Monday, January 31, 2011

New Titleist Pro V1

I wanted to pass along this note put together by the golf staff at the GlobalGolfPost on the brand new Titleist Pro V1 that has generated buzz from some of the pros who have gotten a sneak preview of the new ball and generated even more buzz when it was unveiled at the PGA Merchandise show last week.  If you want to hear Bubba Watson's take on the new ball (he used it to win this weekend) here is a link to a video where he gives it to you straight!

I have always wondered if for certain products there is just an absolute limit as to how much farther a company can innovate.  Let's take razors for instance.  I think we are up to somewhere in the vicinity of the Mach75.  I mean, at what point can you simply not get a closer shave without hacking off chunks of your skin?  I worry about things like this.  But apparently the people at Team Titleist are sure that golf balls do not fit into this category, as they keep coming up with new and different innovations to make their products better.  I, for one, am excited to get my hands on a dozen of the new Pro V1s when they are rolled out to retail stores later this month.

I remember when I was in high school, back in the late 90s, when we played our high school golf matches we got a new sleeve of Titleist Tour 90 balata balls.  That was like Christmas morning a couple of times a week!  The idea that we have come leaps and bounds in golf ball innovation since then is pretty cool.  The reviews for the ball are very good.  The basic gist is that for the Pro V1, Titleist was able to increase spin by changing they way they built the core of the ball and tinkering with the molding process, but were actually able to add more distance by changing the design of the dimples.  Titleist also gained distance on the Pro V1x by changing the cover to allow for a higher ball flight trajectory.

I figure you can look at these innovations in golf equipment in one of two ways:  1) The new balls (and all of the newly designed golf clubs) are ways to really take advantage of advances in modern technology to improve your game, or 2) Become even more frustrated because even with all of the newfangled technology, we still can't keep it out of the rough!  This is especially depressing when you realize that Ben Hogan flawlessly played the game essentially with a block of wood on the bottom of a pole and a ball as technologically advanced as one of those super bouncy balls you can buy for a quarter in the supermarket.  Yet we play on...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bubba Reigns at Torrey Pines!

What a weekend at Torrey!  I figured there is no better way to wrap up the first weekend of HGO's existence by sharing some thoughts about the final round at Torrey Pines today -- one of golf's great venues.

-Bubba ball was in full effect today!  First of all, he seems to genuinely be one of the greatest guys on tour.  Granted, I am limited in my evaluation by what I read in the press and what I hear and see from him on Twitter (@bubbawatson) but he just seems like a great guy who works hard, lives right and plays the game with passion and a great will to win.  I think I first became a Bubba fan after his loss to Martin Kaymer in the PGA Championship playoff, and everything that has happened since just keeps making me love the guy even more!  I hope he has a huge year -- and the way he is playing, he can.  If he tightens up his short game and keeps the flat stick in check, he could really be poised to have a monster year.  And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.  He has such a powerful swing -- it may not be like watching Bobby Jones' flawless motion, but it sure generates awesome power.  I mean, he went Driver-wedge on the 13th hole today, which was listed on the card as over 600 yards.  I guess uncorking a 363 yard drive helps!

-Jhonny Vegas' hot run at the table came to an end on 18.  Caught a little too much grass with the five iron and ended up in the pond fronting the green in his bid to try to catch Watson.  But even with rolling a craps on 18, he is still the best story coming out of the PGA Tour season thus far.  He has a likeable personality and a really pure, fluid golf swing.  He seems as if he will be lurking around the leaderboard on weekends to come this year.  He obviously also has the best name around!

-It was a little anti-climactic, with all of the talk about Tiger leading up to this weekend (and after his opening 69s on Thursday and Friday), to have the Sunday coverage start with Tiger on 17.  Tiger had a good start but faded on the weekend as he battled his new swing changes.  But it was his first tournament of the year, and while his progression this year may not be as linear as his success has been in the past, he is moving in the right direction.

-There were a couple of shots out of the rough today by the leaders that demonstrated 1) what the USGA was trying to do with the change in the groove rule last year and 2) how the pros have to alter their approach to hitting shots out of the rough with the new grooves.  Mickelson hit a masterful approach on 10 out of the rough where he landed the ball short of the green and allowed the ball release to within about 15 feet of the cup.  Bubba hit a similar approach on 15.  The commercials are right...these guys are good!

-HDTV and advances in TV technology really enhance golf broadcasts.  The super X-mo swing analysis is an awesome tool to help show us mere mortals toiling away on the public links how the golf swing should look  on a step by step basis.

-What was up with the commercial lead-ins with the guy hitting the ball under the tree, into the sunset and out into the ocean?  I mean, I hope he was using range balls, because with golf balls as expensive as it is today, my man was spending some serious cash there...

-The very Un-Mickelson lay-up on 18.  You usually don't hear the words "Mickelson" and "conservative play" in the same sentence, but that is exactly what could be heard around the 18th on Torrey Pines this afternoon.  I can't criticize Mickelson for not going for the green there.  He didn't have a great lie in the rough and there was a tree not too far ahead of him.  With the pin front left, tucked perilously close to the drink, it would have been nearly impossible to get it anywhere close from that predicament.  Not that impossible has ever stopped Phil before.  It was a little strange, however, that he decided to lay up without knowing what Watson did on 18.  But perhaps that is just the final piece of the puzzle confirming that Phil knew he just couldn't get it close from there.  He did make the finish interesting though.  Having Bones run up to the green to tend the pin on a 72 yard shot was awesome...and then he almost made it!  Can you imagine the scene?  That would have been unreal.

A great weekend of golf -- and a great start to the HGO blog!  Please come back often, spread the word, and join in the discussion!

Intent and the Rules of Golf

The Rules of Golf as they appear in the USGA Museum's Seagle Electronic Golf Library available at www.usgamuseum.com
Is there room in the Rules of Golf for the intent of the player when deciding on whether or not that player has committed an infraction?

It is a question that is gripping the golf world right now in the light of a number of high-profile (and many would say stupid and unnecessary) penalties and disqualifications for minor rules infractions where the players committed breaches without even knowing or realizing it.  These concerns have sparked spirited debate on both sides of the issue.  On the one hand, rules purists argue that the Rules of Golf are what they are -- they are black and white and there is no room for intent and if you commit an infraction, as measured by the letter of the rule, you have to bear the consequences.  On the other hand, many people have commented that it doesn't make much sense for a player to be disqualified for a breach of a rule that he did not realize occurred or where he did not gain any advantage.  We here at HGO feel compelled to mix it up a little bit on this issue!

Just to provide a little context for some of the high profile rules gaffes of late, let's look at three of the most recent examples.

Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
1) Padraig Harrington's disqualification at the Abu Dhabi Championship.  The lovable Irishman was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard after his ball moved by a dimple or two when he accidentally touched it while he was in the process of removing his ballmark.  Harrington actually realized at the time that he touched the ball in the process of removing his mark, but he looked at the logo mark on his ball and determined it had not moved.  The violation was emailed to European Tour officials by a viewer watching the event on television (who of course had the benefit of high def tv and the ability to pause and rewind the incident frame by frame).  However, the incident did not come to light until after Harrington completed his round and signed for an incorrect scorecard, signing for a score lower than what he should have carded because he did not assess himself a two stroke penalty under Rule 20-3 for not replacing the ball prior to putting it back into play.  By signing for a score lower than he should have had with the penalty, he was disqualified under Rule 6-6d.

2) Camilo Villegas, or "El Hombre Arana," was disqualified from the PGA Tour's season opening event at Kapalua in Maui after swatting away some loose grass clippings while his ball was in the process of returning to his feet after failing to get his chip all the way up the hill fronting the 15th green.  (As an aside, I feel for Camilo on the chip shot, as I had the exact same thing happen to me while playing Kapalua back in October -- I tried to get cute and hit a bump and run up the hill and came up about 5 yards short, which then led to the ball rolling back about 50 yards back to where I was standing.  Ouch.)  This violation was reported by another television viewer.  The rule that Villegas violated was 23-1, which states, "When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed."  Villegas did not assess the required two stroke penalty, signed for an incorrect scorecard that was higher than what it should have been, and he was disqualified from the tournament.

Getty Images
3) Ian Poulter was disqualified at the Dubai World Championships last December after a very strange incident that occurred on the second playoff hole.  Poulter had marked his ball on the green with a coin, and while reading the putt, his ball slipped out of his hand and fell on top of his coin, causing the coin to move.  He saw it happen, called the rules official over and imposed on himself a one stroke penalty, effectively handing the playoff victory to Robert Karlsson.



So, are these unfortunate instances just examples of harsh but proper penalties for rules violations, or are they the final tipping point for those who say the Rules of Golf are stuck in the early part of last century and don't make sense anymore?  Its not an easy question, and both sides have valid arguments.

In each of these instances listed above (and more than a few others) the players did not mean to do anything wrong or inappropriate and did not gain any competitive advantage as a result of their issues, yet faced dire consequences nonetheless.  The harshest penalties were handed out to Harrington and Villegas, as they were disqualified not for the underlying rules violation themselves, but because they signed an incorrect scorecard.

First, the scorecard rule has to change.  This seems like an easy fix, and an obvious one, but for tradition conscious conservative organizations like the USGA and the R&A, it is likely to be a difficult fix to accept.  Neither Harrington nor Villegas intended to sign an incorrect card.  In fact, they did not know there was an issue until long after their cards were signed.  Why not just allow the player to sign an amended scorecard, accept the penalty as a result of the violation, and then move forward in the tournament?  If the U.S. Constitution can have room for amendments, certainly the golf scorecard can as well.  

It is tough to feel too bad for guys like Harrington and Villegas when you consider the fact that they are established tour stars who can just chalk this one up to experience and move on to a bog paycheck at next week's tour stop.  However, imagine if something like this happened to a guy in the last event of the season, grinding it out to make the 125th spot on the money list and trying to keep his Tour card?  If that guy gets DQd, it is a brutally unfair result.

Second, the USGA should also accept PGA Tour boss Tim Finchem's recommendation for a  "full and thorough" review of the Rules of Golf.  The USGA should consider where there is room in the rules for some compromise.  Poulter's "transgression" is a perfect example -- in a situation similar to that, where the player notices there was an issue with a moved ballmark, for instance, there is no reason for a penalty if the player can address and clarify the problem prior to putting the next ball in play.  I hope the USGA takes this as an opportunity to get together and convene a panel of USGA officials along with current and former players to go through the rule book one by one and see where there is some room for revision and updating.  While they are at it, it would also be advisable to try and make the rules more user-friendly by trying to write them in plain English.  I mean, the rules don't have to be as enthralling as a Dan Brown novel, but if you have to read a rule 4 or 5 times and you still only borderline understand it, there is a problem.

Third, if a rule violation is only visible after scrutinizing an HD television, and is not visible to the naked eye (like Harrington's dimple issue) then we really need to consider whether or not it is even fair to assess a penalty in that instance.  Harrington realized he nicked his ball when pulling up his mark but looked at the logo as a point of reference and was able to determine, from his perspective, that the ball did not move.  The Rules of Golf are still largely self-enforced, and should stay that way.  If a player, in good faith, makes a judgment that there was no violation (oftentimes in consultation with a Rules Official) then that should be the end of it.  Death by HDTV seems a little much.

What do you think?  Where is there room for compromise?  Should the USGA even be reviewing the rules or  should the players just be more careful?  I would love to hear from you!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Great Golf Twitter Follows

After a long time resisting the urge, I have gone through the looking glass and actually got a twitter account.  I have had it for a few weeks now, and I must admit that it is alot of fun and a new guilty pleasure.  The reason that I joined in the first place was because I was watching alot of the golf channel (shocking, I know) and it seemed like every day there was another new story of some kind about the twitter craze and how golfers especially were embracing the new medium, so it was golf that brought me to twitter.  Golf gods, I thank you.

What makes twitter so cool is the direct link between the pros and the fans.  It provides access 24/7 to the guys you see play on tv every week, and that is pretty neat.  Its fun to shoot these guys a question and then see them answer it.  Twitter also lets you inside the ropes and allows you to get behind the scenes of events.  Alot of the guys will send pics from the tournaments, and whether its pictures from the range in the morning or what's in their bags during the weekend, twitter lets the fans see what is happening on the ground in real time.

The best two golf tweeters around are Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.  They are definitely the leaders in the clubhouse.  First and foremost, they are endlessly entertaining.  They tease each other mercilessly.  Poulter goes after Westwood for his" teeth upgrade" this past offseason while Westwood goes right back at Poulter for how short he is off the tee.  They make the same jokes that you make about your buddies while you are out on the course, and its fun to watch them go back and forth.  I always liked Poulter (though many people think he is too cocky), but I was never really a Westwood fan...until now.  And that is one of the other great benefits of twitter -- it allows you to see the personality that these guys have, and makes them seem like regular guys who just happen to play golf for a living.  Want to give them a follow?  Their twitter handles are @IanJamesPoulter and @WestwoodLee.

Tiger Woods is another good person to follow.  Everything about Tiger is so controlled, so calculated and so packaged.  But the tweets he sends out are surprisingly human (as opposed to the golfing robot he is when he is on golf course) and pretty funny.  He recently went on a twitter spree where he answered questions from followers for about an hour or so, which offered a rare unfiltered glimpse into his life.  One of the pleading questioners was none other than Ian Poulter, needling Tiger a bit and begging him to get into the twitter mix with he and Westwood.  Sadly, Tiger didn't bite.  But as Alan Shipnuck of Golf.com pointed out in his mailbag article, I would not be surprised if Tiger really took to this communication medium because it allows him to directly reach out to fans and it could be a great way to continue to resurrect his brand.  Tiger's handle is @TigerWoods.

Annika Sorenstam is one of the friendliest people in the game, and she is a big fan of twitter, always sending out pictures and keeping people informed of what she is up to.  Now that she is done playing competitively, she is plenty busy with all kinds of different adventures, including getting ready to launch a new show on the Golf Channel.  She also is on The Morning Drive on the Golf Channel every Thursday.  Annika can be found at @ANNIKA59.

The man who took the golfing world by storm last year, Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_McDowell), is ramping up his own tweeting campaign.  GMac is a prolific picture poster (say that five times fast) which keeps his followers in the loop of his world travels.

Both captains from the 2008 Ryder Cup team are active on twitter:  @PaulAzinger and @TheSirNickFaldo. They are both as free with their opinions on twitter as they are on tv, and it makes for some good reading.

I have to give a shout out to Rickie Fowler (@RickieFowlerPGA), Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) and John Daly (@PGA_JohnDaly) as they are also never far from their cellphone or computer and put out some pretty good stuff.

Hard as it is to believe, twitter seems to be getting more popular, not less popular, and I think that the players enjoy the ability to reach out to their fans directly, without having a formal media outlet in between.  Its a great way to stay informed and get inside the heads of the game's greatest!

And if you want to keep up with A Healthy Golf Obsession on twitter, you can see my own twitter feed at the bottom of the blog or follow me at @rtbgolfer.  See you in cyberspace...

Is he back???


More ink has been spent on the trials and tribulations of the World's #3 (doesn't that just sound strange?) in the last 15 months than on all other golf stories combined since Tiger took that ill-fated journey down his driveway on Thanksgiving night 2009.  But armed with a new coach, a new swing (again) and a new outlook, Tiger has posted two solid rounds of 69 to get his 2011 season underway.  He has looked much better in these first two rounds than he did almost all of last season, and if you include Tiger's performance in his last appearance of 2010 at the Chevron World Challenge (where he played well but gave up a final round lead to allow Graeme McDowell to beat him in a playoff), there is a buzz beginning to build that Tiger could be poised for an epic comeback.

Sure, its only a couple rounds, and he did have some flashes of his old brilliance last season (see his third round 66 at the U.S. Open), and it is own two courses that he really owns (really, they could rename the course Tiger Pines), but the last couple of days just feels different.  He seems a little more relaxed on the course (and I mean little, but with Tiger it is all relative) and he even managed a couple of smiles.  But after slogging through such a difficult year last year both on and off the course, he may have finally been able to put those distractions behind him to focus on this season and prepare for his assault on Jack's major record.  Tiger was at his peak when his focus was absolute.  He had a superhuman ability to shut out everything going on around him -- the crowd, the pressure, the media glare -- and just make one great golf shot after another.  But last year, it was simply not possible for him to keep the distractions from creeping into his mind while he was on the course.  And as all of us know, thinking too much on the golf course is an 8 waiting to happen.

So what would be a good year for Tiger?  In his mind, any year that doesn't include a major is a disappointment.  I think that he is poised for a great comeback this year, with at least three wins, one of them being a major.  The Masters is probably his best shot this season.  I am pulling for him.  He is certainly one of the greatest players to ever live and when he is on his game, it is a thing of beauty and alot of fun to watch.  Golf is better when Tiger is in the picture.  Sundays are more exciting when his name is on the first page of the leaderboard.  So hopefully the biggest Tiger story we hear this year comes from inside the ropes, not outside them.