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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review of Srixon Q-Star Balls

By now, you probably have seen one of the Peter Jacobsen Srixon commercials where he says something to the effect of, if you are more than a 10 handicap, most of the spin you put on the ball is sidespin, and that will more likely than not leave you playing you second shot from behind a dumpster or a Toyota Corolla.  Believe me, I have been there, and he has a point.

Enter Srixon's new ball offering for 2012, the Q-Star.  The company pitches the ball as a way to cut down on the sidespin that a slightly wayward driver club path will produce, leaving you a more playable "miss" that still lets you go for the green.  But this feature, according to Srixon, does not sacrifice too much feel and spin around the greens.  This is a 2-piece ball (traditionally meaning engineered more for distance and spin control as opposed to higher spinning, softer 3-piece models), but according to Srixon, it is their "most advanced 2-piece ball to date."

I was intrigued enough to try out a dozen, and have played quite a few holes with the ball thus far to test it out.  I think it is a decent, playable golf ball.  I did not notice a dramatically different ball flight on mishit tee shots, but there was some positive benefits - a mishit did not go quite as far offline as some of the "spinnier" balls on the market.  I was also pleasantly surprised with the feel and control of the ball on approach shots.  It landed softer and held the greens better than I would have expected, and I think it had a good feel around the greens for chips and putts.

What I think really sets this ball apart for the average golfer is the excellent price point for the product - a dozen balls will only cost you $24.95.  When you compare that to the dozen premium balls that go for twice the price, for golfers with a double digit handicap, this ball is a fantastic option.  You really can't beat the combination of price and performance for golfers in that mid to high handicap range.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Early Look At The U.S. Ryder Cup Standings

In 2012, we all get treated to a fifth major, as the U.S. team will be looking for redemption when The Ryder Cup kicks off at Medinah in the fall.

With less than five months left to qualify, I thought it was worth taking a look at the current standings, updated through the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

To quickly recap the qualification process for the U.S. side:  The top eight point leaders automatically make the team.  The automatic qualifiers are set at the end of the PGA Championship in August.  Players get 1 point for every $1,000 in prize money earned in the 2011 majors, and 1 point for every $1,000 in prize money earned in 2012 "Official" events that are not majors.  2012 majors are worth 2 points for every $1,000 in prize money earned.  2012 events opposite the majors and the World Golf Championships are worth 1/2 point for every $1,000 in prize money earned.

In September, captain Davis Love III will get to select four players to round out the American team.

Here is where we stand as of today:

1Keegan Bradley2,761.642
2Phil Mickelson2,742.374
3Tiger Woods2,109.667
4Bill Haas2,030.871
5Kyle Stanley2,013.928
6Steve Stricker1,988.075
7Johnson Wagner1,976.617
8Mark Wilson1,951.283
9Hunter Mahan1,938.454
10Brandt Snedeker1,866.437
11Bubba Watson1,837.755
12Dustin Johnson1,538.402
13Jason Dufner1,514.977
14Robert Garrigus1,315.354
15Ben Crane1,143.353

With the surge of great young American players, this is a deeper U.S. talent pool than was available for the last Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.  One thing is for sure:  Davis Love III is going to have plenty of attractive options when he makes his selections because some great players are not going to make it on points.

While it is still early, I think that the top 4 on this list will end up making the team on points.  I also expect Bubba, DJ and Mahan to clear the top eight as well.  If I had to bet on the final automatic qualifier spot, I would go with Webb Simpson (currently #18).

Assuming that my predictions hold (admittedly an assumption as reliable as a weather forecast), Love III would have to make four choices out of an outstanding group of players, including:  Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Kyle Stanley, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Mark Wilson, Nick Watney, David Toms, and John Huh, just to name a few.

With Tiger playing as well as he is, it essentially frees up an additional captain's pick for Love III, since Love III said he would use one on Tiger for sure.  This added spot will be much needed, as come September, the captain is going to have very difficult choices to make - a great problem for the American team to have.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tiger Wins Arnold Palmer Invitational

The wait is over.  Tiger won his first PGA Tour event in nearly 1000 days when he took home the hardware at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.  He did it going away - winning by five shots over Graeme McDowell.

Tiger has now won 72 times on the PGA Tour - and you have to think that this was the sweetest non-major tournament victory that Woods has ever had.  He was focused, yet relaxed all day long. He opened up sharp and was never really challenged.  And when he was lining up his birdie putt on 18, you could actually see Woods let himself celebrate because he knew he finally was going to get this done.  You could see in his eyes how much this one meant.

Tiger has been to hell and back - granted, a hell of his own making - but the way he is playing right now should silence all of those "Can Tiger ever be Tiger again" critics.  Yes, he can be Tiger again.  Will he ever dominate the way he did back in the early part of the 2000s?  Probably not, but the reason for that is because the PGA Tour has a wealth of young talent that can challenge for major titles - a generation of golfers inspired by Tiger.  The rise of these great players capable of beating Tiger - and in turn, inspiring him to be even better - will turn out to be the biggest boost golf has gotten since Tiger burst on the scene.

With this performance, it is hard not to get even more excited for Augusta.  With all due respect to Rors, Tiger will be the favorite, and deservedly so.  Unfortunately for Tiger, at Augusta he will have to deal with the sideshow that will be caused by Hank Haney's book, The Big Miss (due out Tuesday).  He won't answer any questions about the book, but that won't stop the media from asking them.  From the excerpts that have been making the rounds in the golf publications, Haney's book goes far afield of simply chronicling Tiger's swing changes under the renowned coach.  From Tiger thinking about becoming a Navy Seal to his alleged tipping practices that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge look like a big spender, this will be a distraction, and the question will be how successfully Tiger can block it out.

But if anyone can do it, it is El Tigre.  Come Easter Sunday, I think Tiger will find himself in a familiar position, in Butler Cabin donning another Green Jacket. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Tournament Fit For A King

This is the sign that appears on the 4th hole of Palmer's Legends Course at Orange Lake Resort in Orlando.  Let me assure you - when you see this sign on the tee, you don't decide to hit a 5 wood to try and keep it in play.

The PGA Tour stops at Bay Hill this week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a fitting tribute to the man who has given golf so much over his lifetime.  While Nicklaus may have captured the minds and attention of golf fans with his domination of the sport, nobody ever captured the hearts of the fans like Arnie.

So many golf fans have Arnie stories, because he always had time for them and made them feel like they were part of the exeprience.  He had a connection with the gallery that was never seen before, and never seen since.  One of my earliest pro golf memories was attending the Senior Tour's Bell Atlantic Classic when I was a little kid. I was proudly part of Arnie's Army with my dad - and the group lived up to its name. People were lined up ten deep all around the greens when the King was playing a hole.  I was probably about 5 or 6 years old, and because I was so little my Dad had me sitting on his shoulders so I could see Arnie on the green.  When Arnie went up to mark his ball on one of the greens, he looked right at me, smiled, and winked.  He probably did that tens of thousands of times in his career, but I remember it clear as can be 25 years later and I still have a smile on my face as I write this.  Countless fans have similar stories.

Palmer catapulted golf into the stratosphere as far as fan awareness and attendance, and set the stage for the type of following the game enjoys today.  He was ther bridge from the Old Guard, like Hogan and Nelson, to Nicklaus.  He helped boost interest in golf, which greatly helped out his fellow Tour members in the form of increased prize money. 

But no matter how big he got, he never forgot where he came from, and always made time for his Army, who were always in his corner no matter what.  So it is fitting that this week, as the PGATour gets ready for The Masters (Arnie won 4 Green Jackets), that we take time to enjoy a great tournament that honors golf's all time Good Guy. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Watch Golf Channel's Down The Stretch

In case you have not heard about this show yet - let me tell you that it is well worth your time to tune in.  Golf Channel's new show, Down the Stretch, which airs on Mondays at 11:00 pm (and lots of other times afterwards), showcases a behind the scenes look at the contenders in the previous day's event.

Two shows have already aired (after The Honda and after the WGC Cadillac Championship) and two more are still to come, after Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS.  I hope that Golf Channel will consider adding more shows in the future!

Golf Channel is like what MTV used to be before it became a reality tv network focused on pregnant teenagers and NJ Guidos and Guidettes.  It not only offers great golf coverage, but its original programming is fantastic.  Live From is the best lead up to the Majors around.  Big Break is delightfully addictive.  Down the Stretch is equally good.  That is not to say Golf Channel does not have its share of stinkers - see Pipe Dream - though that actually was an interesting concept that was ruined by a completely unlikeable protagonist.

Down the Stretch allows you to see the final round from the point of view of the guy's trying to win the tournament. The editing is fantastic, and the access to the players is second to none.  You can actually feel the intensity when watching the show.  You want to know what guys are thinking on the course when they are in contention?  This is the best look you are going to get.  Check it out - you won't be disappointed!    

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tiger's Achilles Injury Only A Mild Strain

Tiger Woods, forced to withdraw from the fianl round of the WGC Cadillac Championship on Sunday because he felt tightness in his achilles, updated fans on the injury last night via Twitter:

"Got good news from doc tonight.  Only mild strain of left Achilles. Can resume hitting balls late in week and hopeful for next week."

The "hopeful for next week" reference is about Woods' scheduled appearance to play in next week's Bay Hill event, which is put on by Arnold Palmer.

Any Tiger injury is a cause for concern, given that any momentum he could put together last year with his new swing was halted by injuries that nagged him all season.  The injuries limited both his ability to play in Tour events, and more importantly, his ability to practice the way he felt he needed to in order to groove the swing changes he has been making with Coach Sean Foley.

Good news for Tiger fans is that this seems to be a mild injury and his ability to play in The Masters in a few weeks does not seem to be jeopardized.  But I will not breathe a sigh of relief until I see him tee it up at Bay Hill with no ill effects.   

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

2016 Olympic Golf Course Designer Selected: Hanse Golf Course Design

Conceptual Grassing Plan (Hanse Golf Course Design)
After a lengthy selection process, the Rio 2016 Olympic Organising Committee has selected Gil Hanse, and his company Hanse Golf Course Design, to design the course when golf makes its return to the Olympics in 2016.

The selection is a big win for Hanse, who beat out other notable designers like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player Robert Trent Jones II, and Greg Norman to obtain the job.  Hanse will work with Hall of Famer Amy Alcott on the design.

Rio 2016 President Carlos Arthur Nuzman had this to say about the selection:  "As it marks the return of golf to the Olympic Games after over a century of absence, this course represents the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the sport. It will enable Rio to host important events in the international calendar and it will be an example of sustainability and preservation of an environmentally protected area.  This course will be an excellent facility for the practice and development of golf and will inspire millions of youth across Brazil and the globe. We look forward to welcoming the athletes and spectators to the course in 2016.

After the Olympics are concluded, the course will be a public facility - so you can add this one to your golf bucket list!

Other famous Hanse design credits include Castle Stuart in Scotland, renovations of the TPC of Boston and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, and restorations of The Country Club in Brookline and Winged Foot.  Hanse's company was also recently selected to do a renovation of The Blue Monster at Doral, which was purchased by Donald Trump.

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