Butler Cabin, Augusta National (c) Burgh Golfer

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wie wins the Canadian Open

Michelle Wie has been on the “golf scene” for a very long time. Although she is in her early twenties she has been playing golf on a national stage since she was twelve years old. She has a huge amount of natural talent, has a long flowing golf swing and untapped potential. She has been on the LPGA tour since 2005 and the win yesterday was only her second victory. So, why has she not won more?

I believe she has not won more because she is still learning how to win. As the old saying goes “winning breeds winning.” Golfers like all competitive athletes need to learn how to win when the pressure is on. Michelle Wie is not exempt from that stage in her professional development. If you look back at Tiger Woods amateur career for lessons on how to learn to win he is the role model. Who can forget the three US Amateur titles he captured and in stunning fashion. In all three US Amateur finals (36 holes) he was behind at some point in the match. In all three cases he came back to win. He learned how to win at an early age and that development provided him the confidence and belief that he carries with him on the PGA Tour today.

Michelle on the other hand did not have this same opportunity, why? Very simple, her parents did not allow her career to develop naturally. As a teenager when she should have been playing on Junior events, she was playing in the PGA Tours Sony Open. Instead of learning how to dominate as a junior player she was being asked to compete with the best male golfers in the world. One could argue that the experience she received by playing on the PGA tour made her better. To some degree that may be true, however, it did not teach her how to win.

Being competitive and playing well is one thing, winning is another. To win you need to be able to handle the pressure of the moment. A player must hit quality golf shots late in the round on the final day when it matters most. Those elements of a player’s development only come from putting themselves in that situation time and again. For Michelle, she just did not have enough of those opportunities as a young player. However, she has begun the process and is showing the world she does know how to win.

Next year she graduates from Stanford and will be able to pursue professional golf full time. All I have to say is watch out LPGA because if she focuses on playing that tour full time she is going to be a force.

(Getty Images)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Match – The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

As part of my Blog I want to include reviews on Golf books I have read. A few years ago I had the opportunity to read “The Match” written by Mark Frost. For those of you that enjoy golf history, this book is a must read. Without giving too much about the book away here are a few reasons why you should read this book. First, it is a true story with numerous eye witness accounts to the events in the story. Second, the book is set on the Monterey Peninsula, namely on Pebble Beach Golf Links and Cypress Point Golf Club. Third, the book features Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. Oh, and Eddie Lowery, who if you recall was Francis Ouimet’s caddie when he won the US Open in 1913.

This book is exciting from beginning to end and has a lot of great stories from players of the Hogan and Nelson era. Unlike today, the players of that era did not have every single golf shot recorded and taped. So, much of what we know about their careers is in written print. This book exemplifies how good the players were in that era. It also examines the decisions that went into how and why players chose to become “touring professionals.” Remember in those days the players were not being paid big money in purses and endorsements to play professional golf. Many good players had to decide between “Club Pro” jobs, remaining amateur and touring the country as a player.

Here is the quote by Ken Venturi on the back cover of the book;

“The Match was a dream I never thought would come true. If I hadn’t been there I wouldn’t believe it myself, and if you know anything about sports or the game of golf, once you pick up this book you won’t put it down. No one will ever see an event like this again. Fiction can’t touch it.”

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Monday, August 23, 2010

Arjun Atwal Wins Wyndham Championship, 1st Indian Golfer to Win on PGA Tour

Arjun Atwal the 450th ranked player in the world won the Wyndham Championship this past weekend on the PGA Tour. It is noteworthy and historic for several reasons. First, Atwal is the First Indian born player to win on the PGA Tour. India is an Emerging Economy with over one billion people and this win will have a significant impact on the growth of the game there. Frank Nobilo of the Golf Channel claims the win is probably more historic than Isao Aoki winning the Hawaiian Open in the 1983. As a note, Isao is the first and only Japanese born player to win on the PGA Tour.

Second, Atwal is not even an official member of the PGA Tour; in fact, he had to “Monday Qualify” to get into the event. He is the first player in 24 years to Monday qualify (Medalist) to gain entry into the event and then go on to win it. Like a lot of players without status on one tour or another, they need to travel far and wide in order to find places to play and to make a living. Atwal has been spending most of his time this season playing anywhere he could including; the Nationwide, European and PGA Tours.

Finally, it just goes to show how competitive professional golf has become on a global basis. Here is a player who is ranked 450th in the world, is not even a member of the PGA Tour. He has to “Monday Qualify” just to get a spot in the tournament; he wins the qualifier as the Medalist, then goes on to win the event.

You have to love a sport where this can happen on occasion and make dreams come true. It is hard to say what the immediate impact will be on Indian Golf. However, for some perspective let’s consider this. Isao Aoki won an event on the PGA in 1983 and it would have a big impact on Japanese Golf. Ryo Ishikawa the current Japanese Golf Superstar recently shot a 58 on a Japanese Tour event at the ripe old age of 18. Ryo was not even born until 1991; eight years after Aoki’s historic win. It has been almost thirty years and no other Japanese Golfer has won an event on the PGA Tour. I am not saying it will take another thirty years before a payer from India wins again. However, it does make you stop and think how long it takes these developing countries to produce world class players capable of winning on the premier tour in men’s golf. It also frames the historic nature of what Atwal just achieved.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Birdie, Eagle, Par

How many times have we played a round of golf and said to a playing partner, “nice birdie” or “that was a good par.” We do it all the time, but have you ever wondered where these terms originated? Have they always been part of the history of the game or is it a new verbiage?

Recently, I was watching a television program on the Golf Channel called Golf in America. In one of their segments they told the story of where the term “Birdie” came from. Most of us know a birdie to be a one under par score on a golf hole. So that got me thinking, where did the other commonly used scoring terms originate, and when? I do not want to rewrite the history or stories behind each term so I am providing a link to a website that will give you the information, which is very interesting. I recommend that you take a few minutes to read about the origins, so the next time you say “nice birdie” to a playing partner, it will mean a little more.

Bogey – Developed in England in the 19th Century

Par- 1870 at Prestwick Golf Club for the Open Championship

Birdie –1962 at Atlantic City Country Club by Ab Smith

Eagle – an extension of the “Bird” theme also claimed by Ab Smith

Double Eagle or Albatross – Who else? Yep, Ab Smith

Double and Triple Bogeys – There is no documented first use of these terms – they are an extension of bogey.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Sand Bunker or Waste Area

For anyone that has played the game for any length of time you will encounter “Sand Traps” and “Waste Bunkers” on a golf course. So, what is the difference between the two? Both have sand, most are surrounded by grass, water, fairway, rough, etc. For those of us that play weekend golf and find ourselves in one of these conditions the question is simple, can you ground your club or not? In other words, before you play the shot can your golf club come in contact with the sand or playing surface? Or, do you need to hover the club above the ball before you play the stroke? In a traditional Sand Trap, you cannot ground your club because the sand trap is considered a “hazard”. Meaning your golf club cannot come into contact with the surface prior to playing the stroke. Okay, what the h_l does that mean? In a nutshell, when addressing the golf ball, in your golf stance, you cannot have the golf club touch the ground. Sounds simple enough, eh? Not so fast because the sand you find yourself in may be a Waste Area, not a Sand Trap, so a different rule applies.

In a Waste Area you can ground your golf club. You can even take a practice swing that has the club come into contact with the ground. Also, when you go to play your stroke you can have the club rest behind the ball on the ground before you play the stroke.

So, you can see how an occasional or casual golfer could be confused. However, a touring pro such as Dustin Johnson should know different. I raise the point because at last weekend’s PGA Championship Dustin made the mistake of not knowing he was in a sand trap on the 18th hole. As he played the stroke, he grounded his club, incurred a two shot penalty for the infraction and after the round was completed he was assessed a two stroke penalty. Because of this penalty it knocked him out of the playoff with Kaymer and Watson. What makes this worse is that the PGA of America provided each player with a “local rules” sheet explaining the condition. So, Dustin and his caddy had plenty of notice prior to even starting the event that the local rules apply. Furthermore, the PGA of America Rules Officials placed the sheets throughout the locker room basically telling the players that if you are in “sand” that you should consider it a hazard no matter where you are on the golf course. Dustin felt that since he was in an area outside of the ropes and people had been walking through it, that it was not a hazard.

What makes this more amazing is that each group has a “PGA Official” following them and the players can easily ask the Official what the ruling is before they play the shot. After all, they were on the 18th hole of the Championship so delaying the field was a non factor. You see it each week on tour whereby the players ask the Officials for the most basic of rulings. Let alone on the 18th hole of a major when you are tied for the lead. Dustin stated that he did not think he was in a sand trap/hazard. All I can say to that is “C’mon Man” to borrow a phrase from the ESPN NFL coverage.

In the end, the rules of golf are complex, they apply to every player in the field and even the best players in the world are not exempt from them.

Associated Press Photo

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Olde Stonewall Golf Club

I recently had the opportunity to play Olde Stonewall Golf Club in Ellwood City, PA. Olde Stonewall is located about forty miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh. I have always wanted to play this golf course because I've heard so many good things about it. It has also received industry recognition by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest as one of the best public courses. Needless to say, the golf course and facility did not disappoint.

The course is very challenging ,offering five sets of tees ranging from 5,241 to 7,103 yards. It is set up for every level of player from the beginner to a championship golfer. It suits the eye off the tee and offers some very challenging approach shots into well protected greens. The player will have to contend with sand, water, trees and streams. If you are a beginner player this is a course where you will want to bring a few extra balls because there are many chances to lose them.

The golf course itself sits on a very large piece of property and covers a lot of ground. It is not a golf course one could walk because there are great elevation changes, as well as long distance between greens and tees on a number of holes. This adds to the charm of the property because you have access to some great views and vistas. While the front nine is mainly at lower elevations, the back nine is entirely different. That back nine winds up and down the hillsides and back into the valleys. Many of the tee boxes sit on top of ridges and into the hillsides, providing great opportunities to snap photos. A number of our playing partners commented on how beautiful the course must be in the fall as the leaves change color. I would agree it would be a fantastic course to play in early to mid September. In this part of the country, late September to early October is typically the peak season for fall foliage.

The course was in beautiful condition, with nicely manicured fairways and greens. In addition, the greens rolled very true and the putts held their lines. To me, that is always a good sign of a great golf course.

They also have an adequate locker room facility should you wish to take a shower, clean up after the round or store your attire in case you want to change before dinner.

Finally, we had an opportunity have dinner in their restaurant Shakespeare’s. The food was fantastic and the service was very first rate. They had an extensive menu of food and drink that you do not typically find at a Golf Club. So, when you leave the property, you will not have only had a fantastic round of golf on a beautiful course, you will also enjoyed a great meal in a fine dining facility.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to play Olde Stonewall, take advantage of it. You will be hard pressed to find many courses more beautiful to play in Western Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 9, 2010

One Shot at a Time

One Shot at a Time

We always hear professional golfers say they are playing “one shot at a time.” Why is that a standard line? What does it really mean? Are they just saying it to avoid getting into detail about shots with the press, or is there any true meaning or truth to a strategy of playing one shot at a time? I say both. The statement does appease the press because they get a quick quote for the next morning’s daily sports page. But, I think that players really do play one shot at a time, and here is why.

First, because when you are playing a competitive or casual round of golf, every single shot counts. In a competitive round you cannot afford to lose shots to the field. Most of the competitors are good or great players and a golfer playing to win cannot afford to lose even a single stroke. If you do lose a stroke, you may not have time to make it up during the course of the round.

Second, because golf is a game of the present and conditions constantly change. Meaning, how you approached a shot in the past or what you might do in the future has no bearing. Every single shot is unique every time you play. Even if you play the same course on a regular basis every course setup is different. Yes, the superintendent may put the tees or pins in certain spots during course setup. However, that does not matter. As soon as you tee off every shot from there in is unique. Everything changes each round: ball position, pin position, wind direction, club selection, moisture, temperature, humidity, rough thickness, grain, putt breaks, etc.

So, the next time you are playing a competitive round of golf, whether for a skin or a championship, ask yourself “what are the ramifications if I do not execute this shot?” Will I be able to recover? Will my opponent make a mistake? Will there be any more opportunities to make up a stroke or hole? That is why good players and professionals play one shot at a time. They know that one poor swing, bad decision or miscalculation may cost them the round, championship or match.

In golf, every shot does count as you will only play that particular shot once in your lifetime. You will never have the same shot twice regardless of the conditions. Make it count because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tiger hearing it from fans

I was wondering how long it would take for the TV or Print Media to actually capture or report on the heckling that Tiger receives on tour.  Since he is the Media Golden Boy they dare not say that people are heckling him for "fear" that once his game returns he will shun them.  The fans do not share this same concern and you know he is hearing about it while on course.  

I ran across this article earlier today where a fan expressed his opinion and it was reported on by the media.  Here is an the excerpt and you can find the full article in the link attached.

Moments later, as he was walking between the 18th green and the scoring trailer, a young man said loudly to him, ``You're washed up, Tiger. Give it up!''

I think most golf fans agree that Tiger will win many more times in his career and probably many more majors.  However, will his reputation ever recover?  I do not believe it will for most people.  Fans will admire and respect his game.  They will enjoy watching him play and break records.  However, there will always be those memories in the back of their mind of what he did to himself and is family. 

For the first time in his golfing career he is receiving criticism.  It will be interesting to see how handles it and if his game truly recovers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Caddy

I had the opportunity recently to play in my clubs Caddyshack Open.  It is an event where the caddies and staff have the opportunity to play in an organized event with their colleagues and club members.  This is the first year I have had the opportunity to play in the event and had a wonderful time.  It was great to see everyone so relaxed and enjoying themselves.  Only in Western PA would the caddies warm up before the match by throwing around the pigskin on the driving range instead of hitting balls or practice putting  You have to love it.

We are fortunate enough to still have a caddy program at our club in a time when most golf courses do not.  Golf clubs have been eliminating caddies since the seventies when the golf cart burst onto the scene.  Golf Clubs around the world cite many reasons for this trend such as; carts speed up play, there are longer walks between greens and tees, carts are less expensive, golfers would rather ride than walk, etc.  That is sad because most of us could use the additional exercise and many potential caddies will never be exposed to this great game because of a "cart".

 As a young person I had the opportunity to be a caddy and so I really appreciate all they do to help our game.  I learned so much about the game as a young man lugging those bags around.  I learned the etiquette of the game, important life lessons and had the opportunity to watch some great players.  When I was a caddy, the members always used to tell us to fix two ball marks when you walk onto the green.  That simple act seems like a small task but it is really a sign of respect.  By doing so you are respecting the golf course, the players in your group and future players who will play the hole.  You want to leave the course in better condition than you found it.   Without having been a caddy it would have probably taken me a long time to learn those basic golf etiquette lessons.

Wikipedia defines a caddy as; In golf, a caddy (or caddie) is the person who carries a player's bag and clubs, and gives insightful advice and moral support. A good caddy is aware of the challenges and obstacles of the golf course being played, along with the best strategy in playing it. This includes knowing overall yardage, pin placements and club selection. A caddy is not usually an employee of a private club or resort. He is classified as an "independent contractor," meaning that he is basically self employed and does not receive any benefits from his association with the club. Some clubs and resorts do have caddy programs, although benefits are rarely offered.

I define the caddy a little differently;  A caddie is a person who does carry the player(s) clubs throughout the round.  However, he or she is also a friend, confidant, psychiatrist, critic, assistant, instructor and teammate. 

We watch the Professional caddies on TV each week assist the professional players during the round.  Unfortunatley, because of TV coverage we rarely hear the dialouge between touring pros and caddies. The announcers believe their commentary is much more important than what is being said between caddy and player.  However, I believe most fans watching the telecast would much rather hear what is being said on the course in the heat of battle than what a "talking head" has to say.  If you think about it what other sport can you watch on TV and you hear what a player is thinking about in the heat of the moment.   Without the caddy that would not be possible as the instructors are not allowed to instruct during competition play. 

To close, the Caddy is an importnat part of the history of the game.  Caddies have been an important part of the history of the game for instance, Eddie Lowry caddying for Francis Ouiment when he won the US Open at age 19.  Bruce Edwards caddying for Tom Watson for many years and in the end providing inspiration to all of us.  To the favorite caddy at your club who reads the proper break or tells you to hit the extra club.  The role of the caddy cannot be overstated and for some of us we wish the "Caddy Program" would come back into vogue and the carts would play less of a role in the game we love.