Tag Archives: Tiger Woods

Bethpage Blues – Part 2

Day 2 in the books . . .

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

  • Onward and upward, lads!

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.

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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.

Augusta Tries to Grow the Game

One day was celebration of a return to glory.

The other was recognition of the remarkable ability of a gender.

One can argue which of these was more significant. All I know is that Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley has to be wearing a broad smile after what transpired at his club the past eight days.

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The climax of the Tiger Woods Redemption Story is what’s dominating news cycles, social media, and sports talk radio this morning, and frankly, it should be. His victory, highlighted by a vintage Tiger dagger on 16 (he nearly recorded the third ace of the day on that hole), also provided a certain measure of revenge against his previous two major championship vanquishers – Open Champion Francesco Molinari (who looked rock solid for three and a half rounds until he joined the Death By Rae’s Creek Fraternity at the 12th hole) and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka (who had chances late in the round but couldn’t convert some makeable putts).

From a pure golf standpoint, how Woods ultimately won was something of a departure from his usual M-O. Must of us are accustomed to Tiger recovering from errant tee shots and holing every putt in sight, and while there were a few Big Cat sightings in Augusta’s pines and a couple of bombs holed out, what sealed the tournament for him was the way he managed the course.

They say that experience counts at Augusta, and Woods’s play throughout the competition was, pardon the pun, masterful. He understood when to attack, and, more importantly, when to back off. Nowhere was this more evident than on Augusta’s 12th hole, perhaps the most perplexing par 3 hole in the world. Many have postulated on how best to judge the wind; apparently the theories of Molinari, Koepka, and Tony Finau were faulty, as all three of them dumped their tee shots into Rae’s Creek.

Tiger was having none of that. Having played there enough to understand that firing at the Sunday flag on 12 is a fool’s game, he rifled a 9-iron over the front bunker, leaving a lengthy but dry putt. That unspectacular shot essentially won the tournament for him.

The reaction to his victory has been . . . well, interesting. Sports media, of course, loves a good story, and the story of Tiger Woods has been as wild as that of any major celebrity. It’s also leading the speculation of him reaching Jack Nicklaus’s major victory mark of 18 and a possible Grand Slam (“He’s won at Bethpage! He’s won at Pebble Beach! He’s won at – oh wait, they haven’t played the Open Championship at Royal Portrush since 1952 . . . No matter, he’s going to do it!”).

Social media reaction has been mixed, as many have chosen to judge Woods on his (and his handlers) past moments of arrogance and sins of the flesh (I wonder how many of the latter voted for Donald Trump?).

For me, the real story was Tiger’s post-victory celebration with his family, the reception he received from his fellow competitors as he marched to the scorer’s area, and, most of all, the manner in which he fielded questions from the assembled golf media. While he will always keep some distance between himself and the press, his joy and humility were palpable. And his final statement to them was downright funny – “Now I have something for show and tell on Monday!”


While Tiger’s win can be considered another one for the ages, what transpired at Augusta on the Saturday prior to the Masters may have broader long term implications for the future of golf.

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur, first announced last year by Chairman Ridley, was an unqualified success; the perfect confluence of setting and personality. Seventy-two of the world’s best female amateurs were invited to the event, one which featured a rather unusual format – the first two rounds were played at Champions Retreat in nearby Evans, Georgia on Wednesday and Thursday, which reduced the field to 30. But all participants were afforded the opportunity to play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday, with the 30 finalists teeing off on Saturday.

So while the course provided the setting – particularly the second nine (along with all the other jargon that The Great (mostly) White Fathers of Augusta impose of the golf community, I learned this year that there is not a front nine and back nine there; instead, it’s “the first nine” and “second nine”) – the personality was spread among the participants, almost all of whom were beaming as they finished their rounds.

The main fireworks came from the final pairing of Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi, who pulled away from the rest of the field and put on a display of shot-making that left even the most hardened golfing chauvinist awestruck. Ms Fassi is a next-level star-in-waiting – a native of Mexico and a star at the University of Arkansas, she possesses a powerful swing and a thousand megawatt smile. Her interaction with the “patrons” (translation from Augusta lingo – “spectators”) was on a level with that of Lee Trevino, and should bring a breath of fresh air to the LPGA.

Jennifer Kupcho, on the other hand, was a bit more reserved – although she, too, could not hide her delight at playing at Augusta. And she pulled off two of the gutsiest shots I’ve seen on the 13th and 15th holes that for all intents won the tournament for her. The Wake Forest senior should also make some noise in the future, as well.

More than the quality of play exhibited by these two young women was their obvious mutual respect and sportsmanship. They conversed throughout the round, applauded each other’s shots, and, at the risk of gushing, did the game of golf proud.


 

Which leads me to the fulcrum of my gist.

Much has been said about the impact of Tiger Woods on golf. The argument goes that he would bring more people – particularly young people of various ethnic backgrounds – into the game. One look at the Augusta National sponsored Drive, Chip, and Putt competition (held for ages 7 through 13 the day after the Women’s Amateur) would certainly support that point. And the obvious spike in television ratings when Tiger is in the field cannot be denied.

At the same time, some have tried to make the point that Tiger’s absence from the game has resulted in a downturn in participation and the closing of golf courses. That’s giving The Cat a bit too much credit. Course closings are more of a result of a projection made back in the 80’s and 90’s that retiring baby boomers would take up the game in droves. That has simply not turned out to be the case.

Where the game’s best opportunity for growth has been – and will continue to be – is participation by women. Many savvy parents have recognized the opportunities presented by Title IX and steered their daughters toward the game. And as more women have climbed the corporate ladder, familiarity with the game affords exposure to more clients.

My friend Sharon, a retired insurance executive and avid golfer, will watch her local high school girl’s golf team practice from her back patio. I once asked her what appealed to her about watching them.

“How intense they are,” she replied. “The control and command of the game at such a young age.”

“That’s good insight,” I replied.

She continued.

“The way they cheer for each other and walk down the course together. They realize the competition is within yourself and not who you are playing with.”

I think she has something there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Cat Redux

I really want to write about how a resolute Brooks Koepka overpowered Bellrieve CC in St Louis this past weekend to win the 100th PGA Championship, his second major victory this season and his third in two years.

I wish I could expand on how Koepka has translated his pure athleticism into perhaps the most powerful and accurate swing in all of golf, and how unflappable and stoic he remained in the midst of one of the wildest on course atmospheres in modern golf history.

And I’d love to delve into what drives Brooks Koepka; how he carries a chip – hell, an entire tree limb – on his shoulder whenever he tees it up, as he continues to generally be overlooked or ignored as a force with which to be reckoned in the golfing world.

While I’m at it – Adam Scott’s brave effort, driven in part by the death of fellow Aussie golfer and friend Jarred Lyle, perhaps deserves an entry of its own.

But no – there’s really only one story to write about this year’s PGA. It’s been the story of this golf season, and one that may or may not be over. But damn . . .

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I had read a lot of Tiger Woods’s exploits as a youth golfer, but the first time I saw him tee it up was at the 1994 US Amateur. It was played at Sawgrass that year; his opponent in the finals was Trip Kuehne, an accomplished player from one of the first families of American golf. Tiger was a skinny teenager clad in shorts and a wide-brimmed straw hat that day. The most vivid memory I have of that match, one from which Woods came back from a 5 stroke deficient with 12 to play, was his uncanny ability to recover from what looked to be inescapable situations on Pete Dye’s torture track of a golf course.

I was reminded of this on Sunday, when Woods shot a three-under par 32 on the front side of Bellrieve despite not hitting a single fairway. In many ways, it was vintage Tiger, replete with helicopter follow-through swings when he needed to work the ball, early strides to the hole when he just knew the ball was going to drop, and, of course, several patented fist pumps, including a final hole birdie that sent the record-breaking number of St Louis spectators into delirium.

The only thing missing was Tiger’s name being engraved on the Wanamaker for a 5th time, but unlike in the past (and to paraphrase his own words), second place this time definitely did not suck. His final round 64 was the best he ever shot in the final round of a major, the smile he wore in congratulating Koepka was genuine, and his post-tournament presser was as reflective as any of us have heard from him.

I count myself among those who thought that Woods could not make his way back this far into golfing relevance. Part of it was driven from the empirical evidence of his physical condition and play from previous comeback attempts. I’ll also admit to a strong dislike of what I saw as arrogance toward media and his own fans, and behavior on the course that was excused as “intensity” while condemned when displayed by others.

The fallout from the infamous Thanksgiving fire-hydrant incident was seen as an appropriate comeuppance by his detractors (myself included), although in retrospect, his “sins” pale in comparison to those of two other icons who fell at that time, Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong. Nonetheless, as Woods receded and new faces emerged, it seemed evident to me that golf was ready for the next era.

And it may well be. The talent level in golf has never been higher or more competitive, not only in America but around the world. What makes it special is that the guy who inspired it all is back in the mix. At this point, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not Tiger wins another tournament (although if he does, it will likely shut down all social media).

The fact is, much like that 1994 US Amateur, Tiger hasn’t just punched out of the trees; he’s pulled off what looked to be impossible. Yeah, I’m on board. Pass the crow, I’ll eat it.

 

The Open Championship – Or How The Quiet Italian Killed The Cat

Italy’s Francesco Molinari is likely not a name familiar to the casual golf observer. In fact, for a time Francesco wasn’t even the best known golfing Molinari, as his older brother Edoardo won the 2005 US Amateur. But the younger Molinari developed a reputation as a superior striker of the golf ball, and this year has seemed to crack the code with his short game, having won on both the Euro and American PGA tours and finishing second at the John Deere Classic prior to the Open Championship.

And now he is The Champion Golfer of the Year.

Before we get to the particulars, a tip of the hat must go to the R&A and the greens keeping staff at Carnoustie. As we previously discussed, Carnoustie is a difficult but fair test of golf, and with the proper climate conditions, it delivers everything that a championship track should. As it turned out, Mother Nature provided a variety of backdrops (rain Friday and nearly no wind to speak of on Saturday), but a welcome (at least for fans of the Open Championship) “fresh breeze” on Sunday (topping out at the 25 mph mark) made for an wild day of golf.

And there were no complaints from the field, no USGA jackets scurrying around the course or answering queries on TV … are you watching there in Fair Lawn, NJ?

Going into the weekend, Kevin Kisner was the surprise co-leader – surprising in that he arrived at Carnoustie in less than optimal form, not having posted a top 20 finish in months. But he putted spectacularly on the slower fescue greens, and found himself tied with 2015 Open champ Zach Johnson at 6 under par.

And then Saturday came. The lack of wind rendered the course nearly defenseless – Justin Rose fired a 64, while defending champ Jordan Spieth and the aforementioned Molinari each carded 65. But the biggest eruption came from a certain feline-monikered golfer named Eldrick Woods, who, after two rather indifferent even par rounds, practically broke social media with an electrifying 66.

Still, that found him 4 shots behind Spieth, Kisner, and rising star Xander Schauffele, all of whom finished at 9 under. Molinari was 3 back, and would be paired with Woods for the final round.

Sunday brought a lot of wind and for awhile, an unlikely leader in The clubhouse in England’s Eddie Pepperell, who is as close as golf gets to having a Renaissance Man. Eddie went around in 67 despite, as he openly admitted on Twitter, suffering from the after effects of a night on the town. That put him at 5 under, which for a long time looked like a possibility for a playoff.

This came about as a result of the three leaders shifting their games in reverse and returning to the pack. Kisner’s putting abandoned him, Schauffele realized that he was leading golf’s oldest championship, and Spieth – well, with Jordan Spieth, one never knows what he’ll get. On Sunday, he took an ugly double on #6, and it was all downhill from there.

So for a brief time on Sunday, the stars aligned f.or the Tiger Woods worshippers of the world. The Big Cat had taken sole posession of the lead on 7 and on the 10th hole, he hoisted a 155 yard wedge shot from a nasty fairway bunker that no other person on the planet could have imagined trying to the front part of the green to save par. Commentators Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller were hyperventilating. “Is this the year 2000 again?,” wondered Hicks.

No, it wasn’t. Woods hit a wayward iron off the tee on 11 and an even worse second that fortunately (for him) struck a spectator and bounded back in play towards the back of the green. Faced with the choice of playing a safe chip leaving a 12 putt for par or attempting a high-risk flop shot that even at the height of his powers would have a less than 50% chance of succeding, Tiger, perhaps feeling some hubris from what he pulled off on 10, choose the latter. It didn’t work, and his chances of winning greatly diminished from that point on.

But it was a thrilling exhibition of his ability and, of course, a reminder that he creates as much buzz as any sporting figure in the world. At the same time, it also revealed a 42 year old golfer attempting to return to past glory but not quite being able to close the deal. As Rory McIlroy stated, Tiger just doesn’t scare the field anymore. That’s not to say that he can’t or won’t win again- his 6th place finish put him into the WGC event at Firestone, a locale whose confines are as friendly to him as Wrigley Field’s are to the Cubs -but it’ll be a helluva lot harder to do.

While all this was going on, Molinari, playing alongside Tiger (who later described Molinari’s play as “beautiful”), quietly went about his business, grinding out a Nick Faldo-esque 13 consecutive pars before making birdie on 14 to take the lead along with Schaffele, who showed a lot of moxie after an indifferent front 9.  He added a birdie on 18 (which played ridiculously easy on Sunday) to go up by one, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Schaffele, who was playing 17 as this happened. 17 at Carnoustie into the wind is one of the hardest par-4’s in the world, as the Barry Burn traverses the fairway twice and forces players to lay back to a less than comfortable distance. In Xander’s case, he had 254 yards to a tucked right hand flag. The prudent play would have been for him to hit to the center of the green, two putt for par, and take his chances on 18. Shauffelle chose otherwise and pushed his approach well to the right, leaving him with a short sided pitch made even more difficult by the presence of a finicky three year old child trapped with his mother at the spectator rope. To his everlasting credit, Xander saw the humor in the situation and allowed himself a chuckle. Alas, he was unable to get up and down.

Molinari watched all of this from a comfortable waiting area with an air that could be described as calm concern, occasionally flashing a smile that reminds one of a younger version of actor Hank Azari. His victory speech was modest and gracious, if not particularly memorable. And I’m not sure that, given the bombast of Tiger Woods’s performance, many will recall how well he played. So I’m here to remind one and all that for the final 36 holes of the Open Championship on one of the most difficult courses in the world, Francesco Molinari did not make a single bogey.

Hai giocato a golf bellissimo, Franceso.

 

 

He’s Back (Part the Infinity)

[Yes, yes, I know it’s been a while. Some changes – some planned, some unforeseen – have kept the Golf Nerd off the intertoobs for a while. But I’m back – and that coincides with the return of a slightly better known golf entity . . .]

Apparently, Paul Casey picked the wrong weekend to win a golf tournament.

Virtually any other week, the golfing press would report on Casey finally exorcizing the final round demons that had kept the talented Englishman out of the PGA Tour winner’s circle since 2009 by firing a final round 65 to take home the Valspar Championship against a reasonably strong field ….

No. No one wants to hear about that.

Instead, the golf world – check that, the sporting world – is agog over the fact that Tiger Woods is “back.”

“Back” takes on a variety of connotations here – it appears that the radical fusion surgery that was done on that part of the Big Cat’s anatomy (please don’t ask what actually got fused; to me, vertebrae are labeled like Scrabble tiles) appears to have held up, allowing him to complete four rounds of golf relatively pain free and with a swing that is producing scary numbers as far as speed is  concerned.

“Back” in that apart from missing the cut at the Genesis Open at Rivera (a track that for some reason has never suited his game), Tiger has shown remarkable progress each time he has teed it up, starting with making the cut on the number at Torrey Pines to almost getting himself into a playoff with Casey.

“Back,” meaning television ratings and on-course attendance went through the roof for a tournament that otherwise would normally attract us typical golf nerds and not too many other folks.

“Back” to the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational next week in Orlando, which TW has already captured a ridiculous 8 times.

“Back” in that Vegas has installed Woods as a 10-1 favorite at Augusta in a few weeks, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable.

Yeah, the man, as they say, “moves the needle.” The Golf Nerd Goddess and I were pretty much glued to our TV for most of the weekend to see if Tiger could hold up for the weekend. Phil Mickelson, after ending his own victory drought at the WGC event in Mexico City the previous week, joked on The Dan Patrick Show, joked that Tiger would probably win the Valspar just to one-up him again. With all due respect to Lefty, Woods being in contention was enough to push him to the background.

As someone who had pretty much written off Woods and either dismissed or ridiculed each of his previous comeback attempts, I will own that and happily eat some crow, humble pie, or whatever plateful of slop you wish to place in front of me. At the same time, folks thinking that he’s “back” to being the unstoppable dominant force of yesterday need to pump the brakes.

Yes, the swing speed is back. At the same time, it’s still a challenge for Woods to get the driver in the fairway. To be fair, the few times he pulled it out on Sunday he drove it beautifully, but not having the confidence in it to hit it on the final hole trailing by a shot left him a good 50 or so yards back for his approach from the rest of the field. That could very well put him at a disadvantage on venues where length is a factor.

His iron play, by his own admission, was average at best on Sunday, an outcome he attributed to being in-between clubs a lot of the time. That can be attributed to a lack of feel and an absence from being in the thick of competition for a while.

Tiger knows all of that – and that may be why that this version of the Cat may be the most endearing to watch. You knew that this was a different Tiger when he was genuinely pleased at making that cut at Torrey. And when he rolled in that gargantuan put on 17 to pull within one of the lead, there was no histrionic fist pump and shout; rather, a huge, almost sheepish smile broke out over his face, almost as if to say “Did I just do that?”

The man has been through a lot – yeah, much of it has been self-inflicted, but we love a comeback story, don’t we? Particularly one where the protagonist has been humbled and is grinding his way back, which is the script that Woods seems to be following. And throwing him into a mix of the talented young guns and a seemingly ageless Mickelson should make for compelling watching in the coming weeks.

Oh – and Paul Casey? Nice win, pal.

Departures and Arrivals

Golf in the Olympics turned out to be surprisingly compelling. Justin Rose edged out Henrik Stenson on the men’s side, while In Bee Park, carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, dominated the women’s competition. Moreover, Gil Hanse’s masterful course design not only delivered a marvelous canvas for the participants to display their skills, but also provided a low-maintenance track that could springboard golf participation in Brazil.

Or so we thought. Reports from several publications indicate that the Olympic Golf Course is dying a slow but inevitable death. Reasons cited are the high greens fees ($74 – $82 per round), resulting in very few rounds being played (on the bright side, no pace of play issues!) and the continued financial crisis is Brazil, which has resulted in the course’s maintenance crew not being paid for at least a couple of months.

A friend of mine pointed out that many Olympic venues become white elephants after the Games closing ceremonies (really, how much use would a cycling velodrome or kayaking course get post-Olympics?) and that one should have expected this outcome.  He’s probably correct, but unlike the other structures, a golf course has a life, and the good/great ones have a distinct character. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course has the latter in spades, what with its wide fairways, strategic bunkering, and seaside linksy qualities- in other words, the type of course that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

It will be missed.


In the meantime, one of my home courses, TPC at the Four Seasons, will hold its final Byron Nelson Classic next year. This is only a mild surprise to us, as AT&T took over sponsorship a few years ago and announced its intention to move the tournament to a new Crenshaw-Coore design in a currently depressed area that is being gentrified (and in which AT&T has a vested interest) in 2019 The course has been announced ready to play; hence, the move date was bumped up by a year.

I’m of mixed emotions about this, as I think most members of courses who host a professional event would be. While there is a certain prestige of holding a tour event as well as an emphasis on course conditioning, there’s also some inconvenience involved, primarily loss of access to the facility (although in our case, we’re fortunate in being a  36 hole complex, so our members can continue to play).

And I’m not sure how the professionals will feel about the move. At one time, “The Byron” was a must play, particularly when Mr Nelson was still with us. Our course has hosted the event since 1983; the list of past winners is a veritable who’s who of golfing greats. In recent years, the field has been somewhat diluted due in part to a PGA Tour schedule change that moved the The Players Championship from March to May, occurring a week before “The Byron.” Many big name players choose to take off the week following The Players Championship.

As stated above, The Byron’s new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club, is part of a redevelopment project in a somewhat depressed area of Dallas. The course was built on top of a landfill, and has a decidedly links-like feel. My guess is that the pros will enjoy the course, but will miss the convenience of the current site, which features a 4 star hotel on premises and easy access to both DFW and Love Field airports. And from a spectator’s standpoint, parking and transport in and out of The Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. Not so much for the new venue.

I won’t miss having cart-path only access to TPC for three months, nor will I miss the disruption of grandstand and concession stand construction/deconstruction that accompanies the tournament. But the atmosphere at The Byron has always been quite festive, and the golf remarkable. Plus there was always the opportunity of a chance encounter with Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, or Paulina Gretsky.

It will be missed.


After months of conjecture and near-misses, it appears that Tiger Woods will finally make his return at his Hero Challenge in the Bahamas, a very limited field event (20 players) that doesn’t count as an official PGA Tour event but somehow counts in the World Golf Rankings. When Tiger began his layoff in late 2015, his ranking was 247; it’s now somewhere in the 800’s. Golf writer Jason Sobel wanted to know how such a fall could occur while The Big Cat wasn’t playing; my response to him was that either position was not particularly desirable. [To his credit, Tiger, when asked by one reporter what his expectations were for the season, joked that if he could be in the top 1,000 in the world rankings, he’d be happy].

In a year that’s seen a US Ryder Cup victory, a number of notable celebrity deaths and a political campaign that has gone beyond surreal, I am not even going to hazard a guess as to how Woods performs this week. He did proclaim that he can now hit “any shot, any time on demand,” which hopefully translates to him being able to find the fairway off the tee more consistently. I’ll leave it to Peter Kostis or Gary McCord to analyze his swing changes; to my relatively untrained eye, he seems to have come up with a move that puts less stress on his back.

I wish him well. That may come as a surprise to some who know my past feelings about him, but he seems to have developed some perspective during his layoff. Last year at this time, he spoke of being “vulnerable,” something that most folks would have never expected from such a dominant figure. I think his involvement as a vice-captain in the Ryder Cup was well-received by the US team, and he’s already been tapped for a similar role for the Presidents Cup next year.

But please, please, please – let’s temper our expectations. This will not be Tiger circa 2007. He will no longer show up on Sunday wearing red and scaring the shit out of the competition. He won’t make every putt inside of 6 feet when it matters the most. And he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’s major championship record.

Then again, I never thought Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. Stay tuned.