Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Beaten by a man with a broken leg...

I learned long ago that golf has a mind -- and a warped sense of humor -- of its own.

That's why an otherwise beautiful tee shot can stop in a divot, why your opponent's skulled 7-iron can skip across the water like Captain Sullenberger hit it and why kids want to dress like Rickie Fowler.

If you play, you understand. If you don't play, don't start. You'll have more fun piercing your tongue.

That brings me to my latest slapdown.

Playing in the Cedarwood club championship over the weekend, I got beat by a man with a broken leg.

Both days.

I know, Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open on a broken leg. He was playing the Barclays last weekend, I checked.

The only guy I beat got DQ'd because he signed an incorrect scorecard.

I think he's the only guy I beat. I wisely grabbed a beer after the round and didn't glance at the scoreboard or anyone else before slinking away, pretending I had somewhere to be -- and it wasn't the practice tee.

Let me make it clear that I have great admiration for the man who beat me on one good leg. He has a rod in his bad leg, parts of it have come loose and he now has a stress fracture in his thigh bone. When he makes a full swing and tweaks his leg the wrong way, it looks like it hurts worse than a Rosie O'Donnell monologue.

But he loves golf and keeps playing through it, kicking my butt in the process.

There's something inspiring about his willingness to keep playing but let's not make it about him. Let's talk about me.

I could tell you I was 1-over par through seven holes and facing an easy approach shot into the par-5 eighth green Sunday, thinking I might be able to backdoor my way into second place in the net division after another in a long history of poor starts in the club championship.

But then I'd have to tell you that three holes later I was 10-over par and relieved that both of my Titleists missed every vehicle moving on Highway 51 after my tee shots at the easy 10th hole turned right of Sean Hannity on their way off the property.

You might think that seeing a man with a broken leg grinding away would push me to keep grinding, too. You might be wrong.

A three-hole stretch of double-bogey, triple-bogey, quadruple-bogey kills your incentive. Let's see sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella put a happy face on that scorecard.

I finished and, after briefly considering donating my clubs to a nearby pond and bailing out of an October trip to Bandon Dunes, I wondered why I'd expected anything different. If nearly 50 years of playing golf have taught me anything, it's not to bet on myself when you have to putt 'em out.

My only regret?

I should have bought the man with the broken leg a beer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What does Ko's win say about the LPGA Tour?

Fifteen-year old Lydia Ko, who won the LPGA Tour's Canadian Open on Sunday, wasn't born when Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters.

Make you feel old?

Make you wish you could hit it and putt it like the kids these days?

Ko became the youngest player in LPGA history to win a tournament, breaking the record set last year by Lexi Thompson. Ko was brilliant, making seven birdies on Sunday, to pull away from Jiyai Shin and Stacy Lewis, two of the tour's best players.

Afterward, she talked about wanting to buy a dog and her goal of attending Stanford, both of which she may eventually get though she couldn't take her $300,000 winner's check because she's still an amateur.

Ko's victory raised an interesting question:

What does it say about the LPGA Tour?

It's a tour in desperate need of a jolt of relevance and Ko's victory at least pulled some of the attention away from Nick Watney's victory in the Barclays and the musical chairs being played for the final four spots on Davis Love III's U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Without a dominant player at the moment - Yani Tseng's sterling game has dulled slightly - the LPGA needs someone or something to bring it into focus. Maybe it's Ko.

She recently won the U.S. Amateur and now she's an LPGA Tour winner. It says everything about her potential and perhaps too much about the LPGA Tour at the moment.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Augusta National does the right thing

  The news Monday that Augusta National Golf Club has its first two female members -- former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore of Lake City, S.C. -- was both overdue and inevitable.
   Still, it's good to have the issue resolved.
   Did it take longer than it should have?
   Yes, but Augusta National moves at its own pace. We may never know for sure but my sense is the club might have added female members before now had Martha Burk's public attacks a few years ago not slowed the process. The club wasn't going to be bullied into action.
   However, the issue wasn't going to go away until female members were admitted. For all the progressive initiatives pushed by chairman Billy Payne in its stated quest to 'grow the game,' the message was flattened by the reality that Augusta National hadn't fully opened its doors to women.
   Hundreds of rounds of golf are reportedly played by women each year at Augusta National but until now, there were no female members.
   Payne was pushed in his pre-tournament interview in April on the membership issue and said, as other chairmen have, that club matters would remain private. It became more awkward because Virginia Rometty had become CEO of IBM. Her four male predecessors had been Augusta National members.
   Payne is a smart man who no doubt understood the conundrum of pushing global growth at a club with a restricted membership. With Rice and Moore now having their own green jackets, Payne and the club can push forward rather than play defense against the perpetual questions.
   It was important enough that the club made a public announcement of the new members, Payne calling it "a joyous occasion." 
   Augusta National is a unique place. The club reportedly has about 300 members and they are rich and powerful people. The club has positioned itself to be a powerful force in golf and it has the opportunity to be an example. 
    It became a better one on Monday.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Coore, Crenshaw give No. 2 another look

   Recently, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw stopped by Pinehurst to take a look at their restoration project at No. 2, which has been open for more than a year now.
  With both the men's and women's U.S. Opens less than two years away, they're looking closely at the width of fairways and the amount of growth in the sandy natural areas.
   Here's a link to what they had to say about No. 2:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rocky River, Verdict Ridge open with new greens

   Two area courses that made the conversion from bent grass to bermuda grass greens earlier this summer are ready to reopen.
   Rocky River Golf Club in Concord is scheduled to reopen Aug. 20 and will offer special rates the first week after its reopening.
   Verdict Ridge Golf & Country Club in Denver will reopen to the public Aug. 25.
   Both courses are among a large group of area courses that made the transition to more heat-tolerant putting surfaces this month. The Wyndham Championship being played this week at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro made a similar move and is hosting the PGA Tour less than 12 weeks after making the change.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Feherty weighs in on Rory: 'No. 1 in the universe'

   David Feherty, the brilliant golf announcer and social commentator, walked the final round of the PGA Championship with Rory McIlroy and was blown away by what he saw.
   Here's a portion of what Feherty told a handful of reporters standing outside the Ocean Course clubhouse after the championship:
   "This was better (than McIroy's U.S. Open performance at Congressional in 2011). Congressional didn't have the disaster potential on every single hole. Out here you hit one loose shot, you're not talking about a one-shot swing or two-shot swing. You could lose three or four. He never gave anybody even the vaguest whiff on the breeze. No, he was locked up so tight
   "He made every single putt that mattered and when he missed a green, he missed it in the right place. It was perfect under the severest of pressure. He did what all great players can do. He played the best possible golf as if it had the least possible consequence. That's what great players do. They make it seem like it doesn't matter when it matters more than anything else to them.
   "I think it's the greatest round of golf I've seen and I've seen Tiger Woods play a lot of great rounds of golf but that was something special."
   Asked about McIlroy regaining the world No. 1 ranking, Feherty said;
   "He's No. 1 in the universe right now, not No. 1 in the world. It's not close. Tiger's not where he was. People keep asking is Tiger Woods back? Back where? Yeah, he's back. He's won three times this year. He's not back where he was at the turn of the century. I think it will be another century before anybody gets there. It's an unreasonable standard to hold anybody to. 
   "The way (McIlroy) swings the club and the way he thinks about the game of golf and his attitude on the course, both good and bad, I've never seen anybody more evenly balanced and more beautifully suited to play golf for a living. He looks like a slightly less energetic Tom Watson."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Observations from the PGA Championship

  A few observations while waiting for the PGA Championship to resume Sunday morning:
 -- It's likely the players who will finish their third rounds Sunday morning will have a big advantage in terms of playing conditions over those who got their third rounds in before the storm. The course will be softer and the wind is forecast to be down, setting up lower scoring and a chance for the leaders to separate themselves a little more.
   -- Unless something changes Sunday, Tiger Woods' weekend struggles in major championships this year has become a problem. He hasn't broken par on the weekend in the four majors and he played himself backward and virtually out of contention on Saturday. 
   A pulled birdie putt at the third hole from short range seemed to frustrate Woods who followed with consecutive bogeys. Someone cracked he was in danger of running out of gloves because he had to sign so many for spectators he hit Saturday.
    -- Given the challenges with weather during August, particularly thunderstorms in the southeast, it's interesting that the lineup of PGA Championship sites through 2018 doesn't include a west coast venue. The PGA hasn't been played out west since visiting Sahalee near Seattle in 1998. Torrey Pines, some pointed out, is nice this time of year.
  -- Another PGA question: Knowing there was a better than good chance of afternoon thunderstorms Saturday, why didn't they start players earlier in the third round? The PGA Tour does it routinely.
   There's an argument to be made for televising the event live but showing a slightly taped-delayed version beats showing highlights from the 2009 PGA Championship -- unless you're Y.E. Yang.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Simpson looking ahead, not back after PGA

  Webb Simpson got the weekend off after missing the cut in the PGA Championship but he left the Ocean Course feeling better about his even-par 72 on Friday than he fat 79 on Thursday.
    "I look back on that first nine holes (a 6-over 42 on Thursday) and it's kind of what got me," Simpson said. "But the course played really hard (Friday). I feel good. I hit it good and finally got the putter going. It's just one of those deals where I got off to a bad start."
   Simpson plans to take a couple of days off at home with his wife, son and new daughter then defend his championship at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro next week.
   "It's kind of good to get this under my belt before the playoffs. Hopefully, I'll play a little better next week," Simpson said.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Simpson 'disappointed' with rough start at PGA

   U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson opened with a 7-over par 79 that left him "disappointed" in his first competitive round in a month.
   Simpson shot 6-over par 42 on the front nine with a double bogey on the third hole and four bogeys in his last five holes before making the turn.
  "I was rustier than I thought I'd be," said Simpson, who took a month off for the birth of his daughter last month. "I didn't hit a bad shot on No. 1 and make bogey. At No. 3, I thought my wedge shot would be 10 feet, went over the green and I made double. Just kind of rusty stuff from there."
   Simpson had three 3-putts on the back nine.
  "It's a tough way to get back into it but I'm glad I got the first round under my belt. I'm not quite out of it," Simpson said.
   "As hard as I worked at home, I didn't expect to come out here and struggle so much. I hit it really good today. Just stupid mistakes and couldn't get anything going. Seemed like every time I'd make a birdie, I'd make a mistake the next hole.
  "I didn't feel nerves this morning like I thought I would. That's a dangerous place because I felt like I was floating out here."
   The Charlotte-based players were led by Brendan de Jonge and Martin Laird, who opened with 71s while Robert Karlsson had 74 and Johnson Wagner shot 75. Pinehurst teaching pro Kelly Mitchum shot 76.

Ocean Course isn't easy -- getting there

   The Ocean Course is beautiful.
   It is also remote.
   As in a long way from anything but a few really big, really nice houses owned by what I assume are very rich people.
   Playing the Ocean Course, even as a resort guest when it's not in PGA Championship trim, is a challenge.
   So is getting there.
   What's that old adage, no one wants to hear about the delivery, they just want to see the baby?
   No one wants to hear about the challenge of getting to the Ocean Course. They want to see how Phil and Rory and Dustin handle what can be a beast of a golf course if the wind kicks up.
   But getting to the PGA Championship isn't easy for anyone.
   Even if you have your yacht moored at a nearby marina, it's a 25-minute drive in among the live oaks, lagoons and poster-pretty golf holes on other resort courses.
   If you're staying in Charleston, it was a one-hour, 40-minute shuttle bus ride to the Ocean Course Thursday morning. Generally, it's been about an hour. It's a substantial ride if no one is on the road, which tends not to be the case in mornings and when a major championship is being played nearby.
   Navigating the course can be a test because it's laid out essentially with nine holes in one direction and the other nine running parallel the other way. Four miles end to end. It's about a half-mile from the ninth green to the 10th tee. 
   It's not easy. But major championships aren't supposed to be easy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What do players think of the Ocean Course?

So what do the players think about the Ocean Course?
   They think it's long. 
    "A big golf course," Rory McIlroy said.
   "A big ballpark," Tiger Woods said.
   "They're going to make us work," Bubba Watson said.
   Officially, the Ocean Course measures 7,676 yards but it won't play its full length during the PGA Championship. Set-up man Kerry Haigh plans to move tees depending on the wind, which is predicted to kick up, particularly Friday and Saturday afternoon, gusting to 30 miles per hour.
   The par-4 12th hole, listed at 412 yards, will play 305 or thereabouts at least one day, tempting players to try to drive the green.
   There's a lot of target golf involved in playing the Pete Dye design, plotting your way around the course from spot to spot. It's not a subtle course. The penalty for a poor shot is generally severe.
   "A lot of it is visual," Woods said. "There's a lot more room out there, whether it's on the fairways or the greens, than you think. He just makes you look the other way. He's a masterful designer in that way.
   "If you play conservatively, he gives you a lot more room but also you're far away from the green all the time."
   What does the Ocean Course remind players of?
   Whistling Straits, another Dye design, where Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship two years ago.
  "It's very similar to Whistling Straits," McIlroy said.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Pinehurst's Mitchum "excited and nervous"

   When Pinehurst Resort teaching pro played the Ocean Course in the Carolinas PGA section championship last fall, he didn't have Adam Scott hitting practice balls beside him and Scott's caddie, Steve Williams, watching Mitchum hit tee shots on the seaside range like he did Tuesday morning.
   That's just one thing that makes Mitchum's appearance in the PGA Championship this week something different.
   In a normal week, Mitchum said he'd probably be working with a student instead of dodging rain showers to polish his game in advance of the Thursday start at the Ocean Course.
  "I'm excited and nervous. This is not my normal routine," Mitchum said. "It's a very difficult golf course but it's cool being out here with the best players in the world."
   Mitchell played a practice round Monday at the Ocean Course and when he got a look at where the tees are going to be set for the championship, he knew he wasn't playing the section championship anymore
   "We played it at 6,800 yards last fall and it was a wonderful course from there," Mitchum said. "But 7,600 is a little different.
   "Because it's rained so much, it's not playing firm and fast. I need firm and fast. I've used my hybrid more this week than I've used it in three years."
    Mitchum's goal?
   "Try not to get too wrapped up in what's going on and just have a good time," he said.

Monday, August 06, 2012

When bad things happen to good players

    Adam Scott.
    Jim Furyk.
    Who’s next?
    Tournament golf is littered with torturous tales of leads lost at the last moment, would-be champions done in by nerves and not trusting themselves when it matters the most.
   Scott’s slow-bleed loss at the British Open was a classic example and the Aussie got company Sunday when Jim Furyk, once rock-solid, kicked away the WGC Bridgestone Invitational with a 72nd hole double bogey that looked downright ugly. Furyk, in case you’ve forgotten, also drop-kicked the U.S. Open trophy in Webb Simpson’s direction in June when he snap-hooked a tee shot coming home and couldn’t buy a par with a platinum card.
   Furyk and Scott are just the latest to lose tournaments they seemingly owned. It happens all the time, whether it’s a $5 nassau with your buddies, a club tournament, a mini-tour or when David Feherty is walking the golf course watching you.
   Like car wrecks, it happens.
   “It is a cruel game,” Furyk told reporters Sunday night.  “I’ve lost some tournaments in pretty poor fashions, but I don’t think I’ve ever let one slip nearly as bad as this one.”
   Ernie Els won the Claret Jug. Keegan Bradley won a WGC event before he defends the PGA Championship he won last August when Jason Dufner couldn’t hold the lead coming home.
   At Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, bad things are going to happen to good players.
   The question – particularly Sunday afternoon -- is when and to whom.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Tiger on Kiawah: 'A big ballpark'

   Tiger Woods made his first visit to Kiawah Island's Ocean Course Tuesday for an early look at the site of next week's PGA Championship.
  Woods said the course was unusually soft due to two inches of overnight rain but he had plenty to take in as he prepared for the year's final major championship.
   "It's going to be long," Woods told reporters Wednesday at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. "I think it's going to be close to 7,700 yards and that's just a big ballpark."
   Woods said many of the holes played into a crosswind rather than the prevailing southwest wind that has approximately half the course playing into the wind and the other half playing downwind.
   Woods said it will be only the second time he's played on paspalum greens and he expects them to firm.
   According to published reports, Woods' yacht has been seen in the Lowcountry.
   "It's going to be a great test," Woods said. "I don't know how the spectators are going to get around this place. First of all, I don't know how they're going to get to it. But once they're there, it's going to be a great environment."