Thursday, July 29, 2010

Will Donald Trump Buy The Point Lake And Golf Club?

Donald Trump, the superstar developer with a passion for golf, is reportedly interested in buying The Point Lake and Golf Club located north of Charlotte on Lake Norman.

Officials from Trump's company have met with a members advisory group at The Point to discuss a possible sale of the club which is built around a Greg Norman-designed golf course.

"Discussions continue," said Lou Ascanio, a member of the club's advisory committee. "It's an option we're looking at but it's not imminent."

Calls to the Trump golf organization were not returned.

Trump has built an impressive portfolio of golf courses. His company owns eight courses in the United States and Puerto Rico and Trump is in the process of building a high-profile and controversial golf development in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The Point is owned by the members but operated by Crescent Communities. Asccanio said the club is scheduled be turned over from Crescent to the membership no later than 2012 which led to the communication with the Trump organization. Any sale would have to be voted on by the club membership.

The Point has more than 1,100 members according to the club website with more than 60 percent holding an equity membership.

Trump's son, Eric, has been on site and was part of a four-hour meeting with the club's advisory board.

"(Trump) wants it," said an individual who attended the meetings but asked not to be identified. "He wants to put his touch and fingerprints on every aspect of it."

Ascanio said discussions are part of an overall process to determine the club's future.

"There are a number of factors we're weighing in determining if that's the right way to go," Ascanio said.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A $1-Million Hole-In-One And Fans Win, Too

Who needs the lottery when you have the 18th hole at this week's Greenbrier Classic?

Any golfer that aces the 162-yard, par-3 finishing hole at this week's PGA Tour event -- the inaugural event at the West Virginia resort -- will win $1-million and the fans who see it will cash in, too.

The idea, which borders on brilliant, will award any golfer making an ace at the 18th $250,000 from the $1-million bonus pool. The other $750,000 will go to the tournament's designated charity.

And the fans who are in the bleachers to see it happen will each receive $100.

It's all part of Greenbrier owner Jim Justice's design to create something special at the resort he's reenergizing.

And if there's more than one ace at the 18th hole, the payoffs will continue with the fans getting a larger piece of the piece. According to, there will be $1-million for every ace with fans getting $500 for the second ace and $1,000 if there's a third. Of course, they have to be in the stands when they happen but that's enough to fill the bleachers around the 18th hole every day.

In a time when attendance at golf tournaments, like many other sporting events, has gone flat or declining, it's an intriguing idea.

If you're wondering, the Greenbrier is only a 4-1/2 hour drive from Charlotte if you're feeling lucky.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Will Allowing Phones At G'boro Be A Bad Call?

When marshals ask for silence at the Wyndham Championship next month at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, they're not going to be talking just to the spectators.

They're going to be talking to their cell phones, too.

In an experiment that has the potential to backfire, the Wyndham Championship will allow spectators to bring their cell phones to the tournament every day provided they keep the ringers turned off, they don't use the camera function Thursday through Sunday and they only talk on the phones in designated areas away from play.

Cell phones and golf tournaments have traditionally been a bad match. Ringers tend to go off at the wrong time or chatterboxes who snuck their phone in wind up with their conversation drifting over to a green where someone's trying to do their work.

The best golf tournament/cell phone policy has been something close to what they have at the Masters: Don't even think about it.

But officials at the Wyndham Championship, with the blessing of the tour, are going to see if they can play a tournament with any number of smart phones vibrating in the pockets of the spectators. Good luck.

In theory, it should work.

"People are going to sneak them in anyway," defending Wyndham champion Ryan Moore said Tuesday. "It's adults. If you let people bring them out there, they'll probably respect the fact you did and they'll probably use those (designated) areas."

That's the rationale of tournament director Mark Brazil, who has a good feel for what works at tournaments.

"I'm confident we'll be fine with this," Brazil said.

Most fans will be good with it, though, truth be told, most fans won't need to have their phones with them. They've become so much a part of us now that going someplace without our phone feels like leaving home without your pants.

The tricky part will be corraling the few people who will believe that just because they've been allowed to bring their phone to the tournament, they're free to do party planning along the 14th fairway or 6th tee.

Calling a friend to bring you a beer to the 8th green is not what tournament officials have in mind.

It's an experiment that will be watched closely.

But not by the folks who run the Masters.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Old North State Club: It's Golf The Right Way

We would like all to be talked about the way golfers talk about the Old North State Club.

I've heard people say they don't get Pinehurst No. 2 (I don't get people who say that) or they don't like one course or another for whatever reasons. Sometimes it's the greens they don't like. Or the greens fees.

Sometimes they played poorly so they developed an immediate dislike for a place that probably deserves a second chance. I have a few places on my do-not-go-back list that have landed there through little fault of their own but they happened to be the course where my driver deserted me, my short game went AWOL and even my pitch-out game left me.

The Old North State Club, located on the edge of Badin Lake at Uwharrie Point, is on seemingly everyone's favorites list. For good reason. There are few places where playing 18 holes if more fun than at the Old North State Club.

I was reminded of that over the weekend when a friend, Blake Okland, invited me to play the Tom Fazio layout with the dynamic lakeside finish. It was close to 100 degrees both days we played, temperatures that would typically earn a 'no thank you' from me. But the Old North State Club was worth the sweat.

There are harder golf courses and there are better golf courses than Old North State but when you put it all together, there aren't many that give you the pleasure you get alongside Badin Lake. And that's the point of playing golf isn't it, to have fun?

The par-3 holes don't send you reaching for your hybrid on every tee shot and a good drive makes most of the par-4s easy to reach with your second shot. If anything, the par-5s may be a touch on the soft side, though it's easy to make a big number if you're not careful (I speak from experience, recent experience).

The finish, starting with the par-4 16th hole, is among the most scenic you'll find, bringing the lake directly into play. It's demanding -- play the last three holes even par and you'll probably be on the collecting end of the wagers -- but it's exciting. You want to hit the shots coming in and if you pull them off, you've done something of which you can be proud.

If you don't, you can take a moment and look around. There aren't many better places to be than on the golf course at Old North State. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't and get the chance to go, don't miss it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bunker Shots: Winless Tiger And Friday Night Lights

A few bunker shots while waiting out the heat:
-- It's hard to believe the Fed Ex Cup playoffs start in just over a month. That means the PGA Tour season is two months away from being finished. If Tiger's going to win this year, the window is closing.
I was certain earlier this year that he would win. I'm less sure now because of his putting.
-- The U.S. Women's Amateur is three weeks away at Charlotte Country Club and the plan is for the women to play a mixed set of tees for the championship. They won't play it all the way back -- it's almost too hard for anyone back there -- but they'll see it at more than 6,500 yards which is plenty. It will be a serious test of golf.
-- Trevor Murphy's 56 is mind boggling. Annika Sorenstam talked in her prime about her of shooting 54 -- hitting every green in regulation and one-putting -- and it seemed laughable. Then Murphy nearly did it.
I know it was a short golf course with five par-4s less than 330 yards and all of that but it's still 56.
-- If you don't watch 'Friday Night Lights,' do yourself a favor and check it out this summer (it's on NBC Friday nights). It's so well done with great characters and actors who make them feel like people you'd like to know. The coach-wife chemistry on the show helps set it apart but there's so much that's good about it.
-- If you're planning a trip to Scotland, let me warn you about one thing: They have haggis-flavored potato chips. Beware.
-- It's no surprise that television ratings for the British Open were lousy. It's ultimately about drama and, sadly, there was none at the Old Course.
-- R&A officials didn't immediately give St. Andrews the 2015 Open Championship, though it's assumed the Old Course will host the event every five years. It should go there every five years. The place just feels right.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What If Phil Had Dominated Like Oosthuizan?

Dispatches from Scotland, where the Open Championship is over and gone but where I remain, at least until Thursday:

-- Here's a question to ponder: If Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson had won the Open Championship in the same way Louis Oosthuizan did --by seven shots in a performance that bleached the drama out of the event -- how would different would the perception be?

Because it was Oosthuizan, the tournament became a bore. Had Tiger done the same thing, we'd be talking (and I'd be writing) about it being one of the most dominating performances in his career. Granted, Tiger has 14 majors, Oosthuizan now has one.

It's too bad the tournament wasn't better from a spectator standpoint. It fell flat, even at the Old Course. Tournament officials felt it, everyone felt it.

There were empty sections in the massive grandstands during the tournament. Part of it was due to the generally foul weather that hit the tournament. Another part was an attendance dip this year, though more than 200,000 fans were on site through the week.

The changes to the Road Hole -- the extra length from a new tee -- worked just fine. The hole remains one of the hardest pars in golf and I don't think putting the tee back compromised anything.

-- Did Oosthuizan get a break with the weather?

Of course he did. But that's part of tournament golf and especially at the Open Championship where they still insist on starting every player from the first tee. If they double-teed them as they do at every other event (starting on 1 and 10 in morning and afternoon waves), it might have helped even out the conditions.

As it was Oosthuizan seemed to catch a bad break playing midday Thursday when conditions began to worsen but he got the best of it by far Friday morning before the winds came howling.

Conditions change. At Hilton Head each April, the players who play early on Thursday and Friday almost always shoot lower scores because the wind picks up in the afternoon. Early players also get the best greens.

Open Championship officials say they don't intend to start double teeing players in the future, though it would be a nice move because it would make for a shorter day for everyone and make the conditions closer to equal.

-- Having heard so much about how great Kingsbarns Golf Club is, I got to see it Saturday and it's spectacular. It's about five miles down the coast from St. Andrews and it's among the best courses I've ever played.

The setting is stunning and they did a terrific job of fitting a fair course into an extraordinary location.

It's so good that several tour players were there Saturday and Sunday while waiting to catch the charter back to the Canadian Open Sunday night. Gary Player was there on Sunday as were Mike Weir, Scott Verplank and Ryan Moore, among others. And Verplank played Kingsbarns after playing the final round of the Open that morning.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Will Louis And Tiger Do Next?

Final thoughts from a surprising Open Championship at St. Andrews:

-- Now that Louis Oosthuizen has won at Augusta and St. Andrews this year -- he won the par-3 tournament at the Masters in April -- it will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. For a while now, he's been one of those guys lurking on the fringe of stardom but no one saw it coming in such dramatic style.

Oosthuizen dominated this Open, shooting 65 on Thursday, tacking on a 67 in the wind on Friday and cruising from there. Players have those charmed weeks but they rarely come with the Claret Jug on the line at the Old Course, especially when you've made just one previous cut in your major championship career.

Maybe this sets the new Oosty on a different career path. Or, maybe he's a guy like Paul Lawrie who has a nice career that includes an unlikely victory in the Open Championship.

-- Everybody wonders what Tiger Woods will do next.

I think he'll work on his game, get ready for the World Golf Championship event at Firestone in three weeks and try to figure out what's happened to his putting. Asked after his round Sunday if sticking the Scotty Cameron putter back in his bag for the final 18 holes was a sign he'll stick with it, Woods said he didn't know.

He's driving the ball well, better than he has in a couple of years, and his iron play is solid if not spectacular. But he can't get the ball in the hole.

There will continue to be speculation about whether he'll part with caddie Steve Williams -- I doubt it -- and whether he'll get a new swing coach -- probably not, at least not until after the season. What he needs, strange as it is to say, is some confidence, especially on the greens.

-- The Old Course showed it can still handle the world's best players. It needs wind but it was built to be played in the wind. When it started blowing, the Old Course could play defense and it did. Against every player but Oosthuizan.

-- Two Americans -- Sean O'Hair and Nick Watney -- finished in the top 10, tying for seventh. Sure, the professional game is more global than it's ever been but not having a challenger at St. Andrews underscored the stagnant state among American touring pros.

The older players -- Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink to name a few -- are on the down side of the curve while the younger guys -- Rickie Fowler comes to mind -- aren't there yet. That doesn't mean Mickelson doesn't have several prime years remaining, he should, but it appears American golf needs a transfusion of youthful energy.

-- It was very impressive of Rory McIlroy to put aside his second-round 80 and wind up tied for third.

McIlroy's meltdown on Friday may have been as surprising as Oosthuizan's victory. Rors, as he's called, looked invincible shooting 63 on Thursday and it seemed this might be his major to win. Then it fell apart, an experience that could have gutted him.. Instead, he kept going and equalled his best finish in a major championship.

Rickie Fowler also made an impression, tying for 14th after shooting 79 in the first round.

-- If anyone says there's a clear favorite at the PGA Championship next month at Whistling Straits, don't believe them.

Tiger may be listed as the favorite but if I had to pick one guy to beat right now, I'd start with Lee Westwood. Then again, it seems as if there's always one guy who beats Westwood in the majors.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 18th At The Old Course: Simply Sublime

When you first see the 18th hole at the Old Course, all 357 yards of it, two thoughts come immediately to mind:

-- Wow, it's close to the shops that border its right side:

-- And, it has to be the most non-descript finishing hole in major championship golf.

It is close to the shops, close enough that if you were to hit a big old American tourist slice, you could one-hop it into the Tom Morris golf shop and have to find your Titleist from among the dozens they have for sale, along with knit caps, towels, shirts and anything else that can hold a St. Andrews logo.

And it isn't much to look at, not at first anyway. The tee sits a few yards away from the more famous 17th hole and the fairway is as wide as Kansas. There's the famous Swilcan Bridge you have to cross after hitting the tee shot and there are no bunkers around the green but the longer you're around it, the more you realize that the 18th hole at the Old Course is really cool.

It lets you fire away, hit a tee shot as hard as you can and it's going to run up there someplace close to the green. And that's where the fun begins.

It's fronted by the Valley of Sin, a big hole just in front of the putting surface, and it's a pain no matter what kind of shot you're trying to play. Pitch it, chip it, putt it, you have to deal with it. And it can embarrass you.

It had players scratching their heads Friday at the Old Course. Vijay Singh putted it up and watched his ball roll back then putted it again and watched it go in. Rory McIlroy, who knows his way around this place despite the way he played the second round, tried to putt it around the Valley of Sin and wound up about 30 feet away.

The hole is beautifully simple but challenging enough to get your attention and keep it. In the Open Championship, it's surrounded by big walls of bleachers and that famous yellow scoreboard. When the Open isn't in town, the 18th green usually has a small gallery anyway. Townspeople and visitors tend to gather around the fence bordering the hole and watch the action.

There are few sweeter moments for an amateur that to hit a shot on the 18th at the Old Course that earns some gentle applause.

At first glance, it looks like there's nothing there but at the 18th hole on the Old Course, everything is there.

Friday, July 16, 2010

European Tour Star Karlsson Moving To Charlotte

Robert Karlsson, a long-time star on the European Tour, is moving to Charlotte with his family and will use the city as his base as he plays both the European and PGA Tours next year. He is moving from Monaco.

The native of Sweden is a 10-time winner on the European Tour and is ranked 31st in the latest world golf rankings. He's at 4-under par through 36 holes in the Open Championship, having made the cut in all three major championships this year.

Karlsson said he has bought a house in the Longview neighborhood and his family will be situated by the time school starts in late August.

"I liked the city when I played there for the first time in 2007," Karlsson said. "I thought, 'This is very nice.' It's a bit European with the four different seasons though the winter is not that long.

"Charlotte works well for the European Tour. I can fly directly into four airports in Europe from there."

Karlsson said he and his wife, Ebba, had considered the move to Charlotte for a while and finalized it this spring. The Karlssons were in Charlotte after he played in the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head. Because of travel complications caused by the volcanic ash in Iceland, Karlsson and his family couldn't return to Europe.

They decided to go house hunting in Charlotte, found one they liked and the move is underway now.

"It was weird because I was there the week of (the Quail Hollow Championship) but I wasn't playing," Karlsson said. "I was staying in the same hotel as Rory (McIlroy) and Lee (Westwood) and I'd see them but I wasn't in the tournament."

Karlsson's presence in Charlotte adds to the city's growing list of PGA Tour players who call it home. Johnson Wagner, Brendon de Jonge, Mathew Goggin and Fred Couples are also in Charlotte.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rory Compares 63 St. Andrews To 62 At Quail

Just because Rory McIlroy shot 63 in the first round of the Open Championship today at the Old Course, equalling the lowest single round in major championship history, I'm not ready to pronounce his arrival as the next great player.

I may have done that after he shot 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship. I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve.

It was only one round in perhaps the most benign conditions ever seen at the Old Course but it was a heckuva round, for sure. Without sounding precocious McIlroy basically said he left a couple of shots out there and he was right. Tiger essentially said the same thing about his 67 and Phil Mickelson let the tournament get away from him. He string of pars said all that needed to be said.

McIlroy was asked to compare his 63 at the Old Course to his final-round 62 at Quail Hollow that won him his first PGA Tour event.

"Two completely different circumstances," McIlroy said. "I was going out at Quail Hollow four or five shots off the lead and I was just going out there to try and shoot a good number. I got tied for the lead after nine holes that day and the back nine at Quail Hollow that was very special to me. The front nine sort of got me into position but the back nine was where I sort of put the tournament to bed, I suppose.

"I don't know, it's hard to compare because they're two completely different circumstances but this is definitely up there as one of the best rounds I've played."

As if you couldn 't tell, McIlroy loves the Old Course. Thursday was his ninth round at the Old Course and when asked if he remembers what he shot previously, he didn't hesitate.

"Yeah," he said. "69, 69, 67, 68, 67, 68, 65, 69, 63."

Maybe we've seen golf's future and its name is Rory McIlroy.

John Daly Turns Into Mild Thing And It Works

When you consider all that has happened at the Old Course in the centuries that golf has been played here, few match John Daly's victory in the Open Championship here 15 years ago for pure curiosity.

Even Daly didn't know what to say in 1995 when he won.

Just imagine if what began with a first-round 66 today were to result in another Daly victory at the Old Course.

That's getting way ahead of things, considering Daly's 6-under par score Thursday was just part of an ambush on the Old Course, which was left defenseless by a day of heavy rain and not a breath of breeze, at least through the morning.

Considering Daly's mercurial nature, nothing's for sure until it happens -- good or bad. But maybe -- just maybe -- he'll hang in contention this weekend because he loves the Old Course with all its quirks and oddities. He's an odd bird himself so it's, strangely, a good fit because he can swing his driver as hard as he wants and hit it past much of the trouble. It's comforting to him. Peaceful is the word he used.

On the trip over to Scotland, Daly told his girlfriend he was going to win this week. That's not his style. He's usually apologizing for something, not setting his expectations impossibly high.

He looks good. He weighs around 195 pounds after lap band surgery a couple of years ago. He can't eat as much as "of the crap" he once did and he says he's quit drinking. Hasn't had a beer since the surgery in 2008, he said.

Daly had a cigarette in his mouth playing the 18th hole Thursday and a cup of Diet Coke in his hand. Those are his remaining vices. A man can't give up everything.

Once known as Wild Thing, Daly suggested he's more "Mild Thing" these days.

For one day, maybe more, he was the John Daly we haven't seen in a long, long time.

Losing A Few Pounds Isn't Hard At The Open

Among the many things to love about the Open Championship is the opportunity to bet a few pounds on what's happening on the golf course.

Sports wagering is legal in Scotland and the betting shops -- Ladbrokes and William Hill in particular -- were popular places in the run-up to the start. I'll admit to ducking into a shop once, okay twice, just to do some, uh, basic research on the championship.

I'd heard that Tiger had dropped from a 3/1 favorite last week to a 6/1 favorite by Wednesday night. It was true and suddenly the big man, usually a lousy bet because he's such a heavy favorite, had become a popular pick.

Phil Mickelson was 16/1, the same as Rory McIlroy for whom there seems to be a lovefest this week.

If you're so inclined, you can bet on just about anything related to the Open. You can bet on the low American, the low player from Great Britain and Ireland and the low player who doesn't meet either of those nationality requirements. You can bet on the low old guy -- Tom Lehman's the favorite there this year -- and you can bet on Tiger's first-round score.

There were betting lines for the order of finish in Tiger's threesome Thursday with Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas.

John Daly, by the way, went off at 250/1 to win and even money to wear something outrageous.

Some people look for omens. Was Charlotte resident Matthew Goggin a good bet because I ran into him at dinner Tuesday and Wednesday night?

Stepping out of the rain and into a betting shop Wednesday night, I found myself standing in a group of strangers who were glued to television sets mounted on the walls. They were watching horse racing and dog racing, which might suggest they spend a little too much time with the ponies and the greyhounds.

An acquaintance saw the dogs getting ready to run, told me to pick a number and he'd pick a number. We put a pound on it and, a few seconds later, I had won my first bet, though it never went through Ladbroke's. Before I could get out of the shop, I'd lost the pound on a second dog race.

No harm done.

But the golf tournament hadn't begun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Evening In St. Andrews

Late Tuesday afternoon, I was leaving the media centre (that's the way they spell it over here) which is adjacent to the 18th hole at the Old Course. There was a small crowd gathered along the fence that parallels the fairway and they were watching a photo shoot.

Most of the former Open champions were gathered for a portrait together prior to their annual dinner in the Royal and Ancient clubhouse behind them. There was Arnold Palmer seated on the front row between Roberto de Vicenzo and Peter Thomson.

Gary Player and Tom Watson were there. So were Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Justin Leonard, Mark O'Meara, David Duval, Tom Lehman and others. John Daly was easy to spot. In a crowd of dark jackets, Daly wore a lime green and black paisley jacket apparently crafted by the same folks who make his pants. I'm sure the R&A appreciated his choice of attire.

There were some notable absences. Seve Ballesteros, who wanted to be here, was in Spain, too frail to travel. Jack Nicklaus didn't make the trip, saying he said his farewell to St. Andrews five years ago. It means he won't play in today's exhibition with the other former champions, a disappointment.

Still, it was see the group gathered together on the edge of the first tee.

A couple of hours later, as darkness was finally falling shortly before 10 p.m., I walked down the 18th fairway to the famous Road Hole. Because the Old Course is a public park, people are allowed to walk on the course after play concludes each day though there are security guards to make sure no one walks on the greens.

There were people taking photos on the famous Swilcan Bridge and one overzealous man broad jumping over the Swilcan Burn.

Davis Love III, playing in his 24th straight Open, was out there in his jeans and hooded sweatshirt, bundled up against a chill that felt like Charlotte in December. Walking down the fairway on the Road Hole, probably the most famous par-4 in the world, I asked Davis if he'd ever been asked to design anything like it.

"They'd think I was crazy if I tried something like this," he said, walking toward the hotel the hole bends around.

Defending champion Stewart Cink was walking back from the champions' dinner and posed for a photo with some fans beside the Road Hole bunker. Cink was carrying with him a sterling silver replica of the original belt buckle that went to the winner of the first eight Open championships.

"This is really cool," Cink said, opening the box to show the buckle.

A moment later, Duval walked up carrying his new keepsake.

In the Jigger Inn, the cozy bar off the 17th fairway, Rory McIlroy's parents -- Gerry and Rosie -- were in there. They told me about watching Rory's win at the Quail Hollow Championship from a resort in Ireland where the celebration was so big a bit of remodeling was necessary the next morning.

Brian Gay, who won the Verizon Heritage by 10 shots two years ago, stopped in and told the story of a late-night visit to the cemetery on the edge of town a few years ago. Several of them went to the gravesite of Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom Morris, near midnight. When someone began reading the inscription on Old Tom's gravestone, CBS golf announcer Jim Nantz was called out of the group to give it a proper reading.

By 10:30, it was dark. I walked back toward town, alongside the 18th fairway, toward the famous clubhouse, lit by yellowish light in the chilly evening.

It somehow felt warmer than it was.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Phil:"I've Got To Get My Butt In Gear"

It was pointed out to Phil Mickelson Tuesday, in case he needed reminding, that no golfer has ever spent a longer time as the No. 2 ranked player in the world than the left-hander has, having taken up seemingly permanent residence behind Tiger Woods.

For several weeks now, Mickelson has been closer than ever to taking the No. 1 spot, something he's never had. But so far, he hasn't been able to make it happen. His play, so sharp at the Masters in April, has been ragged recently, including a missed-cut performance at the Scottish Open last week.

Mickelson has generally brushed off questions about becoming No. 1, taking the approach that if he plays well enough, that will take care of itself. Pressed on the subject Tuesday, Mickelson admitted becoming No. 1 is a goal of his.

"I care," Mickelson said. "I think it would be something that if I were to accomplish in my career...whether it was for one week or a month or a year, however long, just to be able to say you did it, especailly in Tiger's era, it would be incredible.

"So I know that my window of opportunity is small because Tiger is going to start playing some of his better golf here soon, so I've got to get my butt in gear. So I'm going to try hard to do that this week."

Of course Mickelson wants to be No. 1. He's not a No. 2 type personality.

The Open Championship hasn't been filled with a lot of highlights for Mickelson, though he narrowly missed the playoff in 2004. But he likes the Old Course better than all other Open venues, even saying he'd be happy to see the Open at St. Andrews permanently. With its wind and angles and emphasis on putting its enormous greens, the Old Course would seem the ideal place for Mickelson to win an Open.

He knows what it means to win at the Old Course, something he hasn't done. Doing that would answer the question of No. 1.

Tiger At St. Andrews: Talk Of Kids And New Putter

The great Tiger Woods inquisition in his pre-tournament interview at the Open Championship today at St. Andrews was a bit like the weather at the Old Course the past two days -- relatively docile.

His 20-minute question-and-answer session never turned testy, though it got chilly at moments. It was clear the British press was more interested in his personal life than American writers, one questioner asking if Woods is willing to "cut out all those tantrums this week and respect the home golf."

Woods was succinct but not curt, saying "I'm trying to become a better player and a better person, yes."

In fact, the biggest revelation was Woods' admission that he has changed putters this week, the first time since 1999 he has had something other than his Scotty Cameron putter in his bag. Woods is putting a Nike putter, similar in appearance, into play this week because he's always struggled on slow greens and he likes the way the new one helps him on the Old Course greens.

What was most striking, however, was what Woods said and didn't say when he talked about the time he spends with his children. He was asked about his travel schedule which took him to Ireland last week then back home to Florida for a few days before returning to Scotland on Sunday.

"I have two beautiful kids and I'm trying to be the best dad I can possibly be. That's the most important thing of all," Woods said. "I went home and had a great time with my kids. It was an incredible experience to hang out with them. We had a great time."

There was no mention of his wife, Elin, an omission noted by everyone in the room. When asked if reports his divorce is being finalized, Woods gave his standard response, saying "I'm not going to go into that."

There were plenty of questions about how Woods' personal life has intruded on his golf but it never felt confrontational. He's made it clear what he will and won't talk about and he was significantly more expansive when talking about golf than when asked about other things. He confirmed he spent two hours talking to federal officials about the investigation of Dr. Anthony Galea, who helped his recovery from knee surgery, but said he couldn't say any more because it's an ongoing investgation.

When Woods walked into the interview room, the sound of dozens of cameras firing fiilled the tight quarters. Every seat was filled and reporters kneeled in the aisles to listen to what Woods had to say. When he'd take a sip of water, the cameras would click again.

He said he doesn't think his public image will have any impact on how he plays this week at St. Andrews -- why would it? -- and when asked if a victory this week would provide some level of redemption, Woods smiled.

"I would like to win no matter what," he said. "It would be nice. It would be really nice."

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Scene At St. Andrews

They don't make many days like Monday at St. Andrews.

It felt like Augusta in April, the sun was shining, the breeze barely moving the air, a fresh feel to things. The Open Championship starts in three days but it began coming to life on Monday and it could hardly have been nicer.

It was a total reversal from Sunday when the wind blew up to 50 miles per hour, rocking the temporary tournament structures, making it so bad that officials said they would have been forced to suspend play had the tournament been underway in such conditions.

By tournament time, it's expected to be more Scottish around here. The rain is expected to return Wednesday and Thursday, temperatures are expected to be on the cool side and the wind will return. But Monday, it gorgeous.

Tiger Woods was out early, getting his prep work done. Phil Mickelson played a practice round with Dustin Johnson. Bill Haas and Padraig Harrington played a few holes together.

Paul Goydos, four days removed from shooting 59, strolled across the practice green after overnighting from the John Deere Classic in Iowa. There was Tom Weiskopf, in town to play in the champions exhibition Wednesday afternoon, visiting with friends.

The big yellow scoreboards are in place, visible from almost a mile away out on the course. They're selling fish and chips for just under seven pounds -- about $11.50 American -- and there are ice creams stands dotting the edge of the Old Course.

The early-round pairings are out: Tiger's off at 2:20 a.m. Charlotte time with Justin Rose and Camillo Villegas. Phil Mickelson gets a later time -- 9:20 a.m. Charlotte time -- with Colin Montgomerie and Retief Goosen. In what is becoming a major championship tradition, 60-year old Tom Watson is again paired with 18-year old Ryo Ishikawa.

It was a gentle Monday. Just the way to start.

Friday, July 09, 2010

It's St. Andrews. That's Why I'm Going

I'm headed to the British Open next week, in part to write about it but in part because it's at St. Andrews.

It's one of those places that I expected would have trouble meeting my expectations given all I'd heard and read about it before I went there for the first time for the 2005 Open Championship. Like Paris and Augusta National, St. Andrews was better than I expected.

If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. You've stood and looked at the famous clubhouse behind the 18th green and walked across the Swilcan bridge where all the great ones have walked. You know the Road Hole and the woolen shop across the street from the 18th green.

If you were playing the Old Course, you noticed the people who stopped along the street to watch you play. If you weren't playing, you probably stopped to watch someone else play.

There is a charm to St. Andrews that remains genuine after all these years, even though there's a big Starbucks in the middle of town and there will be too many merchants selling too many Open trinkets during the tournament. Walk into a pub and they're talking about golf. Walk into a shop and they'll ask you about golf.

I remember the first day I was there and I'd hurried out to see the course. I'd walked out a few holes then turned back toward town to walk the last few holes. The sun was out and the view of the village hugging the golf course made me stop and stare. It was all right there. In front of me. Behind me. Beneath me.
It's a place like nowhere else. That's why I'm going back.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Shooting 59: Cracking Golf's Final Frontier

When I heard Paul Goydos shot 59 in today's first round of the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run, it didn't matter that Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and David Duval, not to mention Annika Sorenstam on the LPGA Tour, had done it before him.

It's still golf's final frontier and when someone goes there, it's still a surprise.

Think about it. Fifty-nine.

And sure, TPC Deere Run isn't Oakmont but it's still a course strong enough to host a PGA Tour event and it's not like guys have routinely flirted with 50-something there. It's 12-under on the par-71 course. It's not hard to do the math. There weren't many pars.

So much of golf has been demystified. There was a time when 300-yard drives dropped jaws. Not any more. A 490-yard par-4 isn't all that unusual. Nor do we blink when we hear about pros hitting a wedge to a green from 150 yards away.

But shooting 59 gets your attention. That's one reason it's been done so rarely. No matter how much mental discipline a player has and no matter how into the zone he may be on a particular day, flirting with breaking 60 is more nerve-wracking than your first date.

You can't help (I'm guessing here because I feel this way about breaking 80) but think about what you're trying to do. Everybody's thinking about, just like they do with no-hitters and perfect games in baseball.

I've been at several tournaments where a player gets it going and everyone starts crunching the numbers -- if he can birdie four of the last five he can shoot 59 -- and it never happens. Or almost never.

It happened for Paul Goydos, who was probably as dumbfounded by what he did as anyone.

He admitted he didn't see it coming, given his lackluster play the past few weeks. But all of a sudden, it was there. Every time Goydos looked up, he saw putts falling in the middle of the hole.

On the 16th tee, Goydos knew he needed three birdies to shoot 59. Then he made them, saving perhaps his best drive and best approach shot for last, setting up the seven-foot birdie putt that put him in golf's most select group.

In a teleconference after his round, Goydos said shooting 59 is "a bucket list kind of thing" for a tour pro.

"I've got a bunch of nines in the 20s, which to me is pretty cool," Goydos said. "But I've had a couple of chances at home to shoot 59 with friends and didn't. I think I've made 10 holes-in-one and I can tell you exactly where they were. And, I've made three double eagles and I can tell you exactly where they were.

"This is just the cream at the top. When I look at myself, what I've done with my career, the two wins will be on top but the 59 will be hanging in there at third."

Good for him. Good for golf.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bhnker Shots: On Oakmont, Tiger and Sergio

A few bunker shots while waiting for the British Open next week:

-- There's not a tougher U.S. Open test than Oakmont which will add to the curiosity factor surrounding the U.S. Women's Open this week. The Open is always largely about the golf course and this one won't be any exception, especially watching players deal with greens that may be as tough as any. It's not a question of whether over-par will be the willing score but how many over par will the winner be.

-- Is Justin Rose ready to win a major championship?

He'll arrive at St. Andrews next month as the hottest player in the game and he's sure to get some attention in the Ladbroke's betting shops. He wouldn't be my first choice, though.

Rose may contend, he's been playing too well to ignore him, but if the weather cooperates and adds some atmosphere to St. Andrews (something that was missing the last two times the Open Championship was played there), it brings so many factors into play.

Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood come to mind as worth putting a few pounds on. I want to say Phil Mickelson can win -- and he can -- but he's never done much in the Open Championship. Maybe St. Andrews will inspire him like Augusta National does.

And, I still think Tiger is the player to watch at St. Andrews. I don't care that he shot 79 in the first round of the Irish pro-am he's playing this week. If he can get some putts to fall, he's going to win again. And he's talked so often about how much he likes St. Andrews, I like his chances.

That's been my story and I'm sticking to it.

-- The U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship comes to Greensboro's Bryan Park Champions Course next week and it's a terrific setting. It's a 36-hole facility owned by the city and operated by the Bryan Foundation and it's a model for what a municipal facility could be.

It doesn't hurt that designer Rees Jones was given a great site with tons of lakefront property on which he could put the course. It's hard to imagine many munis getting a setting like the one at Bryan Park. If you're looking for a road trip one day, make the ride up to play the Champions Course, which was once considered the future site of what is now the Wyndham Championship.

-- I read someplace recently about the possibility that Sergio Garcia might not make the European Ryder Cup team this year. Seems far-fetched given his passion for the event but that seems to be the only thing that stirs his golf passion. He's become almost invisible, which is a disappointment not just for him but for us.

Sergio is one of those characters who makes you pay attention. Like him or not, he matters. But not the way he's been playing. His body language these past few months has made it clear he's not having fun.

I'm not ready to write him off. I still think he's got a major win or two in his future but not the way he's been going.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

David Feherty's Red, White And Blue Fourth

This will be David Feherty's first Fourth of July as an American citizen. A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Feherty became a naturalized citizen on Feb. 23 this year and has a red, white and blue streak that runs as deep and rich as his humor.

Feherty, a former Ryder Cup golfer now best known for his funny and perceptive commentary on CBS Sports' golf telecasts, is host of a one-hour special Saturday at 2 p.m. on CBS called 'Golf Magazine Presents: David Feherty's American Journey.'

It's partly Feherty's story and his deep admiration and affection for American troops, particularly soldiers who have been seriously injured in combat. He hosts six outings a year for soldiers who are missing limbs as a result of their military service. It's a bond that developed two years ago when Feherty made his first visit to Baghdad, a trip he says convinced him to become an American citizen.

"They are the reason I am an American citizen," Feherty said during a phone conversation this week. "It's because of the unbelievable job they are doing and the extraordinary strength of the bond that exists between them. I had to become an American once I saw what they are doing."

In addition to showing Feherty's interaction with the soldiers -- it includes a surprise visit from Tiger Woods -- the show also features the stories of four high-profile people:

-- Former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice;

-- Charles Kelley, lead singer for Lady Antebellum;

-- No. 1 NFL draft pick quarterback Sam Bradford;

-- And, PGA Tour player Anthony Kim.

It's an interesting cross-section of people Feherty chose, in part to show the diversity in America, tying it to golf. He talks to Rice about her childhood in Montgomery, Ala., where she was a competitive ice skater; he talks to Kim about avoiding the gang life in Los Angeles; he talks to Bradford about the pressure of being the No. 1 pick in the draft; and, he talks to Kelley about his decision to pursue music and, finally, hitting it big.

The common thread, beyond golf, is how they have excelled by pushing themselves.

"If you're willing to be in the right place at the right time and do things that unsuccessful people don't want the responsibility for, then the American dream is alive and well," Feherty said.

"These four people were willing to be in a place they knew would be uncomfortable. It's absolutely an essential ingredient for success. You have to want the responsibility for things that unsuccessful people don't want. You have to be the one who says, 'I want the ball. Give me the ball.'"

During the show, Feherty critiqued Rice's golf swing and even hit a few shots himself. He's hardly played golf over the last several years and because of serious injuries suffered in a cycling accident, he's lost some of the feeling in his left arm. But he hit some shots for the show and was surprised by how good they were.

While Feherty is the host and the show is framed around his journey to citizenship, it's primarily about the others, he said. Feherty will be working the AT&T National tournament in Philadelphia this week, a perfect Fourth of July spot.

A year ago in the same tournament, Feherty was walking with Woods who came off the 17th green on Sunday with a one-shot lead. Feherty tapped Woods on the shoulder and asked if PFC Brendan Marrocco, a soldier who had lost both arms, both legs and one eye in combat, could be pushed down the 18th fairway as Woods played the final hole. Woods said yes, gave Marrocco a fist pump as he went to the 18th tee and stood back to allow the soldier, pushed by his father and brother, to be recognized as he came up the 18th hole.

"It was a cathartic moment," Feherty said. "You could see his dignity flooding back. It's not just their arms and legs that they lose. It's their dignity they lose.

"I was pushing him and crying like (Gary) McCord at a Barry Manilow concert."