Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tiger's absence becomes real this week

This is where we start missing Tiger Woods.

This isn't about what he did or didn't do and whether or not he's in a Mississippi clinic. This is about the fact that Tiger isn't at Torrey Pines this week where he typically makes his PGA Tour debut each year.

This is where "indefinite leave" goes from gray to black. He's not at a tour stop he never misses and if anybody thinks they know when he's coming back to the golf course, they're only guessing.

This is the first time Tiger hasn't been someplace we're accustomed to seeing him. It won't be the last time.

It's possible he'll sit out the whole season while cleaning up the mess outside the ropes. It still seems a long-shot to me but with every day that passes without any definitive word from Tiger, it seems a little more possible.

The PGA Tour isn't going to collapse because Tiger's away. Phil Mickelson is back this week and the tour season will begin to develop a rhythm as the west coast swing plays out and then everyone heads to Florida.

It's different without Tiger, no doubt.

But they're playing at Torrey Pines without him. It takes some getting used to, though.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Can't Miss Kid' Gets His First Win

By winning the Bob Hope Classic Monday for his first PGA Tour victory, Bill Haas released all the pressure that had been building since he arrived on tour after an exceptional career at Wake Forest.

Interestingly, Haas said despite not winning in his first four seasons on the tour with a pair of third-place finishes as his best performances, he felt less pressure recently than when he was a rookie.

"When I came out, all the articles were about the 'can't-miss kid,'" Haas said Monday night. "I had a great college career but this is so different. Ever missed putt is not a slow ride back to campus. It's taking money out of your bank account and can affect whether you can play the next year.

"The pressure starting out was great. I don't want to say I failed but I didn't live up to the expectations of others."

Having grown up watching his father, Jay, live the ups and downs of tour life, Haas understood what he was getting into. He'd played enough golf with his father and his father's friends to know that success in college didn't guarantee anything on the PGA Tour.

"I knew how good everyone was out here," Haas said. "Even when I was finishing college, I was only beating my dad about one out of every 10 times we played so I knew has tough it was."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nice start for Watson, Couples and seniors

A strange thing happened on Sunday.

I watched a Champions Tour event and actually got involved in what was happening. Admittedly, I ducked in and out of the telecast during timeouts in the Minnesota-New Orleans NFC Championship game but watching Tom Watson and Fred Couples trade birdies in Hawaii was fun to watch.

The success of the Champions Tour has always been about its stars. Nothing against the Keith Ferguses and Tom Jenkins of the world but put Freddie and Tom Terrific on the back nine battling against each other -- and holding a ridiculous number of putts -- and it's got my attention.

Maybe it was because of Couples, who seems too young to be a senior golfer, but he's always had a gentle way of pulling in fans. He makes golf look easy, even if it isn't.

It takes some getting used to those new skateboardish looking shoes he's wearing but Couples could be the best thing to hit the Champions Tour since the no-cut rule.

Watson, meanwhile, spent the afternoon being Tom Watson. He answered the birdies Freddie threw at him and made one more.

It was a nice start for Watson, for Couples and for the Champions Tour.

And it was nice to be pulled in to what they were doing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Golf torture: New clubs but no chance to use them

Golf torture takes many forms.

There's the putt that hangs on the lip, half in, half out and refuses to fall, no matter how slowly you walk to tap it in, whether you put your shadow over the ball or not.

There's getting stuck behind a foursome of chops who are slower than tax reform and who never once consider letting you play through while they smoke their stogies and make their doubles.

There are captain's choice events.

And, there's getting a brand new shiny set of irons and not getting a chance to use them.

That's where I am right now.

There's a brand new set of Titleist AP2s in my not-so-new golf bag -- a Christmas present to myself -- and except for a 15-minute stretch on the practice tee that left some of that green sticky stuff from the artificial mats on the bottom of clubs, they haven't been used.

It's been about a month now and I still haven't missed my first green in regulation with them. Even when the weather broke for a few days, I didn't have the chance to play.

Tiger Woods and I finally have something in common -- neither one of us has been on a golf course in months.

I'm not one of those guys who changes clubs all the time. Some guys go through clubs the way John Daly used to go through beers. I had the same irons for four years and, honestly, there was nothing wrong with them. But the itch struck and I scratched it.

I don't pretend the new irons are going to make me better. The clubs supposedly make it easier to work the ball. Here's how I work the ball: I take a swing and look up to see if I hit a slice, a fade, a hook or a really big hook.

I don't mind being tortured on the golf course. That's part of the deal.

But having a new set of irons and no chance to use them, that's no fun at all.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy 70th, Jack

Today is Jack Nicklaus’s 70th birthday which means, in golf terms, he has another stroke to play with when it comes to shooting his age.

If you’re wondering what Nicklaus is doing to celebrate the big day, he’s on Christmas Island near Malaysia where he’s getting in a little fishing.

Kinda what you figured, huh?

Nicklaus admitted recently the fishing trip and his birthday weren’t part of a grand design. They just happened to overlap but there are probably worse ways to celebrate.

Jack still plays a little golf from time to time as he showed last weekend, teaming with Tom Watson to win the Senior Skins Game in one of the few competitive events he still plays. He probably plays more tennis than golf these days, though.

At a time when his golf game is just a shell of what it once was, Nicklaus looks as grand as ever.

His record is complete, showing 73 PGA Tour victories (second all-time to Sam Snead’s 81) and 18 professional major championships (four more than Tiger Woods).

With Nicklaus, though, it’s about more than trophies and numbers. His example as a sportsman and a family man is as impressive as his record on the golf course.

While the events of the past two months have redefined Woods’ image – sadly, not for the better -- they have also reminded us of how special Nicklaus has been.

He will celebrate his 50th anniversary with his wife, Barbara, in July.

As a golfer, he reshaped the game. He played powerful golf, hitting the ball well over 300 yards in the days of steel shafts and persimmon drivers. In his prime, Nicklaus was a great putter in the same way Woods has been. Both have made the putts that needed to be made regardless of the pressure.

Until Woods, no one ever played golf as well with their mind as Nicklaus. That’s where he and Woods may have the most in common, understanding how to think themselves around a golf course and through a major championship.

Nicklaus’s game lacked the flamboyance of Woods’ but not the confidence. Both had intimidation as a 15th club.

As Woods has assaulted Nicklaus’s major championship record, we have virtually conceded the idea that he will break the Golden Bear’s magic number of 18. It still seems likely -- I think Tiger gets the record -- though less certain.

We don’t know where Woods goes from here. It’s fair to assume he will return to his dominating ways on the golf course but the challenge of surpassing Nicklaus’s record is more formidable than it was for many reasons.

What we have been reminded of is the measure of the man Woods has been chasing.

Happy birthday, Jack.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Barron, Fujikawa join eGolf Tour

Doug Barron, the first and so far only player to be suspended from the PGA Tour for violating the organization's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, has joined the Charlotte-based eGolf Tour for the 2010 season.

Barron, 40, is serving a one-year suspension from the Tour for an undisclosed violation.

He missed the cut in his only PGA Tour start in 2009 at Memphis and missed the cut in his four starts on the Nationwide Tour.

"Legally, we can't do anything to keep him from playing," said Stewart Moore, chief operating officer of the eGolf Tour.

"It's not our right to keep him from playing our tour based on the rules and regulations of another tour. We don't have a (drug-testing) policy of our own."

Barron has entered the first two events of the season, which begins Feb. 17 on Hilton Head Island.

Hawaiian teenager Tadd Fujikawa has also joined the eGolf Tour for 2010 and anticipates playing a full schedule.

Fujikawa, 19, is moving to Sea Island, Ga., where he will be closer to his instructor, Todd Anderson. Fujikawa has spent time at Sea Island in the past and without status on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour, he will play primarily on the eGolf Tour.

In 2006, Fujikawa qualified for the U.S. Open as a 15-year old, the youngest player ever to qualify for the event. As a 16-year old in 2007, he became the second-youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event when he accomplished the feat at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

"I talked with (my) coaches and we really tried to decide how we were going to do this because the past years, I have been playing on exemptions," Fujikawa told reporters at the Sony Open last week. "I play one week and then I have a two or three-week break, then play another week. It's hard to get some rhythm and momentum going.

"So we decided to try to get out there and play a few tournaments in a row and see how well I can do out there and put myself in contention every week."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Clanton, Moore named CGA players of the year

Cydney Clanton of Concord and Charlotte's Patty Moore have been honored as the best female amateur golfers in the Carolinas in 2009.

The Richard Tufts awards are based on Carolinas Golf Association rankings at the end of the year.

Clanton, a junior at Auburn, was named Carolinas women's player of the year. She was runner-up in the Women's North & South Amateur, reached the quarterfinals of the U.S Women's Amateur Public Links Championship and reached the round of 16 at the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship.

Moore was named Carolinas senior women's player of the year for the sixth straight year, the longest streak in the history of the Tufts awards. Moore, 59, had one victory in 2009 and didn't finish lower than third in any event that included ranking points.

Mark Anderson of Beaufort, S.C., winner of the South Carolina Amateur, was the men's player of the year while Raleigh's Paul Simson was named senior player of the year for the fourth straight year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'Caddyshack' now part of college curriculum

At Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., students are being offered a course this semester entitled, ‘Caddyshack 101: Lessons From The Coolest Sports Movie Ever Made.’

The course may be offered at Faber College, too, but I’ll have to check with Bluto Blutarsky.

Imagine, getting college course credit for studying, ‘Caddyshack.’

Who’s the dean of Lynn University? Al Czervik?

I know a ton of guys who practically have masters degrees in the movie’s dialogue and they didn’t have to get off their couch.

You know the guys. They’re always saying stuff like, “Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga…gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the 18th and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’

“So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

Lines from ‘Caddyshack’ have become part of the golf lexicon. An overused part. In fact, it may be against the rules in a captain’s choice event to play 18 holes without someone throwing in at least one “Be the ball” reference. Enough with the Ty Webb stuff, guys.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the movie the first time I saw and it and the 23rd time I saw it. I still love it.

I’d take the course if they offered it online. But, as Judge Smails reminded Danny Noonan in the movie, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”

The course is being taught by Ted Curtis, an assistant professor for sports management at Lynn University. It’s part of what’s called a ‘Dialogues of Innovation’ curriculum and, while I’m not exactly sure what that means, it darn well beats studying ‘Beowulf.’

The idea is to use the film as a basis for studying and discussing everything from social-class stereotyping (“Some people just don’t belong”) to the importance of civility and etiquette (“Pool and a pond…Pond would be good for you”) to animal rights (“I have to learn to think like an animal and, whenever possible, to look like one. I’ve gotta get inside this guy’s pelt and crawl around for a few days”).

That’s sounds a little high-minded for a movie where Al Czervik breaks wind, Spaulding Smails picks his nose and Judge Smails asks Danny Noonan “How about a Fresca?”

But at Lynn University, they take an innovative approach to sports management education. They had a course last year on viewing life through the New York Yankees. They’ve used the Super Bowl, Final Four, X Games and other major events as part of the educational process.

If studying ‘Caddyshack’ makes young people a little smarter, what’s the harm in that?

Let’s get to it.

As Judge Smails would say, “Chop, chop.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is it ever too cold to play golf?

Is it ever too cold to play golf in Charlotte?

Apparently not.

"We had about 12 players on Saturday and maybe 18 on Sunday," Chris Eichstaedt, general manager at Highland Creek Golf Club said today.

It's been about the same at The Divide, where the frosty weather has slowed play but not totally stopped it.

"We have a few players every day. They're hearty," said Mike Musialowski, general manager of The Divide.

With temperatures staying at or below freezing for most of January, the local golf business has essentially gone into hibernation. Play always drops off this time of year but it has plummeted with the temperatures recently.

At The Divide, Musialowski said the only golfers on the course are members of the semi-private course.

"No one's paying to play golf right now," he said. "We might get a few people on the range once in a while."

There hasn't been much window of opportunity for golfers recently. Most courses don't open until late morning to allow frost to burn away or frozen greens to thaw. With darkness coming early, the temperature starts falling around 4 p.m.

If you've ever mis-hit a 5-iron on a cold day, you know it's not much fun.

At The Golf Club at Ballantyne (formerly Ballatyne Resort), the course has been closed all but one day this year. To make sure no serious damage is done to the layout's new bermuda grass greens, the putting surfaces have been covered with tarps, something that will continue to be done if the forecast calls for extended periods of time with the temperature below freezing.

With an improving forecast this week, director of golf Woody Allen said the tarps will come off Tuesday and, hopefully, remain off the rest of the winter.

There is hope on the horizon. The forecast for Friday calls for temperatures in the mid to upper 50s, a veritable heat wave for local golfers.

"We're going to have that one really nice day and then you won't be able to find a tee time," Eichstaedt said.

Is it too early to make Ogilvy a Masters favorite?

I supppose Geoff Ogilvy suddenly became the favorite to win the Masters.

Okay, Ogilvy and Phil Mickelson.

Watching Ogilvy give a clinic in how to win a golf tournament Sunday evening from Kapalua was a reminder of how good he is when he's on. If there's a criticism of Ogilvy, it's that he's typically on in the early season then fades away when the weather gets warm around here.

His challenge this year is to sustain his level of play once the spring flowers have faded. He knows it and wants to change it. Still, he has proven himself to be among the top players in the game with one U.S. Open trophy and three World Golf Championship trophies to prove it.

No doubt the Titleist folks were grinning over the weekend, seeing the latest addition to their stable of clients taking apart the Plantation Course at Kapalua. His first week out with new equipment, he wins. Somewhere ad departments are busy.

The thing that impresses me about Ogilvy is how in control he seems when he's in contention. While Lucas Glover was coming apart in the final round, Ogilvy was rock-steady. He remarked that it was the first time he had to play to a number to win a tournament, knowing Rory Sabbatini had already posted 21-under par. He sounded impressed with himself that he did it.

He should be.

Not only is Ogilvy a superb player, he's insightful and not afraid to speak his mind. He's an excellent interview because it's obvious he gives thought to his answers. He sees beyond the obvious and has a knack for finding the essence of an issue.

And, he's on the short list of favorites at Augusta, already.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kapalua: There's no place like it

If you're sitting there one of these cold evenings, watching the start of the PGA Tour season at Kapalua and wondering if it's really as eye-popping gorgeous as it appears on your big flat-screen, it is.

I've been fortunate enough to play the Plantation Course at Kapalua twice and it's stunning. It's different than any other golf course I've ever played -- it's the only one I've ever played that was carved out of a pineapple patch since there aren't many of those around these parts.

It's one of those places where they should hand out cameras on the first tee because it has more beautiful views than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

It's borderline extreme golf, but that's part of the attraction. It has fairways so wide even I can't miss them. Let me rephrase that. They're wide enough that I can hit many of them.

I heard Bill Coore, who co-designed the course with Ben Crenshaw nearly 20 years ago, talking about how they wondered if a golf course could be laid across the property. The fact they got it done speaks to their imagination.

There are moments -- many of them -- when you just stop and look around. You see mountains and ocean and adjacent islands and some really great houses where really rich people live.

When they built the par-5 18th hole -- it's playing 663 yards from the tour tees this week -- they got it right. The view is spectacular and hitting a drive down the big hill is one of those moments you remember. It's like hitting a drive down an impossibly wide ski slope, only warmer.

Want to hit a 300-yard drive? You can do it there.

It's a good place for the PGA Tour season to begin. I know Tiger and Phil aren't there this week (for various reasons) but seeing Kapalua in January conjures up golf dreams.

And if you get the chance to go, you need to make that dream come true.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Five predictions for the 2010 PGA Tour season

I feel the same way about making predictions as I do over a long bunker shot -- not too good.

But it hasn't stopped me.

I'd like to say I'm as prescient as my friend Scott Michaux, the sports columnist for the Augusta Chronicle. Besides regularly drumming me in an annual pick the winners golf contest we're both in, he has a knack for seeing the future. At least he did.

In a column predicting what would happen in 2004 (I know, that was a while ago), he correctly predicted Phil Mickelson would end his 0-for-majors drought by winning the Masters after a lousy 2003.

But that's not all he predicted.

He also predicted the Boston Red Sox would end 86 years of frustration by winning the World Series that year. Bingo.

And, he correctly predicted Steve Spurrier would be the next football coach at South Carolina.

I can't accurately predict what I'm going to have for dinner. Nevertheless, here are five things I see happening on the PGA Tour this year:

1. Tiger Woods wins the British Open

Who knows, Tiger may not even play this year but I'm guessing he will eventually return and when he does, I like him to win at St. Andrews where he's already won twice.

It will be different when he returns (that's deep insight, I know) but he's still the best player in the game. When it gets back to just golf, he'll win again and again and again. I just hope he gets back to golf this year.

2. Rory and Rickie break through

Rory McIlroy proves this year that he's the real deal, if he hasn't already. He's going to play 15 PGA Tour events (including the Quail Hollow Championship) and he's going to win something, maybe something big. He's going to win around the world and become a huge star.

Rookie Rickie Fowler has the look and the game. He improves golf's cool factor by the power of 10 just by showing up with his long hair and trendy clothes. He gave us a taste of his talent last fall. This year, we see it blossom.

3. Sean O'Hair cracks the top 5

When O'Hair won at Quail Hollow last May, he talked about how it's the kind of event he needs to win, beating a stacked field on a tough course. The win came just weeks after a wicked loss to Tiger at Bay Hill and spoke to O'Hair's toughness.

He doesn't scare. He's outside the top 10 right now but by the end of the year, he'll be in the top five in the world rankings.

4. Tim Clark finally wins on the PGA Tour

Forget the best player without a major discussion (Sergio still leads that one). How about the best player without a PGA Tour win?

That's Tim Clark, the former N.C. State golfer. The drought ends this year, perhaps sooner rather than later. (I think I made this prediction last year, too).

5. Phil Mickelson wins the Masters

For the first time in forever, Mickelson didn't want the season to end last fall. He'd rediscovered his putting stroke, thanks to Dave Stockton, and found a comfort zone in his game. He closed by winning the Tour Championship, going 4-0-1 in the Presidents Cup and winning the HSBC Championship.

He sounds full of confidence and primed for a big year. This is his moment to shine. I'm thinking he seizes it.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Big-hitter Mobley to host local radio golf show

If you've ever seen David Mobley hit a golf ball, you haven't forgotten it.

There are long hitters, really hitters and there's David Mobley.

He won the 2004 Remax World Long Driving Championship and he's made a nice career out of bashing golf balls ridiculous distances. He's been featured in magazines, on television and made countless appearances where audiences have watched his power in disbelief.

Starting next month, Mobley -- who lives in the Charlotte area -- will host a one-hour radio show about golf. Named 'The Golf Mob,' the show will air 7-8 a.m. on WFNZ, 610 AM starting Feb. 13.

Mobley, who was a central character in The Golf Channel's 'Big Break X, Michigan' will talk about golf, tell stories and offer his own perspective on the game.

It's nice to have the PGA Tour back

It's finally about golf again.

That doesn't mean Tiger Woods won't remain the most compelling sidestory but the PGA Tour season starts this week in Kapalua, meaning we can sit on our couches at night and watch golf in prime-time. We'll get plenty of shots of palm trees blowing in the trade winds, surfers on the waves and Molokai across the water from Maui.

Okay, so the SBS Championship field is missing Tiger and Phil Mickelson but it's nice to have the PGA Tour back, even if it faces some serious issues over the coming months.

It'll be nice to see Stewart Cink and Sean O'Hair and Zach Johnson playing golf again.

It's freezing around here (though almost 40 players at my club spent Saturday getting their cheeks frosted while playing in the chill) so most of our golf experience will run through the television for a while.

We can listen to the players talk about the new grooves rule, check out the shirts we'll be buying this spring and dream about that trip to Maui we keep saying we're going to take one day. It's nice to have golf back.

Best of all, it means the Masters is only 13 weeks away.