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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Let Lexi Play!

Inspired by t-shirts that Cobra Golf had made and gave away on Twitter yesterday, I wanted to briefly touch on the Lexi Thompson saga.

To briefly recap:  Lexi Thompson is the 16 year old women's golf phenom who has taken the LPGA Tour by storm.  Last year, at the ripe old age of 15, she came in 10th at the U.S. Women's Open and was the runner-up at the Evian Masters.  A couple weeks ago, she became the youngest winner in the history of the LPGA Tour when she won the Navistar Classic - by five shots.

So what is all the fuss about?  The LPGA has an age requirement - 18 - for tour membership.  Lexi is two years shy of that, so she cannot be a member of the LPGA Tour absent a waiver, despite already winning an event.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan allowed Lexi to play in the LPGA Q School to get on to the Tour a year early, but after winning the first stage by ten shots, she withdrew from the second stage.  So her status for next year is not guaranteed.

But let's be honest here - Mike Whan would have to have lost all of his marbles to deny her membership for next year.  First, it would be a PR disaster for a guy who has worked tirelessly at improving the image of the LPGA Tour and the marketability of its players.  Second, she has proven she belongs on tour and has rightfully earned a spot both with her performances on sponsor's exemptions and by winning the Navistar.  Third, last week's fantastic Solheim Cup has created some nice buzz for the LPGA Tour, and having Lexi headline LPGA events will provide an even bigger boost to fan interest.  Fourth, she is a young, personable, talented and marketable American star on a tour currently donimated by foreign golfers. 

There is no rational justification that Mike Whan could offer that would preclude Lexi's membership, which is exactly why she will be granted the status she deserves.  Whan is a smart businessman and won't miss this opportunity to continue to grow the LPGA Tour.      

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Couples Picks Haas

In a move that should come as no surprise after the weekend's events, Fred Couples tapped FedEx Cup Champion Bill Haas to round out his President's Cup squad.  Haas joins Tiger Woods as Couples' two captain's picks.  With all due respect to Keegan Bradley, who had a great year (two wins, including a major), Haas was much more consistent this year, and was playing the best as of late.  Definitely the right call.    

Review of Disney's The Palm Golf Course

At a little after 7:30 on Friday morning, the great Orlando golf adventure began.  The task was to play 72 holes in 36 hours in the penetrating Orlando sun.  I came armed with 14 clubs, five sleeves of balls and an industrial sized can of sunscreen.  It was unclear which would run out first, the sunscreen or the golf balls.

Day 1 had my partner in crime, Chris, and me teeing off first on Disney's The Palm course in the morning, and then turning right around for an afternoon slot on its sister course, The Magnolia.  Both courses are located on Disney property, nestled around The Polynesian and The Grand Floridian resorts, close to The Magic Kingdom.

The goal that Chris and I had before the trip was to each break 80 at least once, and also have at least five birdies each for the trip.

Both of these courses were in remarkably good shape, especially considering the amount of play they get and the brutal sun baking the fairways and greens all day, every day.

The Palm was a great course.  Very straightforward, what you see is what you get, which I like.  I can't stand courses with hidden trouble, like when you hit a shot down the middle of the fairway and you end up screwed.  Like any good Florida course, water comes into play on a number of holes, and it is usually done in a picturesque way (and sometimes in a terrifying way).  The par 5s are fun because they are generally reachable in two with a good drive, which makes you feel like you belong with the big boys. 

The course is very playable - wayward shots were penalized, but not in an overly harsh way.  You might make a bogey with a bad drive, but par is not out of the equation and you generally won't wreck your round with one bad shot.  It is a great driver course, as it is open enough that you can wield the big stick without too much trepidation. 

My love of The Palm was also colored by the fact that I had the best putting round of my life, finishing the day with just 25 putts, which yielded four birdies and an eagle.  There were birdie dances a plenty happening out there for me!  The greens were really rolling very well.  Incredibly, with a great round going, I hobbled home to finish, going double, double, bogey in order to come in at that magical 79 number (I had to sink a twelve footer up the hill on 18, and believe me, I was nervous!). 

Some great holes:  #9, a 362 yard par four with a drive over water to a fairway that tightens at around 250 where another lake comes into play; #13, a cool risk/reward 348 yard par four which plays alot less if you want to try and cut off some of the water and carry some tall trees. 

We were able to play The Palm for $79, which was the morning fee for Disney resort guests.

#13 at The Palm - how much of the lake do you want to cut off?
Another neat feature of both The Palm and The Magnolia is the "Memorable Moments" placards that were at each tee, which recounted some memorable shot or event that happened on that hole in prior PGA Tour events.  I always enjoy playing a course where you know some of the game's greats have walked before you!  If you are in and around the Disney area, The Palm is a great option to get your golf fix.      


Congrats to Bill Haas!

So I am back from my whirlwind golfing tour in Orlando (more on that to come), and am now digging out and just wanted to tip my cap to Bill Haas for delivering in the clutch and winning the FedEx Cup title and the Tour Championship on Sunday.  Can you imagine hitting a shot out of the water, in a playoff, with $11 million on the line?  My knees knock on a five footer when there is a $5 nassau at stake.

It was an exciting finish to the Tour Championship, and on the last day of the FedEx Cup race there were at least half a dozen guys who had a chance to win.  I guess that type of last minute jockeying for the title is what the PGA Tour was shooting for, but I wonder if the playoff events aren't weighted a little bit too high.  But then again, if they really do want to carry this playoffs thing to its logical end, you have to perform in the playoffs to win the title, so wins in those four events should be worth more than a regular season win.  I know the FedEx Cup race and the playoff system has its critics, but I think it does make for a more exciting finish to the PGA Tour season.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Weekend Golf Getaway

I am in the final hours of the countdown to one of life's great joys -- the weekend golf getaway.  Tomorrow I get to head down to Orlando to meet my good friend (and devoted HGO reader) Chris Hinkel for some golf in the Sunshine State.  We have big dreams for the trip -- 36 a day both Friday and Saturday, with a couple rides on Space Mountain sandwiched in between.  Not sure how my prematurely old body will be feeling during that last round (I am betting come Saturday night I will be hobbling around like that creepy little alien thing from the Lord of the Rings series), but it will be worth it.

What are the essentials you need for a great weekend golf getaway?  Well I am glad you rhetorically asked.  Here are the essentials:

1) A great golf destination - Florida delivers here, with lots of courses to choose from, including some where the Big Boys tee it up every year.

2) A tolerant significant other - I lucked out here, Erika is the best.  Also helped that I had to use my Disney Vacation Club points this weekend before they expired, so I had a financial justification as well.

3) Good company - Check.  Chris is an equally obsessed golfer who has some game, and will certainly provide some laughs and witty banter.

4) Adult beverages - The browner the booze, the better for me.

5) Great courses - We have that covered.  Playing two of the Disney courses (The Palm and The Magnolia, which host the PGA Tour's final event each year).  Then on Saturday we start off with The Legends at Orange Lake, a fantastic Arnold Palmer Signature Course.  We will cap the whirlwind golfing tour of Orlando by playing at Falcons Fire, a Rees Jones gem that I have heard lots of good things about.  And honestly, is there a better name for a golf course than Falcons Fire?  I am already intimidated.  I can guarantee you one thing from this trip - I will be coming back with a Falcons Fire shirt.

So just one more day of pretending to be engaged in my work before I get to focus on 72 glorious holes.  I will try to get some pics and reviews up as soon as I can so you can see what we were up against!  Two rounds a day for two days -- I told Chris that we will just have to pretend like we are in the final weekend of the U.S. Amateur.  Let the games begin (almost)!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Keep It Simple, Stupid

When I was a freshman in high school (back in the days when Apollo 13 ruled the screen, cell phones were a novelty and the size of carry on luggage, and "Kiss From a Rose" was actually a good song, and not one of the most annoying songs of all time - admit it, you liked it when it came out), I was struggling with math, so I went back to my fifth grade teacher for some help.  Her advice was pretty straightforward:  KISS - Keep it Simple, Stupid.  Except she was a nun, so she said "Sweetheart" instead of stupid.  But her point was clear:  I was making things way too complicated and getting in my own way.  Guilty as charged.

The same can be said of my golf game.  You know what I am talking about.  Too much thinking, too much information, too much going on before hitting a shot that your mind is working overtime at the point of impact instead of focusing on keeping your mind out of the way of your body.  Golf is really a simple game - hit the ball with your club, and get it into the hole in the fewest amount of shots possible.  There are no points for style or beauty, and you don't get shots taken off of your score by taking the more complicated route to the hole rather than the easiest one.

This popped into my head after reading this past week's PGA Tour Confidential article on  Stephanie Wei (who writes a fantastic golf blog - Wei Under Par) had an interesting entry about Justin Rose, winner of this past week's PGA Tour Playoffs Event, the BMW Championship at Cog Hill.  According to Wei, the week before the tournament, Rose went on a buddies trip and played a few different courses.  At each course he had a different caddy, and the only information that Rose had the caddie give him was the yardage to the hole.  Rose then picked a club and hit the ball.  He liked the method so much that he did the same thing last weekend, and you can't argue with the results.

Too much pre-shot information leads to a cluttered mind, which in turn leads to confusion and all too often a lack of commitment to the shot, which in turn leads to playing your next shot from the sand, the rough or the woods, if you can find it all.  Need to mix things up to break out of rut?  Try taking a step back, and stripping the game down to its most basic elements.  Get the yardage, pick your target, free your mind, and just swing the club.  Don't be overly technical.  Don't worry about wind gusts or the bunker fronting the green.  Just play.  And have fun - it is a game, after all! 

If it is good enough for Justin Rose, it is good enough for us! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Tip of The Week! Make A Full Turn To Ensure A Proper Release

For a good release of your hands and body through the impact zone, concentrate on making a full turn through the ball on your follow-through.  This will allow you to get the clubface squared up at impact and improve your consistency.  Think of trying to get the club to end up resting on your left shoulder (for right-handed players) and having your beltbuckle pointed at the target.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From Russia, With Love (of Golf?)

My Go to "Russian" food
St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square

This week I find myself far from the cozy confines of Newtown, PA, as I am working in Moscow for the week (hence the blog radio silence).  It has been an interesting experience, filled with exotic restaurant choices (I had lunch yesterday at an Uzbekistani restaurant) and confused looks from locals who don't speak English (my Russian is limited to "Da" and "Niet").

Walking down the street outside of my hotel (right near Red Square), you could have lunch at McDonald's, buy a necklace for your wife at Tiffany's, pick up a sweatshirt at American Eagle and stop in to TGIFriday's for dinner.  It is hard to walk down the streets and wonder what it must have been like during the Soviet days, and what Ronald Reagan would think if he was here to see what has transpired in Russia in the last 25 years.

I thought I would give you a quick overview of the world of golf in Russia.  I mean, when in Moscow...

Let's start with a question - quick, name your favorite Russian golfer?  Waiting, waiting, still waiting (this is like a Sergio pre-shot routine).  Yeah, the list pretty much starts with "No" and ends with "Body."  

An internet search for Russian golfers yields a golfer known more for her looks than her Tour prowess.  Maria Verchenova was the first woman to earn full-time status on the Ladies European Tour and has turned more than a few heads (and notched lots of internet hits - is pretty hilarious):

But Russian beauties aside, what is the status of golf in Russia?  The answer is that what once was a sport that was dominated by Russian billionaires who had the luxury of building their own courses (wouldn't that be nice), there is some modest growth as more people become interested in the game.  According to the Moscow Golf Show website (mark your calendars - April 2012), the history of golf in Russia is a mere 16 years old.  The country currently has 20 courses either open or under construction, and more people are taking up the game now than ever have before.  The Russian Golf Association estimates that around 15,000 Russians are hacking it around just like we do.  Courses like the Moscow City Golf Club, pictured below, allow Russian golfers the ability to get their golf fix.  While we are still a long ways off from having The Golf Channel piped into Russian homes each day, some in the Russian golf industry are predicting a boom for golfers in the country as accessible courses are built and knowledge of the game becomes more widespread.  So next time you find yourself in Russia, don't forget to bring your sticks!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review of Seven Days in Utopia

So I went to see Seven Days in Utopia on Monday night.  Remarkably, I even convinced my wife to join me.  All in all, it was a decent, yet unspectacular movie.  For me, since I loved the book so much, I had higher expectations for the movie.

The problem was that so much of the movie felt rushed - they did not have enough time to develop all of the scenes the way they could have.  The book was very deep -- and I recognize that in a movie you have certain time limitations that you are bound by, but I think the golf parts just weren't done as well as they should have been in order to convey the same message and have the same effect that the book did.  Instead, there was an invented love story and an invented rivalry with one of the local Texas boys that took away from the golf plot.  I mean, I love watching a good dust-up as much as the next guy, but these "altercations" would have made a shoving match in the third grade schoolyard look like Ali-Frazier.  I understand that Hollywood felt they needed these elements, but it just didn't work.  For me, the only love story I needed to see was the love between the man and the game.

In the end, I feel about this movie the same way I feel about yellow starbursts or Donovan McNabb's tenure as an Eagle -- I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Participate in Patriot Golf Day this Weekend!

If you have not already heard about this fantastic organization, Folds of Honor, and the event they are putting on this weekend, Patriot Golf Day, I wanted to let you know about it and encourage you to participate!

Started by Major Dan Rooney, an F-16 fighter pilot, Iraq War Veteran and PGA Professional, the Folds of Honor Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides post-secondary education scholarships for the children and spouses of military men and women killed in the service of our nation.  Patriot Golf Day is the main fundraiser for the organization, and golfers at participating courses are asked to add $1 to their greens fees to be donated to the charity.  The website for the event can be found here - please check it out!  This is a fantastic organization which does great work and deserves our support.  If you would like to make a donation directly, you can do so here.

Freedom isn't free, and as you head out for your golf rounds or barbecues this Labor Day weekend, please take a moment to remember, and salute, all of our brave men and women who are out there on the front lines day and night protecting the way of life we all hold dear.  We owe them a great debt.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Koala HUG Lumbar Support Helps Your Aching Back

Having a bad back is a brutal handicap for a golfer -- just ask Fred Couples.

The nice people at Brookstone sent me this product a few months ago and asked if I would try it out, as they thought that some of my readers with back problems might be interested in this new back support device to help them play golf despite the pain.

Since I have arthritis that primarily affects my back, I was definitely interested.  After trying it out, I can honestly say that it offers pretty good back support with minimal impediment to your flexibility and freedom of movement.  The problem with back braces, especially when you are talking about wearing them for sporting activities, is that they are usually so bulky and uncomfortable that you can't really move around in them.  The HUG is firm enough to offer real support (you can feel the benefit of the HUG as soon as you put it on), yet it is compact enough that you can still move around with little resistance.  You can easily swing a golf club with it on, and it really doesn't affect your swing.

There are two main drawbacks that I have noticed.  One is purely a vanity issue -- it is designed to fit over top of your clothes, so if you are going to wear it to play golf, it will be noticeable for other people to see.  Now, this is not necessarily bad if 1) you don't care or 2) you can use it to get a few more strokes off your playing partners and hustle them for some extra cash.  But some folks are conscious of drawing attention to a physical ailment, and that may turn some people off.  The second one is that the brace really does "hug" your hips, so it take a little while to get used to the feeling of having the side pads resting up against your hips.

I think this product would be most beneficial for people who have back pain that prevents them from playing -- if that is the case, the HUG is definitely worth a shot, as the support is real and you can feel the difference immediately.  If the difference between playing and not playing was having to wear a pink tutu, I would do it.

For me, while I don't use it when I am playing (mostly for vanity reasons, I am man enough to admit it), I have used it before and after the round, especially if I am planning on playing the next day, and I think it helps.

On a personal note, Koalas are awesome, and I wish I could have one as a pet.  My wife says that they are mean, which I think is total BS -- she just doesn't want me to have one because she is afraid that she will have to be the one to take the koala for walks when I am at work.  So selfish.

If you want more information on the Koala HUG Lumbar Support ($99.95), try out this link.

Mickelson Experiments With Belly Putter

And the belly putter craze continues.  Don't even get my wife started on this - she adamantly believes that belly putting is cheating, and isn't afraid to let you know it.  She doesn't really know why it is cheating, but she is sure it is.  For me?  I really can't decide.  The traditionalist in me says not to like it, but if it is a way for guys to improve their game, why not?  Though I am still leaning towards the former.

But the big news on the belly putting front is that Phil Mickelson is using it this week in practice rounds at TPC Boston as he prepares for the Deutsche Bank, the second event in the PGA Tour Playoffs.  He is using an Odyssey White Ice Sabertooth model.  He had both the long putter and the standard one in his bag.  Which one will he pull when the tourney starts?  Should be interesting.
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