Friday, August 31, 2007

Golf nightmare comes to pass

Below is the story of something I always knew would happen:

Langer's son shoots 98-91 at Dutch Open

Published: August 24, 2007

Teenage newcomer Stefan Langer of Germany, son of two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, improved his score Friday at the Dutch Open — but not by much.

After shooting a 98 on Thursday, Langer rebounded with a 91, finishing at 49 over par and securing last place by 28 strokes over Andrew Hastie.

In his two rounds, Langer made one birdie, nine pars, 12 bogeys, and 14 double bogeys or worse. One of the "or worse" scores was a 12 on the par-5 second hole in the first round.

His father fared much better, shooting rounds of 67-71 to finish at two under par.

That's one of those sport's nightmares that we all know could happen to us, and, honestly, there isn't an ounce of my usual schadenfreude in evidence. It's not that we'll ever face the same challenge--playing with your dad in a pro tournament and shooting close to 100--it's just that we've all needlessly felt embarrassed by similarly bad rounds, and it's sickening to watch someone else go through it. Bernhard didn't act as if he was embarrassed by his son's performance, he seemed to view it as a test of his son's character. From the online UK Mirror:

"There are two ways to react," added [Bernard] Langer. "You either stick in or put your head in the sand and give up. I don't think that's what he is made of but we will find out."

It's kind of cool to see a dad react that way, instead of seeing his son's poor scoring as a sign of weakness and using the son as an ego extension of himself. Though parents could learn something from this, there's a lesson here for all of us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yeah, yeah, I know--put those forged irons away

I can't help myself. Call it Freud's death urge, thanatos; call it masochism; call it foolishness. Whatever you call it doesn't matter. I can't change. I have a set of forged blades. They're not right for me. They're not right for anyone. But they're in my bag. Oh, sure, I tell myself I'm using them as part of an "experiment," to see if they cost me more strokes than my Pings. To see if "forgiveness" in irons is really all it's cracked-up to be. Deep down, though, I know. It's not an experiment. It's lust. A lust for using dense chunks of forged steal to hit dimpled white rocks. A lust to feel the "swing that isn't there"--the perfect, effortless strike. It happens. Once in a while. Not enough to keep the blades in the bag. But they're there. Shrill. Unforgiving. Even pros use blades more forgiving than mine. I don't care. I am driven to use them. I know my golf partners look in my bag and think, "Huh, old blades. What's this guy thinking?" I've even had them tell me--complete strangers, mind you--to ditch them. I don't care. Like a mouse whose brain parasite compels him to throw himself into the jaws of a cat, the blades have got me. I must play with them or... I must play with them. Like a fever, this compelling desire comes and goes, but when it has me, I am its thrall. So if you see me on the courses of Los Angeles, do not mock me, and do not hate me. Pity me. Pity a fool who knows he shouldn't be using blades, but is powerless to stop himself from doing so. As I tee off, mutter a protective blessing under your breath and be thankful that you are not me. I know I would.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We're all amateurs

There was a small brouhaha over at The Golfchick, regarding the play of LPGA players versus PGA players. Specifically, Golfchick was critiquing an article by John Huggan, in which he argues elite woman players don't have as good of short games as their male counterparts because women have been led to believe that success lies in a good long game (which I've argued, ad nauseum, is bass akwards) I think Huggan may have a point in regards to elite players, but in the real world, it's much different. Since I rarely play with anyone scratch or better (in fact, at a 12-handicap, I'm often the best player in my group, which, I don't need to remind you, isn't much of an accomplishment) I can only comment on players in the mid-handicap level. In this handicap range, good short games are a rarity, but when you do run into them, it's as often a woman as a man. Actually, since there are so fewer women playing on Los Angeles's muni courses, you'd probably have to give the edge, in terms of skill as a gender, to women, because for every one woman who can pitch, chip and putt, there are 10 men who can't. As far as I can tell, we amateurs are equally matched, gender notwithstanding, so if you take the few hundred pros out of the equation, the genders are a lot closer in golf than would be obvious.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Finchem/Woods Fedex Cup conspiracy?

Tiger Woods decided to skip The Barclay's, the first of four legs of the Fedex Cup.

"My body is spent and I need a break... This is in no way a knock on Barclays, their new event next week or the new FedEx Cup series, which I fully support... I just hope that this extra week of rest will rejuvenate me for the final three playoff events and Presidents Cup. It is still my goal to win the FedEx Cup and I am hopeful this will give me the best opportunity to finish the year strong." [courtesy of]

To even a casual observer of professional golf, Woods is the prohibitive favorite in every tournament he plays in. As much fun as it is to watch him win, it doesn't usually generate much drama to watch the rest of the field battle for second place. If Woods had jumped out to an early lead in the Fedex Cup, and it became clear after two of its tournaments that he was going to win, you think anyone would tune in to watch it? I don't think the headline, "Woods in commanding lead in Fedex Cup race" is going to turn too many non-golf fans into dedicated PGA watchers. So how do you fix it? Well, you "fix" it: have Woods sit out the first tournament, let a few other pros get close to or overtake his position at the top of the points scale, then reinsert Woods into the mix and see if he can pull out a win. Now that's drama. To wit: which Woods' moment was more memorable, his 12-stroke '97 Master's win, or his battle at the '00 PGA with Bob May?

Of course, this is all pure conjecture, but really, is anyone buying Woods' "I'm too tired" spiel? If Finchem did orchestrate Woods' absence from the Barclays, it would have to go down as the smartest, most courageous strategy ever undertaken in professional golf.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tiger Woods' survey update

I'm glad to see a few of you have elected to take Woods' putting game as your own, because as Dave Pelz points out in this month's issue of Golf Magazine, putting is el numero uno factor in lowering your handicap. Number one. End of story.

Here's how Pelz broke down shot category importance. On a scale of 1-10, he rated each as follows: Driving, 3; approach shots, 5; short-game shots, 7; putting, 9. He reasons that the closer you get to the hole, the fewer chances you have to make-up for a bad shot. Think about it--the last time you hit a drive into the trees on a par-4, you were probably able to get your recovery shot somewhere near the front of the green. How many times have you hit a better shot from the center of the fairway? If you miss the green (and, statistically speaking, you usually do) you may have hit your approach pin high, but it's not close enough to make your the next pitch or chip shot any easier. In fact, on many muni courses, most of the worst threats to par live right, left, or behind the green--in front is usually the easiest to get up-and-down from. That's why, of all the shots, putting is most important because if you miss a putt, there is no chance to recover, you've cost yourself a stroke. This also explains why it drives you utterly insane when you get paired with a single who's, like, 68 years old, who can't hit it 200 yards off the tee, but gets it up-and-down from everywhere. That old guy knows you'll never beat him as long as you spend most of your time practicing your drives and get-home-in-two three woods, when you should be learning to chip, pitch and putt. The quickest and easiest way to become like Tiger is to practice your putting.

Golf's lack of self-esteem

Golf needs a therapist, someone to tell it that it's okay, it's as good as other sports, and it doesn't need to chastise itself because it doesn't have a post-season.

The therapist could remind golf that it was born in Scotland hundreds of years ago, and has maintained that tradition, thank you very much, down through the centuries. It's been the sport of kings, unlike baseball, basketball, or football. At present, it's a game played recreationally by more people than any other sport. A good therapist would also point out that golf's majors are some of the most beloved sporting events in human history.

The therapist should also tell golf that the behavior of one of its allegedly best friends, Tim Finchem, actually shows him to be no friend at all. Finchem acts like there's something wrong with golf, that there's something that needs to be "fixed."
Finchem whispers into golf's ear that it needs to be more exciting, and get more people to watch it on television.
Golf thinks, "But I have four majors from spring through the end of the summer. That's a lot of exciting, world-class competition. You mean I should give MORE?"
Finchem jingles the change in his pocket.
"Listen golf, it's about more than just your traditions. We have corporate sponsors whose needs have to be considered."
"Don't we have the WGC events," golf counters, "which almost no one knows exists, let alone draws them to their t.v.s?" A forced smile breaks across Finchem's face.
"But the Fedex Cup has a $10 million payout. That's big stuff. That's what the people want." Golf scratches its chin.
"So the winner gets a check for $10 million? Well... when you put it like that, it could be exciting." Finchem's smile dissolves.
"No, not exactly. The $10 million is paid out in an annuity."
"An annuity? Like a retirement fund?"
"Yeah." Golf stops dead in its tracks.
"I suppose that's fun to watch... if you're an accountant." Finchem starts sweating.
"You're not hearing me..."
Golf puts its hand up. "If I'm hearing your correctly, you're saying there's a big winner's purse, but the payout is over many years. And you think this will get people to watch me on t.v.?"
"That's the plan."
"But won't people be disappointed when they think they're going to see a huge check handed to the winner, but instead they..." Finchem interrupts.
"No, no, no. No one is going to be disappointed. Look, I don't have time for this. I'm late for my private Fedex corporate flight." He turns to leave, catches himself and turns back. "I don't where you've gotten this new-found "independence," but I don't like it, and it's not helping. Just let me run the show and everything will be fine." Finchem heads off to a waiting limo.
"My therapist was TOTALLY right about Finchem. I can't believe I'm working with this guy," golf mutters under its breath as it walks out towards the first tee.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Golf and technology--a wonderful combination

Streaming coverage of the PGA Championship is the best! Unlike the Masters, which looked like it was being streamed with a webcam, the PGA's video is as good as regular TV. Plus, there's coverage you can't get on TV--they follow marquee groups for an entire round. Yesterday it was Woods' group, today it's Mickelson's.

In a matter totally unrelated to golf, if you're a frequent web surfer you may be unaware that many companies place cookies on your computer without your knowledge or permission. Some of them are harmless, but cookies placed by advertisers often compromise your privacy by tracking your activities. If you use Firefox, there is a way to block these cookies from being loaded onto your computer. Firstly, if you want to block many scripts (like unwanted animations, audio, etc.) from loading without your permission, use NoScript. I've been using it for the last few days, and it's awesome. Then, if you want to choose which cookies to allow onto your computer, and permanently block the ones your don't, install use CookieSafe, another Firefox add-on. It lists cookies trying to load, and allows you the choice of allowing or permanently blocking it. To see how well it works, before using it, make note of how many cookies are currently installed. Then compare how many you have after using CookieSafe.

Back to golf: I'm amazed that no one in my "Take Wood's game" survey has not chosen to use take his putting skills. I'll let the survey expire before I show you some numbers that will have you, too, amazed that you didn't do it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

PGA Championship--a major in need of a hook

Why are majors majors? Because each one offers a unique challenge. The U.S. Open has its rough; the British Open offers fairways as hard as concrete; the Masters has nutzo greens (and requires the players to stomach its antebellum "charm"); PGA Championship has... the weather? No? Um, could it be that all the golfers are probably really tired by this point in the year? No. It's the final major? No. The Un-Masters? No. Okay then--the PGA Championship needs a "hook," something that gets people watching. And I have the answer: monkeys. The PGA Championship could be the only major to release hungry monkeys during competitive rounds. They shouldn't use big monkeys that could threaten patrons or golfers, but small and cute monkeys that could sow mischief. The spider monkey is a good candidate. He's small enough that his bite wouldn't hurt any more than a pinch, and he's got enough personality to run away with a pro's golf ball and get much-needed cute-assed press out of it. Think of the stories sports writers would get--"Woman feeds monkey, loses earlobe," "Got lice? PGA monkeys can handle it," "It's official--all primates hail Tiger Woods as Monkey God," etc., etc. Those are narratives that grab an audience. Stimp and Bermuda just don't do it. So, PGA guys, if you want to use my idea, I'm all for it. Just do me one favor--hold back the best groomer for me.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sabbatini and Boy--separated at birth?

Arrogant, quick to overreact, and foul-tempered--that would describe both Rory Sabbatini and Boy, from "Little Monsters." In Rory's defense, he has no desire to turn his competitors into monsters by keeping them under the bed until after sunrise, but then again, he did emigrate from South Africa to Texas and couldn't be more proud to be from the Lone Star state. Eesh.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Chuck Quinton gets it, big time

Below is an excerpt from the website of Chuck Quinton, One-Plane golf instructor extraordinaire. I've never been instructed on the One-Plane swing, so I can't say whether it has any value or not, but I can say that Chuck Quinton's teaching philosophy is at the center of the core of the very essence of good instruction, golf or otherwise.

This is just a taste of what Chuck has at his site, so check it out if you want to understand that you can stop searching for the ideal swing, because there is nothing to search for...

So what is the cure to the slice? What is the "secret" to hitting 300 yard drives? Sadly, because you have read this far, it means that you are still looking for that one secret tip that all good ball strikers know and you don't. You are still looking externally for answers when you had them all along. The cosmic joke of the universe is that the answers to all your questions about life, peace, happiness and a good golf swing have always been right in front of your eyes. The secret is that there is no secret. The second you stop trying to understand the golf swing at an intellectual level is the very moment in your golfing career that you open yourself up to your true golfing potential. The golf swing is much like Zen, it can't be taught, only experienced. If I tried to explain to you with words what Zen or love or happiness are, they would never suffice. There are no exact words to accurately describe how to make a proper golf swing just as there are no words to describe what love is. If you try and explain what love is to a computer it will never understand because love is not logical, but a human who has experienced love can fully comprehend what love is without any words being said. If someone were to try and "teach" a human how to love, it would never work because words cannot replace the experience. In much the same way, NO ONE can explain to you how to swing a golf club and guarantee you will "get it". There are some things that can be put into words just as there are some words that can describe happiness. But to truly understand happiness you must first experience it. So, how can anyone ever expect to learn the golf swing?

A good golf instructor is one who understands that the technical aspects of the golf swing are never the sole focus of learning, no more than a Buddhist monk would be expected to attain enlightenment by learning the details of "how to" meditate. A Zen master would act as a guide to the monk, passing along wisdom and experience, not just "technical" details. But first, the Zen master must experience enlightenment for himself, how else could he guide someone down a path that clearly cannot be explained with words alone? How can someone learn to love from someone who has never loved? In much the same way, taking lessons from a golf instructor who can't strike the ball like a master and focuses only on the technical details guarantees you one thing - that you are missing half the picture.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rankmark good for only one golfer--the guy who owns Rankmark

When I first started paying attention to all-things-golf, I stumbled upon a website called Rankmark. It's a site where clubs are "tested" for usability by golfers of differing handicaps. The site was created by Charlie Mandel, and the concept of the site was simple: have three groups of golfers from three handicap ranges (0-9, 10-20, 21+) test clubs. Then publish which clubs are best for which handicap ranges. I was sold on the site's credibility because clubs from major manufacturers as well as smaller component club companies were tested, which meant that Charlie's integrity hadn't been bought by big club companies. True, the majors' clubs usually garnered the highest ratings, but that's not controversial--they make good clubs. But then something odd began happening. Instead of rating the clubs, as he always had, in first, second and third place, Charlie started having ratings where every club tested tied for either first, second, or third place. There were no losers. It gets worse. At present, Charlie's testing involves head-to-head "match play," where clubs are paired-off and evaluated against each other, and after several rounds, a winner declared. As dubious as his testing methodology was way back when he started, his testing now is nothing more than pure entertainment. This truth is borne out by the fact that on his site's home page, he has a link (for prospective advertisers, no doubt), of site-traffic. I've got no beef with a guy who has an interest in golf and wants to make a web buck off that interest, but for Charlie to claim he's giving golfers empirical data to base a club purchase on is highly dubious.

In the end, the only golf "test" that really matters is you, the golfer, swinging the club yourself. Neither a "Hotlist" nor Rankmark can substitute for that.