Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tiger and PETA, A Bad Combination

A few chip shots while waiting for the mud to dry:

-- According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, PETA is planning to put up a billboard near Tiger Woods’ home in Windemere, Fla., featuring Woods’ image and the message “Too Much Sex Can Be A Bad Thing…For Little Tigers, Too.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

The idea – a really wretched one – is to promote spay and neuter programs for animals, according to a PETA spokesman. That’s why the billboard also says, ‘Help keep your cats (and dogs) out of trouble. Always spay or neuter.”

Woods, of course, has nothing to do with the billboard and PETA is looking for a company to sponsor the billboard, according to the newspaper.

Good luck with that. And the lawsuit that follows.

-- John Daly has an underwear endorsement with a company called Slix. That’s not something I really want to think about.

-- Prepare to be bombarded with talk about the par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale this weekend. It’s where thousands go for a party and a golf tournament breaks out. Sounds like fun if you’re there and, while you wouldn’t want it every week, it works in Phoenix.

-- Three events into the Champions Tour season and the winners have been Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer. That’s precisely what the Champions Tour needs.

-- Almost a week after Woods’ public statement, the buzz is finally subsiding to a dull roar. He’s still getting blistered by plenty of people, who won’t ever get an apology/admission that will satisfy them. I can’t help but wonder how different things might be – if any – had Tiger made the same statement two months ago instead of waiting as long as he did.

-- I’m still waiting for Phil Mickelson’s big bang season to start. It’s been pretty muffled so far.

-- They’re starting to aerate greens around here which means, despite the weather, that spring can’t be far away.

-- A question of style: Is it too much to have all of your clubs, your golf bag and your cap with the same equipment company logo? If you’re not getting paid to do that, I mean. Just wondering…

-- David Feherty recently became a naturalized citizen of the United States. It’s a better country already.

-- The Masters is six weeks away. I’m thinking Tiger’s return is further away.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poulter Proves He's More Than A Peacock

Professional golf has always had its peacocks.

Jimmy Demaret had a brash sartorial style and Doug Sanders’ career was painted in pastels as much or more than in championships.

Now we have Ian Poulter, who until his overdue victory in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship Sunday, was known more for his trousers than his trophies.

If his impressive performances in the 2008 British Open and Ryder Cup matches didn’t convince doubters that Poulter is more than just a man with an eye for bold colors and expensive fabrics, his win over Paul Casey and a list of prominent match-play victims beforehand should.

Poulter jumped to fifth in the world rankings with his victory and if that seems high, it isn’t by much. While we’ve been watching his wardrobe, Poulter has been refining his game.

In the Tiger-free world of the PGA Tour, Poulter is exactly what professional golf needs. He stands out, not just because of his clothes, but because he can play.

And I like his clothes. They wouldn’t look good on me – or most of the people I know – but on Poulter, they look right. He has an eye for fashion, something the sartorially bankrupt John Daly is sorely lacking.

If you haven’t heard, by the way, in addition to wearing and endorsing the appropriately named Loudmouth Pants, Daly recently inked a deal to endorse a new brand of underwear. I couldn't make that up.

But back to Poulter. He took some heat last year for saying that when he’s on, he has the game to challenge Tiger. It was a bold statement for a guy who had never won a PGA Tour event and agreed to pose for a magazine cover wearing nothing but a well-placed golf bag in front of him.

Poulter has the edge to be different and in golf, it doesn’t take much to be different. Pink pants and a pink sweater make you different.

So does winning a World Golf Championship event.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger's talk revealing, effective

If we've learned over the past three months about a Tiger Woods we never knew existed, we saw on Friday a Tiger Woods we haven't seen before.

He was shaky, uncomfortable, nervous, angry, emotional, contrite and sorry.

He looked like a man who didn't want to be there but understood why he had to stand before the world and confess his sins and failures. It had to be one of the most uncomfortable moments of his life and there have been plenty of those recently.

There will be more.

For all the discussion about the format - no questions allowed and only a handful of people in the room - Woods took a large and necessary step in his public and private rehabilitation process.

It was revealing and effective.

Was it everything everyone wanted to see and hear? No. But it was a strong start.

Woods talked about feeling entitled to a lifestyle that violated the principles and values on which he was raised. It was a powerful admission, saying he believed he could live by different rules even when it comes to marriage.

Scripted or not, it got to what this is all be about.

He talked about all the people he disappointed and he admitted he needs help. Part of Woods' persona has been built on the image of a man always in control - on the golf course, in the boardroom and in life.

Instead, he showed his vulnerability and admitted to it.

Yes, he was reading off a script but he came across as genuine. Particularly striking was his defense of his wife, Elin, and his children. It was when he was the most forceful and you could sense him feeling the pain he's caused.

Woods defended his right to privacy when it comes to his relationship with his wife and family and he's right. He scolded the media for following his children, a justifiable dig at the tabloid publications that have treated the whole thing as a feeding frenzy.

There will be plenty of complaints about what he did or didn't say and why he wouldn't take questions but the message he delivered Friday gave the world a glimpse into his upside-down world.

The whole thing felt strange but everything about what's unfolded since Thanksgiving weekend has felt strange. There was no way this wasn't going to be uncomfortable.

He has put himself in an impossible situation. He has wrecked his life and his image and the process of rebuilding it doesn't come with a how-to manual. He didn't blame anyone but himself.

When he was finished speaking, Woods walked over and gave his mother a long, close hug. He spoke to a few people then walked away.

Behind a curtain again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is Tiger Closer To Returning To The PGA Tour?

Forget for a moment -- if that's possible -- all the allegations, revelations and speculation about what Tiger Woods has or hasn't been doing these past few months.

Put aside the storm of controversy surrounding his method of delivering his message tomorrow.

Consider the golf question:

Will his public statement Friday bring him closer to returning to the PGA Tour?

Is he going to say he's prepared to return to the tour sometime soon?

You have to think so.

Maybe he's ready, or close to ready, to come back to golf. We've seen a recent photograph of him out jogging but not one of him with a golf club in his hand. Maybe that's next, after the flood of images from his public statement on Friday.

For all this runaway story is about, it eventually comes back to golf. That's why we cared about Tiger Woods in the first place. When he comes back, we'll pay attention again.

He's lost some people for good. Others he'll win back. Some can go either way.

There are plenty of flashpoints in this whole tangled story. As for golf, it will be nice to see him back.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Westbrook Headed To CPGA Hall Of Fame

The Carolinas PGA Hall of Fame will get a little richer Sunday night when Jim Westbrook, a fixture at Carmel Country Club, is inducted during a ceremony at Myrtle Beach.

Westbrook exempified what a good professional should be, overseeing a large operation at Carmel while always focusing his attention on the members. Like many others in his business, Westbrook got into golf because he loved to play but as a club pro, his duties and responsibilities kept him around the golf course more than on it.

“I always tried to put the members first,” Westbrook said. “Customer service was paramount to me. When someone pays that kind of money to join a golf club, they want to be treated well.”

Westbrook started in the golf business in Nashville,Tenn., then went to Waynesboro, Va., and Florence, S.C., before coming to Carmel in Oct. 1973. Westbrook spent nearly 29 years as head pro at Carmel before retiring in 2002.

He was instrumental in developing a number of assistant pros who went on to their own head professional jobs at other clubs. Westbrook created a business model with each assistant on his staff having specific duties. As the assistants moved up on the staff, their duties changed. “That way,” Westbrook said, “when they were finished, they understood every aspect of the operation.”

Westbrook also played a big role in the creation of the annual Carmel Pro-Am, the richest two-day pro-am event on the Carolinas PGA schedule.

“It’s very humbling for something like to happen,” Westbrook said. “It’s an honor.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Golf -- As It Wasn't Meant To Be

If we lived in Cleveland or Milwaukee or one of those places where they spend as much time with a snow shovel as with a sand wedge, this winter thing might not be so bad.

But this is North Carolina, where golf is supposed to be a year-round game. Just not this year.

One day soon, the sun will shine, the thermometer will nudge near 60 and the wind will take a day off. And there won’t be a tee time to be found.

Until then, I’m tired of:

  • Checking the seven-day forecast and seeing daily high temperatures that resemble my nine-hole scores;
  • Spending time on the computer looking at Scotty Cameron putters instead of using one;
  • Looking at brown grass;
  • Hitting practice shots off of plastic grass. It’s nice plastic grass but it’s still plastic – and leaves green plastic skid marks on the bottom of your 8-iron;
  • Eating soup at lunch in the grill room and wondering if it’s worth putting on four layers of clothes and my old mud-stained golf shoes to play nine holes just because…
  • Watching enough golf on television to recognize Alex Prugh;
  • And, Troy Merritt.
  • Thinking about the stretching exercises I should probably be doing because they’re supposed to be good for me;
  • Seeing commercials for ‘Being John Daly;’
  • Telling the same golf stories because no one’s had a chance to warrant new ones;
  • Waiting for Tiger Woods to return;
  • ‘Carts On Path’ signs;
  • Wondering whatever happened to my shorts;
  • And my tan;
  • Practicing my set-up in the garage in front of a mirror. (Okay, I don’t really do that but I’ve heard it helps);
  • Feeling guilty about not playing through the casual water and cold weather like some guys I know;
  • Washing my golf towel and calling it working on my game;

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

MIke Strantz, Sterling Sharpe And Lousy Weather

Thinking about golf while wondering if it’s worth playing in the wet, muddy and cold conditions that are in no hurry to leave us:

  • With the addition of Monterey Peninsula Country Club to the rotation in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, it’s a reminder of talent of the late Mike Strantz.

He reworked Monterey Peninsula shortly before his death, adding his artistic touch to a beautiful piece of land.

We’re fortunate around here because so much of his work is nearby. Tobacco Road in Sanford is great fun to play, Tot Hill Farm near Asheboro is unique, Caledonia at Pawley’s Island is outstanding and Bulls Bay near Mt. Pleasant, S.C., may be on my 10 favorites’ list.

Strantz was part cowboy and part artist. He liked to ride the property on horseback and he painted watercolors of the holes he intended to design.

I was fortunate to play golf with him twice on his courses and listening to him explain his designs was enlightening. He believed in visual intimidation but, in reality, his courses give players plenty of room to roam. Sometimes he pushed too far but he saw golf courses as art. He helped us see them that way, too.

  • When the eGolf Tour kicks off its 2010 season next week at Hilton Head Island, former NFL star Sterling Sharpe will be in the field for the kickoff event. Sharpe will play as an amateur but he’ll add a bit of star power to the field.

  • One good thing about the lousy weather we’ve had the past six weeks – this is the latest I’ve ever been even par for the year.

  • Are you going to get a pair of those new Ecco golf shoes Fred Couples has been sporting? The ones that look almost like slippers or sneakers? He’s been wearing the dark ones but they make them in white, too, and from what I’ve heard, they’re already backordered.

  • The latest rumor is that Tiger Woods will make his return to golf next month at the Tavistock Cup in Orlando which matches Isleworth members against Lake Nona members.

Is it likely? Who knows.

It would allow him to slide back into the public arena in a controlled atmosphere. But everything still sounds like guesswork to me.

  • There’s a report that Jesper Parnevik’s golf career may be over. He’s dealing with a serious back injury that could require fusion surgery. No one wants to hear that.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Raleigh's Hyler Right Man For USGA Leader

PINEHURST – Sitting in the lobby of the Carolina Hotel Saturday afternoon, a few hours before being installed as the new president of the United States Golf Association, Raleigh’s Jim Hyler was already looking ahead.

There was a speech to deliver, a new focus on environmental issues to push ahead, a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach to prepare for and the lingering issue of grooves legislation to button up.

At a time when golf rounds have declined in the United States, Hyler begins his term as the USGA president with the chance to turn challenges into opportunities.

Though he didn’t join the USGA’s Executive Committee until 2004, Hyler’s quick ascension to president speaks to his understanding of the game and its traditions as well as his ability to work cooperatively with others.

In a position that has had its share of strong, divisive personalities, Hyler has a softer, more persuasive style.

“He’s what the USGA needs,” says Mike Davis, the organization’s senior director of competitions and championships. “He’s a big picture type person who understands what a national governing body should be doing and our role in the game.”

Hyler sees that role as being progressive. When he joined Davis on the championship committee in 2006, Hyler agreed with Davis’s notion that the U.S. Open needed a makeover.

The championship has always been designed to be the toughest tournament test in golf. In that pursuit, course set-ups became unforgiving. There was no margin for error and, by becoming so demanding, the U.S. Open became predictable. Miss a fairway, make a bogey. Stretch every yard possible out of the course.

Hyler and Davis introduced graduated rough, giving players a chance to recover if they weren’t far off line. They decided to adjust teeing grounds from round to round. They reintroduced the notion of the short par-4 hole, offering drivable holes at Winged Foot, Oakmont and Torrey Pines.

It was borderline radical.

“It was a significant change in philosophy,” Hyler said, crediting Davis for many of the changes. “Our mantra is hard but fair. We didn’t want to ease up on the hard part but we wanted to make it more fair.

“We wanted to challenge the players’ thinking and the way they approached holes.”

It worked, earning generally positive reviews from players.

“When you chair the (championship) committee, the buck stops with you,” Davis said. “I’d do most of the detail work but if didn’t go well, it was Jim’s neck that was out there.”

A Virginia Tech gradate who plays out of Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, was instrumental in the success of the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens at Pinehurst and he was involved in the decision to stage both the men’s and women’s Opens at Pinehurst in 2014.

He assumes his presidency at a time when the game is dealing with changing dynamics. The number of rounds played has declined over the past five years in the United States though they have grown in South America and Asia.

While the PGA of America and other organizations focus more directly on growing the game than the USGA does, the organization has donated more than $65 million over the past 13 years in golf initiatives, Hyler said.

“We’re always concerned about the health of the game,” Hyler said. “We’re not worried about it. We’ll support efforts to defend the game and grow the game as our mission allows us. We think as the economy comes out of this recession that things will come back to what I would term a new normal, which will somewhere between where we are now and where we five or six years ago.”

Hyler said he’s pleased with the rules changes that went into effect Jan. 1 regarding the eventual elimination of u-shaped grooves from competition. He has monitored the controversy that erupted around the use by some PGA Tour players of 20-year old Ping Eye-2 wedges that are still allowed under terms of a legal settlement in the 1990s.

“We knew that this Ping legal settlement was out there. We were a little surprised some of the players elected to use those clubs because that 20-year old clubs – we thought the newer grooves today would still be better than those grooves – but its perfectly legal.

“We’re trying to work through a solution to this.”

In his speech Saturday night, Hyler urged the USGA to take a larger leadership role in environmental issues, particularly regarding water use. Golf courses do not have to be perfectly green to be in good playing condition, Hyler said.

“We have done a lot of environmental research over the years. It’s our best-kept secret,” Hyler said. “We’ll start talking about sustainability and water and our view of courses.”

Looking around the hotel lobby Saturday, Hyler had the look of man energized by his new role.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s something I never dreamed would happen. I’m very lucky and maybe a little bit nervous.”

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Best In The World Not Named Tiger

Steve Stricker knows he doesn't have to cry every time he wins a golf tournament but he can't help it.

It's a sweet problem to have.

Stricker may be the nicest man in professional golf, with a sense of grace that's impossible to miss. Forget the media training some players get to teach them how to deal with the cameras and the questions.

Just look at how Stricker does it. That's the model.

By winning the Northern Trust Open Sunday -- his fourth win in 15 months -- Stricker jumped past Phil Mickelson and into the No. 2 spot on the world golf rankings. It's a remarkable story considering that five years ago, Stricker had virtually no status in professional golf.

His driver yips had become so severe he seriously considered abandoning the game. Once a star, Stricker had become a casualty of a cruel game.

He stuck with it, often in the cold solitude of Wisconsin where he worked through winters to find what he'd lost. Now he has it back and better than ever.

Stricker has a putting stroke that seems to have come from angels, which is the greatest asset a player can have. Tee to green, he's not spectacular but he gives himself chances and he's learned to seize those opportunities.

He doesn't have the sizzle that Tiger or Mickelson have but he has a quiet dignity. He's easy to pull for -- tears and all.

Friday, February 05, 2010

In Golf, Bigger Isn't Always Better

If you're watching the telecast of the Northern Trust Open this weekend, you'll no doubt hear plenty of chatter about the charms, the merit and the diabolical nature of the 315-yard, par-4 10th hole at Riviera Country Club.

For good reason.

It's one of the great short par-4 holes, not just on the Tour schedule but anywhere. And, to my mind, good short par-4s may be the most fun holes to play in golf.

They equalize the field, for one thing. It's not about how far you hit it but where you hit it. And the really good ones, like the 10th at Riviera which begs you from the tee to take a whack at the green sitting diagonally in the distance, make you consider a variety of options.

It's relatively easy to play long par-4s. You bang it far down the fairway as you can to have the shortest possible club into the green and, from there, you try to avoid whatever trouble is around the green.

Well-designed short par-4s force you to think, which is where a lot of us get into trouble. They'll reward a well-played shot but the risk-reward element comes into play with every swing. That's the thing about the 10th at Riviera. If a player takes a shot at the green off the tee, there's a reasonable chance he's going to find himself with a second shot that may be short but may have compounded the challenge.

Even by taking a more conservative play off the tee, a good short hole still demands a careful approach.

Golf is about options and the more of them a course gives a player, the better it typically is.

That's why the changes to the par-4 seventh at Augusta National were a mistake. Before all the length was added, it was a short hole that required you to keep it between the trees off the tee then prove you were a good wedge player. By making it longer, it has lost some of its magic though it's become more difficult.

At Harbour Town, the 300-yard ninth hole is pencil-thin but bold players can hammer a driver into the greenside bunkers if they feel chesty. It puts them close to the hole off the tee but there's no room to stray right or left. And even if you play safe, hitting an iron off the tee, it better be precise or you're looking through pine trees from 80 yards away. It tempts you but doesn't offer an easy way out despite its short yardage.

As golf as shown us so many times and in so many ways, bigger isn't always better.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Nagy To Tee It Up In Elite Jones Cup

Charlotte 49ers golfer Corey Nagy will tee it up this weekend in the Jones Cup, a 28-player event at Ocean Forest Golf Club at Sea Island, Ga.

It's a testament to Nagy's place among the top amateur players that he earned an invitation to the special event. The 54-hole event has developed an international reputation for the quality of its field and its setting.

Former Clemson golfer Kyle Stanley won the event last year.

"The Jones Cup is among the very best amateur golf tournaments in the country and has once again attracted an elite field for the event," Charlotte golf coach Adam Pry said in a statement. "After taking a short break from competition, this is a great opportunity for Corey to compete on a championship course, against the best amateurs in the world."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Mickelson, McCarron Make Up, Eye-2s Still Okay

As best as I can tell, the most significant things that have happened in the past couple of days related the PGA Tour's sudden firestorm around the use of 20-year old Ping Eye-2 wedges is that Scott McCarron has apologized to Phil Mickelson for saying he's cheating and it's going to be a while -- probably a long while -- before the issue is put to rest one way or the other.

During a media conference today, commissioner Tim Finchem said the PGA Tour didn't anticipate the wedge issue becoming the firestarter that it has. The tour knew the old Eye-2 wedges were legal (by virtue of a legal settlement years ago) but didn't think it would make much difference.

Then again, Finchem didn't expect the tour to be reprimanding McCarron for accusing Mickelson of cheating. Mickelson, according to Finchem, accepted McCarron's apology.

How big an issue is the Eye-2 thing?

Through the first four PGA Tour events this year, Finchem said only five of 218 players have used the club during competition. More, however, may be considering adding one of the wedges to their bag if they aren't in violation of their equipment contracts.

Secondly, how much difference does the old club make?

Finchem said if the wedges that were legal before the rules change went into effect imparted a spin rate of 100 rpm (he's making the numbers easy to understand), a Ping Eye-2 has a spin rate of approximately 60 rpm. Under the new rules, u-grooved wedges impart a spin rate of approximately 50 rpm. That' s a difference of 20 percent between the Eye-2 and the new rules.

So what's next?

Tour players will continue to be allowed to use the Eye-2 wedges if they want.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Finchem said.

However, the issue isn't resolved. Finchem sounded hopeful that weekend comments by John Solheim of Karsten Manufacturing (which makes Ping) left room for a possible settlement that may close what is a legal loophole in golf's rules.

If that doesn't happen -- Finchem said there may be a meeting between Solheim and USGA officials in the next week -- the Tour Policy Board could send the issue to an independent committee for its evaluation. That's where it gets complicated as most committee work is.

For the time being, nothing has changed. And it's probably going to be a while -- if ever -- before it does.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Irish Creek To Host PGA Tour Qualifying Event

It's nice to see that a first stage qualifier for the PGA Tour will be played at The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis in October, rekindling the club's long relationship with the Q-school process.

The event will be played Oct. 18-22 at the popular layout redesigned by Davis Love III and his brother, Mark, a couple of years ago.

Long-time PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell, a Kannapolis native, was instrumental in bringing the qualifying event back to the club.

Irish Creek will also host the North Carolina Open June 7-10, one of the top Carolinas PGA events of the year. Additionally, the Irish Creek Collegiate Classic will be played April 2-4 with Davidson, Belmont Abbey and Charlotte hosting the event.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Mickelson Cheating? Uh, Not Exactly

So, all it took to get our minds off Tiger Woods was a 20-year old wedge and Phil Mickelson being accused of cheating.

Normally, talk of golf equipment specifications is better than Nyquil at putting me to sleep but the mini storm that's brewing around the clever loophole found by tour players who are using Ping Eye-2 wedges to circumvent the rules about square groove has produced a few sparks.

You probably know the basics: U-shaped (or square) grooves are no longer allowed on the PGA Tour but, because a long-ago lawsuit Ping filed against the USGA, the Eye-2 wedges are exempt from the legislation. That means play 'em if you've got 'em.

That's what a handful of players have done, rummaging through their garages and attics to pull out the old clubs and put them back into play, figuring they may provide a smidgen of advantage while still meeting the letter of the law.

It wasn't until Scott McCarron said Phil Mickelson and other players were "cheating" by usinan Eye-2 wedges that the story got semi-sexy (in a golf equipment kind of way).

Mickelson said he was slandered and hinted at legal retaliation.

It's hardly on the level of the Woods soap opera but it's interesting.

McCarron went too far when he invoked cheating into the discussion. The clubs are legal under the rules therefore, there' s no cheating.

His point, I think, is that the players are taking advantage of a loophole in the rules that should have been closed, keeping Eye-2 wedges out of play. He's right. Even Mickelson essentially acknowleged as much in discussing his use of the old wedges.

Depending on your level of conspiracy theorist, some suggest Mickelson is using the wedges to make a point that the loophole needs to be closed.

That, of course, involves lawyers and, well, you know what that means.

There's the whole argument about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. Then there's the Ping position, having won legal approval 20 years ago for their clubs to remain legal in perpetuity.

There's an easy solution to this -- the PGA Tour should adopt a local rule outlawing Eye-2 wedges -- but it's not easy. This is where the lawyers get involved again.

The Tour uses local rules already, so adding the Eye-2 to its special rules isn't a giant leap. The Tour uses a one-ball rule that isn't standard in the golf rules. It prohibits the use of carts, another local rule.

Do the old wedges make that much difference? If you play golf you know that if your brain thinks it helps, it probably does, at least for a while.

I expect this will get hashed out soon enough and the Eye-2 wedges will end up in the attic again.

Or on e-bay...if you're looking for one.