Tag Archives: PGA Tour

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.


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.


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.

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.

Dog Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Yes, Virginia, There is Life After Tiger

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened at Valhalla this past weekend. At minimum, the 2014 PGA Tournament was without a doubt the most exciting, tense tournament of the year. We saw putts drop from all over the place, ridiculous recoveries, and in case there was any lingering doubt, a convincing changing of the guard.

I was too young to have seen the 1960 US Open, but judging from accounts I’ve read [check out Curt Sampson’s “The Endless Summer”], it isa tournament I would love to have witnessed. Arnold Palmer, cementing his title as the King of Golf, made a charge in the final round, birdying six of the first seven holes to ultimately win it. Forty-eight year old Ben Hogan was making one last stand, going for an unprecedented 5th Open, and came pretty damned close to taking it until he dumped a pitch shot into the drink on the penultimate hole. And there was an Ohio State student in the field named Jack Nicklaus paired with Hogan, who later said, “Yeah, Palmer was great, but I played with a kid who could’ve won this thing by 10 shots if he had just gotten out of his own way.”

A few years later, Nicklaus took down The King in his own backyard at Oakmont to win the Open, the first of his 18 majors. And Hogan had largely retired from tournament golf.

There’s not an exact historical parallel between this year’s PGA and that 1960 US Open, but in a lot of ways I think it will prove to be just as significant. The crown has definitely passed to Rory (he is deserving of the Single Name Reference) – actually, it’s hasn’t passed, he’s taken it, as surely as Nicklaus took it from Palmer in 1962.  McIlroy stared down challenges from a veteran multi-major champion (Phil Mickelson) and a young, ridiculously talented upstart (Ricky Fowler). Whether this is the end of the line for the left hander (I sure hope not, he was sensational over the weekend after suffering through a lackluster season) or the start of something big for the former clothes model (I’d like to think that in additional to improving Ricky’s swing, Butch Harmon has gotten him to tone his wardrobe – at least as much as a Puma wardrobe can be toned down) is an open question.

This performance by Rory was perhaps his most impressive. He struggled a bit on the front side on Sunday, missing some fairways and a few putts that over the last three weeks had seemed all but automatic. In the meantime, Mickelson, Fowler, and Henrick Stenson all blistered the front nine and pulled ahead.  McIlroy stayed patient, however, and started his back nine with a marvelous eagle on 10, where he fashioned a low cut into the 590-yard par 5 that found some scarce dry ground (rain plagued the tournament all weekend) and scooted to within 6 feet of the hole. That seemed to galvanize him (like all great golfers, McIlroy’s eyes were revealing, glowing and intense), and other that his second shot into eighteen,during the cluster that occurred while the PGA tried to hustle the last two groups home before dark, he really didn’t miss a shot.

Fowler once again delivered a strong major performance that fell just short, and admitted afterwards that this one stung a bit. He’s learning that there’s a very small margin of error in competing for these titles, and it was really one swing on the par-3 14th that did him in on Sunday, leaving a 5-iron out to the right that left him with a brutal up and down attempt that he could not convert. But his demeanor and cool under fire is appealing, and I think bodes well for him in the future. His progress this year has been phenomenal.

Mickelson, of course, is all too familiar with thin margins of error. In his case, he left an 8 foot downhill putt for par two inches short on #16. Lefty came out blazing, going out in 31, and damned near holed out for eagle on the final hole, which would have made Rory’s final bunker shot there a lot more interesting. Phil and Ricky have a close relationship (at least that’s what I’m told); they could make for a powerful pairing in this year’s Ryder Cup.

Maybe the most encouraging news for the weekend was that TV ratings for the event were up by 38 percent from last year, with a very healthy 9.2 rating being clocked for the final hour – all this without the benefit of the presence of one Tiger Woods [you didn’t think we could go an entire piece without mentioning Eldrick, did you?]. He came, he saw, he slammed the trunk on Friday after missing the cut. And this morning, Tom Watson is saying that he“hasn’t ruled out” selecting Tiger to the Ryder Cup team. One can only surmise that either NBC has put a gun to Watson’s head (or is dangling a ton of money in front of him), or Tiger himself has embarrassing photos of Watson that he will release to the press if he is not picked. As a friend of mine pointed out recently, if not for his endorsements, Woods would not be making a living playing golf this season.

Rory’s making a nice living, though; entertaining the hell out of us with his remarkable play and charming us with his demeanor. There’s a new sheriff in town. Welcome to his world.

Sound and Fury

A favorite motion picture quote comes from Billy Murray, who in the film “Tootsie” plays Dustin Hoffman’s friend and roommate. When Hoffman’s character reveals his scheme in pursuing his transgender acting opportunity, Murray furrows his brow and remarks, “Ok, we’re getting into a weird area here.”

Such is the state of the PGA Tour these days. Dustin Johnson takes a “leave of absence” from the tour for personal and physical reasons.  Various media outlets report that Johnson has been suspended from the tour for cocaine use. The Tour denies that he has been suspended. Of course, the Tour, ever image-conscious, never announces any fines or suspensions for alleged misbehavior – although John Daly, bless his heart, was having none of that when he took a break back in 2008. “Oh, no, I was definitely suspended,” said Long John, who felt that he owned it to his fans and the public to be honest about his issues.

Other juicy tidbits have emerged regarding Johnson’s suspension, including 1) speculation that his previous absence from the Tour (officially attributed to injury) was in fact drug-related, and 2) a rumor that he was involved with another Tour player’s wife (say what you will about Tiger Woods, but at least he confined himself to porn stars and Denny’s waitresses).

I wish the Tour would be more transparent in these cases so that we are not left to conjecture (and whatever issues Johnson is facing, I would hope he can learn to deal with him), but there has always been a curious relationship among the Tour, its players, and the golf press, all buttressed, naturally, by corporate sponsors that drive tournament purses. Professional golf sells itself as a clean sport, where never is heard a discouraging word. On the flip side, golf “journalists” have largely played along, trading “access” for relatively tame questions of the players. Stepping outside these bounds can have consequences to those covering the game. When noted writer Charles Pierce dared to suggest in GQ back in 1997 that Woods, while regarded potentially the most talented player ever, was a normal 21 year old and not the second coming of Gandhi (as Woods’s father suggested in a Sports Illustrated article), he was accused of “ambush journalism” and was largely blamed for Woods’s guarded relationship with the press going forward.

Running parallel to this is the notion of Woods being chosen for the US Ryder Cup team (a team, by the way, that is seriously impacted by Johnson’s absence).  I’m still amazed that captain Tom Watson has not put this to rest. It’s apparent to everyone (save for 90% of golf commentators and ESPN) that Woods is nowhere near top form and that his back is still an issue. Yet the golf world collectively holds its breath – on Wednesday, the Golf Channel waited for him to show up at Valhalla, and 1) provided commentary on his health based on him opening the tailgate of his SUV and stretching on the bumper, and 2) analyzing his shots on the practice range.

Words is that Woods is “desperate” to be chosen for the Ryder Cup – although “desperate” might be the word that would be best applied to the various media outlets who will cover the event and that seem to go into withdrawal when there he is not in the field. But has anyone even bothered to look at Woods’s Ryder Cup record? First off, it’s below .500. Secondly, there is always major consternation as to who will partner with him, although the question should probably be, “Who the hell WANTS to partner with him,” given his record. Finally – since 1999, the US has won exactly one (1) Cup, in 2008. Guess who wasn’t on the team that year?

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy (who Jack Nicklaus has officially hexed by stating that he should win ‘”15 to 20 majors”) waits in the wings with a chance to win his third tournament in a row (two of them being majors), with a bevy of young challengers waiting in the wings.  That should be the major story going into the PGA Championship this week. I don’t need to watch Tiger Woods practice, and if he chooses to play (and if he were to make the cut), I certainly don’t need to watch him hit another 290-plus shots.  If he truly wants to benefit golf (and himself), he needs to shut it down until he is ready to play again, and stop kidding himself and us.

Rory Revisited and Open Musings

[Originally posted July 21,2014]

Three years ago, after he had blown away the field at the US Open Congressional, I wrote a rather lengthy Facebook post that wondered if we were getting over-heated in our excitement over Rory McIlroy. As you may recall, his win came during the post-Tiger Scandal/First Tiger Injury era, when golf TV ratings had dropped dramatically. I suppose we were all anxious for the Next Big Thing in Golf to identify himself and I suggested that we all take a deep breath before proclaiming him The Next Big Thing in Golf.

[If you’re interested, here it is.]

After winning The Open Championship yesterday, McIlroy, now 25 years old, has won three of golf’s four major titles, which puts him in rarified air along with Mr. Woods and Mr. Nicklaus as being the youngest to do so. It has not always been the smoothest of rides. He left high-profile agent Chubby Chandler, flamed out again at the Masters, had a high-profile romance with Caroline Wozniacki that ended rather clumsily, and at times made statements that reminded us that, yes, he’s in his early 20’s and will say things that someone in his early 20’s will say.  At the same time, he had an awesome 2012 season, winning four times on tour (including another major rout at that year’s PGA Championship). 2013 was something of a dud, but after the breakup with Wozniacki earlier this year, he erased a seven shot deficit in the final round to beat out Thomas Bjorn to capture the European PGA Championship.

And then there was his performance in the Open, which was exhilarating – particularly the eagle/eagle finish on 16 and 18 on Saturday which effectively won the tournament for him. He drove the ball superbly, putted like a Zen master, and responded to his own hiccups and challenges from others admirably. Moreover, he was incredibly patient, not only on the course, but with a media that was obsessed with his recent spate of great Thursday/horrific Friday outings.

It’s a testimony to both Ricky Fowler and Sergio Garcia that they did their best over the weekend to try to make it close; Garcia, particularly. He has never been a favorite of mine; his whining over perceived injustices and outright jackassery on the course (spitting in the cup, kicking a microphone on the tee, throwing one of his shoes at spectators) have not been particularly endearing. But at Hoylake, he played with passion while eschewing the pouting. Even after the ill-fated bunker shot on the back 9 Sunday, he did not quit. And the way he embraced the applause of the spectators on the final hole was truly heartfelt. Maybe he has grown up. Or maybe he’s just someone who will always wear his heart on his sleeve. In any event, the thought of him winning a major no longer repulses me, which perhaps shows growth on both of our parts.

Fowler is no longer a golf clothing model – his work with Butch Harmon has begun to pay off; moreover, of all the contenders at the Open, he seemed to have the most fun. When McIlroy hugged his “mum” in celebration after play ended on Sunday, Fowler could be be seen smiling as he watched and walked by them in the background. Which is some you would never see Tiger Woods do.

Ah, yes – Tiger. Honestly, his issues on the course remain the same as they were prior to his injury; mainly, he can’t drive it consistently in the fairway. This point was driven home by the ESPN broadcasting team to a stupefying degree, primarily because we, the TV viewing audience, were allowed to witness the lion’s share of his 294 shots, which has to be some kind of record. A friend of mine said he felt somewhat sorry for Woods in this tournament. While I could not personally go that far, it was remarkable how quickly he deflated in his second round after a rocky start. He’s going through yet another swing change (one precipitated, no doubt, by injury), and at this point, even his most ardent supporters would have to say that he’s a mess (and please, let’s not get carried away by his opening round 69). He did meet with the media after each round, and for once did not mince words about his game or claim that he was “this close” to being the force he once was. He’s 38 years old, but not unlike Seve Ballesteros at a similar time of his career, it’s an old 38. Much is being made of the fact that Firestone and Valhalla, two of his favorite tracks, are upcoming. If he can’t hit it straight, he’s not going to win anywhere.

I find it amusing that articles are being written today about how Rory is “blocking” Tiger’s path to Nicklaus’s record of 18 professional major wins, when in actuality it’s a talented array of pursuers who could have the majors split among them. Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and the criminally under-appreciated Martin Kaymer are all in or approaching their primes. Fowler is knocking on the door, and Jordan Spieth still can’t legally drink in most of the US. Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera, and Jim Furyk are all major champions in their 40’s who still have plenty of game left. Garcia might be more hungry than ever, and Henrik Stenson (if he can keep his emotions under control) has the game to be a major threat.

But Rory has the total package, has the most upside, and has seemed to have weathered the controversies in his life remarkably well for someone his age. He might not dominate like Tiger did, but he is the man. We might as well get used to it.

Clarkie’s Time

[Author’s Note – originally posted in 2011 on my now-defunct web site]

When I last visited Scotland in 2006, it seemed that virtually everyone I met wanted to talk about the untimely death of the wife of Northern Ireland golfer Darren Clarke. The news was particularly sad as Brenda Clarke was a lovely young woman who battled breast cancer for several years before succumbing at the age of 39. As for Darren Clarke – well, Clarkie seemed to be the type of fellow who would be just as comfortable downing a pint with his mates as he would be pounding a tight draw down the middle of the fairway. His “Everyman” quality seemed to touch most of the golf world, particularly those in Europe and the UK.

And Clarkie has always had some game – while one seldom heard him mentioned in that curious discussion of “Best Player Never to HaveWon a Major” (Colin Montgomery and Sergio Garcia have seemed to lead that particular topic), he could be a dangerous competitor, particularly in matchplay competition. He once took down Tiger Woods – an at-the-peak-of-his-powersTiger Woods – 4&3 in the finals of the 2000 Accenture World Match Play tournament; even more remarkably, Woods smiled broadly in congratulating Clarke in defeat; even the sport’s most churlish competitor seemed to enjoy Clark’s company despite getting whacked.

But as one might expect, the loss of a loved one weighed heavily on Clarke; he did come back to play in the Ryder Cup in 2006 after taking a 6 week leave from golf, but over the past few years his play had been spotty – his putting, never his long suit, was particularly vexing – and watched as his young countrymen, Graham McDowell and the precocious Rory McElroy rose in the world rankings, while Darren sank to 111th prior to this past week’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s.

The Open has grown to be my favorite tournament to watch – The Masters, while having the potential for exciting finishes due to Augusta National’s famed back 9, does not have the strongest field, The U.S. Open is frequently a death march (except for maybe this year, where it felt more like the Kemper Open), and the PGA is often non-descript. The Open, on the other hand, is always played on a links course unlike any we see in America, and the unpredictable course contours and climate changes call for an altogether different sort of shot-making; controlling trajectory in the wind and bumping the ball along the firm, fast fairways (which often have equal pace as do the greens)  become the skills of choice. And unlike American courses, finding a fairway bunker more often than not results in a lost stroke.

And Darren Clarke, who grew up playing regularly on one of the greatest links courses in the world (Royal Portrush – and, please, R&A, please find a way to bring the Open to that marvelous venue), is a master at navigating an Open-style course. His swing typically features a low finish,crucial to maintaining a boring ball trajectory that holds up well in windy conditions, and he has the acumen to play the low, running shots that work so well around undulating green complexes.

So when Phil Mickelson made his front 9 charge on Sunday (and that was truly a delight to watch; only a lipped out birdie attempt on #8kept him from shooting 29), Clarke simply went about his business, matching Lefty’s front 9 eagle with one of his own, and while Phil resumed missing 2 to4 foot par putts – a now-familiar and distressing aspect of his M.O. these days, Darren was rock-solid over every putt that mattered.

And when Dustin Johnson – who had entered the final day tied with Clarkie, and who struck the ball well pretty much all day – inexplicably sailed his lay-up shot out of bounds on 14, that for all intents decided theOpen.

The ABC commentators, particularly Mike Tirico and CurtisStrange (who was never a huge fan of the Open), seemed to be intent on describing Clarke’s final round as being the result of fortunate circumstance (i.e.,luck), and to be fair, he did benefit from several odd bounces and seemed to be less affected by the flash storms that ran through the course on Sunday. But such is the nature of golf – particularly sea-side links golf. And if anyone in golf deserves a break or two, it’s Darren Clarke.

Let’s All Calm Down


[NOTE: Originally posted on Facebook – June 20, 2011)

I made an observation on Facebook about Rory McIlroy’s record-setting U.S. Open victory that some took to be a bit harsh (“McIlroy held up – good on him. But let’s hold off on any coronation.”). I was not being disrespectful or “grumpy”; I’ll try to explain it here.

First off – I give all due props and a huge huzzah to him. Not only was this a dominating performance against a strong field, it was a redemption of sorts – most people with a passing knowledge of the current events of golf know that McIlroy not only has a ridiculous level of skill, but also has endured a couple of rather unfortunate (and very visible) blowups in major events; most recently in this year’s Masters, which was as painful a meltdown as I’ve seen on a golf course (this coming from a man who, in addition to witnessing any number of Shark gag jobs, recalls Arnie blowing a seven shot lead in the ’66 Open, watched Mark Calcheveccia nearly destroy his career at the ’91 Ryder Cup, and, oh yes, there was this guy from France named Van de Velde).  I’m sure his followers held their collective breath over the weekend when he once again jumped out to a fast start, and were quite relieved when he kept it in high gear. With a huge lead on Sunday, his strategy changed slightly, but he continued to deliver quality golf shots (including a near-ace on number 10) and was able to coast to victory.

There are a lot of reasons why golf fans want to embrace McIlroy – aside from his breath-taking talent and nearly perfect swing (think Freddie Couples tempo with better technique), he is a very young-looking 21 year old who is unfailingly polite when interviewed (he seems equally accessible after both good and bad rounds, and his positive response to Bob Costas’s query about playing more in the US was, I’m sure, welcome news to PGA tour sponsors here), appears to be genuinely liked by his peers (I did like his comment about ensuring that plenty of Guiness would be available to celebrate his win), doesn’t act like a jackass when he suffers some misfortune on the golf course, and has not been declared the second coming of Gandhi by his father.. Some might think that these points might be pointed at or contrasted against a certain player who was absent from the Open field due to injury. They would be correct. And this is part of my concern.

For the past fifteen odd years, one name, for better or worse (I personally think it’s the latter, but I’m probably in the minority) has dominated the game of golf – yes, there would be the occasional burst from Phil or Ernie, or a rare supernova named Duval would spectacularly blaze across the horizon, but generally speaking, any time one Eldrick Woods decided to tee it up, he was the de facto defending champion and odd-on favorite to win whatever tournament was being played (well, except for maybe Ryder Cup matches and any event held at Riviera). We marveled at his skill and celebrated his fist-pumping tenacity, while either forgiving or ignoring on-course and post-round behavior that at times was juvenile, rude, or borderline unsportsmanlike.

And now a confluence of events has sidelined Mr. Woods, and there’s no guarantee that if and when he returns he can regain the skills (or develop new ones, such as, oh, occasionally hitting a fairway every now and then) that propelled him to the top. And in a time of economic difficulty, the absence of golf’s most bankable star has certainly had an adverse affect at minimum on televised ratings and other peripherals of the game.

So when a performance such as McIlroy’s occurs, and when NBC has sunk mucho dinerointo televising golf in general and USGA events in particular, there is an overwhelming desire by those who most stand to benefit from it (other than the golfer, of course) to coronate someone as the “next” whomever. The wide margin of victory allowed for some rather fanciful speculation by the broadcast commentators (including a phone call to Jack Nicklaus) concerning Rory’s long-term prospects, and already the pundits are debating the likelihood of him catching Woods or (gasp) Nicklaus in the major championship department, all of which seems to be a bit premature.

[On a somewhat more practical level, a friend of mine who has gone totally over the top about McIlroy’s win wondered aloud which endorsements Tiger lost as a result of his off-course issues; I mentioned Gatorade as one of them. He bet me $10 that within six months Rory will be the new golf spokesman for that particular product. I will be generous and buy him a drink when he pays me off. How does vodka and orange Gatorade taste, anyway?]

We seem to have forgotten the great Masters finish of one Charl Schwartzel, who birdied the final four holes on the final day to win that tournament (no one had ever done that before, either). Or a similarly dominating performance at last year’s British Open by Louis Oosthuizen (and if you want to really start a spirited debate with those dazzled by McIlroy’s win, have them check out this:http://espn.go.com/espn/grantland/story/_/id/6680477/relative-dominance). Or the brave win by Martin Kaymer at last year’s PGA at Whistling Straits (Dustin Johnson’s blunder/screwjob notwithstanding).

Rory McIlroy is a part of the next generation of potentially outstanding golfers who grew up watching (and were no doubt inspired by) the play of Tiger Woods (and maybe Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke . . .) and benefited from improved instruction (the likelihood of a Jim Furyk-styled swing ever emerging again seems pretty remote), broader playing opportunities, and, yes, improved technology. Aside from his undeniable youthful appeal, he has posted sick numbers on some very respectable tracks, appears to have an unlimited ceiling, and will certainly be a favorite at Royal St. George’s next month.

He also, at this point, has won the same number of major tournaments as Furyk, Mark Brooks, Fred Couples, Davis Love, Orville Moody, Jerry Barber, the Hebert brothers (individually), Sean McKeil, and those mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago (on the other hand, he’s won more than Collin Montgomery or Sergio Garcia, so there’s that . . .).

Golf is a peculiar and often cruel game (just ask Greg Norman). I applaud young McIlroy for his great victory; a win at the British would certainly cement his reputation and maybe even make people forget about TW for awhile. But it’s useful to remember that when Tiger made his initial mark at Augusta, it was more than two years later that he broke through on his next major, the 1999 PGA at Medinah. My biggest hope for Rory is that he keeps a level head, maintains his desire, and enjoys whatever success he attains in the game on his own terms, not on the expectations of others. In this age of instant fame, hype, and gratification, it might be too much to ask.