Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't Wake Me While The Putts Are Falling

I know you don't want to hear about my golf game but, if you've come this far into cyberspace, indulge me for a moment.

I'm making putts these days.

Not a few of them. A lot of them. I lean over a 15-footer and think it's going in.

That may not be a big deal to you. Maybe you were blessed with the putting gene but I wasn't. My father, it should be noted, carries a long putter and a short putter and often switches from hole to hole, depending on his mood and the amount of break facing him.

I've always wanted to be a good putter, annually making a vow to practice putting more, and it never happens. The practice nor the getting better, which some have said could be related.

But now, just about the time golf season is going into hibernation unless we have a better winter than last year, I'm rolling the rock, to invoke a cliche. It won't last, it never does, but it sure is fun right now.

What changed?

Todd Smith, who's off to Champions Tour qualifying school this week, got tired of watching me three-putt a while back and gave me a simple 1-2-3-4 routine that works. I look at the hole (that's one), look back at the ball (that's two), take it back (that's three) and hit it (that's four).

Teachers will tell you it's not a routine if you have to think about it and it's reached the point where it's almost a habit now. And there's no more comforting feeling in golf that hitting a putt then looking up to see it dead on line, especially if you've got a feel for the speed.

I've marveled for a while now at how my 15-year old nephew, Jake, putts. He hits it, fully believing it's going in every time and when he misses, he doesn't bother to line up the five-foot comebackers. He just stands over them, slams them in and goes to the next hole. He's too young to know better.

Right now, I know how he feels.

No wonder he smiles so much.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gastonia's Varner Has His Breakthrough Moment

In his junior year at East Carolina, Gastonia's Harold Varner III has been chasing his first collegiate individual championship for a while.

He's looked at teammates who've won tournaments and knew his game could match theirs but Varner didn't have his own trophy.

Until now.

Varner set an East Carolina record this week when he won the Old Dominion-Outer Banks Intercollegiate golf championship at Kilmarlic Golf Club, shooting 20-under par 196 over 54 holes. Varner had rounds of 65-66-66 to lead the Pirates to a 23-stroke team victory as well.

"It was awesome," Varner said of his first individual victory. "It's nice to get that first one so I can start working on the second one."

Varner has been working with his teacher, Bruce Sudderth, on a couple of swing tweaks and they kicked in on the Outer Banks. Varner said he has been practicing two drills to help him keep the clubhead in front of him rather than allowing it to get caught behind him.

When it all came together, Varner poured it on.

"I was looking at a lot of putts going in," Varner said. "I played one stretch from near the end of the first round through the start of the second round 9-under par for nine holes. When you look at people who win, they have a stretch like that where they don't miss."

Varner and the Pirates are finished with their fall schedule but will return to competition in January.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Charlotte Caddie Comes Up Aces In Las Vegas

Perhaps PGA Tour caddie Adam Hayes, who lives part-time in Charlotte, should spend more time in Nevada.

Hayes was on Vaughn Taylor's bag both times the Augusta, Ga., player won the Reno-Tahoe Open and Hayes was shouldering Jonathan Byrd's clubs last week when the former Clemson star won the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas.

That meant Hayes had the best seat in the house when Byrd aced the fourth playoff hole to beat Martin Laird and Cameron Percy.

"It was pretty awesome just to be part of something like that," Hayes said after returning to Charlotte.

It's believed to be the first time a tournament on a major golf tour was won by an ace in a playoff. Just to get there, Byrd had to do something almost as dramatic -- birdie three of the last four holes to get into the playoff.

In regulation, Byrd birdied the 204-yard, par-3 17th hole to get to 21-under par, enough to get in the playoff. Little did Byrd and Hayes know what was coming.

In the playoff, Byrd parred the 17th the first time through, lipping out a 15-footer that could have won the tournament for him there. When they returned in the gathering darkness for the fourth extra hole, Hayes and Byrd knew exactly what they needed to do.

Byrd pulled a 6-iron, just as he had the two previous times he'd played the hole in the past hour, and left his natural right to left shot work for him.
"I knew we could win it on that hole," Hayes said.

He just didn't know it would happen so dramatically.

"I knew it was going right at the hole but when it went in, it was unbelievable," Hayes said.

It took a moment for Byrd, Hayes and everyone else to know what had happened. It was so dark they couldn't see the hole clearly and there was almost no gallery around the green. The few who were around the green started jumping and cheering and it became clear Byrd had just won his fourth PGA Tour event.

"He has the potential to be a top 20 player on tour," said Hayes, who has worked with Byrd for more than two years. "He just needs something to push him there. Maybe this is it."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Member-Guest Uniforms: There Are No Winners

Having just spent a terrific weekend playing in the Providence Country Club member-guest tournament, I have one question:

Why do two grown men -- who aren't required by Ryder Cup rules to do so -- wear matching outfits?

Is it a team unity thing? Really?

It's one thing for both of you to show up wearing khaki shorts and a white shirt purely by chance. That is, after all, the standard dress code on the golf course. A man can't have too many white shirts. Just ask Marty Hackel. Or maybe not.

But it should be by chance, not by design. You outgrow cute when you start shaving.

Member-guests are fun (even if you don't make a birdie in 45 holes like me), which I suppose explains why guys think dressing like twins is a good idea. Maybe if my partner and I had worn matching outfits, we'd have finished better than third in a six-team flight, but our wives would have found somewhere else to be rather than the Friday night party with us.

Of course, if I could have made a few more putts on the quick, pure greens, I may have dressed like John Daly as one participant did. Thankfully, his partner toned it down and dressed like Rickie Fowler.

One more thing about member-guest events. Why is it that guys can bring a 12 handicap into the event, shoot even par and think no one figures them out? Maybe I need more strokes.

Or maybe I need a team uniform the next time.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Winners, Losers From The Ryder Cup

Checking out the winners and losers from what turned into a spellbinding Ryder Cup:

-- Luke Donald and Ian Poulter. They thrive in the team competition, posting a combined 6-2-0 record. It seemed whenever the European team needed a boost, one of them provided it.

-- Graeme McDowell. If you thought his win at the U.S. Open was a fluke, he showed it wasn’t.

-- Rickie Fowler: It’s rare that a guy can be winless in the Ryder Cup but come out looking better than when he went in. That’s what Fowler did with his four-birdie finish to earn one-half point in Monday’s singles. He showed some serious game when it mattered the most.

-- The 2012 matches at Medinah. Two years away and the anticipation is already building.


-- Television: It was tough enough with the matches being played five hours ahead of East Coast time in Wales but the bad weather, the Monday finish and football season made it a challenge just to keep up with what was – or wasn’t – happening. Too bad. It deserved better.

-- Corey Pavin. The American captain said it before the matches started – players win the cup, captains lose it. His low-key style was the opposite of Colin Montgomerie’s emotional leadership. Fair or not, he didn’t have the same sizzle as Paul Azinger two years ago.

-- Sun Mountain. That’s the company that made the rain suits that leaked so badly that a PGA official bought new suits for the U.S. players in the merchandise tent during play. The leaks were blamed on all the stitching on the suits which included the players’ names on the back. That was a terrible – and tacky -- idea.

-- Phil Mickelson. For whatever reason, he doesn’t get it done enough in the Ryder Cup, going 1-3 this time. His 17 losses are the most in Cup history, surprising for a guy who would seem to thrive in the matches. He said losing his first three matches was the most disappointed he's felt.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Couples Wants, Deserves Ryder Cup Captaincy

Like so many other players in the field at the Ensure Classic at Rock Barn Friday, Fred Couples wanted to know what was happening at the Ryder Cup in Wales.

Bernhard Langer, who was in the mix to be a captain's pick for the European team, said he was glad to be playing in the North Carolina sunshine rather than the rainy mess in Wales.

Tom Kite recalled his seven Ryder Cup experiences as a player and his captaincy at Valderamma in Spain in 1997 when rain also disrupted the proceedings.

Couples, meanwhile, liked hearing that the format had been altered due to the weather and that every player would be on the course on Saturday. He believes the Ryder Cup should be like the Presidents Cup where all the players play rather than creating awkward decisions about who sits and who plays in the Ryder Cup.

On Sunday, Couples turns 51 and he's had a great career but he still wants one thing -- he wants to be the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. He captained the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team last fall and he'll do it again next year in Australia.

That's great but it's not the Ryder Cup.

Couples deserves to be Ryder Cup captain in 2012, though it may be unlikely given his Presidents Cup commitment.

"Sure," Couples said Friday when asked if he wanted to captain the Ryder Cup team. "But if it doesn't happen, I'll take my two chances with the Presidents Cup as a great time and a great honor and go from there."

When the PGA of America sits down to pick its next Ryder Cup captain, Fred Couples should be the easy answer.