Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category

Golf is a mind game

October 17, 2010

As I have said before (probably too many times), golf is a funny game, played to a large degree in the head.

I was again reminded of this by the play of Brittany Lincicome in the LPGA‘s CVS/Pharmacy event this week.

Lincicome shot a 61 on Thursday, to put her at the top of the leaderboard at 11 under and then went out on Friday and beat her way around the course to finish the day with a 4 over par 76.

We high handicappers have a tendency to look at our best scores as our benchmark and then beat ourselves up when our next game balloons into the stratosphere.

But when you see a top ranked professional in the game take a 15 shot swing from one game to the next it puts the whole process in its proper perspective.


Ryder Cup 2010: Great theatre

October 8, 2010

The 2010 Ryder Cup finished a day late (Monday) due to weather delays on the first day, but the conclusion was well worth watching.

Unfortunately, as in every sporting event there has to be a winner and a loser. In this case the winner was the European team, but it came down to the last group of the final day to determine that fact.

It was a big moment for Graeme McDowell who won his match against Hunter Mahan on the 17th hole, giving the Europeans 14 1/2 points to the USA team’s 14 points. A great year for McDowell, having won the US Open earlier in the year and then wrapping up the Ryder Cup for his team.

I did bleed a bit for Hunter Mahan who was short with his shot into the 17th green and then muffed his chip on his next shot to lose the hole and the match. My first thought was that the press would brand him as the goat for this Ryder Cup, although from what I’ve seen that didn’t happen.

I’m sure that Mahan will relive that chip in his mind for a long time: that’s golf. The pressure was intense and shit happens in this game. But the reality was that Mahan was 2 down at that point and needed to win the last two holes just to get a half on his match (which would have left the cup in the hands of the US team). All McDowell had to do was win or tie one of the last two. Which probably didn’t feel that easy to him at the time, knowing what was at stake.

I was pleased to see Tiger Woods playing well, especially on the final day in his singles match. Maybe he is ready to put his personal problems behind him and return to his old form. But I must admit that I am amazed by the anger that some people I have talked exhibit when Woods’ name comes up. Almost an visceral reaction.

There were some great performances by a number of players on both teams and some disappointments for others.

Now they can start thinking about doing it all over again in two year’s time.

Where has T. Woods gone?

August 9, 2010

The Tiger Wood saga fascinates me. Not the scandal,  but the aftermath and how it has affected his game.

We are constantly told that golf is a mental game (although, come to think of it that may mean that you’re crazy to play it), even though we are inundated with advice on how improve your technique. But if anyone ever had any doubts about the game being played between your ears, they just have to look at what has happened to Woods.

In less than a year he has gone from being arguably the greatest player ever to play the game, to struggling to make a cut. The only thing saving him from not playing the weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational was the fact that it was a no-cut event.

So what happened? He lost his muscle memory and his swing went with it? Bloody unlikely.

This is a guy that his last instructor, Hank Haney, in a Golf Digest article said knew more about his swing than anyone he ever worked with.

How knowledgeable is Tiger about the golf swing?

The most knowledgeable I’ve ever been around. I’ve taught 200 pros from tours around the world, and nobody came close to knowing what Tiger knows.

I think it’s all head games. Too many major distractions in his personal life and Woods’ fabled focus is screwed up.

He’s not having just one problem. Everything’s screwed. His driver has gone south, his irons are bad and the putts aren’t dropping.. He is a walking disaster area.

The question is: Can he make it all the way back?

It’s hard to bet against Woods, especially once his personal life returns to a semblance of order and his focus and self discipline is restored. The question being – can he actually accomplish that.

There have been many fine golfers who have lost their edge and were never able to regain their top form.

A famous example is Australian Ian Baker Finch who won the Open in 1991 and then a couple of years saw his game collapse.

Baker-Finch then famously suffered a complete collapse of his game.[4] The problems were often psychological: He would hit shots flawlessly on the practice range, and then go to the first tee and hit a weak drive into the wrong fairway. In the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews, he notoriously hooked his first round tee-shot at the first out-of-bounds on the left side of the fairway shared with the 18th, with attention focused on him as his playing partner was Arnold Palmer, competing in his final Open. In 1995 and 1996 he missed the cut, withdrew after one round, or was disqualified in all twenty nine PGA Tour events that he entered. After shooting a 92 in the first round of the 1997 British Open, an extraordinarily bad score by tournament professional standards, he withdrew from the championship and retired from tournament golf..

Another is David Duval who rose to number one in the world in 1999 and won The Open in 2001. Then his game went sideways, although part of the initial problem may have been some physical issues. But Duval has never been able to regain his old form, although he has shown occasional flashes of his former abilities but still didn’t earn his 2010 tour exemption.

So will Tiger work his way through this? With his past history it is pretty difficult to bet against him, but the mind is a delicate thing. Who would have ever expected that he could play for four days and never get close to par. Eighteen over par for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone this weekend was pretty unbelievable.

Making predictions on something like this is a mugs game. One can only wait and see how things unfold.

But I wonder what the British bookie odds are on this.

2010 Open: Humbled and eating crow

July 19, 2010

As I recall, I made the bold prediction that Louis Oosthuizen would fade on Sunday and allow some other (possibly more Major tested) golfer to claim the Open championship. If I had been betting on my prediction, Oosthuizen would have cost me money two days in a row. Which just goes to show you why I stay away from casinos and other venues that allow you to put down your money and take your chances

Far from fading, Oosthuizen played steady golf all day, shooting a 1-under par 71 to close out his nearest competitor, Lee Westwood by 7 strokes.

Paul Casey, 4 strokes behind at the start of the day could not make the putts drop and after a disastrous triple bogey on the 12th, shot a 75 and faded into a tie for 3rd place. I had really expected Casey to post a score on the final day, but seeing how the South African played, Casey would have had to shoot a 65 just to play his way into a tie.

Nobody gave Oosthuizen the Claret Jug: He claimed it fair and square.

Also tied for 3rd was Rory McIlroy who shot a brilliant 63 on Thursday, then blew to an 80 on Friday and steadied back down to record a 69 and a 68 on the weekend. What could have been! Nevertheless, a solid recovery and no doubt a learning experience. As was noted on the Golf Channel, McIlroy still hasn’t shot a score in the 70s at St. Andrews. Unfortunately he did shoot an 80.

The end result on Sunday was that it was not a very exciting day of golf to watch, with Oosthuizen playing solid ‘hold them off’ golf and no-one near enough to the top of the leaderboard posting a charge to even threaten for the title.

Now the question is whether Oosthuizen will build on this win to become a regular contender on the golf scene or whether he will slowly slip back into obscurity, living with memories of his brief burst of fame and fortune.

2010 (British) Open: Prognostications and Reality

July 18, 2010

I always love watching The Open and especially so this year with it being played at St. Andrews.

My son and I went to Scotland a number of year back on a whisky tour. We covered a lot of distilleries and tasted a lot of whisky and I even got in three golf games. Unfortunately none at St. Andrews. or any of the other courses in the town.

However we did spend a short bit of time in the town of St. Andrews – and always regretted not making it a longer stay – and walked at bit of the Old Course.

So it is rather cool to watch the TV coverage and see the shots around the Road Hole and recognize that we stood there, and watch Tom Watson make his (probably) last official walk over the Swilcan Bridge and know we walked across that bridge as well.

It has been an interesting Open so far (Saturday afternoon).

Many of the top ranked golfers who had been touted to contend in the tournament didn’t make the cut to play over the weekend. Ernie Els, and Justin Rose who have been playing well this year are gone. Tom Watson, last year’s Open story didn’t make the cut this year. Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and Padraig Harrington have the weekend off plus a number of other noted and lesser lights.

Certainly the savage winds that they experienced on Friday had much to do with the departure of many of the entrants. The commentators tell us constantly that it’s not golf on the links courses unless you have wind, but Friday was ridiculous.

It’s interesting though that regardless of condition there is always someone who rises to the challenge, is oblivious to the degree of difficulty or is just plain lucky and shoots a score that leaves you wondering just what happened to all of the other competitors.

It reminds me of a discussion I was part of back in the years when I was a competitive shooter. I was down in Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the US Army Marksmanship Unit, where some of the best rifle shooters in the world –  Lones Wigger, Jack Foster, Bill Krilling, Margaret Murdock and others – were holding forth on their competitive experiences and how you deal with bad conditions. The comment was made that seemingly every year at the US championships at Camp Perry they would have a difficult day with the wind and some young inexperienced shooter would put up a perfect target when everyone else was just struggling to survive. Invariably, when asked how they had managed to deal with the wind to shoot that score the answer would be a puzzled, “What wind”? Sometimes you can get too involved and sometimes you just need to get lucky.

Luck or whatever, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen came off the course at 12 under par on Friday with a 5 shot lead over Mark Calcavecchia. Talk about a dark horse, although he has 5 wins on the Sunshine Tour and got his 1st win on the European Tour this year. His success at Major championships since 2004 has been abysmal but he has put that history behind him so far with exceptional play.

However, if I had been betting on the outcome, I would have put money on Oosthuizen backing up to the field today. As it turned out, if I had, he would have cost me money, going 3 under par, again in windy conditions. However he ended up with his lead cut to 4 strokes, as Paul Casey made a good run at him, shooting a 67 and after 54 holes sitting at 11 under.

Can Oosthuizen maintain his game and hold up the Claret Jug at the end of the day tomorrow? I would wager that the pressure will finally get through to him and he will back away from the win. But even if he does slip on Sunday someone down the list is going to have to rise to the occasion and shoot a score in order to take over the lead.

Sunday it will be a matter of battling weather and nerves. Should be fun to watch.

Paula Creamer: 2010 U.S. Woman’s Open Champion

July 12, 2010

I watched the U.S. Woman’s Open Championship today, played on the Oakmont Golf Course where Paula Creamer overwhelmed the field, shot the only under-par score for the tournament (a 283, 3-under total), beating her closest competitors by 4 strokes and registering her first Major win at the age of 24.

What is unbelievable is not so much that she won the Open at the age of 24, it’s that she is only 24. It just seems as though she has been around a long time although it has only been 5 years, turning professional in 2005.

Today she put on a marvelous display, hitting her drives on a rope and making the putts when she needed them. This after a surgery on her thumb in March and with her hand still taped up.

A great competitor and fun to watch her play in top form..

Tiger Woods: Opportunities Lost

June 30, 2010

There was some speculation (hope?) that when Tiger Woods returned to competition after his personal flame-out, that he would be a kinder and gentler individual. Many of the golf writers thought that he would consciously do this in an attempt to regain the public’s ( and the sponsor’s) goodwill.

So far, I can’t see where it has happened. Not only has he missed many easy opportunities to do so, he seems to gone over to the dark side, complaining to the media about the greens at the US Open and seemingly putting the blame on his caddy, Steve Williams, for  a bad club choice at one point in his post game interviews.

If Tiger had returned to the golf scene and dominated, he probably could have gotten away with anything. It would have been an ‘in your face’ situation.

But that didn’t happen, although his performance was pretty credible by anyone else’s standards. In the 1st two majors of 2010, he tied for 4th at both the Masters and the US Open, which for most would not be too shabby. However, in Tigers mind and obviously in the opinion of the sports media that constituted a competitive failure.

So instead of becoming kinder and gentler, Tiger became surlier, culminating with a brief and rude interview at end of the US Open.

But it would have been so easy.

The fans at the events had been extremely supportive of Woods and all he needed to say was that he appreciated their support. But he didn’t. He could have congratulated Graeme McDowell for a gutsy performance to win the US Open. But he didn’t.

Instead he came across as someone who hadn’t received what he rightfully deserved.

I had always given Woods some slack with his behaviour on the course because I recognized that players at that level in any sport are extremely focused and essentially self absorbed. It’s the nature of the beast.

So I didn’t expect Woods to return to the golf wars and turn into a Phil Mickelson, but I did think that he had more smarts than he has shown to date.

Regardless, if he returns to his old form that will be the story. The sponsors will be back knocking at his door and his attitude will be forgiven. At least by most.

2010 Us Open: Big guns back away from title

June 22, 2010

The US Open finished on Sunday and Tiger couldn’t repeat his Saturday effort. Dustin Johnson who held a 3 shot lead on Sunday morning crashed from a 6-under start to a 3-over finish. Ernie Els who needed to make a charge, couldn’t and shot 1-over par as did Phil Mickelson. The French golfer Gregory Havret had an honest chance to at least make it into a playoff but bogeyed the 17th the ensure that didn’t happen. And the eventual winner, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell dropped three shots over the course of the day but managed to put his name on the trophy.

As I have said many times before, golf is a strange game. I think I’ve used the term ‘funny’ before, but that might infer that it is amusing. It isn’t.

Here we were on Sunday at the final round of the 2010 US Open, with the number 1, 2 and 6 ranked golfers in the world in contention and none of them could rise to the occasion. By my count there were only 6 scores under par on Sunday. One was a 68 by Bo Van Pelt who had shot an 82 on Saturday. What was different for him on Sunday when the leaders were crashing and burning. No pressure?

Granted the couse was obviously playing very hard and the greens were very, very fast, but these are still the very best golfers in the world and they were whipped like dogs.

Of course, maybe that is the other side of it. When the best golfers in the world can’t produce and shoot – in some cases – amateur level scores, is the course just too difficult? Are they really chosing the best golfer or just the most fortunate on any given day?

We know that a golf game can go sideways for anyone, whether professional or amateur. But when it goes astray for everyone you wonder if it is because of the course set-up, the pressure of competing for your national championship or (likely) a combination of the two. It would be interesting to see any of the competitors play the course on Monday following the Open strictly as a fun round and see what they would shoot.

2010 US Open: And Tiger recovers his form

June 20, 2010

On Thursday and Friday Tiger Woods couldn’t make his putter work and ended up  at 4-over par. On Saturday the magic returned and he shot a 5-under par 66 and is going into Sunday 1-under par, 5 back of the leader Dustin Johnson.

Is Tiger back in full form? I guess we’ll see at the end of the tournament on Sunday.

Regardless, it was nice to see the old Tiger back on the course, dropping putts. And the crowd seemed to appreciate it as well.

Phil Michelson took the other route, putting himself in contention on Friday with a 66 of his own, leaving him at 1-under par going into today’s 3rd round. But it wasn’t there today and he fell back to 1-over par at days end.

The story was Dustin Johnson who also shot a 66 to match Tiger’s and put him in the lead by 3 strokes over Graeme McDowell going into the final round.

There was obviously some good golf to watch and Pebble Beach is a beautiful and tough looking course – not that I will every experience it in person, with a public green fee of $495 for 18 holes.

It is interesting to see that only three people are at par or better after the third round:. Johnson, McDowell,Woods and the French golfer Havret, in that order. From there the scores climb as high as 19 over par. A number that Mike Weir shares with one other competitor. I thought that Weir might have a good shot at playing well this week, and he did start with a 1-under 70. Then carded a 79 and 83 in the next two rounds.

Golf is a strange game. Higher handicap amateurs seem to expect their games to be consistent at whatever level they may be playing and get upset when it goes sideways. But you look at the pros – the best players in the world – and they suffer from the same problem as noted with Mike Weir’s first round 70 and his third round 83. Mind you, that is an extreme, but even Mickelson’s migration from a 66 on Friday and a 73 on Saturday.

Anyway, as they say, it’s not over until it’s over (another Yogi Berra malapropism). As is always the case, Sunday will tell the tale.

Tiger Woods: “That’s none of your business”

June 16, 2010

Just watched the pre-event interview on the Golf Channel with Tiger Woods at the US Open at Pebble Beach.

Lots of golf questions, then he was asked if he had arrived at any resolution, “one way or the other”, with his wife, Elin. Tiger looked the reporter in the eye and said, “That’s none of your business”.

Good answer!