Author Archives: garypopovich

About garypopovich

Golf has taken me to a lot places, introduced me to some fabulous people (including my lovely girlfriend), and made me examine life in ways I would have never thought possible. It drives me insane, makes me laugh, and keeps me honest.

The Big Cat Redux

I really want to write about how a resolute Brooks Koepka overpowered Bellrieve CC in St Louis this past weekend to win the 100th PGA Championship, his second major victory this season and his third in two years.

I wish I could expand on how Koepka has translated his pure athleticism into perhaps the most powerful and accurate swing in all of golf, and how unflappable and stoic he remained in the midst of one of the wildest on course atmospheres in modern golf history.

And I’d love to delve into what drives Brooks Koepka; how he carries a chip – hell, an entire tree limb – on his shoulder whenever he tees it up, as he continues to generally be overlooked or ignored as a force with which to be reckoned in the golfing world.

While I’m at it – Adam Scott’s brave effort, driven in part by the death of fellow Aussie golfer and friend Jarred Lyle, perhaps deserves an entry of its own.

But no – there’s really only one story to write about this year’s PGA. It’s been the story of this golf season, and one that may or may not be over. But damn . . .

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I had read a lot of Tiger Woods’s exploits as a youth golfer, but the first time I saw him tee it up was at the 1994 US Amateur. It was played at Sawgrass that year; his opponent in the finals was Trip Kuehne, an accomplished player from one of the first families of American golf. Tiger was a skinny teenager clad in shorts and a wide-brimmed straw hat that day. The most vivid memory I have of that match, one from which Woods came back from a 5 stroke deficient with 12 to play, was his uncanny ability to recover from what looked to be inescapable situations on Pete Dye’s torture track of a golf course.

I was reminded of this on Sunday, when Woods shot a three-under par 32 on the front side of Bellrieve despite not hitting a single fairway. In many ways, it was vintage Tiger, replete with helicopter follow-through swings when he needed to work the ball, early strides to the hole when he just knew the ball was going to drop, and, of course, several patented fist pumps, including a final hole birdie that sent the record-breaking number of St Louis spectators into delirium.

The only thing missing was Tiger’s name being engraved on the Wanamaker for a 5th time, but unlike in the past (and to paraphrase his own words), second place this time definitely did not suck. His final round 64 was the best he ever shot in the final round of a major, the smile he wore in congratulating Koepka was genuine, and his post-tournament presser was as reflective as any of us have heard from him.

I count myself among those who thought that Woods could not make his way back this far into golfing relevance. Part of it was driven from the empirical evidence of his physical condition and play from previous comeback attempts. I’ll also admit to a strong dislike of what I saw as arrogance toward media and his own fans, and behavior on the course that was excused as “intensity” while condemned when displayed by others.

The fallout from the infamous Thanksgiving fire-hydrant incident was seen as an appropriate comeuppance by his detractors (myself included), although in retrospect, his “sins” pale in comparison to those of two other icons who fell at that time, Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong. Nonetheless, as Woods receded and new faces emerged, it seemed evident to me that golf was ready for the next era.

And it may well be. The talent level in golf has never been higher or more competitive, not only in America but around the world. What makes it special is that the guy who inspired it all is back in the mix. At this point, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not Tiger wins another tournament (although if he does, it will likely shut down all social media).

The fact is, much like that 1994 US Amateur, Tiger hasn’t just punched out of the trees; he’s pulled off what looked to be impossible. Yeah, I’m on board. Pass the crow, I’ll eat it.

 

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The Open Championship – Or How The Quiet Italian Killed The Cat

Italy’s Francesco Molinari is likely not a name familiar to the casual golf observer. In fact, for a time Francesco wasn’t even the best known golfing Molinari, as his older brother Edoardo won the 2005 US Amateur. But the younger Molinari developed a reputation as a superior striker of the golf ball, and this year has seemed to crack the code with his short game, having won on both the Euro and American PGA tours and finishing second at the John Deere Classic prior to the Open Championship.

And now he is The Champion Golfer of the Year.

Before we get to the particulars, a tip of the hat must go to the R&A and the greens keeping staff at Carnoustie. As we previously discussed, Carnoustie is a difficult but fair test of golf, and with the proper climate conditions, it delivers everything that a championship track should. As it turned out, Mother Nature provided a variety of backdrops (rain Friday and nearly no wind to speak of on Saturday), but a welcome (at least for fans of the Open Championship) “fresh breeze” on Sunday (topping out at the 25 mph mark) made for an wild day of golf.

And there were no complaints from the field, no USGA jackets scurrying around the course or answering queries on TV … are you watching there in Fair Lawn, NJ?

Going into the weekend, Kevin Kisner was the surprise co-leader – surprising in that he arrived at Carnoustie in less than optimal form, not having posted a top 20 finish in months. But he putted spectacularly on the slower fescue greens, and found himself tied with 2015 Open champ Zach Johnson at 6 under par.

And then Saturday came. The lack of wind rendered the course nearly defenseless – Justin Rose fired a 64, while defending champ Jordan Spieth and the aforementioned Molinari each carded 65. But the biggest eruption came from a certain feline-monikered golfer named Eldrick Woods, who, after two rather indifferent even par rounds, practically broke social media with an electrifying 66.

Still, that found him 4 shots behind Spieth, Kisner, and rising star Xander Schauffele, all of whom finished at 9 under. Molinari was 3 back, and would be paired with Woods for the final round.

Sunday brought a lot of wind and for awhile, an unlikely leader in The clubhouse in England’s Eddie Pepperell, who is as close as golf gets to having a Renaissance Man. Eddie went around in 67 despite, as he openly admitted on Twitter, suffering from the after effects of a night on the town. That put him at 5 under, which for a long time looked like a possibility for a playoff.

This came about as a result of the three leaders shifting their games in reverse and returning to the pack. Kisner’s putting abandoned him, Schauffele realized that he was leading golf’s oldest championship, and Spieth – well, with Jordan Spieth, one never knows what he’ll get. On Sunday, he took an ugly double on #6, and it was all downhill from there.

So for a brief time on Sunday, the stars aligned f.or the Tiger Woods worshippers of the world. The Big Cat had taken sole posession of the lead on 7 and on the 10th hole, he hoisted a 155 yard wedge shot from a nasty fairway bunker that no other person on the planet could have imagined trying to the front part of the green to save par. Commentators Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller were hyperventilating. “Is this the year 2000 again?,” wondered Hicks.

No, it wasn’t. Woods hit a wayward iron off the tee on 11 and an even worse second that fortunately (for him) struck a spectator and bounded back in play towards the back of the green. Faced with the choice of playing a safe chip leaving a 12 putt for par or attempting a high-risk flop shot that even at the height of his powers would have a less than 50% chance of succeding, Tiger, perhaps feeling some hubris from what he pulled off on 10, choose the latter. It didn’t work, and his chances of winning greatly diminished from that point on.

But it was a thrilling exhibition of his ability and, of course, a reminder that he creates as much buzz as any sporting figure in the world. At the same time, it also revealed a 42 year old golfer attempting to return to past glory but not quite being able to close the deal. As Rory McIlroy stated, Tiger just doesn’t scare the field anymore. That’s not to say that he can’t or won’t win again- his 6th place finish put him into the WGC event at Firestone, a locale whose confines are as friendly to him as Wrigley Field’s are to the Cubs -but it’ll be a helluva lot harder to do.

While all this was going on, Molinari, playing alongside Tiger (who later described Molinari’s play as “beautiful”), quietly went about his business, grinding out a Nick Faldo-esque 13 consecutive pars before making birdie on 14 to take the lead along with Schaffele, who showed a lot of moxie after an indifferent front 9.  He added a birdie on 18 (which played ridiculously easy on Sunday) to go up by one, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Schaffele, who was playing 17 as this happened. 17 at Carnoustie into the wind is one of the hardest par-4’s in the world, as the Barry Burn traverses the fairway twice and forces players to lay back to a less than comfortable distance. In Xander’s case, he had 254 yards to a tucked right hand flag. The prudent play would have been for him to hit to the center of the green, two putt for par, and take his chances on 18. Shauffelle chose otherwise and pushed his approach well to the right, leaving him with a short sided pitch made even more difficult by the presence of a finicky three year old child trapped with his mother at the spectator rope. To his everlasting credit, Xander saw the humor in the situation and allowed himself a chuckle. Alas, he was unable to get up and down.

Molinari watched all of this from a comfortable waiting area with an air that could be described as calm concern, occasionally flashing a smile that reminds one of a younger version of actor Hank Azari. His victory speech was modest and gracious, if not particularly memorable. And I’m not sure that, given the bombast of Tiger Woods’s performance, many will recall how well he played. So I’m here to remind one and all that for the final 36 holes of the Open Championship on one of the most difficult courses in the world, Francesco Molinari did not make a single bogey.

Hai giocato a golf bellissimo, Franceso.

 

 

Carnoustie Follies

As I’ve grown older, the Open Championship has become my favorite tournament of the professional golf season, in part because of my familiarity with the Scottish venues (I’ve managed to play all of them) but also for the unpredictability of the outcome. I think no course better exemplifies that latter than Carnoustie. Tom Doak, the noted course designer and architectural critic, says, “It’s not that Carnoustie is unfair; it’s just that it’s depressingly efficient at pointing out the flaws in one’s game.”

 

There’s little charm to the town itself (which is not the easiest to access), and the course lacks the scenic beauty of Turnberry or the anticipation of the return back to town that St Andrews features. On the other hand, there’s enough variation to the routing to present the golfer with different challenges in dealing with the wind, and the finishing holes are without question the hardest of any major championship track.

 

My experience and thoughts about Carnoustie are decidedly mixed. The round I played there was a combination of heroic shots and slapstick error – I shot 94 while making 11 on the famed par 5 6th (known as “Hogan’s Alley”), a 9 on the 10th hole, and split a freshly-bought pair of Scottish pants up the seam of my thigh, inspiring one of my playing partners to call me “Breezy.”

 

On the other hand, thanks to the hard surface and a stiff helping wind, I managed a 300 yard drive on 7 and made par on all of the three shot holes, including a near miss for birdie on the brutish 16th, a hole that played that day at 225 yards into the same wind that produced my prodigious drive on 7. I said to my caddie, “This is driver, right?” He responded, “Hopefully.” As it turned out, I made such solid contact that I thought the ball might fly over the green. The wind knocked it down, and the shot landed as softly as a well-struck pitching wedge might have about 15 feet away from the hole.

 

I should also add that I did manage to avoid Jean Van de Velde’s disaster of 1999 by heeding my caddie’s advice and carding a safe bogey 5.

 

And the course staff was genuinely welcoming and accommodating.

 

I left Carnoustie grateful both of having had the fortune to play it and for not having to tee it up there again. On further reflection, I think the latter thought was a bit harsh. I’ve spoken with several friends of varying degrees of skill who absolutely loved playing there. Maybe a warmer day and an intact pair of trousers would influence my own thoughts about the place.

 

All that not withstanding . . . I rank Carnoustie as my second favorite Open venue, behind St Andrews and just a smidge ahead of Muirfield. Aside from the 1999 setup, (in which the then-greenskeeper ran amok, allowing the heather to grow almost waist high and narrowing some fairways to a ludicrous width of 15 yards), it doesn’t require any tricking up to present a tough, fair challenge to the world’s best golfers.

Winning scores there have ranged from +8 to -7.

 

Unlike the USGA, the R&A doesn’t insist on certain course conditions to conduct its championship (a quick aside – what the USGA has done to Shinnecock Hills the last two time the US Open was conducted there should be grounds for criminal charges). Most of the courses in in the rota will only irrigate tee boxes and greens, giving the rest of the land a baked brown look that doesn’t come across particularly well on television and leaves many US viewers who are used to green, tree-lined courses with pristine conditions shaking their heads.

 

Links golf is a different game. One must contend with gusty winds and penal bunkers (not to mention the occasional monsoon-like shower), and be willing to use the ground to bounce shots on to the green instead of flying the ball to the hole. Some golfers simply can’t adjust their games to this kind of environment. Those who are will to do so wind up embracing it – the most famous example being Tom Watson, who arrived at Carnoustie in 1975 not knowing what to expect and would wind up winning the Open that year and four more times afterwards. He damned near won it at the age of 59 in 2009.

 

I’ve made the trip to Scotland four times and, who knows, there could be a fifth visit in the future. And if there is, I think I’ll give Carnoustie another go. Hogan’s Alley owes me one.

Back To Shinnecock

The great writer and curmudgeon Dan Jenkins has always maintained that if he had his choice of courses to play in Eastern Long Island, he’s go with either Maidstone or National Golf Links over Shinnecock Hills, the site of this year’s US Open.

In a sense, I agree – both of his selections ooze charm and could have been dropped directly into their current Hamptons locales directly from Scotland.   Willie Park Jr’s Maidstone has a decidedly old-school appeal, with heath flaring from its bunkers while its clubhouse sits on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. The National is the product  of Charles Blair MacDonald, who brought the design concepts and course strategies of Old Tom Morris to the States and created an architectural template for many other historic course built here. Of course, unless your money is wrinkly old and  your blood a  deep shade of blue, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever play either of these tracks.

Maidstone

 

National

 

As appealing as these courses are, neither course has the teeth to hold a US Open, what with Maidstone being too short and National being far too wide open. Which brings us to Shinnecock.

I confess to having a bittersweet relationship with Shinney, which presents as strong a test as one can find in this country and certainly has its own identity. My ex-wife grew up about a mile or so away from the course (the back yard of her mother’s house butted up against Southampton C.C., which borders Shinnecock to the east – National is adjacent to the west), and on visits there I would walk the course. One Christmas, I noted that the clubhouse was shuttered, but the flags were up. I grabbed my late father-in-law’s clubs, bundled up to brave the windy, 40 degree overcast day, and made my way around. It was exhilarating.

A few years later, the US Open returned to Shinnecock; this was the year that Corey Pavin carved a 4-wood into 18 to seal his only major championship. I attended the second and third rounds.

On the practice tee, I watched the skinny US Amateur champion strike his driver ungodly distances. Kid named Tiger Woods. Unfortunately for him, during the second round he injured his wrist trying to gouge his ball out of Shinnecock’s high blue-stem fescue that borders most of its narrow fairways and had to withdraw.

I saw many of the greats from that era over those two days – The two Nicks (Faldo and Price), Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer, Seve, Jack, Ray Floyd, Ian Woosnam – but the best round of golf I saw came in the third round by Tom Lehman, who fashioned a 67 in 25 mile per hour winds and was one of only two players to shoot a subpar round that day (Woosnam managed a  69).

So, save the Old Course and Augusta, I have more familiarity with Shinnecock than just about any other major championship venue, and will sing its praises to just about anyone who will listen. While it’s situated about a mile or so inland (the only water view comes from the 12th tee), it definitely plays hard and fast – a true links experience. Tuckahoe Road intersects the course, the panoramic view of the course as one looks to the west is breathtaking.

Shinney

Much like Augusta, there are elevation changes at Shinnecock that are not readily appreciated on the TV screen. The downhill drop on the 12th rivals that of Augusta’s 10th hole,  and the uphill approaches to 9, 10, and 11 are nerve-wracking. And Shinnecock possesses as fine a collection of par-4 holes as can be found anywhere.  My personal favorite is the 14th, named  “Thom’s Elbow” after longtime club profession Charlie Thom, whose cottage overlooked its tee and where he often gave lessons.  The long, dogleg-right hole features a downhill tee shot that appears all but impossible to hold in the fairway due to what appears to be a severe tilt; however, there is a bowl-like area that will hold an accurate drive. Then it’s back up the hill to a small, well protected green.

14th

The hole that will command the most attention – and maybe prove once again to be the most controversial – is the 7th, a medium length par three that features a Redan-style green that even under ideal conditions is difficult to hold. During the third round of the 1995 US Open, I sat in the bleachers bordering the 7th green and watched 8 groups come through. Only two players managed to hold the green in regulation, one of whom was Gary Hallberg. He made a hole in one, and if that shot had not one-hopped into the hole, it likely would have run off the green as well.

7th

But the 7th’s infamy was sealed at the 2004 Open when its green became so crusty that USGA officials had to water it for each group that teed off on the hole. It was unseasonably hot in the Hamptons that year; by the weekend, most of the greens had pretty much turned brown. It was to Rateif Goosen’s ever-lasting credit that he was able to putt as well as he did to win it all that year (although to be fair, Phil Mickelson’s inexplicable double-bogey on the next to last hole was helpful to Goosen’s victory).

Hot weather should not be an issue this year, and if the wind kicks up, we’re liable to see a return to even par as a winning US Open score.  And Shinnecock will deliver it honestly, with no gimmicks. That’s the only prediction I’ll make.

Augusta Post Mortem

The dust has settled, the victor crowned . . . here are some takeaways from the 2018 Masters.

1. Apparently, people love Patrick Reed when he beats Rory McIlroy in the Ryder Cup, but not so much at the Masters. The response from the patrons at Augusta in regards to Reed’s victory was decidedly muted, which on surface seems strange given his ties to the area (he led unheralded Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles over traditional collegiate powerhouses) and his “Captain America” persona. But Reed has carried a certain amount of baggage with him – he was accused of cheating in competition while playing for the University of Georgia, his wife had his parents removed from the grounds of the U.S. Open last year, and he carries himself with a cockiness and arrogance that has rubbed both fellow competitors and sponsors the wrong way (a friend of mine in the sports marketing business told me that after winning the Humana Classic in 2014 – a tournament whereupon he declared himself to be among the top 5 players in the world – he pretty much blew off any sponsor commitments).

2. None of which should detract from his victory last Sunday. Once Rory showed his nerves on the second hole by missing a short eagle putt that would have tied him for the lead, Reed went for the kill and pretty much eliminated the Irishman from the tournament. He is a fierce and fearless competitor who rebounded time and again from his own mistakes to bring home the green jacket.

3. Jordan Spieth would love to replay the 18th – twice. Spieth’s bookend rounds of 66 and 64 were both marred by bogies on 18 in which he tangled with the left side trees off the tee. The final round incident was particularly cruel, as he was in the process of fashioning a historic final round that caught Reed’s attention. His drive clipped a lone branch that left him over 300 yards from the green. Still, he had about a 8 foot par putt to keep him within a shot of Reed, but he overread the break.

4. The Ryder Cup singles match I want to see is Reed vs Rahm. Jon Rahm has carried on the tradition of great Spanish golfers who wear their emotions on their sleeves. He and Reed would put on a show in match play. But Rahm need to lose the beard.

5. Tony Finau is one tough son of a bitch. Finau, who many had as a dark horse contender, made a hole in one in Wednesday’s Par-3 Tournament, and while celebrating his ace, dislocated his left ankle – the angle at which he turned it was as gruesome as I’ve seen in any sport, and the aftermath was pretty ugly. Amazingly, he popped it back into place and teed it up the following day. Not only did he make the cut (and survive the hilliest course on tour), but his final round 66 featured 6 consecutive birdies on the back nine.

6. The Rickie Fowler Major Watch continues – but this was his best effort to date, firing a final round 67 to put himself into 2nd place.

7. Phil/Tiger were essentially non-stories. After a strong opening round, Mickelson barely made the cut on the number. And playing a course that for the first time since his comeback forced him to hit a lot of drivers, Tiger’s deficiencies with that club were exposed. But watch out for these two at Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open in June, a track which should suit both of their games.

8. Cameron Smith: keep an eye on him. He looks like a 12 year old, but the young Aussie is strong in all facets of the game and has been turning up on leaderboards fairly consistently after winning (with Jonas Blixt) the Zurich last year. His closing 66 put him in a tie for 5th with McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, and Bubba Watson. Not bad company to keep.

9. Remember Danny Willet? The 2016 champ has missed the cut at Augusta the past two years and has played rather poorly since then.

10. The Announcement – This perhaps should be higher up on the list, but Augusta National’s decision to hold a world-wide women’s amateur championship in advance of the Masters is groundbreaking on so many levels. Kudos to them.

He’s Back (Part the Infinity)

[Yes, yes, I know it’s been a while. Some changes – some planned, some unforeseen – have kept the Golf Nerd off the intertoobs for a while. But I’m back – and that coincides with the return of a slightly better known golf entity . . .]

Apparently, Paul Casey picked the wrong weekend to win a golf tournament.

Virtually any other week, the golfing press would report on Casey finally exorcizing the final round demons that had kept the talented Englishman out of the PGA Tour winner’s circle since 2009 by firing a final round 65 to take home the Valspar Championship against a reasonably strong field ….

No. No one wants to hear about that.

Instead, the golf world – check that, the sporting world – is agog over the fact that Tiger Woods is “back.”

“Back” takes on a variety of connotations here – it appears that the radical fusion surgery that was done on that part of the Big Cat’s anatomy (please don’t ask what actually got fused; to me, vertebrae are labeled like Scrabble tiles) appears to have held up, allowing him to complete four rounds of golf relatively pain free and with a swing that is producing scary numbers as far as speed is  concerned.

“Back” in that apart from missing the cut at the Genesis Open at Rivera (a track that for some reason has never suited his game), Tiger has shown remarkable progress each time he has teed it up, starting with making the cut on the number at Torrey Pines to almost getting himself into a playoff with Casey.

“Back,” meaning television ratings and on-course attendance went through the roof for a tournament that otherwise would normally attract us typical golf nerds and not too many other folks.

“Back” to the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational next week in Orlando, which TW has already captured a ridiculous 8 times.

“Back” in that Vegas has installed Woods as a 10-1 favorite at Augusta in a few weeks, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable.

Yeah, the man, as they say, “moves the needle.” The Golf Nerd Goddess and I were pretty much glued to our TV for most of the weekend to see if Tiger could hold up for the weekend. Phil Mickelson, after ending his own victory drought at the WGC event in Mexico City the previous week, joked on The Dan Patrick Show, joked that Tiger would probably win the Valspar just to one-up him again. With all due respect to Lefty, Woods being in contention was enough to push him to the background.

As someone who had pretty much written off Woods and either dismissed or ridiculed each of his previous comeback attempts, I will own that and happily eat some crow, humble pie, or whatever plateful of slop you wish to place in front of me. At the same time, folks thinking that he’s “back” to being the unstoppable dominant force of yesterday need to pump the brakes.

Yes, the swing speed is back. At the same time, it’s still a challenge for Woods to get the driver in the fairway. To be fair, the few times he pulled it out on Sunday he drove it beautifully, but not having the confidence in it to hit it on the final hole trailing by a shot left him a good 50 or so yards back for his approach from the rest of the field. That could very well put him at a disadvantage on venues where length is a factor.

His iron play, by his own admission, was average at best on Sunday, an outcome he attributed to being in-between clubs a lot of the time. That can be attributed to a lack of feel and an absence from being in the thick of competition for a while.

Tiger knows all of that – and that may be why that this version of the Cat may be the most endearing to watch. You knew that this was a different Tiger when he was genuinely pleased at making that cut at Torrey. And when he rolled in that gargantuan put on 17 to pull within one of the lead, there was no histrionic fist pump and shout; rather, a huge, almost sheepish smile broke out over his face, almost as if to say “Did I just do that?”

The man has been through a lot – yeah, much of it has been self-inflicted, but we love a comeback story, don’t we? Particularly one where the protagonist has been humbled and is grinding his way back, which is the script that Woods seems to be following. And throwing him into a mix of the talented young guns and a seemingly ageless Mickelson should make for compelling watching in the coming weeks.

Oh – and Paul Casey? Nice win, pal.

Departures and Arrivals

Golf in the Olympics turned out to be surprisingly compelling. Justin Rose edged out Henrik Stenson on the men’s side, while In Bee Park, carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, dominated the women’s competition. Moreover, Gil Hanse’s masterful course design not only delivered a marvelous canvas for the participants to display their skills, but also provided a low-maintenance track that could springboard golf participation in Brazil.

Or so we thought. Reports from several publications indicate that the Olympic Golf Course is dying a slow but inevitable death. Reasons cited are the high greens fees ($74 – $82 per round), resulting in very few rounds being played (on the bright side, no pace of play issues!) and the continued financial crisis is Brazil, which has resulted in the course’s maintenance crew not being paid for at least a couple of months.

A friend of mine pointed out that many Olympic venues become white elephants after the Games closing ceremonies (really, how much use would a cycling velodrome or kayaking course get post-Olympics?) and that one should have expected this outcome.  He’s probably correct, but unlike the other structures, a golf course has a life, and the good/great ones have a distinct character. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course has the latter in spades, what with its wide fairways, strategic bunkering, and seaside linksy qualities- in other words, the type of course that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

It will be missed.


In the meantime, one of my home courses, TPC at the Four Seasons, will hold its final Byron Nelson Classic next year. This is only a mild surprise to us, as AT&T took over sponsorship a few years ago and announced its intention to move the tournament to a new Crenshaw-Coore design in a currently depressed area that is being gentrified (and in which AT&T has a vested interest) in 2019 The course has been announced ready to play; hence, the move date was bumped up by a year.

I’m of mixed emotions about this, as I think most members of courses who host a professional event would be. While there is a certain prestige of holding a tour event as well as an emphasis on course conditioning, there’s also some inconvenience involved, primarily loss of access to the facility (although in our case, we’re fortunate in being a  36 hole complex, so our members can continue to play).

And I’m not sure how the professionals will feel about the move. At one time, “The Byron” was a must play, particularly when Mr Nelson was still with us. Our course has hosted the event since 1983; the list of past winners is a veritable who’s who of golfing greats. In recent years, the field has been somewhat diluted due in part to a PGA Tour schedule change that moved the The Players Championship from March to May, occurring a week before “The Byron.” Many big name players choose to take off the week following The Players Championship.

As stated above, The Byron’s new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club, is part of a redevelopment project in a somewhat depressed area of Dallas. The course was built on top of a landfill, and has a decidedly links-like feel. My guess is that the pros will enjoy the course, but will miss the convenience of the current site, which features a 4 star hotel on premises and easy access to both DFW and Love Field airports. And from a spectator’s standpoint, parking and transport in and out of The Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. Not so much for the new venue.

I won’t miss having cart-path only access to TPC for three months, nor will I miss the disruption of grandstand and concession stand construction/deconstruction that accompanies the tournament. But the atmosphere at The Byron has always been quite festive, and the golf remarkable. Plus there was always the opportunity of a chance encounter with Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, or Paulina Gretsky.

It will be missed.


After months of conjecture and near-misses, it appears that Tiger Woods will finally make his return at his Hero Challenge in the Bahamas, a very limited field event (20 players) that doesn’t count as an official PGA Tour event but somehow counts in the World Golf Rankings. When Tiger began his layoff in late 2015, his ranking was 247; it’s now somewhere in the 800’s. Golf writer Jason Sobel wanted to know how such a fall could occur while The Big Cat wasn’t playing; my response to him was that either position was not particularly desirable. [To his credit, Tiger, when asked by one reporter what his expectations were for the season, joked that if he could be in the top 1,000 in the world rankings, he’d be happy].

In a year that’s seen a US Ryder Cup victory, a number of notable celebrity deaths and a political campaign that has gone beyond surreal, I am not even going to hazard a guess as to how Woods performs this week. He did proclaim that he can now hit “any shot, any time on demand,” which hopefully translates to him being able to find the fairway off the tee more consistently. I’ll leave it to Peter Kostis or Gary McCord to analyze his swing changes; to my relatively untrained eye, he seems to have come up with a move that puts less stress on his back.

I wish him well. That may come as a surprise to some who know my past feelings about him, but he seems to have developed some perspective during his layoff. Last year at this time, he spoke of being “vulnerable,” something that most folks would have never expected from such a dominant figure. I think his involvement as a vice-captain in the Ryder Cup was well-received by the US team, and he’s already been tapped for a similar role for the Presidents Cup next year.

But please, please, please – let’s temper our expectations. This will not be Tiger circa 2007. He will no longer show up on Sunday wearing red and scaring the shit out of the competition. He won’t make every putt inside of 6 feet when it matters the most. And he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’s major championship record.

Then again, I never thought Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. Stay tuned.