Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tiger Is In For Firestone But Is Foley Out?

Tiger Woods tweeted his return to the PGA Tour this afternoon:  "Feeling fit and ready to tee it up at Firestone next week.  Excited to get back out there!"

What makes this timing so interesting is that just a couple days ago, in text messages exchanged with Steve Elling of CBS Sports, Foley had this to say about his boss' return:  "We have not hit any balls.  And I have no idea what his plans are as far as when he plays again.  It's up to the doctors."

It seems odd that Tiger's coach would not have any clue that his guy was going to play on Tour in just a little over a week.  With Tiger firing long time Caddie Steve Williams, is there more house cleaning to come from Woods?  Given the lack of positive results from Tiger's time with Foley, I would not be at all surprised to learn that the former world number 1 is a free agent once again.

Cool History Abounds At The Greenbrier


As the PGA Tour stops at the beautiful and sprawling Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, I wanted to let you all in on some of the cool history that comes along with this particular golfing mecca.  The Greenbrier is definitely one of those places that I would like to visit as part of ticking off my golfing bucket list, and I hope to be able to get out there in the next couple of years.  You should put this place down as a must visit for you too!

Cool things to know about the Greenbrier:

-Sam Snead is the old "Golf Professional Emeritus" -- any time you can bum around a place where Slammin' Sammy spent a considerable amount of time, you know you are in pretty good shape.  When Snead was hired as an assistant pro in 1936, he made $45 a month.

-The current Golf Professional Emeritus is Tom Watson, and you know he doesn't settle for second best.

-The Greenbrier course held the Ryder Cup in 1979, long remembered for the fact that it was the first Ryder Cup matches to include all of continental Europe, a change that vaulted the matches to the esteemed place they hold in the game today.  The US won the matches 17-11.

-It is always cool to play a course that is a PGA Tour stop.

-Stuart Appleby shot 59 in the final round last year to win the Greenbrier Classic on the Old White course.  Appleby broke the previous course record by one shot, which was previously held by Sam Snead. However, Snead did shoot a 59 there, but not during a tour event.  Doubtful there will be a 59 this week, as Watson said the course is playing firm and fast, especially the greens.  He said a mid 60s score would be really great.

-The Greenbrier course has also hosted the Solheim Cup, which was played there in 1994.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Real Beauty Of Golf...Is The Possibility Of Tomorrow

A couple of weekends ago I had to lick my wounds from a real blow-up in the Club Championship (one of the rounds included both an 8 and an 11).  This brutal round recalled the age old question, "How in the world did you make an 11 on a par 4?" And the painfully ironic response, "I missed the putt for 10."  Afterwards, I was in a particularly contemplative mood.  My thoughts centered around how incredible it is that this game can simultaneously punish you to the point of wanting to throw your clubs in the pond you just shanked your ball into, while also offering you hope that your best golf is just ahead of you.

That is what makes golf such a delightfully maddening excursion through some of the finest hills and valleys that Mother Nature has to offer.  Because we have all had those days where we simply cannot do anything right -- from mishit tee shots and topped irons to fat chips and pulled putts.  But at one time or another, we have all shared that exhilarating feeling of a perfectly struck golf ball.  There is no better feeling in the world of sports than making that tiny golf ball fly higher, farther or straighter than it ever has gone before.  It is like a drug -- and we keep coming back because tomorrow holds the promise of getting that feeling -- however fleeting -- once again.  We couldn't stay away even if we wanted to.

So when you encounter a rough patch with your swing, take a deep breath and think about a shot you hit really well, and the feeling of accomplishment you had afterwards.  After the next great shot you hit, really savor it.  Take a mental picture and burn it into your mind so you can recall it when you need some inspiration out on the links.

The best part about the game is that the perfect shot could be your next one.  Because when you start your next round, you always start at even par.

New Tip of the Week: Lob Shot Lesson!

This week's tip comes from a Sean Foley spot that I read in Golf Digest, and I found it quite useful and wanted to pass it along. Foley was talking about how to properly hit a lob shot, and what he suggested doing was taking your normal lob set-up but then moving your hands back and making a swing but trying to maintain the angle you had at set-up in your right wrist (for righties). This move will help you scoop the ball and get it in the air quickly while landing softly. I have been trying this for a couple of weeks and it does work, but you have to practice it in order to learn the feel for how far to hit the ball.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stevie's Reaction to Tiger Firing Him

Stevie Williams has posted his own statement in response to Tiger relieving him of his duties as caddie.  Williams made clear that the decision came as a surprise to him, and the decision was not mutual:

"Following the completion of the AT&T National I am no longer caddying for Tiger after he informed me that he needed to make a change. After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time. I have had the opportunity to work of late for Australian Adam Scott and will now caddy for him on a permanent basis. Having started my caddying career with Australian great Peter Thompson and working for Greg Norman in the 80's I am excited about the future working for another Australian."

Ah, the drama continues.  I hate it when Mommy and Daddy fight...

Another High Profile Tiger Breakup As He Splits With Caddie

Tiger Woods announced today that he is parting ways with long time caddie Steve Williams.  "I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it's time for a change.  Stevie is an outstanding caddie and a friend and has been instrumental in many of my accomplishments. I wish him great success in the future," Woods said in a statement on http://www.tigerwoods.com/

This is not a total shock, as Williams has been working well with Adam Scott since Tiger has been sidelined with his leg problems.  Woods' camp said that a replacement has not been named, though it will be quite fascinating to see who ends up on Tiger's bag.  Williams was known as a gruff and at times hostile gatekeeper for Woods -- a personality that seemed to fit Tiger's purposes to a tee. 

New Tip of the Week: Playing in the Wind

This week's tip comes from none other than Tom Watson, who made this point during the Open Championship telecast about how to play in the wind. Watson explained that when you are playing in the wind, your focus should not be on hitting the ball harder, it should be on hitting the ball better. In other words - hitting the ball square on the clubface will yield a penetrating ball flight that will be effective in windy conditions. Trying to swing harder in order to make the ball go farther will lead to mishits and be counterproductive. As the old saying goes, "When it is breezy, swing easy."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Nike 20XI Balls Do Not Disappoint

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Open Championship coverage this weekend so I can give a quick plug for the new Nike golf balls that I was finally able to try out in the last week or so. These are the new balls that have a resin core, so their construction is pretty revolutionary. What this means for you is that you will get a ball that is a really fantastic combination of distance and feel. If you have been watching the Open Championship coverage this weekend, you have probably seen the commercial for these balls about a dozen times where the Nike guy talks about how they changed the spin slope. He is right, and the difference is noticeable.

I am by no means a Nike golf guy at all - in fact for whatever reason I have always avoided Nike equipment. But these balls are worth a look. They are certainly long off the tee. But they are so soft around the greens that it is really remarkable. You will feel the difference around the greens. They land soft and are easy to control. But what I love most is that unlike some of the other balls with the soft covers, these balls are very durable and they also come off the putter face nicely without feeling like they are getting stuck.

They are pricey - about $45 per dozen - but that seems to be about par for the course these days. Give them a try, I think you will like the results.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some Big Names Miss the Cut at the Open Championship

Day two is done, and what a weekend we have to look forward to.  This is one of the most wide open championships in recent memory, and that notion is made all the more true because there is some wicked weather forecast for the weekend.  Anything can happen, and that is the beauty of the Open Championship.  Everyone who made the cut is within seven shots of the lead.  If you made the cut, you have a chance to win -- how cool is that?

Some big names who garnered much of the pre-major hype will be watching the golf this weekend from their living rooms instead of from inside the ropes.  Incredibly, both the world #1, Luke Donald, and the world #2, Lee Westwood, won't be around for the weekend.  Donald and Westwood, frequently criticized as being #1 and #2 in the world despite never winning a major, will only hear more of those critcisms after their performance this week.  Other notables who missed the cut:  Graeme McDowell,  Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Geoff Ogilvy, Ian Poulter, Ernie Else, and Matt Kuchar.

Watson Aces #6

Tom Watson has some real magic at the Open Championship, winning it five times (and he was one bad bounce away from winning it a sixth).  Today the bounce went his way on the par 3 sixth hole, where Watson recorded a hole in one.  His ball landed on the green and took one big hop and then dove right into the hole.  You can watch the ace here.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Notable Scores and Quips on Day One of the Open Championship

With the first day of the Open Championship alomst in the books, wanted to update you on the scores of some of your favorites:

-If you picked Young Tom Lewis (an amateur) to lead after day one in your Open pool, immediately go to Vegas, cause you are on fire.  He is tied with Thomas "I don't want to be in contention on Sunday and in that bunker on 16 again" Bjorn.  Both shot 65 (-5).

-Phil had a steady, yet unspectacular round, but is right in it with a 70 (E).

-Rors must feel weird right now -- after round 1 of a major he is not in the lead. How will he sleep tonight?  He shot 71 (+1).

-Old Tom Watson flirted with finishing under par for most of the day, but ended with a 72 (+2).  If the weather gets nasty, you will see Tom with a huge smile on his face as he climbs past these young chaps on the leaderboard.

-GMAC fired a solid 68 (-2).  McDowell said after the round that he plans to have a few medicinal beers.  I am right there with him.

-Lee Westwood battled back from a rough start and has to be happy with a 71 (+1) given the way he played today.

-The Mechanic (Miguel Angel Jimenez) lit it up with a 66 (-4).  He undoubtedly has a cigar lit up right now as well.

-Webb Simpson, the best American player you have never heard of also shot 66 (-4).

-Ricky Barnes, who got into the tournament this morning because a dude crashed a motor scooter yesterday and had to withdrawal (seriously) made the most of his last minute entry with a 68 (-2).

-Kaymer rocked a solid turtleneck today en route to a 68 (-2).

-Bubba shot 71 (-1) and appears to have avoided any media landmines after the round.

-Rickie Fowler started hot but couldn't keep the momentum going, but still managed an even par 70.

-Dustin Johnson made a late charge to save his round -- one that included an ace on 16.  He shot even par 70.

Open Championship Moments: Bobby Jones Wins 1930 Open on the Way to The Grand Slam



Robert ("Bobby") Tyre Jones, Jr., the greatest amateur ever to play the game, has three Open Championships on his legendary resume, and truly enjoyed playing over in the home of golf, where he was beloved by the British fans.  His greatest Open victory came in 1930, as it formed a quarter of his Grand Slam -- winning all four major titles in the same year.

The Open Championship was held at Hoylake that year, and Jones went into the final round trailing Englishman Archie Compston by a shot.  Jones struggled in the final round and shot 75, but that was just enough to hold off a late challenge from Macdonald Smith.  Of course, that same year, Jones also won the U.S. Open and both the U.S. and British Amateurs, which were considered majors at the time.  After completing the staggering feat, a writer from the New York Sun, George Trevor, wrote that Jones had "stormed the impregnable quadrilateral of golf."

One person not surprised by Jones' Grand Slam in 1930 was the man himself, who placed a bet with British bookmakers that he would do just that, and got 50-1 odds.  He collected over $60,000 when he won!    

Watch the Open Championship Live Online

For those of you, like me, stuck at work today, the Open Championship is streaming live online!  You can watch some of the championship by following this link.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Get Ready for Some Serious Wind on Day 1 and 2 of the Open Championship

The forecast at Royal St. George calls for some serious wind tomorrow and Friday, which will make for a very interesting first couple of days in England.  We are talking potentially sustained winds of 30 miles per hour.  Now THAT is the Open Championship, ladies and gentlemen!  On a true links course, the only defense  the course has is the weather, which can make the course play totally differently from one day to the next.  That is the beauty of links golf and this golf tournament!  According to the AP, the R&A are likely going to move up a number of the tees because of concerns that holes could become borderline unplayable because of the conditions.  Should make for some entertaining golf.  Can't wait!

Open Championship Moments: Pulling the Original Van de Velde

Well, that picture just about sums it all up.  In one of the most bizarre finishes to a major championship ever, and surely one of the most stunning collapses in the history of golf, Jean Van de Velde, on the cusp of winning the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999, seemingly lost his mind.

All Van de Velde had to do was make a 6 -- a double bogey -- on the final hole to win the Claret Jug.  A double bogey.  He could do that in his sleep.  Or so we all thought.  The Barry Burn runs through the 18th at Carnoustie, and would prove to be his undoing.  He boldly (foolishly?) hit a driver off the tee and blew it way right, and barely avoided water off the tee.  He took an equally aggressive approach to his second shot, hitting a two-iron instead of pitching the ball back onto the fairway.  The two iron also went right, ricocheted off the grandstand, and bounced back into some tall grass.  Ok, not the worst thing in the world, he was only lying 2.  But then he chunked his chip into the Barry Burn.  After ditching his socks and shoes and taking a dip in the burn to see if he could play it, Van de Velde wisely decided he should just take a drop.  His fifth shot was a flubbed pitch that ended in the shortside bunker at the front of the green.  He had to make an incredible up and down -- under the circumstances -- to make a 7 and get into a playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard, which Lawrie won.

There were so many bad decisions and poor swings on one hole, it is really hard to comprehend it happening, even all of these years later.  To this day, if you blow up on a hole, people will say that you "pulled a Van de Velde."  If you want to watch this car wreck again, here you go, but be forewarned: it is not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Open Championship Moments: The Duel in the Sun

I thought it only fitting to start the Open Championship "Moments" series with arguably the greatest Open Championship ever, when Tom Watson bested Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977 in what has come to be known as "The Duel in the Sun."

The two legendary champions were paired together for the final 36 holes and put on a show that golf fans lucky enough to watch that weekend will long remember.  During the third round, both men shot blistering 65s to lead the field by three shots.  The stage was set for some high drama.  After the fourth hole on Sunday, Nicklaus had a three shot lead over the reigning Masters champion.  Watson was unquestionably the real deal in 1977, but catching the best there ever was in the final round of a major seemed like the tallest of orders.  But with birdies at 5 and 8, Watson showed he was not going away.  Nicklaus birdied 12 to extend his lead over Watson to two shots.  Watson responded with a birdie on 13 and then on 15 miraculously tied Jack by dropping 60 footer from off the green.  After that dramatic turn of events tied the two men at 11 under with three left to play, Watson turned to Nicklaus on the next tee and said, "This is what it's all about, isn't it?"  Nicklaus responded, "You bet it is."

After a birdie on 17, Watson stood on the 18th tee with a one shot lead and calmly sent a one iron right down the middle.  Nicklaus, knowing he needed to make a move, took an aggressive approach off the tee but ended up in trouble right, in deep rough and gorse -- a lie from which he would be lucky to just advance the ball up the fairway.  Watson knocked his approach stiff, so the tournament looked to be over with Watson having only a few feet left to negotiate for his birdie.  But what did Jack do?  He hit one of the best clutch shots in the history of the majors, getting the ball onto the green, about 35 feet from the hole.  And then, of course, all Jack did was go ahead and make the birdie putt.  Watson, however, remained focused and rolled in a birdie putt of his own to shoot another 65 and take home the Claret Jug.  You can relive the final hole drama here:

     

Monday, July 11, 2011

HGO's Tip of the Week: Use the Pool to Help Feel the Proper Positions in Your Swing

For our tip of the week this week, we are going a little bit outside of the box, and giving you an idea to keep your swing tuned even when you might be taking some time to beat the summer heat and take a dip in the pool. Take some practice swings in the water (without a club of course) and the natural resistance of the water will allow you to get an exaggerated sense of what the golf swing should feel like at different points. I have found that this is especially true of the transition at the top of the backswing where your hips have to start your downswing instead of your hands. The pool is a great place to work on what that proper transition should feel like, and you can take that feeling onto the course with you for better results in your next round.

Cool Puma Sweepstakes For The Open Championship

Puma is running a pretty cool contest in honor of The Open Championship this week.  Rickie Fowler chipped a bunch of paint covered golf balls to create six different one-of-a-kind hats and then autographed each of them.  They are giving one of the hats away on Thursday, so follow this link to Puma's Facebook page for entry details.

Marquee Pairings For The Open Championship


It is British Open week -- or as it is properly called -- The Open Championship week!  The sweet, savory scent of a major is once again in the air, which is something all golf fans can be excited about.  This year the Open Championship returns to Royal St. George's, where in 2003, Ben Curtis became the most unlikely major champion in the history of the game.  No shortage of great plotlines this week, including what Rory will do in his first crack at a major after capturing the title of "Major Champion," if this is the week Lee Westwood can finally shed that long held tag of "Greatest Player Not To Win A Major" and whether any American golfers -- in an epic major drought themselves -- can tame the links across the pond to capture the title.

Set against that backdrop, here are some of the marquee groups who will be playing together the first two days:

-Nick Watney, Matteo Manassero and Angel Cabrera

-Yuta Ikeda, Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson

-Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler

-Luke Donald, Ryo Ishikawa and Sergio Garcia

-Zach Johnson, Adam Scott and Justin Rose

-Graeme McDowell, Jason Day and Bubba Watson

-Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel 

-Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson

Check back frequently this week for more coverage of The Open Championship including the next installment of HGO's "Moments" series where I will be recounting some of the great moments in Open Championship history!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Top 5 Golf Stories During First Half Of 2011

With 2011 officially half over (can you honestly believe that?), I took a look back at some of the top stories in the world of golf during that time span.  For my money (which is not much), here are the top 5 stories of the year thus far:

5) Yani Tseng Obliterates the Field at the LPGA Championship:  The best female golfer in the world had it going at the LPGA championship, as she dominated the field the way college kids dominate a pizza after a long night out at the bars.  Tseng won by ten shots, and at the ripe old age of 22, has a chance to complete the career grand slam this week at the U.S. Women's Open.

4) I Spell Parity P-G-A-T-O-U-R:  In a year where Tiger's absence from the leaderboard (as conspicuous as the absence of a LeBron clutch jumper) dominated the headlines, the PGA Tour ushered in the Parity Era.  26 different players have won events this year (eight first timers) and only three golfers have won twice (McIlroy, Bubba, Mark Wilson and Nick Watney).  While there is a crop of great young players on the PGA Tour, nobody has yet stepped to the forefront as being a force week in and week out.  The Player of the Year race and the FedEx Cup champion race are wide open.

3) Losing a Tiger:  Following a lost year after his personal troubles destroyed his image and seemingly his dominant golf game as well, Tiger has limped through an injury plagued season where he really has not been a factor (save for a fairly thrilling couple of hours at Augusta) in any of the few tournaments he has entered.  Right now, so many unanswered questions persist that it is hard to even know where to begin.  The biggest question we don't know the answer to is when Tiger will be back out on the golf course.  We know he will miss the British Open next week.  Other than his vague answers that he will be out until he is 100%, it is anyone's guess when he will return (if it all) this year.  Another lingering question is will his troublesome left knee, which at this point seems as if it is held together solely with duct tape, hold up to the rigors of competitive golf and a fairly violent golf swing?  Only time will tell.  Because Team Tiger sure won't.

2) Rory's Masters Meltdown:  It was so painful to watch.  It was as uncomfortable a TV viewing experience as when you had to watch Jessie Spano freak out after overloading on caffeine pills on Saved By The Bell.  Rory's meltdown brought back painful memories of Greg Norman on that other disastrous Sunday.  Rory had cruised until that point, and just cracked under the pressure of golf's grandest stage.  When he hit the drive near the houses left of the 10th fairway (that nobody watching on TV even knew existed until that moment), you just knew that it was over.  Lost in Rory's brutal day was Charl Schwartzel's incredible birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie finish to win the Green Jacket.  But perhaps the biggest story was how incredibly gracious McIlroy was in defeat.  It is easy to be a popular winner, but being a popular loser takes guts and class.  Rory showed both, and he endeared himself to millions of fans in the process.  His laudable attitude in defeat set the stage for what was easily the #1 story in the first half of 2011...

1) McIlroy Wins U.S. Open in Record Fashion:  It took four days at Congressional to wipe out one bad Sunday at Augusta, and for a legend to be born right in front of our eyes.  McIlroy dominated one of the best fields in golf and did it in style.  The whole week was essentially a coronation, though everyone still had a little lingering doubt in the back of their minds until they saw him close the deal on Sunday afternoon.  Standing on the brutally difficult 10th tee (which TV did not do justice to just how scary a shot that really is) on Sunday, all he did was come within inches of an ace.  Dialed in does not describe how he played that week.  Fans roared for him, competitors gushed over his ability (and one even pegged him as the guy who would break Jack's majors record) and the media were quick to draw comparisons to -- wait for it -- Tiger himself.  The new champ handled the victory with grace and a maturity well beyond his years.  
 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Golf Dream Masquerading As A Work Dream

I had a strange dream the other night -- a borderline nightmare really.  I was in a conference room at my office with two partners at my law firm who I work with on a daily basis.  They were both taking turns giving me the business -- telling me I am not good enough, that I need to be better, need to be more precise, need to make better decisions.  I am a perfectionist, and I work a ton, so I was pretty devastated.  But the topper came when one of my bosses looked at me and said, "You need to be more like Rory."  And I realize that sitting next to me is none other than Rory McIlroy.  He is just looking at me with this smile on his face that basically says, "Yeah, I am better than you."  I explained this dream to my wife, and told her it was upsetting to have a work nightmare like that.  She looked at me and said, "Seriously?  That dream had nothing to with work.  That was a golf nightmare about you not being good enough at golf."  And then I realized she was exactly right.  Paging Dr. Freud...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tiger Out for the British Open

In a move that is not at all surprising, Tiger Woods announced today via his website that he will miss the British Open next week.  From his site:

"Unfortunately, I've been advised that I should not play in the British Open," Woods said. "As I stated at the AT&T National, I am only going to come back when I'm 100 percent ready. I do not want to risk further injury. That's different for me, but I'm being smarter this time. I'm very disappointed and want to express my regrets to the British Open fans."

This outcome seemed fairly pre-ordained after his press conference at the AT&T National last week, but with the tight-lipped Woods, you just never know.  It seems that we may be getting closer to the point where Tiger just shuts it down for the rest of the year to focus on 2012. 

New Tip of the Week: Consider Using an 8 or 9 Iron When Chipping

Be creative when chipping around the greens.  Don't just absentmindedly pull out your wedge to hit every chip shot.  Hitting an 8 iron or 9 iron back in your stance, which will allow you to get the ball rolling sooner, could be a more effective shot (with more control) than trying to fly the ball all the way to the hole with a wedge.  Just be sure to set aside some practice time to practice these shots to get a feel for distance control.