Butler Cabin, Augusta National (c) Burgh Golfer

Friday, September 24, 2010

Meeting Arnold Palmer

Two week ago, I had the rare opportunity to meet “the” King - Arnold Palmer. Having grown up in Western PA and been around the game all of my life, this was a special thrill. I grew up about 25 miles from Latrobe and Arnie has always been part of local folk lore, not to mention he’s a Global Sports Icon. There were even stories of how Arnold played my home course on several occasions. They say he drove the green on the dogleg right par four 18th hole on his way to shooting 64. Whether that story is true or not doesn’t really matter, but it is fun to recount nonetheless.

I was playing in a member – guest event with a good friend of mine when the opportunity arose. As we walked off of the 9th green, Arnold was standing between the 9th green and 10th tee. He was there speaking to the Club Pro and a few other gentlemen. As we approached Arnie and the group, the feeling was a bit surreal. As a golfer and a fellow “Pennsylvanian” this was a special moment. It made me stop and think how cool it was that the greatest Global Ambassador of Golf grew up very near where we were standing. That one of the greatest players of all time and the man who revolutionized the Game of Golf as we know it today is standing before me.

They always say that Arnie is great about making eye contact. That he always looked people in the eye and that the connection they felt is what endeared people to him. As the Club Pro introduced our group, I had the opportunity to shake the King’s hand and say “hello Mr. Palmer it is an honor to meet you”. With a firm grip, he looked me in directly in the eye, and with a big smile, said “it is a pleasure to meet you as well.” Our group exchanged a few words and Arnold made a few jokes, still showing his wit before we moved on. Needless to say, this was one experience in golf I will never forget.

Source: Photo: James Drake/Sports Illustrated

Have you ever met a famous golfer? Which players would you like to meet?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Going for the Green

My last post was about laying up, so I thought I should follow up with a post on “going for it” or “going for the green in two.”

Whether on a par four or par five, going for the green in one or two can be a risky play. As much as a layup shot is a conservative play, going for the green is the ultimate risk play. If successfully executed, going for the green can put your ball in position to make a birdie or eagle. However, if the shot is not properly executed, a player can easily make bogey, double bogey or worse.

When we hear the phrase “going for the green” we automatically think of a par five. However, on many golf courses there is the occasional opportunity to go for the green on a short, drivable par four. With the Ryder Cup quickly approaching, this is a good time to mention it. Almost every Ryder Cup has at least one hole where the course setup will allow for the players to drive a par four.

I played over the weekend at a friend’s club and had a chance to go for the green in two on a par five. I was not doing very well in the skins game and we came to the final hole - a dogleg par five with a lake fronting the entire length of the green. Here is a view of the hole from behind the green.

Since I had played the course before, I knew if I hit a good drive I would have a shot at the green. So I approached the ball, hit it extra hard, and was rewarded for the aggressive play. I was already behind in the match and there was no trouble off the tee, so I had nothing to lose. When I got to the ball it had tailed off into the rough. However, it was sitting up very nicely. I had 172 yards to the flag and asked the caddie if he liked the 6 iron. He didn’t say anything and as I went back to the bag and pulled the seven iron, he immediately said “I like that much better.” I proceeded to hit a high, towering seven iron right at the flag and the ball landed softly, about ten feet to the left of the flag, pin high. Unfortunately, I missed the putt as the ball broke about 18 inches and the greens were running twelve on the stimpmeter. However, it was worth the risk because even if I would have come up a tad short or mishit the shot I still would have cleared the water.

Based on my own experiences, I think players should go for the green when they are confident with the club selection, are willing to risk a bogey or worse, and are comfortable that they can successfully execute the shot. It’s not a hope and a prayer shot, but more of a calculated risk.

What do you consider when going for the green? How do you decide if the risk is worth the reward? Feel free to leave a comment on your strategy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Laying Up

Every time we play a round of golf we face several holes where we need to “lay up”. Typically, a layup shot is one in which a player chooses to hit a shot a certain distance in order to position themselves for the approach into the green. For the average player this typically occurs four times per round, on par fives on a regulation golf course. However, the layup is not reserved for par fives. There are many times you need to lay up on short par fours or even par threes. Many golf course architects will include a short par four in their course design that allows a longer hitter to drive the green. These players have the option to drive the green or layup. Likewise, on longer par threes, some players choose to lay up short of the green, rather than risking a penalty shot by going for the green.

I decided to write this piece based upon a conversation I recently had with a friend of mine during a tournament round. We were playing a two man best ball event and we were discussing the strategy on his layup shot for a par five. His shot ended up finding the bunker. I asked him how he arrived at his decision to hit that particular club, a 5 iron. He said he was trying to hit to a certain “spot” in the distance. That is how most of us approach that decision. We try to hit a club a certain distance, or try to land the ball in a certain spot on the fairway short of the hole.

I also take this same strategy; however, I also consider two other main points when lying up.

First, I not only look at where I want the ball to end up. I also consider where I DO NOT want the ball to end up. I always consider other factors as well, such as; wind direction, the lie of my ball, hazards around the landing area, etc. In other words, if I mishit the shot or if some other factor influences where the ball goes, what areas do I need to avoid? What happens if there is a gust of wind? What happens if I catch a flier lie? What happens if the ball runs out or stops quickly.

Second, I consider what yardage and angle I want into the green. Most of us are comfortable with certain clubs in our bags. We are also comfortable with certain yardages into the green. My three comfort yardages are 90, 105 and 115 yards. That is because that is how far I hit my 60, 54 and 50 degree wedges respectively. When possible, I want to have one of those yardages into the green so I can hit the shot full with confidence. Finally, I always like to give myself the best angle to the pin that will allow me to remain “below” or “under” the hole. That way I can have an uphill putt that provides me with the best chance of making an aggressive stroke that results in a birdie.

The layup shot in golf is a conservative play and should be approached as such. If you are going to lay up, then take extra time to think about the ball position you want into the green. It will give you the best chance at a successful layup. There is no need to take unnecessary risks when laying up. The risk comes into play when you are “going for” the green.

What do you consider when hitting a layup? What yardages are you most comfortable with? Feel free to leave a comment on your strategy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dustin Johnson wins the BMW Championship

Dustin Johnson pulled in the victory on Sunday at the BMW Championship in Lemont, IL. It is good to see him earn the victory given all he has gone through this summer. He also taught us all a lesson on being persistent and not giving up. Johnson had his share of difficult setbacks this year at the US Open and PGA Championship. Most players will go through their entire career without ever experiencing those types of incidents. Johnson on the other hand, had to deal with two in one season.

Dustin Johnson could have easily thrown in the towel after the PGA Championship and said this year was a wash. However, he did just the opposite; he hung in there and kept fighting. He was humble in his responses and gracious with his time to be interviewed and answer some tough questions. David Feherty practically pulled him out of the shower at the PGA to interview him after the final round. Do you think Tiger would have been so gracious?  Let me think, AHH NO. Tiger would have politely declined and went on his way.

At a time when the “Golf Analysts” are constantly questioning “where are the Americans on the PGA Tour”, Dustin proves, the USA has a lot of young talent waiting to explode.

We should all be thankful that the USA has good, strong, humble, gracious young players like Dustin. Not only has he taught us how to deal with adversity this summer with grace. He also taught us to hang in there, keep fighting and you will eventually win. Given our current economic crisis in this country we could all pay head to that lesson and learn from it.  These are lessons we can all use in everyday life on and off the golf course.

Dustin now heads to the Ryder Cup with confidence and positive vibes. Interestingly enough, he beat Paul Casey at the end of the BMW Championship and Casey did not even make the European Ryder Cup team. HMMM, maybe Monty did overlook one of the hottest European players on tour.  Oh, by the way, Casey also is the 9th ranked player in the world.

(Getty Images)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ryder Cup Captain Pavin picks Fowler

US Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin made his four Captains selections today in New York. He selected Woods, Cink, Johnson and Fowler. The first three were on everyone’s list as likely Captains Selections. The latter was not on most people’s list, except mine. Call me crazy but I have my reasons why Fowler was always in the running.

If you have been following the coverage over the past few weeks, most “Golf Analysts” disregarded Rickie Fowler’s chances of making the team. They said “he has not won on tour,” “he has never contended in a major,” etc. All of that may be true but I always felt like it was down to him or Kim. Here is why:

Very simply, Fowler and Kim are from Southern California and so is Pavin (UCLA). I lived in Southern CA for thirteen years and I know how the locals think – they like other locals. I had a good suspicion Pavin would pick one of them. Pavin has had the opportunity to watch Rickie Fowler grow as a player and follow his career since his junior days. I believe that exposure provided him with the information he needed to have confidence in Rickie as a Captains Pick.

I also believe that Anthony Kim would have been selected instead of Fowler if his injury would have healed faster or had he played better since his comeback. His play was not great leading into the selection this week. In fact, he just missed the cut at The Barclays Tournament two weeks ago. I believe another factor in Pavin’s decision to not pick Kim was to question how Anthony Kim’s thumb would hold up in the Wales playing conditions. Everyone expects cold, wet, windy conditions for the Ryder Cup in Wales later this month. In addition, the players may face thick gorse and heavy rough on the course. Those are not ideal conditions for a player coming off of a three month thumb injury. Also, many players will play 36 holes a day in the Ryder Cup and I doubt Pavin wanted to be faced with sitting Kim due to injury concerns. As Caption, he needs to be able to play who he wants and when he wants without restriction.

Don’t get me wrong -- Rickie Fowler is a very talented player who deserves a look. He’s had a good rookie year on tour and a great Amateur career. I actually like the pick because we need guys on the team who have some character and play with confidence. Fowler has both. However, statistically speaking, in most categories he is not near the top of the list, evidenced by his 2010 PGA Tour Stats. According to thegolfchannel.com, as of September 6th, 2010 courtesy, his stats are as follows:


PGA Tour Money List -25th

World Rank – 33rd

Scrambling % -92nd

Scoring Avg. - 73rd

Birdie Avg. - 114th

Total putts per round – 119th

Greens in regulation % -19th

Fairways hit % -91st

Ball Striking – 19th

To view all of Rickie’s stats click on this link;


No matter how you look at Pavin’s decision to pick Fowler, there had to be some emotion involved, including his comfort level with players from Southern California. Fowler is not in the top 10 of any statistical category and is only in the top 20 in two. However, stats do not measure a player’s heart, desire or will to win, Fowler has all of these and I wish him the best of luck in Wales.

Friday, September 3, 2010

PGA Tour Scoring Average

There is always a lot of discussion around who the greatest player was that ever played the game of golf. Certainly, Jack Nicklaus currently is as he holds the record for the most number of major wins. That is the widely accepted barometer of how to measure the greatest player ever. Also, since Tiger Woods is approaching Jack's record the talk about him being the greatest is also on the front of everyone’s mind. Since most of us follow golf on a current events basis I thought it would be fun and interesting to look at the PGA scoring average of past years. The Scoring average for me also provides a good barometer of who the greatest players were in the game. Scoring average also depicts great play over an entire season not just in a few events.

I find it interesting that when the discussion of the great players of all time comes up many of the names on this list are part of that discussion. Interestingly enough Tiger Woods has had the lowest scoring average eight times (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009). Jack Nicklaus on the other hand, has NEVER (officially) held the lowest scoring average at the end of the season. That is because Jack never met the tours eligibility requirements for enough rounds played. Ironically enough, he also led the tour in scoring average eight times. He just never won the Vardon Trophy for his efforts. So, if you have a moment click on the link in this blog. You can check out the names of the winners on the list for every year dating back to 1947. Again, it is interesting to see the names of the greats in this format versus all of the talk being about major championship wins which gets all of the attention. There is one last point I would like to mention. The player who wins the title for lowest scoring average each year wins the Vardon Trophy named after the great English Golfer Harry Vardon.

Recent History

Year Player Average

2010 Matt Kuchar 69.62 (YTD as of 8-31-10)

2005 Tiger Woods 68.66

2000 Tiger Woods 67.79 (this year is widely recognized as his greatest year in golf)

1995 Greg Norman 69.06

1990 Greg Norman 69.10

1985 Don Pooley 70.36

1980 Lee Trevino 69.73

1975 Bruce Crampton 70.51

1970 Lee Trevino 70.61

1965 Billy Casper 70.85

1960 Billy Casper 69.95

1955 Sam Snead 69.86

1950 Sam Snead 69.23

Other Years of Note

1984 Calvin Peete 70.56

1961 Arnold Palmer 69.85

1945 Byron Nelson 68.34 (this record stood until 2000 when Tiger Woods broke it)

1948 Ben Hogan 69.30