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 Trouble With Being Monty

Ever since the rest of Europe was brought into the Ryder Cup fold, several of its players have served as lightning rods for American fans. Seve Ballesteros was the original, of course, but other Cup antagonists have included Nick Faldo, Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnavik, Ian Poulter, and, now, apparently, Rory McIlroy. It’s curious to note that when playing on their own on the American PGA tour , most of these guys are (or were) at worst respected, and in many cases very well-liked. Sergio’s win at this year’s Byron Nelson Classic was quite popular, and McIlroy, when he is not puffing his chest in response to slights perceived or otherwise, is generally well received by US spectators.

There was one man, however, who brought out disdain from us Yanks regardless of circumstance. I’m speaking, of course, of one Colin Montgomerie.

Monty never won an event on US soil until he got to the Champions Tour, although he came agonizingly close in a couple of US Opens (both times bested by Ernie Els) as well as in the 1995 PGA, when Steve Elkington beat him in a playoff. But he was a beast in Europe, having won the Order of Merit a record 8 times, and was absolute kryptonite in the Ryder Cup, posting a 20-win, -9-loss, -7-tie record, and was never beaten in a singles match. He also captained the European team to a win in the 2010 cup at Celtic Manor in Wales.

But what was it about Monty that brought out the wrath of American golf followers? Some pointed to his doughy physique. Others mentioned his facial expression, which seemed to be in a permanent cross state of despair and disgust. He earned the moniker Mrs. Doubtfire as a result of this.

But primarily – Monty suffered from what we call “rabbit ears.”  It’s only a slight exaggeration to state that he could stand on the 16th tee at Firestone and hear a mosquito land on the green some 625 yards away.

I witnessed this phenomena at the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot, where Monty was in a group with Greg Norman and Tom Lehman. By the second hole, Monty had already berated the fairway marshal for “partisan behavior” – the poor guy applauded after Lehman hit a nice approach shot – and was bemoaning the lie he had in the rough, circling his ball while clomping his feet like a Budweiser Clydesdale. He finally was ready to address the shot when suddenly he glared skyward. A jet plane was flying overhead. Apparently, someone forgot to explain to Monty that there are 3 major airports in the New York city metropolitan area.

In any event, once Monty’s Achilles heel became evident, American fans were merciless. He was heckled so badly in his singles match against Payne Stewart at the 1999 Ryder Cup that Stewart conceded the point to Colin.

In advance of the 2002 US Open at Bethpage, Golf Digest mounted a “Be Nice to Monty” campaign, passing out some 25,000 buttons to a raucous New York crowd. Most of them found their way into trash bins.

My first visit to Scotland was in 2001, which happened to be the year that David Duval won the Open. While staying at a b&b in Dornoch, my host commented that he was quite taken by Duval’s acceptance speech, as it didn’t fit his perception of the champion. Now, in the proper setting,  Monty can be surprisingly charming as an interviewee. I tried to point this out to my host; however, he was having none of it. “Ah, he’s a spoiled brat, that Monty!” he replied. “He can piss off!”

Poor Monty – even in his own country, he gets crapped upon.

On Twitter, there’s a poster whose handle is Darth Monty, who assumes a comic Monty persona. Sample tweets

“Just 15 minutes until the greatest show on earth. The #RyderCup accompanied by my commentary. All credit to me.”

“Congratulations USA on your #RyderCup win, a great feeling. I should know –  I’ve won a shit load of them. All credit to you.”

By the way, Darth Monty has over 16 thousand followers.

Montgomerie has been enjoying a successful campaign on the Champions Tour, and for the most part, the spectators who attend those events have treated him kindly. Maybe both he and we have mellowed.

Or maybe it’s just a loss of hearing.

Advertisements

Post Cup Check

 

Some quick thoughts on the Ryder Cup . . .

 

How is it that at any other tournament held in the US, spectators will cheer Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, or Justin Rose, but behave like an audience at the Roman Coliseum when the same guy show up to play for Samuel Ryder’s trophy? Sadly, Danny Willet’s brother was proven correct. While Euro Ryder Cup audiences are loud and boisterous, there’s not the vulgarity or outright breaches of etiquette that was on display at Hazeltine.

Speaking of Danny, his post-Cup presser was quite succinct. When asked how to describe his initial Ryder Cup experience, Willet, who finished 0-3-0 and suffered insults from the crowd, responded, “Shit.” When asked to elaborate, he replied, “Really shit.”

Patrick Reed was the uncontested star of the US team. Phil Mickelson was likely the most relieved. And Brent Sneddeker was the most underrated. Every time the latter showed up on a TV screen, he was draining a crucial putt.

If I ever somehow get in a match with Lee Westwood, I’m making him put everything out. After stuffing his approach shot on 18 in Saturday’s contest vs JB Holmes and Ryan Moore, his jabbed attempt barely touched the lip of the hole. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it cost Europe the Cup, but it was a critical point lost.

Reed/McIlroy was a corker for sure, but Phil/Sergio was pretty damned compelling as well. Their halved match was a worthy outcome. Meanwhile, Lefty’s vertical leap after sinking his birdie putt on the final hole seemed to rival that of his 2004 Masters victory. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.

Interestingly, the Euros did not comment about crowd behavior nearly as much as they did about the course set up. Justin Rose complained about the “lack of proper rough” and that Sunday’s pin positions were “way too accessible” – the implication being that this favored the longer-hitting American team. It’s probably a valid critique, but it’s all part of the home-team edge. When the Euros host, they are afforded the same luxury. And Rose and his teammates can only blame themselves for not taking advantage of the conditions.

As it turns out, Johnny Miller’s assessment of this year’s European time was accurate. With six rookies on this team, Euro captain Darren Clarke was left with precious few options as how to deploy them. Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Belo performed admirably – the former played all 5 matches and accumulated 4 points, while Rafa and Sergio will likely become the next version of the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, Willet, Andy (the so-called “Smiling Assassin”) Sullivan, Mathew Fitzpatrick, and Chris Wood went a combined 1-8-1. One can question Clarke’s choice of Lee Westwood, but given the inexperience of the team, it’s understandable that he went that way; Westwood came into this year’s matches with a 16-11 record.

Apparently, Patrick Reed did not patent the “shush,” a move that he pulled out at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles after birdying to win a hole. Pieters made the same gesture when he birdied to halve the first hole of his Saturday morning match with Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Phil actually laughed when he saw what Pieters was up to.

Reed was interviewed by Dan Patrick this morning. When asked what was the coolest part of the post-Cup festivities, Reed mentioned the two teams and their captains getting together afterwards. The cup was passed around to each player; each of them used it as a microphone to talk about their experience (one would guess that Danny Willet was much more expansive in this setting). Reed claimed he didn’t have anything to drink, but having screamed himself hoarse during the previous three days (as well as not getting to bed until 4:30 AM), he could have fooled a lot of people.

What most fans don’t realize is that the post-Cup get-together between the two teams is a tradition, one that I hope never dies. Being able to celebrate and commiserate after three days of intense competition is one of the most admirable aspects of the Ryder Cup. I wish more golf fans understood that.

And finally . . .  Ricky, work on it.

fowler_1920_rydercup16_kissing2

Magnificent Distractions – Two Ryder Cup Snafus

phil-mickelson-750x400

There are three certainties in life. Death, taxes, and Phil Mickelson verbally lighting someone up at the Ryder Cup.

Let’s go back to 2014, when in the pre-competition presser, the lefthander, when asked how the team was getting along, answered, “Not only are we getting along together, but we also have avoided filing lawsuits against each other,” this pointed at Rory McIlroy and Gram McDowell, who were on opposite sides of litigation against the former’s former management company.

And after another colossal US failure, Lefty left so many tread marks on captain Tom Watson that the latter got endorsement offers from both Michelin and Greyhound.

So it should come as no huge surprise that at this year’s opening presser, Phil, as only he can, gave Watson some company under the bus in the person of 2004 captain Hal Sutton. While extolling the virtues of current skip Davis Love III and the newly formed Ryder Cup task force (an idea Mickelson championed), he brought up the ill-conceived partnership of himself and Tiger Woods. Among other things, Mickelson cited that Sutton had informed the pair that they would be playing together two days before the start of the matches. Woods prefers a high spin ball, Lefty a low spin ball; ergo, Phil claimed that rather than getting familiar with the course, he had to spend an inordinate amount of time on the range get familiar with the unfamiliar balls characteristics, which hurt his preparation.

(Sutton, reached later in the day, was not amused by this:

“Somebody has to be the fall guy. If it needs to be me, I can be that,” said Sutton. “The world saw what happened. They saw it. I didn’t have to cover it up. I find it amusing that that’s an issue at the 2016 Ryder Cup. I think Phil better get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week instead of something that happened 10 years ago. If I still need to shoulder the blame for Phil’s poor play then I’ll do that.”)

Mickelson has never shied away from speaking his mind. This has been noted by many of his Ryder Cup teammates, and in particular by captain Davis Love III.

In our recent Three Club Wind podcast, my partner Brian Robin spoke of the pressure put on the Ryder Cup captain, particularly on the US side, which has won exactly once in this millennium. One gets the sense that this year, Phil Mickelson is assuming the de facto role of captain. If so, the pressure falls squarely on his shoulders. He better deliver.

 

danny-willett

Meanwhile, on the Euro side, a controversy was brewing in the person of one Pete Willet, the brother of Masters champion Danny Willet. Pete gained a good bit of notoriety during Danny’s Masters victory with his hilarious in-stream tweets. Based on that, he has become a columnist for something called the National Club Golfer, and wrote this less than complimentary piece about the US team and spectators. Among other things, he had this to say:

Team USA have only won five of the last 16 Ryder Cups. Four of those five victories have come on home soil. For the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way. Like one of those brainless bastards from your childhood, the one that pulled down your shorts during the school’s Christmas assembly (f**k you, Paul Jennings), they only have the courage to keg you if they’re backed up by a giggling group of reprobates. Team Europe needs to shut those groupies up.

They need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red.

They need to stun the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out a mini-erection inducing ‘mashed potato,’ hoping to impress their cousin.

They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fiving all the other members of the Dentists’ Big Game Hunt Society.”

News of this piece spread like fire at Hazeltine; naturally, it reached Danny, who was forced to make a hasty apology for his brother. But I can already see the “great, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm” making life difficult for the Masters champ this weekend.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

The Ryder Cup Comes to Hazeltine

 

My old college buddy Z-Man is a member at Hazeltine National, a past US Open and PGA Championship site, and the host course for this year’s Ryder Cup. Z invited me to play there a few years ago. We originally planned on three rounds; at the conclusion of the second, I felt like I had gone 15 rounds on consecutive days with Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier. We spent out what was to be our third round hanging out at Lord Fletcher’s on Lake Minnetonka eating pan-fried walleye, downing Bloody Mary’s, and watching young ladies of Scandinavian descent hop on and off various motorized nautical vehicles. It was one of the few times I did not regret making a planned tee time.

Hazeltine is one of the three most difficult tracks that I’ve played – Carnoustie and Bethpage Black being the other two. There’s nothing unfair about Hazeltine – but as noted course designer Tom Doak has said about Carnoustie, Hazeltine is depressingly efficient in drawing out the deficiencies in one’s game. Miss a fairway, play from 2 ½ inches of bluegrass rough. Get on the wrong side of a pin location, face a slick downhill putt that regularly stimps at 11 ½ for the members.

The course’s first foray into major championship golf was to host the 1970 US Open. To say that it played to less than stellar reviews would be roughly akin to acknowledge that Donald Trump may be prone to hyperbole. Tony Jacklin was the victor, the first British player to win since 1924; however, the most memorable comment came from runner-up Dave Hill who, when asked what the course lacked, replied “Eighty acres of corn and a few cows. They ruined a good farm when they built this course.”

After fending off bankruptcy, Hazeltine underwent significant renovation and was tapped to host the 1991 US Open, which produced a far more exciting tournament. The late Payne Stewart and Scott Simpson were tied after 72 holes; Stewart prevailed in the playoff to claim the second of his three major trophies.

The PGA Championship has been held there twice and produced two rather unlikely winners, with one Tiger Woods being the equally unlikely victim in both instances. In 2002, Rich Beem, who not long before this was selling mobile phones and the subject of Alan Shipnuck’s raucous “Bud, Sweat, and Tees: Rich Beem’s Walk on the Wild Side of the PGA Tour”, played the golf of his life and performed a victory snake dance on the final hole (Woods, for his part, was pulling off ridiculous shots like this).

The 2009 PGA was even more bizarre, as Woods had the lead into the final round, a position which, as we had been reminded countless times during his career, he had never surrendered in a major championship. But Woods uncharacteristically faltered, limping to a 3 over par 75 while the golfing world witnessed the spectacle of South Korea’s Y.E. Yang becoming the first Asian-born winner of a major championship. And a few months later, Tiger would have an entirely different set of issues to face.

The hole at Hazeltine that stands out the most to my recollection is the par-4 16th , which Johnny Miller has described as the “hardest I’ve ever played in my life”(as an FYI, it should be noted that the 16th is rated as the 9th handicap hole, but Miller is not far off in his assessment).  One must drive over Lake Hazeltine while making sure he doesn’t run through the fairway, lest his ball finds a bordering creek. There is seemingly about a 5 square yard area in the fairway that gives one a good peek at the green, which sits on a peninsula in the aforementioned lake. When I played it the first time, it took the Z-Man a good minute or so to convince me where to aim my tee shot, such was the incongruity of the landing area.

For the Ryder Cup, Hazeltine may not play as difficultly as I’m describing, as the host captain generally has the final say in regards to course setup. From what Z-Man tells me, it looks like US skipper Davis Love III, in an effort to help out the bombers on the American team, has requested that the normally fierce rough be cut shorter to lessen its punishing effect on any wayward drives. This bit of pseudo-chicanery is quite common in this series by both sides – for its part, when the Euros host the Cup, the greens are typically slower and the rough is higher.

This will be DL3’s second crack as the American captain – he was at the helm in 2012 at Medinah when, after taking a seemingly commanding 10-6 lead into the Sunday singles matches, the US team collapsed spectacularly, allowing the Euros to duplicate the US’s improbable 1999 comeback.  But apparently, the players prefer Love’s laid-back personality (as opposed to that of Tom Watson, who Phil Mickelson openly called out in the presser after the last US debacle at Gleneagles in 2014) and to be fair, it was a somewhat improbable comeback by the Europeans.

His counterpart, Darren Clarke, has already set his team (Love still has four picks to make) which will feature 6 Ryder Cup rookies. Past US nemesis Ian Poulter is sidelined by injury, and some eyebrows were raised by Clarkie’s selection of Thomas Pieters over Russell Knox. Luke Donald was also passed over; however, Clarke can still call on Ryder Cup veterans like Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy (although his performance with the putter lately has been abysmal), and the forever irrepressible (or, depending on which side one supports, annoying) Sergio Garcia to make life miserable for the home side.

Meanwhile, Love will have some interesting decisions to make with his remaining slots – he had hoped that Ricky Fowler would automatically qualify at the Barclays at Bethpage (Patrick Reed, who became something of an instant hero/villain at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, did so with his victory there), but ol’ High Tops (who is now sporting a moustache that would embarrass a porn star) faded on Sunday, and is now part of a mix that includes Jim Furyk (making a decent run coming off a wrist injury), Matt (Mr Bronze) Kuchar, Bubba Watson, and J.B. Holmes, all of whom have Cup experience – albeit in a decidedly mixed fashion. Poor Furyk has experienced more frustration in the Ryder Cup than just about anyone, Kuchar has been decent, and who knows what to expect from Bubba, who has more mood swings than the Trump campaign. The wild card may be Holmes, whose only appearance in the Ryder Cup was a brilliant one in 2008, which, coincidentally, was the last year that the US came away with a victory.

In any event, Hazeltine’s history suggests that we should expect the unexpected, which, given the dearth of US wins in recent history, might indicate a victory for the red, white and blue. My prediction will come once the US team is finalized, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to convince me. Maybe Dave Hill needs to convince the powers that be to plant some corn.

All I know is that Z-Man will be there, no doubt knocking back a Grain Belt beer or two and moaning about the lack of rough on the course.

Dog Days

It’s 102 and slightly humid here in the Metroplex. My attention span is not at its finest . . .


Jimmy Walker’s PGA Championship win means that we have four first time major championship winners this season, which, for the time being, puts to rest “Big Three” or “Big Four” talk in the professional ranks. Walker is something of a late bloomer, having toiled in 188 PGA tour starts before carding his first victory in 2013 at the age of 34. He won four more times over the next two years, but was experiencing a rather indifferent 2016 campaign before going wire-to-wire at Baltusrol.

Perhaps even a bigger upset than Walker’s victory was the fact that the PGA Championship actually finished on schedule, given the several weather delays that occurred. This prompted a breathless discussion as to whether or not the tournament should move to May – as if there’s a single month of the year that guarantees good weather. Golf is an honest game, but not always a fair one. That’s its beauty and its curse.


Sharon and I tried our best to follow the PGA Championship, but found ourselves over the weekend basking in the gorgeous scenery and refreshing weather that makes Steamboat Springs, Colorado one of the more enjoyable destinations in the world. Perhaps better known for its world class ski resort and ski-jumping training center, Steamboat also is home to a couple of really strong public-accessible tracks; Robert Trent Jones Jr’s Rollingstone Ranch is affiliated with the Sheraton resort, and is a scenic, albeit sometimes squirrely layout. We did get in a couple of rounds at Haymaker, a truly delightful links-style course that features a wide variety of holes, including the drivable par-4 8th, an expertly rendered Redan-styled par-3, and (perhaps my favorite hole) the appropriately named “Cattle Drive,” a 590-yard beast of a hole that is somehow playable because of the 6600-foot altitude, firm fairway turf, and a slightly downhill grade. Best of all, Haymaker is extremely walkable, and they also feature “golf bikes” – big-tired bicycles with a compartment in the back to load up clubs and balls. And the beverage cart features a $3 beer each day.


One of golf’s emerging personalities on the other side of the pond is one Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who comes to us with a burly physique, wild beard, and a gregarious personality that is at once humble and outsized. Beef won the Spanish Masters on the European Tour earlier this year, and announced during his post-victory presser that he was going to get hammered.  He gave a pretty good accounting of himself at both the Open and PGA Championships, and if by some chance (unlikely that it may be) Darren Clarke were to choose Beef as a captain’s pick in this year’s Ryder Cup, I may be forced to switch rooting allegiances.


Despite the fact that he had carded a 59 earlier in his career, Jim Furyk was probably the last guy in the world that I would have expected to fire a PGA Tour record 58 at TPC Cromwell this past weekend (fortunately for Furyk, he was diligent in checking his scorecard and noted that his fellow competitor – and scorer – had mistakenly recorded a 3 instead of a 4 on the 14th hole, which would have resulted in a disqualification had Jim signed for it). Furyk missed a good portion of this season, having undergone wrist surgery earlier the year, but seems to have recovered quite nicely from it. Being a Ryder Cup veteran (albeit one with a losing record), US Captain Davis Love may consider Furyk as a captain’s pick. After the debacle at the last Cup in Gleneagles, he may have had the best quote of all. Asked during the post-mortum press conference what the US team needed to do to reverse its fortune, Furyk replied, “I don’t know. But I’m tired of this shit.”


Despite my misgivings, I will likely tune in to watch Olympic golf this weekend. Although whoever is advising Ricky Fowler on his hairstyle needs an intervention.

Trials and Triumph at Royal Troon


Golf needed this.

After Jordan Spieth’s meltdown at Augusta.

And the rules fiasco at Oakmont.

After the flack and posturing over the absence of many of the game’s top players at the Olympics next month.

Golf needed this. And Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson delivered.

Stenson/Mickelson was not quite dramatic as Watson/Nicklaus in the latter pair’s famous “Duel In the Sun” at Turnberry in 1977, although the circumstances were similar. In both instances, the combatants separated themselves from the field by a substantial margin and simply did not back down. The edge still has to go the Duel in the Sun, as that particular contest literally came down to the final hole – and literally the final stroke, as Nicklaus had fashioned an improbable birdie from the tall fescue on the 18th and rolled in a 35 foot putt, mentally shrinking the hole for what had previously seemed to be a gimmee on Watson’s two-foot putt. But Tom rolled it in, and his stature in the game was cemented.

Yesterday’s finish came pretty damned close. Consider that Lefty shot a bogey-free 6-under 65, including an improbable save on the 12th – and still finished three shots behind Henrik Stenson, whose final round 63 actually included 2 bogies, including an opening hole three putt that had most of us wondering if final round major championship nerves had set in. Three consecutive birdies later, we had the answer, and were treated to a mixture of spectacular shot making and courageous scrambling by both golfers, culminating with Stenson closing the door on a game Mickelson in the final holes.

It’s been a long road for the Swede, who has seen both ends of the spectrum in his career. Stenson won the World Match Play in 2007 and the Player’s Championship in 2009, but then fell into a spiral that saw him drop to 230th in the world rankings. He fought his way back; in 2013 he scored several impressive victories and won the FedEx Cup (he also finished runner-up that year at the Open, finishing three shots behind .  . . Phil Mickelson).

He has continued his good play since then on both the PGA and European Tours, and was a key contributor in continuing Europe’s Ryder Cup dominance in 2014 – and speaking of which, wouldn’t a Stenson/Mickelson match-up at this year’s proceedings at Hazeltine be absolutely delicious?

Stenson is said to be the possessor of a keen, dry sense of humor, and at times has been known to snap a club or two in anger. Perhaps most infamously, he once stripped down to his underwear to play a shot from a hazard, which created a bit of a ruckus among the more crusty golf aficionados. I daresay that being the Champion Golfer of the Year in record setting fashion will dress up his resume.

As for Phil . . . he did everything right except win the tournament. His own 63 in the opening round was bogey-free, and but for a stray blade of grass and the combined pact with golfing Satan by Nick Price, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller working against him on 18, he would have achieved golf immortality with the lowest round in major championship golf history.

This was the 11th runner up finish for Mickelson in a major, which cruelly also makes him the bridesmaid to Jack Nicklaus in that category. There have been times when he’s been his own worst enemy in arriving at those finishes, but in the final round at Troon he played brilliant, courageous golf. In his victory speech, the first person that Stenson thanked was Mickelson for pushing him to play the best golf of his life. While this was a gracious thought, it was likely of small consolation to Phil, who has not won since his 2013 victory at Muirfield and, at age 46, could be seeing his chances at another major championship dwindling.

Then again, it was pointed out in one of the earlier rounds of the outstanding coverage provided by the Golf Channel and NBC that the average age of an Open Champion is about 10 years older than any of the other majors. I hadn’t really thought about it, but in the last 6 years, 5 winners have been at least 39 years old (Rory McIlroy being the exception). Stenson and Mickelson combine for 86 years on the planet.

I suppose what this brings to light is that links golf presents a number of unique challenges – the penal bunkering, the firm, bouncy turf, slower greens, and, of course, the weather; all of which require adaptability in shot-making and not a little bit of patience in accepting the ever changing, unpredictable conditions.

Tom Watson almost pulled off an Open Championship at the age of 59. Maybe Phil gets another chance. But this one had to hurt.


I have to believe that the R&A was thrilled with the outcome of this year’s Open – not only by the quality of play by the champion and runner-up, but by the fact that there were no major controversies regarding rules or procedures.

The week didn’t start that way, as the deadline for Olympic commitments coincided with the Open’s practice sessions and press conferences. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson were “game time decisions,” both decided against going, citing health and security concerns. Johnson, as is his wont, gave a brief answer at his presser and moved on to other topics. Spieth, on the other hand, bent over backwards and tied himself in knots explaining that if it were any other year, he’d be thrilled to go, that it was the hardest decision in his life, and so on. He also pronounced that he felt better about his swing than he has all year . . . and proceeded to spend the first three rounds playing most of his tee shots from the right rough.  A final round 68 may provide some momentum for the upcoming PGA Championship (moved up in the schedule by two weeks to accommodate the Olympics), but he still seems frustrated on the course.

But it was Rory McIlroy who gave golf scribes their juiciest bits, stating in no uncertain terms that the Olympics were not an event to which he aspired, that it was not his sole responsibility to grow the game, and that if he did tune in, it would be to watch swimming or track and field. This sent the Defender of the Rings into an uproar – I thought Brandel Chamblee would explode on the Golf Channel set – and McIlroy did somewhat couch his statements later, citing his involvement with youth golf programs and the First Tee as evidence to his commitment to the future of golf. He did not, however, back off from his feelings about Olympic golf.

As I’ve stated previously, there are several flies in the Olympic golf ointment – the scheduling, the format, and the manner of qualification make for a weak field and a boring tournament [at least this is the case on the men’s draw. On the women’s side, there seems to be firm commitment from virtually all of the top qualifying players. I’m predicting an all-South Korean podium].

Maybe the Olympics will surprise us. After watching what transpired this week at Royal Troon, I doubt it.

The Golf Nerd’s 2016 Open Championship Preview

[Before we start – a plaintive plea to the men and women of the Royal & Ancient]

Dear R&A,

While I respect your position as one of the two main rule-making organizations in the world of golf, I have to say that, along with your comrades at the USGA, you seem to be somewhat clueless when running the oldest major championship in the world (for evidence, please refer to Open Championship, St Andrews, 2015).

The Open Championship has become my favorite major to watch. I am an unabashed lover of links golf, and thoroughly embrace its unpredictable nature. Unlike the USGA, you are not necessarily concerned with “protecting par” (although there was that nasty bit of business at Carnoustie in 1999 when the greens superintendent – unbeknownst to you – ran amok, narrowing fairways to a microscopic 12 yards in some cases) and more or less allow the elements to dictate play.

And to your credit, your institution of the 4-hole playoff (as opposed to sudden death or a full 18 the next day) as a tie breaker was a very inspired move. Last year’s denouement was exhilarating.

Also – we get that there is no replacing Ivor Robson. Don’t even try.

But for the love of Old and Young Tom, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Peter Thompson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnie, and Sir Nick – PLEASE do not muck things up this year. Make decisions decisively and in a timely manner, and make sure the field understands them.

There’s no need for you to be the story.

Thanks for listening,

The Golf Nerd


This will be the 9th occasion that Royal Troon has hosted the Open. It’s been a mixed bag of prior champions – Arnie, Bobby Locke, and Tom Watson have claimed the crown there. Arnie’s was particularly important, as he almost singlehandedly reintroduced the Open to American golfers and fans. On the other hand, the list of others who have won is not quite as glittering – Tom Weiskopf (who never quite seemed to reach the heights predicted for him), Mark Calcavechia, Justin Leonard, and (gasp) Todd Hamilton.

I played Royal Troon back in 2012, and quite honestly, I don’t recall a lot about it other than the famed #8 hole, a/k/a “The Postage Stamp.” That name is derived from the size of its green, which from the tee box (a mere 127 yards away) seems impossible to hit to begin with. Add the usual stiff breeze off of the Firth of Clyde, and one wonders how the 71 year old Gene Sarazen managed to score 1 and 2 in the two rounds he played at the Open in 1973. George Sutherland, a young friend and excellent golfer who has played many rounds at Troon (and who is also The Golf Nerd’s Official UK Correspondent), tells me that he’s used everything between a three-iron and a 58 degree wedge to try to hit the green.

My friend Ben Hadden managed to birdie The Postage Stamp the day we played there (an event that seems to always come up in conversation whenever we get together). Other than that, no one in our group played particularly well – it was a miserable day, about 48 degrees, windy and damp. Our caddies couldn’t wait to bolt to the nearest pub once we paid them. But there’s no doubt that Royal Troon is a stern test regardless of the conditions.

A few more pearls from my buddy George:

Everything you need to know about the members is summed up by the 6th hole. It is the longest par 5 in the world, and can’t ever be beaten. There is about 300 yards of wasteland behind it, so they can just keep on moving the championship tee further and further back whenever another course tries to take the crown. They NEED to have that damn crown.”

The 11th (Railway Hole), where Tiger took his 11, (something in double digits but can’t remember exactly) is about a 250 yard carry from a blind spot where you just aim at the post. The fairway is also very narrow and is lined by gorse. We could see some high scores there.”

“…it is very fair and old-fashioned, and that’s what I like about it. If you hit good shots, you get rewarded- no shit bounces and crappy rolls. Its real defense are its narrow fairways, deathly thick rough and strategically placed bunkers and greens. Once you get to the greens, the majority are pretty flat and easy to hole puts on compared to your usual course on tour- it’s getting there that’s the problem.”


The current hot commodity on tour is Dustin Johnson, who has fashioned back to back victories at Oakmont and Firestone and needs to be included in the potential victor’s conversation this year, along with the New Triumvirate. Others to watch are Lee Westwood, who since his divorce is playing some of the best golf of his career, and Sergio Garcia, who has a Tour victory under his belt this year and who may thrive on Troon’s relatively benign putting surfaces.

But as we’ve noted, the Open is unpredictable, particularly so at this year’s venue. I’m going to throw out a few names that might be good dark horse picks:

  • Danny Lee – he is one of the Tour’s hardest working players and has seen his effort pay off over the eighteen months. He notched a victory at last year’s Greenbrier Classic, made the Presidents Cup team, and has been a consistent presence on the leaderboards. He had a strong finish this past weekend at the Scottish Open in Castle Stuart. And I admittedly have a local bias in Danny – he’s a member at our home club and lives in our neighborhood. I don’t know him very well, but he will always smile and say “hi” to me and other members, and the young men who work in the bag room tell me that he treats them very well. Finally, he’s a true Citizen of the World – born in Korea, a naturalized citizen of New Zealand, and a current Texas resident.

 

  • Greg Chalmers – ok, this is a real stretch, but hear me out. After over 300 PGA Tour starts, the Australian won the Stableford event in Reno a few weeks ago. Greg has always been a terrific putter; unfortunately, that’s been coupled with being one of the shorter hitters on tour. He’s continued to work on his game, and recently picked up some extra distance. Again, I have a very small connection to him – he was part of a panel discussion at our club a few years ago prior to the Byron Nelson tournament, and spoke frankly about life on the PGA Tour and the struggles he experienced (one of his funnier stories involved his only appearance at the Masters, where on his opening tee shot he nailed a spectator squarely in the forehead – “I could see the imprint of the ball there,” he told us. Fortunately, both patron and golfer survived the incident). It was gratifying to see him win in Reno, which, along with the automatic two-years Tour exemption that came with it, also gave him entre into this year’s Open Championship, a tournament he openly confessed to dreaming of winning. If Todd Hamilton can win at Troon, why not Greg Chalmers?

 

  • Shane Lowry – because we need a hefty Champion Golfer of the Year from Ireland. Plus he dropped one of the all-time great f-bombs at the Honda Classic earlier this year. Those are as good reasons as any, right?