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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great Golf Quotes

There are so many fantastic things to say about the game we all love so much, so I wanted to list out for you some of my favorites:

-"Eighteen holes of match or medal play will teach you more about your foe than 18 years of dealing with him across a desk."  Grantland Rice

-"Golf is a game that is played on a five inch course - the distance between your ears."  Bobby Jones

-What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive."  Arnold Palmer

-"Golf balls are attracted to water as unerringly as the eye of a middle-aged man to a female bosom."  Michael Green

-"Golf is a game where you yell 'fore', shoot six, and write down five."  Paul Harvey

-"Golf is the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off."  Chi Chi Rodriguez

-"The most important shot in golf is the next one."  Ben Hogan

-"I never learned anything from a match that I won."  Bobby Jones

-"So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the 18th and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice." Carl Spackler

-"If you're caught on a golf  course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron.  Even God can't hit a 1-iron."  Lee Trevino

-"The uglier a man's legs are, the better he plays golf.  Its almost a law."  H.G. Wells

-"Golf isn't a game, it's a choice one makes with one's life."  Charles Rosin

What are your favorites that I missed?  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Erik Compton's Dream Ride Continues...Next Stop? A Membership on the PGA Tour

There will be alot of rookies on the PGA Tour when the season starts in Hawaii next January.  Guys who have worked their whole lives to get to the rarefied air where they can compete with the best players in the world every week. There will be young guys who feel as though they have nothing but fairways and greens ahead of them, and older players who have toiled in anonymity on the Nationwide and the mini-tours who finally broke through for a chance on the big stage.  But there will be one guy who will be a star from the start -- a rookie that everyone should be rooting their hearts out for.  Because it is about as inspiring a story as you will ever hear.

Erik Compton is the longest of long shots.  In 1992, when Compton was just 12 years old, he had his first heart transplant because of a heart defect where his heart was unable to pump blood as hard as it should.  He picked up the game as part of his rehabilitation efforts from that first transplant.  Sixteen years later, in 2008, Compton had his second heart transplant.  So he is now walking around -- and playing golf at the highest level -- with his third heart.  Despite all of these physical setbacks, roadbocks that would have derailed even the most determined and driven among us, Compton persevered.  His dream was to make it to the PGA Tour -- his official profile on the PGA Tour website lists winning a Tour event as being on his bucket list.  Next year, he will get his chance as a card carrying member.

Compton, who began the year with conditional playing status on the Nationwide Tour, won the Mexico Open on Sunday with a final round 65 that held up for a two shot victory.  The win essentially secures Compton a spot on the PGA Tour next year, as the top 25 finishers on the Nationwide Tour money list get their Tour cards for the following season.

Compton, as you would imagine, has plenty of perspective, and one of the best attitudes in all of professional sports.  He understands that golf is not a matter of life or death -- he has actually stared death in the face and come out on top more than once.  He appreciates the opportunity he has, and he is determined to make the most of it.  If you get a chance to catch an interview with him, make sure to watch or listen.  He is obviously an amazing guy, and if his story doesn't inspire you, you cannot be inspired.  Here is a snippet from one of his interviews in 2010 when he got through a qualifier to get into the U.S. Open at Pebble:

"When I was laying there in the ICU and after the [second] transplant I pretty much had come to grips that I wasn't ever going to play golf again. I sold all my golf equipment. I didn't have any status anywhere. I did not know that things were going to turn out, that I would be getting a heart as strong as I did as quick as I did.
But in the back of your mind you're always saying, you know, I've always lived, I'm a dreamer, so I have dreamed that I could get another heart and I could come back out and play."

Dare to dream.  Compton did just that -- even in hours darker than many of us can imagine -- and look where is today. 

We are inundated daily with so many negative stories in the world of sport -- marital infidelities, arrests, greed, lockouts, to name a few -- that it is easy to get lost in the negativity.  It is true that we should not put these athletes on pedestals -- as Charles Barkley famously said, "I'm not a role model.  Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."  But with so many bad things to report, it is truly refreshing to hear this story of triumph in the face of overwhelmingly long odds. 

It is great to know that nice guys do finish first sometimes, and I hope we will see many "firsts" from Erik Compton in the years ahead.    

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sneak Peak At New Titleist Irons

I wanted to pass along to all of you a sneak peak at the new lines of Titleist irons being tested by the pros this week at the AT&T National.  Titleist put together a slideshow with some pictures of the sleek new clubs which is worth a look.  The clubs look fantastic -- obviously you don't want to buy new irons until you get a chance to take them out on the range or the course and hit a few to get a good feel, but the look of these clubs is top notch.  Sometimes you just get a feeling when you look at a club that it will be a good fit for you -- the club just fits your eye.  My first impression of these clubs is that if they perform on the course as half as good as they look, then these will be a worthy investment to help boost your game!  But then again, if looks were the true measure of performance, then Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise would rule the world, instead of, well, thankfully not.

The early reviews for the new sticks from at least one Titleist rep were quite good.  After testing them out on the range yesterday afternoon at Aronimink Golf Club, Rickie Fowler tweeted, "Got to hit my new @Titleist 712 MBs 2day...they are awesome...can't wait to take them out of the box next week at home & break them in!!"

Also, when you view the slideshow, you can add the dude who is testing the Titleist clubs out at their testing center in Carlsbad, California to the list of people who have a cooler job than me.  That list, by the way, is long and distinguished.  It's a wonder I can drag myself out of bed and go to work in the morning.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yani Tseng Puts On A Show!

Apparently, beating the daylights out of your competitors in major championships is all the rage these days, as Yani Tseng won the LPGA Championship yesterday in a rout.  Tseng lapped the field, winning by ten shots, and posting a four round total of nineteen under.  In her final round, all she did was shoot a 66 to coast to victory.

Tseng proved why she was the #1 player in the world all week long.  Making birdie after birdie (she made 27 during the week), Tseng was never seriously challenged and won her fourth major title.  What is truly remarkable is that she has already won four majors, and is only 22 years old.  She is the youngest LPGA player ever to win four majors.  This was Tseng's eighth LPGA Tour win, her third this season, and her second in a row.  She has yet to win the U.S. Women's Open -- but it seems like it is only a matter of time -- and if she can do that out in Colorado in two weeks, she will have won the career grand slam at the same age many people in the U.S. graduate from college!

Tseng's swing is a thing of beauty to watch, so smooth and fluid.  Tseng, who is a VISION54 devotee (if you want to read more about VISION54 you can check out my prior post on the topic), looks poised to take a serious run at her idol Annika Sorenstam's total of 10 majors.  One fun VISION54 note about Tseng is that in order to combat negative thoughts and self-talk from getting in the way of her game, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott (developers of the VISION54 philosophy) had her singing songs to herself in between shots at the 2010 Women's British Open (which she won at the tender age of 21).  Obviously, it worked!  

 Definitely pulling for her at the U.S. Women's Open -- it would be amazing to see her win the career slam so young.  She is having quite a year!  If you have not had the chance to watch her play yet, make it a point to tune in to the Women's Open -- it will be worth it.    

New Tip of the Week: Let Your Left Heel Come Off Ground in Backswing

On your backswing, let your left heel come off the ground, don't keep it planted in the same place (for a lefty, it would be your right heel). This will allow you greater flexibility in your hip and shoulder turn (which will help both distance and ball control) and will decrease the strain on your knee, avoiding the possibility of an injury.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Golfers in Match Record Consecutive Holes in One!

This one is almost impossible to believe.  After my previous post about wanting desperately to get a hole in one, I had to share this article from The Wichita Eagle about two Kansas golfers who were playing in a match against each other, got to the 17th hole, and both of them -- yes, both of them -- aced the hole.  And the 17th at Hesston Golf Park is not a glorified pitch and putt hole -- it is 212 yards long.  Can you imagine?  You have to read this story to believe it.  I bet that was one serious party after the round.  Suffice it to say, if it was me, I would have needed a designated driver to head home that night.

Thanks to my good buddy Joe Ribando for passing this one along!  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will American Fans Fully Embrace Rory As Golf's New Standard Bearer?

With McIlroy's epic victory at Congressional this past weekend, one hot topic of conversation that has emerged is whether or not American golf fans will fully embrace McIlroy as they have some of our home-grown stars like Tiger or Phil.

There is no question that American golf fans have a bias toward American golfers.  It is only natural that we would pull for our fellow countrymen a little harder than we would someone born abroad.  This was on full display at the Open last week in the sense that you could not get near the ropes if you wanted to watch Bubba Watson play, for instance, but you could follow G-Mac and Kaymer shot for shot without any problem.

Now, I can assure you from my first hand observations that the U.S. Open was a Rory McIlroy lovefest, and I don't think any of the fans' enthusiasm was dampened by the fact that he calls Northern Ireland home instead of Northern Ohio.  But if we really are on the cusp of "The McIlroy Era" (still a bit premature, but the possibility is certainly real), will the fact that he is not "Born in America" mean he will be any less popular over here?

I have seen quite a few commentators say that very thing this week, noting that Americans have never really fully and completely embraced a foreign-born star.  I think that view is short-sighted and does not take into account two critical facts:  1) McIlroy is a down to earth golf superstar who is genuinely likeable and 2) technology has made the world a much smaller place than it was even a few years ago.

To my first point -- why do we love Tiger and Phil?  In Tiger's case, it is because he was so incredibly dominant -- when he was on his game he was so much better than the best players in the world that it was impossible not to be awed by him.  We love Phil because he is immensely talented, seems like a great guy, is the ultimate escape artist on the course, and when he finds himself two fairways over, we see a little bit of ourselves in him.  Rory seems to be a combination of the best of both Tiger and Phil -- his raw ability is simply stunning, but he seems like a normal guy who we can genuinely like.  He is the kind of guy you would like to sit down and have a beer with and just talk golf.  That appeals to us.

To the second point, the increased exposure in the United States of foreign golfers through media outlets like the Golf Channel and Twitter allows us to get to know these players in a much more robust way than we ever did before.  These guys are no longer nameless players toiling away in Europe who only come over here for the majors.  We see them profiled on the Golf Channel and in all the golf publications, we follow them on Twitter and we can watch them play on the European Tour now that it is televised more here in the U.S.  Also, if you think of the younger American players who are popular with the fans, it is the guys who are "out there" in the media and interacting with people like Bubba, Fowler and Mahan.  McIlroy is the same way: accessible and visible.  Combine that with his great attitude, respect for the history of the game and unbelievable skills, he is tailor made to be a smash hit here in the States.

For me personally, I love watching great golf.  I love to watch a player hit an impossible shot on the green.  I love to watch guys who have some perspective and a sense of the history of the game.  McIlroy fits the bill perfectly, and it doesn't matter to me where he is from (though given my Irish heritage, I am a little happy he is from Northern Ireland).  He truly has superstar potential, and the game seems to be his for the taking, if he wants it.  I think Americans will fully embrace him. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rory's Revenge - McIlroy Dominates Congressional!

In one of the most dominating performances in the history of major championship, Rory McIlroy's coronation as the new King of the golfing world took place yesterday at Congressional.  This was truly a sight to behold and was the best "feel good" story in golf this year.  Just a couple of months removed from the worst day of his professional career after his meltdown on Sunday at Augusta, McIlroy has taken his place as the best golfer in the world right now - a position he looks poised to hold for a very long time to come.

This was a romp from the start.  McIlroy only missed ten greens all week -- yes, all week -- and put on the type of ball striking clinic that is seldom seen in a sport where perfection is but a fleeting flight of fancy.  "Rors" shot four rounds in the 60s and set about a dozen U.S Open records, including the scoring record.  And oh yeah, he did it at the ripe old age of 22.  Think about you were doing at 22 - or what you will be doing when you are 22 -- I would bet that the list includes things like: honing your beer pong skills, thinking Sega Genesis was the greatest gaming system ever invented, realizing that college was infinitely better than the real world, and hoping that you could eventually trick another person into marrying you.  I would surmise the list did not include destroying the competition in the toughest golf tournament in the world.

This was a popular win for many reasons.  First, McIlroy was so gracious in his harrowing defeat at Augusta, that it was impossible not to be rooting for him this time around.  At Augusta, he played the worst round imagineable on the biggest stage, accepted responsibility for the loss and didn't blame anyone or anything for his performance, didn't shy away from the criticism, answered every question that was asked afterwards, took a picture with the winner (wearing the green jacket) on the way home and tweeted about it, and learned a valuable lesson from the debacle.  He put those lessons learned to use this week in beating the rest of the top golfers in the world like they stole something.  Second, he is one of the nicest guys around.  He is eminently likeable, mature way beyond his years, down to earth, and seems to have his head screwed on right.  Third, the way he played was mesmerizing.  He was long, straight and absolutely dominant on the greens.  Watching him play golf this week was a thing of beauty.

There has been alot of talk about whether the course was too soft, and whether this was a "real U.S. Open."  It is fair to talk about the set-up, but any suggestion that any of this somehow would take away from the victory is total garbage.  The way McIlroy struck the ball and putted this week, the Open could have been held at any venue in the U.S. and he still would have cruised to victory.  Nothing -- NOTHING -- should diminish this victory, so let's focus on how well Rory played instead of fretting over whether or not the course could have been set-up differently.  It does not matter.  What matters is that the U.S. Open produced a great, well-deserving champion.

It is hard not to get excited about what comes next.  As always, there have been lots of comparisons to Tiger and Jack this week, by members of the media and by some of McIlroy's own competitors.  I don't think that is fair, and in any event, it is way too early to go down that path.  But with the way McIlroy has played the last four majors (he honestly could have won all of them), the possibilities for the future are very intriguing.  He certainly will be the odds-on favorite at the British Open.  After that -- the sky is the limit.  This guy has the potential for greatness, and more than any other player on the planet (except for Tiger) has the ability to win majors in bunches.  He has shown that he can contend on each major set-up.  That is an undeniably exciting prospect for golf fans.  It remains to be seen where he will go from here, but now that McIlroy has had a taste of a major championship victory and the experience he gained by winning yesterday, I think that you saw a star born this week.  I can't wait to see what happens next!       

Friday, June 17, 2011

Update from Congressional

Spent a great day at the Open.  Highlight for sure was almost getting hit with Mickelson's wayward drive on 15.  Got to see him play his second shot about 5 feet from where I stood.  He was great about it, made everyone laugh and hit a  great recovery that came up about 5 yards short of the green from like 180 (he cut it around a tree, up a hill), and sadly ended in a bunker.  But alot of fun to watch!

Some random thoughts from my first day at Congressional:

-TV does not do justice to the hills on this course.  Walking the course as a spectator is freaking exhausting.  There are not a lot of flat lies out there at all.  The elevation changes are severe from tee to green.

-The course is in great shape, but the rough is not nearly as bad (or penalizing) as it has been in previous Opens.  Everyone is lamenting the fact that there are way to many guys reaching the green from over 150 yards out of the rough.

-This course is long.  Like, really long.  What McIlroy is doing is so incredible it is difficult to believe.  I followed him for about 6 holes today, and he was a machine -- fairways and greens.  He was consistently outdriving both Phil and Dustin Johnson.

-Bubba Watson's camo pants are a real sight to behold.  Also, there is no doubt as to who is the crowd favorite here after Phil.  Bubba easily had the second largest gallery out there today.

-You can always count on Americans' ethnocentrism:  Trying to watch Phil or Bubba was a chore and a half -- the galleries were 8-10 deep all around.  But I easily (and happily) was able to follow G-Mac and King Louis for 7 holes and could see every shot happen right in front of me.

-You can't even imagine how scary the tee shot is on the 10th hole until you stand on that tee.  It is terrifying.  To think that at 7:55 am that could be the first shot of the day for you is beyond belief.  Today it was a 220 carry over a giant lake.  What you also don't notice from the TV coverage is that the 10th tee is right adjacent to the Clubhouse, where all of the drunk Congressional members are hanging out on the 10 or 15 patios overlooking the tee box.  It was incredibly loud down there, and 80% of the people in the Clubhouse area didn't give a damn about people teeing off on 10.  I couldn't believe it.  When Angel Cabrera was on the tee, he had to back off the ball twice because of people being so loud around the tee box.  He was clearly annoyed.  After the second time he backed off, it was still loud, but he went for it anyway.  He hit the ground about two inches behind the ball and the shot he was trying to hit 220 went about 180 and landed in the middle of the lake.  He was not pleased and I think he made triple.

-The approach shot to 18 is SCARY (if you don't believe me, Phil and Rory's doubles today should do the trick).  If the leader on Sunday has a two shot lead, I would not be surprised at all to see them lay up short and right to take the water (and double) out of play.  Awesome change by the USGA to make that the final hole this go around.

-The merchandise tent is overwhelming.  You can't try to do it in one shot.  If you do, its hyperventalation station.  It is a little like that time in Varsity Blues when the head cheerleader covers herself in whip cream for Dawson, of Dawson's Creek fame, and he just doesn't know how to handle it.  Until you are in that position, you just can't know how you will react.  For the merchandise tent (trust me when I tell you I have no advice to offer on the other scenario), you need to spend at least a half hour taking it all in, then let the possibilities percolate for a while before pulling the trigger.  Insider tip: if you can buy stock in U.S. Open merchandise before I get in there with my Visa card tomorrow, do it.  I will not disappoint you.

That's all for now.  Lots of fun out here. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

U.S. Open Moments: Harry Vardon Takes Trophy To England

Harry Vardon might be known today mostly because he popularized the "Vardon Grip" -- or overlap grip -- which is the most widely used grip in golf today.  But what you may not know is that Vardon was the first international golf superstar and can be credited with helping golf increase in popularity with his US exhibition tours.  Among the young golfers he inspired was a lad by the name of Francis Ouimet, who would go on to beat Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline in what has been called "The Greatest Game Ever Played" -- see the book and movie of the same name, both of which I highly recommend.

But in 1900, Vardon was playing in his first U.S. Open, and he won by two shots over fellow countryman J.H. Taylor.  It was the first time that the U.S. Open trophy went abroad.  Vardon would also win the British Open Championship a record 6 times.

Live Streaming Video Link For U.S. Open

Can't play hookey from work today to watch the Open?  Click on this link for live coverage of the Open courtesy of the USGA.  The live feed will have marquee pairing coverage all day, kicking off this morning with the 1/2/3 in the world rankings group of Donald, Westwood and Kaymer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

U.S. Open Moments: Payne Owns Pinehurst

Payne Stewart's iconic winning pose memorialized at Pinehurst
Growing up, Payne Stewart was one of the golfer's I truly idolized.  He was a great player, he had the guts to wear knickers, had a great personality (in his later years), and on Sundays he wore outfits paying tribute to local football teams.  He was the man.  Sure, when he was younger he didn't have the greatest rep on tour because he had a crappy attitude (as he liked to put it), but he really grew up and became the kind of player younger players could look up to.  In 1999, Payne outlasted Phil Mickelson to capture his second U.S. Open title in the 90s.  A look back at that victory -- and the epic come from behind victory that Payne helped the U.S. Ryder Cup team achieve a few months later in Brookline, Massachusetts -- is bittersweet,00 as Stewart died tragically when the plane he was riding in crashed after an apparent loss of cabin pressure.  He was only 42.

Mickelson was just a couple of weeks away from becoming a father (and the final round of the Open was on Father's Day) and had pledged to leave the tournament immediately if his wife went into labor.  His caddy was carrying a pager just in case word came while Phil was on the course.  Naturally, TV loved that drama, as Mickelson -- who still was coveting that first major -- could be put in the position of having a lead on Sunday with a few holes to play when the call came.  What would he do?

Pinehurst was playing tougher and tougher as the championship wore on.  In fact, Steve Stricker was the only player to break par on Saturday.  On Sunday, Mickelson had a one shot lead over Stewart on the 16th hole.  But Payne caught Phil when he rolled in a long putt for par and Phil missed from less than ten feet.  Stewart picked up another shot, and the lead, with a birdie on 17.  But winning wouldn't be easy.  Stewart was in trouble off the 18th tee, and was forced to lay up short of the green after his drive landed in the rough.  With Mickelson safely on the green with a birdie putt, Stewart hit his third shot to about 15 feet.  Mickelson missed his birdie putt, though the possibility of a playoff still loomed large.  But Payne would not be denied on that day.  He rolled the putt in for his second U.S. Open title (and third major) and struck that famous pose forever immortalized in the picture at the top of the post.  After he won, he put his hands on Phil's face and said to him, "There is nothing like being a father."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

U.S. Open Moments: Palmer Wins "Best Open Ever"

The U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in 1960 is the stuff of legend now, the subject of tons of articles as well as a fantastic HBO documentary.  Labeled by many as the greatest U.S. Open ever played, it is hard to disagree with that lofty assessment.  What made this championship so epic was that you had three of the best golfers of all time -- Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus -- in contention for a major championship until the final holes.  Two of them were playing together (Hogan and Nicklaus) and one was an amateur (Nicklaus).  It was an all-time moment because you had Hogan at the end of his career, Palmer at his peak and Nicklaus right at the beginning of his.

Heading into the final round, Palmer was seven shots back of the leader, Mike Souchack (-5).  Nicklaus and Hogan were three back.  This was back in the day when the Open still featured a 36 hole finish.  Palmer finished his third round and only had time for a quick bite before going back out there.  While eating, Palmer ran into a sports writer friend of his, and said to the writer, "Wonder what a 65 would bring this afternoon?"  The writer replied, "It won't do you any good."  Palmer didn't appreciate the writer's outlook, and decided he would go out and shock the world.  He began his round by hitting one of the greatest shots in the history of golf:  he drove the green on the first hole, a 346 yard par four.  Palmer would birdie the first four holes and six of the first seven to shoot 30 on the front.  Nicklaus, having an incredible tournament considering he was a 20 year old kid playing with Ben Hogan, actually led the tournament on Sunday afternoon, but he left a few shots out there on the back nine with two three putts and a couple of other short misses, including a bogey on 18.  Hogan said of Nicklaus' round, "I played 36 holes today with a kid who, if he had a brain in his head, should have won by ten strokes."  Hogan was in contention until the 71st hole, when he hit a great third shot into the par 5 that landed near the hole, but spun back into a stream fronting the green.  Hogan played the ball out of the water but made bogey, and with the life drained from him by that cruel twist of fate, ended up tripling the last.

But it would be Palmer's day, who shot that 65 he talked about before he teed off to beat Nicklaus by two.  Remarkably, it would be The King's only U.S. Open crown, but he did it in legendary fashion.  On that day, he held court at Cherry Hills, and gave golf fans a win for the ages. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

U.S. Open Week - Catch the Fever!

Well the time has arrived for another major championship week.  There are no better weeks in golf each year than the ones that end with a major championship.  The U.S. Open is especially fantastic for a couple of reasons.  First, it is our national championship.  The courses are brutally tough, set-up to test the best golfers in the world beyond their limits.  Second, it is truly open - if you are an amateur golfer and are good enough, you can try to qualify and play your way into the field.  Think about how amazing that is -- and how unique it is in professional sports.  You can't just decide to enter Wimbledon and you can't just up and play in the Super Bowl.  But the average golfer who works their regular job during the week can practice until their hands bleed and have a chance to play in one of the premier golf events in the world.  That's special.

This week I am especially excited because I am heading out to Congressional for the second and third rounds.  This will be the second Open I attended (I went to Olympia Fields back in 2003 when Furyk won his first and only major).  Walking the grounds of a major really is a special experience, and I can't wait to get the chance to do it again.  The one thing I remember from Olympia Fields is how tough the conditions are for the players -- and that was at a venue that is largely considered to be one of the easiest Open tracks ever.  I can't wait to see how Congressional sets up, which everyone (including defending G-Mac) says will be a very tough test where it is likely the winner will be over par.

Part of the allure of the U.S. Open for golf fans is that we secretly (or maybe not so secretly) enjoy watching the pros struggle out there, because it makes them look human.  Week in and week out we watch these guys put up absurdly low winning scores -- Frazer won the St. Jude yesterday after finishing thirteen under, and that is not even one of the gaudy winning scores -- and it seems like the pros are playing a different game than we do on the weekends.  But seeing them three and four putt some of the brutally slick greens, or having a lie in the rough that they can only advance twenty yards, reminds us that it is the same game, and it makes us feel like we can relate to what is happening to them on the course.

During a major week I also become a total slave to the Golf Channel (even more than normal), making "Live From" a staple of my daily routine.  Believe me, my wife loves that one.  She actually banned any Michael Breed shows a couple of months back because she didn't like his voice and didn't agree with his overly excited take on golf instruction.

This year, it seems as if there has only been one story leading up to the Open - Tiger Woods not playing because of his ongoing knee / Achilles issues.  The lack of Tiger is hurting secondary market ticket sales for the Open to the tune of 20% (thanks to our friends from Reading the Green for passing that nugget along).  While it is a shame that Tiger is not healthy enough to play, it doesn't detract one bit from the excitement surrounding this Championship. 

First, Tiger has not really been a force in the majors since his playoff victory over Rocco at Torrey Pines.  The front nine on Sunday at Augusta a couple of months ago was fun to have Tiger back in the hunt, but other than that, he has not been the dominant force in the majors he was before his world imploded all around him.  Second, the lack of Tiger dominance has allowed some other players to rise to the top and grab the spotlight, which has been fun to watch.  In my mind, the emergence of Graeme McDowell, one of the best personalities in the game, is the best single story of the past year.  We also got the chance to get to know a great player like Martin Kaymer.  And even though they came close but ultimately came up short, it is only a matter of time before Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Luke Donald or Dustin Johsnon break through that major barrier.  Focus on those stories.  Root for those guys.  For me, they fill the void of a major without Tiger just fine.  Don't get me wrong, golf is very exciting when Tiger is playing well and in the hunt on Sunday, but his absence does not dampen my excitement for this week because there are so many great players who have a chance to win.  They are going to be the face of golf for years to come, and they are a group of likeable guys who are immensely talented.  The possibilities there are enough to keep me going!

Check back often as I will be posting U.S. Open moments throughout the week, like I did for the Masters.  What a week!  Soak it up!

Buying A New Driver

For about three or four months now, I have been thinking about getting a new driver.  With all of the new releases on the market, and the cool new features (like adjustability) available, this was one new golf toy I was desperate to have.  But they are certainly expensive, and with just moving into a new house and all of the absurdly large expenses that come with that (really, the dude at Lowe's knows me by name / failed do it yourselfer project), convincing my wife that  I NEEDED to blow a few hundred dollars on a new driver was an uphill battle.

So naturally, I did what any mature, rational, red-blooded golf loving male would do.  I reverted to being a five year old child, cajoling, nagging and basically bothering the crap out of my wife to try to wear her down.  She was neither amused nor persuaded.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the first tee two Sundays ago.  I was on the range getting ready for the round, and was hitting a few drives to loosen up.  I hit one, and the ferrule (the little plastic thing on the neck of the club) cracked and the head flew off of my Callway Diablo Edge Tour driver.  I swear it happened this way.  First I was in shock.  Then  I realized this was the opportunity I was waiting for.  I couldn't wait to show Erika, though  I was afraid that she was going to think I backed over it with my car.  So I slinked into the living room after the round with the two pieces of my former weapon in my hand, and she cracked up and said simply, "You win."  I did win -- I won the driver lottery.  Driverpalooza 2011 could begin!

I rolled into Golf Galaxy to get fitted for the driver like a six year old on Christmas morning.  Golf Galaxy is like an adult toy store (but not that kind of adult toy store, the wholesome kind).  I mean its not called Golf World or Golf Planet or even Gold Solar System.  Its Golf Galaxy, so you know that is legit.  But I digress.

Going into the test, I had zeroed in on four potential targets with a 9.5 degree loft and a stiff shaft, though I can honestly say I had a totally open mind about what to buy:  the Cobra S3, the R11, the Titleist 910 D2 and the Ping K15.  I had previously tried the Callaway Razr Hawk.  And while I am big Callaway fan, it didn't blow me away on the range (though it could have been because I sucked, not the club) so that was out.

Cobra S3 ($299):  I used to have a sweet King Cobra driver back in the day, when Greg Norman used to play it.  That was a great driver.  So even though the S3 might not be the most popular driver out there, I was willing to give it a shot because I have heard some good things about it and because my boy Poults is a Cobra guy.  I was also intrigued by the concept of the elliptical sweet spot which, if you believe the advertising, will give you better results with your mishits.  It looked nice at address and felt good in my hands.  I will say that the mishits did fare better than my previous driver, so I think the elliptical sweet spot is the real deal.  It felt good, but it didn't feel great.  I felt like I was having a problem really squaring it up, and as a result impact did not feel terribly solid.  Decent club, has the added bonus of being adjustable, but I felt like there was a better fit for me out there.   My grade for the S3 was a B.

TaylorMade R11 ($399):  No doubt, this has been the hottest club of 2011.  It debuted with an enormous press blitz, it is all over TV every weekend when you watch the pros, and each week I head to the club to play there are more and more of these popping up in people's bags.  I will say that going into this process, I had a slight bias toward the R11 - their media blitz worked on me, and seeing a guy like Dustin Jonhson out there each week pounding the club into oblivion got me thinking that one of these beasts would look nice in my bag.  I was a little bit underwhelmed.  Maybe I built it up too much in my head.  First off, for me, looking down at the white driver head was actually a little distracting.  I like the customization options that are available, but when I hit it, I felt like the margin for error was not as good as it should have been.  In order to hit a good drive, my feeling was that I really would have to hit it right on the sweet spot -- it was not terribly forgiving.  I just expected more.  I give this a B-.

Ping K15 ($299):  I have never had a Ping driver, but know a few people who have them that swear by them.  A good friend of mine, Tom (my high school golf team co-captain), has long had a Ping driver and really loves it.  So after talking with him over Memorial Day, I knew I wanted to try out the K15.  It did not disappoint.  Standing over the ball, it has a nice look to it -- one thing I noticed was that it seemed like it had a longer head than the other drivers I tried out.  This club was solid.  Very forgiving, felt great in my hands.  It has a large sweet spot and mishits seemed to go almost as far as a flush shot and it did not seem to go nearly as far offline as I would expect.  The one thing this driver does not have that many of its competitors do have is adjustability options, so that is one slight drawback.  But this club is top notch.  Very solid.  This gets an A in my book.

Titleist 910 D2 ($399):  It turns out I saved the best for last.  This club felt fantastic.  So pure.  Standing over ball, the club looks great.  It has a large clubhead and just looks like this club wants to pound the ball right down the middle.  The sweet spot is as big as the ocean.  Mishits were way better than manageable.  And when I hit it on the screws, it was a borderline spiritual experience.  The ball was really flying off the face.  The feel of the club was outstanding.  After 3 or 4 shots, I felt like this was the one.  I did go back to hit a few more with the Ping -- those were my two finalists -- but there were two things that put the Titleist over the top for me.  First, my drives with the Titleist were going about 10 yards farther than the Ping.  Hard to turn that extra pop down.  Second, I like the customization options.  I have not fiddled too much with it yet, but the club has 16 different settings that you can tinker with to get them exactly right to fit your swing.  I am very intrigued by the possibilities.  I have it on the standard setting, which is the factory loft and a slight fade bias (A1).  I want to play with it a bit before seeing where I need to have it set for optimal performance.  Here is the chart of customization options:

Buying a driver is a lot of fun.  There are so many great options out there right now, so you have a ton of choices.  Go out and hit a bunch.  The only thing that matters is finding the one that you feel comfortable with. Take your time, do some research and then take your favorite ones out for a test drive.  Happy hunting!

New Tip of the Week: Turn Through Your Pitch and Chip Shots

When hitting your pitch shops or chip shots, don't forget to still turn through the shot. Too often, with shorter shots, people have a tendency to get "handsy" with them and don't turn their hips through the ball at all. This leads to inconsistent contact and balls flying off target. Keep turning in order to hit the ball square and get the ball moving on its intended target line.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Change My Grip Or Not To Change My Grip - That Is The Question!

On Saturday afternoon I went to get a lesson for the first time in about a year.  As has been typical of my golf swing for the last 15 or so years, I have been fighting off the snap hooks (desperately at times), and I knew it was time to go in for a tune up.

After about ten swings on the range under the watchful eye of my local PGA Professional, Jon, I heard the words no golfer ever wants to hear:  "So how big of a swing change do you think you can handle?"  In my head, I thought to myself, he might as well have asked me which hand I would rather cut off.  My face must have looked like that of a Seaside Heights police officer who found out there was a taping of "Jersey Shore" during his shift:  There was trouble coming.

Jon told me that the source of my inconsistent ball striking was my grip.  I had a very strong grip.  For instance, when I had my grip on the club, if I opened my right hand the palm of my hand would face directly toward the sky -- it should be facing directly at the target.  As a result, I was playing for many years with the clubface being dead shut at the top.  I played fairly successfully that way, but it meant that my swing was more reliant on timing and a very effective clearing of my hips through impact to keep the club square.  As a result of playing that way for so long, I have also always fought letting my hands release after impact because I was afraid of hitting the dreaded snap hook and accidentally killing one of the nice people playing on the next fairway over.  Here was my old grip:

The pro gave me some things to work on to keep my grip the way it was and play the rest of the summer with it, but at the end of the lesson, we decided to try "the nuclear option" and move the placement of my hands on the club.  On the first couple of swings I felt like a right hander trying to throw a football left handed for the first time -- no matter what I did, it felt incredibly awkward.  On my backswing, the club felt to me like it was wide open.  When I mentioned that to Jon, he just laughed and said, "I would imagine it does feel that way to you, but I promise you it is square all the way."  Here is a picture of the new grip:

Jon was worried about trying to change my grip in the middle of the season, because it takes alot of work to feel comfortable with a new grip and he didn't want me to basically have this be a lost season.  And after hitting about ten balls, I could see what he meant, because I was spraying the ball about 30 yards to the right -- a side of the golf course I have rarely seen in my golfing career, as I have always been a dead left guy.  But after about 15 or 20 shots, a funny thing started to happen -- I started to hit some shots flush.  Really flush.  I was intrigued.  The possibilities of this new grip, and the chance of more consistent ballstriking, had seduced me the way Sharon Stone laid it on Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct.  After another couple of hours of hitting balls to get comfortable with the way the new grip felt, I was sold.  This was the change I needed, and I made a commitment right then and there to see it through.

In the back of my head, I always knew that this drastic course correction was looming out there.  I knew I had to make a change to get rid of those sniper hooks that are harmful to both my psyche and the safety of my fellow golfers.  The change just felt right.  I played my first round over the weekend with this grip, and while I lost about 6 balls to the right because I had my new grip (which promoted a full release of my hands through impact) with my deeply ingrained fear of releasing too early with my old grip and losing the ball left, I felt like I hit more balls flush in a round than I have in a while.  In fact, I actually missed a hole in one on #5 by about three feet.  The results were encouraging -- certainly encouraging enough to keep the change.

I am not advocating people wholesale change their grip and expect immediate results.  That will not happen.  I know it might be rough for me for a while before it gets better, and it will take some time for my new grip to become second nature to me.  But I am willing to give up some short term good scores if it means better long term scores and more consistency.  The moral of this story for me is that these PGA pros know what they are talking about, and if you have an open mind and are willing to take some instruction, they can make you a better player.  But you need to make sure to buy into the changes they suggest and spend the time on the range implementing the changes so you can rely on them when it counts.    

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Tip of the Week: Be Aggressive Around the Greens

Be aggressive around the greens.  Too many times when people get close to or around the greens, they become more tentative in the swings they take to get the ball to the hole.  This results in shots that are hit fat or otherwise end up far below the hole where you do not have a realistic chance at making par.  Next time you are out on the course, make it a point to be more aggressive with your shots around the green.  You can't make shots that don't get to the hole and I think you will find that being more aggressive will give you better chances to get up and down more consistently.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Father's Day Golf Gift Ideas

Looking for an exciting gift for the golfing Dad who has everything?  Here are some gift ideas that golfing Dads everywhere will enjoy!

-Rangefinder or GPS unit:  These are all the rage these days and I think they are tremendously helpful.  I have a Bushnell laser rangefinder and I am a huge fan.  It is nice to always know exactly how far you are to the pin and also how far you have to carry certain hazards from the tee.  I also liked the rangefinder as opposed to the GPS because there is no downloading of new courses and it is ready to use right out of the box.  But I also have friends who love the detail of the GPS units.  The Callaway UPRO is a nice GPS model.  The prices on these things really run the full spectrum depending on how fancy you want to get, but you could get a decent unit in either the ragefinder or the GPS starting around $200.

-Customized Golf balls:  These are a favorite of mine and a great gift idea.  Us hackers could always use more golf balls right?  I have used for about a year to get custom order balls for either myself or for my friends and family as gifts, and they are always a hit.  You can put up to three lines of text on the ball, and can either be witty, "Hooking for balls in all the wrong places", condescending, "Nice shot, Shankapotamous", focused, "Decide and Commit", or classic, "Insert Name".  The only limit is your imagination!  This is a good deal -- you can get a box of personalized Pro V1s for $50.95 or Callaway i(z)s for $42.95, plus shipping and handling.

-A pack of lessons:  Check with the local PGA professional or golf shop where Dad frequents and inquire about getting a 3 or 5 pack of lessons.  Typically, they will give you a discount for signing up for multiple sessions.  This is a nice gift because it will help him get better!  The prices for a single lesson range widely depending on who you go see.  But figure it will be somewhere between $50 and $100 per lesson.

-Golf store gift card:  I know that some people think giving gift cards is impersonal, but take it from this golf nut -- I love getting a gift card because then I can buy the equipment that I want, that will work with my game.  It is tough to just buy a golf club for someone -- say, a new driver -- because there are so many different customization options based on the individual player.  Buying "off the rack" might lead you to get a club that does not fit his game.  A gift card is a better route!

-Golf Picture for home or office:  The USGA Museum Photo Store has an awesome collection of contemporary and classic pictures for sale.  They would make a perfect gift that could be proudly displayed.  The prints typically start at $50 before framing.

-Golf slippers:  I saw these in one of those PGA stores in an airport and thought they were hilarious.  They didn't have my size or I definitely would have bought them.  If your guy is as obsessed with golf as me, then I bet he will get a kick out of them too!  You can get them at for $23.   


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Enjoying Competitive Golf

On Monday, I played my first real round of competitive golf since I was playing for my high school team.  Sure, I have played some friendly matches here and there for some money or for the pride of beating my friends, but had not played in real tournament conditions in a long time.

I must admit, I was very nervous leading up to the tournament -- it was a qualifier for one of the two big tournaments my club has each year (and I am a new member, so I never played in them before).  But when I was out there, grinding out every shot, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It was a really good time.  I played ok, not great, but I had a great time out there.  That pressure gives you an added jolt of adrenaline that makes it easier to focus on each shot and helps you dial in your game.  I missed that feeling.  And making a critical four footer under pressure is a fantastic feeling.  The other benefit of playing pressure golf is it will help you diagnose the swing flaws that show up when the heat is on, so you can be on the lookout for them in the future (I struggle with coming over the top).

I missed qualifying by a shot.  That stung.  Especially because I made an unbelievable quadruple on a par 3.  I am still kicking myself a little bit, but I also took away from this experience that I can still play under pressure, and even though I had one huge blowup that prevented me from reaching my goal in this tournament, I kept it together and was in the hunt even though I was not playing my best.  On the last hole, I knew I had to make birdie to have any shot, and I made birdie.  That was cool!

I am definitely looking forward to playing in more tournaments and hope to keep improving on the results!  Also, avoiding quads would be cool.  I am going to work on that.

If you have not tried tournament golf (or any other format that will give you that extra jolt of pressure/adrenaline) give it a shot!  It may cause you some anxiety at first, but you might find that you really enjoy it!    
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