big blow-up.

"I found a pattern," Pelz said in a recent phone interview. "Almost always, golfers play below their handicap level for 13, 14, 15 holes a round. Then they screw it up.

"They throw disastrous scores in there. If they can just get rid of that, they can lower their handicaps by three to five shots without changing their golf swings."

As you might suspect, it involves practice. Not a lot but some. Pelz points out that everyone practices hitting shots from good lies on level land. The trouble comes when you're having to hack one out of the trees or chop it out of the cabbage and you try to do something you're not prepared to do.

Knowing what to do and how to do it, Pelz said, is the key.

"The first thing I found out is it's not the first shot that gets you into trouble," Pelz said. "Everybody does that. It's the shot that follows the first one. They often hit from the frying pan to the fire. It's the shot that goes from bad to worse that's the real problem."

Pros hit it in trouble, Pelz points out, but they're adept at minimizing the damage. They don't let a one-stroke mistake turn into a four-stroke penalty.

In his book, which includes an abundance of photos, charts and graphs, Pelz lays out a method to improving your damage control. He gives you a practice plan that doesn't require a lot of work. It's more about becoming familiar with shots you may face so you're more ready when the moment arrives.

He teaches you how to make ultra-flat swings, very upright swings, stop your swing quickly, play from severe sidehill lies and other challenges.

"I was always told I needed to work on my driving and keep (the ball) out of trouble," Pelz said. "I'd have been much better off learning how to get out of trouble first.

"If you got mediocre at damage control, (the big number) would go down to one every 10 rounds. A pro only has one every 27 rounds. That's a heckuva difference."

On another matter, Pelz said he's still working with Phil Mickelson, who credited a putting lesson from Dave Stockton with sparking his late-season resurgence. Pelz calls Stockton "one of my heroes" and expects Mickelson to be ready next year if his family's health issues continue to improve.

"I think once his short-game and putting get back to his standards, he's going to be a heckuva player."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pinehurst No. 2 may get Coore-Crenshaw touch

Pinehurst officials are moving closer to hiring Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to handle a restoration of Course No. 2 before the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens are played there.

Tinkering with what is considered Donald Ross’ masterpiece is a delicate matter and Pinehurst president Don Padgett III is taking a careful approach.

He has consulted with Coore and Crenshaw as well as Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competitions for the USGA, who will oversee the set-up for the U.S. Opens.

“They are trying to develop a concept to restore the course to a lot of the original design criteria while, at the same time, have it be a championship venue for the Opens,” Padgett said this week.

Padgett said it is important for everyone – Pinehurst officials, Crenshaw, Coore and the USGA – to agree on any potential alterations to No. 2, which has hosted the 1999 and 2005 men’s U.S. Opens.

Any alterations would focus on restoring many of the strategic aspects to the layout and less on adding length.

The only significant lengthening would likely occur at the dogleg par-4 seventh hole where the tee could be moved back across a road, preventing players for trying to cut the corner as some did in the 2008 U.S. Amateur.

The main alterations would involve bringing back more of the sandy areas dotted with wire grass off the fairways, places where there is now rough. It would be similar, Padgett said, to how the course was in the 1930s and 1940s when Ross lived in the area and worked on it.

“What people expect of No. 2 has gone away,” Padgett said. “I think they (Coore and Crenshaw) plan to bring that back.”

Padgett said if the plan moves forward, it will be at least a year, maybe longer, before work is begun.

“I’m just glad to be headed in the right direction,” Padgett said.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not falling for the Fall Series

The television was on in our den Sunday afternoon, I was sitting with my father and brother-in-law, both of whom are deep into golf and the closing stretch of the Justin Timberlake tournament in Las Vegas was on.

We watched for a few minutes, trying to tell George McNeill from Martin Laird from Chad Campbell when someone asked if we could turn back to the Buffalo-New York Jets game.

"Sure," one of the guests said.

Has the end of the PGA Tour season come to that?

Even Jim Furyk, moments after shooting a final-round 62, admitted he was watching football on a monitor while waiting to do a Golf Channel interview.

In case you haven't been paying attention, the Tour reaches the midpoint of its five-event Fall Series this week at the Open in chic Scottsdale, Az. No doubt it will be splendid in Scottsdale this week with lovely weather, quick greens and a field full of pros with whom you're only vaguely familiar.

The Fall Series isn't designed for a big bang. That came with the Tour Championship in Atlanta a few weeks ago and it delivered with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods holding trophies and collecting big checks.

Still, I'm guessing the Tour hoped the closing events would be more compelling nationally than they have been. Unfortunately, they're buried under football season and the baseball playoffs.

The chase to make the top 125 money winners doesn't grab our attention anymore because it's not quite the end-all it used to be. Sure, it's nice for Martin Laird to secure his card for two years with a win in Las Vegas but it isn't exactly must-see TV.

The Tour got what it wanted with the way the FedEx Cup playoffs turned out this year, a credit to their tinkering with the system to make it better.

I'm guessing the Tour will continue to tinker with the schedule to get it right, too. With some holes popping open on the schedule (Milwaukee's gone, Reno may be next) and perhaps a couple more to come, maybe the Tour will try to roll its fall events into the 'regular-season' schedule.

That would make the fall events more meaningful, condense the season and give it a true conclusion.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's the Road Hole -- only longer

Perhaps proving that no hole in golf is untouchable, officials have announced that St. Andrews' famous Road Hole -- the par-4 many consider the most famous in golf -- will be lengthened by 35 yards for the 2010 Open Championship.

The tee, according to reports, will be moved back while maintaining the unusual requirement of forcing players to hit their drives over an old coal shed not far from the tee. It's a quirky thing but it's part of the charm of the great hole as players aim over letters painted on the shed, hitting drives into a fairway they can't see.

I'm not sure the hole needed any additional yardage but R&A officials decided it did. The added distance should put a greater premium on an accurate tee shot, likely forcing players to hit drivers. Approach shots, meanwhile, will be longer, bringing more into play the Road Hole bunker and the road itself, which sits behind the green.

If you've ever played the Road Hole, you know how cool it is. The funky tee shot is just part of the fun. Knowing all the great ones have played there, looking at the green and the gaping bunker, framed on one side by the Old Course Hotel and on the other by the town, it's a fantastic spot.

For more than 100 years, the Road Hole has been essentially untouched. Not any more.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A book that takes you where you want to go

Golf books are everywhere and most of them, like John Daly's pants, aren't very appealing.

But 'Sports Illustrated: The Golf Book,' ($29.95) which arrives in bookstores today is worth your time and money if for nothing more than the great photo of a young Jack Nicklaus at the front of the book, Wayfarers on, cigarette dangling from his lips and a hint of Jack Nicholson in his look.

The big, coffee-table style book delivers what SI has done so well through the years -- terrific photos and outstanding writing. I'm partial, obviously, but I subscribe to the George Plimpton theory on sports writing -- the smaller the ball, the better the writing.

That's why good golf writing -- and this book is filled with it -- is distinguished.

This book isn't about golf tips. It's about the glory of the game. It's about the people and the places that have made it special over the centuries.

From Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods, from St. Andrews to Pebble Beach with photos of Fidel Castro and W.C. Fields thrown in, this is a book that reminds golfers why the game means so much to them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Arnie, Wake golf make practice special

Arnold Palmer looked out at the new 17-acre golf practice facility on the edge of the Wake Forest campus Saturday and was impressed.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Palmer said. “This may be one of the best practice facilities in the world, not just the United States.”

Palmer has a right to be proud. He’s both a Wake Forest alum and his company helped design the facility.

And if he’s exaggerating, it’s not by much.

The new facility, a portion of which may be in use later this month, is exceptional. It’s not just a practice tee, some target greens and practice green.

It has four separate tees scattered around the complex and covering 10,000 square feet. The different tees allow players to practice in varying wind conditions.

There are 12 target greens, each surrounded by bunkers, giving players the feel of hitting shots on a course.

It will be possible to shape fairways into the enormous landing area and, depending on the tee being used, players may be able to simulate hitting tee shots around tree-lined boundaries.

The four new putting greens have different functions. One is shaped in a classic Donald Ross style, another features sharper contours. All are planted with A1/A4 bentgrass.

The old practice green has been converted to Bermuda grass, allowing the Deacons to practice on the grasses they most often play upon.

A new learning center is being built that will feature, among other things, five covered hitting bays for inclement days. Each hitting bay has cameras mounted to monitor the swing from five angles.

After the learning center is complete, there are plans to build a small clubhouse on the property. Among its features will be several rooms with private baths where guests can stay during visits to Wake Forest.

Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas said he knows of no other on-campus facility that comes close to matching what Wake Forest will have. He already has four potential recruits planning to visit who heard about the new facility and decided to take a look at the Deacons.

Palmer had the honor of hitting the first practice shot at the facility Saturday, hitting a soft wedge shot in front of a few invited guests.

“To see this, it brings (Wake Forest golf) right upstairs,” Palmer said.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Golf wins by getting a spot in the Olympics

Golf officially became an Olympic sport -- again -- today and the game is better for it.

Not because Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Camilo Villegas might win a gold medal in Rio in 2016 but because the game got bigger through its inclusion in the Olympics.

Winning an Olympic gold will be meaningful for whomever does it (I'm betting Tiger though he'll 40 by then) but it won't replace winning a green jacket or the claret jug. The point of getting golf back in the Olympics -- it was in briefly nearly a century ago -- is to expand the game's global appeal.

We've already begun to see the impact of golf in China, where there's a course-building boom going on, keeping some high-profile course designers in work at the moment. We've seen the success South Korean golfers have had on the LPGA Tour and in Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship.

Angel Cabrera and Villegas are huge figures in South America and the run-up to the Rio Olympics should fuel the golf rush there.

There are still questions to be answered about the Olympic golf format but that will be worked out soon enough. By landing a spot in the Olympics, golf has received a needed boost, introducing it people who might not otherwise pay attention to the game.

The Olympics are still primarily about swimmers, track and field athletes and others whose sport stands in the spotlight only once every four years. Golf won't own the show in the Olympics any more than tennis does but it's now part of the Games.

Wonder how a gold medal would look with a green jacket?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Maybe Tony Romo should stick to golf

Tony Romo can play.

Golf, that is.

While Romo's NFL career may still lean heavier on sparkle than substance, his golf game is something special.

According to Golf Digest, Romo's plus 3.3 handicap makes him the best golfer among professional athletes in this country. Who cares how well he throws the 20-yard out if he can he hit high, soft 3-irons, get it up and down from port-a-jon and putt like Norah Jones sings.

Romo has tried -- unusuccessfully so far -- to qualify for the U.S. Open. Just being good enough to try to better than most. According to the magazine, Romo won two events over the summer, which should ease the sting of that break-up with Jessica Simpson.

Cowboys fans no doubt wish Romo would spend more time watching game tape but I say let him play golf. Maybe Jerry Jones built Romo a putting green somewhere deep inside the Cowboys' new castle in Arlington, Tex.

No. 2 on the Digest list is Craig Hentrich, who isn't really an athlete. He's the punter for the Tennessee Titans. Still, with a plus 2.8 handicap, he's got skills beyond hang time.

How about No. 3? Mark McGwire.

Now we know what he's been doing since we saw him on Capitol Hill all those years ago. He's been playing golf. Hits it long, no doubt. Always did. But, to borrow his line, let's not talk about the past. Let's talk about the future or his next tee time.

Mike Schmidt, No. 4, and Jerry Rice round out the top five.

And what about Michael?

When he's not getting his wrist slapped for smoking his stogie at Harding Park in San Francisco this week (no smoking allowed on public courses in the city by the bay), he's playing golf. And, oh yeah, he's a Bobcats executive.

Michael clocked in with a 3-handicap. That ties him for 35th with Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Lowe, surfer Kelly Slater and Angels pitcher Joe Saunders.

Just wait until Michael finishes his stint as Fred Couples' assistant Presidents Cup captain this week. After a week with Tiger and the guys, Michael's game may be better than ever.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Touring High Carolina with Tiger

It still takes some serious vision to see what will be Tiger Woods' first U.S. golf course design at the Cliffs at High Carolina.

That's because it's still mostly trees and gravel roads and watercolors sketches of what the finished product will be. What was immediately apparent during a visit there Saturday morning was the spectacular setting.

When Woods and developer Jim Anthony talk about the 'viewscapes' that offer views of 40 miles or more, they're not overselling it. From the top of the property where the clubhouse will be located, it's easy to imagine sitting on a porch, looking out across the miles and the mountains.

It won't be for everyone. Anthony said the first 30 lots sold averaged $1 million apiece and, if what I've been told is accurate, that doesn't include a six-figure initiation fee into the golf club. The good news is a membership will provide access to all eight Cliffs courses. The goal, Anthony said, is to make it "the most desirable place in America to live." That's why he spent the money on landing Tiger and it's fair to say the commitment to excellence will run throughout the development.

Tiger spent approximately 90 minutes walking the property with a small group of media members Saturday, talking mostly about his vision, because some holes haven't been cleared yet. A significant portion of the 18th fairway, for example, is still tree-covered.

The par-5 17th hole, however, has gone through a rough clearing and its general shape is easy to see.

The topography will require some significant grading and leveling in spots but Woods and his design team have smartly routed the course so that both the front and back nines will play downhill on their return to the clubhouse. By playing up the slope then back down, Woods wants to feature the views.

Having six sets of tees may seem like too many from a classic design approach but Woods said the variation will make it more playable for golfers of all skill levels. There won't be many forced carries and Woods is designing the course to allow players to bounce shots into the greens, leaving openings at the front of the putting surfaces for players who play the game closer to the ground.

Woods said he wants to keep a dense cover of trees on the sides of fairways, which won't be good news for spray-hitters but he intends to have ample landing areas.

With his wraparound shades, hiking shoes and work clothes on Saturday, Woods spent a portion of his day pitching the project to new and prospective property owners. Against the backdrop of a clear October day, he could let the setting sell itself.