Butler Cabin, Augusta National (c) Burgh Golfer

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dustin Johnson chooses Joe LaCava as new caddie

Dustin Johnson announced this week at the HP Byron Nelson tournament that Joe LaCava will be his new full time caddie. Joe is one of the more famous caddies in the world of professional golf as he was the long time caddie for veteran golfer Fred Couples. Now that Fred is on the Senior Tour and playing a limited schedule due to continuous back issues, it was probably a good time to make the switch for LaCava. Fred and Joe have been one of the more famous player/caddie duos in the world of professional golf over the past twenty years. Because of that Joe LaCava has become synonymous with Professional Golf.

I think this is a great move for both Dustin and Joe. Dustin gets one of the best caddies in the world and Joe gets to work on the bag of a young, rising star on the PGA Tour. As Dustin is a young, rising star on tour, you have to think that having a veteran caddie on the bag like LaCava is going to benefit him tremendously. Not only does LaCava know most of the golf courses the Tour plays, he is used to working on the bag of a champion. While working with Fred Couples, LaCava won many golf tournaments including the Masters. Joe is an experienced caddie who knows the game, how to manage his player and is experienced in winning golf tournaments.

I already know what you are thinking. The caddie is not hitting the shots coming down the stretch trying to win a golf tournament so, how is he involved in winning. I say this because the caddies are trying to win the event just as the players are. They know if they provide a poor read on the greens or give a bad yardage it will impact the outcome. Should they make a mistake in the heat of the moment they will get their fair share of the blame should the player lose. Also, most Tour players reward their caddies with 10% of the purse when they win or 7% for weeks when they do not win. So, there is a financial impact on the caddie as well as, the player. With this said, having LaCava is only going to help develop Johnson and provide him with an experienced “Looper” who can help him develop as a player and win more often.

Over the years, there have been a few other notable player/caddie partnerships on tour. A few that come to mind are; Greg Norman and Tony Navarro, Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” MacKay, Jim Furyk and Mike “Fluff” Cowan, Tiger Woods and “Stevie”, Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards, Nick Faldo and Fanny Sunneson, Tom Lehman and Andy Martinez just to name a few.

You may also want to read my post in August of last year titled “The Caddy”.

How important do you think the caddie is? Who are some other famous player/caddie relationships can you think of?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Seve Ballesteros

It is well known by now that Seve Ballesteros passed away last weekend at the age of 54 from Brain Cancer. It is sad to see anyone die at such a young age and for us golfers it is especially hard when a legend of the game leaves us so young. For those of us who have followed golf for the past thirty years, we remember the excitement, passion, energy and dare I say, artistry that Seve brought to the game.

I n “Where Have the Characters Gone,” I wrote that that in today’s world of high profile, professional golf, there are very few characters; guys like Seve with personality and showmanship. Even if another player was to come along who had the same talent, passion, or excitement for the game, you have to wonder, would they be as expressive? Would they show the same level of emotion? Would they play with the same flair, charisma, or excitement? Will professional golf see a player like Seve again?

I do not purport to be an expert on the life or game of Seve Ballesteros. However, one memory that does come to mind is how he learned to be such a great feel player. I do not remember who asked the question or exactly how Seve answered it, but I will try and paraphrase.

The reporter asked Seve how he became such a great feel player. Seve said that when he was a young man in Spain, he would go to the beach and practice. He would hit balls from the sand without any shoes on to get the feel. He said that by doing this drill it taught him to have balance, establish good footing and stay centered. In golf, this is called playing within yourself. It means finding the game that works for you and your body, and not being a golf robot.

Source: http://www.waggleroom.com/

Golf robots don’t have feel, they don’t have passion, and they don’t show excitement on the course. My opinion is that many of today’s PGA players are too robotic. It not only affects their games, but it also drains the excitement from the game, for both the players and the spectators and fans.

Professional golf needs more feel-players like Seve Ballesteros. I also put Sam Snead and Bubba Watson in this category of great characters. The story has been told many times how Sam Snead learned to hit golf balls with a switch from a tree in the hills of West Virginia. Bubba Watson learned to work the ball by hitting plastic golf balls around his parents’ house as the course.

Maybe in the end, one of the great lessons that Seve leaves us, and his legacy, is the concept of playing the game of golf with feel and passion. Wouldn’t we all be so blessed to have the ability to merge those two traits into our own golf games. If we could, I think we would play much better golf and probably enjoy the game even more as well.

Do you think feel and passion are traits that professional golfers should strive for? Are today’s players too robotic?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mental Toughness in Golf

This post is part one of a two part series on the mental side of golf. Be sure to check back next week for my review of “Master the Mental Game,” by Greg Liberto.

Earlier this week, I played in the 8th R. Jay Sigel Amateur Match Play Championship. Although I lost in the first round, it was an exciting opportunity and a great experience. I was matched against a young man who is a student athlete at the University of Virginia. Playing as a twosome we had plenty of time to speak about the game and competitive golf. I was curious to get his perspective on the college game and some of his experiences. I was surprised to find out that college golfers play in the spring and the fall. Also, because most of these players are very good, they also play in many of the prominent amateur championships during the summer. So, competitive golf is more or less a part time job for these kids.

I asked him what the difference was at the college level between the good players and really good players. He thought for a moment, then stated that there are different reasons for the separation. He said some players have great short games, some are really long off the tee, and some make no mistakes. He continued to think about my question because a few holes later he brought the conversation up again, saying that the main difference is mental toughness. The best players rarely make more than a bogey. Even when they do, they bounce back and redeem themselves with birdie.

I think his answer was a good one. My personal observation is that most amateurs make very few birdies, so they can never truly recover their score when they make a mistake. If you have ever played competitive golf with really good players you learn that very quickly. There are a lot of great ball strikers out there. There are a lot of guys who have great short games or can putt lights out. There are few, however, that do all of those things really well in addition to grinding out pars and overcoming negative thoughts. Or, as Bobby Jones once famously said “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears”.

When we think of mentally tough golfers in the history of the game, two players come to mind; Tiger and Jack. They have both demonstrated time and again the ability to overcome adverse situations on the golf course. How many times has Tiger Woods made a putt to save a par, or made a birdie to win a golf tournament? How many times did Jack Nicklaus make a putt on the 18th hole? Or, better yet, did he ever miss one?

It is also easy to remember guys who were not mentally tough enough. John Daly comes to mind. He had all the talent in the world but didn’t seem to have the mental toughness to match.

What do you think about the mental side of the game?