Friday, June 30, 2006

Seve - I Beg To Differ!

Seve Ballesteros a couple of days ago called the US Open at Winged Foot the worst major. He thinks it's wrong that good pros can end up shooting 20 over par. Seve, the problem isn't in the scores it's in the technology - which effects the courses.

Scoring is relative. What if they increased par at every hole by one. Would we feel any differently about the same scores now that they're red instead of black? Golf is the player against himself and against the course. Good golf is challenging golf, fair golf, but who cares where the totals stand in relation to par. It's immaterial Seve.

I want fair courses. No one wants to see someone 10 feet below the hole and their ball roll back to them every time they don't putt it into the cup. That's not fair golf, that's gimicky golf. I want to see shot making. I want to see pros have to use more than drivers and pitching wedges. 14 clubs will soon become 4 wedges, 2 drivers, a putter, 3 wood or utility wood and 5 through 9 irons. Something is wrong when 275 in the middle of the fairway is a lot worse than 330, 15 yards into the rough.

Championship golf should be about the player understanding and dissecting a course to attack it in the best way given it's challenges and the player's skills. Golf at it's best is a mental game. Today most every winning pro's strategy is bomb it and drop a wedge on the pin. I thought only one player understood Winged Foot, at least until the last hole. That would be Monty. I believe he was playing for par, not birdie. That's what the course asked for. That's what Billy Casper realized when he won at Winged Foot and played his tee shot at that treacherous par 3 short of the green in every round. He used his head. I'm thinking that Phil is the best of the bomb-it generation. He certainly showed it at the Open, unfortunately not 'thinking' his way around cost him.

What's to be done to force players to have to think. One way would be to change the technology somewhere to keep the ball in the park, but it doesn't look like the powers-that-be have the courage for that. Then it's left up to each individual course to adapt accordingly - a much harder and more costly alternative.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tim Finchem, absolute power corrupts!

On Monday I went to the CVS Golf Classic, held here in little Rhode Island for the last 8 years. In that time, this little laid back tournament has raised more than $8 million for local charity. It's held at the Rhode Island Country Club, a beautiful old course on the upper end of Narragansett Bay, one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

The tournament consists of ten 2 man teams handpicked by the organizers Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon. The pros love it because the worst they can do is earn about $45k for two days work. It's a relaxed team format, on a course that hasn't been tricked up. The crowds are relatively small so you can get up close and personal with some of the top pros in the world. They sign golf balls for the kids, they joke on the tee. Everybody feels good and there are no long faces. In other words a win- win for everyone - except Tim Finchem. He wants the pros to play only where he can get the most money and that means an end to these 'family affairs'. Forget the charity dollars, forget the wonderful promotion of golf as a fun game, and forget getting close to your idols. Finchem wants money and control. He calls the shots ladies and gentlemen so that's what you'll get. If he has his way there will be no two day tournaments like the CVS Charity Classic and golf will continue to die a slow death. Tim, we can hardly wait for what comes next. As for me, I'm looking forward to the 2006 Women's Open where I can really enjoy myself.

Golf Commentators

I love golf, I think it's a beautiful game. It teaches us more about ourselves than any other sport, it's a model for life. OK, maybe I'm a little more golf dazed than most, but I care about this game and it's future. Modern golf commentators are contributing to it's downfall in my opinion. Keep in mind that the sport hasn't grown in more than 20 years.

The US Open is still the pinnacle of US golf. The Masters is right up there, but the Open has the edge because it's an Open - meaning anyone can qualify to play. It's the true American championship, where the Masters is a global golf championship. The Open should be the height in US sports TV coverage as well, where the knowledge, reverence and respect for the game is clear and inspiring - yes inspiring.

Golf is not football, obviously. What works for football coverage does not work for golf because the atmosphere for each is so different. Golf is contemplative, lonely, steeped in tradition as much as rules. Players mostly walk around and think. If you added up the swing time for an individual player I can't think it would add up to much more than 5 minutes. My longwinded point is that while Chris Burmen for ESPN is a perfectly nice guy, he doesn't understand golf. One only has to look at the classic English golf commentators to see the difference. They are steeped in the game, whereas Chris looks like he's only been prepped. His commentary is filled with phrases that apparently someone told him would appeal to all the average Joe's and Joanne's who play the game. Golf is a much more thoughtful game than the 'yuk yuk' comments and idle chatter that proliferate in football coverage.

At least Chris is positive and affable. While I admire Johnny Miller's non-paralleled knowledge of the players, the courses and the game, I'm tired of the negative attitude. Did someone in golf do something to him that he's still upset about. Guys can hit a bad lie to 15 feet of the pin and Johnny acts like it was a hack. Does he really feel that five foot breaking putts on the toughest greens in the world are kickins? He of all people should know how tough the game is. Tiger takes off 4 weeks and can't make the cut. That's how quickly one of the best games in the world can turn to just so-so on the pro circuit.

I'd love more commentary about the game and how it's played. With golf not growing as a sport for 20 years, it ought to occur to someone that it's in need of some help. If a pro's blast out of a sand trap to 5 feet is 'a bad miss' then how do I feel when my blast doesn't clear the lip.

Golf is a wonderful mental game. Why don't the analysts explore more of it. Are most of the pros making a mistake at this year's Open by playing for birdie. From what I can saw of Monty, he decided that par was right as long as it saved him the doubles that so many took because they tried to get a little to close to pins that don't tolerate risk. Maybe that's why so many non-US players did so well. They can think out of the box that so many US pros find themselves in, namely a monster drive and wedge for birdie.

I'd like to hear the commentators take on the increased length now in the game. Are they afraid to because of repercussions from club and ball manufacturers? How about the target golf that US tournaments have become. I'd prefer to watch lesser matches on Scottish links courses to see the real game being played.

With modern video tools, swing analysis has never been better. On the rare occasions when they analyze a player's swing it's fascinating. With more coverage the average player might realize that he or she could benefit from the same kind of analysis. Think what that might do for the game and those that try to make a living teaching it.

Personally, I think commentators owe as much loyalty to the sport they cover as to their employer. There are millions of fascinating things to talk about and watch in golf. Leave the jokes for football and the negativity for politics. Golf is under assault in many ways and commentators can do a lot to protect it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cliff Notes On The Open

Here's what I saw:

Tiger's rusty, he hadn't done any of the 'extra' preparation that a major requires and he's still grappling with his father's death. Unless he's gone through a complete personality change, he'll be back.

Phil went back to the old 'take the risk' Phil and it killed him on the last hole when he let it out of the bag. He thought he was ordained to win this one so he let it creep out gradually in the last round. What was he doing continuing to hit driver. Does anyone remember when Jack Nicklaus put his driver in the bag during the last round of an Open that he won and teed off with his 1 iron?

Ogilvy played extremely well for a young gun. He thought he lost it on the 16th. With the pressure off he played 17 and 18 relaxed. How would he have done in a playoff with Phil - unfortunately we'll never know.

Monty played great. It's wonderful to see him in the thick of things. At the 1998 Ryder Cup he was the best player on any team. Monty was on game plan until the fairway iron on 18. That's when the impact that what he might achieve hit him. He hasn't won in a long while, he's never won a major. It was just too much after such a long draught. Monty, I'm still routing for you, you're a hell of a golfer. I hope you keep at it.

Furyk played typical Furyk golf, BUT now he's gone too crazy with his lining up putts and backing off. He's getting as bad as Sergio used to be. Jim, go see someone besides your dad and get that thing taken care of. You have a terrific game for the Open, you can win more. You're probably still kicking yourself for missing that birdie putt on 16? by so much. It wasn't a bad swing, it's your crazy routine.

David Duval wasn't in contention at the end, but it was a thrill to see him really starting to get it together. Anyone notice that he tied for the lowest score, a 68. The game needs another steady contender at the top who can produce consistently thrilling rounds.

Where'd Ernie go? I've heard he's got a problem with the driver. I'm not sure about that as they never showed him on the tube, but he's got a problem with something. Will he ever get back to being the Ernie we know and love? I'd say he's got an uphill battle.

As well as Vijay played at Westchester, something has happened to his game since 2004. I'm tempted to say putting. He putted great at Westchester, but has been struggling for most of the season. I think he's starting to lose some accuracy in general. Is that age creeping in?

I wish I'd seen more Padraig. I know he went bogey, bogey, bogey, but I didn't see where he lost those holes. I almost thought he was going to come on towards the end. Did he just run out of steam or is there a club he still can't control down the stretch.

In general it was a beautiful Open. Winged Foot was setup very well even if Darren Clarke didn't like the greens. I didn't hear many pros complaining. I like the graduated rough - the further off course the greater the penalty. I think all the pros - except Monty - were playing for birdie. Monty had it right, play for par and avoid the doubles that so many had. Even though the Billy Casper strategy was brought up again and again by commentators on that one very testy par 3 there wasn't one pro who gave it a try. It seems the only strategy left is hit it as far as you can. Monty, please prove them wrong!

Conflicted Values and Steroids

If you've only even glanced once at a sports page in the last month, you're probably aware of the 'steroid issue' in pro baseball. I believe there's a lesson in it for pro golf which is already starting to travel a similar path.

No, I don't mean to tell you that there are pro golfers out there using steroids. But I do believe that those who run the sport have turned a blind eye to something that will ultimately kill the popularity of the pro game. There are those who claim that this is exactly what happened to pro baseball, that the commissioner and managers knew players were on the 'juice', but refused to address it because they decided that the public wanted more home runs rather than integrity.

It appears that those who manage pro golf feel the public wants monster tee shots, rather than watching golfers who have a complete game. Some of the players have even started to complain, even one or two of the young big guns. Has it gotten to the point where it's easier to win a tournament by blasting crooked 350 yard drives as opposed to hitting 6 irons to small greens from the middle of the fairway.

Who knows golf in general and pro golf in particular better than Jack Nicklaus. Those who run the sport ought to put special emphasis on what he says, and he's come out numerous times about the unnatural length that the ball flies these days. But still the illuminati take no action. What are they waiting for. Golf is a game of integrity. The people who run the organizations that control it ought to focus on integrity themselves. There number one responsibility is to protect this most important component of the game. To hell with the greed that comes from TV contracts and the margins on $500 drivers and $4 balls. The goose that laid the golden egg is about to be transformed into a boring repetitive sport. The only differentiator will be the 5 yards difference between 340 and 345.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What's Bad For The Country Is Bad For Golf

I think it's more than coincidence that US mens' teams have done so poorly in international sports in recent years. If it was only one or two teams we could rationalize it away, but it's almost across the board. Thinking back to what my high school coach used to tell us, I'd conclude we are too fat, dumb and spoiled as a nation. There's probably some truth in there, but I believe you have to dig a little deeper to find it.

Our athletes certainly don't appear to be out of shape, so cross off fat. And dumb doesn't seem to apply, at least to golfers. Most have college degrees in something other than 'sports management'. If we changed 'spoiled' to greedy we might be getting close. Greedy means putting profits above everything else, but it can also mean putting individual fame above everything else. I haven't met anyone in recent years who enjoys the personal history essays that populate Olympic coverage in place of watching the competition itself. There's no coverage of biathlon when we have no one in contention, instead we get a half hour interview with Bodie's first grade teacher. No wonder Americans at the northern border have taken to watching the Olympics in Canada.

Look at the coverage and focus we put on even our youngest golfers. This is no reflection on them, but on our society. Michelle Wie already has made $10 million in endorsements without having won a match. Her parents have her trying to play on the men's tour. I'm sure she's already got a clothing line of her own. Under the circumstances how do we adults expect her to grow up without an exaggerated opinion of herself. God forbid that I had to get up everyday and read stories about every mundane thing I did the day before. And yet that's what we've built in this country - a combination of cult of personality and fame driven by size of the bank account. No wonder our athletes can't draw on the kind of values that used to push past champions to achieve seemingly superhuman results while still being humble.

Is it only me that thinks that our top athletes used to realize how lucky they were to be on top. Now it looks to me like they believe they are ordained to be champions and if somehow they don't win 'it's unfair'. The last Ryder Cup the US team took itself way too seriously. Seems like they forgot 'it's only a game'. They're not brain surgeons, there's no life or death issues. It's just a bunch of skilled and LUCKY guys playing a friendly on the best golf courses in the world.

Those long putts on the last hole that go in for the big win, or out for infamy, that may you a national hero or goat - they all require skill, some get the luck as well. Dave Pelz will tell you that the best read and struck put in the world may not go in. No one can account for every blade of grass or microscopic pothole. The new TV cameras that show the pro putts rolling toward the hole in excrutiating detail prove that.

Maybe I'm way off the mark, but I think it's more than coincidence that so many US teams in so many sports have failed to live up to expectations in recent years. What's your theory?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

What's Wrong With US Golf

Depending on your mood you might say 'nothing' or 'everything'. I tend to lean more toward the latter. Are things occurring in golf that some months or maybe a year or two down the road we'll exclaim 'why didn't someone do something'?

First, I can't resist making a comment about US men's sports in general. Has anyone noticed how poorly we've faired in recent years? Remember the US basketball team - they were so bad I was routing against them in the last Olympics - and in a game that we created. Then there's baseball, hockey, alpine skiing and maybe in a couple of hours - soccer. Is it just coincidence, or is something wrong here at home.

I don't want to ruin your day, just yet, but remember the embarrassment of the last Ryder Cup. It's one thing to lose, even lose badly, and quite another to be so uptight, tightlipped and self-involved that you forget those who made you what you are, namely the fans. In case you forgot, the US squad was so out of touch during the practice round that the US fans started routing for the Europeans!

How much more do we need to understand that we might be getting a wakeup call? More tomorrow....

Friday, June 16, 2006

The "Incredible" Hook/Slice Talking Swing Meter

I thought this sounded like a pretty honest review. What do YOU think?

"From the "We'd Rather Get Punched in the Face" department: An absolutely awful golf gadget that hooks onto your driver and announces how crappy your last shot was, 'cause we really need some wise-ass device telling us we just sliced the ball into the snack bar. Even though it's marketed as a training tool, the Hook/Slice Talking Swing Meter does nothing to improve your game but lots to crush your confidence. Great fun for screwing the jerk in your foursome, but that's about it. At $18, it's more than $17 overpriced."

Review by Evan Blass of Engadget.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Amino Vital, why do the Pros love it?

I have been noticing a lot of professional golfers now using a product called Amino Vital. In a lot of ways this makes sense, after all amino acids are "the building blocks of life"

According to their website: "Scientists have learned that three linked essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine and valine, called Branched—Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) serve as a critical source of muscle energy as well as nutrition for muscle repair. Unlike other amino acids, which are mostly metabolized in the liver, BCAAs are metabolized in the muscle tissue itself. Without a sufficient supply, your muscles begin to feel tired and sore during exercise.

In contrast, a plentiful supply of BCAAs makes you feel energized—and helps muscles recover and rebuild much faster. And during and after exertion, two other amino acids, arginine and glutamine, work to synthesize proteins, remove harmful toxins and strengthen the body’s immune system."

In this age of do-whatever-it-takes to get the competitive edge, Amino vital might be worth looking into.

Check them out at:

Friday, June 02, 2006

What is Par-formance?

I wanted to bring this very practical product to your attention. It is called The Par-formance Golf Score Journal. It is a smaller, spiral-bound booklet that fits easily in your pocket and allows you to keep track of your game from tee to green. For example, there are places to enter your score, course, weather conditions, tee boxes, total yardage, number of putts, fairways hit, birdies, pars, bogeys, double bogeys, greens hit, penalty strokes, notes, etc. and on the bottom section of the chart you can enter all your shot info (tee shot, approach, fairways, greens, up and downs, putts, penalties, etc.) hole by hole.

In my opinion it is really a great way to "see" your round visually so you can begin to assess your strength and weaknesses. It is also very well designed (opens flat) with plenty of space to enter your information. This is a nice thought-out detail as when we are in the heat of the battle on the course we want something simple and practical that we actually USE regularly.

Order the Par-formance Score Journal at:

I highly recommend these for yourself or as gifts.