Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why the long face, Mr. Furyk?

Seems like there's not a lot happening on the PGA U.S. Tour unless Tiger or Phil are involved. There is no Fijian, South African, European or Australian superstar to fill the void. No one else seems able to sustain dominance week in and week out. On the U.S. front, no young guns have yet emerged to take up the mantle. Guys like Zach Johnson tease us that maybe they'll join the ranks of the pro elite, but they've got to prove they can sustain their winning ways for more than a tournament, a month or even a year.

Then there's Jim Furyk with the famous loopy swing. He has performed at the top for many years and has won some big tournaments along the way. Where stars of old like Davis Love III and Freddy C have been fading, Jim is still very competitive and always a threat to pull out a win. Year to date he is number 17 on the money list having earned a bit more than $1.6 million.

Not a bad way to make a living, considering it's just a game. It's a walk in some of the finest 'parks' in the country. It certainly is not life and death - no brains to operate on, or hearts to be transplanted.

Jim Furyk has already built his reputation as a great golfer. It could get even better, but won't really sink even if he never wins again - something not likely to happen. Jim has made 10's of millions of dollars playing a funny game where adults compete to put a little ball in a round cup on fastidiously maintained grass carpets. Only we should be so lucky.

Then why does Jim Furyk walk around with such a long face all the time? You'd think he had to clean the Porta Poddies Sunday evening, or spend 40 plus hours a week in an 8 by 10 cubicle at the mercy of a 'Nine to Five' boss. Personally, I'd clean the Porta Poddies for what Jim will make this year and I'd do it with a smile on my face.

On an individual basis, you're entitled to play the game the way you want. That's one of the beauties of golf as an individual sport. But if you think beyond yourself, how can you not see that as a leading pro you owe something to the golfing fans, those on whose backs the purses are built. And don't forget the future generations of pros who hope the tour stays as lucrative as it is. If guys like Arnie, Chi Chi, Gary and Lee didn't do more than just play great, there wouldn't be the gigantic purses there are today. They smiled and even joked with us as they played. It made them human and a little bit easier to identify with. Are there any little kids out there pretending they're Jim Furyk?

Someone has to play great and give that something extra to the fans or our numbers will surely dwindle. I'm not saying that playing at the highest level on the pro tour doesn't take concentration. There's plenty of time for that in a 4 1/2 hour round, but there's also time for some smiles and fan interaction, letting us know that under it all we're all more alike than we are different. Even Jack was smiling occasionally when he won his last Masters and no one had greater powers of concentration on the course. Even some brain surgeons have been known to smile from time to time when they're working.

Jim, you've established your reputation as a great golfer, now take it up a notch and become a great golf ambassador. Who knows, in the future there may even be kid or two out there putting on a practice green with the announcer's call going through his mind 'Jason Everykid has this 10 footer to beat Jim Furyk for the U.S. Open Championship'.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Some Michelle Wei (and Sean O'Hair) Thoughts

The Michelle Wei story, I admit, facinates me. Maybe because it has built-in drama, ie; the gifted prodigy gone bad due to misguided and overbearing parents. This, of course, is the same story line of gifted PGA tour player Sean O'Hair.

In some ways this occurrence is bound to happen. When you have a son or daughter with the talents of Sean O'Hair and Michelle Wei your mind must replicate the inside of a pin-ball machine. On one side you have the responsibility to look out for your child's best interests but you also have the tug of financial opportunities galore.

There is nothing wrong with seeking financial riches, hey, they come with the territory, and you would be foolish not to pursue the many opportunities afforded you.

But when the parents of Michelle Wei and father of Sean O'Hair tried to become their managers and financial partners something happened. I am not sure of the background of either sets of parents but you do need some degree of inner strength, business saavy and preparedness to deal with the onslaught and whirlwind of opportunities.

And being the parents I am sure they felt what they were doing was correct. But (and the verdict is still out on Michelle) it seems clear now it was not. Why? I believe they circumvented the natural development process these young adults need to go through.

Jack said he did not become serious about golf he said until he was 19. I am not saying this is an easy process to go through as a parent and there is no "How to deal with a future PGA/LPGA superstar" handbook as far as I know but you CAN learn from your mistakes and you can be open to advice and counsel from others who have been through this experience.

Unfortunately, the last (and most obvious) place to look is the one place they most need to - the mirror.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Yeah NBC - Boo CBS!

What a difference a network can apparently make in coverage of a PGA tournament. If you read this column, you know that I took offense at the high proportion of commercials to actual tournament play two Sundays ago at the Wachovia Championship. The television coverage was provided by CBS. On the other hand, this past Sunday’s coverage at The Players was excellent thanks to NBC. I hardly noticed the commercials interspersed among long stretches of PGA players actually hitting balls. What a relief!

Mr. Finchem, if you’ve got any pull with CBS please urge them to follow in NBC’s footsteps. I sure hope that NBC is doing this year’s US Open TV broadcast. I, for one, was ready to forgo TV if the CBS style coverage was all I could look forward to on Saturday and Sunday. And by the way, Wachovia, you must have some pull in this situation. Please get CBS to clean up their act or you’ll end up having a dead golden goose on your hands.

I have to take exception to Johnny Miller’s phrase ‘Winged Foot special’ in referring to what Phil Mickelson might hit on the last hole. It’s an attention grabbing line, but a bit of a cheap shot. Today’s news coverage has made every wart a headline that will never go away. Most of yesteryear’s great players made their share of bad shots and poor decisions, but thankfully we can hardly remember them because they weren’t front and center ad infinitum. It seems to me that Greg Norman was a pretty decent golfer in his heyday, but all I can seem to recall is how he choked repeatedly at Augusta thanks to the media’s pension for human failure. It’s a shame because it speaks volumes about what society really values today.

Sean O’Hair, congratulations on playing terrific golf, all the more impressive because you’re just getting started. I have my own opinions on how you played the 17th, but what’s more important is how you handled yourself when asked to explain what happened. You’re a class act and it’s hard to imagine you won’t turn out to be very successful on tour. One bit of advice, speed up your play.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Money, Money, Money.....Money

Why should professional golf be any different than most of what goes on in this country. Is it now just about the money? As a pro, you can make a darn good living and never win a tournament. Tim Finchem now thinks there should be tournament with a $10 million first prize, $1 million isn't enough for 4 days of work. Maybe in five years he can up that to twenty or fifty million. If a Wall Street hedge fund manager can make a billion a year, what's wrong with a professional golfer having a shot at a measly $50 million. It sure would create some drama - if you think golf is good only when there's obscene amounts of money on the table. I can hear the commentators now, 'that putt just cost him a million bucks'! Take that Roger Clemens, who may only get a wimpy 10 grand per pitch this year.

But not so fast! It's also going to change your viewing experience! In case you haven't noticed, the most prominent thing on TV is commercials. At one point in last Sunday's golf telecast I counted 2 minutes of actual golf coverage interspersed among 12 minutes of commercials. Sometimes all you saw was one putt before the network cut to another 3 minutes of commercials.

But what's not to like about commercials in the land of the world's greatest consumers. I lived in Europe for awhile and was shocked to find out you could watch sporting events on TV without commercial interruptions and even, dare I say it, without hardly a word from a commentator. Be still my beating heart! Almost makes me thing of taking a hotel room on the continent to watch this year's British Open in TV viewer heaven.

It's a tough job being the world's biggest consumer nation, but someone has got to do it and we Americans have never shied away from doing the heavy lifting. If the world needs 30 minutes of commercials for every minute of programming, then we'll just have to dig in and gut it out for the sake of future generations.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Worked Your Abductors Lately?

If your like me and have limited exercise time you might have ignored your hip abductor muscles. If you have, you might be making a big mistake. This blurb was taken from a recent article, "Golf's Muscle Man," in Golf Digest by Max Alder.

The report comes from Dr. Scott Lepart, who is Director of the Neuromuscular Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Center for Sports Medicine and also operates two human-performance and injury-prevention labs for the U.S. Army and U.S. Navel Special Operations.

From the article:

Says Lephart, "Identifying and strengthening specific muscles not only improves performance, it pre-empts injury"

After plowing through data collected from 700 golfers, including 35 PGA Tour pros, the time had come to reap the discoveries.

As expected, strength and flexibility of the shoulders and torso were important in golf, but Lephart also indentified a specific pair of muscles, the hip abductors, which engage when you move your legs apart, as a key discriminator in power.

Immediately before impact, stress equal to 2 to 3 times the golfer's body weight is placed on the hips. On average, Lepahart found elite players to be 30 percent stronger in the hip abductors.

"The balance and trunk stability provided by the hips is often overlooked in golf," says Lephart. "Golfers with weak hips are predispoded to committ swing errors taht hinder theirgame game and make them prone to injury over time."

Maybe it's time to start incorporating some hip flexibility/strength conditioning exercises into your routine.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Forget The Square Heads

Seems you can't pick up a spring golf publication without a headline proclaiming the latest and greatest driver test. I've waded through my share of articles trying to figure out if there's any real information I can gleam from them. Bottom line, there's very little difference in drivers when you look at the hard data. What first appears like a big difference in distance turns out to be 6 or 7 yards. I know I work too hard for my money to spend $400 bucks on 7 yards.

I can't see any reason to buy those square headed freak clubs. Golf is about aesthetics as much as anything, and those things just don't cut it. And the sound of some of these new drivers - they're almost as disturbing as the ring from the cellphone that your partner forgot to turn off.

I'm not saying you shouldn't upgrade your 240cc driver. There are plenty of cost effective options out there that will give you more distance than your old antique, particularly on off-center hits. But take the $200+ that you'll save and buy sunscreen, a good hat or a 19th hole cocktail - something that will give you real value for money.