Tag Archives: golf

A Weird Masters Week

There’s snow on the ground here in Colorado. And it’s Masters Week.

Now, it’s certainly not unusual for snow to be on the ground here for Masters Week . . . in fact, it’s not unusual for snow to be on the ground for a fair part of the country during Masters Week. But it’s usually accompanied with the promise of springtime, warmer temperatures, and the resumption of golf for a large segment of the population.

But this is 2020, in which the country – hell, the world – has been laid siege to a deadly virus, social unrest, and political strife so bitter that Orwell would have a difficulty in describing it.  Now, the snow here is a reminder that the season is over for us, and unless one chooses to risk a trip to a COVID-19 hot spot (or still believes that the virus is a “hoax”), his clubs are reluctantly going into storage until the snow melts or a vaccine is widely available.

So watching The Masters this year will certainly be different – The (Mostly) Great White Fathers who run the tournament are capable of making many seemingly Herculean horticultural tasks happen (I recall going to a Monday practice round with my old friend Chet in 2016, and noticed that the azaleas in back of 13 green were well past peak. “They’ll take care of that, don’t worry,” Chet remarked dismissively. By open round Thursday, they had either magically recovered or had been replaced), but try as they might, they can never totally conquer Mother Nature (try as they might). I’m surmising there will be a different look to Augusta National – it will be beautiful, for sure, as there will likely be enough foliage from deciduous trees (either native or freshly transplanted) to give the course an autumnal feel “unlike any other,” as Jim Nantz might say. And with the shift back to Standard Time and shorter days, I’m surmising that will contribute to the overall look and feel of the course.

It may play a bit differently, as well. While the temperatures may be spring-like, the fall tends to be wet in the South, which may lengthen the course somewhat (and give pre-tournament favorite Bryson DeChambeau even more of an advantage). Different grasses have been planted in the fairway, first cut and second cut (there is no “rough” at Augusta, just as there are no pin placements – they are “hole locations” – or no spectators – they are “patrons”), which will likely force some players to rethink club selection and how the ball will react.

There will be no Drive, Chip, and Putt competition for junior golfers this year. And no Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, the inaugural of which last year produced a finish nearly on a par with that of Tiger Woods.

But it’s the no spectators – excuse me, no patrons – aspect that will likely be missed by both those of us watching and by the players. The Open Championship and The Masters traditionally feature the most knowledgeable fans in all of golf, in which great shots are loudly appreciated. And at Augusta, those cheers and shouts echo through the pines. At the aforementioned practice round, Chet and I stood on the 9th green and heard a loud roar from the 16th. Apparently, Rory McIlroy made a hole in one – mind you, during a Monday practice round. I’ve heard reactions to touchdowns scored at an NFL or major college football games that were not as noisy.

But again, it’s 2020, and we will take what we can get. And hope that by next spring, when The Masters has returned to its usual second week in April spot, things have calmed down, and we can look forward to another season of golf, the promise of spring, and a more certain future.

Talk Is [Usually] Cheap

My friend Beth, who lives on the 6th hole of a golf course in metro Richmond, recently posted about the futility of talking to a golf ball. She is correct, of course. If your ball starts right, is SLICING to the right, and is being windblown to the right, no plea of “GET LEFT!” is going bring it back unless it either strikes a tree or Sasquatch appears and bats it back into the fairway. That ball will no more listen to you than a spouse trying to get their mate’s attention inside the two minute warning of a tight football game or during the final scene of Gray’s Anatomy,

None of this matters to most golfers. Of course, there are expressions that are absolutely required regardless of the hopelessness of the situation – and some that sometimes work, all logic put aside.

For example … “Get a kick” is a good, all-purpose plea, useful when your ball needs to bounce a certain direction to avoid a hazard (excuse me . . . “penalty area” is the preferred nomenclature, thanks to the Great [Mostly] White Fathers of the USGA) or, worse yet, going out of bounds. Said “kick” can come from a mound, a tree, or for that matter, another golfer who didn’t hear you scream “Fore!”

Note that in this example, we don’t specify a direction; we are merely begging the ball to stay away from harm. The minute one commands a particular re-routing, all bets are off and the golf will either sigh or swear, and then either re-load or take a penalty drop.

“Get legs!” and its corollary, “Hit a house!” (the former when a putt is hit too softly; the latter when it charges past the hole) are generally futile pleas. “Get in the bunker” is generally delivered sarcastically upon striking a misdirected shot – although, if said bunker borders a body of water, the sarcastic tone changes to one of imploring, as it’s much easier to hit out of sand than water.

“Skip!” is a rather tricky proposition, typically uttered when a golfer hits a low screamer over water that will most certainly not clear, but hopes that the ball will act like a skipping stone. My favorite recollection of a skipping ball occurred back in 2010; when playing in a two day tournament in Chase City, VA, my partner John (The Frenchman) Bennett on consecutive days skipped a shot across the same pond on the same hole to help us to a third place finish, a fact recorded in the Mecklenburg Country Sun, complete with photograph.

To this day, The Frenchman has no idea how he pulled that off.

Talking to your playing partners ball can be fraught with danger, no matter how well intentioned. For some, “early calling” a shot – for example, exclaiming “good putt” to your buddy’s effort, only to have it lip out – is an unforgivable sin. My old friend, the late, inimitable Mike (Squeaky) Calhoun (whose vocabulary on the course consisted of two words that rhyme with “trucker”) once threatened to cut someone’s heart out for early calling one of his putts. “Keep your motherf*cking, c*cksucking mouth off of my ball,” Squeaky squawked at the unsuspecting soul, who didn’t utter a word for the rest of the round.

So . . . I make no judgement as to whether a golfer should talk to his ball or not. But he needs to understand the risks, as well as the consequences.

Monday Morning Musings

Not that anyone asked, but . . .

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw make a terrific course design team, and perhaps one year the proper conditions will prevail to make Dallas’s Trinity Forest an interesting challenge for PGA Tour players, but a foot of rain, no wind to speak of, and fairways so wide that Stevie Wonder would hit at least 60% of them made for an almost farcical Byron Nelson Classic. Hell, even Tony Romo looked respectable. I get the intention of the layout – ideally, 15 to 20 mph winds combined with fast and firm conditions over a bouncy track, and one can envision links-like conditions inland. But if there is one thing less predictable than the direction of a Phil Mickelson tee shot, it’s springtime Texas weather.

So for those participants who are traveling to Long Island to participate in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, the only common denominator for them will be that a lot of rain is expected throughout the week. The Black’s fairways will be snaky thin, the rough thick and wet, and the bunkering diabolical. I’ll predict right now that no one will come within 10 shots of this past weekend’s 23-under total rung up by winner Sung Kang.

Kang, a South Korean national who lives in the Dallas suburb of Coppell (and who is not to be confused with the actor who appears in the Fast and Furious movie franchise), stated in a Saturday interview (that round was delayed by 6 hours due to the torrential downpours that have recently plagued North Texas) that unlike previous situations that found him at or near the top of the leaderboard, he planned on being much more relaxed. This approach seemed to carry over into his play, as he was often timed at around 90 seconds while preparing to take a shot. This fact was not lost on fellow competitor Matt Every, who contended for the lead for much of the weekend and who also managed an epic club throw after a poor bunker shot in the second round.

Hometown hero (and Trinity Forest member) Jordan Spieth once again failed to crack the top 20 and at this point would have to be considered the darkest of equines to make any noise at Bethpage. On the other hand, defending PGA Champion Brooks Koepka was rock solid, finishing three strokes behind Kang.


Meanwhile, there were numerous Tiger sightings in Long Island. His yacht is parked in Oyster Bay, and he’s already been seen getting in practice reps on the Black.

One can come up with any number of reasons for either favoring or disregarding The Big Cat’s chances:

  • PRO: He’s won there before.
  • CON: That was 17 years ago.
  • PRO: He’s rested.
  • CON: He’s rusty.
  • PRO: He drove it well at Augusta.
  • CON: The fairways at Bethpage are about a third in width as those at Augusta, and missing them is far more penal.
  • PRO: He won the Masters
  • CON: This field is at least twice as deep as that as Augusta

I actually think that points 3 and 4 may be the most telling. Woods mentioned being “sore” after his Masters victory. If “sore” simply means the normal wear and tear of hiking around the extremely hilly confines of Augusta National (and by the way, the Black has its own terrain challenges), then so be it. It did, however, seem a bit odd for Tiger to skip Quail Hollow, one of his favorite tracks. I suppose questions about his health are always going to be a concern going forward.

If not Tiger, then whom?

Conventional wisdom states that the Black should favor a bomber.

Hello, Dustin Johnson, Rory, Koepka, Jon Rahm, and as a dark horse, Gary Woodland.

But it’s going to be wet! Gotta keep it in the fairway!

Sergio (if the crowds don’t get to him), Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, and another dark horse, Rory Sabbatini, come on down!

Experience counts!

In the PGA Championship, not so much. Although the Black has found its way into the Tour schedule as of late. And another dark horse, Lucas Glover (who won the US Open here in 2009 and has played better of late) emerges.

Who will the tough New Yaawk crowd get behind?

Lefty! Lefty! LEFTY! (nah, I can’t see it).

So . . . gun to my head pick?

Tell you on Wednesday.

Long Island Night Maneuvers

[Author’s note – as most golf aficionados are aware, this year’s PGA Championship will be held next week at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course, one of the most testing golf courses in the United States – and one that is open to the public. This recounts my experience there.]

It was a summer evening in either in 1992 or 1993 that I decided to bite the bullet and queue up for a tee time at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course.

I had read much about A.W. Tillinghast’s work and the stern test that the Black Course presented, as well as (due to the lack of public golf courses available to the masses living on Long Island) the lengths to which metropolitan New York golfers would go to secure a tee time, including spending the night in a parked car near the main clubhouse in order to be first in line when the operation opens in the morning. This initially seemed to me to be a bit much in order to play a round of golf, but after spending three days and nights listening to my then-in-laws bicker, a night cramped up in the back seat of a VW Jetta didn’t seem like such a horrible idea.

The sad fact of those times was that my ex-wife grew up in a house in that bordered Seth Raynor’s Southampton Golf Club – which borders William Flynn’s Shinnecock Hills – which borders C.B. MacDonald’s National Golf Links. Just down the road in East Hampton stands Willie Park Jr’s Maidstone, a marvelous piece of linksland whose Hamptons-style clubhouse sits atop a crest overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, these masterpieces (and several other nearby tracks) were unattainable for the likes of me – all private, and except for Southampton Golf Club, all pretty much comprised of members whose money predates the Louisiana Purchase. A couple of my nephews had caddied at Shinnecock and National, and my former brother in law lived across the street from the then head pro at Shinnecock. All of them told me they could get me on either of those courses, but in the 18 years of my marriage, it never came to fruition.

Not that I’m bitter, or anything.

Anyway – the drive from Southampton to Farmingdale took about an hour; when I arrived at Zero Dark Thirty, there were about a dozen or so cars already in line. I pulled into the end of the queue and was about to climb into my back seat when there was a tap on my shoulder.

“You a single?” a stocky man with a heavy Long Island accent wanted to know.

“I am.”

“What’s your handicap?” he demanded.

“Eleven,” I replied.

He thought for a minute, then said, “Ok, my group needs a fourth. We’re the third car in line. Come over and meet the guys.”

Manny was the fellow who greeted me, Marco and Jeremy were his compadres. All were locals.

“Yeah, Gene couldn’t make it this week,” Marco told me. “We needed a fourth for a game.”

“You guys do this every week?” I asked.

“Not every week,” answered Marco. “We’ll get tee times on the Red or the Green some weekends, but we try to do the Black once a month. Brings us back down to earth.”

[A couple of notes – there are actually five courses in Bethpage State Park, all designed by Tillinghast and all color coded. And I’m cleaning up the dialogue here, these boys had variations on cuss words that I’d never encountered before or since]

“So the Black is that tough, huh,” I mused.

They looked at me for a moment and almost simultaneously burst our laughing.

“Here, have a beer,” advised Manny. “We’ll tell you all about it.”


In an effort to keep the riff-raff (i.e., high-handicap players) off the course, there’s a sign on the first tee of the Black stating the following:

“WARNING! – The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers”

I honestly don’t remember that much about the round, other than I broke even money wise and it was like the Bataan Death March. At that time there were no carts allowed on the Black and there’s a surprising amount of elevation change; that, combined with a hot sun, lots of waiting (apparently, other Highly Skilled Golfers were having issues), minimal sleep, spotty conditioning, and Tillinghast’s diabolically positioned cross bunkers (which seemed to be precisely located where my tee shots and approaches landed) made for a less than enchanting experience.

Manny and Company made the round bearable. We played a game of 6-6-6 (six hole matches, alternating partners), and there was plenty of good natured (and profanity laced) needling back and forth that kept everyone entertained. And the beer afterwards was nice and cold.

Things have changed at Bethpage State Park (and the New York State Parks system in general) since those days, thanks in large part to a woman named Bernadette Castro, the COO of a Long Island furniture chain (and longtime piñata for NYC radio blight Don Imus) who was named state Park and Recreation Commissioner under the George Pataki administration. Ms Castro managed to get a large capital investment into all of the state parks of New York, many of which include golf courses. Moreover, she convinced the USGA to bring the US Open to Bethpage Black in 2002.

The conditions at all New York State Parks have improved dramatically as a result, and nowhere is that more evidenced than at the various golf facilities throughout the state. For Long Islanders,  this also includes Montauk Downs State Park, a Robert Trent Jones beauty located on the tip of the island that is mostly routed in a circular fashion to vary the effect of the ever-changing Atlantic Ocean winds. Despite its remote location, the line forms early at the Downs as well.

Bethpage is more easily accessed than Shinnecock Hills, so this year’s PGA Championship should bring out New Yawkers in droves. I hope Manny and Company will be there to cheer and jeer their respective favorites and villains (Phil Mickelson is extremely popular among the New York crowd; Sergio Garcia, not so much), and the other locals will kibitz and compare notes as to how hard or easy the Black is playing, what score they made on a given hole, the odd of Tiger pulling off a shot that was absolute jail for them . . .

Oh – and maybe a swear word or two.

Monday Morning Musings

Not that anyone asked, but . . .

Max Homa is not a name familiar to a lot of us who follow the PGA Tour, but he came up big over the weekend to win at Quail Hollow by putting on a putting exposition that rivaled Ben Crenshaw at his best. Max has shuffled between the Web.com and PGA Tours through most of his career, but has never lacked for talent – or for that matter, self-awareness. The boys over at the No Laying Up podcast interviewed him earlier this year; it’s worth a listen.

And is it just me, or does watching Jason Dufner play induce narcolepsy?


Sei Young Kim picked up her 8th career victory on the LPGA circuit at S Lake Merced in a playoff over Bronte Law and Jeongeun Lee6 (that’s not a misprint). Ms Kim relinquished her 3rd round lead, but two strong shots on the par-5 18th left her just short of the green, from where she used her putter to get up and down for a birdie to make her way into extra holes. The three golfers made their way back to the 18th tee, where Ms Kim literally duplicated the two shots she had hit only minutes prior. Her two competitors could only manage pars – Lee the 6th had reached green in two but three putted, while Bronte’s birdie effort lipped out – leaving Ms Kim with a short birdie effort to win this tournament for the second consecutive year.

England’s Charley Hull contended at Lake Merced as well, and unlike someone like, say, the aforementioned Mr Dufner, she is a bundle of energy on the course, whether she’s talking to her caddy, plumb-bobbing a putt, or taking a rip off the tee. A friend of mine played with her in a pro-am a few years back; apparently, this is her full time modus operandi. She’s become one of my favorite players to watch on either tour.


Despite some spotty weather here early last week, the snow at Haymaker and Rollingstone Ranch is gone here in Steamboat Springs, and mowers have been seen on both tracks. Meanwhile, the conditions at the 9-hole Steamboat Golf Club are quite playable, and we managed to get out a few times over the weekend. Again, not that you asked, but my swing feels great, and you can’t beat the views.



Putting is the most idiosyncratic of all of the golf skills. I was reminded of this when we were joined in one of our weekend rounds by a fellow named Tony. When we arrived at the first green, he had about a 6-footer to save par. He pulled out a club that was barely knee-length, bent over table-top style a la Michelle Wie, and calmly rolled in the putt. I complimented him; he shyly thanked me and showed me the club. It was a sawed-off Wilson Cary Middlecoff model 2-iron.

If not for balky vertebrae, I could be tempted . . .

Schedule Shenanigans (or How to Screw Over Dallas/Ft Worth Golf Fans)

The PGA Championship is a mere two and a half weeks away, thanks to the Tour’s decision to compress the 2019 schedule and move what used to be considered an afterthought of a major championship from August to May.

Part of the PGA Tour’s intent of this rescheduling was to wrap up the FedEx Cup proceedings prior to football being in full swing in hopes of those “playoff” events garnering more interest and perhaps higher television ratings. While I think that any gain in viewership may be marginal at best (August is a vacation month for many folks, anyway), I do like the “major championship each month” scenario, starting with the Masters in April and concluding with the Open Championship in July. And if one wants to press the point, having The Players Championship (who many have tried to push as a fifth major) pushed back to March extends that stretch nicely.

Compressing the schedule does have its disadvantages, however. One that is something of a head scratcher is the splitting of the Byron Nelson and Colonial tournaments, both longtime mainstays on the PGA Tour held in the DFW Metroplex. In the past, the tournaments were held on consecutive weekends, which oftentimes allowed players to bring their families along with them to make the short trek between the two venues.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the case this season. This weekend, the tour stops at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, then crosses over to Dallas to play the Byron at the logistically nightmarish more on that later) Trinity Forest links. Then it’s up to Long Island for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black – then back to Ft Worth to play at Colonial.

I suppose driving all of this has been to 1) keep Quail Hollow in a favorable spot – most professionals consider it to be a good tune up going in a major – and 2) give some breathing space to Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament, which will be held the week after Colonial.

None of which does much good for the two DFW tournaments, at least not this year. I can’t think of a lot of players who will play both events; hell, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a significant number of players skipping both.

There was a time when both of the events were must plays. Fort Worth’s Colonial was one of three courses which has been dubbed “(Ben) Hogan’s Alley” (Riviera and Carnoustie being the other two), and has long been revered as a shot-maker’s track. In addition to its annual tour stop, Colonial has also hosted the 1941 US Open (won by Hogan), the 1975 Players Championship, and the 1991 Women’s US Open.

The Byron Nelson Classic was an outgrowth of the old Dallas Open, designed to honor the great contemporary of Hogan and Sam Snead. While the tournament had several venues over the years, the course with the longest tenure was TPC at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas, a section of Irving, TX. Much like Jack’s Memorial and Arnie’s Bay Hill Invitational, most golfers were sure to include “The Byron” on their itineraries, particularly when Nelson was still alive. A large statue of “Lord Byron” still stands near the first tee of TPC, an extensive display of his memorabilia is featured inside the clubhouse, and Nelson’s widow, Peggy, is still a presence at the club.

As a member there for about 5 years, I played both TPC and its members-only course, Cottonwood Valley, a lot and always had tickets for the Byron. I don’t think that the TPC itself was a particular favorite for the players, what with its awkward tee shots and approach angles, but it was a great for watching action both on and off the course, and being on a Four Seasons property with all of its amenities and having close proximity to DFW airport made it a popular place for tour players to bring the family (or, to use the parlance, “scout the local talent” if they came alone).

As one who was not exactly a gym rat but who tried to keep in reasonable golf shape, I always made it a point to work out in the club’s state of the art workout facility during Byron Week, as I would usually see (and sometimes chat up) some of the players going through their fitness regimen there. Workouts nearly came to a stop when Dustin Johnson’s partner, Paulina Gretzky, strolled in one day to discuss something with DJ.

[For a slightly biased comparison of the Byron at the TPC vs the Colonial, click here]

This changed when AT&T took over sponsorship of the Byron, as that corporation has a serious hand in a gentrification effort in southwest Dallas, as well as in a new golf course called Trinity Forest, whose name is something of a misnomer in that there is not a tree to be found on the Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore links. The course itself is interesting, but getting there is a chore – it’s about an hour from the airport on a good day (and when one has to negotiate the Dallas Mixmaster, the odds of a good day are as likely as a Kardashian hiding from a camera), and shuttles are required to get golfers in and out of the grounds. And with no trees, it makes for a difficult spectator experience on a hot Texas day.

It would not be surprising to see the venue change again for the Byron, as the PGA of America is moving its headquarters to Frisco TX, a northern suburb of Dallas that is currently home base for Toyota and the Dallas Cowboys. Part of the development includes the construction of two 18 hole courses, one of which will undoubtedly be hosting a Ryder Cup (which is a PGA of America – as opposed to PGA Tour – property). Perhaps the Byron finds a new home there in the future.

In the meantime, the Dallas/Fort Worth area will be subject to the whims of the tour schedule makers. And an area that has traditionally been a robust PGA Tour bell weather gets the shaft.

Monday Morning Musings

Not that anyone asked, but . . .

In a move that can be only be described as both courageous and ultimately futile, European Tour plater Edoardo Molinari (brother to Open Champ Francesco, also carries the delightful nickname of “Dodo”)  has called out slow play on Twitter by publishing a list of players who have been warned for their snail-like pace on the course. Interestingly, only three players have actually been fined, the best known being another Open Champ, Louis Oosthuizen.

Former US Open winner Graham McDowell, while sympathetic to Molinari’s frustrations, thinks Dodo is “beating a dead horse.”

“Listen, golf courses are long, golf courses are hard, we’re playing for a lot of money, it’s a big business, it is what it is,” McDowell said. “There’s just no way to speed the game up really. You can try these small percentiles, but at the end of the day it’s very hard to get around a 7,600-yard golf course with tucked pins with a three-ball in less than 4:45, 5 hours. You can’t do it.”

There’s a certain amount of truth to what McDowell has to say. The walking times on some of the courses that are in play these days (particularly distances between holes) can add to the time of a round, and I certainly get the fact that this is what these guys do for a living and proper attention must be paid.  But the pre-shot routines of some players (including discussions of barometric pressure and humidity) border on the absurd (J.B. Holmes plum-bobbing a 2 foot putt comes to mind) – plus it would be nice if players could execute a simple drop from a penalty area or obstruction without waving in a rules official.

And fines are not enough. Institute a stroke or two penalty system for slow play and enforce it.


I probably don’t write nearly enough about the LPGA and women’s golf as much as I should. The level of play has improved dramatically, and frankly, most of us guys would be better served by observing the smooth tempo and technical proficiency of the women playing for pay.

[There are exceptions, of course, particularly Canada’s diminutive dynamo Brooke Henderson, who takes a healthy lash at most shots and is not afraid to use her driver off the deck]

The other aspect to watching the LPGA is that it gives us a chance to see some architectural gems that male professionals and technology have rendered obsolete for tournament play. This past week’s event was held at Wilshire Country Club, located near downtown Los Angeles.

Norman MacBeath was not as prolific a designer as Alistar Mackenzie or as well known as George Thomas, but his work at Wilshire stands out. MacBeath managed to create a distinctive routing packed within a mere 104 acres. Much like Mackenzie’s brilliant Pastiempo, he used a barranca as a primary strategic element. When Kyle Phillips (best known for producing the modern links masterpiece that is Kingsbarns) was called in a few years ago for a restoration effort, he left the routing largely untouched; his main contribution was to reshape the bunkering from simple ovals into more unique shapes that are visually pleasing while maintaining their proper strategic placement.

Minjee Lee, who plays out of my old club in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, played beautiful golf to emerge as the winner at Wilshire this weekend. If there’s a replay available on the Golf Channel, you should check it out, both for her play and for the intricacies of the venue itself.


As I wrote earlier, it’s Mud Season here in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but The Steamboat Golf Club was able to open this past week. It’s a sporty little 9-holer located about 5 miles west of downtown and is a great walking course. The landscape is flat, but there’s a great view of the Rockies as one faces east, and despite being on the short side, there are a number of strategic holes that will put his/her mind to the test. Its smallish greens have just enough undulation to get one muttering under his/her breath. All in all, it’s a nice venue to sharpen one’s play and stretch out the early season’s golf muscles.

[Although you may want to wait a day or so. There are snow flurries outside my window this morning.]


The Zurich two-man team thingy was something of a dud. John Rahm and Ryan Palmer pretty much coasted to victory, but the moment that caused the most consternation during the tournament was on Friday, when on the par-3 17th, Billy Horschel took umbrage when a spectator urged the golfer’s shot to “get in the water.” Horshel’s response was not particularly witty, but direct – “Get the fck out of here.”

There were two predictable responses to this:

  1. Television announcers apologizing for broadcast microphones picking up such salty language. Good lord, get out the fainting couch and have the smelling salts handy. A golfer cursing on the course; when does that ever happen?

Ask  Shane Lowry.

Or Tiger Woods.

Or any of these guys.

  1. “We can yell at players at any other sporting event,” some fans complain. “Why are golfers so soft?”

For old guys like myself, the answer seems pretty simple. The game is a “gentlemen’s game,” there’s not a constant stream of trash talk that goes on between competitors (at least in tournament play; side bet games are a completely different matter), we stay quiet while a player is hitting, etc.

But fans these days feel that buying a ticket to a game or competition entitles them to harass competitors, particular after the 5th or 6th beer or cocktail. And professional golf offers proximity to its participants that are not available in most other sports.

These elements have led to a number of similar incidents during tour events in which players have had spectators who they have deemed particularly abusive removed from the premises. And of course, this behavior gets ramped up to 10 during the Ryder Cup, particularly when it’s being held in the USA.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I once cat-called Greg Norman, although it wasn’t during    play. Since then, if I’ve felt the urge to crack wise at a professional golfer, I will do so from the comfort of my recliner or within the confines of the Grey Goose or Tito’s hospitality tents. It’s a hard enough job for these guys as it is.

But that’s just my opinion.

The Rules Revisited

I’ve written in the past about the rules of golf. The powers that be (the USGA and the R&A) have the task of establishing a set of rules that can be applied and honored by the rankest of amateurs to the greatest players in the game. This can certainly be a daunting effort as the ruling bodies need to consider such aspects as course maintenance and advances in equipment technology, all while writing rules in such a way that do not require a contract lawyer to decipher.

Prior to this past year, the most controversial ruling that the ruling bodies made in recent times was the banning of “anchoring” while putting. Anchoring came in vogue in the late 1980’s when longer putters were introduced, allowing a player to rest the butt end of the putter against one’s chin, chest, or belly button (depending on the length of the putter) to provide stability and reduce shaky hand movement (commonly referred to as “the yips). I’m not sure if this is an apocryphal story, but it’s been said that the USGA was ready to ban the practice altogether until it was learned that then-President George H.W. Bush, whose father was once president of the USGA and who was also a notoriously terrible putter, found solace in anchoring the long putter.

Anchoring probably saved a number of player’s careers and made putting tolerable for many recreational players. The most extreme use of anchoring that I encountered was a fellow named Martin, a fellow member at a club to which I belonged in Virginia. Martin actually slid the end of the long putter under his left armpit.

Nonetheless, there was enough of a stink (sorry, Martin) raised about anchoring that led to the USGA & the R&A to ultimately ban the practice. There was some grumbling within the ranks of the PGA Tour, but the players accepted the decision. As for recreational players, they saw a sudden spike of long and belly length putter availability of eBay and slashed prices for same in golf shops.

I used the phrase “prior to this past year” a few paragraphs back because the ruling bodies introduced a number of rules changes  for 2019 that would hopefully have the effect of speeding play and removing nebulous judgement regarding things like double-hitting the ball (no longer a penalty, which comes about 30 years too late for T.C. Chen ) or accidentally striking the ball with a practice swing (also no longer a penalty, which only cost Zach Johnson embarrassment at this year’s Masters).

But there are a couple of rule changes that have come under fire from the pros, reactions that frankly baffle me.

One is a rule that requires that when taking a drop for relief, the ball must be dropped from knee-length and land no closer to the hole. This is a departure from the practice of dropping from shoulder length and is intended to keep from having to drop more than once and speeding play. Pros are complaining that 1) it’s a hard habit to break, and 2) it looks silly.

Both of which are ludicrous arguments, and in my opinion masks the real reason why they don’t like the rule – that being, after two unsuccessful drops, the golfer gets to place the ball where it initially land, which usually results in a favorable lie. The likelihood of an unsuccessful drop decreases the closer one drops to the ground.

The other rule change that has stirred the pot is the one that allows the flagstick to be left in the hole while putting. Now, for my friends and me, this has been a great aid to pace of play. Generally speaking, most of us will leave it in on longer putts, and then maybe take it out for shorter efforts (for what it’s worth, noted short game guru Dave Pelz has conducted exhaustive research and concluded that one should ALWAYS leave the flagstick in. The Mad Scientist of Golf, Bryson DeChambeau, agrees).

Many pros disagree on both points, arguing that 1) the flagstick takes up room in the hole,  decreasing the chance of the ball going in, and 2) because players have preferences of having the flag in or removing it, that act actually adds time to the round.

As for point 1 – ignore science at your own peril.

As for point 2 – the amount of time required to remove or replace the flagstick pales in comparison to DeChambeau’s pre-shot routine, Jordan Spieth/Michael Greller byplay, or J.B. Holmes in general.

Then again, I don’t play the game for a living. Which is a good thing. Although it would likely do wonders for my waistline.


It’s the final weekend of April, which means two things for the city of New Orleans:

  • Jazz Fest is in full swing!
  • It’s time for the PGA’s Zurich Classic!

Ok, so I daresay that more folks are jazzed [rimshot!] over Jazz Fest, and maybe rightfully so, but the Zurich Classic has its own charms that make it worth watching for fellow Golf Nerds, and even beyond.

The Zurich Classic is the PGA Tour’s only two man team competition of the season and offers up a refreshing change from the weekly stroke play grind of the Tour. The first two rounds will be played as team best ball, while the final two will be alternate shot.

From a viewing/excitement standpoint, this seems to be a bit back-assward. Ideally, best ball generally produces aggressive, pin-seeking play, with the added benefit of one’s partner being able to bail out the other if things go badly for the latter. Alternate shot, on the other hand, can be extremely nerve-wracking, as a player faces the additional pressure of not wanting to leave his partner in a bad situation.

With a number of the big names taking this week off (No Tiger, Phil, DJ, JT, Spieth), the odds are favoring the duo of Sergio Garcia and Tommy (Fairway Jesus) Fleetwood, two great ball-strikers who, based on their respective Ryder Cup team-play records, seem to be a natural pairing. There are some other interesting pairings work watching – Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up with his brother Chase (who, as his older brother once did, plays the European Tour), Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown return after being runners-up the past two seasons, and Jim Furyck has pulled David Duval out of mothballs (and the Golf Channel’s commentary panel) for the event.

I’ll be pulling for the team of Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt for largely personal reasons. Smith’s caddy is Sam Pinfold, to whom I was introduced by a friend of mine who housed him during the AT&T Byron Nelson. In addition to being a great guy, Sam persevered through a number of difficult circumstances before catching on with Cameron. He also is a roommate of Blixt, and suggested that Blixt partner with Smith two years ago. They wound up winning the Zurich that year in a sudden death playoff against the aforementioned Kisner and Brown, and Smith was so overcome with emotion that he could barely speak on air afterwards.

At the club level, there’s always an interesting dynamic when it comes to partner golf. My buddy Dave, he of the underappreciated hole in one, was probably my favorite tournament partner, most likely because our personalities on the course complemented each other so well. Dave tends to get down on himself a bit when things go south, to which my response is to get him a Miller Lite. We would ham-and-egg it pretty well.

But things don’t always go so smoothly. When paired with someone with whom I’ve not partnered before, I always (in a effort to relieve nerves) will say to him, “Now, there’s no need to say ‘I’m sorry’ out there. We’re both going to give it our best.” This is a great sentiment, but invariably I will mess up a hole and turn to him and blurt out, “I’m sorry.” I then feel like an idiot and things go downhill from there.

Still, I’ve won and lost both individual and team tournaments, and for me, the team experience is the most gratifying regardless of the result. There’s an old saying in golf that goes along the lines of, “Never talk about your round after you play. Half the people don’t care, and the other half wish you shot higher.” At least with a partner, you can celebrate or commiserate together.

And the drinks taste better.


Where, Oh Where Should I Tee It Up?

By my reckoning, I have teed it up at 266 courses. I know that there are guys and gals out there who have likely exceeded that number, but 266 seems to be a lot to me. The number might actually be higher – last night, for example a Facebook post mentioned Bermuda’s Port Royal, a track that features the dramatic par-3 16th hole. I had forgotten about playing there; the only possible explanation that I have for that oversight is the fact that it was while on honeymoon with my ex-wife.

I’m always slightly giddy with anticipation over playing a course for the first time. At the end of that initial encounter, I’ll have formed an basic opinion – did I like the course or did I not?

It’s rare that I coming away not liking a course on some level – more on that in a moment – but there are certain tracks that not only don’t I like, but that I would urge folks to not come within a 50-mile radius of them.

One such course is Possum Kingdom, located just outside of Mineral Wells TX. Now, Possum Kingdom Lake is gorgeous; it’s bordered by high cliffs and features several scenic coves to park a boat to wile away a summer afternoon.

But when one asks about the course and gets the response, “Bring plenty of balls and watch out for snakes,” this should be an immediate red flag. And Possum Kingdom delivers on both counts. Many of its fairways are canted so that even if one finds the middle of the fairway, the ball will not only not stay there, but it will roll off the course and into some sort of a ravine where not even Clyde Beatty would venture. Add to that an inordinate amount of forced carries and other gimmickry, and one will wish that the 19th hole was located immediately after the 8th.

Fortunately, I can usually find some sort of redeeming quality about most courses I’ve played. Sometimes it’s simply that the track is nice to walk. But what makes a good or great golf course, or a course that is liked or abhorred, are topics that will invoke lively conversation.

Take the setting, for example. Some folks prefer tree-lined fairways, others favor open vistas. Some live for the seaside links of Scotland, others long for the tall pines of the Sand Hills that comprise Pinehurst and its surrounding area.

Then there’s the degree of difficulty vs. strategic options argument. Some players prefer a course that dictates to them where to place the ball; others like a course that presents various options to attack a given hole.

My personal criteria for evaluating a course really comes down to two questions:

  1. Did I enjoy the experience?
  2. Would I go out of my way to play there again?

Question 1 is admittedly broad, and I will break that down further:

  • Does the course offer realistic tee options for players of different skill levels?
  • Is the course visually pleasing?
  • Is it reasonably maintained?
    1. Note the use of the word “reasonably.” A course doesn’t need to be 50 Shades of Green for me to enjoy it. Give me well defined fairway and rough areas with relatively smooth running greens (and I really don’t care about the speed), and bunkers that have sand that can actually be raked, and I’ll be a happy camper.
  • Do the green complexes offer a variety of options for chipping, pitching and putting?
  • Was the pace of play acceptable?

That last point is key and can be attributable to either 1) the layout and difficultly of the course or 2) the management of play by those in charge.

In regard to point 1 . . .many courses built between the 1980’s and, say, now have been built around real estate developments where the distance between one green to the next tee can be an extremely difficult walk or long cart ride. Tidewater in Myrtle Beach comes to mind. On one hand, the architect created a wonderfully eclectic golf experience that cuts through maritime forests and at times borders the Intercoastal Waterway. On the other hand, one can guarantee a four and a half to five hour round because one is often times driving a half mile between holes (walking is out of the question).

Point 2 can be attributable to any number of factors – overbooking tee times, rangers not addressing slow groups on the course, players wanting to play the tips when they have no business doing so.

The question of whether I would go out of my way to play a course again generally means that all five of my criteria were met. Any of the courses I’ve played in Scotland I’d return to in a heartbeat (those I’ve played multiple times are The Old Course, North Berwick, Cruden Bay, Turnberry, and Crail). Most courses in the Sand Hills, for sure.

And there are a few courses to which I’d return for what I can only describe as semi-mystical experiences. At the fine course at the Sedona Arizona Hilton, which runs through a valley surrounded by red rocks, I was preparing to hit an approach to the 7th green when our group was engulfed by what the locals describe as a vortex – the wind came up and blew in a circular motion around us for about two minutes. This was supposed to be some sort of mind-changing experience, and maybe there’s some truth to it, as my 7-iron shot that followed wound up about 4 feet from the pin.

Another time, a friend and I were playing The Highland Links, a 9-holer located near the tip of Cape Cod in North Truro, MA. The links were established in 1892, and, honestly,  I don’t think an ounce of earth has been moved on the course since then. I had recently read Michael Murphy’s Zen-like golf tome, Golf in the Kingdom, and the course that Murphy describes in the book (which many believe to be the Balcomie Links at Crail) seemed to fit the surrounding to the point where I was driving my friend crazy by quoting lines from the story. In any event, we reached the 6th tee, which affords a dramatic view of the Truro Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean. As we admired the surroundings, a voice from behind said, “Pebble Beach has nothing on this, hey lads?”

I turned around; the man who spoke wore what appeared to be a caddy’s outfit (although he carried no clubs) and had the look of a year-round Cape Cod resident – white-haired and bearded with a rather ruddy complexion. “Yep,” he continued, “you don’t need to pay $450 for this view.” I turned back toward the lighthouse, paused for a moment and then turned to ask him a question – and he was gone, just as suddenly as he appeared.

And then there’s the odd story of Grandote Peaks, a Tom Weiskopf/Jay Moorish gem located in La Veta, Colorado, a small town located to the west of Pueblo. I played it back in 1998 and thoroughly enjoyed everything about it, and, since I’m back in state for a while, looked forward to perhaps making my way there again.

However, in looking it up for tee time availability, I found that Grandote Peaks is permanently closed. Apparently, it started as a riff between the club’s owner and the town over land ownership and zoning issues. Things went quickly downhill from there, and apparently the land has found another, ahem, recreational purpose.

Hey, at least it’s being put to good use.

[Note: For the complete list of courses that I’ve played, feel free to email me at garypopovich@hotmail.com. I’d love to know where you’ve played, as well. Or, you can click below to download. No viruses, I promise!]

Courses Played By State