Equal Time

I realize that this weekend finds the PGA Tour heading to greater Columbus, Ohio for The Memorial, which is Jack Nicklaus’ entry into the “This Should Be the Fifth Major” competition. From a purely golf perspective, there much to be said in support of this notion – the course, Muirfield Village, is probably the Golden Bear’s best architectural effort, and the strength of the field, while not as meaty as The Players (another pretender to the throne), is certainly stronger than that of The Masters.

Oh, and Tiger has announced that he’s playing, which automatically ensures that every Woods fanboy will drop what he’s doing to tune in, and we will be inundated with past highlights of his golfing conquests.

All of which comes at the expense of a concurrent significant golf event on the LPGA Tour, as the US Women’s Open will be conducted at The Country Club of Charleston [South Carolina]. And while I’m sure there will be all kinds of bombast (legitimate and otherwise) reported from The Memorial, I think it will be worth it for the serious golf aficionado to spend at least a few hours checking in on this event.

I say this flying into the face of some unfortunate observations from Sirius/XM radio host – and noted golf instructor – Hank Haney, who on his radio show stated that “I couldn’t name 4 players [on the LPGA tour]. Wait, yes I could, I’ll just go with Lee.” As The Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz remarked on Twitter, it’s not clear what’s worse, the racism or the sexism inherent in that remark.

Part of Haney’s remarks refer to the fact that there is indeed a strong influx of Asian players playing the LPGA Tour – most notably from South Korea, but others from Thailand and China. [NOTE: Haney’s most famous student is part Asian. You may have heard of him] Why this should be a detriment to watching the play of women professionals is a mystery to me – as with any competition, one should want to watch the best in their craft. Many observers more intelligent than I am have noted that most of us of either gender would benefit from mimicking the smooth tempo and on-plane swings of these players.

And it doesn’t take long to notice the individuality of Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, Minjee Lee, the Jutanugarn sisters, and Shanshan Feng. Not to mention Brooke Henderson, Lexi Thompson, and Charley Hull.

All of that aside – the LPGA takes us to some classic courses that are not in the PGA’s wheelhouse but would be great tests for the 99.99999 percent of the rest of us. The Country Club of Charleston is a great example of this; a Seth Raynor beauty that emphasizes strategy and shot making.  Preliminary reports indicate that the USGA has set up wider than usual fairways, but the greens will be quick and the flag locations, well, “interesting.”

Oh – and as an extra special incentive, the two young women who thrilled us at the Augusta National Women’s Championship, Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi (who I believe is poised to be a charismatic star on the Nancy Lopez level) will be paired in their professional debuts this weekend.

I look forward to making time for both events this weekend. You should, as well.

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Monday Morning Musings

Not that anyone asked, but . . .

  • I found myself torn as to who to root for this past weekend at The Colonial, as there’s much to like about Kevin Na and Tony Finau. Both turned pro in their teens and are two of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour. Their games are dissimilar – Na relies on his accurate ball striking and short game, while Fineau is a bomber of the first degree.
  • When Na holed his birdie putt on the final hole to seal his victory, his first reaction was to point at his caddie and exclaim, “That car is yours!” In addition to the first place paycheck, the tournament sponsor was giving away a classic 1973 Dodge Challenger. Na’s caddie, Keith Harms, had been admiring it earlier in the week; Kevin promised him the vehicle if he won.
  • Last year, Na had rounds of 62 and 61 at this tournament. He shot 62 on Friday and closed with a 66 on Sunday. I think he likes the track.
  • Back in the day, Colonial was considered a monster of a course; these days, it can be attacked in a variety of ways, as Na and Finau demonstrated. And on a windy day with the course dried, it still demands solid play.
  • Na is a great interview – honest without being arrogant, and at times really funny. He once famously made 16 on a hole and joked about it afterwards. He also went through a period of time when he seem to have a mental block while preparing to tee off . When asked about it, he was forthright in responding.
  • Still, Kevin developed a reputation for slow play, a fact that the noted journalist and author John Feinstein brought up on Twitter on Sunday, say that if Na makes this year’s Presidents Cup team, an extra day may be required for the competition to finish. I thought this was a bit harsh, and commented that he was not nearly as slow as he used to be. Feinstein came back with, “That’s like comparing 3:00 [Washington D.C.] beltway traffic to 4:00 beltway traffic.” Touche.
  • Not that this has anything to do with golf, but Fort Worth (Colonial’s home city) is almost criminally underrated. Unlike its glitzy neighbor Dallas, Fort Worth is, at least in my mind, “real Texas.” And I mean that in a good way. Friendly people, great steakhouses, authentic Tex-Mex and BBQ, and a eclectic mix of cowboy, artistic and college town (home of TCU) cultures that work. And it’s easy to navigate.
  • Finally – I give to you the 10 best names in golf.
  1. Estaban Toledo
  2. Nacho Elvira
  3. Jazz Janewattananond
  4. Jhonnatan Vegas
  5. Fabian Gomez
  6. Kevin Na
  7. John Huh
  8. Dicky Pride (Champions Tour division)
  9. Beau Titsworth (amateur division)
  10. Charley Hull (LPGA division)

 

Hit ‘em straight, and not too often.

“And NOW, In THIS Corner . . .”

We all have our guilty pleasures. Mine used to be professional wrestling; now, it’s following a good, petty beef involving golf.

The best beefs generally involve someone with a reasonable amount of cachet stating a strong opinion (or, as the kids say these days, a “hot take”) and having an equally respected contemporary respond to the contrary. Or better yet, if said hot take was directed at an individual, having that individual respond.

To wit:

Brandel Chamblee vs Brooks Koepka

Chamblee, of course, is the Golf Channel’s designated master of the hot take, and the fact that his Take Accuracy Percentage (or TAP, as I’ll coin it) is exceedingly low has not diminished his output.

So – prior to the PGA Championship, Brandel stated that the only two golfers capable of challenging Tiger Woods for the game’s supremacy are Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. When asked about Koepka (whose record in the prior 4 majors included 2 wins and a runner-up), Chamblee responded that while Koepka was a great talent, he questioned his “toughness” and stated that Koepka lost weight for “vanity reasons.” Koepka, for whom there is no piece of wood large enough not to wear as a chip on his shoulder), got wind of this and posted a photoshopped picture on Twitter of Chamblee wearing a clown’s nose.

After Koepka’s opening 63, Chamblee changed his tune; his praise of Koepka’s round was effusive while also joking that he felt like “[Koepka] was giving me the finger during the entire round.” Koepka was having none of it. In his post-victory presser, ESPN’s Ken Van Valkenburg asked Brooks if there was anything said that was particularly motivational prior to the tournament.

“Yeah,” responded Koepka. “When they said I wasn’t tough enough. That really pissed me off.”

“Who said that?”

Brooks smiled rather crookedly. “You know who said that.”

Matt Ginella vs Lisa Cornwell

Both of these folks are also Golf Channel personalities. Ginella is the congenial golf travel correspondent whose job is the envy of pretty much every golfer who has a touch of wanderlust. Ms Cornwell splits her duties between manning the Golf Central desk and doing some on-course commentary and interviews during tournaments.

Before we get too far into this, a disclosure. I met Lisa at a party held at a friend’s house in Dallas after a round of the LPGA’s North Texas Shootout and talked all things golf for a good half hour. She’s a delightful person who, among other things, was an All-American golfer at Arkansas. I feel personally affronted when Twitter trolls go after her, as she’s probably forgotten more about golf than most of them will ever know.

In any event, this particular beef has its roots in the PGA of America’s decision to allow John Daly to use a cart during the PGA Championship. Ginella was adamant in his disgust with this decree; beyond the philosophical argument that golf is at its heart a walking sport, Ginella also called Daly an alcoholic and a colossal waste of talent on Twitter.

No doubt that Daly is a polarizing figure who has its demons, but Ginella’s comments seemed unusually harsh for someone with his platform. Ms Cornwell, perhaps coming to the defense of a fellow Razorback, took umbrage to her co-worker’s comments and responded in kind. The next thing she knew, she was being blocked by her colleague:

I just got BLOCKED by a co-worker for having a difference of opinion on the John Daly cart issue. This thin-skinned world in which we live needs to toughen up.

https://twitter.com/LisaCornwellGC/status/1131582217145192448

It should be interesting the next time there’s an all hands meeting at the Golf Channel.

Alan Shipnuck vs The European Ryder Cup Team and All of Its Supporters

Alan Shipnuck and Michael Bamberger are my favorite living golf writers (Dan Jenkins will forever hold the all-time title), and when the two of them get together on podcasts – particularly when there is wine involved – it ranks among the funniest and most intelligent conversations about the game that one can hear.

Alan is quite active on Twitter (Bamberger is old school and stays away from most social media platforms), and is does not fear the hot take. After the US team scored a decisive victory at the 2016 Ryder Cup, Shipnuck opined that this was a portend of dominance in the coming years for the Yanks. This, of course, set off a round of howls from across the pond, led by the individual known as Tweeter Allis (a parody Twitter account based on English golf and broadcasting legend Peter Alliss), leading to a Q&A prior to the 2018 Cup in Paris. Sample question:

ALAN: Given that you guys have dominated the Cup for the last two decades, why are European fans still so touchy and defensive?

Tweeter: I think the touchy and defensive demeanour may have manifested itself during the 2016 renewal. Some rather cynical tactics were employed by the US team — for one, importing the entire crowd from the 16th hole at the Waste Management tournament was a most disgusting stunt. One cannot wait until Bethpage in 2024, when I believe the entire U.S. crowd will be treated to a free bar and invited to run naked through the fairways screaming “Baba-booey.” Quite lovely.

After the bloodletting in Paris, Alan was the object of much (mostly) good-natured abuse, not only for the Tweeter, but the European team itself:

“I think we only have one question – where’s Alan Shipnuck?”

https://twitter.com/dylan_dethier/status/1047895282766290947

For his part, Shipnuck has taken the ribbing in stride – which, if one is going to engage in the hot take game, is the only way to handle it.

A Storm’s A-Brewin’

 

Aside from arguments about whether or not Brooks Koepka is boring (pro tip: he’s not), the topic generating the most conversation at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last weekend was the decorum of metropolitan New York golf fans.

From a player perspective, I heard relatively few complaints, although I supposed it depends on which player one is talking about. For example, Phil (The People’s Choice) Mickelson, to paraphrase a statement once made by the current occupant in the White House, could stab someone on the Black Course’s 5th tee and still be cheered. Lefty’s final round found himself in various sectors of Nassau County, yet each shot was greeted with an extreme level of appreciation or sympathy by the hoards.

And while Harold Varner III afterwards expressed disdain for fans screaming “DJ, DJ!” directly at fellow competitor Koepka while Dustin Johnson was making his final 9 move on Sunday, Brooks, as is his inclination, shrugged off the episode, stating “I don’t blame them. I was half-choking anyway.”

But there was plenty of social media commentary from respected golf journalists regarding the crowd, and some concerns expressed for what could happen when Bethpage hosts the 2024 Ryder Cup. CBSSports Golf write Kyle Porter put it best in the following tweet:

Me on Monday: Bethpage for the Ryder Cup with Phil as captain is going to be the sporting event of the decade!

Me on Sunday: They should not host a Ryder Cup within 100 miles of Bethpage.

https://twitter.com/KylePorterCBS/status/1130310727435247616

ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg, who is occasionally heard on the No Laying Up podcast and does a hilarious Gary Player impression, chimed in with this:

Here is my PGA prediction and you can bookmark it: By the end of Saturday the nasty behavior of the crowd will become “a thing” and we’ll end up fighting about it, with allegations of snowflakes and golf snobs and Long Island jerks being lobbed about like grenades.

https://twitter.com/KVanValkenburg/status/1129780991789289473

Interestingly, the one sports columnist who was not put off by the fans at Bethpage was one Christine Brennan of USA Today, to whom former Washington Post colleague Tony Kornhieser affectionately refers as “Aunt Bea.” Ms Brennan, who typically can find offense in the most innocuous of actions (she is the only person on Twitter who has ever blocked me for the sin of criticizing her for a piece she wrote in which she called Fred Funk “sexist” for donning a skirt when Anika Sorenstam outdrove him in a Skins Game some years back), felt that the Long Island galleries were “fun” and “golf shouldn’t be so stuffy.” I wonder how far from the press tent she wandered.

Aunt Bea’s feelings notwithstanding,  the fear in 2024 (particularly from the European Team and its backers) is that if normally hospitable Minnesotans can act like bozos during the 2016 Cup (one spectator was removed when he told Rory McIlroy to “suck a dick”), one can only imagine what will happen when the Euro contingent tries to sing “Ole, Ole, Ole” after Sergio and Jon Rahm knock off Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas.

Golf fans attending Tour events on this side of the pond have grown increasingly boorish with each passing year, and the Tour has more or less left it up to the players to inform security to remove fans (McIlroy and Justin Thomas have done so in the past, the latter was criticized for being “soft”). This is crazy, not to mention unacceptable. Most tournaments these days have “drink tents” set up for people to imbibe with wide screen TV’s in which to follow the action. I don’t know how much expense the Tour devotes to crowd control, but whatever is currently allocated doesn’t seem to be working.  It needs to improve.

Bethpage Blues – In Defense of Brooks Koepka

Near the end of the 2015 PGA season, I wrote about the Next Triumvirate. At that time, Jordan Spieth had finished off a season in which he had won two majors and finished second in the other two. Jason Day appeared ready for superstardom after a record-setting performance in that year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and Rory McIlroy was one year removed from a season in which HE had won two majors, giving him a total of four in his short career.

It seemed for all the world like these three would be racking up majors for years to come.

2015 was also Brooks Koepka’s first full season on the PGA Tour. Unlike the others, who had been heralded as up and coming stars, Koepka was a middling collegiate player who decided to try his hand in Europe. He worked his way through the ranks of the Challenge Tour and eventually earned full European Tour privileges and won an event in Turkey in 2014. He was given some PGA Tour sponsor exemptions and earned his card – and his first tour victory in 2015 in Scottsdale amidst the crazies at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

I saw Koepka in person in 2016 at the Byron Nelson Classic, where he bulled his way into a playoff with Sergio Garcia, who, despite his sometime immature behavior, was a huge crowd favorite. On the first playoff hole, Brooks hooked his drive into the large pond that borders the 18th hole at TPC Las Colinas, which elicited a few cheers from those fans watching on the course and guaranteed a victory for Garcia.

I don’t know how much that particular incident contributed to the sizable chip that Koepka carries on his shoulder, but I’m sure it did in some fashion. By his own admission in the presser that followed his repeat victory in the PGA Championship yesterday, Koepka will find motivation in the most innocuous of slights, or even make up such episodes to motivate himself.

His relationship with the media has been somewhat contentious, as he has often felt that he hasn’t been given proper respect for his accomplishments. Golf fans in general have been slow to warm to him – he’s perceived as being robotic and emotionless (the latter of which was given a boost when a video of him blowing off a pre-final round good luck kiss from girlfriend Jena Sims went viral). And, as was pointed out in countless tweets throughout the tournament, he’s not Tiger Woods.

I’m not going to predict that Koepka will catch Woods in any victory category – he is, after all something of a late bloomer – but Tiger’s comments on Friday after catching “Brooksie’s” act (Woods still loves diminutive nicknames, even when he’s getting dusted) for two days were telling, and not a little ironic – “He’s hitting 9-iron’s and wedges where the rest of us are hitting 5 and 6 irons,”  which is pretty much what the opposition was saying about Mr Woods back in 1997.

Koepka’s recent dominance coinciding with Tiger’s apparent resurgence also recalls a time when Jack Nicklaus dared take the crown from Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus was belittled as “Fat Jack” and subjected to catcalls in his famous 1962 playoff victory over Arnie – not unlike Koepka having to endure chants of “DJ! DJ!” when Dustin Johnson was making his back nine move on Sunday. Nicklaus has always claimed that he was oblivious to the barbs hurled at him that day; Koepka stated that he used the opposition cheers as motivation.

In any event, Koepka’s mental approach is almost as impressive as his physical skills on the course. This post-round statement from him is particularly telling:

“I don’t need a sports psychologist. I’m pretty good at it. I know what I’m doing. It’s simpler than what guys think. Guys make the mistake when they get to a major…what’s different. It’s not. It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up, and move on.”

It sounds simple because it is simple. And I suspect that we’ll see the same next month at Pebble Beach.

In the meantime, the major victory scoreboard since I wrote about the Next Triumvirate:

Brooks Koepka – 4

Triumvirate – 1

You know – in case Brooks needs any more motivation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethpage Blues Part 3

Day 3 of the Brooks Koepka Classic . . .

 

  • Our hero had a rather pedestrian day, carding an even par 70, but that was plenty good enough to keep a 7-shot lead over his now-closest pursuers, Luke List and Dustin Johnson. For a few moments, it appeared that we would be treated to the dizzying prospect of a Brooks/DJ final round pairing, but, alas, Johnson bogied 18, thus removing perhaps the one remaining reason for Sunday’s proceedings.
  • I kid, of course. It’s 45 degrees in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and snowing on the mountaintops. What else will I do?
  • Bethpage Black showed its teeth today. Three under par 67 was today’s low round, shot by Harold Varner III and the marvelously monikered Jazz Janewattananond from Thailand, whose surname was only attempted by Jim Nantz. The Long Island winds dried out the greens and seemed to confuse a lot of players hitting into the many elevated greens.
  • The relative lack of drama did not stop the flow of Twitter observations/humor/snark. A sampling:
    • ESPN Golf Reporter Keith Van Valkenburg commenting on the gallery at Bethpage: Here is my PGA prediction and you can bookmark it: By the end of Saturday the nasty behavior of the crowd will be come “a thing” and we’ll end up fighting about it, with allegations of snowflakes and golf snobs and Long Island jerks being lobbed about like grenades.
    • And his followup: With little drama or suspense and no Tiger, people are going to get bored and compelled to do boorish things. And it will play right into the hands of people eager to talk about how soft golfers are. It’s just a shame Sergio isn’t still here to douse the situation with gasoline.
    • And a few minutes later . . . Update: As Brooks was making his birdie on 13, a guy in the gallery was screaming at the police to arrest a CBS camera guy he claimed nearly ran over his his with a cart, and then started yelling “F all you Democrats! I’m reporting all of you.”https://twitter.com/KVanValkenburg/status/1129867258082336769

Onward and upward, lads!

Bethpage Blues – Part 2

Day 2 in the books . . .

  • After his 63 yesterday, Brooks Koepka came back to earth . . . no, wait a minute. He backed it up with a 65. Koepka did, however, manage a couple of bogies. The horror! In any case, he sits 7 shots ahead of Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, both of whom seem to have re-discovered their respective putting strokes.
  • Actually, it was Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee who relapsed after yesterday’s 64, ballooning a full 10 strokes higher to fall back to 2 under par.
  • More attention will likely be paid to Tiger Woods’ missed cut. The Big Cat just didn’t have anything going on – he consistently missed tee shots to the left and oftentimes was forced to simply punch out from the penal Bethpage Black rough. That, coupled with mediocre putting, ultimately did him in.
  • In his post round presser, Tiger seemed spent and mentioned that he hadn’t felt particularly well (which explained him not practicing on Wednesday). When asked about Koepka’s play, Woods remarked that Brooks “was hitting 9 irons into greens where the rest of us were hitting 5 or 6 irons.” Geez, Tiger, who does that remind you of?
  • Woods was not the only big name to miss the cut. Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyck, Bryson DeChambeau (who after his first round complained about the course setup), Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, and Jon Rahm are all heading home tonight.
  • Francesco Molinari, who started in the same spot as Woods, fashioned a workmanlike 68 to pull to even par and will get to play the weekend.
  • And all due credit to Rory McIlroy, who after weathering a first 9 of 40 shots (including a ghastly 6-5-6 start) came back with a 31 to make the weekend.
  • Phil (The People’s Choice) Mickelson will be around as well.
  • And Kelly Kraft, who was a last minute addition to the field when Justin Thomas scratched due to injury, made the most of his opportunity, firing a 65 and winding up in a tie for 4th place going into the weekend.
  • A tradition of the PGA Championship is that 20 PGA Club professionals can qualify to play in it. Three of them made the cut, led by Marty Jertson, who carded solid rounds of 71 and 69 to place himself comfortably inside the cut line. Jertson is on the Ping staff, and designed the driver that he is using for this tournament.
  • For a while, it appeared that Dustin Johnson was going to pressure his friend and workout partner Koepka, but much like yesterday, DJ, despite solid tee to green play, suffered from balky putting.
  • Speaking of putting – I have no real data to back this up, but I am hard pressed to remember a tournament where so many makeable putts have been misread – and in most cases, overread. The one respite on the Black is that the greens tend to be relatively benign, but time and again I’ve watched players miss shorter putts on the high side.
  • There was a little comic “relief “ courtesy of Jon Rahm . . .

  • Onward and upward, lads!