No Complaints This Year – The Golf Nerd’s US Open Preview

Last year’s US Open brought howls of indignation from most of the golfing world, citing everything from Fox’s spectacularly awful initial attempt at golf coverage to the site of tournament (apparently my opinion of Chambers Bay was outside of the mainstream).

Fox has addressed at least part of its issues, removing a surprisingly bland Greg Norman from its broadcasting team and replacing him with straight-shooting Paul Azinger, whose presence on TV has been limited to the Open Championship over the past few years. Azinger is honest, funny, and fearless in his commentary, and should make Joe Buck much more comfortable as a lead commentator. On the other hand, we’ll still have to suffer with the inane on-course comments of Natalie Gulbis, whose best assets won’t be seen on camera very often, much to the chagrin of the male population  viewing at home.

As for this year’s site – it’s hard to argue with Oakmont, a course which most folks would acknowledge to be the gold standard for US Open tracks; a tough, penal layout, with greens so slick that Sam Snead once remarked that he couldn’t mark his ball because the coin that he used to do so kept sliding off of the putting surface.
Yes, Oakmont’s greens are legendary for their speed; so slick are their surfaces that the USGA asks the club’s superintendent to slow them down to run at 13 on the Stimpmeter (the greens at most tour events run between 10.5 and 11.5; a member at Oakmont can typically expect to experience a speed of 15 for daily play). To achieve such green speeds at most any other club would amount to committing agronomical suicide, but the makeup of Oakmont’s putting surfaces is unique, consisting of a rare strain of heat tolerant poa annua (most of us know poa annua as a cool weather grass that can be either a blessing in areas like the Pacific Northwest or a blight on bent grass or Bermuda greens in other parts of the country) that can be rolled as often as one likes.

If that’s not enough to give one pause, Oakmont offers up over 200 bunkers, including the notorious “Church Pews,” which stretch over 100 yards and invokes language that would most assuredly would not be welcomed in any self-respecting parish, as well as the requisite US Open wrist-shattering rough. And you will not see any short par-5’s being turned into brutish par-4’s in order to conform to the USGA’s maddening efforts to “protect par” at Oakmont, a course which could readily host a major championship at a moment’s notice.

Oakmont has hosted the US Open eight times, the most famous of which was in 1962 when a young Jack Nicklaus bested a heavily favored Arnold Palmer in The King’s own backyard. Arnie’s Army was extremely inhospitable to the Golden Bear (which Palmer hated to see) but that did not seem to bother Jack very much. It was his first professional victory, and far from his last.

In 1973, Johnny Miller carded what was to become one of the most spectacular final rounds in major championship history that hardly anyone saw, torching Oakmont with a 63 that several possibly bitter Oakmont members attributed to a rainstorm that blew through the night before to “soften” conditions. Miller was so far back going into the finale that he was only televised for a few holes. He then had to wait another hour before the final groups made it in, none of whom were able to catch him.

The last time that Oakmont hosted the US Open was in 2007. Like Johnny Miller, Angel Cabrera, the eventual winner, finished well ahead of his two closest pursuers, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods, both of whom missed birdie putts on the final hole that would have forced a next day playoff. Cabrera seemingly went through a pack of cigarettes on each nine he played during the Open; when asked about this, he replied, “Some guys consult with psychologists. I smoke.”

Other Oakmont winners include Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Ernie Els, and Larry Nelson, who along with the aforementioned, are all multiple major championship winners [NOTE: One could win a lot of bar bets by posing the question, “Who has won more majors, Larry Nelson or Greg Norman?”]. It’s not a course for the faint of heart, and whoever survives this weekend will most certainly be worthy. I look for a big hitter who can muscle the ball from the rough and negotiate those slick greens.

It says here that Jason Day will tack on another major this weekend. And the winning score will be even par.

But the star of the Open will be Oakmont.

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What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Poppy at Crail

The 14th at Crail

I have weighed in on the past on the topic of golfing couples. But some marriages/relationships are able to embrace the “he/she golfs, I don’t” situation. Doing so requires a lot of negotiation and compromise (that is, if the relationship is to thrive or, at best, survive), not to mention having shared interests that supersede golf.

It’s interesting how this gets handled. In some instances, the golfer simply leaves the events of his round at the course with his buddies, arrives home, and resumes normal domestic duties. Some – my father comes to mind – return home and describe their entire round in excruciating detail, including what club was used on each shot, course conditions and wind directions. And of course, there are those who are so disgusted or depressed by the events of the round that they either over-imbibe or over-emote. In either case, the latter is not a particularly healthy response.

I like to believe that most non-golfing spouses indulge their mate’s passion for the game; however, there are certain events that a golfer experiences that may, shall we say, go underappreciated.

Take my friend Dave, for example. This past weekend, after over 30 years of play, he made his first hole in one. We were all happy for him – and for ourselves, as it’s a tradition that he who holes out also buys the drinks at the end of the round – and he immediately called his wife with the news. Her initial reaction was, “Hey that’s great!” Then she thought about it for a moment and asked, “Geez, why didn’t you do that in a tournament so you could have won a car?”

A number of years ago I had split up with the former Mrs Golf Nerd and had been laid off from my job after 19 years of service. Golf was very therapeutic at this time. I also was dating a woman (we’ll call her Sonia) who was a terrific tennis player and had something of a passing interest in golf.

During this particular period, my iron play improved dramatically, and one happy coincidence was that I managed to hole out from the fairway three times in a two week period. The first time was in a tournament; I nailed a 5-iron perfectly from 175 yards to make an eagle. I called Sonia after the round to share my good fortune, and she seemed quite happy for me.

About 4 or 5 days later, I was faced with a 110 yard wedge shot, the third on a long par 4. This one landed about 5 feet to the right of the hole and spun in. Birdie! Again, I rang up Sonia; again, she was quite happy for me.

A few more days passed. I was on the par-5 14th hole at my old home course. My buddy Todd had planted his third shot close and was quite pleased with himself. I looked at him and said, half-jokingly, “I hate to break your heart, Todd.” And proceeded to knock a 130-yard nine iron into the hole.

This time after giving this news to Sonia, there was a bit of a pause at the other end of the line. “Well,” she replied, “you’re playing every day of the week.”

I started to explain that I had a better shot at winning Powerball than what had transpired over the past few rounds, but stopped myself. Things kind of went downhill from there.

Luckily, these days I have a loving partner, both at home and on the course. And I can’t wait to tell her about my first hole in one. For one thing, she’ll no longer have bragging rights in our house.

A Fine Mess and Other Ramblings

Observations . . .

The decision by the R&A to not allow Muirfield to host future Open Championships because of its male-only membership policy has predictably elicited howls of indignation on a number of fronts. Let’s recap:

  • “It’s a private club! It can do what it wants!”
    1. Yes, this is true. And Muirfield can continue that policy and function as a private club. But since the R&A decided a few years ago to (finally) enter the 21st century, Muirfield will have to pay the consequences of that policy.
  • “The members of Muirfield are pig-headed chauvinists!”
    1. 64% of the membership at Muirfield voted to allow women as members; unfortunately, changing the bylaws there require a 2/3 majority. Apparently, there was a core group of 33 members who circulated a petition to vote against the bylaw change.
  • “Royal Troon (who is hosting this year’s Open) is male-only! Why are they allowed to host?”
    1. Troon’s turn on the Open rota was established before the R&A’s own decision to allow female members and to establish this policy. The club is currently taking up the matter and will take a vote this year. If it chooses not to change its policy, one assumes it will suffer the same fate as that of Muirfield.
  • “How can the R&A NOT have Muirfield in the rota? It’s legendary!”
    1. Yes, it is. Names like Vardon, Hagan, Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Faldo, Els, and Mickelson have won there. Muirfield is by almost universally acclaimed as the best Open venue, with its unique clockwise/counter-clockwise routing for each 9 that challenges players with a different wind direction on every hole. It will most certainly be missed.

Having said that – the R&A has already added Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush and could conceivably look at classics like Royal County Down, Royal Aberdeen, and (a long shot logistically but still) Royal Dornoch. Castle Stewart, while a newer track, has hosted a Scottish Open and has all the earmarks of a classic links. These are all strong alternatives.

In any event, it’s a fine mess.

[POSTSCRIPT: This may be reconsidered. Stay tuned.]

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The month of April was an embarrassment of golfing riches for the Golf Nerd Goddess and me. Sharon went on an all-women’s  trip (no action from the R&A on that one) to Cabo San Lucas and teed it up at the Cabo del Sol Ocean Couse and Pamilla. Golf in Cabo is surreal; imagine playing in a desert landscape (a la Scottsdale or Tucson) that borders the ocean.

Meanwhile, in addition to my day at Augusta, I had the opportunity to play two noteworthy tracks – East Lake (the final PGA Tour stop of the year) and Atlanta Country Club. East Lake has a very historical vibe to it, being the course where Bobby Jones learned the game. Its clubhouse has the characteristics of a museum, with cool artifacts present everywhere. The course itself is not a pushover by any means, but is very playable for the average golfer. And its walking-only policy is to be commended.

Atlanta Country Club at one time held a Tour event, and for my money is a stronger test than East Lake – and aesthetically, it’s a beauty; with it’s tall pines, beautiful azaleas, and elevation changes, it’s a poor man’s Augusta – although with what I am told regarding its initiation fees, there’s nothing poor about it.

But the biggest surprise was the trip Sharon and I took to Sedona, AZ. There are three courses in the immediate city, and we played two of them. Oakcreek, a Robert Trent Jones design, was rather pedestrian, but the Sedona Golf Resort was a real winner, with views of the famous red rocks in abundance on every hole. Plus I swear we had a vortex experience on the 5th hole – the wind suddenly began to swirl vigorously in a circular pattern to the point where we thought some sort of Native American ghost would appear from its eye. It stopped after a few minutes, and my ensuing 7-iron approach shot landed about 5 feet from the hole. I am now a believer.

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Our favorite LPGA player and house guest, Julie Yang, stayed with us for the North Texas Shootout. Alas, she did not make the cut, but she is faring much better on the tour this year. Even though she did not play on the weekend, I watched her Thursday and Friday, and she seemed much more at ease on the course than she did last year. She’s made three cuts and has much more confidence. I love this kid.

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Finally – we’ve enjoyed an unusually nice Texas spring, which has left our two courses (and most of those in the area) in magnificent condition.  Right now, we’re as green as Ireland. Although Lone Star doesn’t compare to Guiness.

Hit ‘em straight, y’all.

With Apologies to the Winner . . .

It was the roar that got me.

It emanated from one of the deepest parts of the golf course; the 16th hole, in fact. It was a sound that reverberated through the tall Georgia pines, a cheer that might be in response to a Jack or an Arnie or a Seve or a Spieth making a Sunday charge.

In fact, it was a big name – Rory McIlroy had made a hole in one on 16. But it was during a practice round. A Monday practice round.

Non-golfers and cynics like to poke fun at The Masters, and some of it is merited, particularly from the broadcast perspective. The schmaltzy music, the forced lingo (there are no spectators at the Masters, there are “patrons”), and the hushed commentary (particularly from Jim Nantz, who often sounds like he’s reading from a papal encyclical) often seem over the top. The tournament’s racist past is not easily dismissed – and it shouldn’t be.

And the TSA could take some lessons from the Masters as far as security measures are concerned – there are black-suited Pinkerton agents in abundance, one must pass through metal detectors far more sensitive than those found at airports, and there is a long list of prohibited items posted. My friend Dave Weisman, a retired 3-star general and former member of NATO’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a 2-inch pen knife confiscated when he checked in for Wednesday’s Par-3 event. The General has no love lost for Phil Mickelson, but I doubt he planned on using said weapon on Lefty.

But all that aside – one would be hard pressed to find a better way of spending a spring day in Georgia than walking the hilly grounds of Augusta National during a practice round. The course is dizzying in its assault on one’s senses. The turf is an almost impossible shade of green – unlike most courses in the deep South that feature Bermuda or zoyzia, Augusta is turfed with cool weather grasses that do not go dormant in the winter and is offset by the pure white sand in the cavernous bunkers. Virtually every kind of flora and fauna can be found on the course (there’s even a palm tree near the 4th green).  When asked by friends in the DFW area what it’s like there, the best description that I can muster is to imagine if someone has placed a golf course in the midst of the Dallas Arboretum. And even that’s not adequate.

My friend Chet (who had secured tickets for us) and I paused along our trip around the course to imagine some of the shots we’d witnessed on TV (or in Chet’s case, in person – he’s attended the tournament many times and played the course, a benefit of his friendship with Charlie Yates, the son and namesake of one of the greatest amateur golfers of the 1930’s). When we got to the 10th (which resembles the upper portion of a downhill ski course), we sought out the spot from which Bubba Watson pulled off this incredible shot. All we could do is laugh.

I had to do all those things one does at Augusta – eat a pimento cheese sandwich (still only $1.50 and ludicrously delicious), buy souvenirs, sit in the stands in back of the 12th tee which gives one the opportunity to view play on different parts of Amen Corner, watch players skip shots across the pond at 16. And what struck me the most was how downright happy people were to be there. There were a group of Argentines clad in blue and white shirts inscribed Vamanos! Fabian – a tribute to their countryman Fabian Gomez, who they cheered during his practice.  Asians, Indians, and yes, a fair number of African Americans were mixed into the gallery. Spouses and significant others marveled at the azaleas.

And that roar from 16.

Sorry cynics. I’m a believer.

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This year’s Masters will undoubtedly be remembered as The One That Jordan Spieth Gave Away, which is unfortunate for Danny Willet. He is hardly a flash in the pan, coming into the tournament as the 12th ranked golfer in the world and the winner of four events internationally. His final round 67 was pretty much a flawless piece of work – the closest he came to being in trouble was when he missed the green with his approach on 17 and was left with a pitch-and-run shot that had more twists than an Adam Sworkin plotline. He made it appear much less difficult, the sign of a true champion. But if anyone mentioned the Englishman as a pre-tournament favorite, it was the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project.

Willet almost didn’t make it to the Masters. His wife was due to deliver their first child this past weekend, but agreed to be induced two weeks early so that her husband can make it to Augusta and is the unofficial heroine of Danny’s victory.

And while he was lighting up Augusta on Sunday, his brother PJ was doing the same on Twitter.

There were plenty of roars from 16 on Sunday, as three competitors holed out for aces, including the ever-popular Davis Love III and the irrepressible Louis Oosthuizen, whose ball was tacking toward the hole before striking that of J.B. Holmes – and then continued on to its final destination.

The cheering was certainly welcome, as the playing conditions for the first three days of the tournament were nothing short of brutal, with winds gusting over 25 mile per hour and turning Augusta’s back nine – usually a source of exciting play – into a chamber of horrors. The 15th is a hole in which par usually gives back a stroke to the field; on Friday and Saturday, it was a pretty damned good score.

For the first three rounds (and the first nine of the finale), Jordan Spieth held off the field, which was somewhat surprising. It was Jason Day who, among the New Triumvirate, was a heavy favorite, having come off consecutive victories at Bay Hill and Austin. Adam Scott and Ricky Fowler were also bandied about as possible victors; others felt that Phil Mickelson was, at age 45, ready for one final charge. As it turned out, Fowler and Lefty missed the cut, Scott was far back in the field, and Day could never quite get it going.

Spieth came into the tournament as a bit of a puzzlement. Aside from a comfortable win at the Tournament of Champions in Maui, his play had been somewhat indifferent for most the season. Some observers felt that with the opportunities presented to him by virtue of his sensational 2015 season, he had spread himself too thinly among international tournaments and endorsement appearances. His ball striking was rather pedestrian and his putting alarmingly inconsistent.

But he fashioned an opening round 66, a remarkable round given (by his own admission) some ragged iron play. At the same time, one could sense that this was not going to be an easy week for Spieth, as each time he separated himself from the field, he inexplicably let it back in – particularly on Sunday, when he saw a four shot lead evaporate to one over the spectacularly named Smylie Kaufmann. Meanwhile, Willet lurked three shots back at even par.

Spieth was adequately concerned to fly in his swing coach, Cameron McCormack, to oversee his warm-up for the final round. And it seemed to work, as Jordan fashioned a front-nine 32 (including four straight birdies to close out the side) and opened up a 5 shot lead on the field. But a careless bogey on 10 and another (caused by a poor tee shot) on 11 were disconcerting.

Anyone who’s played the game has experienced the wrenching events that occurred on #12 for Spieth; however, watching it in real time was equivalent to seeing the wide-open receiver drop a perfectly thrown pass or the 90% free throw shooter clank two important attempts off the rim.  The difference is that when it happens to a golfer, no matter what the stage, there is no place to turn, – no apologies or excuses to be rendered. Dumping a second shot into Rae’s Creek left most of us – including the golfer himself – saying to ourselves, “Are you [fucking] kidding/shitting/yanking me?”

It’s to his everlasting credit that Spieth, after that quadruple bogey disaster, came back to birdie 13 and 15 while parring 14 (the latter two despite a couple more wayward drives), and had a chance to close to within one on 16 after a good tee shot. He missed the slippery downhill putt, however, and when his approach on 17 caught the front bunker (the microphone picked him up moaning, “That’s not nearly enough!”), that effectively shut the door on any chance he had of coming back.

How damaging this is to Spieth in the long term remains to be seen. It’s evident that there’s some work to be done on his swing, and perhaps even more so on that 6-inches of space between the ears about which Bobby Jones so famously talked. My take is that he’ll be heard from again, but it won’t be an easy process.

Congratulations, Danny Willet. And my apologies. I’ve seemed to have spent more time on the runner-up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

Another year without a hole in one. But golf has other rewards and foibles . . .

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Travel Tales . . .

In January, The Golf Nerd Goddess and I trekked to the Diamante Resort in Cabo San Lucas, home to Davis Love III’s acclaimed Dunes Course and Tiger Woods’s initial foray into course design, El Cardonal. It was the latter that proved to be a pleasant surprise, as Woods has created a linksy track that is both playable for the high handicapper while presenting a challenge to better players, particularly around its wildly contoured greens. This takes nothing away from The Dunes, which features holes that play along the Pacific, and its magnificent par 3 11th – an uphill beast whose green is carved into a dune – provides a breathtaking vantage point.

Beyond all of that, golf at Diamante has a vibe all its own – after checking in, one heads for the smoothie/slider bar for a pre-round snack, and then proceeds to the practice range, which features salsa music and comfortable lounge chairs. Once on either course, one can enjoy margaritas or mojitos, black bean soup, outrageously delicious tamales, and other local delights at various stations – all of which are included in the greens fee. Add to that a mountainous desert landscape that dips into the ocean – which, during January, features frolicking whales – and it’s hard to imagine a more unique setting for golf.

Quite the opposite was our trip “up nort” to Eagle River, WI, the most aptly named town in the US.Flocks of eagles flew overhead as we navigated our way through a couple of modest but thoroughly enjoyable tracks, one in the host town and another in nearby St Germain.

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We hosted and became friends with Julie Yang, an aspiring LPGA player. It was a tough year for her, as she failed to make a single cut, but she returned to Qualifying School and achieved full status for the 2016 season. Look for a much better year from this talented (and wonderful) young lady.

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I weighed in on erstwhile Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foray into the world of golf. Things have not gone particularly well for The Donald on that particular front, as the R&A has removed his recently acquired Turnberry from the Open rota in reaction to his rants regarding immigration and refugees in the US. He also lost a court case in an effort to block a proposed wind farm that would overlook his course in Aberdeenshire, and had his name (briefly) removed from the signage for his course in Dubai. The PGA tour is considering moving its World Golf Championship away from Doral (also owned by Trump), which would be roughly akin to having the Kentucky Derby being run at Aqueduct. Stay tuned.

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While Spieth and Day dominated the news on the PGA Tour, the most exciting event of the year was The Presidents Cup, an event I admittedly decried for its seeming irrelevancy. The teams were separated by a point going into Sunday’s final day singles play, in which 7 of 12 matches went to the 18th hole, including the final decider, which was contested between the home country’s instant national hero and the American team captain’s son.  I was one of perhaps dozens in the US who stayed up to watch the live overnight coverage from Seoul, and it will likely be forgotten by the time the 2017 match rolls around.

And for some, the most poignant Tour moment may have been what might be Tiger’s last stand at The Wyndham tournament in Greensboro. Records crowds turned out as Woods seriously contended for three rounds before fading on Sunday. A month later, he was undergoing yet another surgery, this time for his back. His press conference at his own tournament in December was downright painful, as for the first time, he seemed to acknowledge his own mortality – at least as a golfer. If he is able to come back, I hope it is with realistic expectations from everyone concerned, and that he can make his way to some tour stops that he’s not frequented in the past so that all golf fans can pay tribute to this remarkable player.

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And finally . . .

Readers may recall the seemingly unrequited romance between the Golf Nerd Goddess and a certain golf club. Happily, Santa heard her urgent pleadings and delivered said club under the tree Christmas morning. The GNG tried it out that afternoon; the resulting tee shots were impressive. That trip to Pebble Beach may be forthcoming, after all.

Also on Christmas Day, I got to play golf with my sister Lisa and her boyfriend Chad.  Lisa’s interest in the game has been somewhat recent, and Chad (despite my concerns) has been a willing enabler. I was wowed by her tee shots; she drove the ball over 200 yards a couple of times. Moreover, despite some major work required on other game skills, she truly enjoys playing – and is actually watching golf on TV. If nothing else, this has made Christmas shopping for her a helluva lot easier.

Weather Delay, Part 2

8 inches of rain the past 4 days. Some wayward thoughts . . .

If you get paired up on the first tee with a guy dressed to the nines and has his name emblazoned on his over-sized golf bag – and it’s a name you’ve never heard of – and has a collection of bag tags that resembles a custodian’s key chain, don’t be afraid to engage him in a friendly wager. Chances are, he’s a poser.

On the other hand – you show up at your local muni looking for a game and a scruffy-looking guy with an old set of blades shows up and want to wager, do so at your own risk. Chances are, he’ll hustle out of a few bucks.

A club pro once told me: However long you hit your 5-iron, multiply that by 36. That’s the total course yardage from which you should play.

A strategically placed tree can make or break a golf hole.

On the other hand – many a good golf course has been hampered by well-intentioned members planting too many trees. This can cut down air circulation and cause fungus issues, particularly around greens. Personally, I like open vistas with trees being the spice, rather than the main ingredient.

A blind shot off the tee is tolerable as long as there is an aiming point like a stake or building.

On the other hand – I once played a course in Williamsburg, VA where a pond was not visible off the left side of the fairway. There was no indication that it was there from the scorecard or hole signage. Note that I said that I “once” played the course.

My friend Brian Robin claims that the long par 3 is the most boring piece of course architecture. Generally I agree, although the 17th at Cyprus Point or 16 at Augusta prove that every rule has an exception.

In Denmark, one must pass a test of basic golf etiquette and rules before setting foot on a golf course. I think that would be a great idea in the US. I also think there’s a better chance of passing stricter gun control laws than ever seeing that happen.

The ideal number for a guy’s golf trip is eight. Any more than that becomes an exercise in herding cats.

Your golf group should include the following:

  • A guy who reliably makes tee times
  • A guy who can come up with creative bets
  • A guy who can come up with creative nicknames
  • A guy who can tell outrageous stories that have an element of truth (and that you wouldn’t repeat to your significant other)
  • A guy who is generally quiet but once every two rounds comes up with an observation that is so fresh, you can’t wait to share it with someone

Your golf group should, by any means necessary, avoid the following:

  • The chronic club-thrower (I think everyone gets one toss a year. Anything after that is subject fpr eviction)
  • The high-handicapper who wants to advise everyone else in the group about their games
  • The low-handicapper who doesn’t want to engage anyone else
  • The needler who can’t take it when it comes back at him
  • The slow player. ESPECIALLY the slow player.

At least once a year, I will hear a sport-talk blowhard argue that golf is not a “sport.” Now, I’ll admit that for most of us who play recreationally, what we do equates to beer-league softball. But to succeed at the highest level, one must be willing to hit 500 to 1,000 balls a day and be ready to walk between 5 – 9 miles each round over oftentimes uneven terrain. Professional golfers do have longevity, but the wear and tear that one puts on the back, knees, and hips while executing swing after swing is fierce. Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller have had hip replacements, and Tiger Woods has all kinds of ailments. And those are just the famous guys.

And – if you don’t make the cut, you don’t get paid.

My two favorite golf destinations are St Andrews and Pinehurst. They literally reek of golf, and yet you could bring your non-golfing spouse/significant other to either location and both of you would be happy.

And finally, two pieces of invaluable advice:

Playing golf requires a balance between ibuprofen, Gatorade, and alcohol. If any one of those elements get out of whack, all bets are off.

If you go big on a Friday night (or any night on a golf trip with the guys), the best hangover cure is Pedialyte. No joke. The electrolytes hit your body like a B-12 shot. Plus it’s a decent vodka mixer.

A Bump or Two In the Road

[Author’s note – earlier this year, the Golf Nerd Goddess and I hosted LPGA tour rookie Julie Yang when she played in the North Texas Shootout, which I recounted here. I had a chance to catch up with her today.]

You’re 20 years old and just finished your maiden voyage on the LPGA tour.

Up until now, you’ve enjoyed success at every level – junior, amateur, college – but it’s been a frustrating year. No cuts made. It’s a new town and a new course each week. Your game’s just not quite right, and neither is your back. It’s hard to maintain any kind of consistency.

You watch as girls your age are enjoying success, knowing that your game is certainly on the same level.

For most of the season you’re traveling on your own, with your caddie your only companion to rely on. Mom was there for the first four or five weeks, but she had to return home to South Korea to be with your dad, who is having heart surgery.

And through it all, you go out and do your best each week. There are signs of life in your game but something’s just not clicking.

This is your dream, Julie Yang.

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It’s late season here in DFW; I’m working on my second cup of coffee and trying to endure a Monday of conference calls and IT project issues. The phone vibrates, and there’s a text message from . . . Julie Yang.

“Hey Gary and Sharon! I’m in DFW! What’s up?”

She had just made a 12 hour flight from Seoul, on her way to her stateside home in Stillwater, OK, and had a lengthy layover, and was wondering if one of us would have time to “hang out” a bit.

Well – Sharon’s at the office, but hell yes, I can!

We met up at DFW and I took her over to our club for a late breakfast. We talked about her rookie season a bit.

“It was frustrating,” she admitted, “and hard.” Some of it was the mundane – having to find where she was staying, how to get laundry done. And some of it was loneliness – some of which, she acknowledged, might have been self-inflicted. “I was so overwhelmed by the experience; it was pretty much all I could do to get myself to the practice range, to my tee time . . . “ Then she smiled. “But I learned a lot.”

When her season ended, she returned to Korea to visit her family and to undergo surgery for a herniated disk; the latter seems to have turned out for the best. She’s pain-free and played very well in a couple of invitational tournaments. “I made enough money for the trip back to Q-School,” she grinned.

Ah yes . . . Julie will have to go through that grinder again, but she’s really upbeat. “My parents are coming out,” she said, almost as if they were driving from Tulsa to Stillwater for an Oklahoma State homecoming weekend. “We’re going to drive to Florida together. I’ll play in a tournament and then be ready for Q-School on December 2nd.”

“And . . . “ she continued happily, “They will be will me all next year when I’m on tour.”

“Damn!” I replied, “We’ll need a bigger house for all of you when you play here!”

We had shown her and her mother around the area the last time they were here, and she said that this area would be a great location for her to make as a base of operations, what with its proximity to both of the airports. She’s been inquiring to local clubs about memberships; I mentioned that tour player Danny Lee (a native Korean who is now a naturalized New Zealand) is a member at our club.  I also told her the story of Danny’s plaintive plea for a girlfriend (which set off a firestorm of tweets and practical jokes among his fellow tour players). She laughed and shook her head – “You know, Danny and I attended the same golf camp when we were younger. He’s got a good heart, but he’s a real goofball!”

We reminisced about the Presidents Cup, which of course was held in her homeland and turned out to be one of the more exciting golf events of this past year (despite some blogger’s suggestion that it had perhaps grown a bit too one sided), and then she brought up our “match” that we played last May. “You played really great that day!” she gushed, which brought a big smile to my face.

It came time to get her back to the airport. We spoke of the somber events that had occurred over the weekend in Paris and a few weeks back during at Oklahoma State, and it made me realize that for all the maturity that Julie possesses, I forget that that she was a child when 9/11 occurred and that she hasn’t been hardened to some of the realities of the world that we live in.  At the same time, in her brief life, she’s traveled a good part of the world, and has a sense of place that I wish more of us had.

I got her to her gate and suddenly felt very paternal (“This is curb-side check-in, you have to tip the agent,” I admonished her. “I know, I know,” she laughed). She handed me an envelope that she had planned to mail Sharon and me, and hugged me good bye.

I opened up the envelope when I got home; inside were three “fan cards” of her, one of them inscribed with a lovely note from her on the back. Which brought another smile to me face.

But that’s what Julie does. And after going through the trials and tribulations of her first year on tour, she said to me, ‘You know, Gary? Each time I’ve taken it to another level in golf, I’ve had my problems at first. But once I’ve gotten comfortable, things have worked out pretty well.”

How can you not root for this kid?