Column # 125:  Golf...The United Way

The Mouth That Roars
Opinionated?  You Bet!

 
 

Column 158: Meet "The Drama Killer": Alvaro Quiros

Column 157: Tim Clark
Fantasy Golf Betrayal

Column 159: Operation Don't Suck-Part One  
 

Column 156: Interview w/ Erin Walker

Column 155: Don't Forget Pro Golf
In Europe & Asia

Column 153: Drafting a Dream Team
for the Future

Column 154: A Few
Early-Season Questions

 
 

Sesquicentennial Column:
Reflection on 2010 & Anticipation for 2011

 

 
 

Column 152: Weekend Mouth

Column 151: Mouth Wins Masters!

Column 149: Almost Back To Normal

Column 148: The Q-School Symphony

Column 147: Happy Thanks(Golf)giving

Column 146:  Quick Hits and Links

 
 

Column 145:  A Sorowful Farewell To Our Turning Stone Championship

Column 144:  Pointless Grand Slam of Golf?

Column 143:  Ryder Cup Recap/Redux

Column 142:  So...Jim Furyk Is Number One
According To Whom?

 
 


Column 141:  FedEx Kup Kloses With Kuchar

Column 140:  Ryder Cup=Make Your Own Menu For USA

Column 139:  There Is Hope!

Column 138:  Calling Out Tiger

 
 

Column 137: Concord Crest Review

Column 136: Whistling Straits Dichotomy

Column 135:  Quick Hits--
Porter Cup Recap

Column # 134:  Porter Cup
Passport Check Preview

 
 

Column # 133: British Open Follow Up

Column # 132:  Darren Clarke's Smile

Column # 131:  Quick Hits On 7/8/2010

Column # 130:  A Vote For Rose

 
 

Column # 129:  US Open Preview

Column # 128:  Notah Begay Throws A Great Party

Column # 127:  Time To Call Golfers...Athletes

Column # 126:  Experiencing
The Players Championship

 
 

Column # 124:  Quick Hits

Column #123:  Honesty...is such a lonely word?  Not in golf, friend, not in golf.

Column #122:  Bring Your Z Game On Wednesday?

Column #121:  And the first male major champion of 2010 is...

 
 

Column #120:  Welcome Back, Baldy

Column # 119:  If Tiger Woods wins the Masters in early April it will be __________.

Column # 118:  Names you may not
know--Alistair Presnell

Column # 117:  How Do You Like Your Tiger?

 
 

Column # 116:  Poulter Primes Public

Column # 115: 
Tiger Woods Media Moment

Column # 114: AWGC Match Play Championship 2nd Round Predictions 

Column # 113: What's In A Name?  Plenty O' Stuff

 
 

Column # 112: Calling All Swing Doctors

Column # 111:  Happy Holidays, Buffalo

Column # 110:  Tiger Woods Redux

Column # 109:  Two-Week Take On Tiger

 
 

Column # 108:  Quick Thoughts

Column # 107:  A New Kind
Of Golf Season

Column # 106:  A Decade
Without Payne

Column # 105:  Beginning of something
new for USA team golf?

 
 

Column # 104:  Chris Whitcomb as The Mouth That Roars hits # 100

Column # 103:  The Wrong Idea
At The Wrong Time

Column # 102:  Giving Back
On The PGA Tour

Column # 101:  Tiger Gives Back

 
 

Column # 100:  Major Championships Review:  Not What We Expected

Column # 99:  PGA Championship Memories

Column # 98:  The Latest (Not The Greatest) Tiger Slam

Column # 97:  Mouse and Elf Come To Blows At British Open
 

 
  Column # 96:  British Open Tweetness

Column # 95:  Hosting Your Own PGA Tour Event

Column # 94:  David Duval
at the U.S. Open

Column # 93
Amy Mickelson Once Rendered
Me Speechless

 
  Column # 92
Quick Hits From The World Of Golf

Column # 91
So Human It Hurts:  John Daly

Column # 90
Angel Cabrera and His Pair of Majors

Column # 89
15th Night:  Tiger Woods Wins 5th Masters

 
  Column # 88
Tiger Woods Retires

From Professional Golf
Column # 87
Bunkers For Baghdad
 
  Match Play Special:Recap
*****************
Match Play Special
Quarter, Semi and Final Round Predictions
Match Play Special
Third Round Predictions

*****************
Match Play Special
Second Round Predictions
 
  Match Play Special
First Round Predictions:  Upper Half

First Round Predictions:  Lower Half
 

Column # 86
The Tiger Jigsaw

Column # 85
When will HE be back?

 
  Column # 84
There will never be another...

Column # 83
Social Awareness or Socialism
in Professional Golf?

Column # 82
Thanksgiving Column

Column # 81
Someone Thank J.P. Hayes For Me!

 
  Column # 80
Ryder Cup Revelations

Column # 79
Ryder Cup Revelations

Column # 78
Harbour Town

Column # 77
Olympics Not Proper Venue For Golf

 
  Column # 76
Paddy Harrington:  Way Too Non-Hollywood

Column # 75
FiZGOLF

Column # 74
Porter Cup Preview And Predictions

Column # 73
Two Fine Letters For Which We Are Grateful

 
  Column # 72
I'll Talk About Rocco
Column # 71
So You Like Tiger's Chances?
 
  Column # 70
On Sergio

Column # 69
Senior PGA Gets Mouth a'wishing!!

Column # 68
Sunday at The Masters, or Cuts & Bruises Day

Column # 67
Saturday at The Masters, or AHMYPTW Day

 
  Column # 66
Ernie Els Becomes The Man...

Column # 65
Boo Weekley:  A Traditional Warrior
for a New World

Column # 64
An Outrageous Opening to 2008 Tour Seasons

Column # 63
A Young Guy's Take On The BuffaloGolfer.Com Annual Summit

 

 
  Column # 62
Peek'N Peak Classic Takes a One-Year Hiatus

Column # 61
This Column Is About The
2008 PGA Tour Season
...

Column # 60
There is a season, turn, turn, turn

Column # 59
The 19th Hole:
Peek'N Peak's Upper Course Grill

 
  Column # 58
The Burden of Being Mike Weir

Column # 57
Ambivalence Toward
The FedEx Cup

Column # 56
59 Ain't So Hard...On Television

Column # 55
PGA Equals Parents Generate Affection

 
  Column #54
PGA Championship Withdrawal

 

Column #53
Carnoustie Forever!! 
British Open Review

Column #52
British Open Preview

Column #51
Ryan Swanson at the Porter Cup

 

 
 

Column #50
Hawaiian Three-Ring Circus

Column #49
The Chink In Tiger's Armor

 

Column #48
US Open Pre-Tournament Favorite

Column #47
Favorite Foursome

 

 
  Column #46
Lord Byron's Gathering.

Column #45
The Most Coveted Major
Of Them All.

Column #44
The Mouth's Masters Review

Column #43
The Mouth's Masters Preview

 

 
  Column #42
VEEJ!  Like wine, Singh
gets better with age

Column #41
Goodbye, Lake Effect...
Hello, Green Grass!

Column #40
Tournament Bracket:  World Match Play Style!

Column #39
The Return Of Phil:  How Far Back Is He?

 
  Column #38
Nationwide Tour, Tiger is mediocre, Bye-Bye Cell Phones
Column #37
Ice Wine?  Try Ice Golf!!
 
  Column #36
All That Matters As The New Season Begins

Column #34
2006 Holiday Wishes

Column #35
12 Thoughts To End The Year

Column # 33
Trivia Time...Under The Gun

 
  Column # 32
Three things I know I know
Column # 31
Michelle Wie: 
The best of times, the worst of times?
 
  Column # 30
David Toms:  The reincarnation
of Payne Stewart?
Column # 29
Ryder Cup Review...
Are You Listening, USA?
 
  Column # 28
Ryder Cup Preview...Are You Listening, Europe?
Column # 27
The Medinah Files:  Installment The Fifth
 
 

Column # 26
The Medinah Files:  Installment The Fourth

Column # 25
The Medinah Files:  Installment The Third

 

Column # 24
The Medinah Files:  Installment The Second

Column # 23
The Medinah Files:  Installment The First

Column # 22
Open Conclusions

 

 
  Column # 19
Earl Woods' Father's Day Gift

Column # 18
The New Age of Phil

Column # 21
Anticipating Medinah

Column # 20
Anticipating Medinah

 
  Column # 17
Bold Masters Predictions

 

Column #16
Heather and Darren Clarke Give Us Pause

 

 
  Column #15
Has Tiger Changed?  And Not For The Better?
Column #16
An Augusta Vote For Phil
 
  Column #13
Predictions For 2006
Column #14
Predictions For 2006
 
  Column #11
A Tale Of Two Golfers
Column #12
Holiday Hints
 
  Column #9
Living The Jersey Dream ... The Real Story
Column #10
A Mouthy Majors Review
 
  Column #8
Living The Jersey Dream . . . Yeah Baby!!
Column #7
US Open Reminiscence
 
  Column #6
June 2005
Column #5
May 2005
 
Column # 4
May 2005
Column #3
August 2003
Column # 1
January 2003
Column #2
April 2003
 

Column # 159: Operation Don't Suck-Part One

Enough with the worm-burners, wayward divots and weak slices - Operation Don't Suck (ODS) begins this week.

Rather than feel shamed and hide the fact I'm going to take golf lessons for the first time in my life, I'm going to celebrate it. My first lesson is this Tuesday and you can add it to the public record.

Here's the dirty little secret I've been hiding for the past couple years - I'm lousy at golf. I breathe the sport, watch it, love it, care about it, and write about it but in truth, I can't play it.

It wasn't always this way. Growing up in Salamanca, NY I spent much of my high school summers at the golf course. I shot 81 to qualify for the sectional tournament as a high school junior. I have two holes-in-one on the same Par 3 back at Elkdale Country Club. I once went out to play nine holes and came to the seventh tee at (-1), only to make an eight and then two pars to shoot three over.

Then, things changed. College pulled me away from the golf course. Work and a career pulled me away from the golf course. Being young and not having a lot of money pulled me away from the golf course, too. I've played less and less each of the last seven years. As a result, my game's acted like an escaped felon and left the country.

Last summer was the absolute worst. I probably played 12 times and had fun twice. My tee shots had trouble staying in Erie County. I developed a nasty habit of dropping my shoulder and chunking just about every shot I had to hit off the ground. I don't think I made a birdie all year. It was miserable and as a result, so was I.

At the end of last October I put my golf clubs in the back room and happily told them I wouldn't see them for a while. I talked with a few people about how it was probably time for me to stop playing and take a summer off.

But, golf has a funny grip on me. No matter how many bad shots I hit, I eventually come back. Watching the PGA Tour on its California swing the past few months, I've been itching to get out and play. I've even let the clubs out of the back room.

I realized over the winner that I had two options. I could be stubborn and keep playing less and less and worse and worse. Or, I could break down and take lessons. Finally learn how to swing the golf club correctly. If I stick with it and work hard, maybe I'll even play better than I did in those high school years.

Thus, Operation Don't Suck begins Tuesday. I'm excited to actually work to get better this year. The BuffaloGolfer team is already planning a trip down to Bethpage later this summer. I want to be able to at least hold my own.

I'll be bringing you all along for the ride, too. Each week I'll blog about what the pro is teaching me and how it's helping. Maybe you'll enjoy reading about my improvements. Maybe you'll decide it's time for lessons too.

They say the first step in every recovery process is realizing you have a problem. Well, I've realized I suck at golf. Now, finally, I'm going to do something about it.


 

Column # 158: Meet "The Drama Killer": Alvaro Quiros of Spain

If Alvaro Quiros has a nickname, I don't know it. So, for the time being, let's just call him The Drama Killer.

This past weekend the golfing world tuned into the Omega Dubai Desert Classic for one of three reasons:

1) Rory McIlroy had the first-round lead and was contending.

2) Sergio Garcia was playing well again.

3) Tiger Woods had a real shot to win for the first time since 2009.

In the end, none of these story lines came to fruition. All three players gagged home over the last 27 holes and failed to win. Instead, Quiros emerged from the deep tournament field to win for the first time in 2011.

Quiros is not fool's gold. He's won four times on the European Tour and is currently ranked 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking. He's well-known for his great length off the tee. He finished in second place the week before at Qatar.

Still, he wasn't the main draw for golf fans this week. Even when all was said and done there seemed to be more people talking about how the stars faded rather than how Quiros is quietly growing into one of the world's best players.

It seemed to make no difference to Quiros. After the victory he told reporters, "I am very proud of myself. I think I managed myself well with difficult situations."

I'm not kidding myself. I know The Drama Killer will never stick. Given that Quiros is probably headed for some pretty great stuff - he'll be called much greater things.

Still, it's a good way to capsulate what he did this weekend. He stared some of the most famous golfers in the face and took them down. It was cold, calculated and precise.

It was the working of a champion.

 

 

 

Column # 157: Tim Clark Fantasy Golf Betrayal

Damn you Tim Clark. Damn you.

My apologies to all the golfers I've been cursing out over the first six weeks of this young PGA Tour season. You have to forgive me - I've just started playing fantasy golf.

If it's not too much to ask, can you all start running your injuries and possible WDs through me? It would save me from the anger I felt yesterday when I checked my fantasy scores and learned Clark had pulled out from the tournament with an elbow injury. It would have been Clark's first competition since withdrawing from the Bob Hope Classic due to a blister on the pinky toe of his left foot.

Are you serious?

I know guys who battle bad backs, throbbing knees, angry wives and heavy hangovers to tee it up every Sunday during summer in Buffalo. These guys wouldn't even notice a blister on their pinky toe unless it was infected and there was a chance the toe might fall off.

It's not just Clark I'm angry with -Ricky Barnes did the same thing to me earlier this year.

And, this is all just the anger I feel when guys don't play. Don't even get me talking about how I feel when they don't play well. Dustin Johnson - I thought Pebble was your track? One-over-par simply won't cut it on my team.

I've never been much of a fantasy sports guy, but I'm all in on fantasy golf now. I check the leader boards more often. I'm more in tune with what's going on in the world of golf. I know when Tim Clark's pinky toe is troubling him.

It's turned me into a better golf fan. But, it's also turned me into somewhat of an angry coach. It seems like everybody Friday morning you can find me mumbling something similar to this under my breath.

"Damn Clark (cough) pinky toe blister son of a gun."

"Where's Mahan? Is he even sitting on the bench?"

"Alright Hunter. Show me what you got. You're in."

Column # 156: Talking Golf and Travel with Erin Walker

 

Erin Walker has decided it's time to tell the story of many women who love golfers - the story of a tour wife. Walker, married to PGA Tour member Jimmy Walker, launched a new blog called www.tourwifetravels.com through which she comments on the travels that come with following your golf pro husband around the country and world. Already she's commented on where to stay and eat if you're ever around Torrey Pines, Honolulu or Scottsdale. Maybe Erin's efforts are sending positive vibes Jimmy's way too - he's three-for-three in cuts made in 2011, was ranked 18th in FEDEX Cup points heading into this week's event, and put together a four-round total of -7 at the Waste Management event.

The Mouth That Roars took time to ask Erin a few questions about her blog, golf and Jimmy.

1) We love what you're trying to do with the blog Erin. It's part behind-the-scenes golf, part travel help, etc. What are your goals with the blog?

Being a journalism major, I have been trying to come up with some way to put my education to use while traveling with Jimmy.  I really want to make Tour Wife Travels a site that people follow and look to for advice when they are planning golf-related vacations.  Right now, I think it's mostly just our family and friends who follow me.  I also really want other players and wives to give me input on THEIR favorite stops.  I have some exciting things in the works so you will all have to follow and see!

2) As a PGA Tour wife, you travel all the time. What are your favorite places to visit? Which places do you look forward to every year?

When the weather is good, Pebble Beach can't be beat.  Some of my favorites dining spots are located on the Monterey Peninsula.  I can't reveal too much yet because that is next weeks blog post!

LA is always fun because my brother lives there and the course is phenomenal.  It's a fun place to visit, but I'll take low-key Texas (and lower housing prices!) to live.  We are also lucky because we have a tournament in our hometown of San Antonio.  Staying at home definitely has its perks and it's so wonderful to have our friends and family out cheering Jimmy on.

3) If Jimmy had to play the same course each week in the same part of the U.S. -- where would you want it to be?

We are biased because we live in Texas.  Jimmy is from there originally and we make our home there now.  He loves playing his home courses with "his boys" so I would have to say San Antonio. 

4) What are the challenges that come with traveling all the time and being a PGA Tour player's wife? There must be a lot of unpredictability in your schedule?

Actually, when you finish inside the 125 number, it's quite easy to set a schedule for the year, and then having a good West Coast Swing sets us up for getting into the "invites" (Bay Hill, Colonial, Memorial etc).  Right now, we just want to keep making cuts and trying to stay as high up on the money list as possible because then getting into Majors becomes the goal.

It's pretty hard to set a schedule when you are in the conditional category coming from the Nationwide Tour or Q School.  A lot of people assume you can play everything you want as long as you get your PGA TOUR card but that is false.   You have to finish high up on the Nationwide Money List or Q School to have a chance to get into the West Coast.  Then you have to make money on the West Coast to keep your spot in the reshuffle.  It's kind of a mess and I hope we never have to worry about that again!  That's why a lot of first time TOUR players don't keep their cards, the stress of HAVING to make money early in the year is a lot to handle. 

5) We see golfers Thursday-Sunday -- Are Monday-Wednesday more peaceful days for Jimmy and yourself?

No!  It's nuts!  Because we travel with our infant son and our dog, we always travel on Monday.  Packing, getting to wherever we need to get to and keeping the kid happy can be stressful. 

Tuesdays are Jimmy's big practice day, since he isn't in the category that plays the Pro-Am on Wednesdays.  He is an early riser so he is usually out the door for his practice round by 6 AM, plays 18 and then practices after.  Sometimes he won't get "home" until 3 or 4.  I usually try to run errands, drop off dry cleaning and do all the boring stuff no one really wants to hear about!

Occasionally, on Wednesdays, Jimmy will get up early and play 9 holes before the Pro Am guys tee off.  It depends on how comfortable he was with his practice round the day before or if conditions have changed dramatically.  Luckily for me, TOUR Daycare is open starting on Wednesdays so I can drop the kid off and then participate in PGA Tour Wives Association charity events or do lunch with my friends.

The PGA TOUR Wives Association is a wonderful charity organization that focuses on children's charities in the cities we visit.   There are brilliant women on TOUR and everyone works hard to make a difference in the lives of the kids.

6) Jimmy's 3-for-3 with cuts made this year and currently 18th on the FEDEX list -- should we expect big things from Jimmy this year?

What the press didn't really mention much after Greenbrier last year is that Jimmy tore his meniscus during the tournament.  He ended up finishing 4th but after the swelling subsided he had a hard time keeping his knee stable during the FedEx Cup tournaments.  He had knee surgery at the end of September and a month later was back to practice and played a few Fall Series events to feel comfortable again.

With the knee feeling good he revamped his swing a bit and practiced really hard over the offseason.  Last year was the first year we had breathing room at the end of the season and he was able to rest a bit and then get back to work with plenty of time to feel prepared for 2011. 

People that know his game well think this is possibly the best he's ever hit it, even better then when he was Player of The Year on the Nationwide Tour in 2004.  I'll let you be the judge as to whether you want to pick him for your Fantasy Golf but I wouldn't forget about him anytime soon.

7) You're not from Buffalo, and you've probably never visited -- what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of our city?

I grew up in Park City, Utah and know a lot of people on the U.S. Ski Team.  I was really good friends with former Olympic mogul skier Alex Wilson in college, and he is a Buffalo native.  He had a great time growing up there!

Jimmy played a Nationwide tournament at Peek n' Peak in 2007 and I think that is the closest we've been to Buffalo. Is that close??

(Editor's Note - It's 75 minutes away. We were in attendance.)

8) We've got to get one golf-related question in -- Do you know what Jimmy's favorite courses are?

Hands down Riviera Country Club in LA.  It's his favorite course to play all year.  He really likes old style golf courses like Harbour Town in Hilton Head and with the U.S. Open being played at Congressional this year, the AT&T National was moved to Aronimink outside Philly 2010 and 2011.  He had a blast there last year and is really looking forward to playing up there again.  The TOUR needs to work on making that a permanent stop as the fans were great!

TPC Sawgrass is another one of his favorites.  The atmosphere at The Players is electric, as good as any Major.  

The Greenbrier tournament in West Virginia replaced a wonderful tournament in Michigan that Jimmy loved.  We really miss playing in Michigan but the Greenbrier has been a fantastic replacement.  There are so many "new style" courses on TOUR now, it's great to have some traditional courses added to the rotation.

9) Final one -- you met Jimmy at a 2004 Nationwide event when you were a volunteer. Did you have an interest in golf even before you met Jimmy? Do you play?

I am a huge sports fan, probably more so than my husband and getting a chance to watch the pros up close and personal was something I jumped at. 

I do like to play golf but hardly have time to practice.  I'm a pretty solid double bogey player and would love to get better but between our son and riding my horses competitively, I get pulled in too many directions to get really good. 

The PGA TOUR Wives Association puts on a charity golf tournament where the wives play a scramble and the guys have to caddy for us.  We get bibs with our name on them and everything!  It's one of my favorite events and being as competitive as I am, I stack my team.  There are some wives out here that can stripe it!  In my opinion, it's just as entertaining to watch as the real tournament!

Remember: http://www.tourwifetravels.com/

 

 

 

 

Column # 155: Amero-Centric World? Don't Forget Pro Golf In Europe & Asia

Bubba Watson won last week. Phil Mickelson contended. Bones tended the flag for Mickelson on a wedge shot. Jonny Vegas might be for real. Tiger Woods may or may not have mailed it in.

You know these things.

But, what you may not know. What you may have missed it this.. Paul Casey won the first-ever Volvo Golf Champions event to give him his first title in 20 months. Casey is now the sixth ranked player in the world and a week-in/week-out force to be reckoned with in the sport.

American golf fans have a tendency to forget that every week - many of the world's best golfers don't play on American soil. Casey, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer are all ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings and clearly prefer to play on the other side of the pond.

This isn't necessarily earth-shattering news as golf's always been a global game. But, Westwood and young-star Rory McIlroy's decision to stick with the European Tour as opposed to the PGA speak volumes. They want to be close to home, sure. But they also want to play the best - and right now they think that's in other areas of the world.

Maybe you believe this will hurt the game. I don't. You have two incredibly competitive tours between the PGA and the European Tour. This enriches competition for marquee events like the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the Ryder Cup. Doesn't it create a bit more of an Us vs. Them mentality? Doesn't the American in you really want to see Rickie Fowler completely outshine Rory McIlroy for the next two decades?

Golf's an individual sport, but you get the sense there's a teaming of sorts taking place. Players probably feel it too.

There's great potential for this too change the game, as well. Prior to Woods' public scandal, I remember reading an article that suggested he should step away from the PGA Tour and create a global tour, where the best events from week-to-week were held in various parts of the world. Players wouldn't care about East Coast and West Coast swings as much as when they'd be traveling to China, Australia, Europe and the United States on a yearly basis.

In a much smaller sense, that's beginning to take shape. American golf fans shouldn't fool themselves - there are several weeks a year when the event featuring the best golfers in the world occurs elsewhere.

So what's a golf fan to do in times like these? Remember to read the full sports section, that's for sure. Winners on the international tours are just as impactful as those here at home. There week to week performance deserves attention.

But mostly, golf fans should celebrate the events that bring them all together - The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, World Golf Championship events - and cheer for the guys who represent the side they like best.

Column # 154: Early Season Questions

It's week four of the PGA Tour's 2011 season and this is the first tournament that has collected all the big guns - Woods, Mickelson, Westwood, Kaymer - and put them in one place (Torrey Pines). As it appears now, this is one of the most open, "who knows what's going to happen" years we've seen in decades. There are many questions that we're eager to learn the answers too.

Here's a list of some burning questions I have ---

1)      Is Tiger Woods the greatest golfer ever? I know he's been through personal hell and a public scandal unlike any other. Still, if he's to leave his legacy as the G.O.A.T - he must overcome and dominate once again. Does he have it in him?

2)      Is Dustin Johnson going to get it right this year? DJ could have very easily struck the ball a bit better during the final round of the U.S. Open and not grounded his club in the Unidentifiable Bunker at Whistling Straits. If those things happen - he owns two major championships and we're not talking so much about Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell. Is DJ on the cusp.or was 2011 a fluke?

3)      How drastically will Phil Mickelson's decision to forgo the vegetarian diet affect the Champions Dinner at the Masters this year?

4)      The last three players to be ranked #1 in the world are David Duval, Vijay Sing and Tiger Woods. They each own major championships. Lee Westwood  - are you ever going to join them?

5)      Who's the best young player in golf under the age of 28? There are seriously about a half-dozen names that deserve consideration - Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim. somebody emerge.

6)      Are the rules really going to change? There's been a lot of spotlight on some of the bizarre, harsh rules in golf over the past year. Now, there's talk of change. But, how much can you change before you run into more problems.

7)      Just how much of a partier is Anthony Kim? I'm not saying it has anything to do with his golf game. But it would be a fun question to explore.

8) How much will players like McIlroy and Westwood deciding to skip out on PGA Tour events hurt the competition? Both have said they won't play TPC. That's sad. Does golf need to adapt to more of a global tour model?

 

 

 

 

Column # 153: Drafting A Dream Team For The Future

 

Is it sick of me to want to watch Phil Mickelson run the 40-yard dash

Wouldn't it be something to watch him go all out for eh. (5.7 seconds?) and then turn around gasping and watch as others like Tiger Woods,  Ernie Els and Retief Goosen tried to best him

It's probably not as appealing as watching these guys hit cut drives and lob wedges, but it would be a sight. Just imagine if there was some sort of combine for golfers that was similar to those that NFL prospects face each year. What skills and athletic challenges would you want to have players tested for? Which PGA golfer would have the highest vertical...something?!

I've taken it a step farther and developed a mock draft for PGA golfers. With the 2011 season just teeing off, what golfers would you want to build a team upon for the next 15 years? Who do you think will have the best career impact from now to 2025

Please note - this is not a list of the top 30 players in the world today. It's a list of who I predict will have the best success in the near and extended future. I'm not just picking guys based on what they'll do in 2011, but what they're capable of for the next 15 years

And, so, with the first pick in the Golfer Draft, I select..

1)      Rory McIlroy - McIlroy spurning the PGA tour for the European tour isn't the same as Ricky Rubio spurning the NBA a few years back - McIlroy is still going to be here for the big ones.  His 63 in the first round of the 2010 British Open was a precursor for some of the great rounds this guy's going to have in majors. I predict he'll register more major championships than any other golfer between now and 2025. At 5' 10" and 160 lbs - McIlroy is all heart, skin, bones and gobs of talent.

2)      Dustin Johnson - Johnson is built tall and equipped with long arms for snapping drives that will tower over fairways for years to come. His mental fortitude is the only thing I question. On one hand he's shown incredible resilience after his blow-up at the 2010 U.S. Open and Bunker Gate at the 2010 PGA Championship. On the other hand, he let both those things happen to him in the first place. If there were other teams drafting and Johnson went first - I'd understand. He seems to have every shot in the bag. He loves Pebble Beach (which means he'll be playing on one of his favorite courses for at least two more majors during his career).  And, when you almost win two majors one year, you're bound to find your way into contention again. Who knows, he may have a much more prolific career than McIlroy. But, for me, there are more questions surrounding DJ than Rory.

3)      Martin Kaymer - If you drafted him third overall and called him on the phone.would he be excited? This guy is a silent assassin and one very calm, cool customer. He's managed to still fly under the radar despite winning the 2010 PGA Championship and being the #3 player in the world.  Nothing blows you away about Kaymer other than the fact that he's really good at everything.  He's only the second German to win a major championship (see Bernhard Langer) and it would appear he'll notch a few more over his career. He's not the sexy top five pick, but he's all substance.

4)      Paul Casey - Reach alert! Reach alert! This would be the first pick had the announcers up in arms. David Feherty would call it as "peculiar as trying to dial the telephone with an ice pick." Johnny Miller would begin to retort and then just tell a story about how great he used to be. Hopefully, Tom Rinaldi would break in and make sense of it all. Look - I know Casey's already 33. And I know there are other guys still on the board - Woods or McDowell - for starters - but I'm taking Casey here. The guys is really, really good. He's earned 10 global victories and, as of late, has shown up at big times. He's two years younger than Woods - and I think those two years will make a difference. Casey's going to break through at some point. And, when he does, it just might validate the pick. (Or he's not.and this pick goes down as the Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan pick in golf because look who's next.)

5)      Tiger Woods - Let's be honest, I'd never be able to take Tiger Woods at number 5. He's arguably the greatest golfer ever to breathe, and someone, from somewhere, would have taken him by now. But, if the entire draft were up to me, this is where Woods goes. Work with me here.

a.       Woods is 35 years and a month old. Which means 15 years from now he'll be 50 and (probably) not winning majors anymore. The prime of his career may be in the past, and if it isn't.there's not much of it ahead in the future. I understand that what he's capable of in the next 5-7 years could be potentially more impactful than anything these other guys do in the next 30 - but I'm not sure.

b.      Woods is still dealing with the results of the largest public scandal in history, a divorce, having two children he can't see on impulse and a new swing coach. I'm not going to bet against him. But I'm also not wagering my house that he returns to anything near his old form.

c.       The idea that Woods is going to win the grand slam is dead. His game isn't there anymore and there are too many young challengers. A good year for Woods now is one major and a great year is two. If that's the new standard.is it possible for him to amass more than five or six the rest of the way?

All those reasons and I just don't think he'll have a better 15-years than those I've selected ahead of him.

#6 - Rickie Fowler - The same analysts who were fired up about Paul Casey at #4 would surely wonder incredulously how Rickie Fowler could slip to six. Look, I know the kid's only 22 and seems to have tons of talent, flair and poise - but I'm just not ready to go all in on him. Some people probably would have slotted him at No. 1 or 2. But, not me. I know he's young, but he still doesn't have a PGA Tour win and his best major finish is a T14.  None of the guys drafted above him put together an epic birdie run to scare a Molinari at the Ryder Cup - but they each have fewer question marks. Besides, it's not as if a guy that goes sixth can't prove himself the best of the bunch down the road.

#7 - Hunter Mahan - Don't cry for me Mr. Mahan. A short iron shot and a flubbed pitch at the 2010 Ryder Cup don't erase the fact that this guy is blossoming into a young star. The guy's won three times on Tour and twice last year (including the World Golf Championship Bridgestone event). Ever since seeing him get going on tour a few years back - he exudes confidence. He's also a heck of a ball striker. Those tears didn't wash away my excitement for his game, they showed me he cared.deeply.  I want guys like that on my team if I'm drafting

#8 - Camillo Villegas - Villegas at #8 just shows you how incredibly deep and young the tour is right now. In Villegas you get a guy with tons of potential (he's 29) and tons of proven success (9 professional wins, 3 PGA wins).  Villegas can hit the ball a mile and is all muscle. He's got the strength to blast it out of U.S. Open rough and the touch to sink birdie putts. As I'm registering this pick, I'm wondering how he fell this far.

#9 - Ryo Ishikawa - Some have labeled this kid the second coming, but how much do we really know about him yet? Tons of talent, yes. But that doesn't always translate. I'm a Pacers fans and remember when they drafted Jonathan Bender. Young. Tons of talent. Ended up showing flashes but having injury trouble. All I'm saying is young, talented guys don't always blossom. He's way to unproven at this point. He'd be advised to stay in school one more year.

#10 - Ian Poulter - Remember when it was just going to be Tiger Woods and Poulter? Well, it's just Poulter alone at the #10 spot. Poulter is 35 (which not even we realized) and only has one career win. There's a lot of reasons to think he'll win again and win big, but time isn't on his side like some of the younger guns drafted ahead of him.

UPDATE--1/24/2011

#11 - Jeff Overton - Toughness finds a way to win. I've always believed that. And Overton is the definition of toughness. At the end of the 2008 season, Overton was 10 days removed from appendectomy and was ranked 125th, barely hanging on to full-season exemption. He went out and finished 21st and secured a spot on tour. In 2010 he finished 11th at the U.S. Open and was an emotional leader at the Ryder Cup.

#12 - Matteo Manassero - I've been criticized for not drafting youth - forgive me. I'm not passing up on the chance to get Manassero here. He's 17 years old and has won on the European team and placed 13th in last year's open. I had a hard enough time packing everything I needed for an overnight at a friend's house at age 17.

#13 - Anthony Kim - If Anthony Kim is going 13.he can't be that happy. Three PGA Tour wins and a couple eye-opening performances in the majors. He's only 25 and has much more success than many of those taken before him. I don't know how you don't put him in your top 20..

#14 - Justin Rose - He's only 30 and he has top 10 finishes in every major championship. 2010 was a bit of a reawakening for him. Rose is worth every penny at this point in the draft.

#15 - Chris Wood - Let the criticism of my inability to draft youth end. At 23 years of age, Chris Wood is arguably the best young English golfer on the planet. He clearly enjoys playing links style courses (the only made cuts in majors he has are T3 and T5 at the British Open) and he got off to a good start this year with a runner-up finish at the Africa Open.

#16 - Graeme McDowell - I know he had the best year of anyone in 2010 and literally ruined Tiger Woods "I'm Back" party in early December - but I'm not there all the way with this guy yet. I'm probably one of the few guys in the world who wants to see McDowell "do it again" before I consider him an elite talent.

#17 - Matt Kuchar - Love everything about Kuchar - One of the most consistent, hard working golfers of all time. I just feel that with his age (31 years) and relative lack of flash - his upside isn't as great as I wish it would be for him.

#18 - Sergio Garcia - Hate away. He's only 31 and it's not over. I'm telling you - it's not over.

#19 - Ross Fisher - Four European tour wins, strong performances in all the majors. He reminds me of Kuchar a bit in his steadiness. Plus, he's younger.

#20 - Ryan Moore - I hate his hat. I hate that he wore a tie once. But he's good - and that's what really matters.

#21 Jamie Lovemark - At 22 years of age he became the youngest player to ever win the money title on the Nationwide Tour. He'll have similar success on the PGA Tour in years to come.

#22 Bubba Watson - Watson is a steal this late in the draft. He's good in all the big events and really shined at last year's Ryder Cup. If he were a few years younger than 32.he'd be a top 10 pick.

#23 Bill Haas - Won twice on tour last year and has a chance to win his first of 2011 this week. He's really turning into a young star and has great genes.

#24 Nick Watney - Mr. Steady. He made 22 of 24 possible cuts last year and finished in the top 10 in a third of the events he entered. Great numbers for anyone.

#25 Alvaro Quiros - He's young and can absolutely bomb the ball. He's had success on the European Tour and will win when he plays courses that suit his game. It's only a matter of time before he's better known.

#26 Jhonattan Vegas - Vegas wasn't even on the draft board a month ago.but he's had a great two weeks. A PGA Tour win and then coming out and contending the next week later? Impressive.

#27 Andres Romero - Romero didn't start playing until he was 16 but quickly took to the game. He owns a PGA Tour victory and other memorable performances. A major winner at some point, count on it.

#28 Brendon De Jonge - He was in the money 24 or 32 times last year. He seems to always play well.

#29 Colt Knost - Mo Golf took this guy in the top 10. Nothing really impresses me about this guy. He's won on the amateur level and others think highly of him - so I'll squeeze him in here.

#30 Rafael Cabrera - Never heard of him? You will. He has four professional wins and a solid showing at last year's open. He's only 26.

 

 

 

 

Column # 152: Weekend Mouth-Dateline1/14/2011

 

It's not all that often you can draw comparisons between Buffalo and Hawaii weather in January, but today, thanks to torrential rain over the Pacific - nobody's playing golf at either location.

It's only been a week since the 2011 season teed off and there's already quite a bit to talk about. Seeing as how there's no golf today, let's take a quick look at news and events from the world of golf.

~ You work your whole life to become a top-tier professional golfer. You're playing a prestigious opening season tournament. You're in a playoff to win the event - and all of a sudden you're in a hurry? I couldn't get past how Robert Garrigus looked like a man with a bus to catch during last Sunday's playoff with Jonathan Byrd. All of a sudden, the thoughtfulness and care he'd utilized to earn a spot in the playoff disappeared. He took next to no time to read putts. He was quick with his swing.and he lost. Nerves have crazy ways of affecting golfers and apparently Garrigus' hit him like caffeine.

~ After blowing a three-shot lead at last year's U.S. Open and then being the central figure of Bunker Gate at the 2010 PGA Championship, Dustin Johnson always stood up and faced it like a man. Last week it was leaked that he was dating LPGA star Natalie Gulbis. Johnson denied the report. Gulbis confirmed it. Next thing you know Johnson has pulled out of this week's Sony event for "personal reasons." Anyone would have understood if Johnson avoided the media and press last year.but who wants to avoid the fact they're dating Gulbis?

~ Sergio Garcia turned 31 this week. Remember when he closed his eyes and swung with all his might at Medinah in 1999. That was a dozen years ago. After that performance we all figured he'd have secured multiple major championships by now. Instead, he's a bit of an afterthought as the 2011 season begins... it's a crazy sport.

~ Camillo Villegas was DQ'd from last week's event after TV viewers phoned in to tell officials he'd broken a rule. After hitting a pitch shot and realizing the ball would be rolling back toward where he'd just struck it from, Villegas swiped at the ground and knocked his divot away. I don't think TV viewers should be able to call in and DQ someone. If Villegas didn't realize it and tour officials didn't realize it - then Villegas should play on. The duty is on the player and the tour.not every fan with a remote.

~ I know things have been phrased like this before, but imagine having to really think about this question 15 months ago - Who will have a better season in 2011 - Tiger Woods or Graeme McDowell? Someone asked me earlier this week and I didn't know what to say.

 

 

Column # 151: Mouth Wins Masters!

Come this April, you'll be able to see me wearing the green jacket after winning the Masters.

Wipe that incredulous look off your face. Did you really think me and my 15 to 18 handicap were incapable of winning golf's most illustrious event? Aren't I capable of sneaking through Amen Corner unscathed? Why couldn't I stare down Tiger Woods during the final round of a major?

If you answered, "Because you stink," or "Because when you swing a golf club it reminds me of a kangaroo having a seizure," --- both answers were acceptable. But, none of that matters anymore. Thanks to EA Sports and Tiger Woods, we can all take shots at Augusta National from the confines of our own living room starting this April.

To be blunt, the news that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters will feature Augusta National is just plain awesome. I have never once purchased a Tiger Woods video game. Nor do I own a video gaming system. But, all that might change this April just because of one incredible golf course.

"For more than a decade, the Masters Tournament has been the most requested and coveted feature for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise among our fans," said Peter Moore, president of EA Sports. "Pairing the number one golf video game franchise with the most prestigious golf tournament in the world is a perfect marriage and we're thrilled to bring our fans this exciting opportunity to experience Augusta National Golf Club like never before."

There's something about Augusta National. Even though we see it every year.it's still a mystery. It's exclusive and pristine. Even TV coverage is limited for The Masters. We know all the yardages and hole nicknames.but not much else.

Now, we'll be able to play the golf course virtually from every angle. We can stand at the 12th tee and try to stick it on the green. We can test our nerves on the famous 18th green. Maybe the game's box cover will smell like azaleas.

Like I said, I'm not much of a video game. But I'm already counting down the days until I can create my own golfer with the video game and tee it up at Augusta. I don't care what the game costs.this is about a different shade of green.

Column # 150: Reflection on 2010 & Anticipation for 2011

Golf leaves us very little time for reflection. In early December we're watching Tiger Woods and more than a dozen of the world's best players battle at the Chevron World Challenge. Just three weeks later, we're on to 2011.

It seems that as soon as we're able to write a piece that brings closure to one season, we're forced to write another that offers a light to the year ahead. Golf never stops.

Still, 2010 was an incredibly memorable year. And most of the players who made it so will be back for more in 2011. Here are some holiday wishes for a few of them - with hopes that they'll carry over to 2011.

Dustin Johnson - May you catch a kind bounce of fair break this season. Nobody went through more hardship on the golf course in 2010 than Johnson. He lost control of his driver and tossed away a commanding lead during the final round of the U.S. Open. Then, he went through "Bunker-Gate" at Whistling Straits during the PGA Championship. The U.S. Open struggles were the sign of a young player who wasn't quite ready for his big moment. Bunker Gate was downright cruel and not all Johnson's fault. Come to think of it, so were his Ryder Cup struggles...he responded well in Sunday Singles, but struggled with the partner format the first two days. If anybody deserves a kind bounce off a tree or a skip across a water hazard in 2011 - It's Dustin.

Tiger Woods - May 2011 be all about golf. Dustin Johnson may have lead the field in trouble on the golf course in 2010, but Woods takes home the cake for trouble off of it. Everyone knows how his one-car accident and public scandal tarnished the golfer's image. Many of the headlines, images and text messages are hard to forget. Still, regardless of your stance on Woods' personal life, the guy's been through enough. It appears he's come to some form of resolution with his family and has forged ahead with new swing coach Sean Foley. Maybe he'll win three majors. Maybe he'll go winless. All I hope for is that when we talk Tiger in 2011 - we talk golf.

Matt Kuchar and/or Lee Westwood - I know that we have absolutely no idea what these guys are like in their personal lives - but Westwood and Kuchar just seem like good guys. They also had two of the most respectable 2010 campaigns, but each failed to capture a major championship. Clearly, due to his age, Westwood should get the nod over Kuchar. I just hope we get to see one of these guys raise a big trophy this season.

Hunter Mahan - Wouldn't it be great if there comes a moment in this season where Mahan does something so extraordinary, clutch or thrilling that the sting from his Ryder Cup defeat wears off just a bit? Mahan was anything but the reason the U.S. lost the Ryder Cup (see the third session of play) but he did hold a chance to secure the final point. Everyone watched as Graeme McDowell brought home glory for the Europeans as Mahan flubbed a chip shot. It was a tough moment, and Mahan took it hard. Hopefully he lets it go and great things come his way this season.

Speaking of Graeme McDowell - Here's hoping you have a season 70 percent as successful as your 2010 breakout year. A U.S. Open, Player of the Year honors and a thrilling Ryder Cup finish.how do you back that up in 2011?

Miguel Angel Jimenez - May you find yourself up against rock walls in every tournament you play this season. I wish this for no other reason than golf fans deserve more shots like this one at the British Open...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIKGf0Xl_CA

Column 149: Almost Back To Normal

I woke up Sunday morning and the golf world seemed like it was back in order.

Tiger Woods sat atop the Chevron World Challenge leader board with a four-shot lead. The rest of the world's best - Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Paul Casey - were all chasing Tiger once again.

Media covering the event figured they had an easy day. Write up a story about how Woods capped off his tumultuous 2010 campaign with his first win, setting the stage for bigger things in 2011, and just plug in the number of shots he won by later.

Talking with friends and golf fans Sunday, most had already written the event off as a Woods victory. That's what we always used to do. Tiger Woods up four shots going into Sunday? Over. Boom. The rest of the field might as well start thinking about next week.

But, Sunday didn't go as we're used to things going for Woods. Once again we were reminded that Tiger Woods - post public scandal - isn't invincible.

Woods backed up one shot and his closest chaser, Graeme McDowell, picked up three. The scores set the duo in a playoff that McDowell would eventually win. McDowell made similar putts of reasonable length to force a playoff and then to win the tournament. It was reminiscent of when Woods refused to go away and beat Rocco Mediate after 91 holes.

I'll confess, I didn't watch the event Sunday. I too wrote this one off as over. The Buffalo Bills had a better chance of winning Sunday than anyone not named Tiger in the Chevron field. Even when the Bills proved me wrong, there was holiday shopping and errands to run. Didn't that golf tournament end on Saturday?

I was wrong. I imagine millions of others were too. For a final time in 2010, Tiger wasn't good enough to win. He closes 2010 without a single victory. Imagine if you could go back and tell yourself that 14 months ago.it wouldn't seem plausible.

I saw the news that Woods had taken second much in the same fashion I'd read that Woods had been in a car crash last Thanksgiving - scrolling across the bottom of ESPN.

I headed to the web and saw the final leader board. 1. McDowell, 2. Woods.

Then I went to the Official World Golf Rankings. 1. Westwood, 2. Woods.

I've long assumed that eventually, Woods will return to form and finish his quest to obliterate every golf record ever set. But, sitting there, staring at the screen and those respective rankings, I was forced to consider a new kind of normal.

 

Column 148: The Q-School Symphony

Casual golf fans would never think of the first week of December as one of the toughest stretches of the sport's season, but then they just don't understand Q-school.

The PGA Tour Qualifying School is a six-round tournament where players without a Tour card can get one last chance to be a PGA Tour member the following year. According to many who've gone through Q-school and/or know people who have, it's the equivalent of golf hell. It breaks players down physically and mentally over six days of challenging golf meant to fatigue players. John Feinstein wrote a book about Q-school in which he argues that it is the real fifth major. For the players competing this week, it's much more important than that.

There are interesting stories from Q-school each year. Here are a slew of the names you might recognize competing this week - Paul Stankowski, Billy Mayfair, Dicky Pride, Ty Tryon (remember him?), Lee Janzen and Erik Compton. After day one Kyle Stanley (-7) holds a two-shot lead over Scott Weatherly, Ben Martin and Joseph Bramlett.

One of the better tales from this year's event is the early success of Camilo Villegas' caddie Brett Waldman, who sits at -3 after day one and holed a bunker shot on his first hole for eagle. Wouldn't it be something if Waldman went from carrying Villegas' bag to beating him next year?

I find it ironic that this year's Q-School tournament occurs the same weekend Tiger Woods will host his Chevron World Challenge event. The Chevron event features just 18 of the world's best players. It is a fun, challenging tournament that fans will enjoy watching because they know the names of everyone competing. It is also, in many ways, a cash grab. Even those that play poorly will leave with some financial thank you.

The same can't be said for the brave souls at Q-School this week. The top 25 finishers will take home PGA Tour cards while the next 50 earn a spot on the Nationwide Tour. There's no financial incentives other than a chance to earn and play well in 2011. Guys like Waldman, Stanley and Tryon are worlds away from the Chevron event.

Still, it'll give them something to think about and watch as their knees knock and hands shake this week. Q-School might be tortuous, but it's a chance for a golfer to take his career to new heights. One brutal week in December this year might translate to invitations to bigger events down the road.

Column 147: Happy Thanks(Golf)giving

This isn’t the greatest time of year for golf fans. There’s no Masters, U.S. Open, Ryder Cup or FEDEX Cup to debate, analyze and watch. There aren’t any notable Sunday charges or Tuesday parings announcements. Most of the world’s best are taking vacation, attending to business matters off the course or penning articles for Newsweek.

Still, it’s the holiday season. It’s one of the few times of the year when we can reflect on the year that was in golf and how much we appreciate the sport. Considering Thanksgiving is just 48 hour away, I thought I’d come up with a list of some of the things I’m thankful for in golf right now. I welcome and encourage anyone reading to offer their own suggestions via Twitter
[ http://www.twitter.com/buffalogolfer ]www.twitter.com/buffalogolfer or on our Facebook page. There’s no order to the list below, just a list of things that come to mind.

~ I’m thankful that golf allows its characters to shine. If Rickie Fowler played in the NBA he’d be asked to wear his hat like everyone else or not at all. If John Daly wore his trademark pants in an NFL game, he’d be fined. It’s great that golf and its respective organizing bodies cherish individuality.

~ I’m thankful for Dustin Johnson. Guy blew up at the U.S. Open and suffered one of the unluckiest breaks/rulings ever at the PGA Championship. Still, he seems capable of shrugging it off, moving on and continuing to improve. Heck, it is just golf.

~ I’m thankful for any event that’s an Open. Letting amateurs from around the country and world have a chance to compete against the world’s best is a charming aspect of the sport.

~ I’m thankful for my pitching wedge. It is my favorite and most consistent club to swing.

~ I’m thankful that Tiger Woods still has a chance to write a second act to his incredible career.

~ I’m thankful for match play events. There aren’t enough of them on the professional level.

~ I’m thankful for Phil Mickelson. I know that’s a cliché response and some people think his demeanor is an act, but how can you argue with this.

~ I’m thankful for the growing number of dominant young European players – Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, the Molinaris, Paul Casey – they pose quite a challenge for the U.S. Ryder Cup team for years to come.

~ I’m thankful for rain suits that actually repel rain.

~ I’m thankful that Nick Faldo decided to be a broadcaster after his career.

~ I’m thankful that next time there’s a Ryder Cup, Sergio Garcia will be playing and not serving as a captain. (That’s a prediction that will come true.)

~ I’m thankful for Elkdale Country Club. My first course. My favorite course.

 

Column 146:  Quick Hits and Links

 

 

Golf never really has an off-season, but it definitely slows down a bit during the holiday months. The PGA Tour has essentially wrapped up
its action for the year and many of the world's best players are taking time off and beginning to think about 2011.

No doubt, there will still be major stories that deserve thoughtful consideration between now and January, but why not try a new type of
column. Check below for my quick thoughts and some hot links from the world of golf.

~ Tiger Woods is on Twitter. He opened an account and posted three publicity-style Tweets in 2009, but officially began his Tweeting
this morning when he announced he's "Finally decided to try Twitter." I wonder if he'll be more forthcoming on Twitter than he is in his
press conferences. How do you give cold stares via Twitter? I'm kidding, of course, I love TW and am pumped to learn he'll be doing
a 30-minute interview on Mike and Mike tomorrow a.m.

~ Bob Harig put together a really interesting read on Stewart Cink today. It touches on how Cink hasn't won since the British Open
despite heightened expectations. Love Cink's comments on the Ryder Cup and the "Finality of every shot."

~ John Daly now claims that since losing weight his swing has changed for the worse. I'm sure he's not wrong, but I'd take being a bad
golfer over being the paragon of bad health. Daly's health changes and strong play at the 2010 British Open was one of my favorite stories
of the season. Hopefully he finds his "slender swing."

~ Pretty soon you'll be able to play golf on Facebook thanks to EA Sports. I'm not sure if I want my Facebook friends being able to poke
and comment while I hack my way around.

~ Years back I wrote a column saying that I believed David Duval would win another major championship someday despite his tumble
in the Official World Golf Rankings. I'm standing by it and believe 2011 will be the year.

 ~ Looking for great golf info from across the pond? Check out http://www.blog.ispygolf.com. Scroll down a few and you'll see a Ryder
Cup preview
I wrote for them.

~ A doctor blinded when he was hit by a golf ball is suing the person who struck the ball for not saying "Fore." Serious case. Did I mention
the guy who hit him was his friend and playing partner?

That's all for now. More links next week.

 

Column 145:  A Sorrowful Farewell To Our Turning Stone Championship

 

 

You understand, but still you're sad.

 

That's how I think most area golf fans feel after learning the Turning Stone Resort Championship will exist no longer. Tournament officials elected to cease their relationship with the PGA Tour after learning that their event would be the same weekend as the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational in 2011.

 

Like I said, I understand. The WGC events pride themselves on assembling fields of the top 64-100 players in the world. Past Turning Stone Champions like Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson wouldn't be willing to skip out on the Bridgestone to defend their titles. By accepting this new slot on the PGA Tour schedule you're essentially guaranteed a watered down field which translates to fewer tickets sold and less overall buzz. Turning Stone Resort wanted to build a top-flight championship on Tour; I don't blame them for refuting a shot at playing second fiddle.

 

Undoubtedly, I'm sad too. There aren't a ton of opportunities for Western and Central New York golf fans to see the professionals in action without a serious drive. The Turning Stone event was a welcome weekend in every local golf fan's schedule. Did you hear who the past champions of this tournament were - Kuchar and Johnson. Kuchar is the leading money-winner on tour in 2010. Johnson is an emerging superstar made famous by the ways he ended up losing both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship this year. Both of them were Ryder Cuppers. Even if you go back to the first Turning Stone Championship ever in 2007 you find a solid champion in Steve Flesch.

 

That's why it's sad - Turning Stone was building something special here. It's a bummer in so many ways the PGA Tour didn't keep this event on its own weekend.

 

If you're keeping count, this area has now lost its annual Nationwide Tour events at Peek N' Peak and Irondequoit, and now the budding Turning Stone Resort Championship in the last few years. The chances to see great golfers visiting our region are disappearing. Thankfully, we can look forward to the PGA Championship's return to Oak Hill in Rochester in 2013.

 

There's no way to avoid the mixed emotions, we're all left with sadness and understanding. Thank you Turning Stone for three exciting years.

 

 

Column 144:  Pointless Grand Slam of Golf?

 

 

The PGA Grand Slam of Golf must be the most pointless tournament in professional golf.

It's supposed to be the hardest to get into - it features only the four major championship winners from a given year - but it rarely can convince the full quartet to attend. This year only U.S. Open Champion Graeme McDowell and PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer made the trip. Both Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen opted out, allowing Ernie Els and David Toms to participate.

It's a joke really.  How can a tournament designed specifically for the four major champions allow other players to compete?

And, what is so unappealing about traveling to Hawaii to play golf and compete for some portion of more than a million dollars? Even if you finish dead last you receive $200,000. I'd show up for that.

The Grand Slam of Golf is an event that looks great on paper. It's in a great location - Hawaii. It offers big money. And, it's at the end of the year when players might be looking to escape for a vacation with their families.

In real life, the tournament's a real dud. Players don't care. Fans don't watch. The PGA would be better off pumping the prize money into a Tour event in hopes of drawing a stronger field during the fall stretch.

Better yet, rather than invite the four best players to the Grand Slam of Golf, invite the first four guys who fell outside the top 125 on the money list. Give them two days to square off against one another for one last PGA Tour card. Not only would you always get each of the four, you'd get people to invest more in the tournament. They'd know it wasn't an exhibition. They'd understand that winning or losing such an event really could change a player's life.

Golf fans know the difference between real golf tournaments and exhibition matches that pad players' pockets. The Grand Slam of Golf isn't a tournament as much as it is a publicity stunt. The PGA should either scrap it or restructure it entirely.

 

 

Column 143:  Ryder Cup Redux/Recap



Make no mistake - the U.S. Ryder Cup team did more than raise the bar for Medinah Country Club in 2012.

The U.S. team headed into the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in South Wales as a big time underdog and left realizing that if not for a historically bad third session or a friendly bounce somewhere along the way, it would have retained the Ryder Cup.

People wondered if Tiger Woods would be able to help this team he went 3-1-0.

Some doubted Rickie Fowlers selection he erased a four-hole deficit with six to play in singles matches and earned a crucial half point.

How did this guy Jeff Overton make the team? I bet nobody wants to play him in 2012. All Overton did all week was make clutch shot after clutch shot.

The European team was widely considered deeper and more experienced. In a sense, its true, the Europeans did win. But you have to wonder what would have happened on U.S. soil. It might have helped a few of those who struggled Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk. It might have been worth the extra half-point the U.S. team needed.

In truth, the playing fields are much more even that you may have originally thought. Rory McIlroy may be the best player on the planet under the age of 25, or maybe its Fowler. Just because Overton wears funny hats and doesnt ignite media attention doesn't mean he cant beat a Molinari or two.

Remember the U.S. team outplayed the European in three of the four playing sessions. It was only session three, where the U.S. got clocked 5.5 to .5 that things got away from them. That third session also featured a suspension of play due to darkness and a seven-hour rain delay. So, not only was it painful, it was long and tortuous.

Hopefully, it was also a learning experience for the players whod never been to a Ryder Cup before. It takes strong performances in all four sessions to capture glory.

I'll make a bold prediction now and suggest the U.S. wins the 2012 Ryder Cup by more than 2 points. The real challenge will come two years after that though. Can the U.S. win a cup and keep it? It will have been more than two decades since they last achieved such a feat when they possibly have the chance in 2014.

There was something about the way this years team fought and surprised people. Even through the mist and rain that shrouded Celtic Manor for four days you could see it. They came up a point short this time. But, they may be building a team that comes out on the winning side for years to come.

 

 

Column 142:  So...Jim Furyk Is Number One According To Whom?

Sunday was a good day for Jim Furyk. 

Battling rain, wind and 29 of the world’s best golfers, Furyk won both the Tour Championship and the FEDEX Cup at East Lake yesterday. The win earned him more than $11 million in prize money and almost assuredly secured him PGA Player of the Year honors.

Furyk won three times on tour this season – the Verizon Heritage, the Tour Championship and the Transitions Championship – made 18 of 21 cuts and wrapped up 7 top tens. It is a great season by anyone’s standards.

The only thing Furyk’s season really lacked was a dominant performance in a major championship. Instead, Furyk was cut from both The Masters and British Open. He finished T16 at the U.S. Open and T24 at the PGA Championship. Still, despite four lackluster major championship performances, Furyk received the PGA Tour’s top prize of $10 million for winning the FEDEX Cup and put himself in prime consideration for POY honors.

It’s nothing against Furyk, but the fact that someone can underachieve in major championships and still earn such end-of-year honors bothers me. For the first time, it makes me wonder if the FEDEX Cup is beginning to devalue the major championships.

Sorry, but if you want to be considered the best player on tour for an entire season, you’ve got to be steady all year and also do something special in the major championships. I’m more impressed with the years Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy put together than Furyk. Johnson had two top 10s’ and a T14 at the British Open. McIlroy had two top fives to go with his two major missed cuts.

Maybe that all adds up to bad logic, but I still believe the major championships are where golfers cement their legacies. No events bring out stronger fields than the majors. Players prepare for weeks with major championships in mind. It is where the best play the best and only the greats can survive.

Furyk won a major championship earlier in his career. He is a great player sans doubt. Still, the PGA Tour handed him $11 million yesterday for essentially – having the best season on tour.

I’ll say it one last time, if you can’t secure at least one Top 10 in a major championship, you shouldn’t be allowed to win POY or FEDEX Cup #1.

Major championships are where you earn a spot in the record books.

The FEDEX Cup earns you extra zeroes in your paycheck.

One can only hope the players are able to see past the millions of dollars in prize money attached to the FEDEX Cup and remember all that.

 

 

Column 141: FedEx Kup Kloses With Kuchar

The PGA Tour season concludes next week with the Tour Championship and the final event in the FEDEX Cup. Only the 30 best players from the year will attend and play.

I doubt many people had Matt Kuchar pegged as the guy who would be leading the FEDEX Cup with one event to go, but his consistent play all year has earned him the spot. Now, he’s four good days of golf away from $10 million.

Kuchar is one of the easier guys to like on tour. He smiles as often as he breathes and he’s got an easy-going nature about him. Here’s a few lesser known reasons to root for him at East Lake next week.

As far as we can tell, he’s a kind soul –In his online blog he lists the coolest thing about Augusta as the fact that he’s built relationships with people at the course. He says, “People who work the event, people in the dining area, guys in the caddy shed, people in the clubhouse. I still keep in touch with a few.” Considering how often this guy’s on the road and how many people he meets…it says something that he makes an effort to interact with these people.

He’s got great stats –Kuchar is currently ranked 1st in scoring average, all-around ranking, FEDEX Cup points and money for the season. Plus he’s 4th in birdie average, 7th in par breakers and 8th in putting average. Simply translated – he’s darn good.

He’s 6’4” –He’s taller than most guys on tour. Good for him.

His family can still whip him –For all the success Kuchar has had, he still can’t boast too much at home. His father, Peter, was once ranked the No. 1 doubles tennis player in the state of Florida. His wife, Sybi, was a standout tennis player at Georgia Tech, where they met. The couple paired in 2009 to win the consolation title in the U STA National Husband/Wife Doubles Championship in the ATP Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl.

He’s not a child prodigy –Guy didn’t start playing golf until he was 12. Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.

He knows what it’s like to lose –Kuchar was one of the most touted amateur players ever. He was the first to win the U.S. Amateur after Tiger Woods three consecutive wins. In 1998, he finished 21st at The Masters and 14th at the U.S. Open. His score at The Masters was the best by an amateur in 20 years. However, it took a long time for things to come together for him. From 2002 to 2006 the guy just tried to make PGA events and averaged a Top 10 about once a year. It wasn’t until 2007 that things started to turn around for him after a year on the Nationwide Tour. If anything, 2010 has been a break out year for Kuchar. Maybe that’s why he can’t stop smiling.

Who knows how next week’s tournament will play out, but I’ll be rooting for Kuchar. The guy’s got to where he’s at through hard work and perseverance. I’m always up for cheering that.

 

 

Column 140: Ryder Cup=Make Your Own Menu For USA

Imagine going to a restaurant where they let you pair any two foods you wanted.

“I’ll take the mac-n-cheese ice cream sundae.”

“How about the filet mignon custard?”

“Might I have some chicken fingers and whip cream?”

In a sense, that’s what the Ryder Cup is like for golf fans. We get to watch these guys who are always playing on their own and for themselves, team up and try to win a major sporting event. Ryder Cup Captains pick who will play what matches together and hope they get it right. Sometimes it works out. Other times it leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths.

This year there are several different ways Captain Corey Pavin could split his team into twos. Here are three teams I want to see from the Americans this October.

Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler – It’s rare for two captain’s picks to get paired together. Then again, it’s not every year that the world’s No. 1 golfer doesn’t play his way on to the team. I like this pair for several reasons. First, they both play fearless golf and have lots of swagger. I don’t think they’ll be worried about hurting each other’s feelings, they’ll just go out and win. Also, they’d both like to pound Mr. Rory McIlroy. Fowler wants to prove he’s the best young talent in the game. Woods wants to get even for those comments McIlroy made about how he would “fancy” the chance to play Woods. They could make a dynamite pair.

Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson – The friendship/mentoring relationship between these two is well publicized. After Johnson lost the PGA Championship due to the unfortunate bunker ruling, Mickelson called and left a long, positive voice message for Johnson. They also play with similar styles – pound the living snot out of the ball and make it work. Mickelson’s brilliant short game would complement Johnson’s incredible distance off the tee. They just seem right for one another.

Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson – Kuchar is a tour leader in just about every statistical category that matters --- fairways, greens, putts, etc. He’s currently playing as well as anyone else on the planet and he’s the paragon of consistency. I’d pair him with Zach Johnson because I think ZJ is the least consistent guy on the team. Johnson has great ability, no doubt. But sometimes he’s there, sometime’s he isn’t. It would be nice for him to know he was playing with Mr. Consistency.

 

 

Column 139:  There is hope!


Those were the encouraging words I heard as I watched my well-struck pitch shot sail toward the 16th green at Brookfield Country Club Monday morning. It was the fifth of the 100 holes I would play that day as part of the 6th Annual Chip In For Carly’s Club golf outing. The event features Buffalo area golfers who agree to play 100 holes in a day and secure donations from friends and family for Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

The words of encouragement came from my caddy/driver for the day, Travelin Duff. He said them with every intention to motivate me, but his good-humored sarcastic tone also touched on the fact that in my previous four holes, (double bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey) I hadn’t hit many good golf shots. In the trajectory and flight of my third shot on the Par 5, Duff saw an opportunity for better things to come.
 


Those of you who know me, have played golf with me or have ever ran for cover after one of my wayward tee shots are probably wondering why I ever thought I could bite off 100 holes in a day. I can find more than enough challenges, trees and duck hooks in your standard round of 18 holes. When I tee it up, the backyards that border a golf course are as much in play as the fairways. I’m capable of shooting anything from 85 to 100, but it’s never going to be pretty.

Honestly, I never would have signed myself up for such a golfing challenge. I only got involved when Mo Golf (who worked tirelessly to raise more than $7500 for Roswell Park and deserves more credit than he’ll ever get) learned late last week he wouldn’t be able to take part. Knowing I’d be helping raise money for Carly’s Club and that Duff would be driving, I agreed to fill in.

Duff can attest the golfing wasn’t always pretty. He drove in, around and near every tree on the golf course in search of my golf balls. At one point he even chimed, “well, when you consider you haven’t been hitting the ball well and your all-over-the-place with your driver, you’re not playing that poorly.” He quickly added, “I mean that in a good way.”

Fortunately, Brookfield Country Club is an immaculate setting for such an event. I’d never played the course but it’s now one of my favorite in the area. The fairways and greens were in perfect condition and the holes present a number of exciting challenges. It’s hard not to have a great day at such a course.
 


The company wasn’t that bad either. Duff was a great driver and an even better source of conversation all day. He made the 100 holes easy with his humorous anecdotes and well-timed jokes. At one point, we even had the opportunity to play with a young boy who had been a patient at Roswell Park and dearly loved golf. It was a touching experience until he ripped his driver on to the green and outplayed me on the hole. For the rest of the day, Duff joked the boy would be back to play me for money.

When all was said and done and I’d made more than 500 swings on 100 holes, Duff and I enjoyed a beer in the clubhouse. For the first time I learned that he’d survived cancer earlier in his life. He talked about the doctors who’d changed his life. He vividly described survivor’s day, when he and countless others who’ve benefitted from the great work the people at Roswell Park do, come back to share their stories. He wasn’t unlike the others who’d played golf to support Roswell Park that day. They all have their own motivations.

In total, the efforts of Mo Golf and the 20 others who raised money all summer equated to more than $100,000 of donations for Roswell Park. The organization will no doubt use the money to fund new research, help new patients and change many more lives. Cancer is a mean beast that challenges millions of people each year. Everyone knows someone who has struggled with the disease. Fortunately, thanks to Roswell Park, those with cancer can at least know this…

“There is hope.”

 

 

 

 

 

Column 138:  Calling Out Tiger
 

I don´t care how you turn, twist or interpret the words - Tiger Woods isn´t
going to like what Rory McIlroy said about him last week.

Speaking of the Ryder Cup this fall, McIlroy commented that "(he) would love
to face (Woods). Unless his game rapidly improves...I think anyone in the
European team would fancy their chances against him."

The comments aren´t nearly as bold as they would have been in earlier years,
when Woods dominated the sport without question, but it´s still a gutsy (if
not disrespectful) shot McIlroy just took at the world´s No. 1 golfer. There
were a million and one ways to talk about whether Woods should or shouldn´t
be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team without throwing down a challenge - McIlroy
chose none of them. Instead, he chose to focus on how poorly Woods has been
playing this season.

If this was 2006, McIlroy would be headed for a golfing beat down. That was
the year Stephen Ames called out Woods and then lost 9-8 in the World Match
Play event. But, it´s not, it´s 2010 and Woods´ personal and professional
live has been torn apart by a s*x scandal that emerged last November. The
things that used to make sense in professional golf, no longer do. Woods
isn´t a lock to make cuts, make Ryder Cup teams and/or win.

Honestly, I think the Woods as an underdog story is great for golf. I´ve
never been as excited as I am for this year´s FedEx Cup, which begins with
this week´s Barclay´s. Credit that to the incredibly young, deep field
that´s emerged on the PGA Tour this season and Woods being ranked 112
instead of his standard #1.

Maybe I´m excited because I still don´t fully buy it. Woods has had a year
of struggle and strife I wouldn´t wish upon anyone...but he´s still Tiger.
Even after knee surgeries, scandals and swing changes, Woods is going to
take hold of the golfing world again at some point.
McIlroy better hope Woods doesn´t get everything together by the Ryder Cup
this fall. Even with all his struggles, Woods is still the best
statistically ranked player in the world. If my life depended on a golfer
shooting under par on a championship-level course - I´d still pick Woods to
tee it up.

One can only hope Woods and McIlroy square off during the singles matches of
the Ryder Cup.  McIlroy might be playing better right now, but it´s not as
if Woods won those 14 majors by accident. Tiger is still Tiger, and maybe
the Ryder Cup will be where he reminds everyone.
 

Fancy that.

 

 

Column 137:  Concord Crest Review

 

 

All summer long my golf buddies and I have been "meeting-in-the-middle" to play Concord Crest Golf Course. Having spent the first 22 years of my life living in Salamanca, NY and the Southern Tier, (and now three years in Buffalo, NY) many of my long-time golfing partners live 60+ miles south. Getting together to play with them on the weekend is often a full-day adventure that requires more than two hours of driving.

However, earlier this summer, we decided to check out Concord Crest as it was conveniently located just north of Springville. We were not disappointed.

Concord Crest offers a bit of everything for golfers and it challenges you in ways that really make for a fun round. There are several longer holes that require mid- to full-iron shots into the green. Then, there are short Par 4s that are riddled with water and Out of Bounds. It is a golf course that demands accuracy on several holes and rewards good golf shots.

Each side of the golf course features a signature hole. On the back the Par 3 14th plays all of 196 yards from the blue tees and is mostly over water.  Even if you land the ball on the putting surface you may not be able to find the pin as the green is massive. During our first round at the course, all three of us hit it to the back right of the green. With the pin on the front
left, we each faced long, long putts.

The front side is full of character but my favorite hole is the 487-yard Par 5 2nd. Standing on the tee you see large trees on either side of the fairway that force you to drive it through a narrow gap. For most golfers, striping it between the cloves of trees isn´t possible. It doesn't look it from the tee, but the trees are at least 250 - 275 yards out. Those that can bomb it
through are rewarded with a downward sloping fairway that will leave them a short iron into the green. It's the kind of hole that can create big swings in a match. Hit two good shots and birdies are there for the taking. Hit it
behind the trees, and you could be looking at a big number.

My father and I have already talked about getting to Concord Crest at least a few more times this fall. We really enjoy it and the convenient location is perfect for us. Golfers from the Southern Tier to the Greater Buffalo region should consider making a trip to the course. Each time we've been there it´s been $17 to walk 18 holes. The course is well-maintained and
there are drinks, snacks and sandwiches available at the pro shop. It's the right combination for a great day of golf.

*Hole by Hole Breakdown*

Hole #1 - This 439-yard Par 4 has played into the wind each time I´ve been to the course. Be prepared to have a long second shot into a green that slopes back right to front left. It´s a challenging starting hole that rewards a strong second shot.

Hole #2 - My favorite hole on the course. Players competing with one another could make an early move at this downward Par-5. Hit it straight and you'll have a manageable 2nd shot. However, if you lose it behind the trees with your tee shot, it could be a long hole.

Hole #3 - This is a short, challenging par 3. At only 113 yards in length most people will hit wedges or a 9-iron into it. But, the green is protected with a rock wall in front and it is very narrow. Most balls that land near the center of the green will run off into thick rough and/or sand. You need to prove you´re a precision wedge player here.

Hole #4 - Another short hole that requires strategy. The hole is essentially shaped like an L. Players can smack a five-iron and leave themselves 80-100 yards in. Or, they can hit driver over the trees to the left. In two tries over the trees I cleared it both times (and I´m not a very long hitter).

Hole #5 - You stand at the tee and you think - I can hit the ball 283 yards or at least close. The problem is water protects the hole down the left and also in front of the green. Many perfect drives find the hazard. You´re better to lay back and leave yourself 75-yard wedge into a long green.

Hole #6 - Another hole where you can hit it out in the fairway or try to attack down the left over some trees. The 359-yard hole isn´t long but it features a small green with sand to the right.

Hole #7 - If you´re going to miss on this hole - miss left. There is water down the right and behind the green. At 140 yards, the hole just requires a strong mid or short-iron and you´ll have a birdie putt. But, if you´re going to miss ---- miss left.

Hole #8 - The second par 5 on the front is also a very beautiful, challenging hole. Players must hit a tee shot over water and weeds into a wide fairway. From there, the hole goes steeply uphill, which really makes it a three-shot par-five. Hit a good wedge on your third and the green will be receptive.

Hole #9 - A straightforward hole with the pro shop background. Players can attack the Par 4 with a good drive and short-iron. It´s a hole for low numbers that put you in a good mood before you make the turn.

Hole #10 - Maybe it´s just time for me to admit that I love every Par 5 on the course. This one plays almost 500 yards and it´s straight as an arrow.  The fairway slopes and features numerous bumps that can knock a ball into the rough. Two good shots might get you an eagle try.

Hole #11 - On a course full of character and fun shots, this hole lacks a bit. It plays 200+ from the blue tees but it´s straight with nothing really to protect the green. Players who struggle with distance will find it tough to make par.

Hole #12 - This is the first of a great four-hole stretch on the course. A 360 yard Par 4, the 12th runs all down hill but features a pond in front of the green that collects well-struck drives. Hit a high-fade that finds the fairway and plan for another wedge into the green over the water.

Hole #13 - About just as long as the 12th, 13 goes right back up the hill with a pond on the right. It clearly plays longer and you´ll only hit the ball as far as you can carry it in the air. This green undulates more than most and can be a tough two-putt.

Hole #14 - Another one of my favorite holes on the course. It´s a 180-yard Par 3 with water in front. You´ve got to hit a really good golf shot to have a chance at par.

Hole #15 - Four for four. The Par 5´s really define this golf course.  Playing right around 500 yards, there is out of bounds down the right and water to the left. A small creek cuts through the fairway 2/3 of the way down.

Hole #16 - Another Par 3 with few features. It´s short (140 yards) and there´s really no trouble. Judge the distance, wind and club - and you´ll give yourself a chance at birdie.

Hole # 17 - This hole doesn´t seem to play its full 400 yards. Each time I´ve played it I´ve had around 130 in, (and I really don´t drive the ball 270). It´s an uphill second shot to a small green that can be attacked.

Hole #18 - The final hole on the course protects itself with water down the right. Be careful with your tee shot and you´ll have a strong chance to finish your day with a par.
 

 

 

Column 136:  Whistling Straits Dichotomy

 

 

There are times when I’m watching the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits when I feel the course stretches across two very different geographical regions.

Each hole is lined with thick, gnarly grass that looks like it hasn’t lacked for water this summer. Then, there are stretches just covered in miles of sand, like beaches along Lake Michigan. The grass and sand are two very different enemies for golfers – neither of them easy to manage.

It isn’t hard to build a case for Whistling Straits as the toughest golf course on God’s green Earth. It is long, as in 7,514 yards of brute force. It is the second longest course to ever host a major championship. It is also covered in a ridiculous 1,000+ bunkers that make simply navigating the course a challenge. Toss in the fact that many of the holes run perilously close to Lake Michigan – and your average 10 handicapper would be lucky to break 110 out here.

This is not a golf course you are meant to score on. It’s one you’re meant to survive. Not surprisingly, the PGA has scooped it up for the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup. This is one of the few venues that can truly challenge the worlds greatest.

What makes it even more impressive is that Whistling Straits is really a “young” course. Designed by Pete and Alice Dye, the course opened in 1998. The Dyes turned a relatively flat piece of land into a monster of a golf course. It’s not easy for new golf courses to break into the major championship rotation – the fact that Whistling Strait’s did so in such a short time frame speaks to its quality.
 

This year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits should give players all they can handle. After a two-day first round Matt Kuchar has navigated the course best at (-5). I fully expect Kuchar and the rest of the field to start backing up as the weekend approaches. If any rain and wind show up, this course will play nearly a half-dozen shots tougher.


People often complain when golfers can’t “go low” and shoot scores that are well under par. I’m not one of those guys. I like to watch golfers struggle. I want to see them top balls out of the thick rough and get friendly with cavernous bunkers. I’d be just fine with this week’s winner carding a +5 for the tournament. Major Championship golf isn’t supposed to be easy. Thank God Whistling Straits agrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Column 135:  Quick Hits--Porter Cup Recap

 

Another crazy week of golf = another installment of quick hits.

 

~ Walking with the leading group’s during the final round of the Porter Cup Saturday was one of the most enjoyable few hours of golf I’ve watched all year. The momentum swings and excitement provided by Russell Henley, David Chung, Peter Uihlein and Jake Katz were thrilling. You had a back-nine battle between Henley and Chung and hometown hero Katz jugged an eagle. Even the ending was bizarre with BuffaloGolfer.com’s Mo Golf getting involved. Read a better recap at http://bit.ly/bakvKz

 

~ There were moments Friday and Saturday when I truly envied Jake Katz. He didn’t end up winning the Porter Cup, but he played one of his best weeks of golf in his hometown. Katz, who hails from Williamsville, NY, spent the week surrounded by friends and family who all rooted him on. I know he was disappointed his Saturday round didn’t turn out better, but it had to be a dream-worthy experience.

 

~ Lost in all the commotion of the final round at the Porter Cup was the remarkable fact that 15-year-old Gavin Hall finished T2. You heard me right, 15-year-old Gavin Hall. As someone in the gallery commented during the day, “he’s going to be good.”

 

~ I’d like to ask a serious questions – does anyone really need there cell phone when they go to a golf event? Isn’t it okay to spend 8-10 hours disconnected from the world? I bring this up only because the Wyndham Championship has announced it will allow fans to use mobile devices on the course, “as long as the devices are kept in silent mode and calls are made only in designated areas around the course.” Now, anyone who’s ever been to a movie knows people don’t always keep there phones on silent when asked.  I just don’t see how having a cell phone on the course enhances the experience. This will backfire, big time.

 

~ One of the top stories on ESPN.com this morning is that Woods  has begun making his 2011 playing plans with an event in Dubai. Can I echo a sentiment tweeted by Jason Sobel last week – dude’s a golfer. He plays golf. When does this stop becoming news?

 

~ Sergio Garcia has had two strong showings with his British Open and Greenbrier performance. He’s got work to do to earn a spot on this year’s Ryder Cup team. Garcia’s never been the same player since he missed the putt on 18 at Carnoustie to win the Open Championship a few years back. As a fan, I desperately hope he can turn it around.

 

~ Finally, kudos to the people who work so hard to execute the Porter Cup each year. It’s a joy having the tournament in our backyard. Your hard work is appreciated.

 

Column # 134:  Porter Cup Passport Check Preview

If you ask me about this week’s Porter Cup, the first thing I’ll tell you is there are three players with the last name Kim.

 

It shouldn’t surprise you. If you know me or read my columns, you understand I think you can learn a lot by someone’s name. I’m fond of rooting for people who have wacky words, odd spellings and special meanings on their passports.

 

That’s why when I wanted to break down the Porter Cup, the special amateur event that visits Niagara Falls Country Club this week, I went through the list alphabetically.

 

There are other players with the same last name. In fact, Mike and Nate McCoy will be the only father-son tandem teeing it up in this week’s event. Both hail from Des Moines, IA and have had great amateur success. Nate is currently a junior at Iowa State University.

 

I didn’t find Tiger Woods anywhere on the list, but I did find Lion Kim. This guy easily has the greatest name of anyone in the field. He recently won the 2010 Public Links Championship and has four years of strong performances at the University of Michigan. Rumor has it his birth name is Jun Min, but his parents switched it so he’d stand out amongst other golfers. I really hope they etch this name in the Porter Cup this year.

 

These aren’t just obscure names either. Most the guys playing this week have the game to compete on the professional world tours. Take Yeon Jin Jeong, the kid who finished T14 at this year’s British Open. His score was good enough to beat guys like Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval and hundreds of others.

 

There’s also Jamison Sindelar, son of former PGA star Joey Sindelar. Jamison doesn’t quite have the resume of his father, but he’s local (from Horsehead, NY) and he’s won tournaments. Other relatives of famous professional golfers include Tim Mickelson, brother to Phil, an annual Porter Cup competitor.

 

Are you the engraver who will have to etch this year’s champion name in plaques or trophies – root for Ben An. He’s got the shortest name in the field.

 

Looking for a drinking partner this week? Maybe you should follow Johan De Beer. His name suggests he’s got good taste and he just turned 21.

 

There are other great names in this field. Watch out for Kevin O’Connell, Russell Henley and 15-year-old Gavin Hall. Regardless of who wins this field of names suggests it should be a great week of golf.

 

Hopefully you’re able to take time to visit Niagara Falls Country Club and watch the action. Even if you’re not familiar with the players, just pick up a program and find a funny name; a unique name or something that rings a bell and just cheer them on. This is one of those rare moments when the greatest golfers in the world visit our neck of the woods. They may be a bit unknown now, but someday these great, zany names will be rewriting history.



Column # 133:  British Open Follow Up

 

You know what the most amazing thing about the final round of the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews really was? It
was that Louis Oosthuizen (Let’s just call him Louis) managed to stay awake while kicking the tar out of the field.

 

Louis won the British Open with a remarkable score of -16. It was an extraordinary achievement for anyone, let alone
a relative unknown as of two Sundays ago. It was also a snoozefest.

 

Saturday morning, golf fans tuned in to watch Louis come back to the field. It never happened. Nobody really made
a charge all weekend. Louis played more than 36 holes with the lead. In the end, his closest challenger was seven
shots back. The only guy within sniffing distance of Louis on Sunday was Paul Casey and he lost his ball (and mind)
in a gorse bush half way through the round.

 

It was disappointing for golf fans. We look forward to major championships for their drama and intrigue. We tuned
in Sunday only to be put comatose. This was an action movie without action. This was a stand up comedian with no jokes.

 

Let’s get one thing clear: it’s not Louis’ fault. All the guy did was elevate his game and play near flawless golf. Hang
the blame on rest of the world’s best players – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Casey, Henrik Stenson. I understand the weather conditions weren’t ideal, but are you telling me none of these guys could hang with Louis O?

 

It’s sad really. The field helped Louis and hurt him. By applying no pressure all weekend, everyone else in the tournament made it easier for Louis to hit great shots and play with the lead. At the same time, the lack of competition made fans
turn off their TVs and fail to appreciate just how well he performed.

 

Golf media around the world have tried to put their perspective on this championship, but it isn’t easy to do. This was
a bizarre, wacky British Open. We’re accustomed to having our finale make sense. We crave major championships like
this year’s Masters, which basically wrote its own beautiful story with the Mickelson family.

 

But this was nothing like that. We watched 72 holes of brilliance from a golfer we’d never met. Then, we woke up,
shook our heads and began asking each other, “What the heck just happened?”

 

 

 

 

 

Column # 132: Darren Clarke's Smile

 

Win, lose or MC, Darren Clarke will probably smile more than anyone else
this week at The British Open. Clarke earned the final spot in this year´s
third major championship after finishing second at last week´s Scottish
Open.

Anytime Clarke tees it up it´s a feel good story. Remember, Clarke is the
guy who lost his wife, Heather, after a long bout with breast cancer in
August of 2006. I wrote about the couple and their struggle earlier that
year <http://buff-golf.com/mouth.htm#apr06>. During the struggle and in the
months that followed, everyone who watched golf connected with Clarke. He
mourned, cried and bled in front of us. He became celebrated for his
devotion as a husband and father during those tough years.

We also loved Clarke because he always had perspective. He knew long putts
and fast greens were nothing compared the struggles of real life. He played
hard. He played to win. But he always had his priorities in order.

Clarke found his best success on the golf course in the late 90s and earlier
this decade. He´s collected 2 PGA Tour wins and 12 wins on the European Tour
during his career. Since Heather´s passing. Clarke´s game has struggled.
Since the 2006 British Open, he´s only made two major championship cuts and
has several DNP (Did Not Play). He failed to qualify for The Masters and
U.S. Open earlier this year.

This week´s appearance in the British Open isn´t about Clarke´s game
peaking. It´s more about a celebration. Clarke is one of the game´s most
humble, charming figures. Whenever we see him playing we conjure up those
emotions we shared with him years ago. He´ll be greeted with roars at every
tee box and green this week, regardless of his score.

And, he´ll appreciate and live every second of it. After his second place
finish last week he expressed he was disappointed he hadn´t won, but then
quickly added it would be an "absolute delight" just to be at St. Andrews.

"I´m excited to be here," said Clarke during an interview earlier this week.
"I love this golf course."

At the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews, Clarke finished tied for seventh
and considers the performance a career highlight. Now given the opportunity,
he might be able to put together another strong showing.

"Darren has always been a great streak player," said Padraig Harrington.
"When he gets on a roll, he can hit every fairway. He can hit every green
and he can really hole the putts."

There´s no telling how this week will turn out for Clarke, but golf fans
should root for him relentlessly. There are athletes that let us down by
making bad decisions, being arrested, leaving town for millions of dollars
elsewhere...and then there are guys like Clarke. He´s a professional golfer
and a regular guy. He works hard. He misses his wife. He raises his kids. He
hits long drives.

He´s the kind of player you like to see do well. He´s the kind of player
that makes you smile.

 

 

Column # 131:  Quick Hits On July 8th, 2010

 

A few news and notes as we near the British Open at St. Andrews.

 

~ It’s going to be a very interesting week for the ladies. The Women’s U.S. Open takes place this weekend at
Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh. I saw a tweet from someone who follows the women’s tour who thought
someone might shoot in the 90s both days and miss the cut. Oakmont is crazy long and filled with bunkers. The men’s
U.S. Open was played there in 2007 and Angel Cabrera won with a score of +5. It should be a fun tournament, but look
for +8 to be the winning score.

 

~ A few of the last guys in the British Open have real chances to contend. Rickie Fowler, Ricky Barnes and Davis Love III
all earned spots in the past 10 days. Fowler is one of the game’s young hot stars who held the 54-hole lead at The
Memorial in June. Barnes is an up-and-down guy who might miss the cut, or break the scoring record – it just depends
on which swing shows up. Don’t look past DL III either. Lost in the carnage of Sunday at Pebble Beach last month was
Love’s solid final round 71 and T6. He’s older than Fowler and Barnes, but knows how to play links golf.

 

~ Want to hear a bad idea? Read Peter Kostis’ article on how the USGA should develop two courses specifically for the
U.S. Open and other USGA events. One course would be on the East coast while the other would be out West. I’ve got
no issues with the USGA having its own grounds, but this change would mean no more trips to Pebble Beach, Pinehurst
No. 2, Winged Foot, Bethpage Black….the list goes on. We already have a tournament that stays in the same spot each
year – The Masters. Part of the beauty of the U.S. Open is that it showcases so many courses and designers. http://www.golf.com/golf/tours_news/article/0,28136,2001659,00.html

 

~ At some point, people need to stop asking Woods about his personal life. Maybe you feel he owes us more…but we’ll
never get it. Those probing questions by the foreign media earlier this week were unnecessary. Woods was cold and brief
in response…but wouldn’t you be?

 

~ Shout out to @bubbawatson. The guy always seems to respond when we wish him good luck or congratulate him via Twitter. We’re still hoping he’ll have time to do an interview for a piece for the site.

 

 

 

Column # 130:  A Vote For Rose

 

 

Justin Rose looks as ready as anyone to win the British Open in two weeks.

 

In the past month, Rose has gone from a player who’d never won on tour to a guy with two wins and a blown 54-hole lead. He’s making birdies at an amazing clip. Even with a shaky back nine in yesterday’s AT&T National, Rose emerged victorious and earned a spot in the British Open.

 

It’s quite the turnaround for the young star who struggled for years earlier in his career. Rose blew on to the scene with a miraculous pitch in at the 1998 British Open that earned him a tie for fourth. A week later, Rose turned professional. Months later, Rose had disappeared.

 

Consider for a second that Rose went through a stretch where he missed 21 straight cuts. After a 36-hole lead in the 2004 Masters, Rose went 81-71 and fell out of contention. During 2005-06, Rose played in just one major championship.

 

Those are tough times for anyone to swallow. But Rose, who had seemed destined for greatness after the 1998 Open, took it especially hard.

 

“It felt like every time I had a chance to make a cut, cameras would appear out of the trees and suddenly I would feel the heat,” Rose told reporters yesterday. “Playing under that pressure to make cuts when you’re not playing well, that was hard.”

 

If the last month is any indication, Rose has essentially beaten away those pressure demons. His win at the Memorial Tournament was his breakthrough. His win yesterday, suggests that his game is ready to endure for the long haul.

 

There’s no real way of knowing how ready Rose is for major championship golf as he wasn’t in the field for The Masters or the U.S. Open. Still, anyone watching over the past month has to like Rose’s chances. When he’s at the top of his game, there’s no limit to what Rose can accomplish on the golf course.

 

Column # 129:  USGA Open Preview

 

There´s still a monkey on Phil Mickelson´s back.

I know he´s three green jackets and a PGA Championship removed from the "greatest player never to win a major" title he used to own. I know he´s beloved by fans across the country. I know he can inherit the No. 1 spot in
the World Golf Rankings this week even if he doesn´t win.

Still, Mickelson needs to win a U.S. Open to cement his legacy.

Mickelson has built a legacy out of coming close in the U.S. Open. He´s been the runner-up five different times. He´s lost in spectacular fashion (see 2006 at Winged Foot) and emotional fashion (see 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2 with Payne Stewart and 2009 at Bethpage Black with his wife on his mind and a pink ribbon on his hat). He´s lost to Tiger (see 2002) and he´s beaten
himself.

This week, Mickelson needs to finally break through and win the U.S. Open.  There´s never a bad time to do it, but this week would be extra perfect for Phil. For starters, the Open is at Pebble Beach Golf Links, a reasonable drive from where Mickelson grew up. Add in the fact that Woods, the guy who won by 15 shots last time the Open was at Pebble, still hasn´t pulled his game together and it just seems like Mickelson´s time.

Golf fans know just because it makes sense doesn´t mean it will happen with Phil. He´s unconventional and unpredictable. Part of the reason we love Phil is because he´s capable of anything on a golf course, both good and bad.

Deep down, I think this is the tournament Phil wants to win more than any other. Mickelson is a true-blue American boy. It just won´t be right if he ends his career without a U.S. Open title. He deserves better than five
runner-up finishes.

If he can stick to the script this week - fairways and greens - he just might finally get that monkey off his back. Mickelson´s never a truly safe bet, but this week I´d put money on him. Something about seeing him hold
that trophy on Sunday just seems good enough to be true.

 

 

 

Column # 128:  Notah Begay Throws A Great Party

 

Regardless of what you think of Notah Begay III, you’ve got to admit he can throw quite the party for golf fans.
 
A year after bringing Tiger Woods, Mike Weir and Camillo Villegas to Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, N.Y., he’s bringing an even larger group of the world’s best players for his annual fundraiser/exhibition match.
 
This year, golf fans can head to Atunyote August 31, to see Begay, Villegas, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh, Rickie Fowler and LPGA greats Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel.
 
It’s an awesome field and a testament to Begay’s presence on tour. Everyone who comes to the exhibition event does so to support Begay’s NB3 Foundation which raises money and funding for the improved health and wellness of Native American youth on Indian reservations nationwide. Last year, Begay, Woods and Weir raised $1.2 million for the cause.

“I am extremely grateful to have some of the world’s top golfers from the men’s and women’s game join me at this year’s event and support the Foundation’s mission of empowering Native youth to sustain active, healthy and productive lives,” said Begay. “Through their involvement and the partnership of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, the NB3 Challenge will continue to fuel our commitment to the long-term battle to ensure that Native American youth are given the opportunity to be healthy and be engaged in positive activities that can promote their well-being and success as young adults.”

Golf fans should be grateful too. We get the occasional pro golf tournament in Rochester and Verona, but now, thanks to Begay, we can add another to the annual list.

 

Column # 127:  Time To Call Golfers...Athletes

 

Every golfer has heard the argument.

 

Is golf really a sport? Are these guys in plaid pants really athletes?

 

It came up at this year’s Masters Tournament when some of the older players on tour like Tom Watson contended
early in the week. Everybody wonders if hitting a golf ball really comes down to athletic prowess.

 

Maybe it’s time somebody retorts, “How could it not be?”

 

Golf requires strength. Golf requires hand-eye coordination. Golf requires mental toughness. Golf requires athleticism.

 

I’m not suggesting it’s as physically demanding as being a running back in the NFL. Golfers are never mercilessly
checked into the boards. But then again, being a pitcher in the MLB who doesn’t even have to bat isn’t that physically
taxing either.

 

Sure it’s easy to point at some of the older guys on the PGA Tour and wonder how they do it. Everybody loves to
shout about how John Daly was overweight and still contended. Please remember, these guys are aberrations.  Every
sport has guys who played at high levels despite lacking traditional athletic bodies…see Babe Ruth, Cecil Fielder, Charles Barkley.

 

And have you seen the new crop of young golfers on tour? Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Justin Rose,
Hunter Mahan, etc, -- these guys don’t have 20 percent body fat collectively.

 

Here’s another point to ponder. If golf isn’t physically demanding, why don’t the world’s greatest athletes just dominate
the game? Why don’t they combine their unrivaled strength, coordination and toughness and learn the game better
than those on tour?

 

Earlier this year, Jerry Rice, widely recognized as one of the greatest football players and fastest people ever to live,
tried to make it on the Nationwide Tour.  In his first event he carded an 83-76 and then missed the cut. The next
week he shot 92-82 and watched at home all weekend. Remember, this guy is in the NFL Hall of Fame and needed
great hands to catch touchdown passes. Still, throw a wedge in those same hands and it doesn’t go as well.

 

It’s also worth noting Rice earned the fifth best spot in Golf Digest’s 2009 list of Top Athlete Golfers. There aren’t
many other guys out there who it better than Rice.

 

If you’re looking for one current/former athlete who might actually be able to cut it week to week, maybe it’s time
to give Tony Romo kudos. The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, Romo is a +3.3 handicap. This past weekend he
was one of seven golfers to advance from the U.S. Open Sectional competition in Dallas to the final qualifying event.
If Romo posts a low score at the 36-hole qualifier June 7, he’ll be teeing it up with guys like Tiger Woods and
Sergio Garcia at Pebble Beach a few weeks later.

 

Still, Romo is a rarity. There have been dozens of other former athletes (see Michael Jordan/John Smoltz) who’ve
tried to hit it like the pros after retirement. All of them are decent sticks, but they don’t have the game to hold up
in the pro circuits.

 

I’m not saying we should worship golfers. They’re an odd bunch of guys. They deserve to be called goofy, poor
dressers and a bit demented at times.

 

But they also deserve to be called athletes.

 

Column # 126:  Experiencing The Players Championship

Anyone who’s ever attended a professional golf tournament knows there is a strategy to watching the action.

 

Who do you follow? Where do you sit? Should you try and jump a hole ahead to get a great view of the next green? Where are the beer tents?

 

Fortunately, The Players Course (TPC) at Sawgrass answers several of these questions for you. When we attended The Players Championship at Sawgrass last Friday and Saturday, we entered the course just south of the famous Island 17th green. Within minutes of being at the tournament, we saw the hole that makes players check their club selection three, four and five times before taking a swing.

 

Me: Well we could sit here and watch for a while?

 

Friend: Yeah, that sounds good.

 

Not only does a seat to the left of the 17th green guarantee you great views of tee balls landing on the green (or in the water) and access to the players as they walk by, but it also gives you a great glimpse of the action on the Par-5 16th hole. Plus video boards keep you updated on all the action around the course. It’s not hard to sit there for several hours without realizing time flying by.

 

All of that added up to the two of us spending a few hours watching action at the 17th hole each day. To be fair, we never really saw an incredible shot. Ian Poulter’s birdie on Friday was pretty solid. Phil Mickelson flirted with the whole both times.

 

The rest of the course isn’t too shabby either, and don’t think we didn’t walk it a few times. We focused on the back 9 Friday and the front 9 Saturday. I talked my buddy into following way to much of Sergio Garcia each day. But we did watch him make birdies on 9, 10 and 11 over the two days.

 

Did we see Tiger? Of course, we did. But it wasn’t like the other times I’ve seen him. I think we watched him play six holes over the two days and saw three bogeys and three pars. Friday he even had an infamous “other” on his scorecard that we never saw.

 

It was a remarkable two days at a remarkable golf course. It’s as beautiful and challenging as it looks on TV. My only regret is that we never once followed Tim Clark’s group (the eventual winner). Clark has been playing on tour for years and only hits his drives slightly farther than most of us. He was a fitting champion at a course that requires you to hit shots, and not just overpower it.

 

There’s not much else to say. Great golf courses and talented golfers usually yield fun weekends. Thankfully, my two days at TPC Sawgrass did just that.




Column # 125:  Golf...The United Way

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The United Way of the Tonawandas will hold its 34th Annual Golf Tournament
on Monday, June 7, 2010 at Tan Tara Golf Club in North Tonawanda, NY.
 
BuffaloGolfer.Com and the Travelin' Duff
have supported the  United Way  in the past
through donations and playing in the tournament. This year will be no exception.

Each year, the United Way of the Tonawandas helps thousands of people throughout the
Niagara region. Participation as a golfer, sponsor and/or donor, provides the satisfaction of knowing
that you are making a difference in the many lives touched through the United Way programs. Also,
participants will join other caring community members for a great day of golf.

BuffaloGolfer’s Travelin’ Duff will be teamed with 3 members of the Wadosky family: Garrett,
Duff's son-in-law, Andy, his father, and Kenny, his Uncle. The Wadosky/Duff team's participation is being
partially funded as Father's Day acknowledgements by Susan Wadosky, the Duff's daughter who is the
Circulation Manager at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, NY and a United Way volunteer for many years..

Michael P. Lynch, the Golf Tournament Chairperson, has been helping  this worthy cause for the past
9 years. The Golf Steering Committee, led by Bob Baumker and Mark Kielaszek, is working along
with the many volunteers that it takes to host a successful event each year.

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This year, the Four-Person Scramble will begin with a shotgun start at 1:00 P.M. preceded by
registration and a buffet lunch  at 11:30 A.M.
Split Club and Chinese raffles door prizes will be awarded
at the cocktail hour and dinner following the event.  This year Hole-In-One awards include $10,000 CASH, a
7-Day Caribbean Cruise and Round-Trip Airline Tickets.

If you are interested  in playing as an individual or a team of four or more, or being a sponsor or prize donor,
please review the information flyers below.

Contact  Michael Lynch at  716-609-2799 to donate a gift or tournament prizes.    For
questions, additional information and reservations contact the United Way office at 716-693-0895 or fax: 693-0906.
 

The Duff will be providing a  wrap-up and photo essay  following the tournament.  Make sure to let the
United Way
know that you read the Travelin' Duff's article at  www.buffalogolfer.com.

 

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Column # 124:  Quick Hits

 

There’s so much happening in the golf world right now, I just can’t keep up with it all. Here are some quick hits with my thoughts for the week.

 

~ Watching Jason Bohn win the Zurich Classic Sunday, I honestly thought it was his first victory on tour. That’s not an indictment of Bohn and his somewhat journeyman-like career, it’s more of a comment on how happy he seemed. Now before you tell me to stuff it because everybody’s always happy when they win on tour – let me tell you that there are different kinds. This wasn’t, “I’m a millionaire and this is going to look great on my career resume happy.” This was, “holy crap, this is a dream come true. My life’s changed forever happy.” It’s great to see Bohn that exuberant. He had won before on tour, but you’d have never known it.

 

~ There’s a report out there that’s talking about how Tiger Woods has yet to sign up for the British Open – so to speak. Nothing wrong with reporting it, but let’s calm the rumors. If Woods is playing Quail Hollow and The Players Championship, you can bet everything he’ll be St. Andrews for the British Open.

 

~ Lorena Ochoa’s retiring?  Yougottabekiddingme. She’s 28 years old. She’s been the No. 1 player on the women’s tour for three years, earned two majors and 27 victories. She’s been named LPGA Tour Player of the Year four times. There’s leaving on top, and then there’s just leaving to early. Dear Lorena, take a break, but don’t retire…please.

 

~ This week’s Quail Hollow Championship marks Tiger Woods’ return to professional golf not held at Augusta National Golf Club. Much of the talk during Masters week focused on how Augusta was the perfect place for Woods to return, because everyone there is so respectful and courteous. I’m sure it’s true. But it’s an insult to suggest fans elsewhere aren’t exactly the same. Expect this week to be a whole lot like Masters week for Woods. Nobody’s going to taunt him. Mistresses will not flock to the tee box. Everything will be fine.

 

~ I’m taking Padraig Harrington this week, too. Not that anybody asked.

 

~ On a travel note, winds of good fortune have blown me two tickets to next weeks The Players Championship in Florida. Look for live tweets and posts about the action.

 

~ I’m taking Sergio at TPC, not that anyone asked.

 

 

Column # 123 Honesty...Is such a lonely word?  Not in golf, friend, not in golf.

 

Imagine Lebron James coming off a pick-and-roll, driving to the basket for a game-winning dunk and then stopping, turning to the ref and saying, “excuse me, but I traveled. Here’s the ball.”

 

It’s a crazy thought; an athlete giving away an opportunity to win by calling a foul on themselves. You just never see offensive lineman stand up and tell the ref they were holding the defensive end. Hockey players rarely skate right to the penalty box and tell officials they hooked their competitor.

 

That said, when Brian Davis penalized himself during the first playoff hole of the Verizon Heritage event last Sunday, golf fans weren’t surprised. Golf is the one sport where players penalize themselves.

 

Were golf fans sad for him? Yes. Surprised he managed to hit a loose impediment on his pitch shot? Absolutely. But blown away by the fact that he knew he’d broke a rule and informed a rules official? Not really, there’s an unspoken code of honor in golf.

 

Consider had Davis said nothing, nobody – and I mean absolutely nobody – would have stood up and said anything. The thousands of fans watching the shot in person and the millions watching on TV couldn’t see it happen in real time. Competitor Jim Furyk didn’t notice. Even the rules officials thought everything looked clean.

 

But Davis saw a small reed move during his backswing. As he took the club away he nicked it. Before he even saw his ball settle on the far side of the green he called over a rule official and explained the situation.

 

Consider also, this wasn’t the third hole of a Thursday round either. Davis had tied Furyk for the low score after 72 holes and the two were in the midst of their first sudden death playoff hole. Davis had pitched the ball to the left of the green and onto a rocky sand slope that ran along the Ocean sound. It was a bad spot to be, but a playable lie. And, with Furyk missing the green and leaving himself 8-feet for par, Davis was still so very alive in the tournament.

 

A good pitch might have helped Davis secure his first win on the PGA Tour, not to mention a $1 million-plus check. It would have helped his long-term status on tour.

 

But, the reed moved. Davis saw it even if nobody else did. He knew it didn’t really help or hinder his shot – but it moved. And according to the rules of golf, that’s a two-stroke penalty.

 

Golf fans surely ache for Davis. It’s plausible Furyk had him beat anyway. But, to lose in such gut-wrenching fashion is brutal. To never know what might have been had the reed not moved….

 

Several people say Davis’ will have his good karma repaid to him. That he’s now owed a tournament victory at some point. I say that’s hogwash. This guy played 72-holes at an elite level. He took everything Harbour Town and Jim Furyk could throw at him and he didn’t blink. He’ll win someday on tour, karma or no karma. His game is too good. My only hope is when it happens, it happens in dramatic fashion. I hope he’s down a stroke with a devilishly-long eagle putt ahead of him. I hope Jim Nantz announces there’s no way to make the putt, and a two-putt is no gimme from there. I hope Davis’ caddy says that if you play the fault lines just right…there’s a way to make it. And then, I hope Davis sees the way, even if nobody else does.

 

 

 

Column # 122:  Bring Your Z Game On Wednesday?

 

Think fast, what's the one thing you absolutely can't do at Augusta National Golf Club if you want to win The Masters?

Hit in the water on the Par-3 No. 12? Please. Hit your second shot close and tap in for bogey. You can still win.

Putt with your 7-iron? Not even close. The greens at Augusta National Golf Club are so difficult; you'll probably have to use your 7-iron after you snap your putter over your knee.

Start trimming the Magnolias to take home to your significant other? Well...that actually might get you kicked out...but that's not what we were thinking.

No, the mortal sin of Masters Week is playing well on Wednesday. Each year players are invited to take part in a Par-3 contest the day before the tournament. And, each year the player who wins the Par-3 contest undoubtedly fails to win The Masters.

Now, it's not a lifetime curse. Several players have won the Par-3 event years before or after they've taken home the green jacket, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson and Vijay Singh - to name a few. But, if you get hot with your short clubs on Wednesday, you might as well just pack up the bag, send the caddy on vacation and call it a week.

 Amazingly, the curse doesn't even put a damper on the event. It's one of the shining moments of the week. Players often
bring their wives and children to join them during the Par 3 course. Everyone laughs. Everyone enjoys it fully.

Then again, maybe players are seeking distraction. Of course Phil Mickelson is willing to let his daughter putt out on the final hole, if he sinks this he's doomed for Sunday.

Think of how poor Sandy Lyle must have felt. He won the event in back to back years 1997 and 1998. He basically took himself out of the tournament before it began for two straight years. Even the great ones respect the curse. The two most decorated golfers ever - Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods - have never won the Par-3 contest. They're no fools.

It's got to end at some point though, doesn't it? If you're going to conquer Augusta National for four days, why not make it five? Why not let the good vibes of a Wednesday win carry over through the week?

So, here you go. Here's my bold prediction of the week. This year, the Par-3 curse gets nixed. Come rain, shine or shaky putting, he who wins Wednesday shall don green this Sunday.

 

 

 

 

Column # 121:  And the first male major champion of 2010 is...

 

As Masters Week dawns, perhaps it's time to be excited for the unexpected. It is the unexpected after all, that truly
charms us in sports. As much as we enjoy trying to predict who will win a game or who will finish in the top spot,
we cherish sports for its ability to surprise us with great, unexpected drama.

So let's get it out of the way right now. For the next seven days, the golf media is going to talk about Tiger Woods.
Even if he misses the cut by a mile, viewers will be subjected to shot-by-shot recaps of his first two rounds on Sunday.
Woods has been embattled in scandal for more than four months now and this is his reentry into public life. He has
questions to answer. But he also has shots to hit. And hopefully after everyone sees him do both this week, we can
move on.

Here's the thing. For true golf fans, the most delicious story line of this week is who we'll be talking about Sunday
evening. The Masters, after all, is a major championship. Great players win major championships. It's how we define
players' careers. It's how we remember them. Someone is going to write a new, exciting chapter in golf history. We're
all lucky to be able to watch it.

There are several players off to great starts this season, as well. Anthony Kim won last week's Shell Houston Open.
Camilo Villegas has picked up a win. Both Ernie Els and Jim Furyk seem to be back on track. Phil Mickelson hasn't played spectacular this year, but he's always a threat at Augusta.

It all adds up to exciting golf. Some of the guys we expect to win we'll putt like dirt. Other will have supreme command
over their Titleists. Somehow, someway, every major championship unfolds as it should.

And, maybe it will be Tiger we track this Sunday. For the better part of 13 years, it's what we've done. Even in scandal,
Woods is an odds-on-favorite to win. The man has proven himself so much better than others, we expect he can achieve despite any obstacle.

So what do I think will happen?

I've got this funny feeling we just might see Villegas don the green jacket Sunday evening. I think you have to be fearless
to win at Augusta. I think Villegas fits the bill. I'd look for these names - Furyk, Hunter Mahan, and Stewart Cink - to
be involved. As for Tiger? I bet you'll have to tune in early Sunday to watch him wrap up his week.

But here's the kicker. Here's why I love major championships.

All my predictions? Shmadictions. Once they tee it up at Augusta National, there's no telling what will happen.
 

 

 

Column # 120:  Welcome Back, Baldy

 


It felt good to see Jim Furyk´s beaming smile and bald head back in the
winner´s circle this weekend.

Maybe you missed it. There were several other things going on Sunday evening
- March Madness, healthcare reform, etc. Or, maybe you just couldn´t stick
with it. The Transitions Championship endured six hours of weather delays
Sunday. But, in the end, Furyk emerged for his first win in more than two
years and the 14th of his career.
Furyk is one of the elite players in the game. He plays darn near every
week. He´s made more than 20 professional cuts each of the past four years.
And, he wins frequently. This past drought was the longest of his career.

That´s probably part of the reason he refused to make it easy on himself.
With a two-shot lead on the 18th hole Sunday, Furyk ripped a tree-rattler
down the right side. Then he had a nervous punch out before a 30-foot lag
putt all but secured the win.

"I have a habit of making it tough on myself," Furyk said later. "Just
nerves got me, to be honest with you."

Over his career, Furyk has done a great job of identifying with fans. He´s
not one of the most marketable guys. He´s not as interested in sports cars
and golf fashion as other guys. Heck, even his swing isn´t pretty - he´s got
a hitch at the top. But, Furyk is a grinder; a blue-collar kind of golfer,
who wins by working harder than others, outthinking a golf course and quite
often, sheer guts.

This won´t go down as the most notable win of his career. That spot belongs
to his 2003 U.S. Open Championship title. But, it must feel good to be back
on top. It must feel good for the 39-year-old Furyk to send out a reminder
to the rest of the tour.

He´s still here. He can still win. And, he´s still all guts.

 

Column # 119:  If Tiger Woods wins the Masters in early April it will be __________.

Go ahead readers, fill in the blank.  Amazing, sleazy, wonderful, back to
normal...your choice.

But, I´ve got a suggestion. How about...awkward.

Unless you live under a rock that resides under a mountain, you´ve
undoubtedly heard Tiger Woods will be returning to the PGA Tour and
professional golf at The Masters in April. A tradition unlike any other is
about to become a spectacle unlike any other. I know Augusta National Golf
Club can control the media and its patrons unlike any other venue on the
planet, but this is still going to be pure crazy. How do you plan for
something that´s unprecedented?

I had hoped Woods would return at the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week.
I thought it would be best to get the initial "oh wow he´s back" reaction
out of the way before Augusta. I thought Woods would want to do the same,
increasing his chances for a fifth green jacket at The Masters.

Instead, we´re all going to tune in and watch as golf´s biggest story
collides with golf´s grandest venue. The Masters has a way of drawing all of
us back to the sport after its winter reprieve. It makes us embrace the
return of spring. Non golf fans often tune in. There´s something about
Augusta.

But, this year, it won´t be all about Amen Corner and Azaleas. Now there´s
added media presence and pressure. There´s pressure on Woods to show up and
keep his cool. There´s pressure on the golf club to prepare with enough
security and organization to prevent "incidents." And, there´s a ton of
pressure on every other golfer on the field. What does it say if Woods´ can
go through all this and step back out and win. Someone - Villegas,
Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Ian Poulter - needs to step up and make Sunday about
them.

Honestly, even if you´re a die-hard Woods´ fan, you have to pull for someone
else to win this major championship. What kind of scene would a Woods´
victory create at 18? Will people roar and applaud? Will they boo? What if
people were just silent? Will Mrs. Woods and the kids be there? It would be
so awfully awkward.

I understand a Woods´ win would speak to his ability to endure, his skill
and his strength. But, I won´t be pulling for it. 19 Majors? Go get em
Tiger. Welcome back and everything. But, let´s wait at least one more year
for another green jacket. This is going to be awkward enough already.


Column # 118:  Names you may not know--Alistair Presnell

 

 

Just know this: Golf clubs are in good hands with Alistair Presnell.

Alright, that´s a bad joke. Really bad. But here´s the thing, Presnell is
really, darn diggity good. And you probably never heard of him before
yesterday.

Presnell fired a brilliant six-under 64 at the World Golf CA Championship
yesterday to finish T6 and help pad his wallet. Presnell knocked in 9
birdies on the last 14 holes, including three straight to close out his
round. Several guys went low at Doral´s Blue Monster yesterday, but nobody
outplayed Presnell.

It´s a good thing too. According to Presnell, he couldn´t afford a new car
before yesterday. He´s still one of the non mega millionaires who play the
tour. Now, with the $214,000 he earned for his work this week, he may be
able to buy a couple of cars.

"Any kind of money is big money for me," said Presnell following the
tournament. "I was having dinner with Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott the other
night and they´re talking about their Porsche GT3s and I´m thinking about my
$5,000 car back home. I´m also looking to buy a place

It may not be long before Presnell can match his friends in their driving
styles. He´s no joke as a player. At just 30 years of age, Presnell won
three amateur titles during 2003 and turned professional a year later. He´s
spent most his time playing the PGA Tour of Australia and Asian Tour. His
first professional win came last year at the 2009 PGA Tour of Australia´s
Moonah Classic. The win gave him exemption for the U.S.´ Nationwide Tour. A
season of strong showings in 2009 helped him earn a spot at this week´s CA
Championship.

So, yes, he´s currently the 373rd best player in the world, but he´s quickly
improving. If his first appearance on the PGA Tour is any indication, this
week´s T6 may be a sign of better things to come.

Column # 117:  How Do You Like Your Tiger?


This is not how I like my Tiger.

I'm not referring to his transgressions and infidelity; those are not mine to judge. He´s caused me no harm; he´s committed no criminal acts. This is not an argument to justify him either way.

No, I miss the Tiger who had mojo. I miss his smile of an assassin. I miss the guy who knocked it in from fairways, bunkers and other halves of the greens thanks to his dogged will.

For those who believe Woods needs to suffer and suffer good, know that he has. The man has lost millions upon millions and watched helplessly as his name has been dragged through the mud. He´s been ripped up by the media more
than any celebrity or public figure in the history of culture. He´s been humbled and humiliated on a global stage.

Maybe you believe he deserve such an outrageous public whooping. Again, that´s not what I´m getting at.

I don´t like to think of Woods taking long breaks to think and reflect. I don´t like the thought of him hiding in clinics around the country. The man doesn´t need therapy, zen or anything in between. The man fell victim to the perils of fame and fortune. He is not the first, nor will he be the last.

Speaking just about his actions on the golf course, Woods has written a legacy of kicking ash and taking names. He´s beaten golfers in ways they didn´t know they could get beat. He´s tamed the toughest courses. He holds a
mental and physical edge over everyone else on the planet when there´s a golf club in his hands.

That´s always what appealed to me most about Woods. The fire in his eyes; the ability to be purely excellent. The way he could find it within himself to be that good, that often, was inspiring.

And now I hear of a changed Woods. A man who needs to rethink his life. Sure, I understand. And I too have well wishes for his future, family and children.

But make no mistake-- the hatred that has been dumped on Woods may not be entirely fair. Not every report from an unnamed source rings true. There are men who´ve committed far worse actions and are still held in high regard, making millions off their reputation and brand. Again, Woods is no criminal.


I hope when he returns (and it better be soon) that he remembers that. I hope he still has his competitive fire.

Be a better man? Sounds great. Best of luck. But when the time comes and the stakes are high, bring back the golfing beast.


Column # 116:  Poulter Primes Public for Prodigious Performance

 

It doesn´t feel like the first time. It doesn´t seem like today´s win at the
WGC Accenture Match Play Championship was in a sense, Ian Poulter´s arrival
as a top-flight player.

Golf fans have known Poulter for more than a decade. People routinely pick
him to win in their pools or golf fantasy leagues. And, that´s why it seemed
a bit odd to hear CBS´ Nick Faldo talk about how today´s win was Poulter´s
first in America.

Ian Poulter is a super talent, no doubt. But, perhaps Poulter is even better
as a self marketer. The man has bucket loads of flair. In his 34-hole match
today, he donned a pink sweater, pink pants and pink shoes. It wasn´t
uncommon either; the man wears more pink than Barbie. He´s always dressed to
stand out, and it works.

On Twitter, a social-media platform, Poulter has 976,621 fans and tells them
about his game, schedule and results frequently. In case you were wondering,
he posts his Tweets in pink.

Poulter is also the golfer who famously said, "Don´t get me wrong, I really
respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven´t played to my full
potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger," a few years
back, when things were much better for Woods and the statement seemed
ludicrous.

So, in short, Poulter has always been eye-catching. He´s brazen and bold and
likes the spotlight. He craves success and isn´t afraid to say things that
draw big expectations. He draws big galleries at events and is always on TV.

If you´d have asked most golf fans yesterday if Poulter had ever won in the
U.S. they probably would have just assumed the answer was yes. We always see
him. He plays frequently. It seemed like a no-brainer.

Those fans would have been incorrect though. Poulter´s greatest win to date,
and first on American soil, came today in the fashion of a 4-and-2 victory
against Paul Casey. The win gave Casey his second straight loss in the WGC
event´s final match. Last year, Geoff Ogilvy ousted him in similar fashion.

But, today was all about Poulter. He has "arrived" as we like to say. This
win should usher in a new era of fame and fandom for Poulter, but it
probably won´t. The man already has that, and now he has the hardware to
back it up.

 

 

 

 

 


Column # 115:  Some quick swings following the Tiger Woods Media Moment


Let´s start with what surprised me:

~The length. I never thought this thing would go more than two minutes. That
had to be the longest 13 minutes of Woods´ life. I don´t know if the length
translates to increased remorse, but I didn´t expect Woods to stand there
that long.

~I was surprised he didn´t talk about his father more. Earl Woods drove the
Tiger machine for years. Speaking about his relationship with his father
would have reminded people of that hug after Tiger´s first Masters victory.
I thought it would have helped him. My guess is Woods respects his late
father to much to bring him into this conversation.

~I was surprised Elin wasn´t there. I know her absence was expected, but I
thought we´d see her today.

~The whole steroids statement surprised me. I figured that wouldn´t be
addressed here. He was bold and direct in dismissing those rumors. I hope
with all my golf-fan might that he´s telling the truth on this one. If we
ever learn he learned performance enhancement drugs...I hate the thought of
thinking his golf excellence was fraudulent.

*Things that didn´t surprise me.*

~Didn´t take long for him to bring up his foundation and charitable efforts.
He´s allowed to tout his public contributions, they´re well intentioned.
Woods´ foundation makes differences in several children´s lives. He deserves
to be proud of that.

~That he took it all on himself. You couldn´t blame Woods if he wanted to
retort by calling out the irresponsible journalism, over-the-top rumors and
offensive jokes. He bit his tongue today, but I don´t doubt his blood is
boiling.

*What I realized*

~I miss Tiger Woods. I don´t agree with his actions. I wish he was who we
all believed him to be. I feel bad for everyone hurt by his actions - but I
want to see him play golf again soon. When Woods spoke about the media
following his family, he offered up one of those Woods´ glares that´s he
usually reserves for golf balls that hang on the lip of the cup. I miss
seeing that.

*What´s next?*

~Well, Tiger didn´t really tell us. He said he´ll be back, he´s just not
sure when. I believe him, but I bet he´s got a solid idea. If I was a
gambling man, I´d still bet on seeing him at Augusta this year. But, we
shall see.

*What it all means.*

~In summation, we have an incredibly talented man who got caught up in his
fame and power. He used it to his selfish advantage. He´s done damage, and
only time will tell how sorry he is for his actions. But, in the short term,
it´s a personal matter for the Woods family and hopefully now, they can
begin to move on under less scrutiny.

Tiger never owed us anything. And, he still doesn´t. But, even with this
unprecedented fall from grace, Woods has the star power and ability to
effect great change. Many people do things in their youth that they
acknowledge were uncalled for later in life. Life is constant, but it´s also
a series of stages. There was a look in Woods eyes today when he talked
about making a difference and living with integrity. It´s that look he used
to get when he imposed his will on the golf course. It offered the hope that
Woods will now be as staunch in his pursuit of excellence off the course as
he has been on it.
 

Column # 114:  Accenture WGC Match Play 2nd Round Predictions

 

I guess it´s better to be busy than foolish.

It rings true when you consider the predictions I would have made for the
first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. I filled out my
bracket for the event late Tuesday and started a column that I
(Thankfully....hey, who said that) never was able to finish.

If you´d have read my column you´d have thought I was a fool. You´d have
known that I had Ross Fisher winning the event, not getting bounced in 5-4
in the first round by Thongchai Jaidee. You probably would have sent me some
snickering e-mails about taking Chad Campbell over Martin Kaymer. Oh, and
the laughs you´d have got from me thinking Ryan Moore was going to oust
Ernie Els.

Fortunately, the world will never know about these early thoughts. I´ll just
tell you that I did darn good in the Snead bracket where I picked every
winner but one correctly. But, hey, this thing is ten times tougher than the
NCAA basketball brackets. There´s not that much discrepancy between
the 3rdand 63
rd best players in the world. There´s no power conferences in golf, just
great players.

Regardless, below are my second round picks. You´ll see how smart I can be,
just read on.

Mcilroy Def. Wilson - Youth isn´t always served in these events but great
players have a way of winning, regardless. Rory McIlroy is simply the best
young guy playing the game and he´ll pick up another win right here.

Allenby Def. Donald - I´ve always said you should go with the strong and
steady guys in match-play events. I feel like I know I´m going to get a
solid round from Allenby where I´m less convinced of the same from Luke
Donald. Allenby in a nail-biter.

Casey Def. Weir - One half of my title match is still alive and it´s Paul
Casey. I´ve been in Casey´s corner for a long, long time. He´s a great
player but a strong performance here would help his resume.

Johnson Def. Gay - When you say a match is a "toss-up," always go with the
guy who has a green jacket in his closet.

Kuchar Def. Singh - When I looked at the bracket Tuesday night, Kuchar´s
name stood out as a guy who could make a lot of pars and play well this
week. He´ll advance.

Scott Def. Poulter - I´m so torn here. Both of these guys are favorites of
mine. I like Poulter´s style and sense of daring, but I think Adam Scott has
a chance to win the whole thing this week. He´s never justified his fame and
lofty expectations with a win. This would be like when Sergio Garcia won the
TPC. He needs it, and for some reason, I think he´ll advance and keep his
dream alive.

Yang Def. Crane - Strong and steady wins the race. Yang is rock-steady with
nerves of steel. He´s a better player too.

Ogilvy Def. Villegas - Ogilvy dominates in these events. He loves playing
the WGC where he´s won and always contends. He´s probably the odds on
favorite of those still playing.

Kaymer Def. Clark - If you´d have ready my initial thoughts, you´d have
heard me wonder incredulously, how Martin Kaymer was a one seed. I will
doubt him no longer.

Garcia Def. Hansen - Here´s an interesting take on Garcia this week - can he
translate great match-play performances in the Ryder Cup to this event? He
hasn´t had great success here in the past, but maybe he feels less pressure
than before as he is maturing. He´s my favorite guy to watch and root for,
but I´m just lost as to whether or not he can consistently win big. Long
story short, Garcia has me confused, and how he plays this week will help me
figure it out.

Schwartzel Def. Furyk - Both guys love making pars. But, never, never, bet
against Charl Schwartzel in the second round.

Cink Def. O´Hair - He´s still got some of that British Open glow. He´s
steady and makes few mistakes, and that gives him a chance to have a special
week.

Ishikawa def. McGowan - Another example of youth playing beyond its years,
Ishikawa is going to have a coming out party this year. Call this his
entrance.

Jaidee Def. Karlsson - Thoncha Jaidee took out my expected champion, you
think I´m going to be against him now?

Watney Def. Westwood - Battle of the W´s. Watney will start hot today, which
he tends to do, and keep it going.

Els Def. Goosen - What a great match. Two great players, tactical guys. I
hope it goes 27 holes, but I think Els will prevail.

 

Column # 113:  What's In A Name?  Plenty O' Stuff

 

Sometimes, you just need to know more about someone.

Maybe their looks entice you. Maybe their sense of humor comforts you.
Sometimes it´s raw talent that draws us in. And, for me, I´m usually
intrigued by people with great names.

So, it came as no surprise that while watching this week´s Famers Insurance
Open the name Vance Veazey piqued my interest.

Anytime I meet someone with a unique name, I´m flooded with questions. Is
this man related to Bob Vance, of NBC´s The Office fame? Does this man sell
carpets? (For some reason, Vance Veazey sounds like a carpet salesman to
me). And, what do the Veazey´s do in their leisure time?

I guess I´m just convinced that people with interesting names live more
exciting lives.

So, as soon as I returned home, I Googled Veazey. I quickly learned that he
suffers from hypoglycemia, a condition where the body´s glucose level falls
abnormally low. Due to this, he´s always got a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich with him on the golf course.

Next I learned he graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1989 and
turned pro in 1990. He´s bounced back and forth between the Nationwide and
PGA Tours throughout his career, racking up four Nationwide victories. His
best PGA finish was a tie for 10th at the Stanford St. Jude Championship.

Do you know where Veazey´s from? I do. He was born in Memphis, TN. Know who
else calls Memphis home? Try Morgan Freeman, John Daly, Penny Hardaway,
Tennessee Williams, Reggie White and Johnny Cash to name a few. That´s
pretty good company Veazey´s in.

I also learned that Vance Veazey can be found on
www.Wikipedia.com<http://www.wikipedia.com/>.
He has his own page and he´s also listed under "Golfers with most Nationwide
Tour Wins." Once again, good company.

I didn't find a ton more information. I can´t tell you what Veazey does in
his spare time. I don´t know who he thinks will win Best Actor at the
Academy Awards. No, my Google searches returned scant information.

Still, it was fun to read about a player I´d never heard of before. We focus
so much on the top 30 players in the world, we forget there´s hundreds
others making their livings in golf. They each have their own stories and I
wish we´d get to hear a few more.

Maybe someday Veazey will catch magic and win on the PGA Tour. I imagine
they golf guru´s will claim they´ve been following him for years. But, me,
I´ll be able to say, hey, I though the guy was interesting and
noteworthy...here´s proof. I´ll root for him to make it happen. I´d get a kick
out of knowing Vance Veazey was sketched on the Claret Jug.

(BONUS INFO - Also, just to clarify, my Google search returned know
confirmation that anyone named Veazey sells carpets.)

 

 

Column # 112:  Calling All Swing Doctors!!

At its core, BuffaloGolfer.com is a community. It´s a Web site that invites
golf lovers throughout Western New York and from across the globe to learn
about and talk golf.

So, as this new year dawns, I´m turning to this great golf community for
some help.

Every January I write a list of things I´d like to improve upon or take on
over the next 12 months. I think I´m going on my third consecutive year of
writing, "Get better at golf," on the sheet of paper.

It´s a resolution and a challenge. Over time, my game has changed. I´m
stronger than when I started playing. I´m smarter and a bit more experienced
as a player. But, I´ve never really mad that jump from an average player to
a "which part of the green should I hit it to kind of guy."

I´ll be honest; everything in my game needs work. I tend to slice the ball
from time to time and I don´t hit my driver as far as I´d like. My putting
is streaky at best. My iron play is the strongest part of my game...but it
could use work.

I´d like a few of those things to change this year. I figure you guys can
help me. Every week the columnists on this site write about their thoughts
and opinions revolving around golf. Rarely do we get feedback.

But, the readers of this Web site are some of the best golfers in the area.
Let´s share tips. Let´s talk putting grips. What do you do to hit it
straight?

Your thoughts, opinions and advice are always welcome at
Christopher.whitcomb@gmail.com. I hope to hear from many of you.

Another year, a new decade...same old ugly swing. Dear community... help me.


Column # 111:  Happy Holidays, Buffalo!


The holidays are upon us and hopefully all BuffaloGolfer.com readers are
filled with cheer.

If you´re a golf nut, you may not live the holiday months. Even if the area
golf courses didn´t close, the snow would sure make it hard to find your
ball. And, what´s worse than receiving a new club as a gift and not being
able to use it for three months.

Still, Buffalo is a great place to live during the holidays. I think our
crew at BuffaloGolfer.com often focuses too much on the latter half of our
name, and we forget to talk about our great city.

So, okay, you can´t golf this holiday. Big deal, here´s a bunch of ways to
get out and enjoy Buffalo.

~ Winter weather ain´t all that bad you know. People travel from far and
wide to enjoy this region´s skiing offerings. The winter sports aren´t
really something anyone should bash until they´ve tried them. Strap on skis
or snowboards and head to Holiday Valley or Kissing Bridge. Or, grab a sled
and head for your favorite hill.

~ The holidays often tout "cups of cheer," so get out there and have some.
I´m a city guy and love nothing more than hitting an area bar for a good
beer and a Sabres game during the winter. My favorite spots are Gordon´s on
Delaware (mug night on Mondays), Pearl Street and Thirsty Buffalo.

~ With or clubs towed away, maybe it´s time to embrace our inner-love of
arts. Buffalo has vibrant museums focusing on art, science, history and
music. Would it kill anyone to take a date to the Buffalo Philharmonic or
Albright-Knox art gallery? I think not.

~ You might not "rather be driving a Titleist" if you saw all the holiday
lights that are currently brightening up Buffalo. Take a drive through some
of the area neighborhoods and enjoy the ride.

There are millions of reasons to love Buffalo around the holidays, and I
welcome you to send me yours at Christopher.whitcomb@gmail.com. I just
wanted to remind everyone, golf fan or not, how we live in a great city.

I love Buffalo. I love having a brew at Gordon´s, playing football for
M.I.L.E. Sports, listening to WGR and WYRK, running in Delaware Park,
debating about who has the best wings in the city (again, e-mail me with
your thoughts) and just being a Buffalonian.

I wasn´t born in Buffalo and I grew up in Salamanca. But since moving here,
Buffalo has given me a lot. And, I´m grateful.

Happy Holidays Buffalo.



Column # 110:  Tiger Woods Redux


Walking through Chicago´s O´Hare Airport this week during a business trip I
saw an Accenture advertisement featuring Tiger Woods.

In the ad, Woods is staring down at a ball sitting precariously on the rocks
near a water hazard. Tiger does not look troubled by the ball´s position. He
looks focused.

The line reads: "It´s what you do next that counts."

I don´t imagine the ad was on display by accident. I´m sure it was created
at an earlier date, before the car accident and mistresses. But, it works so
perfectly for Woods right now. Seeing the ad seemed right.

It isn´t entirely true though. Often, the whole picture counts. Tiger can be
a saint for the rest of his life; it doesn´t necessarily save his marriage.
It doesn´t erase the hurt that people in his family undoubtedly feel. It
won´t make everybody forget what happened.

And that´s something Tiger will have to live with. He´s made mistakes. The
kind of mistakes that cost you a squeaky-clean image, reputation and maybe a
wife. He´s not a monster, menace or even a bad guy, but he´s now who we
thought he was. He´s essentially, "hit the ball near the water," if you
stick with the theme of the ad.

And yet, he´s 33. There have been men who can´t conquer their personal
failings well into their 40s and 50s that we come to view as great people,
ambassadors of good will. Woods´ life is not over. His image is tarnished,
but his fame is very, very real. Despite what the media may be suggesting,
Woods will still have a great deal of influence once the storm passes.

He owes us nothing, and we must not forget that. He never did and he never
will. But, maybe, just maybe, "what he does next" will count in great,
wonderful ways simply because he wants it to. I´m not suggesting he fire his
caddy, quit golf and spend every day working at the soup kitchen. He´s a
golfer, a great golfer, and it would be a damn shame if we never see his
awesome skill again.

All I´m saying is that maybe, rather than shut everyone out even more, Woods
will embrace his stardom and influence. Maybe he´ll man up to the mistakes
he´s made and make the rest of his life count in new ways.

I remember watching Woods as a collegiate golfer. I remember when he hugged
his father after the Masters win. I don´t believe Woods is ill-intentioned.
More likely, he´s just a guy who became even more famous than he could
understand. Nobody told him no, ever. He had ultimate power...and sometimes
that isn´t a good thing.

So, fine. What´s done is done. Here´s to whatever makes the Woods family
happy. It´s time to move on though. It´s time for Woods to do whatever he
"does next" and to see if "it counts." Woods has always said second-place is
no place. Good, now make the personal life match the golf talent...do what
you´ve always done...never settle for less than your best.

 

 


 

Column # 109:  Two-Week Take On Tiger
 

It’s been just two weeks since Tiger Woods backed out of his driveway, drove into a tree and tossed his life into personal chaos. It feels like it’s been longer.

 

When fans read about Woods’ accident they’re thoughts went like this:

 

  1. Is he okay?

  2. Had he been drinking?

  3. Doesn’t this whole thing seem odd?

 

Thankfully, his health is good. But, his personal image has been tattered. A slew of women from across the country have emerged as alleged romantic partners of Woods’ over the past few years. Via his Web site, Woods has acknowledged his “infidelity” and “transgressions.” Other sites have posted voicemails, text messages and rumors that all suggest there is a great deal of truth behind the women’s claims. Several sponsors have dropped Woods from their marketing approach.

 

What pieces are true, which pieces are false? It’s not ours to determine. I doubt Woods will ever go on Oprah or pen a book that tells all. The only thing we know is that Woods wasn’t the guy we all thought he was. That doesn’t make him worse, necessarily. But, it makes him different.

 

I’ll be honest, I bought the Woods’ image. I thought Woods was the picture of excellence and focus. I thought he was the kind of guy who cared only about being the best golfer ever to live. I thought if he wasn’t playing, he was on the first plane back to his family. I had no reason to believe this, Woods never stepped up and told me about it. I guess I, like several million fans, just wanted to believe it. So I did.

 

In truth, Woods has done me no wrong. He’s filled my golf watching with joy. I remember watching him as an amateur. I remember his first Masters win, and his second, and his third… Woods has been better at golf over the past 12 years than I’ll ever be at any thing. I had the good fortune of shaking his hand after he won the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club. Even with the events of the past two weeks, I want him to shatter Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. I want to say I watched the greatest golfer ever. I’ll root for him whenever he returns to tour because he’s wanted to be the best golfer on Earth way before the fame, fortune and excess arrived. He hasn’t cheated the sport. He’s worked hard, and he deserves the wins he gets.

 

His personal life? It’s not mine or any gossip magazine’s to judge. The damage he may have done to his family is something he has to live with. His reported behavior isn’t anything I’d condone, but I’m not going to suggest I know what he and his wife value. I’m not going to pass moral judgment until the full story is laid on the table, if it ever will be.

 

And still, I’m saddened. I’m sad because no matter what truly happened with Woods, people are no doubt hurt now. I’m sad because I wish none of this had ever happened. I wish Woods had no real skeletons to hide. I wish I’d never heard of Jamie Grubbs or Tool Academy. I wish Woods was who I believed him to be.

 

In the end, I hope he, his wife and children all find happiness…be it together or apart. I hope Woods gets back on the golf course soon and wins more majors than we ever imagined. I hope he does as much good off the golf course as he possibly can. I’ll never wish ill things upon him.

 

This will pass and find an appropriate resolution. Woods will play golf again, and hopefully wins many more majors. Fans will still cheer him and be amazed by his talent.

 

But in some ways, it won’t ever really feel the same. It’s going to feel different. Not necessarily worse or bad, just different. I guess that’s what makes me sad. Regardless of what Woods did or didn’t do, it’s going to be different, and I was head over heels in love with the way it was.



Column # 108:  Quick Thoughts


It has been a busy month for The Mouth that Roars.

I´ve changed jobs, changed phones and changed commutes recently. I spent the
last three years of my life employed downtown and now work in Grand Island.

It´s all really not big news to you, but it helps explain why I´ve been
somewhat out of touch. It´s been a while since I last posted and let´s be
honest, a lot has happened in the world of golf.

I have two separate columns, one about Tiger Woods and one about this great
city of Buffalo, cooking in my brain. But, I´ll need more time to get to
those. So, instead, I thought I´d touch base with some quick hits on what´s
been going on in golf.

*Feel Good Story*

Many golf fans may be reading the tabloids every day, but I loved nothing
more than seeing ESPN.com report that Seve Ballesteros is among 32 former
British Open champions who have been invited to play four holes at the Old
Course at St. Andrews the day before next year´s 150th anniversary
tournament. As many of you know, Ballesteros has had a near-fatal battle
with a brain tumor. The reports are that he´ll be able to play next year and
that would be an incredible thing to see. The winner of the four-hole event
will be able to donate the winnings to a charity of his choice. Here´s
hoping whoever wins turns to Seve, hands him the check and says...give it to
the guys who helped you.

*We love Lee*

Lee Westwood received the European Tour´s golfer of the year for 2009 last
week. It´s the third time he´s won the award, but the last one came in 2000.
Call it a slump or a drought, but Westwood struggled to win for the early
part of this decade. His resurgence has been fun to watch and is great for
the tour.

*Say it ain´t so.*

Nothing is guaranteed in the game of golf and it broke my heart to see David
Duval not pass through Q-School. He won´t have his PGA Tour card next year.
I hope tournament directors remember how great this guy once was (and how he
almost won last year´s U.S. Open) and let him in on some exemptions.

*Hey, didn´t there used to be more of you.*

John Daly has dropped more than 100 pounds this year and claims to have a
new lease on life and golf. Good for him. I´ve been critical of Daly and the
way he lived in the past. I´m always for somebody trying to reign in their
health and wellness. Maybe he´ll win another PGA event, maybe he won´t. But
what he´s doing now for himself is more important.

*Keep in the loop.*

I haven´t written much the past month, but I´ve been Tweeting via
BuffaloGolfer.com´s Twitter account. If you´re not following us, you should
be. http://twitter.com/buffalogolfer

 

 

Column # 107:  A New Kind Of Golf Season

 

It might be time for us to imagine a new kind of golf season.

Thousands of fans in China came out to watch Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson,
Ernie Els and several other golfing greats during last week´s HSBC Champions
event. This Monday, thousands of Australians and news helicopters followed
Woods´ every move as he worked his way around Kingston Heath golf course.
He´ll play in an event at the course this week.

Golf has always been a global sport. Its best players hail from the United
States, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia. But, things
have changed in the past few years.

I´m not talking about Y.E. Yang beating Woods at this year´s PGA
Championship. The man was bound to let a major championship lead slip away
one day. It´s more about how more and more of the best U.S. players seem
willing to play across seas. Woods has played in Dubai, China and Australia.
This wasn´t the first time Mickelson played across seas either.

Still, the most respected golf league, the PGA, remains anchored in the
United States. Three of the four majors take place in the U.S. The entire
FedEx Cup does as well.

The PGA is American based, and it will fight to keep it in its current
state. But, what happens if players start recognizing events in other
countries as more prestigious than our major championships? What if the pots
keep growing for international events?

At some point, we may all need to acknowledge a world league. Where the best
events happen on several continents and the best players only visit America
once a month.

That was always the fear with Woods. That he´d grow the game so big, we´d
lose control. It may now be happening, and it´s definitely great for the
sport. But, it´s worth noting the impact it will have on American golf fans.

We think of the U.S. Open, Masters and PGA Championship as the premiere
global event. It´ll be that way for a while. But, we might now be seeing the
shift, where the world´s best players don´t have to agree with our
assessment.

 

 

 

Column # 106:  A Decade Without Payne

 

The world has been missing Payne Stewart for 10 years.

Somehow, it´s true. Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of that fateful day
when Stewart boarded a plane and said goodbye to everyone he loved. It was
tragic and bizarre. It was wholly sad.

Time flies by. We all say it and know it. But, every once in a while, you
look back and a small window of time seems like an eternity. Honestly. It
feels longer than a decade since Stewart was alive. It seems like it was
scores ago when Stewart won the U.S. Open and grabbed Phil Mickelson´s face.
It feels like forever since we watched those knickers dance up and down the
fairways.

But it wasn´t. It was 10 years ago. If it had never happened, Stewart would
be 52 years old and still playing. He´d no doubt have been a favorite to be
a Ryder Cup captain. He´d be coaching younger players. He´d be loving his
family. He´d be living.

And, he´d no doubt be doing it all with flair. The man wore knickers. The
man played with guts and passion. He was anything but ordinary. And, for
that, we loved him.

It´s been said that in time, all things make sense. But, Stewart´s death
still leaves us searching for answers.

It´s been 10 years since Payne Stewart died. All we´ve really figured out is
how much we miss him.

 

Column # 105:  Beginning of something new for USA team golf?

 

Whoever snapped this photo

http://www.golf.com/golf/gallery/article/0,28242,1929694-1,00.html

of the American golf squad at the President´s Cup Sunday took one pretty picture.

It´s hard not to like what you see when you look at American golf right now.
Yes, there´s Tiger Woods. But how about the supporting cast? Wasn´t it great
to see Phil Mickelson coaching young players and kicking the tar out of the
golf course at the same time? Isn´t it wonderful to have such an influx of
young talent - Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Lucas Glover? It must be sweet to
know that both the President´s Cup and the Ryder Cup are currently in the
U.S. team´s possession.

Things haven´t always been so sweet for U.S. golf. The group lost five of
the last six Ryder Cup´s before winning in 2008. There were times when we
wondered when the next generation of stars were going to emerge. We may have
gotten our answer this weekend.

Look at how these players performed. Woods and Mickelson went undefeated for
the week. Kim picked up wins when paired with Mickelson and Furyk and also
on his own. Mahan stared down Camillo Villegas yesterday. Sean O´Hair rocked
Ernie Els to the tune of 6 and 4. Everyone kept hitting big shot after big
shot.

To be fair, this wasn´t the Ryder Cup, which has given the U.S. greater
troubles as of late. But, it was international competition. It was evidence
that the Americans can come together and play as a great team. It was
encouraging.

It will get harder. The last two team events have been held on U.S. soil.
Next year the Ryder Cup is in South Wales. In 2010 the golfing world will
descend on Australia for the 2010 President´s Cup.

Still, scroll back to the top of this column and look at that photo again.
That´s a group of guys who have both big team golf trophies in their
possession. And, for the first time in a while, they look like they intend
to keep them.

 

 



Column # 104:  Chris Whitcomb as The Mouth That Roars hits # 100

 

Nobody´s ever happy when they start thinking about the number 100 on the
golf course. It´s a sign that things went way bad; That triple bogeys
attacked your score card with indelible ink; That you took the scenic way
around the golf course.

All that aside, I´m finally happy to hit 100 when it comes to golf.
Incredibly, it´s been four years and change since I penned my first article
for BuffaloGolfer.com http://buff-golf.com/mouth.htm#may05. (Note: The first
three at the bottom of the page aren´t mine.) This one makes 100.

When I first contacted the site´s director, I was given a chance, a pen name
and a challenge to roar. I don´t know if I´ve met every expectation, but
I´ve fully enjoyed trying. These columns have taken me through my time
working at Elkdale Country Club to working for the PGA and now living and
working full-time in Buffalo. They remind me of where I´ve been.

I don´t have a favorite column. I don´t care which one got the most Web
hits. I just know none of them would have been possible without some help
along the way. So here´s to the people, places, and moments that have made
my golfing life so wonderful.

·        Brian Pavlock was one of the best young golfers in Western New
York during his high school and college years. I played with him many times.
During one of our first rounds together, he asked me where I thought he
should hit the ball. I said, "Put it on the green." He looked at me with a
quizzical look and said, "Of course. I mean what part of the green should I
hit it too." Up until then, I didn´t know people had that kind of precision.
He´s still the best golfer I ever played 18 holes with.

·        With all due respect to Y.E. Yang, *Bob May* battled a tougher
Tiger at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky. I´ll
never forget the mettle he showed in taking Woods to three extra playoff
holes. It was an inspiring and unforgettable performance, even in defeat.

·        The guys who hit the golf balls get most the credit, but people
like Brett Sterba and Michael Belot deserve an equal share. As tournament
directors for the PGA of America, Sterba and Belot work countless hours,
dirty their hands and bust their tails so fans can enjoy great golf. I
worked for them at Medinah Country Club in 2006. They were great bosses.
They were great friends.

·            He´s come up short oh-so-many times, but nobody´s more fun to
watch on the professional level than Phil Mickelson. He seems like a guy
with normal problems and pains. He´s human, and for that we love him. When
he won his first major at The Masters, everyone celebrated. It was that
special.

·         Elkdale Country Club has always been and will always be my golfing
North Star. I worked and played there for six years while growing up. No
summer is complete without a couple of rounds at Elkdale. I´ve played it
hundreds of times. I´ll hopefully play it hundreds more. But, I´ll never
conquer it.

·         Guy Boros is the only professional golfer who ever played a hole
with me. He eagled a par-5 at Peek N´ Peak´s upper course. He was on his
cell phone the entire time. It was something to see.

·         If he never does anything else, at least Sergio Garcia closed his
eyes and hit that shot off the tree. More people should run down the fairway
in joy.

·         Dad put my first clubs in my hands. He signed me up for the golf
team against my will. He helped me get a job at the local golf course. Thank
you.

·         Mom let us watch golf on TV during dinner when it was a big time
tourney. She doesn´t always understand the game´s appeal, but she
understands we do. Thank you.

·         Andy Mac, Schultz and Johnny C - The best foursome a guy could ask
fore. I´ve got a million memories of being on the golf course with these
guys. And, I don´t think any of them involve great golf shots. Sadly, it´s
been a couple years since we all played together. Next summer, that changes.

·         Thanks to Ian Poulter for having guts, and bitching pants. Golf
needs more characters like you.

·         My high school golf coach was Phil Zelazny. He was a heck of a
stick and a kind man. Not many of those who played on our team amounted to
great golfers, but "as far as that goes," it was one of the best experiences
of my life.

·         8-irons - Somehow, this club has battled my awful swing, poor
posture and lack of hip turn to give me two holes-in-one...on the same hole.
Honestly, I have no idea how the club did it. Thank you 8-iron.

·         Guys like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and other legends are
mostly just stories for me. I never watched them play. I never grasped their
greatness. Tom Watson helped bring them to life for me this year. With
complete respect for Stewart Cink, it would have been nice to see Watson´s
putt on 18 fall at the British Open.

·         Mo Golf, Scrambler, Travelin Duff - Thanks for giving me a place
to talk golf. We should see each other more often.

·         Here´s to Casey Martin. For being tough as nails and more talented
than most guys with two good legs.

·         There´s nothing greater than the U.S. Open. Anyone can qualify if
they´ve got game. It´s not reserved for the golfing elite. It´s the
toughest, most grueling and wonderful golf tournament in the world.

·         Thank you Tiger Woods for being the biggest golf story of my life.
You play against history. You never relent. You do the impossible and then
you top it.

·         Here´s to that indescribable feeling that makes golf so special.
It´s the feeling that brings us back after our worst round. And it´s the
simple joy that comes from hitting a great golf shot. I can´t put it into
words, but I´ll keep trying, hopefully for hundreds of columns more.

 

 

 

Column # 103:  The Wrong Idea At The Wrong Time

 

Last week, Tiger Woods probably didn´t even have a clue that Malcolm James
existed. This week, he might know who James is, but I doubt he cares one
iota.

James announced earlier this week that he is building a private golf resort
in Scotland that only billionaires will be able to access. In his own words,
James declared that "Woods will be welcome as a guest." But that even the
great Tiger´s bank account isn´t big enough to afford the club.

Early plans call for James´ Highland Perthshire Resort to feature two golf
courses, a boutique hotel and a series of private homes. James is sure that
he´ll only allow billionaires to be members.

Here´s the thing, why would Tiger Woods care?

Woods is on his way to becoming the greatest golfer ever to breathe. The guy
can play Augusta National anytime he chooses. Pebble Beach is on speed dial.
St. Andrews welcomes him with opening arms. Tiger can play essentially any
course on the planet. And, if he did, he´d probably play a thousand better
than any of the two James is going to build. Woods is a golfing legend.
James is a golfing nobody.

It´s not really about whether Tiger should care or not though. This story is
all about how clueless James is proving himself to be.  The game of golf is
a good one, but it has its problems. One of the biggest being accessibility.
 Not every person born has enough money or means to play the game. It´s not
like basketball; you need more than a ball and a chain-link net down the
street.

That´s why ambassadors of the game are working to get more people involved.
Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus works hand in hand with the First Tee of
America. Woods himself offers discounted tickets to his annual tournament
for children. He also works religiously through his foundation to help
children achieve their dreams, whether they´re related to golf or not. Even
the good folks at www.BuffaloGolfer.com <http://www.buffalogolfer.com/> try
to donate time and clubs to local organizations and charities.

Then there´s guys like James. He´d rather build two golf courses where
billionaire hacks can lose a dozen Titleists each round then do something to
move the game forward. He´d rather shove his wealth and arrogance down our
throats than offer a helping hand. He´s a paragon of what´s wrong with the
elitists who think golf is a game for only the privileged.

It´s too bad really. A guy with James´ wealth could have really knocked down
barriers and made a difference. He could have told turned Tiger down because
he was too busy handing out free tee times to disadvantaged youth. In short,
the guy could have stopped counting his money and made a difference, but he
misread this one by a mile.

 

 

Column # 102:  Giving Back On The PGA Tour

 

Last week´s Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge featuring Tiger Woods, Mike
Weir, Notah Begay and Camillo Villegas was about much more than birdies and
approach shots. The four golf greats came together to focus on their love of
philanthropy and helping others across the globe.

At the event´s focus was Begay´s foundation that works to promote the
health, wellness and leadership development of Native American youth. The
foundation works with Tribal Nations to build the capacity to design, manage
and sustain effective wellness, sports and youth development programs. The
Challenge helped bring in $750,000 for the cause.

However, each of the players (Weir, Woods and Villegas) has their own
charitable efforts to promote. All hailing from different backgrounds, each
golfer has certain areas of society they work to strengthen.

For Weir, his passion is helping children. His foundation is dedicated to
advancing the physical, emotional and educational welfare of children. Weir
is currently focused on raising $10 million for children´s health through
the Mike Weir Miracle Golf Drive. For more information, read about it at
www.mikeweirmiraclegolfdrive.ca Weir also owns his own winery and all
proceeds from the sale of his wine go to his foundation.

Villegas is focusing his efforts on brining more golf attention to his home
country of Colombia. His popularity already caused Colombian TV to pick up
30 PGA Tour broadcasts each year since 2006. Villegas´ success helps youth
throughout Colombia learn more about golf, find interest in the sport and
dream of following in their hero´s footsteps.

Finally, Tiger´s all about opening doors for children. His Tiger Woods
Foundation works to provide critical developmental programs for young
students around the country. He has built the Tiger Woods Learning Center
where children can explore their interests and career aspirations in an
inspiring and supportive environment. Tiger and his foundation are laying
the groundwork for these children´s success in the future. On his
foundation´s Web site, it reads that Tiger is happy to say, "This is just
the beginning."

 

It´s funny, really. Every week these guys bring different swings and play
in different groups and end up at different places on the leader board. Yet,
thanks to Begay, they all get to come together every once in a while and
realize their hearts are in the same great place.

 

Column # 101:  Tiger Gives Back


Before the 2nd Annual Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge began, a reporter
asked Tiger Woods a simple question.
  
"Even though this is a charity event, do you still think the competitive
juices will get flowing?"

Woods flashed his million-dollar smile and laughed sternly, "Absolutely."
  
It was an expected response from the world´s No. 1 golfer but it came in a
different setting. Woods doesn´t play many charitable skins game for fun.
The man plays major championships and competes with history. The man stares
down legends and doesn´t blink.

Yet, here he was, visiting Verona, N.Y. (about 25 minutes east of Syracuse)
and playing with Begay, Mike Weir and Camillo Villegas. The event was
designed by Begay to raise money and awareness for developing sustainable
and innovative sports and wellness programs to support disadvantaged
native-American youth. Begay, proud of his native-American heritage, roomed
with Woods during college at Stanford and the two remain close friends.
  
It was that friendship that brought Woods out to support the cause. It was
almost surreal watching Woods play in Syracuse. This was new territory for
great golf. Woods´ presence did more than raise awareness for Begay´s
charity. It promoted the course, the region and the hundreds of great golf
courses that litter New York State. It reminded us all that you don´t have
to visit places like Augusta National, Pebble Beach or Sawgrass to walk
famous fairways.

Fortunately, Woods and Co. didn´t disappoint. Villegas and Woods stole the
show and after a birdie on the 14th hole, Villegas had Woods down $200,000
to $80,000. Essentially, he had his foot on the Tiger´s throat.
     
Then Woods did what Woods does. He ran off three straight birdies on 15,
16 and 17 to amass $150,000 in skins and take a lead into the final hole.
Fittingly, Begay won the 18th hole in front of his home fans. He happily
awarded Woods the trophy for an event well-played.

It was a great day for New York State golf made even better when Woods
suggested he would be back next year to defend his title. It made you proud
to be one of the hundreds of thousands of golfers who call this state´s golf
courses home; Kudos to Begay for developing the event and fighting for his
cause.

It was exactly what anyone could have hoped it would be when they learned
Woods would be taking part in this year´s event. It was exciting. Heck, it
was the kind of day that got the competitive juices flowing.

                          

Column # 100:  2009 Major Championships Review:  Not What We Expected

 

Forgive Y.E. Yang, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Angel Cabrera if they
don´t forfeit their major championships to appease those in need of more
drama.

Everywhere you go you hear people talk about the year that could have been.
They lament over how close other players were to winning major titles. They
wish everything had played out differently.

At the Masters, people remember how Kenny Perry had a chance to become the
oldest major champion at age 46. He missed a putt for destiny on the
18thgreen and then had to take on Cabrera and Chad Campbell in a
playoff. In the end, Cabrera donned the green jacket.

The U.S. Open tugged at our hearts. Phil Mickelson, playing just weeks after
his wife´s surgery to combat breast cancer, had himself tied for the lead
with only a few holes to play. America wanted Mickelson to acquire his first
national championship so badly. It didn´t happen. Instead, ho-hum Lucas
Glover survived Bethpage Black.

We traveled back in time at the British Open and watched Tom Watson
(59-year-old Tom Watson) lead the way at Turnberry. He too had a putt with
destiny on 18 and left in short. Stewart Cink took no prisoners in his
three-hold playoff and proudly claimed the Claret Jug.

And, last week, we watched the impossible happen. Tiger Woods relinquished a
four-stroke lead with 36-holes to play to Y.E. Yang. That just doesn´t
happen. Tiger loses leads about as often as gravity takes a day off. Still,
somehow, it was Yang holding the trophy as dusk hit Minnesota Sunday.

And, since all this happened, golf fans feel robbed. They shouldn´t. Win or
lose, the Watson, Woods, Mickelson and Perry stories still enriched our
golf-watching pleasure. Sundays were equally dramatic, even in their defeat.

And for the quartet of winners, how can you cheapen their victories? These
are golfers who play every day. Spend hours in sand traps; Weekends working
solely on five-foot putts. They dream, work and ache for the opportunity to
win a major championship. These were career years for some of them. They
were victories well deserved.

Golf didn´t get what it wanted this year. But it got what four men went out
and earned.

And for Cink, Yang, Glover and Cabrera. It couldn´t be any sweeter.

 

 

 

Column # 99:  PGA Championship Memories

 

The PGA Championship is always a special week for me.

It´s not just the last major of the year; it´s a link to some of my fondest
memories. Just a few years back, I used to spend my summers working for the
PGA of America´s operations crew for the PGA Championship. I spent three
months at both Baltusrol Golf Club (2005) and Medinah Country Club (2006).
They were incredible experiences. Yet, for me, my love affair with the PGA
Championship began even earlier.

It was the summer of 2003 when I first watched professional golfers live. My
father and I traveled to Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. for one of
the practice round sessions. We arrived early and the first player we saw
was Tiger Woods. Throughout the rest of the day, we´d follow such players as
Sergio Garcia, David Duval, Greg Norman and a slew of others.

It was an incredible day that made me see the sport in a brand new light.
The players´ shots traveled ridiculously far. The sounds their clubs made
were different. Every swing was pure. They didn´t just aim for the green;
they aimed for the right spot on the green. The game I was watching the pros
play was far different from the game I played at my home course.

The love affair grew from there. As I mentioned, I spent two summers doing
manual labor for the PGA. I stocked hospitality tents, drove heavy
machinery, painted, laid bike fence, planted flowers, drove stakes, roped
the course and anything else I was asked to do. There are thousands of
memories I cherish from those summers. To list a few would do injustice to
the others. In short, those summers introduced me to some of the greatest
people I´ll ever meet - and I´m not talking about Tiger and Sergio. No, the
other members of my crew made those summers incredible.

So, I´ll watch the PGA Championship this week with a smile on my face. Maybe
Tiger will make it three wins in a row. Maybe Lucas Glover will win again.
The players will be great. The shots will be amazing. But all I´ll see is
those great memories. The courses change. The players come and go.

But my memories of the PGA Championship remain.

 

 

 

Column # 98:  The Latest (Not The Greatest) Tiger Slam

 

Tiger Woods has accomplished a new kind of Tiger-slam this year by winning
each tournament held two weeks before a major championship.

It´s not as impressive as winning The Masters, British Open, U.S. Open and
PGA Championship in the same year, but it´s fair to say Woods probably
couldn´t have accomplished this if he tried. His aim is always the majors,
and along the way, he happens to win other events.

But, this year, Woods has won four times on tour. They include victories at
The Arnold Palmer Invitational (two weeks before The Masters), The Memorial
Tournament, (two weeks before the U.S. Open) the AT&T National (two weeks
before the British) and now the Buick Open just two weeks before the PGA
Championship.

Up until the win at the Buick, Woods was still winning impressive events. He
won Arnold Palmer´s, Jack Nicklaus´ and his own tournaments. That´s not bad.
 

For Woods though, it´s never good enough. And his year will be deemed an
ultimate failure if he doesn´t win the PGA Championship at Hazeltine
National Golf Club in Minnesota next week. Woods has his sights set on
winning majors and eclipsing Jack Nicklaus´ record 18 victories. Amazingly,
shooting 20-under or so at the Buick Open doesn´t event faze him.

But what´s different this time from any of the other three majors this year?
During each of Woods´ previous victories he showed the incredible shot
making that has made him legendary. Then, amazingly, two weeks later he´d
come to play with a wayward driver and a struggling putter.

There is one difference this time. Woods has elected to play the week
between. This week he´ll tee it up at the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.
Maybe playing and keeping the good vibes going will better prepare him for a
major championship. But, maybe not.

When Woods returned to competitive golf this spring after sitting out most
of last year with a knee injury, he claimed the Grand Slam was never out of
reach. That´s just how Woods´ thinks. There´s never a plan B in his arsenal.
It´s always win-or-go-home for Tiger.

But, now, he´s completed a slam he didn´t really want. And, he´s down to his
last shot to win a major in 2009. Perhaps it will be different this time.
With the season in its final weeks, maybe we should expect Tiger to win. It
wouldn´t be the first time he did his best work on the closing stretch.

 

 

Column # 97:  Mouse and Elf Come To Blows At British Open

 

Golf fans don´t know how to feel right now. It´s as if they just watched Mickey Mouse outlast Santa Claus in a smiling contest. How can you be sohappy for one person while literally feeling pain for the other.

This is what happens when two good guys go at it. This is what happened when Stewart Cink beat Tom Watson at last weekend´s British Open.

Watson had the sport of golf on a string for four days as he walked the fairways of Turnberry, stirring images from decades before. Five-under afterday one, Watson could be credited with a great round. Three days later, as
he played in the final group (and played brilliantly), Watson had a sixth Claret Jug in his sights.

There are no words to describe what Watson accomplished. He is no longer considered a threat in the golf world. Watson is an incredible talent from the past. His name and his records are to be chased, not brought back to life. It must have been magical for those who watched Watson win in the 70s and 80s to enjoy this weekend. In the end, Watson missed a putt on 18 and
did not win. But, he captured hearts and made people realize - there is no such thing as too old.

And so we ache for him. He was so close to doing the most impressive thing we´d ever seen in major golf championships. He was so close to becoming the oldest major champion by more than a decade. So close to earning his ninth
major and sixth British Open. So close.

But, somehow, through our sadness for Watson we can´t feel but incredible joy for Cink. Watson´s victory would have been more unbelievable, but no more meaningful. Cink has played in 50 majors. He plays nearly every week on
tour. He was considered good, but not major-championship good. This win solidifies him and his career. It validates hours of work and years of near-misses.

There was no predicting what would happen at Turnberry last week. Nobody thought Tiger Woods would miss the cut. Nobody thought Watson would be relevant after the front 9. Odds makers doubted Cink would prove his major
championship grit this week.

And that´s the wicked truth about golf. Sometimes it unfolds in a way none of us can predict. Sometimes it lets an old hero steal the show for four days. And, once in a while, it takes it all away in the form of a 10-foot
putt on 18. Then again, sometimes it lets a man win something he dreamed off as a boy.

Cink and Watson are both winners this week. Rarely do fans remember the competitor who finishes second. I feel this time they will. Cink and Watson will be linked for years. They will be cherished.

And, golf fans, well we´re still sorting it all out. We love this game, but sometimes it leaves us feeling a peculiar way.
Caught in between sadness and happiness, we can only admit that golf has once again mystified us.

And for that, we should be all feel lucky.

 

Column # 96:  British Open Tweetness

 

That would be Tweet.*

If you´re looking to learn about golf from the game´s greatest in
140-character-or-less messages, you need to get yourself a Twitter account.

The newest (and coolest) way to connect with the greatest duffs is to follow
them on Twitter, a social media network that allows people to share news,
information, pictures and video in short-quick hitting 140-character
messages. It´s catching on around the world and several golfers are taking
part.

Stuart Appleby has begun "Tweeting" to people about the proper way to swing
a golf club. He´s building video content to show what does and doesn´t
create a great swing. He´ll also weigh in on the food at a tournament and
the thickness of the British Open rough. Follow him
http://twitter.com/StuartAppleby.


Natalie Gulbis is a frequent "Tweeter" who loves to post her thoughts and
several photos of herself (which won´t upset the male readers). Her recent
posts have included pictures of her at the ESPY´s with Michael Phelps, to
photos of her recent Lexus promotion. She provides insight on golf and great
photos. Join her conversation http://twitter.com/natalie_gulbis.

There are others doing it too. Chris Dimarco is on Twitter. So is Stewart
Cink. Morgan Pressell loves to Tweet during practice rounds. Everywhere
these golfers are going - they´re Tweeting about it.

However, there´s nobody Tweeting as much as Ian Poulter. He´s willing to
Tweet about anything. His clubs, his clothes, his swing, you name it. Every
week he gives away prizes to his loyal Twitter followers. Thursday morning,
he Tweeted a picture of the outfit he´d be wearing in Round one of the
British Open. You´ve got to check it out at http://twitpic.com/aix78.

Several people are quick to shun Twitter as a pointless stream of messages.
But there are some really interesting things happening at the site. Golfers
post photos of courses. They post photos of behind-the-scenes action. Fans
looking for an insider´s perspective can find it on Twitter.

And, as Ian Poulter continues to lead the way in this new social world -
expect others to follow. Ian´s not just helping his fans, he´s building his
brand. He´s connecting with millions of fans in ways that others aren´t.
Poulter has occasionally used Twitter during actual rounds on tour. Don´t be
surprised to see him Tweet something this week like...

*Dang! Should have hit the 5-iron. Now I´m in the Bunker.*

* *
Then again, if he and his million Twitter followers have their wish. He´ll
be sending something like this late Sunday.

*Thanks Lads. You can call me Ian James Poulter, British Open Champion now.*

It reads well. Plus, he´ll have 79 characters to spare.

 

Column # 95:  Hosting Your Own PGA Tour Event

 

 

It´s got to feel good to host your own golf tournament. With all
due respect to major championships, birdies, cuts made and pars saved,
there´s no greater sign that you´ve made it in the golfing community than
when you begin hosting your own golf tournament. Tiger Woods knows what it
feels like this week as he hosts his third-annual AT&T National at
Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD.

            Woods truly entered rare air when he received the opportunity to
host a PGA event. The honor only belongs to a few guys - Byron Nelson had
it. Jack Nicklaus has it. Arnold Palmer might always have it. Tiger´s the
only current player who can call a tournament his own. He gets to invite who
he wants to play. And, that´s got to feel good.

            Odds are they´ll never let me host a PGA event. With a
double-digit handicap and a swing that´s more pukey than pure, I´m not
holding my breath. But, just in case PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem loses his
mind and awards me the Christopher Whitcomb Classic, here´s what I'd do to
make it fun.

   1. *No Out of Bounds* - It´s the stupidest rule in golf. Hit it 90 yards
   left and you´re in. Hit it 92 yards left and you´re out? No. All that
   matters is how many strokes it takes you to get it from the tee to the hole.
   It doesn´t matter where you go in between. Play it where it lies. Water,
   sand, prairie or desert, players always have the option to play their ball.
   They can claim an unplayable lie for a shot penalty.
**
   2. *Anybody can play -  *Local knowledge is invaluable when you play a
   golf course. Talent usually wins. But sometimes, there´s no way to read a
   green but to let it kick your behind a few times. The day before the
   tournament starts, anyone who lives within 60 miles of the course is welcome
   to tee it up and play 18. Low two-scores for the day are invited to play in
   the pro event. We need more out-of-the-blue stories on tour.**
* *
   3. *Shorts - *The ladies are allowed to wear shorts, skirts and skorts
   but the men must wear pants? Will the game be any different if Tiger rocks
   Nike golf shorts? Guys like Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia are running out of
   color combinations. Shorts will give new life to golf fashion.**
* *
   4. *Keep the tickets cheap - *It´s rare if Sunday tickets for major
   championships don´t cost more than $100. How are we going to inspire the
   next generation of golfers if we don´t let them see their idols? I´ll set
   aside 5,000 tickets for juniors and offer them dirt cheap.**
* *
   5. *Finish with 5 - *I won´t consider hosting my tournament at a course
   that doesn´t finish with a par 5. Too often, we let things get decided on
   hole 17. Nothing keeps the tournament alive than a chance at an eagle. My
   finishing hole will offer players the chance to make a big move at the end.

 

 

 

Column 94:  David Duval at the U.S. Open

 

It shouldn´t surprise anyone that David Duval showed up early to this year´s
U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Duval was one of maybe a dozen players who arrived Sunday (a day before the
official practice week began) to play Bethpage and study its beautiful
nuances.

It´s been three years since Duval was on the tee sheet at an American major
championship. Forgive him if he´s eager. It´s been even longer since he was
considered a serious threat to win. In has last U.S. major at the 2006 U.S.
Open at Winged Foot, Duval wound his way into contention on Saturday and the
golfing world was shocked.

Duval´s experienced everything in his golfing career. He´s been called a
prodigy, a nutcase, the world´s number 1 golfer, a disappointment, the
British Open champion and a mystery. The guy once recorded a 59 for 18
holes. Then again, he´s the same guy who has played in just 5 of the last 28
majors.

What´s really mind-boggling is to think about how Duval will be remembered
in the golfing community. When he was on top of his game, he was one of the
most feared golfers ever to live. But, far too many times during his career,
Duval hasn´t had it. The swing´s been off. His head´s been jumbled. Things
just weren´t right.

Now, he´s back on the main stage at Bethpage Black. He seems generally
positive about the opportunity.

"It´s wonderful," Duval said Sunday. "(Bethpage) is a big, hard golf course,
and there´s nothing wrong with that."

Golf analysts and experts have little to no expectations for Duval this
week. He´s a good story. But he´s not a guy you pick to make the cut at the
world´s toughest golf championship, much less contend.

Then again, if there´s one thing we know about Duval it´s that we don´t know
anything. He´s unpredictable. When everything seemed right for Duval, it all
fell apart. Now that it´s seemingly passed him, maybe there´s still time for
him to capture that old fire.

 

 

Column 93:  Amy Mickelson once rendered me speechless.

I was sitting in a golf cart with a coworker watching her husband Phil,
Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy play golf in the first round of the 2006 PGA
Championship at Medinah Country Club in Chicago when Amy approached me with
her friend.

"Can we stand in your golf cart?"

Their hope was that we´d let them stand in the back of the cart so they
could see over the horde of people watching the group play golf. My response
was a simple, "uh huh" and I stood up from my seat. I believe my friend had
a more suave line that conveyed the same thought.

It´s not that we were afraid. It´s just not everyday a famous athlete or
wife asks if they can hang out with you. It´s not everyday you have
bodyguards watching your every move.

I still remember the event because of how kind Amy was. She engaged us in
conversation. Laughed when my friend joked about liking Tiger more than
Phil. She treated us like people and then asked if we´d be at the next
green. We said yes and offered to let them use our cart again. For about
three holes, they´d get to the green and stand in our golf cart to see the
action.

They say everyone who follows golf has a story about the Mickelsons. This is mine.

Now, news has been released that Amy is battling breast cancer and will face
imminent surgery. Cancer of any kind is a horrible disease. It is merciless
and uncaring as to who it affects and how. Phil and Amy now have a challenge
on their hands more daunting than the most testy greenside bunker.

Not surprisingly, Phil has immediately suspended his playing schedule. Yes
he´d love to play at Bethpage next month for the U.S. Open. But it´s nothing
compared to his wife´s health. Mickelson has always put his family first
during his career and this is just another example.

In so many ways, Phil and Amy are recognized as a team. They work together
on charitable efforts. Amy´s always in the gallery at tour events. They
often walk together between holes. They appear to have something special.

And, as a result, they´re cherished by the sport and its fans. There´s
nobody who wasn´t sad upon hearing the news of Amy´s health yesterday. The
Mickelsons are good people. You want good things for them. And, hopefully,
in the next few months, everything goes right for Mr. and Mrs. Lefty.

I´ve always had the sense that Phil and Amy saw themselves as more than just
a famous couple. They know their influence and work extends beyond golf
courses and can affect real change - for individuals and groups alike. Amy
and Phil are the kind of people who want to make a difference. Who realize
they´re in that rare position to truly touch people´s lives everyday.

Even, if it´s simply by asking to stand in a young kid´s golf cart.

 

 

Column 92:  *Quick Hits - News and Notes From The World of Golf*

* *

It was very odd to watch Tiger Woods play in the last group Sunday and not
have a real shot on the back 9. He was an afterthought and he´s never an
afterthought. I hate when people jump on Tiger and claim he´s "slumping"
when he continues to finish in the top 10. However, something´s off with his
game. The tournament was his for the taking Sunday and he faltered.

* *

Congrats go to Henrik Stenson who penned a beautiful round of 66 at The
Players Championship Sunday. Stenson hit every shot where it needed to be.
The broadcasters referred to Stenson´s round as one of the best final rounds
at Sawgrass ever.

* *

Woods´ poor play Sunday coupled with Stenson´s unflappable 66 made for a
boring back 9 Sunday; A far cry from Sergio Garcia and Paul Goydos´ dogfight
a year ago. It´s sad too, as it´s never the same watching the final groups
hit their tee shots on the famous Par 3 17th when there´s nothing at stake.

* *

Shouldn´t there be some repercussion for David Feherty´s comments this
weekend? Regardless of political belief, nobody should have to get blasted
with controversial political commentary while enjoying a golf tournament.
Feherty´s got every right to public speech but he needs to understand the
necessary time and place for some of his comments. If you want to read what
he said head to http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/news/story?id=4156598.

* *

John Daly secured a second-place finish at last week´s Italian Open - his
best finish in four years. Daly, now slimmer, says he´s turning his life and
career around. I´m not sure if this is evidence of it working - but let´s
hope it is for Daly´s sake.

* *

Child prodigy Michelle Wie has committed to play in this year´s Women´s
British Open. I´m excited. I´ve always liked Wie and her game. She´s been
poorly managed and pushed her whole career. Heck, she´s still just 19. I´d
love to see her in contention on Sunday at Royal Lytham.

 

* *

Column 91:  "So Human It Hurts":  John Daly

 

Someone once wrote "John Daly was so human it hurts." The writer was no
doubt trying to point out Daly´s regular-guy flaws and his
heart-on-his-sleeve nature. They pointed to his tendencies to drink, party,
divorce, overeat and smoke as ways in which he wasn´t any better than us.

Somehow, I´ve never understood the argument. "So human it hurts" sounds more
like something befitting of Phil Mickelson - I guy who´s shown up, played
hard and learned life isn´t fair countless times. To me, Daly´s behavior
over the past decade hasn´t been all that normal. It´s been a circus; And,
for Daly and those around him, quite possibly a nightmare.

Make no mistake, over the past few years Daly´s been a paragon of unhealthy
living. Fans cheer him because he´s the kind of guy the might run into at
the bar at Hooters. That´s because he´s always at the bar at Hooters. Three
months ago Daly ballooned to 280 lbs. He chain smokes and eats with no
regard for his health.

Now comes news that Daly has slimmed to 220 lbs. through dieting and some
medical procedures. Fans are talking about how it might enable him to
resurrect his playing career. Step back for a second. Maybe he can resurrect
his life. Daly was on a path that most likely was going to end in a young
death. Maybe he can avoid that now. He´s 43 years old. Sure, he can still
play golf. But, now, maybe he can find some renewed happiness.

Last year, Daly was banned from the tour for six months for brining it into
disrepute. Daly says that incident motivated him to make the change.
Hopefully he can maintain his renewed sense of purpose.

People can say what they want, but part of the reason Daly has so many
followers is they like watching the circus that is his life. Bad behavior is
sometimes good entertainment. If fans really care, they should support his
new approach. Appreciate him for his talents and golf skills. Don´t worry so
much about where he´ll be drinking after the round.

Regardless of whether you like Daly or not, wish him well. He was an
incredible golf talent who picked up two major championships. He has no
apparent ill-will toward others. He was just a guy who got caught up in an
unhealthy lifestyle. Here´s hoping he´s finally found his way out.

 

 

Column 90:  Angel Cabrera and His Pair of Major Championships

 

The man now has two PGA Tour victories - the U.S. Open and The Masters. That ain´t bad.

Then again, the man - Angel Cabrera - doesn´t strike you as your run of the
mill golfer. He doesn´t remind you of a fearless four-iron swashbuckler. He
looks more like a guy you´d meet at the bowling lanes on Tuesday. He looks
more like a ripped jeans and un-tucked T shirt guy. Yet, last Sunday, he
donned a green jacket and it seemed to fit him just fine.

He´s nicknamed El Pato (The duck) because famous Argentinean golfer Eduardo
Romero said he walked like one. It´s not exactly as scary or as intimidating
of a nickname as Tiger. But now, twice, Cabrera has withstood a Sunday Tiger
charge and lived to talk about it. Sure, Woods wasn´t right on the leaders´
heels last Sunday, but would you have wanted him two shots back with five or
six holes to play?

The truth is, even if his looks, clothes and nickname wouldn´t suggest it,
Cabrera is one of the best golfers of the past five years. He´s a bit
unknown in America because he prefers to play international events and at
home in Argentina. Many fans probably skip right over him when they´re
looking for groups to follow. However, how many guys can claim two major
championships in their career? In the past three years? The latter is a
short list that contains just Woods, Cabrera and Padraig Harrington. Good
company.

He began his golf journey as a caddy and never really started playing until
he was 15 years old. Five years later he turned pro.

He got a lot of help from Romero, who lived just blocks away from Cabrera
two decades ago. Romero actually helped fund some of Cabrera´s first few
tournaments. It´s a strong return on investment - Cabrera and Romero are now
the most accomplished golfers from Argentina. They´re names will almost
always be uttered in the same sentence when golfers think about
international talents.

Those who haven´t followed the game religiously over the past decade
probably thing Cabrera came out of nowhere in 2007 to win the U.S. Open at
Oakmont. Not true. In 1999 the man was a putt away from a three-hole playoff
at the British Open. He´s played on President´s Cup and World Cup teams.
It´s not that you never realized, he just never grabbed your attention.

Here´s the thing, what if he´s not done? What if he wins another major or
two? You say the name Angel Cabrera and people don´t think golf hall of
fame, but maybe they should. He´s only 39. There are other majors in his
reach. He´ll have more Sunday strolls.

Regardless, El Pato now has TWO majors. And it seems to suit him just fine.

 

 

Column 89:  15th Night--Tiger Wins 5th Masters

 

It's almost like Tiger Woods is Shakespeare with a golf club.

He scripted this, you know. Last June when the doctors told him he shouldn't play the U.S. Open and he retorted,
"I'm going to play and I'm going to win." That was the beginning. I imagine a few hours later he conceived the
rest of his methodical, cold-hearted script.

Scene 1 - Win U.S. Open on one leg.

Scene 2 - Surgery.

Intermission - Time off.

Scene 3 - Second child.

Scene 4 -Return to golf world.

Scene 5 - Repeat (and I mean repeat) at Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Finale - Win Masters.

That's right folks. Tiger Woods knew he'd win this Masters the second he decided to miss the rest of 2008 and
have surgery. It doesn't matter who else shows up, what clubs they play, what course changes are
made - this thing is already his.

You can read some people who've written about Tiger possibly being human. Maybe this injury will slow him up.
Maybe he'll lose his power. None of it is true.

It took him three tournaments to win after an eight-month layoff. This is his quest and no knee surgery or Sergio is
going to stop him. There are many young guys capable of winning this week. Heck, many tried and true picks as
well. It doesn't matter.

It stinks really. We can see Woods in work and we know how the plot will end. Still, we watch. People say
we're watching because we're amazed at his dominance. It's true to a point. I think we watch because we want
to see him fail. We want to see the human pieces of him. We want to feel like we have something in common.

And, in blood, sweat and tears we do. On the golf course, we don't. Woods is a poet. He is a fortune teller.
He doesn't control the winds and rain. He doesn't need to. He's got shots to combat those things.

It doesn't matter. I'll sit there for hours Saturday and hours Sunday. I'll think of all the ways and shots that could
be coming.   I'll stress about it.  I'll get excited about it. And, in the end, I'll say, "I knew that would happen."

Mark my words. At this time next week, Tiger will have 15 major championships.

It's written in the script.

 

 

 

Column 88:  Tiger Woods Retires From Professional Golf

You don´t watch 90 minutes of a movie just to skip the ending. Nobody drives
90 percent of the way to work, pulls over and walks the rest. And, you´ll
hardly ever see somebody don shirts and slacks without completing the
ensemble with socks and shoes.

So, why, at this incredible point in his career, is Tiger Woods deciding to
hang up his Nike golf shoes and call it quits early. If anything, his win
this past week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational showed he had more than
enough enthralling golf left in him. He won for the first time since his
inspiring victory at the 2008 US Open and his nine-month rehabilitation. He
sent a message to everyone, everywhere, that the Masters could easily be his
in two weeks.

Heck, can you imagine watching this year's Masters Tournament without Tiger?
No Tiger tracking? No Sunday charge? What will Jim Nantz possibly find to discuss
for five hours on Sunday?

It's true golf fans, in a statement posted on the Web, Tiger Woods has
retired. He'll finish his career with 14 majors, four short of Jack
Nicklaus' record 18; five short of immortality. He leaves the sport after a
dizzying 13 years during which his dominance was nearly always on display.

Woods cited no real reason for calling it quits. Those close to him know his
passions include spear fishing, being a good family man and a handful of
business pursuits. Fans can only imagine he'll continue his pursuits moving
forward.

When the shock wears off, fans will look back on Woods´ incredible
achievements in the sport. There are memories, the chip at No. 16 at
Augusta, the college match play event, his first Masters win. How about the first victory after the passing
of his father? Pick your favorite, as they number in the hundreds.

And, here's hoping you had a chance to see him. We may never see an athlete
who dominates his sport the way Woods dominated golf over the past decade.
He was more dominant than Jordan, more feared than Ali and more mentally
tough than anyone. Look back on his career fondly. Cherish the memories and
store them in your brain. Tell your grandchildren you saw a great one.

And, when you've completely let the shock hit you, when you're so
flabbergasted you can't believe Woods would stop before reaching the
historic marks he set for himself. Well, just remember it's April Fools Day.

 

 

 

 

Column 87:  One Man's Bunkers For Baghdad Campaign

 

There aren´t many places in the world where you can find 150,000 golf balls
and 5,500 spare golf clubs. Outside of severely challenging and frustrating
water hazards and golf warehouses, the only other place you could look to
find such a plentiful supply of golf equipment would be Joseph Hanna´s
garage.

But, Hanna isn´t running a business. He´s changing lives. And, you´ll have
to move quick if you want to see all those balls and clubs together. Soon,
they´ll be shipped around the world as donations to United States troops and
military veterans.

It´s all party of Hanna´s brilliant new Buffalo-based charity, Bunkers for
Baghdad that asks area golfers to donate clubs, balls and other golf
supplies that can be donated to America´s military forces for recreation.
Hanna came up with the idea after seeing reports that troops were building
makeshift driving ranges in Iraq for stress relief. Hanna, a young golfer
and attorney from Amherst, and his team had a booth at this weekend´s
Buffalo Niagara Golf Show.

"This morning we had a lot of people who served in Vietnam," said Kim Styka,
one of the members on the Bunkers board, late Saturday night. "A lot of the
guys said they wished they had this when the were over there."

If this weekend´s donations were any indication, Bunkers for Baghdad is
growing in force. Local golfers continue to offer up clubs they´re no longer
using for the troops. Requests continue to pour in from soldiers, families
of soldiers and organizations representing military veterans for the
supplies.

As of this weekend, more than 50,000 balls and 3,000 clubs have been sent to
troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

 

 

Match Play Special:  Recap

 

Let´s take a moment to celebrate Geoff Ogilvy´s achievement.

By waxing Paul Casey 4-and-3 yesterday to secure the World Golf
Championships Accenture Match Play Championship, Ogilvy made a case that he
might be the best player not named Tiger. For Ogilvy, it was his second win
at the event in four years, a remarkable achievement.

Ogilvy, however, makes match play events look like practice rounds. The
guy´s 17-2 all time at the Accenture Match Play Event and his .895 winning
percentage is the highest of any player with a minimum of 10 starts. He´s
about as sure a pick as there is in the field.

And, it´s arguable that the WGC match-play event is the toughest of any to
win on tour. You´ve got to have your best stuff for possibly 126 holes, as
opposed to 72. One off-day, and there´s no chance for a Saturday charge.
Everything is different in match play.

Well, everything is different except for Ogilvy. His play during yesterday´s
match with Casey was like a golf clinic. His ball striking was crisp and his
short game was sinister. He never gave Casey a chance to make anything
happen. In fact, to Casey fast learned that one of the few ways to beat
Ogilvy on a hole was to jar it from 200-yards out.

So, here´s to Ogilvy. Let´s not label him Tiger´s new challenger. Let´s
celebrate him for being his extraordinary self.

 

Match Play Special:  Round Three--It´s time to get serious!

I´d call my picks over the first couple of days a bit over par. Not great,
but manageable. If it was a real golf tournament, my picks would have helped
me make the cut, but I wouldn´t be contending. That said, the beauty of this
event is you get to start over each day with new picks. So, without further
adieu, here is how I think this think shakes out.

Ogilvy def. McIlroy - What McIlroy is doing at age 19 is absolutely
incredible. It would have been great if he´d have been able to battle Woods
yesterday instead of Tim Clark, but I digress. Ogilvy is playing as well as
anybody on the planet. I think he´ll win a major this year. And, I think his
experience will get him past this kid, but not in blowout fashion.

Els def. Cink - I didn´t think either of these guys would get here but kudos
to each of them. Over his career, Els has proved himself a match play
superstar. He´ll notch another win today.

Casey def. O´Hair - Sean O´Hair´s had probably the second most surprising
week other than McIlroy. Unfortunately, he meets a guy who´s as talented as
anyone and as cool as ice. Casey has a title in reach.

Leonard def. Fisher - I´m going to keep betting on Justin. It would be nice
to see his career revived a bit. I just can´t imagine him dropping this one.


Then....

Ogilvy def. Els - This will go down as one of the greatest matches ever in
match play. 21 holes gives Ogilvy just enough time to win.

Casey def. Leonard - Justin´s good week ends here, but honorably. Casey is
an incredible force.

Finally..

Ogilvy def. Casey - Geoff Ogilvy is going to have an incredible year. He´s
won already this season and now this big-time victory gives him more
credibility.

 

Match Play Special:  Round Three-We shall hear his roar no more

So, that´s what all the fuss was about? Tiger´s back for two days? Tiger´s
back to lose to Tim Clark? Sure, Woods gets a pass for being rusty, but I´m
sure the television networks want their money back. Sorry, but the idea of a
Tim Clark vs. Sean O´Hair final pairing isn´t sexy like Woods vs.Garcia. 
That´s alright though; here are 8 more fearless predictions.

McIlroy def. Clark - Clark needed everything to take down Tiger. He won´t
have enough gas to keep up with the young McIlroy.

Villegas def. Ogilvy - Of all the guys left, I wish this was the title
match. Too bad it will take place so early. I think Villegas is primed to
win the event this week. He wins a tough one.

Donald def. Els - Luke´s playing well. I´m done doubting him. He´ll beat
Ernie.

Mickelson def. Cink - Maybe Lefty will actually capitalize with Woods gone
this time? Maybe.

Poulter def. O´Hair - If you like great dressers and fearless guys, you´ve
got to like Poulter. This tournament needs his character and personality on
the weekend.

Casey def. Hanson - I wonder if Casey would feel a bit more comfortable
playing in the states if he won this event.

Furyk def. Fisher - I´ll say it again. Nobody grinds like Furyk, which makes
him incredibly tough in these events.

Leonard def. Wilson - Apparently Justin Leonard doesn´t think he´s past his
prime.

 

Match Play Special:  Round Two-16 More Winners

Sometimes I wonder why I love Sergio Garcia so much. I always pick him and
he rarely comes through for me. He lost to a guy named Schwartzel yesterday.
That´s not good. Other than that, I did pretty well with my picks. Here´s
what I think will happen in today´s action.

Woods def. Clark - Well, Tiger sure isn´t rusty. The guy started birdie,
eagle and then looked mildly human before earning a 3 and 2 victory. Expect
him to keep playing Tiger-like today. Woods 3 and 2, again.

Mahan def. McIlroy - A solid match that will be fun to watch. There´s always
a 12 seed that sneaks into the sweet 16 and I think it´s Mahan this year.

Ogilvy def. Katayama - I´ve said never bet against a man in a Nike cowboy
hat, but I´m going to break my rule. Ogilvy´s playing great golf right now.
He´s destined to win this one.

Villegas def. Jimenez - Another interesting pairing featuring two players
with drastically different styles. I like Villegas to do great things this
week. So, I expect him to pull through in a close one.

Singh def. Donald - Neither of these guys had an easy going in round 1. I
think Vijay will fare better today and send Luke packing.

Els def. Stricker - I picked Stricker to bow out yesterday and I just don´t
feel good about him this week. I´ve got to take Els, even though my gut´s
starting to tell me Stricker´s going to be around a while.

Mickelson def. Johnson - Lefty´s playing like the Lefty of a few years ago.
There might not be anybody in this bracket that can stop him.

Cink def. Westwood - My first prediction for this group is they´ll be put on
the clock for slow play. Two very deliberate players will battle in this
one. Expect Cink to win with a birdie in extra holes.

Poulter def. Schwartzel - This was supposed to be Poulter vs. Garcia. It was
supposed to be one great dresser against another. Now it´s really nothing.
Poulter wins going away.

Weekly def. O´Hair - Are there any limits to how good Boo Weekly might end
up being? He might know the rules, but man can he swing a golf club.

Ames def. Hanson - Both guys pulled upsets in the first round. The
higher-seed, Ames, will restore order in round two.

Casey def. Goggin - The Casey vs. Baddeley match did not disappoint. Casey
should keep his strong play going with a win over Goggin.

Perez def. Fisher - This ain´t March Madness. It´s February Madness. Which
means 16 seeds can do anything and everything. Perez ousted Paidraig
Harrington. Now, he´ll take down Fisher.

Furyk def. Kamer - Nobody grinds like Jim Furyk. He´s got a few more rounds
in him this week.

Love III def. Leonard - Both these guys surprised me. I expected Romero to
wipe Leonard and make a big run. I´m okay with it as both these guys are
good guys and great players. DL III showed such grit winning in extra holes,
I´m picking him to win again.

Kim def. Wilson - Kim is quietly becoming the best player on tour not named
Tiger. Another 7 and 5 could be in order.

 

 

Match Play Special:  First Round Predictions, Upper Half
And, eventually, there will be one.*
 

Below are the Mouth That Roars match-by-match bold predictions for the Bobby
Jones and Ben Hogan brackets in the first-round of the Accenture WGC World
Match Play Championship. Dare to disagree? Post about it on
BuffaloGolfer.com's Facebook and/or Twitter page.


*Bobby Jones Bracket*
* *

Tiger def. Jones - Tiger will be rusty, but not that rusty. After a slow
start he'll win 3-and-2.

Goosen def. Clark - It's amazing Clark is seeded higher than Goosen. Retief
is simply the better player and he'll prove it this week.

McIlroy def. Oosthuizen - McIlroy is a strong player most people don't know
about but that could all change this week. Expect him to breeze through the first round.

Mahan def. Weir - Hunter Mahan is one of America's bright young talents.
This is a chance for him to shine. Weir hasn't played well in a while either.

Ogilvy def. Sutherland - Geoff Ogilvy will win his second major in 2009. I
repeat, Ogilvy will win his second major in 2009. Just remember you heard it here.

Katayama def. Immelman - Has cool, calm Trevor done anything since his
Masters win two years back? He won't do much this week. Plus, who bets
against a guy in a Nike cowboy hat? Not The Mouth.

Villegas def. Pampling - Special week gets kick started with a 5-4 win for Villegas.

Sabbatini def. Jimenez - Sabbatini's got a little more grit and style. This
match won't be pretty but Sabbatini will earn the right to get destroyed by
Villegas in round two.

*Ben Hogan Bracket*
* *

Singh def. Kjeldsen - Nobody has been as consistent and dangerous this late
in their career as Vijay. He's a serious threat to win this week.

Donald def. Curtis - I don't know why, but I'm just never confident when Ben
Curtis stands over the ball. Donald is a young, dynamic force.

Els def. Hansen - Let's be honest, Els vs. Singh in round 3 is what this
bracket is all about.

Stricker def. Johnson - Nice guy Stricker outlasts up-and-coming Johnson in
extra-hole match.

Mickelson def. Cabrera - Lefty vs. the Duck. I'd probably have taken El Pato
until Phil won this past weekend. He's probably got the momentum to squeeze
this one out.

McDowell def. Johnson - Graeme McDowell? Don't know the name?  You will after this week.

Westwood def. Marksaeng - Westwood proved he's still a serious performer at
last year's PGA Championship. There's strong reason to believe he'll keep
that going in 2009.

Sterne def. Cink - The Good Ship Cink will be sunk. Call it an upset special.

 

Call it February Madness. The Accenture WGC Match Play Championships gives golf fans a chance to fill out brackets
and go crazy.  Below is the Mouth That Roars' look at the final two brackets.

*Gary Player Bracket*
**

Garcia def. Schwartzel - No offense, but who is Schwartzel? Garcia is
becoming the mature player he promised to be so many years ago.

Poulter def. Singh - Think about round 2. Poulter vs. Garcia equates to a
battle of young skill and ego.

Weekley def. Rose - An interesting match. Justin Rose was a golf prodigy.
Weekley is an out-of-nowhere guy who´s still learning the rules. I like
Weekley to win in a close one.

Scott def. O´Hair - Here´s hoping Adam Scott is a relevant force on tour all
season long.  He´s been too inconsistent to this point in his career.

Hanson def. Karlsson - Has the potential to be an epic match. These guys
have similar styles and are both capable of excellent golf. Expect extra
holes.

Ames def. Quiros - Ames shot-making is too much for Quiros. His experience
and skill will drive him to victory.

Goggin def. Perry - Goggin will use a fast start to get Perry reeling.  Goggin
could surprise and advance deep into the tournament.

Casey def. Baddeley - This is my favorite match up of the first round.
Perfect foils for one another, Casey and Baddeley will give fans their money
worth. Too bad they couldn´t have met later in the event.

*Sam Snead Bracket*
* *

Harrington def.  Perez - Paddy´s going to keep playing well. Last summer was
no fluke. He´s not scared of Tiger, either.


Allenby def. Fisher - Both want a shot at Harrington in round two. Only
Allenby will get it.

Furyk def. Hansen - Furyk will have his hands full with Hansen and will need
all 18 to get it done. That hard-fought victory will move him in the right
direction for a deep run.

Kaymer def. Appleby - Kaymer will raise eyebrows with his strong play this
week. They´ll only be able to see him play 14 holes in this one though.

Stenson def. Love III - Remember Henrik Stenson? He´s one of the many who
was billed as Tiger´s great rival at one point. He´ll beat DL III before
getting wiped in round two.

Romero def. Leonard - Andres Romero is ready to make a statement. He won´t
let Justin Leonard get in his way.

Kim def. Weng-Tang - If you´re like me, you´re drooling over the idea of Kim
and Romero squaring off in round three. I bet this is a good match, but I´m
pulling for Kim to come through.

Wilson def. Choi - KJ will be one-and-done this year

 

 

 

Column 86----March 2009--The Tiger Jigsaw

 

There is still a big piece of the puzzle that is missing.

Yes, Tiger Woods has finally provided golf fans with the where, when and why
of his highly-anticipated return to golf. He's even tossed in a few pictures
of his wife and two children as an added bonus. However, there is still one
slight detail that needs to be addressed....how good is he going to play?

We won't get the full answer this week when Woods tees it up for the first
time in eight months at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play
Championship. Surely, there is reason to anticipate Woods being a bit rusty.
And, as a result, a little un-Tiger like. But, even in this situation, eight
months removed from his previous competition and coming off his second knee
surgery, high expectations lie on Woods.

It begins with himself. He's commented that he doesn't play in an event he
doesn't think he can win. So, does that mean we should expect him to win
this week? He's also said he could have returned a few weeks ago physically.
So, is he stronger and more prepared than he lets on?

Regardless, he'll be the man to beat this week. He's the No. 1 seed in his
bracket (which will be announced at 7 p.m. EST on Sunday). Other top seed
include Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh, guys who played
well in Tiger's absence. They'll challenge him if they get the chance.
Others will too. Mickleson looks like he might secure his first win in a
long time at the Northern Trust Open this week. Andres Romero, Geoff Ogilvy
and Justin Leonard have all carded strong rounds as of late.

Still, the cameras and the expectation will all be on Tiger. He's arguably
the most popular sports figure in the world. His return is an event. Whether
it lasts one or five days, it will be memorable.

And yet, it won't truly give us an answer. Whether Tiger bows out in the
first round or wins the whole thing, we'll still have to wait. Woods
measures himself by major championships won. So, that's how we must do the
same. When we last left off, he'd limped his way to his 14th such title.
Jack Nicklaus holds the record with 18.

When we last left off, Woods looked like a lock to win at lease five more
majors, giving him the all-time record and possibly enabling him to win in
the upward of 20 major championships. However, a second major knee surgery
is not a small thing. Is his swing changed? Is he still as strong? Can he
still hit golf balls that travel so far they need passports?

Tiger can say he's as strong as ever, but actions speak louder than words.
There are no guarantees in this world and this sport. So, Tiger's back. Five
majors to go for the all-time record.

The tee is yours Mr. Woods.

 

 

Column 85--February 2009--When will HE be back?

 

When will he come back? Will it be at The Masters? Might he show up at the
WGC Match Play Championships? Will we ever see him at this best again?

No, I'm not talking about Tiger Woods.

It seems the only story the golf world is covering right now is when Tiger
Woods will return from his 2008 knee surgery. You hear more about Tiger than
you do the guys actually playing well right now - Geoff Ogilvy, for
instance. But, more importantly, Tiger's absence from the tour hasn't even
been the most dramatic disappearance. No, the guy I worry about much, much
more is Phil Mickelson.

You remember him, don't you? Loveable Lefty. The man who won far more fans
than tournaments with his swashbuckling, I-don't-play-it-safe style. One of
the greatest golfers of our generation, Mickelson hasn't been great for some
time. Ever since his epic collapse at Winged Foot in 2006, the guy hasn't
really sniffed a major victory. He's picked up wins here and there. He's
feasted on a few tournaments with low-level fields. But, the grand stage has
not been his for some time. In fact, he carded a second-round 73 at the FBR
Open this weekend and missed the cut.

It's easy to point to a three year drought in major victories and a few
missed cuts as just a bad stretch. But, look deeper and you see an aging
Mickelson whose prime may have passed. Nearing 40, it's not about just
chasing Tiger anymore. Guys like Sergio Garcia, Andres Romero, Ogilvy and
Adam Scott have all matured into winners. Mickelson intimidates no one on
tour.

Some would say that's harsh and that's fine. But, with Tiger out of the
field for the last two majors last year, Mickelson played poorly from the
word go at the British Open and came in at seventh at the PGA Championship,
never really in the Sunday mix. You'd think a player of his caliber would
seize the opportunity a bit more.

This isn't to pick fun at Mickelson. His talent is amazing, his career
hall-of-fame worth. His shot making, is simply legendary. But, it's a
reminder, that we only have so many shots in life, and for Mickelson, 2009
could be one of his last. Only a handful of people have won majors over the
age of 40. It gets tougher. The course gets longer. Challengers get younger.

So, here's hoping the missed cut at the FBR is not indicative of what lies
ahead for Mickelson this year. His last chance to regain his mastery, to
dominate the sport, might be sitting in front of him.

 

 

Column 84--January 2009--There will never be another...

 

Arguably the greatest female golfer ever to play the sport retired nearly a
month ago to very little fanfare. She left with a birdie at the 18th hole of
the Dubai Ladies Masters. She left only a slightly removed from her prime.

It's true, whether you've heard about it or not, Annika Sorenstam is no
longer playing professional golf. She's hung up her golf spikes for new
things and future endeavors. Already, less than a month after retiring,
Sorenstam married longtime flame Mike McGee. It's just the first of many
things Sorenstam plans to do now that she's retired.

In many ways, Sorenstam's exit from the game is bittersweet. She can still
play. She can still play really, really freaking good, too. She won 90
tournaments in her 14-career, including 10 majors. She was the first woman
in 50 years to play in a men's PGA tournament. In 2008, she won three LPGA
events. There's no doubt she's still capable of competing and winning.

At the same time, isn't it nice to see an athlete go out in their prime?
Isn't it nice to see someone step away without the Brett-Favre-like drama or
Michael-Jordan-like pointlessness? It's not like Annika doesn't know she
can't still play. She's choosing to pursue other things. She's choosing to
have a life bigger than just golf.

"Life goes on. I am very happy about my decision to move on," said
Sorenstam. "I feel very happy. But you close the door and you open another
one. I am glad that I have a chance to do that."

Even with Annika no longer walking fairways on tour, her legacy will live
on. She was the first woman to ever become a celebrity by playing golf. She
helped the league gain popularity and respect with her strong play. She once
carded a 59. Her desire to play in men's events and unwillingness to accept
defeat is a testament to women's golf.

Truth be told, it's not sad to see her leave. Her accomplishments are
impressive, her career anything but incomplete. The women's game is strong,
full of stars and ready to become even more successful.

What's sad is that she walked away and very few seemed to notice. Imagine if
Tiger Woods retired next season? Remember when Jim Kelly retired from the
Buffalo Bills? Annika is absolutely the most important person in her sport's
history. Golf fans were lucky and blessed to live during her career. They
should have been out in droves to bid her adieu. There are dozens of
talented female golfers. But, there will never be another Annika.

 

 

 

Column 83--January 2009--Social Awareness or Socialism in Professional Golf?

 

Without backing up tees or finding new cruel pin placements, PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem has asked golfers
worldwide to step up in 2009. Finchem sent a short video to PGA cardholders asking them to play more
events in 2009 and seek out sponsors.

Hopefully, Finchem's request does not fall on deaf ears. In the current turbulent economy, it's not easy
for companies to lend droves of cash to fund professional golf events. Those who do should be appreciated
and celebrated. They deserve big names and the world's top players making a point to play their event.
Moreover, increased participation may help a few smaller events stay on the tour circuit in 2010 and beyond.

Players like Justin Leonard, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker have already responded to Finchem's request by
pledging support and they expect others to do the same. Leonard grasps the importance of helping support
struggling events on the tour schedule.

"They've got a list of events that need help to varying degrees," Leonard said Friday at the Chevron
World Challenge. "I'm sensitive to that. I'm going to play a couple of events they asked me to play, and I'm
not going to play in a couple they asked me to play in. Bigger than that is doing more at tournaments."

Leonard speaks to the idea Finchem and the PGA will ask players to be more active at events when it comes
to appearances, sponsor meet-and-greets and pro-am events. What he fails to address is that by showing up more at tournaments, players will do more than help fund low-level tournaments; they'll be paying back fans for their support.

To make a major understatement, times are a bit tough for the American people right now. The economy is in
freefall, jobs are disappearing and there's no corporate bailout for most Americans. The current economic
state resembles other struggles in our country's past. It's not something we can't overcome, but that doesn't
make it fun to endure.

That said, PGA players and other athletes owe fans as much as ever. It's their performances on the links,
fields and rinks that help brighten our weeks. Call sports trivial if you'd like, but there's no denying the
major impacts in can have on the American psyche. Considering our superstar athletes are able to live lives of
luxury most of us can only dream about, asking them to play a few extra weekends in 2009 is a small request.

In making the request, Finchem is suggesting that economic struggles could be ahead for the PGA Tour if
things don't change in 2009. Fewer tournaments, smaller pots and reduced sponsorship are realities the tour
may have to face moving forward. That's why he's seeking help from the game's greatest stars – Tiger Woods,
Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson – and others.

In some ways, it's reflective of our economy as a whole. It's time for everyone to do a little bit more. The problem
lies with no one group, sports league or industry. The onus is on everyone to pitch in and help out. And, yes,
that includes Tiger and Co.

 

 

Column 82--December 2008--Thanksgiving Column

 

Turkey. Check. Stuffing. Check. Pumpkin Pie. Check. Four iron. Check.

Hopefully that's an exaggeration and avid golfers around the world have left
their clubs in the closet to spend quality time with friends and family.
But, it's understandable that those who love golf have the sport on their
mind. It's been a while since we say major championship golf. It's been a
while since that famous Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate duel at the U.S. Open.
It's understandable if we're all craving some good old golf; whether playing
ourselves, or watching the greats.

Below is a list of five things to be thankful for looking ahead to 2009.
Hopefully it holds you over through the snow and the sleet. Happy
Thanksgiving to all.

   1. Tiny Kim - Ladies and gentlemen the next great golfer has arrived.
   Maybe you noticed last year, maybe you didn't, but Anthony Kim played the
   most consistent golf from start to finish. Kim had high finishes in each of
   the four majors and kicked butt at the Ryder Cup. That said, I think 2008
   could be called Kim's prelude. The main event will start this year and in
   the years ahead. Nobody should call him the next Tiger Woods, they should
   call him the first Anthony Kim.

   1. Back to Bethpage - Remember the 2002 U.S. Open when we all learned
   about the great Bethpage Black? Remember when Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson
   and Tiger Woods all dueled on Sunday at a major? Remember the wind, the rain
   and the gnarly grass? Anybody forget those rambunctious New York City area
   fans? Remember the stories about how people could sleep in their car and
   play the course for $25? I do. And, I'm sure you do as well. They're all
   coming back for 2009. That okay with everybody? Thought so.

   1. More Rocco - He's older than most and he's as honest as the wind.
   Yeah, he took Tiger to extra holes but he also took golf fans everywhere on
   a ride last year. The guy deserves all the credit in the world for hanging
   in there and finding his prime late in his career. It's a crime this guy
   didn't make the Ryder Cup team. Let's be thankful for karma, and hope he's
   paid back in more great golf in 2009.

   1. He roars once more - The greatest golfer ever to sneeze didn't join us
   for the last half of the year. It was a shame for everyone except Padraig
   Harrington. Whether you like Tiger Woods or not, do you realize he won the
   U.S. Open with a bad leg? I couldn't win the U.S. Open with two legs and a
   20 stroke handicap. This guy's so good for the sport it's amazing. You can
   find reasons not to like him or you can be thankful to live in his prime.
   When it's all said and done, we'll have lived through the greatest golfer
   ever and his unmatched dominance.

   1. The unknown - It's always the stories you don't see coming that are
   the best. For example, the J.P. Hayes story from last week. How about Boo
   Weekley? These were guys and situations we couldn't predict. There will be
   more of them in 2009 and for that, we should all be very thankful.

 

 

Column 81--November 2008--Someone Thank J.P. Hayes For Me!

The young golfer learned a hard lesson last week when he played an incorrect
golf ball during the second stage of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament and
chose to police himself. A two-shot penalty eventually resulted in
disqualification from a tournament that directly impacted Hayes' chances of
playing on the PGA Tour in '09.

Hayes claims its something any other player on tour would do. He said there
was never a doubt in his mind about calling the penalty. It was the only way
to uphold the integrity of the game.

Think about it. We're talking about one guy. One ball - that he used for
only two shots - and Hayes' is talking about the integrity of the game. Even
when this guy's wrong he's right.

Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely. He broke the rules, yet he
srengthend the USGA's faith in its players to make the right decisions. Will
it cost him? Absolutely. There's a good chance J.P. Hayes won't see a ton of
big time golf events next year.

But, you can't step away from what this kid did. Nobody on the planet would
have known he'd hit the wrong ball. Truth be told,  the ball didn't give him
any sort of advantage, either. He hit an iron shot and a chip shot before he
realized. Chances are the guy makes par whether he's playing a Titleist or a
tennis ball.

That said, what Hayes did strikes to the core of what people love about golf
- there's no referees. No judgement calls. There's right and there's wrong.
Think about the NFL season this year and all of its blown officiating calls.
Look at how basketball coaches constantly question refrees' judgement. In
other sports, there are times when you can wonder whether the correct team
won the game.

In golf, that just doesn't happen. There are lines marking the bounds of
play. There are tees, a green and any number of yards of treachery in
between. The winner is the guy who hits the best shots for 72 holes. And,
there's millions of people watching each one. There's no judgement calls
when Tiger rolls in a 70-footer. There's no challenge review needed when
Sergio Garcia rips is 340 down the fairway. You hit it. You find it. You hit
it again. It's beautiful in its simplicity.

That's why people should be proud of Hayes. He gets the wonder of the sport
and he doesn't want to tarnish it. Someday, when his career is done, he'll
look back and know that every accomplishment came fair and square. There
were no short cuts necessary. That shows character and it build pride.

That said, why not make a positive example out of this guy. Stop handing
exemptions to non-stop chaos like John Daly and get it to Hayes. People
should let him into some PGA event just for good karma. See what he's made
of - see if he can qualify for major championships with the correct ball in
his bag.

Or, if nothing else, next time you see him. Slap him five. Give him a hug.
He did us and the sport we love a huge favor.

 

Column 80--October 2008--PGA Tour Has A Heart After All

 

Well, maybe the PGA Tour does have a heart. Or, maybe it doesn't. Maybe it gave it to Erik Compton. Either way, it appears the PGA Tour finally got it right when it comes to golfers using golf carts.

 

Compton, a former Georgia All-American, recently learned tour officials have granted his request to use a cart during qualifying school to earn his tour card. Compton is only four months removed from the second heart transplant of his young life. He still lacks the endurance to walk a full round.

 

"I feel really good about the news," Compton said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "It takes a lot of stress off me, and it gives me a realistic chance."

 

Compton, 28, will play the first stage of qualifying from Oct. 21-24 at Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne, Fla. He is a former No. 1 junior golfer who won on the Canadian and Hooters Tours and played on the Nationwide Tour.

 

Compton told the newspaper that he has also been granted a waiver to use a beta blocker, which is on the PGA Tour's list of banned substances, because he needs it as part of his medication protocol.

 

It's all great news for Compton who will now have a chance to pursue his dream of competing against the likes of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia on the PGA Tour. It's also a good sign that the PGA Tour higher-ups may finally be learning how to rationalize and care. Lord knows they weren't half as kind to Casey Martin over a decade ago.

 

Martin, if you remember, could make golf balls dance with wedges and was the kind of guy you'd want your sister to date. All that said, Martin was hindered by a birth defect in his leg which prevented him from walking. The PGA Tour never felt comfortable granting him the right to use a cart. They hid behind claims that it endangered the integrity of the game. They were stupid claims. But, they kept Martin from his dream.

 

Fortunately, the PGA Tour is throwing up no such obstacles for Compton who had his first heart transplant when he was 12. Transplanted hearts last an average of 11 years, but his survived for 16 before almost failing him last October. Now, with a new heart, he'll head back to the links.

 

Compton hopes to build up his strength and eventually be able to walk the course and compete in big time PGA events. Here's hoping that if he ever gets there he calls up Martin and offers a thank you. For it was Martin who exposed the ridiculousness of the PGA when he eventually won his lawsuit and got the chance to perform. Now, the golf coach at Oregon University, Martin never saw his dreams become a reality, but he paved the way for guys like Compton. He refused to take no for an answer. He refused to accept he wasn't good enough for the PGA Tour. And, as a result, Martin ensured no other golfer would ever have to face the same struggle.

 

Column #79-September 2008--Ryder Cup Revelations

The American's spectacular, inspiring, down-right fun,
boisterous Ryder Cup win this weekend had nothing to do with those who
weren't there and everything to do with the young, steely newcomers Coach
Paul Azinger chose to invite.

            Taxed with coaching an American team that had been tormented in
recent events by European dominance, Azinger lucked out by having a bunch of
new faces on the team who were simply too young (Anthony Kim) or just too
crazy (Boo Weekley) to care. Labeled as major underdogs to the likes of
Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, the American team put together
a resounding 16 ½ - 11 ½. It was the kind of win that sets the tone for the
next few...the Americans are young, hungry and capable of taking over this
event.

            There's no one player you can point to as the catalyst for the
American's success. What these guys accomplished was truly a team victory.
It took the hard work of 12 individuals for three days and gosh it was fun
to watch.

            Did you see Anthony Kim straight up dismantle Sergio Garcia on
Sunday? Garcia is one of the best Ryder Cup performers ever but he couldn't
handle the heat Kim was throwing his way. Kim's quickly becoming one of the
best players on the planet and people should take notice. Look at his 2008
stats and you'll be blown away. There's something special about the kid.

            Maybe you spent time watching and listening to Boo Weekley take
down Valhalla Country Club in Kentucky. The extremely personable southern
guy shined at the Ryder Cup. The lasting image of his tournament may come to
be his Happy Gilmore dance but this guy hit clutch, picturesque shots
throughout the event.

            Give credit to Hunter Mahan who hung in there for a half-point
against Paul Casey on Sunday. I pointed to it as the match that would decide
things. If the Americans could get at least half a point there, they'd win.
Mahan came up huge against the steely Casey.

            There were others, so may others, like Justin Leonard, Phil
Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell who hit big shots at big times to
keep the whole thing going. Right from the start of the event it seemed like
the Americans had some mojo. They used the next two days to show their
swagger, heart and talent. This win will not soon be forgotten. It won't
have the lasting image of Leonard rolling in a crazy-long putt and the
Americans going nuts on the 18th green like the last American victory...

            ...but we'll always be able to look back on Weekley's dance moves.

 

 

Column #78-September 2008--Harbour Town

A simple goal. A breathtaking golf course. And, 18 holes in between.

            That pretty much sums up the position I found myself in last week down in Hilton Head Island when I took to the first tee of theworld-famous Harbour Town Golf Course. Golf fans probably recognize it
better as the course that hosts the Verizon Heritage golf tournament every year. It's the course with the famous 18th hole that runs along the oceanwith the lighthouse behind the green. It's where Davis Love, Nick Faldo and
Jack Nicklaus have notched career victories. It's where I and two life-long friends chose to spend last Tuesday afternoon.

            My simple goal as I stood on the tee - to break 100 from thetips. It sounds simple. Shoot less than 27-over and you're all set. But, take one look at the wicked bunkers and small greens and it gets a lot
harder. Then, remember you're playing from where the pros tee it up. That makes the holes a lot longer.

            I had help, too. Not only were my best buds along to keep me loose. But, Jimmy, a certified caddy at the course was spending the day with us. He was there to help us understand the shape of the holes and how our
putts would break.

            Jimmy was a great guy. But it only took a few holes for him to realize he was working with three guys who make birdies about as often as you see a solar eclipse. On the first hole he instructed us to hit it over
the bunker at 235 yards out to the left side but to keep it low to avoid trees. On the last hole, he said something like, "Eh, just try and aim for the lighthouse boys."

            Things started rough for each of us. While Jimmy had told us to keep it left, we all went right. I went way right and had to punch out. Then I flew it over the green. Chipped on and three putted. It was a glorious start.

            In all, we each mustered a par a piece. I notched the core on the Par-3 seventh hole. The rest of the holes beat me to smithereens. I was left, right and everywhere in between.

            It's funny though - play a course like Harbour Town and sixes and sevens don't hurt so much. You're too busy admiring the ocean, the trees and the unbelievable architecture to worry that much about your score. Hit
it near a water hazard and you may be to busy watching out for alligators to take a good swing. It all makes it a surreal place. The kind of course that makes you fall back in love with golf.

            When we made the turn I had carded a 52. I felt good about my chances because I'd started horrible and played pretty well on the last few holes of the front. I think I finished par, double, bogey. The ball was starting to fly a bit better and I'd found my swing, so to speak.

            However, things kind of got crazy after that. Doubles and triples came in bunches as water hazard ate my balls like delicious treats.  On the Par-3 14th, I hit the ball so far right I was actually missed the huge water hazard that ran along the green. A quick boat ride over and I was hitting over a river full of gators toward the hole.

            In the end, I fell short of my goal. I carded a 106. Nothing that's going to get me an invite to next year's tournament. In fact, neither of my friends were able to break 100 either. It was a day full of shanks, laughs and incredible memories.

            As much fun as it is to play our local courses where we can get to pins and flirt with driving short Par-4's, sometimes it's a good old butt-kicking from an incredible course that reminds you why you love the game. There was no frustration last Tuesday. Only admiration for an incredible course. We lost ourselves in the game of golf and never really
worried about the score.

            We also got to play a course that few people ever get to see.  Every year we'll be able to watch a famous golf tournament and no we were there. Sure, Sergio Garcia might hit Driver, 8-iron into the 18th green. I
hit driver, five-iron, 8-iron, wedge...big deal. It's not like it was entirely my fault anyway...Jimmy told me to aim for the lighthouse.

Column #77-August 2008--Olympics Not Proper Venue For Golf

There have been rumblings lately about how golf could be an Olympic sport starting in 2012...here's hoping they're soon
quelled.  No offense to the Olympics, but golf is doing just fine with out you. Honestly, in what way could being in the Olympics strengthen golf?  Don't tell me how it would bring together the world's best players for a week of competition. Please, I get that at least four time a year with the major championships. Add in The Players Championship, the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup and I actually see it even more.  Don't tell me it'll help me learn about great international players. Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy are from Australia. Vijay Singh is from Fiji.  Retief Goosen hails from South Africa. Sergio Garcia claims Spain. Tiger Woods is from America. I see the best in the world all the time, every year.

It's not that being in the Olympics would hurt golf, but what's the point? How would you set it up? Would golfers care about
this more than The Masters?  I think not.  Golf is blessed to have the best players in the world competing
against each other every week.  It's sort of like that in basketball, but it's not like that in hundreds of other sports. The economics and logistics of other sports make it impossible. Golf makes it a reality every week.
       

It's also better for the rest of the Olympics. How often does swimming get to take center stage in the sporting world?  Same goes for gymnastics, track and field and anything bobsled related. This is a chance for so many others to shine. Guys like Tiger, Phil and Sergio don't need another week of that.  They're already out-of-this-world stars as is. They represent their countries proudly all the time. They're happy to sit back and watch Michael Phelps get it done for a few weeks in the pool.
        It's not to knock the Olympics. It's to help it. Keep golf out.  Golf's just fine on its own.

Use the Olympics to celebrate sports and athletes we rarely see.

 

Column #76-July 2008--Paddy Harrington Way Too Non-Hollywood

If Hollywood had its way, Padraig Harrington would never have
won last week's British Open.

            Think about it, Harrington's plot and story wasn't as
stomach-churning, inspirational or pure amazing as anybody else's within a
sniff of the lead.

            There was 53-year old Greg Norman; one of the biggest names ever
to play golf and a fan favorite world wide. Norman took the 54-hole lead
into Sunday and just couldn't quite hold on. Had he been able to win, he'd
have been the oldest major champion ever. He'd have one the British Open
again, more than 20 years since his first victory in 1986. It would have
connected golf fans worldwide and redefined just when a player's career was
truly over. Sadly, a Sunday-clunker of a round left him tied for third.

            There was David Duval; back from the dead. The guy's hardly
played at all this year and fallen off the face of the planet since being
the No. 1 ranked player in the world in 2001. If not for a Saturday blow-up,
this tournament could have been his for the taking. He'd have won his second
major championship, ensured numerous exemptions and all but locked up 2008
Player of the Year honors in a single weekend. It would have given reporters
worldwide a chance to delve into the mysterious man. That said, he too fell
short.

            Heck there was Ian Poulter; everyone's favorite golfer in neon
colors. He put together the best charge Sunday and seemed to have everything
working. At one point, he looked as if the world's best dresser was actually
going to start making a claim for world's best golfer. This guy's one of the
biggest brands in golf and he'd never even really threatened at a major
until this week. We all know he's good with plaids and pink, but we were
given a glimpse of what he can do with putters and pure passion this week.
He's evolving into a world-class player. The 2008 British Open could have
been the realization of that...it wasn't.

            There was amateur Chris Wood. Smiling and birdying his way
around Royal Birkdale like a player with far, far more experience. We could
have watched the kid win and then not be able to accept the check. We could
have seen something we never see, an amateur win a major championship. We
watched, we waited, we never saw it.

            Instead, we saw Padraig Harrington, the previous year's
champion, hit all the right shots at the right time on Sunday. He didn't lap
the field by any stretch of the imagination. But, after his second shot on
the Par-5 17th, all the suspense was gone. This was Harrington's tournament.
This was Claret Jug number two. And, personally, considering all the other
guys out there, this was a bit boring.

            No disrespect to Harrington who seems as nice and warm as fresh
bread. But, he just didn't have the razzle-dazzle story line so many others
around him did. I wasn't dying to see him win. What was so special about
him? I asked myself.

            And, in that sense, I got an answer. What's special about
Harrington is he's won back-to-back Open Championships. That's like winning
the lottery, twice.  It's next to impossible, especially in the Tiger Woods
era. Harrington isn't flashy. He's talented. He smiles. He cares so much
about the game of golf it oozes out of him. There's nothing wrong with
watching Harrington win, it just wasn't the story line we all dreamed of.

            So, no, we didn't get our Hollywood ending. We got the right
ending. We got a fitting champion in Harrington. We got four days of great
golf. And, we got further evidence that Harrington is a true, unique talent
in the sport.

 

Column #75-July 2008--FiZGOLF

I'm taking a break this week from my usually-exhausting writing schedule.  My buddy, Mo' Golf, has been
squirting some weird foamy stuff on his clubs to clean out the dirt.  He sent me this press release on
FiZGOLF...--The Mouth

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH  (June 12, 2008) - FiZ, the "scientific spit shine" that has quickly gained acclaim as the preeminent grip and golf club cleaner in the golf industry, has made a major move in the retail segment by signing with Edwin Watts Golf to have the revolutionary product carried in 28 Edwin Watts Golf stores in six states.

Edwin Watts Golf will feature FiZ in its Florida stores in Naples, Orlando (2 locations), Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville (2 locations), Sarasota, Fort Walton Beach, Ft. Lauderdale (2 locations), Brandon, Kissimmee, Tampa, North Miami Beach, Orange Park and Palm Beach Gardens. Edwin Watts Golf will also sell FiZ at its stores in Marietta, Ga. and Memphis, TN.  Texas golfers will remember to buy FiZ at the Watts locations in San Antonio and Round Rock. In North Carolina, FiZ will shine brightly in Concord and Charlotte (2 locations). FiZ will also be available in Edwin Watts stores in Massachusetts in five cities: Hanover, Attleboro, Hyannis, Mashpee and Weymouth.

FiZ is also sold on the Edwin Watts web site, www.edwinwattsgolf.com.

But why has a major retailer like Edwin Watts Golf made such a big commitment to such a small (5 inches tall, 1 inch in diameter) product? BECAUSE IT WORKS! And, as has been proven many times, big things come in small packages.

"FiZ is the best cleaner in the golf business," says Steve Tillis of the Edwin Watts Golf store in Jacksonville Beach, FL. "It is a super simple design that keeps your gear clean, period. With today's economy, an innovative, exciting, high volume item at $9.99 does great at the register."

That greatness isn't just at the register, of course. It's primarily on the golf course and in the hands of the user. That's why FiZ is on track to do more than $1 million in sales for 2008, its inaugural year. Since its debut this past January at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FiZ has already moved onto the shelves of such leading retailers as Golfsmith, Haggin Oaks, Golf Etc. and others, in addition to Edwin Watts Golf. Green grass accounts are flocking to the product daily. International distributors are as wide ranging as the word "International" implies, including those in the U.S., Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, South Korea, Asia and Indonesia. Future expansion plans are expected to be announced in the near future.

"We are exceptionally pleased that a prestigious retailer such as Edwin Watts Golf has realized the value, both in performance and price, of FiZ," says Aaron Heap, Founder and President of FizGOLF, the parent company of FiZ. "This is another important step in our rapidly expanding business. We look forward to a long and prosperous association with Watts Golf, both with our current product and those products in development that we expect to introduce later this summer."

All FiZGOLF products are being marketed under the banner "Clean Up Your Game", which is exactly what Fiz does in delivering maximum results for a golfer's shots. FiZ, which combines a Co2 cartridge ball, grip and club cleaner with a revolutionary design, is scientifically formulated to dissolve dirt and eliminate grass stains.

FiZ, which gets its name from the "fizzing" sound made when its sprayed on surfaces, employs a solution of 98% water and 2% lifting agent that is more efficient in its purpose than any wet golf towel or well-known orally expelled body fluid could ever hope to be. Multiple small polypropylene bristles at the bottom of the cylinder get between clubface grooves and ball dimples to create precision contact and ball flight.

FiZ is self-contained with its own bag clip and cleaning bristles. It lasts for more than 350 sprays or over 100 holes of golf.

FiZ is made from 100% recyclable aluminum and plastic and can easily be hung from golf bags for convenient access and use. FiZ is designed to incorporate logos on each side of the cap, making it an ideal gift bag item or tee prize.

"FiZ will give you a clean ball and a clean club face that will add the distance and accuracy to your game that dirty golf equipment subtracts," says Heap, who invented the patented and revolutionary Seven2 kayak paddle nearly a decade ago. "Grime in the grooves of a club and grass stains and dirt on golf balls can add strokes that no golfer wants to see at the end of a round.

"Golf is a hard enough game, but using FiZ makes it easier," adds Heap. "Everyone wants pristine conditions on the courses they play and the same mindset should apply to their golf equipment. FiZ makes equipment pristine."

FizGOLF is headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT. To become a FiZGOLF dealer or to place an order call 801.355.5300 or email the company at sales@fizgolf.com. You can also go to its web site at www.fizgolf.com. For media contact Mary Deatrick at 407 332-5212.

Column #74-July 2008--Porter Cup Preview And Predictions

It'll be about as hard as frying eggs on high heat in a non-stick pan for me
to find some strong rooting interests at this year's Porter Cup at Niagara
Falls Country Club. The prestigious amateur tournament will celebrate its 50
th anniversary in style this year when over 100 of the best young golfers in
the world visit the fabled golf course.

First, there are the local kids who you've just got to love. Let's start
with Jamie Miller who qualified by winning the 2007 Buffalo District Amateur
Championship. I used to play high school golf with this kid and he kicked
the tar out of me time and time again. Nice kid. Great swing. Good friend of
Brian Pavlock, another young golf talent of the time who grew up in my
hometown of Salamanca. And, he always wore something spunky. That's enough
to get my vote.


Another local guy worth watching is Chris Stoddard. A bit younger than me,
Stoddard grew up in Jamestown, N.Y. and currently plays for my alma mater
St. Bonaventure University. I used to play with his brother in high school
golf. In fact, Chris' older brother was with me the day I recorded my first
hole-in-one at Elkdale Country Club. Hopefully, I can send a bit of good
karma back at the Stoddard family if I get the chance to follow his group in
a couple weeks.

The other category of golfers worth pulling for this week is the Drew Weaver
category. As many golf fans will remember, Weaver is the young talent who is
currently a senior at Virginia Tech University. Weaver was less than a lob
wedge away from the awful, violent tragedy that befell Virginia Tech last
April and left 32 people dead. Weaver played in last year's British Open as
a symbol of the school moving forward. The school's insignia was also etched
on his bag when he walked Augusta at the 2008 Masters earlier this year.
He's a symbol of the courage and strength of the university and the family's
befallen by the tragedy. If this guy walked away with the Porter Cup title
in a few weeks, I'd be nothing but smiles.


Next, I'd like to point out a few guys who I'll be rooting for just because
they fall into my alphabet soup category. Julian Etulain, Rohan Blizard,
Bank Vongvanij? These guys' names are just awesome. Some of them sound like
ice cream flavors. Others sound like exotic, extinct flowers. I'd root for a
walrus with a putter if he had a name like this. And let's be honest, it
doesn't hurt to have an uncommon name if you're a golfer. Last I checked the
best one on the planet signs his checks with five letters that spell...Tiger.


Finally, I think it's worth nothing I'll be pulling for Billy Hosrschel, a
senior at the University of Florida and last year's fifth place finisher. Do
yourself a favor and watch this guy play during the week. He's got charisma,
mojo and fire in his veins. Every shot for Horschel is an event. If it's
good - he'll be pumped. If it's bad - he'll be distraught. And, he wears his
emotions on his sleeve so you'll always know how he feels about his shots.
It's great if you ask me. It's the same reason I love Sergio Garcia. Don't
be afraid to throw it all out there and be yourself. Trust me, this kid's
going to be a name on tour in no time. He's got that kind of game. He's also
got enough game to rack up a win at this year's Porter Cup.


And, that my friends, is why they'll be etching Horschel on this year's
trophy.

 

Column #73-July 2008--Two Fine Letters For Which We Are Grateful

The site doesn't receive a ton of email.  We'd love to get more, but we understand that you are busy.  However, we do have two recent arrivals that we'd like to share with you, in gratitude.  The first references a Travelin' Duff column on Tiger Woods, while the second is a poignant note from a mother most proud of her son:

Dear Mr. Duff:

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your latest column,
and that I totally agree with your portrayal of Tiger Woods as a
hero.

So many sports figures these days are sorry role models for our
young, but Tiger's determination and old-fashioned "intestinal
fortitude" were shining examples of the BEST one can aspire to.

I wish him well -- I hope the surgery goes well, and his recovery
is swift and uneventful. This year's U.S. Open will surely be a
tough act to follow!

I liked the points you made about how professional golfers differ
from other athletes, in that they have to constantly qualify, and
don't get paid if they don't do well -- what a concept!!!

Sincerely,
Bobbi Hahn

************************************************************************

Dear Mo:

Chad is my son and what a beautiful article you wrote.  I hadn't seen
the article or those pictures and while they brought me to tears, I was
so happy to see Chad doing what he loved - golf.  My cousin's husband,
Tim Noonan, forwarded the article to my husband who in turn forwarded it
to me.  Tears aplenty but I love seeing Chad, reading about him, hearing
his name, anything to keep his memory alive.  He touched so many lives;
I hope all who got the chance to experience Chad will live as he did...
loving life and sharing his smile. 


Sincere thanks,

Bev Kulpa

To donate in Chad's memory to Carly's Club, please go here.

 

Column #72-June 2008--I'll Talk About Rocco

The first thing I'd have done if I bumped into Rocco Mediate
after he lost the 2008 U.S. Open on the 91st hole of competition is bought
him a beer. Something cold and delicious, something fitting for a champion.

             Look, 5, 10, 27, 100 years from now, they're going to look back
at this as Tiger's greatest feat. The major he won with one knee. The major
that he wouldn't let get away despite pain that almost knocked him to his
tootsie whenever he hit driver. And that's fine. Tiger deserves it.

            However, if I ever have a grandchild who wants to know about the
2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, I'll talk about Rocco Mediate. No, his name
isn't etched in the annals of history. He's still never won a major. But, he
did something so few people ever do...he made Tiger Woods sweat.

            Think about it, until Monday, the only guy who ever dared to
truly test Woods when he had the lead going into the final round of a major
was Bob May. May took Tiger to three playoff holes before bowing out. That's
impressive, but Mediate took Tiger to 19 extra holes. Twice, Mediate forced
Tiger to make testy putts on 18 to stay in it. Twice, Woods did just that.

            Truth be told, there were no losers yesterday. Golf fans won.
The sport of golf won. Torrey Pines won. Tiger Woods won. And, yes, Rocco
Mediate won. He won countless golf fans who love his down-to-earth,
go-for-broke attitude. He won a whale of money. And, he won Tiger Woods'
respect.

            Tiger's all smiles now. But, trust me, he never thought he'd
have to work so hard for this one. He probably figured he'd have Mediate on
life support before they made the turn. Sure, Mediate could play well, but
not in the eye of the tiger. Now with all the pressure and limelight on. Not
in the U.S. Open playoff round. No, to Tiger, that's always his time.

            But, as all great underdogs come to do, Mediate reminded us that
there's no rule that says you have to lose. Nowhere is it etched that we
have to bow down to the giants of sport. Tiger Woods may go down as the
greatest golfer ever to breathe, but Mediate didn't have to let him be the
greatest golfer today.

            And, he came so close to fulfilling his destiny. After falling
behind by two at the turn, Mediate roared back with back-nine birdies and
took a one-shot lead into 18. He made par and needed Tiger simply to match
him. Unfortunately, as Woods always does, he did a bit more and forced a
sudden death playoff. A wayward tee shot and poor pitch later, and Mediate
finally had to accept his fate.

            Still, he did what we've been begging so many greater talents to
do for what feels like ages...challenge Eldrick. Look him in the eyes. Refuse
to miss your putts. Will the ball in the hole. Spit back at Tiger's rarified
glare.

            No, Mediate didn't win and he won't be remembered as the 2008
U.S. Open Championship. But, he will be remembered, as one guy who refused
to go quietly. He might be remembered as Tiger's greatest challenger. The
one who refused to be a doormat on the way to greatness.

            Heck, maybe he'll even inspire a few guys by the name of Sergio,
Phil, Adam, Geoff and Jim Furyk to do the same.

 

Column #71-June 2008--So you like Tiger's chances?

 

Absolutely not. No way. Zip, zilch zero. Not in a million years. Not even if
all the golf Gods shine upon him.

That is exactly how I would respond to anyone who asked me if I expect Tiger
Woods to win the U.S. Open this week. Woods may be the greatest golfer in
the world but winning the toughest golf tournament in the world after a
two-month lay-off requires even more than that.

Sure, Woods is the people's choice. The guy could not play for two years and
show up at the 2010 championship and probably still be the people's pick.
But, those who know golf and know the incredible challenge that is the U.S.
Open know it requires more than just being Tiger to win this week.

For starters, this isn't the Torrey Pines Woods has dominated for years at
the Buick Open. It's the same course in name, but it's been lengthened,
beefed up, grown out and turned into a monster of a challenge. Whoever wins
this week is going to have to go through golf's version of hell. The U.S.
Open beats people up, slaps them on the head and then spits out a winner.
It's not about grace and beauty this week, it's about pure survival.

Second, there are guys so ready for this tournament it hurts. Think Sergio
Garcia's confidence isn't through the roof. Think Mickelson isn't pumped to
be playing in front of the hometown fans. Anybody remember how Jim Furyk
always (and I mean always) shows up for U.S. Opens. These guys are hungry
and they know they only get so many tournaments with a wounded Tiger in the
field. They're well aware the odds are a bit more in their favor this week
than usual.

Most importantly, Woods just isn't prepared to win. He hasn't played since
the Masters. He had his second arthroscopic knee surgery in five years. He's
a bit rusty. A bit banged up. And, he's not in national championship form.
There's just no way he's ready to win this event.

He did this before, remember? His father passed away a couple years ago and
he didn't play from the Masters to the U.S. Open. No doubt, we can all
understand his need to take off that time....but, he still missed the cut at
Winged Foot. He wasn't 100 percent prepared...and you need to be to win a U.S.
Open.

Will he make the cut this week? I'd bet yes. But, I'm not sure. It's just
not that easy. Even the greatest of all-time isn't superhuman. He's the
greatest golfer ever, but a bum knee can still get to him. A challenging
course can still humble him.

This is Tiger's era. It's his time and he's making the most of it. Before
he's done he'll have upwards of 20 major titles and all the records in the
book. However, it's just not his week.

 

 

Column #70-May 2008--On Sergio

 

May the flood gates open. May putts continue to fall. May this finally be the beginning of Sergio Garcia
realizing his true potential.

            When Garcia notched his 2008 Players Championship victory with a par on the first playoff hole over Paul Goydos Sunday, he may have also turned the corner in his career. Sure, Garcia's won before.  He's contended
countless times. He's had his heartbroken at a similar clip. However, he finally won the big one. And, while it was merely average the first three days, his putter was a big reason why on Sunday.

            I've never shied away from my fan-interest in Sergio Garcia.  Something about his swash-buckling, heart-on-the-sleeve game has always intrigued me. And, as a result, I've always rooted for him.

            And, finally, Garcia and his many followers were rewarded Sunday. Some of you may remember the Sports Illustrated article some 10 years ago talking about how then 18-year-old Garcia would be able to contend
with Tiger on a regular basis. That's incredible pressure to put on a kid. And, due to his inconsistent putter, Garcia's never fully lived up to the standards set for him. However, maybe that changes now.

            No, the Players isn't a major. No, Woods wasn't in the field.  But, it's still arguably the deepest field in all of golf. Mickelson, Els, Singh and Goydos...yes, Goydos were all there with a chance to win. And, Garcia
outshined them all. This is the kind of win that changes a guy's career.  This is the kind of win that can give Garcia the confidence to go win a couple Claret Jugs, a green jacket and maybe even an U.S. Open someday.

            It came at the right time too. Listen to Garcia's post-tournament press conference. That's not the same Garcia we knew three years ago. There's a maturity in his voice. An understanding that nothing is going to come easy...and his hard work can pay off. Heck, for a guy who hadn't won in three years, Garcia was actually on the cusp of being irrelevant in
the golf world. After Sunday, he can stop worrying about that.

            The thing about Garcia is that people haven't always felt bad for him. While he's had to deal with a lot of disappointment, he's also been cocky, whiny and a bit immature. That's what happens when we ask kids in
their late-teens and early-20s to handle the pressure and expectations that come with celebrity. That's what happens when everybody tells you how good you are but the scores don't quite back it up.

            Me, I've always loved Garcia. He's the feisty underdog. The flawed hero. He is not an elite putter. But, he's such an incredible ball-striker that he can overcome it. He's also a hard worker. You can't snap your fingers and putt better. Garcia's spent hours working with short game coach Stan Utley this year. Eight one-putt greens on Sunday would
suggest its paying off.

            In the end, people will look back on this victory to establish what it meant to Garcia. If he goes on to win a dozen majors, this will be where it started. If he returns to winning once every three years, it'll be remembered as one good week. Here's hoping it's the former. Here's hoping the kid finally becomes the man. Here's hoping Tiger finally has someone
willing to look him in the eyes and not blink. Here's hoping it's finally Sergio's time.

 

 

 

Column #69-May 2008--Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill Gets Mouth a'wishing

 

There are a number of well wishes I have for Western New York and a few of my favorite
would rank in the following order...

1.      Keep the Buffalo Bills forever and win Super Bowl from time-to-time

2.      Long-term prosperity

3.      A golf course venue capable of a PGA event.

I'm not one to believe any of these are out of reach and I'll knock anybody
who says the Bills are leaving with the nearest four-iron. However, I
understand that at the current time, we don't have a golf course venue
capable of such an event.

That said, there is a golf course about 60 miles to our West with as much
golf history and championship caliber as the best of them. Oak Hill Country
Club, home to this year's Senior PGA Championship, has hosted U.S. Opens,
PGA Championships, Ryder Cups and U.S. Amateur Championships. The course has
had everyone from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods walk its majestic fairways.

Once again it will help anoint a champion when the senior's event takes
place May 19-25. Tickets are still available and great players like Ben
Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Bernhard Langer and Gary Player will be in our
sudo-backyard.

It's worth looking into if for no other reason than the course is
spectacular. The first pro-event I ever went to was the 2003 PGA
Championship at Oak Hill. I walked the course for a practice round and was
able to see so many of my favorite golfers. Shaun Micheel would go on to win
the event.

The course is a Par-70 monster with two Par 5's and a Par 3 15th that
requires about as perfect a shot as you can hit to get it near the pin.
There's also a number of holes with undulation, hazards and bunkering that
have been around for ages.

It's the perfect mix. Great players and an even greater golf course. More
importantly, it takes about as long as some people's morning commute to go
check it out. And, even though Buffalo is nowhere near close to being able
to stake claim to its own professional golf events, it's nice to know the
PGA hasn't forgotten about the golf gems of Central and Western New York. In
2013, the PGA will bring its own championship back to Oak Hill for another
thrilling event.

 

 

Column #68-April 2008--Sunday at The Masters, or Cuts & Bruises Day

 

Excuse me while I dust off a few cuts, scrapes and bruises.

            That was painful, wasn't it? Watching the world's greatest
golfers get beat silly by Augusta National Golf Course. As CBS Golf Analyst
Nick Faldo said early on Sunday afternoon, "I can't tell you which player is
going to finish with the lowest score, but I can tell you Augusta is going
to win today."

            He was right. With no disrespect to Trevor Immelman, who won the
Masters fair, square and impressively, Sunday at Augusta was ugly. Guys like
Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and even Tiger Woods walked off the 18th looking more
like Rocky Balboa after 12 rounds with Apollo Creed than Jack Nicklaus after
18 lovely holes.

            And, in being such a bear, Augusta National ripped out all the
Sunday drama we've come to expect. Patrons at the course and fans watching
worldwide kept waiting for someone, anyone to make a charge. Nobody did.
They all backed up and made bogeys at will. Most of us knew Immelman would
wear the green jacket after about an hour of TV coverage on Sunday.

            That's not to say it was all bad. Immelman's a great young
talent who may win more than his fair share of major championships. Everyone
kept waiting for him to blink or choke - he never did. He made a few errors
along the way, but always bounced back with an answer. Take the winds away
on Sunday and he might just have become the first player to card four rounds
in the 60's at The Masters.

            And, there was Brandt Snedeker, thank god for Snedeker. America
may not have only discovered its next great young golfer this past weekend,
but also the most humble, fun-loving guy on the planet. I never thought
somebody could smile as much as Phil Mickelson does on the golf course.
Snedeker does. He smiles after birdies, bogeys and shark attacks. This guy
played miserable on Sunday, lost the Masters and still couldn't seem to get
that grin off of his face. It's like he still hasn't forgotten hat he gets
to play golf for a living.

            There was Tiger Woods. Isn't there always Tiger Woods? Contrary
to what most of the media will tell you, Woods did not lose this golf
tournament, Trevor Immelman won it. The 96 greatest golfers in the world
came to Augusta last weekend. He finished alone in second-place. It was
anything but a disappointing performance. The guy's incredible. The guy's
going to break every record in golf. Let's leave him be when he misses a
couple putts and only musters a second place finish in one of the most
challenging golf tournaments ever.

            All that said, something was missing from the Masters this year.
This was more like the year Mike Weir won with a playoff-bogey than when
Mickelson made a did-you-just-see-that Sunday charge. This was a Sunday
snooze, not a Sunday roar. This was the U.S. Open, not the Masters.

            For years, I've said the U.S. Open is my favorite golf
tournament because it makes par a good, and quite possibly, winning score.
Only at the U.S. Open can you see guys never make a birdie and still score
well for the tournament. However, due to the changes at Augusta National,
The Masters is becoming very resembling of our national championship. And,
for some reason, it's not as enjoyable.

            The Masters is supposed to be about mastery. It's supposed to be
about breathtaking shots, back-nine charges and prestige. I'm fine with
underdogs and relative unknowns winning the Masters, but I'm not so fond of
these Sunday beat-downs. The past two Masters have been more about survival
than success. That doesn't take away from what Immelman and Zach Johnson
have accomplished. If anything, it emboldens it. However, it takes something
away from the fans, who've come to look at The Masters as the return of
spring. A chance to kick back and watch great golf. We got that this year
and we got a deserving champion - but all the guts, glory, drama and
prestige were missing on Sunday. And, it wasn't just the high winds that
took them away.

 

Column # 67-April 2008--Saturday at the Masters, or AHMNPTW Day

 

The third day of the Masters is called moving day for the
players. For fans and idiots like me, it's alrighthere'smynewpicktowin  day.

                Coming into this tournament I picked Geoff Ogilvy, Zach
Johnson and Padraig Harrington. All three guys made the cut, but none of
them are in serious contention after two days. I also claimed that Phil
Mickelson and Sergio Garcia would not play well. I was half right; Garcia's
opening 76 killed him. Mickelson, on the other hand, is playing nearly
flawless golf. He's currently three-off the lead heading into the third
round.

                What's my point? None of us can ever truly predict what's
going to happen in major championship golf. Everybody who was talking Tiger
vs. the field and/or Tiger and the grand slam looks to be a bit off. After
45 holes, Woods needs a flurry of birdies to get back into the picture. Now,
I'm not saying he can't do it...I'm just saying, you never know.

                Instead, two rounds at Augusta have given us the names of
Trevor Immelman, Brandt Snedker, Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson and Paul Casey.
Poulter, you may remember, said something along the lines of, 'once I start
playing as well as I can, it's just going to be me in the conversation with
Tiger Woods' earlier this year. Now, he's backing it up. This is the first
major championship he's played in since those comments and he's beating
Woods and keeping himself in contention for the tournament.

                I've always been a Poulter fan. He's obviously got a lot of
confidence and he's one of the boldest dressers on tour. Looking at the
current leader board, I'll take Poulter to win it. That's not to say the
other guys can't get it done. Immelman's tough as steel and playing great.
Snedeker's young, talented and spends such little time over the ball that
he's probably to busy to be nervous. Mickelson? Well, his two green jackets
can do the talking.

                So yes, we've come to day three - a chance to reevaluate the
field and a chance to rethink who just might win this thing. Many of the
familiar names and faces are around for the weekend, and we've got some
other new names to spice it up as well.

                There are really only two certainties we can accept as we
watch the Masters.

1.       It's going to a weekend to remember.

2.       We have no idea what's going to happen.

Check back tomorrow for The Mouth's end of Masters wrap-up.

 


Column # 66-March 2008--Ernie Els Becomes The Man We Thought Tiger Would Become

 

In a lot of ways, it is the things we don't plan on that come to define our lives.

            The people, the struggles and the challenges life surprises us
with help us discover our true mettle. If that rings true for any golfer
right now, it's got to be Ernie Els who publicly announced his son, Ben,
suffers from a strong form of autism earlier this week.

            You've got to imagine Ernie Els never thought he'd have someone
stitch the "Autism Speaks" logo on his golf bag one day. There had to be
days when Els thought the worst thing in life was a bad lie in a cavernous
bunker.

            Yet, there he was earlier this week, fielding questions about
autism after a day of golf at the PGA Tour's PODS Championship. According to
Els, his family has kept the diagnosis private of the past few years.

            "I feel comfortable talking about it now," Els told the
Associated Press after he missed the cut Friday in the PODS Championship.
"I've got a bit of a profile where it will grab attention. That's what this
problem needs. And with that, hopefully, more people will get involved and
we can start getting to what causes it and what can be done to help it."

            By definition, autism is a psychiatric disorder characterized by
marked deficits in communication and social interaction. About one in every
150 children is diagnosed with some form of the disease. Els openly admitted
that his five-year-old Ben suffers from a severe form of the disease.

            It's noble and it's expected that Els would now join in the
fight against this disease. However, it's a bit cheap for others to talk
about the value his fame will bring to the cause. Sure, people of fame and
influence hold the ability to draw extra support and rally others. But
fathers also have the ability to ache for their sons, and one shouldn't
overlook the difficulties the disease poses for Ben, Ernie and the rest of
the Els family.

            "Like any family will tell you, it's not easy. And it's a change
of life, a change of priorities. You've got to be ready for it. And it's
happening more often," Els said. "I never knew about it, never thought about
it, until it's in your lap."

            That pain must have drowned out the losses Els was taking on the
course over the past few years. He experienced over a three-year victory
drought on the PGA Tour that he broke at last week's Honda Championship.
He's finished second to Tiger Woods in more majors than he cares to
remember. Publicly, people spoke about how he might be losing his game.

            Through it all, Els was privately dealing with Ben's disease.
And, now he's ready to bring that fight into the public eye. Having grown up
in South Africa and having a schedule which takes him around the world, Els
is no doubt capable of becoming an international spokesperson.

            "We've been taking our time and trying to assess what we need to
do, what we want to do," Els said. "We're doing a lot for Ben. But there are
a lot of kids like him out there, and worse than him. We're in a fortunate
position where money is not a real problem for our family. We can get Ben
the right help. Some people are not in the same position. We'd like to raise
money for the poor."

        Wouldn't it be something if one of the greatest golfers ever ended
up being remembered for what he did to fight autism? Els might just be able
to do it. While still more than capable of winning golf tournaments, his
younger years are behind him. Soon, he'll need challenges that extend beyond
the golf course.

            That said, there will no doubt come a time this season when Els
bogeys 17 and ends up finishing second in some tournament.  Writers will
criticize his club selection.  Fans will doubt his poise.

            And Els?  Well, he'll simply put it in perspective and head home
to his wife and children. Els has learned the hard way that there's more to
life than golf. He's blessed to be a father. And now, he's ready to take on
a challenge he never saw coming. One he might just be able to knock out
like nobody before him.

 

 

Column # 65-March 2008--Boo Weekley:  Traditional Warrior for a New World

 

Somewhere, golf traditionalists who harp on intangible ideas
like 'the purity of the game," and "the way the sport was meant to be
played," have to be missing Casey Martin and his golf cart. Martin, his bum
leg and the idea of riding around the golf course is probably a heck of a
lot easier for golf traditionalists to swallow than the myth, man and legend
that is becoming Boo Weekley.

            Consider for a moment, that in the past year alone, Weekley
tried to board a plane with bullets in his luggage, got Sergio Garcia
disqualified from a major tournament, wore camouflaged clothes on the course
and admitted he didn't know a player could concede someone else a putt in
match play.

            If that doesn't let you in on it, let's just say, Weekley is not
your average player. According to an inside source who worked at the Verizon
Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links where Weekley won his first career PGA
tournament last year, the first thing he wanted to do after the victory was
go fishing. There are also numerous public accounts of how the man once
wrestled an orangutan at a state fair. It gets a little murky when people
start talking about how actually won the wrestling match.

            All that said, Weekley sure does know how to swing a golf club.
The guy's gone from a relative unknown to one of the best 50 players on the
planet in less than a year. Along with the win at the Heritage, Weekley also
performed well at last year's British Open. More recently, he downed Sergio
Garcia in the World Match Play Championships 3 and 1. He eventually finished
in 9th position out of the field of 64. He's got two other top 10's on his
sheet this year as well.

            With all that on your resume, the win over Garcia resonates
unique. Perhaps there's no better foil for Weekley than Garcia. The two are
about as different as elevators and inner tubes. Garcia grew up in wealth, a
student of the game who has been a star since he was 19. He drives fast cars
and dates celebrities. The only thing missing from his resume is a major
championship. Weekley grew up in rural America, where hunting and fishing
feats garner a lot more respect than knocking it stiff from the rough. He
admits he doesn't enjoy watching golf and doesn't really know all the rules.

            Still, all their differences, the two seem linked in some odd
way. Last year at the 2007 PGA Championship, Weekley wrote the incorrect
score on Garcia's card. Garcia, failing to check it closely, signed the card
and was disqualified. Amazingly, the two were paired together later in the
year and it almost happened again but Garcia caught it. Garcia had to be
hoping to enforce his will on Weekley a few weeks ago at the World Match
Play Championship. It didn't happen. Weekley made 6 birdies over the last 10
holes to take the match.

            Things like scores and rules just don't seem to faze Weekley. He
tees it up and whacks it and hopes things turn out alright. Come April,
he'll play in the first Masters of his career. Then, he'll head to Harbour
Town to defend last year's title which he won by chipping in twice in the
last few holes. While there's no guarantee he'll play well at either event,
fans can be sure he'll leave his mark on the event. Be it with odd clothes,
funny sayings, or non-golf traditional conduct, Weekley lives his own way.
At another match in the World Match Plays, he admitted he didn't know you
could let someone pick up a putt in match play.

            That's what makes Weekley so fun to watch. He's almost capable
of doing anything with a golf club. And, he's surely capable of anything off
of it. He's the kind of guy who gives golf traditionalists nightmares...and
he's probably never even heard of a golf cart.

 

 

Column # 64-February 2008--Outrageous Opening To 2008 Tour Seasons

 

Can we just go ahead and label this season as the year of outlandish things?


            Let's just look at a few of the best quotes from the opening month of the 2008 PGA Tour season.

            "A grand slam is easily within reason this year." - Tiger Woods

            "Don't get me wrong, I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger." - Ian Poulter.

            "Hey, this year, at the Masters, let's just play 15 holes each day. How 'bout it?" - (Alright, I made this one up.)

            Still, think about those first two comments. Tiger Woods says it's 'easily within reason' he could win all four majors in 2008. That's quite a statement for even Woods who hasn't won more than two in a year since his magical 2000 year. And, let's not forget, that winning a major championship is about the hardest thing to do in golf. Great golfers play their entire career and never win one. Woods seems to think winning four this year might be only a little bit out of reach. Are you kidding me?

            I'll grant Woods this. He's the greatest golfer to live. If anyone can win the calendar year grand slam, it's him. But, I'm having trouble seeing him do it. It's just too hard. He's playing a game that can be controlled by weather, outside competition and luck. The difference between winning and losing at that level of golf is so slim. It comes down to one putt, one subtle break, one miss-club.  I've got nothing but love for Tiger Woods, but not even he's immune to that.

            He is probably immune from having his legacy shattered by Ian Poulter. Poulter respectfully told reporters this week that as soon as he starts playing well, he'll be as good as Tiger. Hey, I'm with him, as soon as I start writing better I'll be Shakespeare. But, let's be honest, that's not going to happen anytime soon.

            Poulter's a great talent, a young player and a dashing dresser. He is not, however, Tiger Woods. Poulter has no PGA wins in America and has never won a major. He's accomplished and capable of taking Woods down on any given day, but he'll never be considered the same caliber of player as Eldrick.

            I give Poulter props for steeping up and throwing it out there.  Let's be honest, nobody's challenging Woods on the course so somebody might as well start doing it in the papers. However, if Poulter wants Woods' and the rest of the golfing world's respect, he'll start getting it done on the course. Beat Woods heads up in the final group at Augusta this April and we
can start talking Ian.

            It's doubtful that will happen anytime soon. After three rounds of golf at this week's Dubai Classic, Poulter trailed Woods by two shots and the leader Ernie Els by six. That's not bad for Poulter, but it's far from being just him and Tiger. In fact, between Woods and Poulter alone, there are five other golfers tied at seven under with Woods, six golfers at
six-under and five golfers tied at five-under with Poulter.

            Amazingly, knowing where Poulter and Woods' games are at I've come to this crazy conclusion. While I doubt either one of them will follow through on their statements, Woods has a better shot of coming through.  That's right, it's more likely that Woods will win all four majors in 2008 than Poulter will ever elevate his game to consistently match Woods.

            Do I think either of these things will actually happen? Let's just say me and my joke of a golf swing have a better chance of breaking 65 this summer. But, it appears 2008 may be the season of outlandish things, and I'm happy to be along for the ride.

 

 

Column # 63-January 2008--A Young Guy's Take On The BuffaloGolfer.Com Annual Summit

 

Alright, I'll be the first to admit it. There is truth in Mo Golf's recent column. We did all get together last weekend to eat, drink, talk golf and be merry. If you're wondering what lead myself, Duff and Scrambler to be seen in public with Mo and his overflowing passion for golf just know we haven't all figured it out yet either.

 

Perhaps it had something to do with the setting. This was my third trip to the Frog Hair and I just fall in love with the place more and more each time. The food is delicious. The menu's a book. The simulators are jam-packed and yes, there were more than a fair share of beautiful women milling about.

 

Then again, maybe it's the company. Knowing we've all heard his golf jokes and stories three times over, Mo brought along brilliant golf course designer Scott Witter to share in the conversation with us. Listening to him was like learning about the game all over. Looking at the game of golf through Witter's eyes changes your understanding of the sport. It's refreshing. If Witter follows through and begins writing a golf-architecture column for the site, I'll be one of his most avid readers.

 

And, then again, there's always the great topic of golf. We throw around tales of past rounds, future rounds and ideas about the sport. Heck, I'll even admit I enjoy Mo's company more than I let on. Our writers' summits are beginning to become a Can't-Miss night in Buffalo.

 

Then again, there's one thing that's always missing. See, we talk about golf and we always talk about the same courses, memories and stories. We've listened to each other's theories on the sport every time we get together. And, while we more than enjoy eating and hitting the links together – it's time to acknowledge that we're missing something. While we don't have the budget to buy all of our readers dinner, we need to start listening to what they're saying about the site. Believe it or not, we'd probably value your opinions

 

We've made attempts to engage our readers. I recommended the message board go up last year – it struggled and eventually failed. We were a major presence at last year's Buffalo Golf Show – that went well. Still, I don't think we've opened a true dialogue with all of our readers and that bothers me.

 

If you're reading this site then you've obviously got an interest in golf. Think about this for a second – if you could design the best Buffalo/Golf site on the web, what would you want? What do you want to read? What do you want to see? Do you like pictures or do you like videos? Would you like more Duff? Are you tired of my roaring?

 

See, we've got ideas. We're pumped about the architecture column. We'd like to add a female perspective to the site. We want to go play Bethpage Black next summer and take more pictures and videos than you can imagine. But, maybe that's not what you want to see.  

 

That's my BuffaloGolfer.com resolution for 2008 – to listen to our readers. I've tried to get people to respond to me before and it hasn't worked. If this fails, I still won't give up. I want to know what you all want from us in 2008 and beyond.

 

www.buffalogolfer.com or Christopher.whitcombATgmail.com

 

Our ears are open and not just because we're tired of Mo's jokes.

 

Column # 62-December 2007--Peek'N Peak Classic Takes a One-Year Hiatus

I hate to be Scroogeish this holiday season but I'm going to have to be the bearer of bad news in this column. According to a recent announcement, scheduling conflicts will lead to the cancellation of the Nationwide Tour's
2008 Peek 'n Peak Classic at Peek 'n Peak Resort and Spa.

That's a real bummer for area golf fans who've come accustomed to seeing the next generation of golfing elite visit Western New York each July. Guys like last year's Master Champion Zach Johnson and past tour stars like David Duval
made their names on the Nationwide Tour before rolling up wins on the PGA Tour. Sadly, no future greats will visit Findley Lake, N.Y. in 2008.

The press release that came out last week indicates that the tournament has traditionally been held the week prior to the 4th of July holiday.  Nationwide Tour scheduling required the resort to hold the event on the 4th of July weekend this year and thus Peek 'n Peak decided they couldn't lose the revenue from that holiday weekend. A joint decision to cancel this
year's tournament was then made.

Rather than lament that the championship won't be constested in 2008, I'd like to begin making the case for it returning in 2009. The Peek 'n Peak Classic has become a staple in my summer plans. The great golf, intimate experience with
the golfers and beautiful course make it a must-see for any local golf fan.  And, any year when the PGA isn't visiting Oak Hill in Rochester, NY, it's the best golf this area gets to see.

It's about more than just me and my summer plans though. The Western New York area is a strong and proud golf community. It deserves its big-time tournament. It deserves a chance to let the world's greatest golfers come by
for a visit. It deserves the Peek 'n Peak Classic.

That's not to discard the resort's worries about losing revenue over the holiday weekend. In a region where winter takes away so many great golf days, you've got to make money when you can. The 4th of July weekend is probably the resort's best revenue weekend of the year. It isn't fair to expect them to give it up.

So, there's no need to point fingers and doll out blame. It's sad that the tournament won't be here in 2008 but it isn't tragic. What would be tragic would be to let this tournament disappear from the Western New York scene for good. Let's bust out the 2009 calendars right now and find us a weekend that works for everyone.  The Peek 'n Peak Classic has been a great event
for this area. And, we've seen such N-Tour champions as Roland Thatcher, Esteban Toledo and Kevin Stadler take home the tournament title.  Here's hoping we get to add more great names to that list of champions staring in 2009.

Editor's Note: 

Column # 61-December 2007-This column is about the 2008 PGA Season...

        What led me to write this column you ask?

1.        I've finally recovered from a few days of turkey-induced laziness.
2        The Buffalo Bills chances at making the playoffs officially ended
today after Coach Dick Jauron elected not to play Trent Edwards. (I'll
show discipline and refuse from going on about this point - let's get
to golf.)

I know it's early for a preview column. Most golf writers are still
working on there end of season awards columns. Stewart Cink just won
the Skins game and a boat load of money. Even here in Western New
York, there are places you can still get out on the course.

All that said, I know that I'm not going to see Tiger Woods, Sergio
Garcia or Phil Mickelson play again this year and I'm not going to be
too interested in any golf played in December. So, albeit a little
early, I'm unleashing some fearless predictions for the first half of
2008. (I've got to leave myself something to write come next May or
June...so we'll leave the second half of the season until then).

Fearless Prediction No. 1 - Tiger Woods will not win either the
Masters or the U.S. Open next year - That's a bold statement to make
about the greatest golfer alive but I don't think 08 is going to be a
banner year for the guy. He had a dominant 07 and will definitely
eclipse Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. But, I doubt he wins one until
next year's British Open or PGA Championship.

Fearless Prediction No. 2 - Chris Dimarco matters again. - Be honest,
the last time you can remember Dimarco actually competing in a
tournament that mattered is the 06 British when his steely play pushed
Woods to play his best. Dimarco, playing days after his mother had
passed away and a couple groups ahead of Tiger, absolutely willed the
ball in the hole. He's one of the toughest competitors on tour and
while his game wasn't there in 07 - he's not scared to go toe to toe
with Eldrick.  Dimarco has no major championships to his credit but
he's going to be a major player in the 2008 season.

Fearless Predication No. 3 - Hunter Mahan comes to play. -  This guy
impressed me more than any other young gun or up and comer on tour
last year. He won once and played well during the second half of the
season. I wouldn't be surprised if the guy became an absolute star
this season. And remember, if he does, you heard it hear first.

Fearless Predication No. 4 - The United States wins the Ryder Cup -
Call it home field advantage but I expect the United States to put
together a spirited run at the Ryder Cup title next year at Valhalla
Golf Club. This time around, there won't be a magical putt from Justin
Leonard but there are more than enough talented American golfers to
win this event. A year ago, the Americans got there butt kicked by
Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia and co. Something tells me next year's
squad will be eager to respond.

Fearless Predication No. 5 - The Fed-Ex Cup will stink...again. Tiger
Woods hated this event. Phil Mickelson hated it. Other guys hated it.
They all found ways to get out of playing one of the events. Next
year, the Ryder Cup is thrown in there. There's no way this thing
works long term. Personally, I think golf should go away from the
playoff system and let the NFL enjoy it's dominance in the fall. If
the PGA feels a need to have a playoff season...they've got major bugs
to work out.

Fearless Predication No. 6 - David Duval will play well. Yup, I'm the
guy who once proclaimed that Duval would win another major before he
retired. There's no way I'm backing g down from that statement now.
Duval began to reemerge at the end of the 06 season. Then, last year,
he sat out almost the entire year as he stayed home to take care of
his children and wife (she had major implications during pregnancy).
Thankfully, the Duvals welcomed their new daughter Sienna to the world
in early September with no major problems. Duval's already shown signs
of playing well as he carded scores of 70-71-73-71 at the Callaway
Invitational at Pebble Beach earlier this month. Now, a new Family
Crisis exemption should help Double D pick up with his progress in 06.

 

Column # 60-November 2007-There is a season, turn , turn, turn...

Daylight Savings Time might as well be put the golf clubs away
for another season day for me. I've always had an internal clock which tells
me once it starts getting dark before I'm home for work...I've got to stop
golfing.

            It's not just the dark. There are other reasons my mind starts
drifting away from golf during the fall months. First, the Buffalo Bills are
engrossed in a stirring and inspirational turnaround this season. Second
off, my own flag football team is nearing its own playoff hunt.

            Personally, I think life and sports are meant to be treated that
way...in seasons. As much as we love (whatever your favorite sport is) it's
good to take a break and pick up another game, another hobby and another
perspective.

            Think of guys like Michael Jordan and Jerome Bettis who used
their off seasons to become superb golfers. Even as dedicated as they were
to being excellent in their sport, they made time for the golf course. This
got me thinking about what some of the greatest golfers in the world might
want to consider taking up as another sport/profession in their off season.

Phil Mickelson - This guy's got dominant bowler written all over his face.
He's not really in shape to pursue a physically demanding sport but he's got
great touch and imagination with his shots. Plus, he's already got the
support of the common man. Let's be honest, it's easy to picture hordes of
fans screaming for Lefty as he picks up turkey after turkey.

Chad Campbell - If you've never seen Chad Campbell in person then you
probably don't know he's built like a Mack Truck. Somewhat small in stature,
he's strong and solid from head to toe. If he'd spent as much of his
childhood on the football field as he did on the golf course, there's no
reason he couldn't be catching balls from JP Losman in Miami next weekend.

John Daly - Remember John Kruk? How about Frank Thomas? Big guys with big
power can go along way in the major leagues. John Daly is custom-built to be
a long-ball hitting designated hitter in the American League. He'd probably
demand big money and a Hooters be built in Fenway Park so he could play with
the Boston Red Sox. Then again, he might just be content to kick around in
the beer league softball games.

Fred Funk - This guy works crowds as well as anyone in any profession. Fred
Funk is a politician waiting to happen. Watch him stroll from green to tee
during a practice round and he'll shake more hands and take more pictures
with babies than our current presidential candidates would ever consider
doing. He's good-natured, intelligent and knows how to get people behind
him. Might not be a bad idea to add him to the 08' ticket.

Jose Maria Olazabal - For my money, there's never been a more creative
shot-maker than Jose Maria. He's got the hands of a god and the touch of a
legend. He didn't win those two green jackets by overpowering Augusta
National - he did it with his short game. Something tells me those skills
might also be the perfect recipe for a great billiards player. I'd never
want to take this guy on in a pool hall.

Ernie Els - They call him the big easy. I'd much rather call him the newest
member of the Indiana Pacers. This guy is tall and has great hands. He'd be
a force in the post if you taught him some duck-under and drop-step moves.
I'd put big money on this guy being the best one-on-one player on tour.

Mike Weir - At first I thought Weir would probably make a great hockey
player because he grew up around the game and seems like he'd be a fast
skater. But, he's a bit small and not the most aggressive of guys. This guy
might be better served as a curler in the next Olympics.

Tiger Woods - Speed skater? World-class badminton player? Croquet legend?
Nope. Sorry, I thought about this one over and over and came to one
conclusion...he was born to be a golfer. You don't' rack up wins and records
like Woods does if your meant to be elsewhere. Probably the only thing he
does comparable to golf is business. He's got his own course design company,
his own flavor of Gatorade, Buicks, FlyJet's and Nike Swooshes out the
wazoo.

 

Column # 59-October 2007-The 19th Hole:  Peek'N Peak's Upper Course Grill

If you ever have the unfortunate opportunity of being stuck in a
car with the four writers/hacks that make up BuffaloGolfer.com, you're bound
to hear a story or two come up about how The Scrambler can eat.

            Every car trip starts the same with memories of our past trips
to U.S. Opens, PGA Championships and Nationwide events in the area. At some
point or another, Mo Golf will talk about the time he saw The Scrambler eat
and eat and eat more than he'd ever seen anyone eat before.

            This past weekend the four of us headed to Peek and Peak for an
end-of-summer golf summit of sorts. While we all played at different levels,
we all sat down for lunch as equals after our round. For the Mouth, this was
my first opportunity to see the Legendary Scrambler and his taste buds at
work.

            Much to my dismay, the Scrambler went light with cheese sticks
and a salad. While the salad was big, I half expected him to order the whole
right side of the menu. And, who could have blamed him after looking at the
many choices the restaurant at Peek and Peak Upper Course gave its tired
duffs. Each of us ordered something that sounded good and learned that it
also tasted good. Travelin' Duff gobbled down a BLT Wrap and needed no doggie
bag for the road. Mo Golf hit up another wrap and was one of the
few of us who actually ate slow enough to chew. Myself, I went with a Caesar
Chicken Wrap and would have easily had another if I wasn't so full from the
first.

            Scrambler enjoyed every last morsel of his salad and I almost
expected him to call for seconds. As legend would have it, often the salad
is just a warm-up for Scrambler. However, on this wonderful day, Scrambler
kept it simple and learned that sometimes great, tasty, delicious things
come in one-course servings.

·         While none of our taste buds can comment on the other items on the
menu, it's worth noting that the Peek and Peak Restaurant has four pages of
great food choices from full-fledged dinners to salads and even pub fare
(burgers and fries). Beer, wine, coffee and soda are served by the glass and
the service is anything but below par. It's a friendly retreat for golfers
after facing the daunting 18 holes that make up the Upper Course.

The Mouth that Roars gives it 4.5 Stars out of 5. The only thing holding it
back from a perfect score was the Scrambler and his unwillingness to build
upon his legend.

 

Installment # 58-October 2007-The Burden of Being Mike Weir

About half way through his singles match with Tiger Woods in this past
weekend's Presidents Cup, Mike Weir was faced with a challenge on par with
climbing Mount Everest barefoot.

            After 16 holes, Weir was one down to the greatest golfer ever to
worry about sand saves and had seen Tiger put together some great golf all
day. This isn't to suggest Weir isn't a phenomenal golf talent (he is) or
that a one-hole deficit with two holes to go is insurmountable (it's tough,
but achievable). It's more to suggest that Woods is the kind of guy who
gives up leads about as often as newborns water-ski. Every time he's won a
major championship, he's held the lead after three days as well as four.

            However, Weir was more than up for shucking his shoes and
climbing his version of golf's Everest. He birdied 17 and then 18 to take
Woods down in front of his home-team Canadian crowd. The roar that followed
Weir's victory almost drowned out the fact the United States downed the
Internationals 19.5 to 14.5.

            "When I look back on my career," Weir said after the win, "this
may be something, maybe even more special than the Masters, the support I've gotten here."

            No doubt, playing in front of his home country and taking down
Tiger Woods is a memory worth cherishing. However, Weir's the kind of guy
who's winning and making memories every day that are far more valuable than
anything he'll ever do with a golf club.

            A few years back, Weir established the Mike Weir Foundation to
raise money for children's education programs and other organizations geared
toward helping seriously ill children. Just recently, Weir's foundation set
out on the Miracle Golf Drive for Kids, which will raise money to ensure all
children receive the best medical care, families receive caring support
during a medical crisis and that cutting-edge research will help children in
the future.

            Essentially, the Golf Drive for Kids will bring together
individuals, sponsors and golf courses in united nation-wide fundraising
events throughout Canada. The money raised will benefit the 14 hospitals
that make up the Children's Miracle Network in Canada.

            "As parents, contributing to the health and well-being of
children was a natural priority for my wife Bricia and I when we started the
Mike Weir Foundation," said Weir. "We wanted to take our time to find the
right fundraising program, as well as the right charitable partner, that
allowed the Foundation to have the biggest impact. We are very excited about
the Mike Weir Miracle Golf Drive for Kids initiative."

            There are a lot of sick and injured children throughout
Canada who are also excited about the Golf
Drive for Kids. An estimated 2.5 million children visit the hospitals Weir
is helping raise money for each year. That's 2.5 million children who may
receive better help, care and guidance thanks to Weir's efforts.
That's 2.5million Weir fans who no doubt helped cheer on their
favorite golfer as he beat Woods last weekend.

            While Weir's charitable efforts are commendable, it's almost
easy to expect such work from the golfer. Weir's hands-down one of the most
down-to-earth and humble guys on tour. He's a major champion who isn't
caught up in what he has or hasn't accomplished. He's grounded, and well
aware that helping children live fuller lives is more important than any
green jacket.

            That being said, Weir is also a fierce competitor and tried and
true winner. When he was one-down to Woods with two to play Weir knew
exactly what it would take to get a win. And, two birdies later, he'd downed
the greatest golfer ever in front of a raucous home crowd. It's estimated
that a few thousand people stood by the green and cheered as Weir picked up
his conceded birdie on 18. However, it's fair to assume there were another
2.5 million more cheering even louder around the country.

Installment # 57-September 2007-Ambivalence Toward The FedEx Cup

Golf movie buffs will remember the scene in The Legend of Bagger Vance
where the young boy asks Will Smith's character if the great golfer Rannulph
Junuh is still Rannulph Junuh.

            Smith's response..."Well, he is and he ain't."

            If someone were to ask me if the first ever Fedex Cup worked for
the PGA, I'd probably muster a similar response.

            "Well, it did and it didn't."

            The fact that Tiger Woods won shows the system is effective in
crowning a rightful champion. Woods put on an absolute clinic over the last
two weeks of the new PGA Playoff system. Even with not playing in the first
of the four events, Woods was a walk-away winner. Such a result shows the
FedEx point system does a great job of rewarding those who play the best.

            However, there are other ways to measure the success of the
system. On a positive note, it did get such talents as Woods, Phil
Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh and Geoff Ogilvy to play at least
three-out-of-four weeks in the fall. That's a huge accomplishment and gave
fans the most fall excitement they'd ever seen outside of a great Ryder Cup.


            At the same time, Woods and Mickelson opted to sit out one of
the events despite being near the top of the points chase. Mickelson seemed
to openly criticize the format and felt it didn't really help the game all
that much. Other players skipped events and expressed concern about the
format. Unfortunately for the PGA, such negative comments and no-shows
became a major story line over the past few weeks.

            Want to look at the whole thing another way?

            TV ratings were much, much lower than one would have expected
for such a high-profile big money event. Credit that in part to the fact
fans were confused with the heavily scrutinized point system and also
somewhat to the player discontent. Even with such money at stake and the
likes of Woods and Mickelson playing together, the FedEx Cup just couldn't
create the excitement that major championships do. Sorry, Mickelson's win
over Tiger in week 2 doesn't qualify as him dispatching Tiger in a major.
The US Open, British Open, PGA Championship and The Masters will always be
top dog in golf because they are the events the players care about more.
It's almost as if fans knew players didn't care all that much about the
FedEx Cup and just followed suit.

            Another way to look at the FedEx Cup is what it did for certain
players. Dear Steve Stricker, your career is not only resurrected, it's more
alive than ever before. Dear Tiger Woods, we know you didn't need it, but
here's an annuity that will be worth about $25 million when you can get to
it...give it to your daughter. K.J. Choi -you are now among the best players
in the world, officially.

            When you look at it that way, the FedEx Cup did bring out some
great golf from certain players. It helped to drive a few players to new
levels in their career and new expectations. That's always a positive.

            However, when I think about the future of the FedEx Cup, I just
don't get excited. I'm sorry, but the four majors are the definitive events
in golf. The FedEx Cup can matter, but don't expect it to supplant these
events. No matter how big the purse gets, a player will always be defined by
how many times they brought home a major title.

            That considered, the FedEx Cup probably wasn't as big of a hit
as the PGA hoped it would become. It had positive effects on the game of
golf. But, at the end of the day, if you asked the casual golf fan if they
cared about the FedEx Cup...you'd probably get this response.

             "Well, I do and I don't."

 

Installment # 56-September 2007-59 Ain't So Difficult...On Ttelevision

Got a call from one of my buddies the other day, he shot a 59 at
Pebble Beach and then a 62 at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island...apparently
the wind kicked up at Kiawah and really limited his ability to get it close
to the hole.

            Here's the crazy part. My buddy has never once picked up a golf
club. If he took a swing he'd probably tie his body into a knot. He'd fall
over on a five iron. He'd spend all day in the drink. You get the idea.

            Nope, instead of going out there and learning the game and
actually trying to shoot those numbers, he's simply doing it in his living
room while playing EA Sports new Tiger Woods 2008.

            It's a phenomenal game. If you haven't had a chance to play it,
you should. The graphics and course designs are so life-like it's scary. The
only unrealistic features of the game are the insanely-low numbers it allows
you to shoot. I've seen guys drive par-4s, collect two hole-in-ones in a
round and not even blink. Tiger Woods is good but his video game is even
better.

            All that said, I've got no problem with a golf video game. I
love playing them. I think it's great for guys who love golf to get a
glimpse of some of the most famous courses in the world. I think it's neat
to virtually take Tiger on in a skins game. I even think it's neat that they
let you drive par 4's.

            However, it sure does make arguing with my non-golf friends a
heck of a lot harder. They don't think golf is hard at all. They're quicker
to suggest golf isn't a sport. They figure if they can shoot a 59 at Pebble
Beach, it can't be that hard, right?

            They're right of course. Pretty much everyone who can breathe
can shoot a 59 at Pebble Beach. The bigger question is how many more holes
you will have ahead of you after that stroke. Sure, if I picked up after 12
or 13, I might be able to say I took 59 swings at Pebble.

            Even with as great as the graphics are on Tiger Woods new video
game, the great thing for golfers is understanding that no video game will
ever truly capture the magic of teeing it up for real. There's very few true
golfers in this world who's trade shooting a 94 at Pebble Beach in person
for a 59 in their living room. Video games are great, getting out there and
hitting the links in person is greater.

            All that established, I'd still recommend any golf fan runs out
and picks up the video game. Winters can be long in Western New York and a
virtual trip around St. Andrews can ease the cold pains. Shoveling is a
distant second to teeing it up on X-Box.

            Plus, such video games are the only way you'll ever get to utter
the following phrase...

            "Yeah, Tiger did make a nice run with six birdies on the back
nine, fortunately I coupled my five birdies with two eagles and well, he
just didn't have enough on that long par five."

 

Installment # 55-August 2007-PGA equals Parents Generate Affection

Saturday morning, I planned on heading to my company picnic, going for a run
and watching the third round of the PGA Championship.

            By the time Saturday evening rolled around, I'd spent only a
short time at my picnic. Instead of the other two plans for the day, I was
perched on a chair in Buffalo General Hospital talking to my father about a
heart attack he suffered early in the day.

            To say the least, the day didn't quite go as planned.

            Now, before anyone sends me well wishes or get well cards, let
me tell you my father's fine. He underwent a few procedures, saw a few
nights go by from a hospital bed and returned home today. The doctors and my
family are confident he can go on living a long, healthy life for years. He
was -check that- is a healthy man who eats well and works out hard. When he
first began having trouble Saturday it was in the midst of a 5k. Despite
being short on breath and in slight pain, he finished the race.

            While the days that follow a heart attack are never 'good' days,
it's funny the things they bring out in people. My father is one of six
children who came from a father who died at age 43 from a heart attack.
Needless to say, genetics aren't exactly stacked in their hearts' favor.
Following my dad's event, all of them are planning on getting extensive
tests in the upcoming days.

            It's also kind of wonderful to find the things you think about
when you're forced to contemplate your father's mortality. I have so many
wonderful memories of my time with my father, and so many of them over the
past few years have been around a golf course.

            My dad and I play as often as we can (which isn't often enough)
and we love nothing more than to spend a Sunday together watching major
championships. My dad is a devout Tiger Woods fan who's only concerned with
what Woods' shot and how far back he is from the leader. My dad believes
Tiger can, and always will, win. Me, I root for a little more variety, but
also love T Woods.

            Probably my favorite golf-related memory with my father came at
the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. After working for two months on the
Operations Crew for the tournament, I was able to invite my father down to
see the final 2 days of the tournament. He'd seen Tiger Woods at a practice
round once, but for the first time, my dad followed him for 36 holes and got
to see just how unbelievably talented the man can be with a golf club. For
me, it was the first time I felt as if I'd given my dad something truly
special. Sure, I'd given him presents and cards and memories, but this was
the first thing that he couldn't have just gone out and bought himself. I
remember thinking about that over those two days. It truly meant something
to me. It was a sign that I was finally becoming the man he'd always taught
me to be.

            That's why it's fitting my dad had his heart attack on the
weekend of this year's PGA Championship. For maybe a few moments on
Saturday, he had to wonder if he was ever going to be able to find out who
won the thing on Sunday.

            However, once Sunday rolled around, we watched it together. It
wasn't Tiger's prettiest round, but it worked and it gave us both something
wonderful to watch. In so many ways, the PGA Championship is becoming a
symbol for my father and me. As important as that 2005 event was, this
year's meant more. Thankfully, we can now still make plans to watch a few
dozen more together.

EDITOR'S NOTEThose of us fortunate enough to work with Chris, aka The Mouth That Roars, realize that the apple and the acorn truly do not fall far from the tree.  No matter where his father might be, we know that he is truly proud of the son that he has brought up.  Well, proud perhaps in spite of the gyrations that Chris calls a golf swing.

 

Installment # 54-August 2007-PGA Championship Withdrawal From The Inside Out

It hit me like a wayward Tiger Woods tee shot.

            Last Tuesday, sitting in my office and glancing at my calendar,
I suddenly realized it was advance week for the PGA Championship. Exactly a
year ago, I'd been covered in paint, mulch and windscreen trying to turn
Medinah Country Club into a championship village worthy of the greatest
golfers on the planet.

            As I documented on this website, I spent the past two summers
working on the Operations Crew for the PGA Championships at Baltusrol and
Medinah Country Club. This summer, I'm clad in a shirt and tie and working
in downtown Buffalo. I love my current job...but there are many days when I
wish I could relive those weeks I spent with the PGA.

            Don't take that to mean I have regrets. I love my life as it is
right now. I had the chance to continue working for the PGA but I opted out,
it was my decision. As much as I love golf, I could never get used to a
living life in spurts. Fans don't always realize the amount of travel that
goes into anyone's life if they choose to be around the game of golf and the
professional tour. You spend one week in Detroit and the next week in
Florida. One summer in New Jersey, the next in Chicago. I just couldn't get
excited about a lifetime on the road. I've spent essentially all of my 22
years in Western New York...I like to have roots.

            Still, that doesn't mean you can't miss being at a place in life
which allows you to have such experiences. When people ask me about my time
with the PGA I'm quick to tell them it was probably the best four months of
my life. The friendships, experiences and laughs I shared were worth more
than any picture with Tiger Woods. At the end of each tournament, I received
a thank you note from the President of the PGA. I appreciate the sentiment,
but I should have been the one thanking him.

            So yeah, it's weird to not be out in Oklahoma right now. I miss
getting up at 4 a.m. and working until 11 at night more than you'd ever
believe. I miss having a chance to bump into Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and
Vijay Singh at the office. I miss spending every day out in the sun.

            All that aside, I'm excited for the fourth major championship of
the year and the first-ever FecEx Cup Playoffs. It's hard not to pick Tiger
to win after he absolutely destroyed the field at the Bridgestone
Invitational last week. I'd love to see Sergio contend again...but one has to
expect a British Open hang over. If I've got to make a pick to win this
week, I'm taking Geoff Ogilvy.

            Regardless of who wins, I'm sure it'll hit me again this Sunday
when I sit down to watch the final round. I mean, I could have been there.
Last year, I got the chance to have my photo taken with the tournament
champion. Last year, I actually could have been hit by a wayward Tiger Woods
tee shot. I doubt he'll knock one so far right this year it's even in the
same area code as my apartment

            But, again, don't take that as the voice of regret. As much I'd
love to be in Oklahoma this weekend, I've got four months of memories and
hundreds of pictures to keep me company.  In all honesty, two tournaments
was enough. I got to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience...twice!

            And, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

 

Installment # 53-July 2007-Carnoustie Forever!!  British Open Review

With all due respect to St. Andrews and Hoylake, every British
Open should be played at Carnoustie Golf Links.

           That's not to say Carnoustie is a better golf course. It's got
much more to do with the fact Carnoustie delivers exciting finishes and
heart-wrenching collapses about as often as McDonald's hands out a Big Mac.
Eight years ago, the 18 th hole became famous when Jean Van de Velde hit the
ball North, East, South and West before finally making a triple bogey and
turning a three-shot lead into a three-man playoff. Eventually, Van de Velde
would lose to Paul Lawrie.

           This year, even the eventual champion Padraig Harrington knocked
it in the burn twice on the fabled last hole before being saved by a Sergio
Garcia lip out. The four-hole playoff that followed was exciting for three
holes and then absolutely riveting on the 18th hole. Harrington laid up and
then knocked his third shot way left. Garcia went for it and had 25 feet for
birdie and another playoff go-round. Unfortunately, the belly putter Garcia
had used all week failed him twice on the 18th and Harrington eventually
hoisted the Claret Jug.

           It's hard to not be happy for Harrington. One of the kindest
gentlemen on tour, Harrington has waited along time for this championship.
Anyone who was surprised by the tears in the Irishmen's eyes after his win
hasn't followed him over his career. A man who has come close so many times,
Harrington finally cashed in after a wild Sunday round.

           For Garcia, the whispers about his ability to close out majors
will get incredibly louder from here on out. He took a 3-stroke lead into
Sunday and lead by four early on. Even after a few bogeys and a brief
forfeit of the lead, Garcia came to 18 with a stroke advantage. After a
missed putt in regulation and a missed putt on 18 in the playoff, Garcia
could do nothing but watch Harrington win the major that he's always dreamed
about.

           No doubt, Garcia's not the most likeable guy on tour. Still,
it's hard not to feel for the guy. His putt to win in regulation hung on the
left lip of the cup before spinning out. A guy can't come closer to winning
than Sergio did this past Sunday. While it would be great to see him bounce
back and win the PGA Championship this year, it's hard to imagine he won't
suffer a bit of a hangover from this loss.

           Outside of Harrington, the real winners this week were the many
fans at Carnoustie and those watching around the world. This thing had all
the plotlines of an Oscar-worthy movie. There was the dark horse, Andres
Romero who made 10 birdies and two double-bogeys in the final round. He had
a two shot lead on 17 before a wayward second shot ricocheted out of bounds.
There was the lovable journeyman, Steve Stricker who found his way into the
last group of a major only to have the flat stick betray him. Then there was
Harrington, playing as well as he's ever played on a Sunday until that utter
collapse at 18. When he learned he would have another shot in the four-hole
playoff, Harrington must have felt born again.

           And then, of course, there was Garcia. While he didn't win the
Claret Jug, he will be the most memorable figure from this tournament. As he
walked up 18 on Sunday you could see the Claret Jug just beginning to get
ready to have his name stenciled in it. At 27, Garcia has waited a long time
for such an opportunity, and now that he's let it slip away, he will no
doubt have a bigger cross to bear. One can only hope he someday musters the
talent and confidence to earn his own special place in major championship
history.

 

Installment # 52-July 2007-British Open Preview

Picking Tiger Woods is getting to be like picking the tide to come in.

           Yes, I think he's going to win this week at the British Open.
No, I don't always pick Tiger. But, the guy wins at an amazing clip and is
always a safe bet at a major championship.

           Problem is, people ask me who I think is going to win the
British this week and after I tell them Tiger they chide me for taking the
easy pick. Okay, I'll take Fred Funk if that will keep everyone happy, but I
don't think he's going to win. More times than not, I feel Woods is geared
to earn a victory and I'd have to put my money on him this week.

           First, there's the fact that he currently owns the British Open.
The last two titles have gone his way in walk-away victories. Last year he
dispatched Sergio "I really do look like a banana" Garcia and held off a
charging Chris Dimarco for the victory.  A year earlier, Sunday at the
British was a coronation for Woods rather than a challenge.

           Also, he's due. He's come up oh-so-short at the last two majors
and they've begun to raise questions about Woods dominance. Now, with his
child alive and safe, and critics beginning to reemerge, this week's open at
Carnoustie is the perfect chance for Eldrick to reassert himself.

           But, as so many of my friends have already conveyed, you don't
want to hear why I'm picking Woods to win the British. Fine, no biggie. I'll
use this space to tell you why four guys won't win the British Open.

Phil Mickelson - If he can't close the Scottish Open with a lead on Sunday,
I don't think he's going to win at Carnoustie. There are just too many
things going against Lefty this week to expect a victory. He's still getting
over the wrist injury, he's still dealing with the Scottish Open collapse
and there's the fact he's never played well at the British Open. Maybe Phil
will add this major to his portfolio before he retires, but this won't be
the year.

Justin Rose - This guy's not a bad pick to win this week. He's been playing
great. The British Open courses play to his game's strengths. He even seems
to have the confidence to win one of the majors. Still, it's not quite his
time. Carnoustie will allow only the best of the best to emerge late on
Sunday. Rose isn't quite there yet. He will get there if he continues on his
current path and he might contend this week...but I'd bet you a double eagle
he's not the winner this year.

Sergio Garcia - I recently read something which talked about Garcia as a
great home-court golfer. He plays well in the British and the European-style
events, but not so well on American courses. Recent evidence would support
this as his best finishes in majors seem to always come at the British Open.
If he can putt worth half-a-lick he'll probably be in the top 10, but sadly,
he's not mature enough to win at this stage yet. Garcia is still a young
talent, but one has to wonder if he'll ever win a major with the way his
career is going.

Jean Van de Velde - Yes, we've returned to the site of the Van de Velde
meltdown. Everyone who knows golf remembers Van de Velde's epic collapse at
18 at Carnoustie the last time the British Open was held at the course.
Sadly, Jean won't join the field this year due to injuries. While I'm
nowhere near a Van de Velde fan, I'd have enjoyed seeing him revisit the
infamous hole. I've been fair yet critical of Van de Velde at times but I'd
never wish the collapse he experienced that year on any golfer. The fact
that he still tees it up and can laugh off the event is a testament to his
character. It will be odd not having him in the field this year, but it's
safe to say he wouldn't have won even if he was healthy.

Installment # 51-July 2007-Ryan Swanson at the Porter Cup

Here's hoping that the next 50 will be as enjoyable as the first fifty, both to write and to read! 
Love, The Mouth.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
There are a lot of players worth rooting for at this year's Porter Cup Championship at Niagara Falls Country Clip.

           There's Chris Kirk, the third best amateur in the world who's golf resume is super-human.

           There's also Colt Knost who's a great player with an even greater name.  Seriously, Colt Knost sounds more like a famous whiskey than a world-class golfer. Then again, Knost's accomplishments prove otherwise.

           Or, feel free to root for Kevin Tway (Bob Tway's son) or Tim Mickelson (Phil Mickelson's brother).

           However, if you want to share the day walking the golf course
with me you'll be following Ryan Swanson around the 18 beautiful holes at
Niagara Falls CC. Swanson, set to begin his senior year at St. Bonaventure
this fall, is an up-and-coming local star who has proven himself with the
Bonnies for three years.

           If you're wondering why I'll be pulling for Swanson it's only
because you've never seen my resume. An 07' grad of St. Bonaventure
University, I've got nothing but love for the great golfers who represent
the Brown and White. Working at the campus newspaper over the past three
years I had the privilege to cover the team. My weekly coverage helped tell
the story of Swanson's freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.

           That's not to say the story began there for Swanson. He's been
able to work wizardry with a golf ball since long before he joined a college
team. He placed eighth at the 2004 New York State High School Championship
and won the 2004 Section VI title. That same year, Swanson added a fourth
place finish in the Buffalo District Golf Association Junior Stroke Play
Championship.

           Ever since then he's been under the tutelage of St. Bonaventure
golf coach Steve Campbell. Swanson with teammates Josh Anderson, Andy Whalen
and a number of others have helped re-energize the Bonaventure golf program.
In 06-07 the team won four tournaments and finished third at the Atlantic 10
Championships. A year earlier they picked up three event wins and finished
sixth at the A-10 Tourney.

           Listen to Swanson talk and you can hear how appreciative he is
of the fact he's been able to play for a successful team over his college
career. Still, this summer it's been all about him. He qualified for the
Nationwide Tour Event at the Upper Course at Peek N' Peak earlier this year.
A round of 71 and a playoff win enabled him to get into the Porter Cup. Come
two weeks from now, he'll do battle with all of the great players mentioned
above and so many, many more.

           In part, such events are a learning experience for Swanson and
will enable him to contribute stronger rounds in his senior season. At the
same time, these are accomplishments that deserve to be recognized and
appreciated in their own right. Playing in both a Nationwide event and the
Porter Cup marks a remarkable summer for Swanson.

           Therefore, it doesn't matter if Swanson's not currently ranked
on the amateur list or if neither of his brothers are great touring
professionals - he's the real deal. For three years, Swanson's done
everything but disappoint his coach, school and supporters.

           And, one has to think he'll do little to disappoint any fans who
take time out to watch him in two weeks at the Porter Cup. Ready for a golf
course with little rough, lotsa wind and slippery greens, Swanson will
perform.

           And, if the fact that Swanson is a local kid with googles of
talent isn't enough to get you out to the Porter Cup to watch him, consider
this...you just might meet the Mouth.


 

Installment # 50-July 2007-Hawaiian Three-Ring Circus

All of a sudden Michelle Wie is a traveling three-ring circus.

           The one time pre-teen golf phenomenon played just 27 holes in
this year's United States Women Open before pulling out due to soreness in
her wrist. She played the first round in a score of 82 and was six-over par
today before leaving the course.

           Sadly, this is the second time this month Wie has pulled out in
the middle of an event. She pulled out of the Ginn Tribute with two holes to
go in the second round. That withdrawal caused quite a controversy since Wie
was dangerously close to shooting an 88 which would have resulted in her
being banned from LPGA events for the rest of the year.

           It's a depressing trend for Wie and her crew. A young star who
had all the talent in the world, Wie is miles away from her goal of
competing on the men's tour. Recent results would suggest she's only
somewhat capable of playing with the greatest women in the world. Anyone who
looks at these recent poor performances might be forced to question whether
Wie will ever fulfill the hype and talent which circles around her.

           And, while times are bleak there are many reasons for Wie to
stay positive. Just 17, Wie is still incredibly young. Also, one could blame
all the bad swings and pull-outs on the broken wrist she suffered last fall.
Still, there's no doubt Wie stands at a major crossroads in her life and
career.

           Probably the best course of action for Wie would be to get away
from the game for awhile. Her head, heart and swing are not anywhere near
where they need to be. A few years in college golf might be all it takes for
Wie to mature and grow into a sports superstar. Then again, a few years in
college seems about the last thing Wie has on mind.

           She still talks about playing in men's events; she still talks
as if nothing's gone wrong. She still carries the Nike swoosh on anything
she wears...unfortunately, the game and the scores aren't backing her up.
Instead, her family, agents and entourage stand behind her and push her to
fulfill their greed and desires.

           It's all so sad. It's the story of a girl who's been pushed to
fast and into circles she simply wasn't ready to take on. At age 13 I could
barely muster the confidence to join the high school golf team...forget taking
on the greatest players in the world. The pressure and expectations brought
upon this girl thanks to her family's poor decision making are immeasurable
and unfair.

           And now it's come to this --- Wie can barely break 80, struggles
to make cuts and could be seriously questioned for her odd withdrawals this
month. No, there aren't elephants and dancing tigers, but this has all the
punch of a great circus show.

           Fortunately, it's not over. Wie is seventeen and she and her
golf swing can write the rest of this story into a wonderful ending. There's
enough talent in Wie's body to win on the LPGA and kick around the idea of
competing in PGA events. There's enough time to make all of that happen.
But, there needs to be a change in the decision making that surrounds Wie.
Time away from the game might not equate to dollar signs but it might turn
in to a more confident, healthy player and a brighter future.

           When Wie was 13 all anyone had to say about her was that she was
a supreme talent; a star with unlimited potential. At 17, one can still
argue those things are true about Wie. Hopefully, her family members,
supporters and business partners can get out of the way in time for her to
find that future.

           Hopefully, the story of Wie's career doesn't end with 27 holes
of bad golf, a withdrawal and all the makings of a high-flying circus act.

 

Installment # 49-June 2007-The Chink In Tiger's Armor

Make no mistake - there is now a chink in the armor.

For all Tiger Woods has done over his career - twelve major victories, 57
overall victories and more memorable shots than most guys would hit in 10
lifetimes - there is now an undeniable something he seems incapable of
achieving.

           Give this guy a share of the lead heading into Sunday and he's
the surest bet in the history of sports; Tiger's 12-for-12 in majors when he
has or shares the lead after the third round. However, put him a stroke or
two back and you might as well bet on someone else. After failing to take
control of this weekend's U.S. Open and earn his 13th title, Woods came up
as in second place at his second straight major. That means the guy's now
0-28 in majors when he has to come from behind on Sunday.

Usually, it's because he's really not in it on Sunday. However, at this
year's Masters and U.S. Open the guy actually grabbed hold of the lead at
one point or another and still came up short. Each time, the eventual
winners, Zach Johnson and now Angel Cabrera, actually were further back from
the third-round leader than Tiger.

Does this mean Tiger's less formidable than in years past? That Rory
Sabbatini's correct in his assessment of Woods' vulnerability? Maybe, but
not necessarily.

The past two finishes do offer evidence Tiger Woods is human. There have
been times during his career when you swore you were watching a movie.
Nobody could be this good. Nobody feels that way right now, though. Anyone
who watched this year's Masters and US Open saw Woods have every opportunity
in the world to take the tournament...but, he never did.

In truth, Woods lost this U.S. Open on Saturday when a phenomenal
ball-striking round wasn't enough. The guy hit 17-of-18 greens on one of the
toughest golf courses in the world but he couldn't one-putt if the hole was
as large as Johnny Miller's ego.     Time after time he watched near birdies
sit on the lip or skim the cup. A round that could have been a 64 or 65 went
in the books as a 69 after a bogey on the 18th hole.

Still, the stage was set for him on Sunday and after Aaron Baddelly tripled
the first hole, Woods had a share of the lead. Everyone tuned in around
America probably figured Woods would have the thing locked up before he made
the turn. Instead, Woods added two bogeys to the card and kept grinding out
pars. He put together more than a great round on a course that played
brutally tough. But, you kept waiting for him to throw an eagle on the board
or string together a few birdies; you kept waiting for Tiger to roar.
Instead, he was forced to learn that his best wasn't good enough on Sunday.

Tiger's second place finish left the door open for Angel Cabrera to pick up
his first major title. Surely, we can't discredit Cabrera's efforts. The guy
shrugged off a Saturday 76 to shoot 69 on Sunday. The guy fought off nerves
by puffing cigarettes on the back nine. Tiger didn't lose this tournament as
much as Cabrera won it. Nobody gets handed a major championship.

           As a golf fan, I couldn't be happier that Tiger Woods seems
stuck in second place this year. I have nothing but respect and admiration
for the guy and am smart enough to understand just how amazing of an
accomplishment it is just to make a cut at one of these events, let alone
finish second. Still, Tiger plays to win and nothing else. Second place
stings him as much as last place. Finally, he has a challenge which seems to
be capable of bothering him.

           He can say what he wants but having never come from behind on
Sunday to win must be killing him. It's got to eat at him and drive him to
get better for upcoming majors.

           Essentially, the whole situation comes down to this.

           Tiger Woods believes there is nothing he can't do with a golf
ball.

           Recent evidence would suggest he can't come from behind on
Sunday.

           Tiger Woods will do everything in his power to disprove such
evidence as soon as possible.

It should be fun to watch.

 

Installment # 48-June 2007-The Mouth Installs Choi As US Open Favorite

Two summers ago, as a young guy working on the operations crew for the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Country Club, I asked one of my co-workers who he thought was going to win the event.
 

Jokingly, he told me he was pulling for KJ Choi to win. It became somewhat of a joke for the week and everyday he'd tell me what Choi had shot and which holes he birdied. We even took time out that week to follow Choi for a few holes.

I thought back to that a few days ago as I watched Choi blitz Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village with a final round 65 to win the memorial event. There was no joking about the shots Choi hit to help him erase a five-shot deficit and take home the biggest win of his career. There was also no joking about the field he conquered, which included Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott to name a few.

In actuality, there really hasn't been any joking about Choi's game for quite some time now.   The guy's won five times in the United States since 2002. He's collected six international victories including two SK Telecom Opens. Even at Baltusrol, the guy made the cut and was in the mix on the weekend until a poor Sunday round left him out of the hunt.

Even with all those successes, Choi hasn't been truly taken seriously by most golf fans. Even with his wins and his close finishes, we never really consider him a threat to take home the top prize at a big tournament. Hopefully that changes after yesterday's win at the Memorial. Make no mistake; if Choi can win at Muirfield Village against so many of the greatest players in the world, he could do it a few weeks from now at the US Open or any other major he tees it up in.

"It's very meaningful. It's hard to describe in words how meaningful it is," Choi said of yesterday's win. "I just feel very honored and very happy to be living in the same age, same period of time as Jack is living and to win his tournament is so meaningful to me. I can only think this was meant to be."

It may have been meant to be but it didn't appear that way at the start of Sunday. At that time, Choi trailed Rod Pampling by five strikes and Adam Scott by three. And, while Choi might want to chalk this up to fate, the real reason he won Nicklaus' event is because he's a grinder who refused to go away and turned in one of the most memorable Sunday rounds of the year.

Add it all up and it's clear Choi is now a recognized threat on the PGA Tour. Truth be told, he has been for quite sometime, but yesterday's win made it official for the rest of us. When a guy goes out and fires a steely final-round 65 on a world-class golf course, people take notice.      

Even Nicklaus took notice and as he handed Choi this year's trophy he offered him a bit of advice Choi could take with him to the US Open.  "K.J.," Jack said, advising the 32nd winner of his event, "this (indicating a fade shot with his hand) works very well at Oakmont."

Three years ago I might have laughed at the notion of Choi walking away with the title at Oakmont. After this past Sunday, I can't even muster a chuckle.

 

Installment # 47-May 2007-Favorite Foursomes

Here’s a question.

            Anybody interested in huffing 18 holes with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan? Anybody interested in possibly having the chance to say, “um, you’re away Mr. Woods and then you Mr. Jordan” to two of the greatest athletes ever.

            Most human beings who’ve ever touched a golf club have to think about this for about oh, .0001 seconds before shouting back…”you bet your double-bogeying keister I do.”

            That’s the response Skipper Beck probably shouted when he found out he’d be partnered with Woods and Jordan in last Wednesday afternoon’s Wachovia Championship Pro-Am. In so many ways, it had to be one of the most memorable rounds of Beck’s life.

            And while I spent last Wednesday at work and not walking the golf course with famous athletes, the whole thing set my brain in motion. I’ve spent more than a little time the past few days thinking about what my ultimate foursomes would be.

            And, after all my thinking and daydreaming, I’ve come up with the following four foursomes that would absolutely make my spine tingle.

The Guilty Pleasure Foursome

Mandy Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Carrie Underwood – Be honest, if you ever saw the four of us walking down the fairway you wouldn’t even realize I was there. You’d think I was the beverage guy or the maintenance guy or just absolutely lost. That being said, I wouldn’t mind if a round with these three women lasted a lifetime. It’d be the first time in my life I stood on the tee and just prayed my ball wound up lost in the woods so I could dart off with Mandy and hopefully never even look for it. Seriously, I could shoot 372 over and still call this the best day in my golfing life.

The ‘These Guys Are Good” Foursome

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia – I would never be more nervous than if I had to stand on the first tee and give it a go with these three looking on. Chance are, I’d top it 3-feet and then tell a bad joke. But, seriously, could you play with three more talented and entertaining golfers? Trust me; I have all the respect in the world for players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson and Greg Norman. But, I’m young, and these three golfers have provided more thrills, chills and big putts for me to watch than I could ever thank them for. Playing 18 holes with these three would be four hours extremely well spent. 

The Friendly Foursome

Matthew Schultz, Andrew McMillen, John Chriss – Unlike the other six people I’ve already mentioned, you’ve probably never heard of these guys. Trust me, that wouldn’t make this round any less memorable. I grew up with these guys; graduated from high school with these guys; and while I played hundreds of after school rounds with them…it doesn’t seem like anything close to enough. None of us ever became great golfers. But, we became greater friends. I’ve referenced these guys from time to time in my columns and even though we don’t live in the same state anymore, it’s rare if a week goes by when we haven’t checked in with one another.  These three guys are three of the biggest reasons I love my life and if I could only play one more round ever, I’d walk right by Carrie, Mandy and Jennifer to tee it up with these three… (Of course we might wait for them on the second tee to see if they were up for playing a scramble or something). 

The Family Foursome

Larry Whitcomb (Father), Dean Whitcomb (Cousin), Dean Whitcomb (Grandfather) – Sometimes, when the Whitcombs get together for a few holes…we don’t play the fastest golf. Not slow players individually, my dad, cousin and I never set the record for quickest 18 holes if we’re in the same group. Now, if you were to add my grandfather (who never played golf) into the mix we might actually be closer to setting the record for slowest round ever. That being said, I’d gladly play with a four iron, shoe-horn and garden rake if I could walk a golf course with these three. While I get to play with my father and cousin on a semi-regular basis, I never had the honor of meeting my grandfather. He passed away far too early and a good decade before my father thought about having a son of his own. To have three generations of Whitcomb men on the same golf course would be unreal. It’d be four hours of stories, laughs, and love. Seeing as how these guys are the reasons that family time is time well spent - I’d gladly set the record for longest round ever if it was with these three gents.

If you’d like to weigh in on your dream foursome, be it sexy or sentimental, send it along to me at Christopher.whitcomb@gmail.com and we’ll post it on the site.

 

Installment # 46-May 2007-Lord Byron's Gathering

 This year's EDS Byron Nelson Championship is always going to be
remembered as a special one. It's the first championship held since its
founder, Lord Byron Nelson, passed away last year. It's also a chance for so
many golfers to pay tribute to a kind and gentle man who paved the way for
the success of the PGA Tour, never forgot where he came from and deserves
consideration as the most charitable athlete ever.

           That being said, far too many of the world's greatest players
chose to skip out on this special event and have thus done a disservice to
Nelson. This week should have been seven days of loving stories about
Nelson. It should have been about the greatest golfers putting together a
great show in a final goodbye to Lord Byron. It should have been elevated to
major championship status.

           To be sure, laughs, tears and memories will surround this year's
event. But, it's sad that there will also be whispers about why guys like
Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk aren't there. Its sad
people will look back and say, 'man that was a great event, but it could
have been so much better."

           If Lord Byron was anything, he was a man who always showed up.
He showed up for the tour where he set the game's ultimate record - 11
straight tournament wins. With as good as Tiger Woods is, even he
acknowledges this is a record he couldn't touch in his wildest dreams. And,
just as important, Nelson showed up for his community. His tournament has
helped raise over $94 in charity for local Dallas charities. With the
guidance of Nelson's wife, the tournament will continue to raise money and
give back to the people Nelson loved so dearly.

           Unfortunately, the world's greatest players didn't feel they
should show up for Byron's tournament now that Nelson wasn't around to
celebrate it with them. They can cite scheduling conflicts and issues with
travel, but almost everyone of these guys would have made the trip to see
Nelson if he were still breathing. It's sad, because you hear so many of
these guys talk about their love and respect for the man. They talk about
how much they admire what Nelson has done for them. Still, their actions
this weekend suggest otherwise.

           All that aside, it's better to focus on those who are playing
than those who couldn't make it. At the end of Round 3, Luke Donald held a
stroke lead over Scott Verplank. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh both lurked
a few shots back on the first page of the leadership. One can only hope
these players and others like Brett Wetterich, who is in the mix, can
produce a memorable Sunday finish worthy of Byron's tourney. One can only
wish more players would have seen this tournament the way Verplank chose to
look at it this weekend...

           "Byron did so much for me and he really took me under his wing
and guided me at times in my career," Verplank told Ian Baker Finch moments
after he finished his third round. "This year especially, this tournament is
like a fifth major to me. I can't tell you how much it would mean to me to
have a chance to win this event to pay tribute to Byron."

Installment # 45-May 2007-The Most Coveted Majors Of Them All.

Just like in 2001, both Tiger Woods and David Duval are about
to have unbelievable, awesome and once-in-a-lifetime summers. You remember
2001, right? The year Woods won The Masters and Duval won the British Open.
It's the only year these two golf superstars won a major in the same 12
month span.

           Credit that all to Duval whose win in 2001 at the British Open
was his only career major championship. Heck. That was the last time the guy
won anything on tour. Since becoming arguably the greatest player in the
world just after the turn of the millennium, Duval has all but fallen off
the golf planet. In that same time span, Woods has continued on his march to
golf's hall of fame. Now just six shy of Jack Nicklaus' 18 career major
victories, Woods deserves serious consideration as the greatest golfer ever
to smile.

           So, how, you ask, are these two going to have unforgettable
summers this year? Isn't Duval's game a good par-6 away from being able to
contend for the U.S. or British Open title? Are you really suggesting these
two are going to win two of the next three majors?

           In response to these fair questions, let me begin by saying
these two guys memorable summers will have nothing to do with seven irons
and sand bunkers. Nope, instead, these guys will have unbelievable summers
because they're both set to become fathers.

           For Tiger, the child he and his wife Elin are expecting will be
his first. David, already the step-father of three children and the birth
father of a son, is expecting his fifth.

           Ask anyone who has ever fathered a child and they'll be quick to
talk about how it's a life-changing event. The responsibilities and joys of
fatherhood force men to evolve and grow as people. So, not surprisingly, the
birth of these children will have effects on these two men.

           Golf fans and critics have already begun to wonder if being a
father will limit Woods' ability to chase Nicklaus' record. A vocal family
man who experienced firsthand the importance of having a good father-son
relationship, Tiger will no doubt be dedicated to this and any other child
he may father. Still, with as hard as he's worked to get this good and this
close to Jack's record, it's hard to imagine Tiger not staying
dually-dedicated to his golf career.

           Do a complete 180 and you get the ideas behind what people think
another child may do for David Duval's game. An article published last year
quoted Duval as talking about how the birth of his first son caused him to
re-dedicate himself to the game he'd let slip away in some respects. He
wanted his son to be able to see what he did for a living. He wanted his
children to know why people talked about their father as one of the greatest
golfers ever.

           The fact that people think children could have such vastly
different effects on Woods and Duval speaks to just how different of paths
the two have taken since that spring and summer of 2001. It's been nothing
but steady and excellent progress for Woods. It's been nothing but missed
cuts, expired exemptions and wayward wedges for Duval.

           Still, when people look at the span of golf from 1998 to 2005,
they may have to acknowledge that there are not two more intriguing stories
than those of Duval and Woods. How can Tiger stay so hungry after achieving
such success? How does he win so often?

           At the same time, how can a guy who was so good like Duval, just
disappear? How do you go from a No. 1 ranking in the world and carding a 59
one day to barely being able to make a cut? How can fortunes change so
drastically and so quickly?

           Like so many other questions in sports, there really are no easy
answers to these questions. We're not supposed to understand Woods'
greatness; we're supposed to admire it. We shouldn't focus on Duval's poor
finishes at the 84 Lumber Classic, we should focus on the unbelievable golf
he once played and hope he can find that magical swing again.

           Regardless, these two are linked in so many ways. In the last
eight years only three guys have held the No.1 spot in the world
rankings...Tiger, Vijay Singh and David Duval. In 2001, they both played good
enough golf to ensure that whenever people talked about them, they'd have to
call them major championship winners. Now, in 2007, they're both about to
ensure that no matter what happens for either of them from here on out,
they'll always be able to go by another highly respected title...daddy.

 

Installment # 44-April 2007-Welcome back from another instalment
of the U.S. Open ... Oops, I mean Masters Tournament


           If the past four days of golf weren't sports entertainment at
its best, I don't know what else it could be. The greatest golfers in the
world suffered and scraped their way around the Augusta track in search of
birdies and eagles that were few and very far between. The cold temperatures
and wind made it feel like October in Western New York and the leader board
shifted so many times I thought I might even see my name flash across the
screen one time.

           Many people will look at the high scores of this year's
tournament and argue the course has been built to tough.
That it's too long.
Too challenging and not as receptive to good shots as it should be.

           My response...take your four-iron and stuff it.

           Ladies and gentlemen, this is what major golf should be. It's
not supposed to be a walk in the park. You're not supposed to shoot
12-under. Majors are events where par is a great score and birdies are as
common as snowstorms in the Bahamas. Too often golfers have taken it low at
Augusta, but not this year. This year it seemed like we were watching the
U.S. Open and not The Masters.

           And, as majors often do, this tournament yielded a deserving
(albeit unlikely) champion who emerged from the four days of golf to don the
green jacket. People may have scratched their heads when Zach Johnson earned
a spot on last year's American Ryder Cup team. They understand now. This is
a kid with the game and the mettle to conquer deep fields, tough courses and
the world's greatest. After tallying three birdies in four holes on the back
side Johnson took control of a tournament just about everyone else in the
field had a chance to win. He did it just months after the birth of his
first child and his own 31st birthday. And, while he referred to the
experience as surreal, it will probably feel a little more commonplace the
next time Johnson wins a major. If this guy can do it in these conditions at
Augusta, he can do it anywhere.

           That being said, the cold and cruel conditions at Augusta this
week left us with more than a handful of story lines to follow as the rest
of the season progresses. Y
ou will find a look into a few of those below.



1.      Johnson & The Young Guns - While Zach Johnson, a self-proclaimed
'average guy' was the only one who needed a tailor Sunday afternoon, there
were many of his peers in the running for the green wardrobe addition. Brett
Wetterich and Vaughn Taylor who joined Johnson as Ryder Cup rookies last
year were all in this thing with a chance to win at some point.

That's good news for golf and especially American golf. We talk a lot about
the influx of young talent and how deep tournament fields are but we rarely
see it. With Taylor, Johnson and Wetterich finding their games, their also
ushering in a new era in golf. Golf fans may hate to hear it, but there's no
more big five. Vijay and Ernie are getting a bit old. Phil can't seem to
shake Winged Foot. Retief is streaky. Jim Furyk's a good player but when's
the last time he really contended at a major? Tiger's still the greatest
golfer ever to sneeze but his competition is changing around him. Don't hold
your breath for a great Phil / Tiger rivalry. Instead, look forward to all
of these younger guys testing Eldrick over the next decade of his career.



2.      El Tigre sings the Blues - Technically, we can point to this and say
Tiger just can't seem to win a major when he doesn't have the lead at the
start of Sunday. But, that's not really what happened at Augusta yesterday.

                 True, Tiger was down one to Appleby at the start of the
day. But, the eventual champion (and the only guy who finished ahead of
Tiger) came from a shot behind Eldrick. Throw that in with the fact Tiger
held the lead outright at one point and you've got to admit Tiger kind of
blew this one. A 69 was out there for the world's greatest yesterday
afternoon and he couldn't find it.

                 I'm as shocked and deserving of criticism as anyone. I
picked Tiger and really thought he was in the midst of something
spectacular. While I'm not worried about him busting Jack's record, I doubt
he'll ever do the career grand slam again. This loss may be the most painful
of his career thus far. He had it and his poor play let it slip away.



3.      Australia's Troubles - Norman came close three times. Appleby
couldn't turn a final round lead into green suede. Even Geoff Ogilvy knocked
two in the creek on Saturday and helped hammer home the point that
Australians can't seem to win the Masters.

But, in all honesty, what do you want these guys to do? Other than his
monumental collapse, Norman never always gave it his best. Appleby didn't
shy away from Tiger yesterday. Ogilvy could be the most talented of all of
them. One's got to wonder if Australia's really letting a few missed putts
bother them as much as Nick Faldo loves saying they are. If there is a time
and place for everything, my bet is Mr. Ogilvy will someday conquer
Augustaand give
Australia its first green jacket sooner rather than later.

#43--April 2007--The Mouth's Masters Prediction

I hate to break this to golf fans, but this year’s Masters Tournament ended last summer.

            I can’t pin-point the actual date the event ended but I can tell you it came at some point between June 18 and July 23. Those are the dates of:  1. the day Tiger Woods officially missed the cut at last year’s U.S. Open and 2. the day Tiger Woods officially won last year’s British Open.

            See, 2006 was a year unlike any other for ol’ Eldrick. He had to watch Phil Mickelson win the green jacket and then he had to sit helpless as his father succumbed to his long battle with Cancer. The personal struggle of losing his father was hard for Tiger and it led to him shooting 76-76 and missing the cut at Winged Foot.

            However, in the month following that humbling defeat, Woods found the strength to re-dedicate himself to the game. It lead to a win at the British Open, which lead to a win at the PGA Championship which lead to a streak that featured seven straight PGA Tour wins.

            Now, in my opinion, Woods stands in the midst of probably the most impressive stretch of golf in his career. Sadly, for his competitors, I’m not sure if we’ve even seen half of what this guy’s about to do.

            I’ll go ahead and say it right here. After the U.S. Open at Oakmont later this year, Tiger Woods will have completed his second career grand slam. Call it Tiger Slam II. Call it unbelievable. Just pay attention because we will probably never see a guy beat up on his peers like this again. It’s not that the competition isn’t as good as it was when guys like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were at the top of their games, it’s just Tiger’s that much better.

            And, let’s say I’m right and Tiger wins the next two majors. Anybody want to tell me he’s not the favorite for the British and the PGA? Anybody really think a single-season grand slam is out of this guy’s reach?

            Nothing this guy does can surprise me anymore. Seven straight wins? Yeah, that’s about right. A second career grand-slam? Yawn. Honestly, this guy would have to shoot 18 for 18 holes to get people to stop anymore. We’re so accustomed to seeing him win golf tournaments it’s more like a TV series than a sporting event.

            Wednesday – American Idol.

            Thursday – Grey’s Anatomy.

            Sunday – Tiger kicks butt.

            Even as I watch him rock drivers and three woods and make golf balls dance on flag poles, I’m more amazed with what he doesn’t carry in the bag. The most impressive thing for me will always be Tiger Woods’ drive and motivation. This guy has it all. Wealth, success, a private jet, a private yacht, a hot Swedish-supermodel wife, his first child on the way and a million-dollar smile. Still, he doesn’t seem satisfied. He still feels a need to prove himself. Heck, I’ve seen this guy get mad at himself for making a mistake and still scrambling for birdie.

            I guess the one thing none of us can grasp is it’s really all about Jack’s record of 18 majors. We heard the stories about how as a boy Tiger would paste Jack’s records on his wall. How he’d dream of conquering them. But, until now we haven’t been able to see how solely focused he is on breaking that record. And, when Tiger looks at his 12 majors he’s proud, but he still sees himself as only 2/3 of the way. He still doesn’t see himself as measuring up. He doesn’t care about the money and fame one-tenth as much as he cares about winning 19 major championships. That’s something to be admired.

            And, come August 8 I imagine Woods will cap off an Easter-Sunday Masters win by three strokes for number 13. It will be a similar scene to last year’s, an extensive gallery surrounding the 18th at Augusta with Tiger and Phil showered in applause. Only this time, Phil won’t be sporting the green jacket. This time and for the fifth time, it’s Tiger’s.

#42--March 2007--VEEJ!  Like wine, Singh gets better with age

It's pathetically cliché, but Vijay Singh is like your favorite
bottle of wine. He was good when he was young, but he can't seem to stop
getting better with time.

           Last week Singh added a win at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill
Invitational to his list of accomplishments. That win gives him 31 career
victories and get this...19 since turning 40 years old. That's unheard of in
American sports culture where everyone's fascinated with the young gun,
potential and hype. An individual's 40's can be the pinnacle of their
success for those in business, education or any of numerous other fields.
However, it's incredibly rare for an athlete to find his or her game after
going over the hill.

           Granted, if there is a sport where a guy can emerge late in his
career it is golf. While the constant travel and demands of professional
golf are taxing, it rarely leads to injury or severe physical strain. If a
golfer can stay flexible and committed to his swing, it's feasible he can
compete late into life. That being said, Vijay Singh is doing more than
compete...he's eating up golf courses like they're his lunch-time treats.

           Singh's an interesting figure in the golf world. Undoubtedly one
of the most successful players of the past two decades, Singh allows few
glimpses into his personal life. He's all business on the golf course. He's
clear and concise in the press room, but it'd be hard to call him open and
accessible. Instead, all we know about Vijay is he came from nothing, fell
in love with golf, plays nearly every week and spends as much time on the
practice range as anyone in the history of the sport. Maybe that's all we
need to know, but when we watch this guy win week in and week out, we
sometimes look for more.

           That's why last week's Bay Hill Invitational was a bit of a
different kind of win for Vijay.  It was Arnie's tournament. And, Arnie was
the first guy who really took a chance on Vijay. In 1993, Palmer extended an
invite to Vijay even though nobody in America really knew of him. 12 months
later, Vijay's accepting PGA Rookie of the Year honors. He's never missed a
Bay Hill Invitational since 1993 and this past weekend, he finally got to
take home the trophy. So, this win, offered us a chance to pause, to get a
glimpse of just where Vijay came from and who he may truly be.

           Since he's so private, Vijay's been called a lot of things by a
lot of people (myself included). He's stand-offish. He doesn't smile a whole
lot. He's aloof, quiet, and unpleasant. Maybe those judgments are unfair.
No, Vijay doesn't hug fans or slap high-fives around the golf course but
that's not how you measure a man. That doesn't mean he's a bad guy
underneath it all.

           Take a second and look at those 14 straight trips to Arnie's
tournament....that's loyalty. Watch Vijay hit balls on the range hours before
his tee time. Then watch him do the same thing for hours after his tee
time...that's hard work. Pull out his resume, tally up those 31 wins, and
recall all his magnificent shots....that's excellence.

           If actions do truly speak louder than words, then maybe it's
okay Vijay's so quiet and tight-lipped. Maybe the tall Fijian would rather
be out on the range. Whichever way you want to look at it, I think it's easy
to see Vijay's gotten a bad rap for no real reason at times during his
career. Loyalty, hard work and excellence are values to be admired.

           They're also the values that help Vijay get better as he ages.
Think about it for a second. The guy won 1 PGA tournament in his 20's, 11 in
his 30's and he's already racked up 19 after four years in his 40's.

           Anybody want to tell him he can't win one in his 50's?

 

#41--March 2007--Goodbye lake effect, hello green grass

           Western New York Golfers had to be struck with jubilee this past
weekend as the weather finally broke, warmed up and started melting the
piles of snow covering area golf courses. Sure, winter and snow probably
aren't done for the year, but local golfers can finally see the light at the
end of the tunnel or in Tom Lehman terms - the flag at the end of a long par 5.

           That being said, if you haven't already, it's time to gear up
for golf season. Clean your clubs, shine your spikes and unhinge your
swings. Call your favorite foursome and start booking tee times.

           For the Mouth, it's an interesting year of golf ahead. While
I've spent the last two summers surrounded by PGA Championships and Tiger
Woods, I actually haven't played all that much. My numbers of rounds have
been way down and my game has deteriorated a bit. However, now a full time
Buffalonian, I intend to improve as a player this year. I'll still be busy
and incapable of living at the golf course as I did in my high school years,
but that shouldn't stop me from improving this year.

           To help, I've decided to set some golf goals for myself because
just about every golf publication under the sun suggests a duff do so. I'm
not ashamed to point to the areas in which I need to improve in such a
public forum. In fact, I'm hoping it motivates me to actually see some of
these goals through. If you're interested in posting your goals for golf
season 2007 or just swapping stories about what you're looking forward to in
the upcoming year head to the BuffaloGolfer.com Message Board and start
posting. You can access it at
http://www.nexwebsites.com/cgi-bin/mbview.cgi?site=BuffaloGolferCom.

Either way, I'll make my golf goals public knowledge. Below is a list of
three things I want to accomplish this year.

  1. Break 80 - I've shot nine-hole rounds in the thirties. I've had
  combined scores which registered in the seventies. However, I've never teed
  it up on hole Numero Uno and stepped off 18 some three and a half hours
  later without wacking the ball 80-Plus. One painful memory from years past
  includes the Mouth stepping to the sixth tee at Elkdale at 2-under par only
  to implode for the next 12 holes and shoot something like 81 or 82.

  2. Hole in One Numero Tres - What you thought all of these were going
  to make me look bad? How can I not reference the fact I've recorded two
  hole-in-ones in my career. They each came on the fourth hole at Elkdale
  Country Club with the same 8-iron nearly 365 days apart. That being said,
  it's been four years since I jarred one like that and thus, I'm hungry for
  my third this summer.

  3. Not look ahead - I'm a lousy putter. My swing looks like it was
  made out of recycled body parts. Every once in a while I hit a wedge close.
  Still, all that being said, the biggest problem I face is not being able to
  focus on the shot at hand. Any time I hit something a little wayward I start
  worrying about how it's going to affect my final score. Two or three times a
  round I forget about the shot I have to hit or the hole I have to play and
  start worrying about what the scorecard's going to say 10 holes later.
  That's my biggest problem because it often leads to more bad shots and more
  inconsistency. If I'm going to break 80 this year and actually grow as a
  player...it's got much less to do with my swing as it does my brain.

 

#40--March 2007--Tournament Bracket Pools World Golf Series Style!!

Seeing as how the month of March is only days away and college basketball's annual Madness is right around the corner, many big-headed bracket busters are probably getting ready to conquer their office pools.

           However, if anyone wants to truly prove their ability to predict how these types of tourneys play out, they should take a crack at next year's World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play event. With more
surprises, upsets and zaniness than your favorite soap opera drama, this event is essentially unpredictable.

           Sure, you may have had third-seeded Henrik Stenson winning it all, but did you also have 16th seed Shaun Micheel ousting top-seed Adam Scott in 21 holes in the first round? Last time I checked, such an upset has
NEVER occurred in the NCAA Championships.

           The craziness didn't stop there either. Tiger Woods, looking for his eighth straight PGA tournament win, missed a three-footer to lose on Friday. A 3-footer, you ask? Yes, the guy looked human for half a
second...that's how crazy this event can be.

           Ninth-seed Justin Rose whopped No. 1 Phil Mickelson in the second round. The only good thing about this match for Lefty was he didn't have to step to the 18th with a one-up lead. Rose saved him from such a
scenario with a 3 and 1 victory.

           Second-seed Vijay Singh couldn't even get through Stephen Ames as he got knocked out in the second round after a 19 hole match. In fact, this event's Elite 8 featured three 3-seeds, two 9-seeds, two 4-seeds and a
10 seed. When's that last time that happened in the NCAA's? When's the last time a single one or two-seed couldn't make it to the Final 4?

           By Friday's end, none of the top 5 players in the world were left standing except for Henrik Stenson (who miraculously vaulted past Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen in world rankings points after this
win...the fact that this could happen should raise major questions about this system of raking).

           The only reasonable piece of normalcy you could pull from the final two rounds was Geoff Ogilvy returned to the final group a year after winning this event and introducing himself to the world. Still, he couldn't
get it done on the second back-nine of the day and eventually fell to Stenson.

           Such stats and upsets reveal how different of an event this is for these players. Over four days, I've got to think Henrik Stenson isn't going to be the last guy standing. But, in match play, you just have to beat one person each day. He did that. Guys like Woods, Mickelson, Garcia, Dimarco, Els, Singh, and Furyk all had a bad round and failed to get it done.

           In my opinion, there should be a few more match play events a year. This is a great way to see golf and to play golf. Plus, it gives other guys a shot to win who might not be able to grind out a major for four days. I loved filling out my bracket and watching it get busted as much as I do come March when I'm watching players on the hardwood.

           This event should also put more doubt into the mind of the American players who may get selected for the 08 Ryder Cup Team. Only one American (Chad Campbell) made it to the Final 8. What is it with Americans and this format of golf? You've got to start to wonder if the rest of the world isn't light-years ahead of us when it comes to match play golf. They
kick our cans at the Ryder Cup and they dominate such events like this.

           That alone should be an argument for adding more match-play events to the Tour schedule. If they Americans want to win in 08, they've got to start playing similar events. Match play is vastly different than stroke play and, as such tournaments have shown us, it yields different champions.

           There will be time to mull such thoughts over in the upcoming months. For now, it's best to look at our WGC-Accenture Match Play brackets and wonder how we could have done so poorly. Without a doubt, March brings madness. But, one has to wonder if it can ever compare to the frantic frenzy of February golf.
(Editor's Note:  Mo' Golf finished seventh in a national pool...Go Mo'!)

 

#39--February 2007 # 2--The Return Of Phil:  How Far Back Is He?

I have to admit, when I saw Phil Mickelson accept the trophy to go along with his win at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday, he did look a bit skinnier.

           I've been hard on Phil on this site...constantly talking about how I'm more of a Tiger guy, how Phil doesn't belong in consideration as Tiger's rival, how Phil's about as mentally tough as Big Bird. Stuff like that.

           What's odd about all of this is I like Phil. He seems like a good guy. His wife is out-of-the-world gorgeous and his kids have million dollar smiles. I just think he's a bit over-rated. Yeah he's a super talent, but for as much attention as he gets you'd think he could win a point in the Ryder Cup (or make a bogey on the 72nd at Winged Foot).

           Regardless, the events of recent weeks have me realizing I and the PGA Tour need Phil to prove me wrong. You may or may have not noticed, but recent news lends credibility to the idea the PGA is in a bit of trouble.

           Two weeks ago the International (a staple on the PGA Tour schedule for years) announced it was folding because it couldn't lock down a corporate sponsor. The biggest reason being Tiger Woods hasn't played the event in years. The Nissan Open also expressed similar concerns after learning Eldrick would be passing on their tournament this year.

           It's easy to skip past this news and read stories about the FedEx Cup and the upcoming Masters and not think the PGA's in any sort of trouble. However, if you're smart you realize the Tour's super Tiger starved.

           Through his greatness, Tiger has created a situation where people are simply not interested when he's not playing. It's Tiger or bust - and considering how little El Tigre's been playing the past year or two...that's a big problem. There are other events that Tiger passes on every year that may soon start complaining about finances and sponsors.

           That's not to blame Tiger. I'm not going to knock a guy who may be causing a problem by being sooooooooo good. You can't ask him to lose on purpose. You can only hope someone steps up and starts beating him occasionally, calling him out, dragging him to new events to prove he's still the best player on the world.

           And, while I've said before that the man for the job won't be Phil Mickelson (and I'm still not convinced it will be) I'm willing to hope he proves me wrong. The golf world needs someone to prove that Woods isn't invincible. No the paunchy left-hander hasn't been able to do it yet but he's got the biggest fan base of anyone other than Tiger and it would be
great if he found a way to do it this year. Somehow, someway, he needs to be Tiger's kryptonite.

           If he can do it, then maybe it'll cause a domino effect. Maybe my boy Sergio Garcia will finely get big enough Titleists to putt on Sunday.  Maybe Charles Howell III will win his first major. Maybe Adam Scott will finally be somebody other than a young phenom with tons of potential.  If Phil can beat Tiger toe-to-toe and show these guys it can be done, then
maybe the casual golf fan will realize there's so much talent out there to watch.

           I'm not saying the golf world would be better if Tiger never came along...that's stupid. But there'd definitely be more competition on a weekly basis if he wasn't here. Phil would be a golf God. Vijay and Ernie would have super-human win totals. Sergio would have one major. There'd be a lot more guys people paid attention too. Instead, its Tiger wins or Tiger
doesn't play so who cares. That's not good for the PGA.

           If the tour doesn't want to see more tourneys folding because of no-shows by Tiger they need the slimmed-down Phil to do something he hasn't done yet. He needs to look Tiger in the eyes and not back down. He needs to beat him toe-to-toe on Sunday. He needs to reveal a chink in the armor and a way for other young players to get it done.

 

#38--February 2007--Nationwide Tour, Tiger is mediocre, Bye-Bye Cell Phones

Anyone paying close attention to the leader board after three
rounds at the Buick Invitational this past weekend may have noticed an
interesting theme....Nationwide Tour Players. Three graduates of last year's
Nationwide Tour (Jeff Quinney, Andrew Buckle and Brandt Snedeker) all had
chances to win the Buick Invitational Sunday. Snedeker actually took the
lead into the final round before posting a gaudy score and dropping out of
the running.

           It's impressive these players can have such an impact only a few
weeks removed from the Nationwide Tour. It makes you realize just how deep
the field is in the golfing world. Guys on the Nationwide Tour are really
only one good weekend away from having the chance to make their presence
felt with the big boys of the PGA. I mention this 1. Because it's noteworthy
and important and 2. Because I wasted a good hour of my time last evening
arguing with an old friend about how winning a golf tournament was easy.
According to my bad bunker shot of a friend, there are really only about
five or 10 players who can win a pro golf tournament in the world.
Therefore, he concluded, what Tiger Woods is doing isn't that impressive.

           I'm almost embarrassed to admit I have a friend who claims such
things, but I do. However, I use the example of the Nationwide Tour's
instant impact, the fact that two of the first three winners on tour this
year were Paul Goydos and Charley Hoffman and the fact that there are
thousands of guys who can shoot 68's in their sleep who can't even sniff the
tour to argue my case. The talent pool in golf right now is unbelievable.
These guys are so good and there are so many of them it's just crazy to
think about. It's mind-bending.

           What's even more mind-bending is that every week Tiger Woods
makes beating these guys seem easier than making jokes about Jessica
Simpson. That's seven straight PGA victories after yesterday's Buick Open.
Now, only Mr. Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight lies ahead of him. I'm
doubtful he'll win 11 or 12 straight but right now I'm not going to bet
against him. I can't remember the last time I saw him hit a bad shot. I
remember watching him pick apart Hoylake at the British Open to start the
streak and just being blown away. Every shot went where he wanted it to go.
In a game where a bad fairway divot or a strong gust of wind can change
someone's career, Tiger Woods seems immune to everything. He's excellence in
a way we've never understood.

           Also, don't underestimate Tiger's understanding of the
situation. He may claim it's not a true streak but he knows how close he is
to Nelson. He knows if he times it right he could win number 11 or 12 at
Augusta National in April. He knows a daring win at the Masters to complete
the streak might go down as the most goosebumps-inducing moment in golf
history.

           There's also a lot more going on in the golf world than just
Tiger and the Buick. Over the weekend, Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia
announced they'd be working together on course designs in Dubai. That's a
formidable twosome and I'm sure they'll build some unbelievable tracks, but
I've got an interesting thought for you. Considering Garcia can't putt worth
beans on Sundays and Norman's known for one of the biggest choke jobs in
Masters history, would you take them as a best ball team or Tiger solo if
they squared of on Sunday at Augusta?

           Where R U? Did U C Dat?

           Those planning on attending this year's British Open can leave
their phones at home this year. Finally, the Royal and Ancient revealed its
brain and banned the devices from this year's championship. After all the
distractions and stops and starts at last year's open, only a pair of idiots
wouldn't have made this decision. It should speed up play and make for a
better championship all together.

           However, it will disable fans from text messaging such
fascinating sentences to one another like those listed above.

           Finally, I wanted to take a minute to admit I'm getting the itch
for golf. Yesterday, I spent the morning at the Rochester Golf Show and then
spent some time in the afternoon watching Tiger dispatch the field. All it
does is make me want to play. I've played once since Nov. 1 and that's just
not enough.

           Unfortunately, there's still a bunch of snow and ice trying to
limit my tee times. Therefore, I'm really looking forward to the Buffalo
Golf show on Feb. 24 and 25. Not only will BuffaloGolfer.com have a booth at
the show, we'll also be helping to ease ours and yours desires to get back
out on our favorite Western New York courses.

 

#37--January 2007 # 2--Ice Wine?  Try Ice Golf!

There is a small course located in Chautauqua County that's almost out of a cartoon. It has a hole where the tee shot is surrounded by trees and thus even though it's a par four, you've almost got to hit wedge from the tee. It also has a hole that's quite short but almost directly uphill. Fail to hit it far enough and the ball will roll right back at you.

           It's not a great course. But I've played there. If I ever ended up in the area with an itch for golf again, maybe I'd give it another round.  However, I recently discovered a course I wouldn't touch if it was the last course in the world.

           That course is the Ice Course in Uummannaq, Greenland. It's the home of the World Ice Golf Championship. However, it's only played during years with good and safe ice conditions. Players usually battle extreme winds, blinding sunlight, slippery ice slopes, freakish temperatures and then the rest of the field. Makes the U.S. Open seem like a cake walk
doesn't it?

           This year's championship will be held from March 22 - March 27 and needless to say, The Mouth that Roars won't be there. I love golf but not as much as I detest sub-zero temperatures and eight layers of wool. I'd
rather play amidst hungry carnivorous dinosaurs then tee it up in Greenland with these guys.

           That being said, I've got to respect the players who compete in this event. It shows a love for the game not even I can understand.  Annika Ostberg of Denmark has won the event twice. Jason Cunningham of Australia will get a chance to defend his title from last year this March. They've all won an event that tests golfer's endurance like nothing the USGA could invent.

           And, even though they always come to Greenland to compete in this event, the course is always different. Even with as talented a course designer, say, as Tom Doak and Donald Ross, no one can compete with Mother Nature. Depending on the temperature and the ocean currents, the course looks a little different every year.

           Players can't even really establish a course pattern for a full 18 holes. As the championship's website points out, the weather can be very different from one side of an iceberg to the other. The amount of snow and ice can change on a dime.

           Other than that, ice golf's pretty similar to the game we play in America. It's a 36-hole championship, players use clubs not ice picks and the player with the lowest score wins.

           Still, I can't wrap my mind around the idea of playing ice golf.  I love walking the green fairways and enjoying the beautiful backdrops that make up golf courses in Western New York. I get depressed when winter comes
and hides such places with snow. I guess, those golf-lovers in Greenland decided it's better to play golf in snow than not play golf at all.

           For that, I'll always give them credit. However, when I take time to look at all the stats and numbers from championships past I can't get past a couple of numbers. -12 and -25. Those numbers represent the Celsius temperature range from past tournaments. That means it's cold, very cold. One picture even shows a player with icicles on their face.

           That's usually a situation I try to avoid. When my facial hair becomes capable of cooling my drink I think about heading inside. Therefore, I'll probably pass on teeing it up in Greenland this March. But, now when someone sees me playing on a cold February day in Western New York and yells out about how crazy I am, I can respond with the following...

           "Hey, do you see icicles on my face?"

 

#36--January 2007--All That Matters As A New Season Begins

One week into the 2007 PGA Tour schedule and everybody wants to talk about
the young guns.

           The early story was how small of a story it was that Michelle
Wie was teeing it up with the men this past weekend. This, her fourth
go-round in the Sony Open, ended as uncelebrated as each earlier attempt.
She carded scored of 78 and 76 to finish 146 out of 148 players. Wie's now
missed the cut in each of her first seven PGA events and become a running
punch line in the world of golf.

           An admitted supporter of Michelle Wie and her talent, even I
must admit I'm growing tired of watching her try and try again. I believe
Wie has unlimited potential and could someday compete consistently in men's
events. However, I feel she's been pushed along to quick by those around her
in the name of money and know finds herself in a mental mess.

           That being said, the fat lady has not begun to sing for Wie's
career. She's only 17. Want to compare her to Tiger Woods? Woods also missed
the first seven cuts of his PGA career. Therefore, there's more than enough
time for Wie to right the ship and become a revolutionary athlete in the
sporting world.

           If I could offer Ms. Wie a few tidbits of advice I'd say the
following.

           1. Go away for a while - Not because I'm sick of you or you're
not good enough. Just get away from the game. Try to figure out if you love
it or not. Listen to your heart and not the words of the many greedy
individuals around you.

           2. Win on the women's tour -  Don't play on the men's tour again
this year. Shy away from the criticism. Go develop end eventually dominate
the LPGA circuit before taking on Ernie Els and co. again. Then, you'll be
better prepared to succeed when you return.

           All of Wie's struggles make me appreciate Earl Woods even more.
Tiger was also a phenom at a young age. However, Earl never pushed him to
fast. He understood it takes time for players to develop (especially on a
game that relies so much on someone's mental mettle). As a result, when
Tiger did take on the big boys he was as prepared as possible.



           The other story brewing early in the season about youth is the
success of 16-year old Hawaiian Todd Fujikawa. Playing in his home state at
the Sony Open, Fujikawa was tied for eighth place after three rounds. Along
with playing great, Fujikawa's also about as lovable as a teddy bear.

           He's 5-2 with a smile that's pasted onto his face. He wears his
heart on his sleeve and embraces the warmth fans seem to offer him. A guy
who's had to battle his whole life, Fujikawa's story is inspiring.

           Born 3 months premature, Fujikawa once weighed 31 ounces total.
Doctors gave him a 50 percent chance of surviving. Sixteen years later he
walked and smiled his way around Winged Foot Golf Club at last year's US
Open. He's the ultimate likable guy and judging from his play this week, he
might be on the verge of becoming a force in the professional golfing world.

(Editor's Note:  How inspiring is it that Paul "one win per decade" Goydos nailed this one down with a 67.
How depressing is it that Donald and Howell, two of the bright young lights, could not go lower
than 69 to put this one away?  Guess it's Tiger or no one in the clutch.)

#35--December 2006 #3--12 Thoughts To End The Year  

          Another Christmas has come and gone. Kris Kringle has been in and out of every chimney around the globe and Rudolph’s looking forward to a few months of rest.

          However, even though it’s December 26, I’m still in the Christmas spirit. I’m much more of the 12 days of Christmas mindset. I don’t like to look at the holiday as a single day but rather a period of time during which people share gifts, reflect upon what’s important in their life and slow down a bit.

          That’s why I’ve decided to comprise a list of 12 things I’m most grateful for in the world of golf. The list that follows is in no particular order. Just 12 things that help make the great sport of golf a little better.

 

1. No Referees – The older I’ve grown the more I’ve come to appreciate the fact that nobody gets to blow a whistle at professional golfers. You can look back at the last few playoffs in other professional sports and almost always find a controversy revolving around the officials and their calls. Sure golf has rules, but they’re clear-cut. It’s black and white. No instant replays, cheap fouls or easy outs. That leads to less controversy and true champions.

 

2. Sundays – No other sport defines a single day of the week so much. Every year (barring weather delays), golf crowns its champions on Sundays. Yeah the NFL plays on Sundays but now they’ve got games on Thursday, Saturday, and Monday too. But, in golf, the green jacket, the Wannamaker Trophy, the Claret Jug…they all get dished out on Sunday.

 

3. Golf Movies – When it comes to golf flicks it’s all about quality over quantity. There haven’t been many but those that have been made are doozies. Tin Cup lifts my spirits. Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore deliver the laughs. The Legend of Bagger Vance touches on redemption, greatness and personal struggle. Seriously, if there’s a movie with a four iron in it, I’ll watch it.

 

4. Foursomes – Three of the most important friends I’ve ever had were the other guys in my high school foursome. Every day after school we’d get together for practice and play nine holes. Yeah, we learned the game. But we also learned a lot about laughing and telling jokes. I’m only four years removed from high school and I already don’t keep in touch with many classmates. However, it’s rare if two weeks go by when I don’t talk to each of those guys. I can only hope any future foursomes I have are equally rewarding.

 

5. Match Play – Hey, you just made a 14 on the fifth hole. Well, guess what? You’re still only one down because we’re doing match play today.  Golf is golf, but the way people play it changes whether they’re playing stroke or match play. Match play is used less frequently but it’s just as fun and allows for a disastrous hole or two.

 

6. 6 p.m. tee times – My favorite time to tee it up is six p.m. on a summer night. The course isn’t all that crowded. You get to watch the sunset and if you play with a little pace, you can still get 18 holes in.

 

7. Handicaps – Sure you just carded a 94 at Pinehurst No. 2. But, subtract your 24 handicap and it’s really a 70. Heck, Tiger Woods has shot rounds higher than 70 at that place. So, incorporate your handicap and El Tigre really doesn’t have anything on you. Handicaps enable us to play with guys two times better than us. They enable a great golfer and a sub-par golfer to still have something to play for when they walk to the 18th.

 

8. Tiger Woods – I know it’s cliché to thank the greatest golfer ever to get a haircut, but I feel a need to do so. I feel utterly blessed to be alive during Woods’ career. I’ve watched him win each of his 12 majors and saw the most recent in person. The guy’s changed my understanding of the game and what it means to be excellent. I’ve heard all about Nicklaus and Palmer but I wouldn’t have traded my time watching Tiger to see either of them work through their careers.

 

9. Striped shirts and plaid shorts – As much as I love tuning in to see who wins a golf tournament, I love taking time to see what the guys are wearing too. You can laugh at that, but I love seeing what guys like Ian Poulter and Jesper Parnevik decide to wear on Sundays. From Tiger’s red shirts to Poulter’s pink pants – fashion and style are staples in golf.

 

10. Augusta National – Every year the major championships choose a new course to go to except The Masters. The first major of the year has decided that only one course is good enough for the greatest players in the world. Only one place deserves to be visited every year. That place is Augusta National.

 

11. U.S. Open Qualifying – Still the coolest and toughest thing in sports if you ask me. Trying to qualify for the U.S. Open is like trying to win the Iditarod in swim trunks and flip flops. You’ve got to make bogeys less often than neutered pets make babies. Still, every year, a handful of guys get a chance to tee it up with the world’s greatest. Pretty neat, huh?

 

12. Stories – You can’t beat the stories the game gives us. From stories of triumph to zany stories of holes-in-one, golf is all about tall tales and legends. Every player, every hole, every shot and every course has a story. We keep playing because we can’t get enough of the stories. We always want to write ours a little better and we’re dying to let the links tell us a few more.

   
#34
--December 2006 #2--2006 Holiday Wishes


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While the unseasonably warm weather in Western New York this year might not say so, the holiday season is upon us.

            No doubt, this is a happy time full of gift giving and family parties. However, local golf fans could be struggling through the December month. Not because they aren’t loaded full of holiday spirit, but mostly because there’s really no golf being played. Each tour has completed its championship and q-school has unleashed its newest graduates to the pros. Even locally, most greens are roped off and fairways are devoid of hacks hauling four irons.

            That being said, the 2007 season is really only a few weeks away. It won’t be long before the pros are teeing it up at the Sony Open in Hawaii to kick off a fresh season of golf. Looking ahead to that time, I’ve compiled a list of holiday wishes for the 2007 pro season.

1. Nobody mentions Phil Mickelson’s name in the same breath as Tiger Woods – I like Phil. I think he’s a good guy with an extraordinary talent. But, if he was ever going to step up and be Woods’ rival, last year was it. He gave it a go, but essentially played lousy the whole second half of the year after the Winged Foot Massacre. I hope the two never square off at a major championship with nine to go because I know Woods will pick him apart. I’m sure Phil is going to win another major or two, but not when Woods is playing his best.

2. We start talking about somebody else and Woods – I think people have been wishing for a Tiger rival for about a decade but there’s really no reason for it to not happen this year. I’ll give you three guys who have the game and ability to match El Tigre: Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy. Scott and Garcia are golf prodigies who’ve been disappointing as professionals. One of them, if not both need to find the gumption to take a Sunday lead from Tiger. Ogilvy’s developed at a slower pace but he’s the only of the three with a major championship. Watching the way this guy played with Phil and Tiger for two rounds at last year’s PGA Championship, you can see he’s got the whole package.

3. Success for the FedEx Cup – In my heart of hearts, I really don’t like the idea of the FedEx Cup. I understand the desire to get the big names to play more often and later into the season, but I don’t like how it took a $10 million incentive and an extra month off to get it done. Shouldn’t guys want to play golf at the greatest courses in the world every week on their own? That being said, I hope it works. I hope it adds a little more drama to the fall months. It would be nice to see Lefty at some point after August. But, don’t be surprised it if doesn’t catch on. Even with the added money, guys like Phil, Tiger, Sergio and Ernie Els will still care more about the majors then the FedEx Cup. Don’t be surprised if guys wiggle their way out of this like they do the Tour Championship.

4. Wie on the weekend – One of my friends recently referred to Wie’s career as one big circus. And, looking at her misguided attempts to make men’s cuts and inability to win on the women’s tour, Wie doesn’t look like the most focused of players. However, I hope she finds something in her swing this season and makes a few cuts on the men’s tour. I think she can play and compete for four days with the guys, but if she doesn’t get it done soon people aren’t going to have much patience for her.

5. The 72nd at Winged Foot x 2 – I can’t remember the last time a single hole had such an impact on the major championships as it did at Winged Foot last year. Standing at the tee, Mickelson was moments away from winning the first hall of the grand slam and grabbing hold of the golf world. Woods had missed the cut and a slew of other guys had already turned the US Open’s final hole into a mess. However, one double-bogey later and Mickelson’s dreams were crushed. Geoff Ogilvy emerged from the fracas to take home the Open Title. Woods mourned the loss of his father before winning the final two majors of the season in style. Sure, it was utter chaos, but wasn’t such a season-changing hole a ton of fun?

 

 

 

#33--December 2006--Trivia Time...Under The Gun

Quick.
For $30,000 plus change a year and a job at one of the premier golf magazines in the world, who invented the sand wedge?
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

All right relax readers, I’m not in a position where I could offer any of you such money or such an opportunity. However, The Mouth recently found himself in such a position when he traveled to Hilton Head, SC for a job interview with a respectable golf publication.  While I expected a challenge when I made the trip hoping to convince those in charge I could fill the editorial assistant job they currently have open, I never expected to realize I don’t know jack squat about the sport I love.
For the three days I was in Hilton Head, the interview went quite smooth actually. The plane flew steady and put me back on the ground in one piece. I was as polite and personable as I could ever be when talking with the different editors and employees. I even managed to put down a little sushi when the owners of the publication took me out for dinner the second night I was in town.

However, at about 11 a.m. eastern standard time last Thursday, my world fell in around me. I’ll be honest, I’ve always thought I knew a fair share of golf trivia and information. I can spit out the last 10 winners of every major championship like nothing. I know about the careers of guys like Nicklaus, Palmer and Ben Crenshaw. Working for PGAtour.com I’ve picked up more golf information about guys from the Nationwide and Champions Tour.

That’s why when one of the editors asked me to take a ‘golf knowledge’ test, I felt pretty confident. However, after reading through the 20 questions and realizing I might be able to answer five, I knew I was about to pull a Van-de-Velde. Even after realizing the test had me dormie and then some, I put a few good guesses out there. I tried to rationalize some qustions, put them in time frames and then pick players from that era for answers. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

The question that kicked off this column was among those The Mouth didn’t know. Apparently Gene Sarazen is the guy who first came up with a sand wedge. Among the other questions I couldn’ t answer were, “Who coined the phrase Amen Corner? and “Who was the first guy to shoot a 63 in the U.S. Open?”
Now I know these questions aren’t completely out there, but they shook up my fake sense of confidence in my golf-knowledge abilities. I know what Amen Corner is, I don’t know who coined the name. I knew 63 was the low round at the U.S. Open, I don’t know who first shot it.

Upon handing in the test I felt I was sunk. Even if I got everyone right that I’d answered or guessed at I’d probably only score a fifty percent. Later, the editor who’d given me the test told me it was definitely a challenging set of trivia he’d comprised. He said it with a smirk to let me know that he’d never expected me to do extremely well on it. Still, I hated being outsmarted when it came to the sport of golf. I also discovered I did very well in my one-on-one interviews and nailed the editing test I’d been given. With all these positives, I left Hilton Head feeling good about my effort. As I’ve told anyone who asked me about it since then, I did the best I could and now I’ll just wait and see if I get an offer.
However, as I flew back toward Buffalo last Friday, I couldn’t get my mind off the golf knowledge test. It wasn’t that I was kicking myself over it, I knew there was no way for me to have prepared for such a hard test i didn’t know was coming. Instead, I began to focus on just what a cool idea it was. So, I’ve now come up with a way of rebounding from my sub-par performance down south. Instead of taking a test, I want to put together the most challenging 20 questions of golf trivia I can muster. However, as my performance proved last week, I need help.

So, I’d like the open the floor to the wonderful readers of BuffaloGolfer.com. Know something about the 1972 Masters that you think will stump golf fans? Send it in. Remember something about Jack Nicklaus’ career even he may have forgot? Shoot me an e-mail. I’m hoping that with me and the other site staffers doing research and you offering suggestions, we can put together a test by Christmas time, post it on the website and then see how readers do.

In closing, let me reiterate what I’m looking for. Anybody who thinks they’ve got some relevant golf trivia they’d like to share, send it to whitcocr@sbu.edu and I’ll take it into consideration. I can’t promise everyone’s question will make the final cut. But, I can promise that with your help we can put together one of the most challenging sets of golf trivia ever conceived.
Having said that, now the clock’s ticking for real. With as bummed as I was over being stumped in  South Carolina, I’m ready for more punishment.  Bring it on.

#32--November 2006--Three things I know I know (...do you?)


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            Talk about irony. What goes around must come around in the world of golf.

            For the past 10 years, Tiger Woods has made a fortune out of destroying golf courses. Bunkers? He’s blitzed them. Greens? He’s made them look like putt-putt courses. Ungodly long holes? Woods usually finds a way to get home in two.

            However, according to a statement released by Woods last week, he’ll soon begin building a handful of courses around the globe. By forming Tiger Woods Design, El Tigre will try to build the most fun, challenging golf courses he can imagine.

            “I've had the luxury of playing golf around the world, and I've spent a lot of time evaluating how to play all kinds of courses," said Woods, chairman of the new company. "I'd like to share my experiences and the lessons I've learned and hopefully create some amazing, fun courses."

            That could be good or bad news for golf enthusiasts around the world. In one sense, would there be anything cooler than playing courses designed by the greatest golfer ever? However, if Woods looks to build courses that could even challenge him we could all be in for trouble. Something tells me I don’t have the same concept of amazing and fun on a golf course as Tiger.

            Apparently any time a guy under the age or 30 wins a big tournament he’s expected to step up and be Tiger Woods next rival. After Adam Scott capped off his most consistent season on tour with a win at the Tour Championship last weekend people have already begun to talk about how he must now step up and be Frazier to Woods’ Ali.

            First off, it’s time to understand Woods has no rivals. The only guys who can even be considered his rivals are guys with the last names of Nelson, Palmer and most assuredly Nicklaus. Tiger Woods doesn’t play against the field. He play’s against history and the game’s legends.

            That being said, Scott is finally starting to live up to the hype that’s preceded him. The guy’s got great talent and could wrestle a major or two away from Woods at some point, but not in the next season or two. I do like Scott and the funny-looking sweaters he always seems to wear, but don’t paint him as Woods’ rival.

            Along with Scott, golf fans have to be pleased by the influx of young good players on Tour. Guys like Zach Johnson, Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry and Camilo Villegas are really starting to make their presences felt and find an identity on tour. That bodes well for a sport that really lacks personality after you get past Woods and Mickelson.

 

            Finally, I’d like to second Tim Rosaforte’s assertion that the Masters should extend a special invitation to Tom Lehman for next year’s tournament.

            As Rosaforte recently pointed out in his GolfDigest.com column, Lehman essentially gave up an automatic bid to the Masters when he elected Byron Nelson’s funeral over the WGC American Express Championship. Placing anywhere in the top 56 would have put Lehman in the automatic bid category for next year’s first major.

            Instead, Lehman chose to honor a golf legend. For a game that prides itself on its tradition and heritage, Lehman should be rewarded for taking time to honor Nelson with an invite to the tournament.

            It’s not as if Lehman is a slouch either. This year’s Ryder Cup captain, Lehman contemplated playing on the team himself before finally electing to let younger guys give it a go. Lehman was up there on the Ryder Cup points though and he’ll make more than a couple birdies at Augusta next year.

 

#31--November 2006--Michelle Wie:  The best of times, the worst of times?

These aren’t the best days for young Michelle Wie.
 Having gone just one-for-11 in her first few years of trying to compete in men’s events, Wie has fallen under staunch criticism for her relentless pursuit of acceptance on the men’s tour.  There’s also been quite a bit of unrest within the Wie camp over the past few months as well. Having recently changed agents and caddies, it seems Wie is beginning to feel the heat and looking for a way to make things better.  Throw all of that in with the staggering pressures that come from simply being a 17-year-celebrity and one would have to think long and hard before volunteering to wear her Nike golf shoes for a week.
 However, with all that being said, I’m becoming a bigger fan of Wie with every cut she misses. I love watching her struggle her way around golf courses not because I want her to fail, but because I understand I’m watching the early stages of something utterly amazing.

People love to criticize every wayward tee shot Wie hits. People should shut up. When I was 17-years-old I could barely overcome my nerves to hit a solid tee shot in high school matches. You want to criticize Wie because she’s made just one cut in 11 tries? I’m not buying it.  First off, even in defeat, there’s a lot to like about Michelle. To start, she’s got guts. She doesn’t have to come back time and time again to face criticism and miss cuts, but she does. She’s also got character. How many times has Michelle Wie stepped to the interview room with a bag full of excuses? She doesn’t point to her age or her inexperience, she simply talks about how she needs to play better, work on her game and continue on her pursuit.

It’s a pursuit I hope she more than succeeds with as she moves forward. I’ve always had a tendency to root for the underdogs. To pull for the people who have a growing list of doubters and critics. It’s kind of how I first started to become a Tiger Woods guy. Remember when Woods was struggling to win every single tournament for a few years in the middle of his career and everyone started talking about the Tiger Slump? Now, a few years later we can see how much of a crock such slump talk turned out to be.

I’m hopeful we can do the same type of thing when we look back at the criticism Wie faced early in her career. Obviously, the one glaring difference between Woods and Wie is that Tiger had long-before proven himself when he began to feel the heat. Wie doesn’t have a whole lot to fall back on, and I guess, in a lot of ways that lends some credibility to the criticism.
 However, along with guts and character, this girl’s got a lot of game and a lot of years ahead of her. I’m not joking when I say I could definitely see her in the PGA Tour’s winner’s circle at some point. It may sound crazy, but pretend Wie had never played a men’s event and you simply saw her play for the first time tomorrow. All of a sudden, you don’t see the criticism and they hype. Instead, you see the game and you’re forced to respect it.

I’ve no doubt Wie’s got the game. I just hope she has enough drive and persistence to stick with it. She’s probably going to face much more criticism before she reaches her goals.  Still, I don’t think it’s to far out there to say Wie will someday walk down the fairways of Augusta alongside other competitors in the Masters. And, should that happen, I’ve got to think it will be hard to find anyone doubting her then.

 

#30--October 2006--David Toms:  The reincarnation of Payne Stewart?

            Underneath his famous knickers and sometimes odd-looking hats, Payne Stewart was really just your average guy. What separated him from other guys on tour was his flair, passion and exuberance for the sport. What distinguished him as an American sports icon was his ability to win three major golf tournaments with the grace and humility of a champion.

            Since Stewart’s tragic passing in a 1999 plane crash, the PGA Tour has been handing out The Payne Stewart Award to a player who embodies the values by which Stewart lived. Already such players as Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson and Brad Faxon have been recognized as winners. It’s a special honor for guys on tour since so many players played with and were friends of the late, great Stewart. And, as the Tour readies to hand out the eighth Stewart Award, it should take a hard look at giving the honor to David Toms.

            It’s not hard to understand why Toms would be a fitting recipient when you look at his statistics. Currently ranked number 10 in the world, Toms has amassed 12 Tour victories including the 2001 PGA Championship. He’s also been a member on three Ryder Cup and two President’s Cup teams. He’s shown the toughness and mettle to contend week in and week out with the best golfers in the world.

            However, to truly understand why Toms deserves this honor you’ve got to look at him when he’s not wearing his golf spikes. You’ve got to follow him around the country as he puts in countless hours raising money and awareness for the David Toms Foundation.

            According to Toms, his foundation creates hope for children in need by finding ways for them to get help.  He works with abused, abandoned and/or underprivileged children in hopes of helping the over one-million children who are currently homeless in the United States.

            While Toms’ efforts will never be able to help every child in need around the country, he’s hopeful it will make a difference and inspire others to do the same. On his website www.davidtomsfoundation.com, visitors can find a list of every different charity that has received money from the foundation. With over 40 charities listed ranging from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to Hurricane Katrina Relief Funding, Toms and his people have donated over $2,488,900 to those in need.

            Those are the kind of efforts and numbers the PGA Tour should consider when shifting through the different candidates for this year. Toms is an accomplished player, a dedicated charity worker and the kind of player who treats the game, his competitors and the golf course with a simple respect. He may not draw the kinds of crowds Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do, but at the end of the day he’s probably got more of a following when you consider all the young boys and girls who’ve received help from his foundation.

            Sure, he doesn’t wear the knickers or the caps Steward did, but aside from their wardrobes these guys are a lot alike. You’ve got to think if Stewart could offer his vote in this year’s award selection, he’d probably give long consideration to Toms. Through his career and foundation, Toms has done a lot for himself and a lot for others. Even though he’ll never ask for it, Toms deserves some recognition from the Tour for all his hard work. That’s why; a month from now, the PGA Tour should do the right thing and give this guy possibly the greatest acknowledgement of his career by handing him the 2006 Payne Stewart Award.

 

#29--September 2006 Bonus--Ryder Cup Review...Are You Listening, USA?

While the United States team's performance in the Ryder Cup this past weekend at the K Club may leave many American golf fans speechless, the few words others can come up with are very powerful.

            Pathetic.

            Embarrassing.

            Disgusting.

            Those are just a few of the negative words you can throw around when talking about the 18 ½ - 9 ½ trouncing the Americans took at the hands of Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia and the other 10 European team members. For three days, the Europeans put on a golf clinic as they dispatched some of the greatest players in the world.

            It'd be hard to swallow getting beat like this no matter who was playing, but when you consider guys like Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Chris Dimarco combined to win zero matches; you've just got to shake your head.

            "How does this happen?"

            Well, it's been happening for some time now. Two years ago, the Americans were whitewashed by the same score. They've now lost three straight Ryder Cups and eight of the past 11. One or two more events like this one and the Cup itself may apply for permanent European citizenship.

            Only a day after the massive walloping the United States took and already tons of golf writers are beginning to try to figure out what is wrong. Shift through some columns about the Ryder Cup and you'll find people questioning the way the U.S. picks their players, they importance of having captain's picks and a great debate about who should next captain the team.

            It's easy to understand why people are evaluating such things. They're looking for answers to a question they can't understand. However, if we really want to find the reason for such a defeat we have to look at the players themselves and nothing else.

            Watching the competition this past week, it became clear that the only thing the Americans were missing (other than Woods' nine iron for part of Sunday) was heart. Getting beat by the Europeans is understandable. Getting pounded and doubled up in points is gutless.

            Maybe the Americans think their past accomplishments and world rankings can carry them through such events but they're obviously not putting in the same kind of work they would for a major championship. Maybe the Americans can't seem to muster enough emotion to care about the event anyways.

            Regardless, at some point or another, you have to think pride would factor in to this equation. How many times do we have to get beat before we decide to make a stand?

            Still, there is reason for hope. The Americans are undoubtedly talented. When you can put guys like Woods, Mickelson and Furyk on the same team you don't have to worry about not having the necessary skill. However, if the Americans are going to reverse this trend at Valhalla in 2008, they'll have to look within themselves. It doesn't really matter who's on that team if they don't each bring a little bit of heart and pride.

            None of that matters right now though. For the next few days and weeks we'll hear about how much camaraderie and talent the Europeans have. They deserve all the praise of course. The emotion and game they showed in defending their title and winning for Darren Clarke is admirable.

            However, the Americans would be wise not to get caught up in listening too much of the press. It's best to move on from this debacle as soon as possible.  Two years from now they'll get another chance. And, hopefully, by then they'll find the necessary heart and passion to reverse this trend.

 

#28--September 2006--Ryder Cup Preview...Are You Listening, Europe?

It is time to send a message.

            It's been seven years since the United States last won a Ryder Cup and took hold of the golfing world. It's been seven years since Justin Leonard rolled in that putt from another time zone on the 17th hole at Brookline to give the United States an emphatic come from behind victory. It's been seven years since the US team got the chance to pop the champagne and act all giddy as they hoisted the Ryder Cup toward the heavens.

            It's been seven years to long.

            Since then, the European team has put together two straight Ryder Cup victories and looked like the dominant golfing force in the world. They've won four of the last five cups and looked impressive doing it. Even heading into this week's Ryder Cup at the K Club, all the talk seems to be focused on how young and inexperienced the American team is. How they probably don't have enough firepower and passion to take back the title.

            Such low expectations probably don't sit well with an American team that currently has the top three players in the world on its roster. Guys like Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson don't take well to being called underdogs. But, amazingly, that's what they'll be as they tee it up this weekend.

            For some reason, whenever the greatest golfers in the world have to put away their sponsor shirts and dress like teams, the Europeans make the Americans look like a bunch of guys who don't know how to play together. Seriously, watch the tapes from two years ago and you'll see the Europeans running around, celebrating and embracing one another after every match. The camaraderie these guys share outshines that of the American team time and time again.

            It's time for that to change.

            When the two teams meet at the K Club in Ireland next weekend, I have no doubt that the more talented, deeper team will be wearing the American colors. There's no reason for these guys to get pushed around and lose this thing. It's not that the European guys aren't good or that I don't respect them, it's just that I'm tired of seeing the Americans get destroyed. Honestly, if you had to choose between Woods or Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson or Darren Clarke, Jim Furyk or Luke Donald you'd probably take the American in each pairing.

            Sure, each team has 12 players and names like Brett Wetterich and Zach Johnson aren't going to put the fear of God in the Europeans. But, still, from top to bottom the American team is more accomplished and more capable of bringing home the Ryder Cup this weekend.

            Therefore, it's time for the American team to do what they should have done each of the last two times the Ryder Cup was held - Win. No more excuses. No more getting pushed around. No more walking away in disgust with a bunch of shoulda, woulda, couldas.

            Nope, this time they need to recapture that emotion they showed on the 17th green at Brookline. It's time to act like the best golfers in the world. It's time to surround that Ryder Cup in good ol' Red White and Blue.

            It's time to send a message.

#27--August 2006--Medinah Files:  Installment The Fifth (& final!)

            It's only been two weeks, but I'm already going through withdrawal.

            I miss Medinah Country Club. I miss hanging around the greatest golfers in the world. I miss the guys I worked with. I miss Chicago.

            Nothing against school and Western New York, but it's not the PGA Championship. Sitting through lectures about Romantic literature can't quite compare to following Tiger as he made his Saturday charge at Medinah No. 3.

            In all honesty, the fact that I miss being at Medinah so much is a credit to the PGA staff and the great guys I worked with. I've done two of these now and my experience at Medinah blew Baltusrol out of the water.

            It's actually hard to pick out my favorite experience from my two months stint in Illinois. Standing next to Tiger as he accepted the Wannamaker Trophy is up there. So is the time Amy Mickelson and her friend asked if they could watch golf with us from our golf cart. Then again, can anything beat getting a chance to play the course two days after the pro's finished up?

            The truth is, as fun and awesome as my summer job turned out to be, it all just went to fast. I think about how two weeks ago I woke up in Chicago and it feels like just yesterday when I began my drive out there.

            So, to help me remember the past two summers I put together a brief checklist of my favorite things about the past two summers. Below is a comparison of such things. 

  Best Champion Tiger or Phil?  I'm more of a Tiger guy.

  Tougher course? 4-under won at Baltusrol. 18-under won at Medinah. That's an easy one.

  Prettier Course? Lake Kudijah runs through Medinah and makes it look beautiful. It beats Baltusrol by a tap-in.

  Coolest shot? During the second round at Baltusrol, Mickelson drove it off the six tee and way left into the 17th fairway. Rather than punch out, Lefty hit the ball down 17 to a point where he thought he could get to the green. From there, he hit it over the trees, landed it 10 feet from the pin and spun it back. Then, he ran around the green slapping high fives. 

  Worst Moment? Having a piece of metal give out from underneath me at Medinah and splitting my right leg open. Nine stitches later the Mouth was once again roaring.

If I could play only one of the courses ever again? Baltusrol. I wouldn't call it prettier, but there is something about the place that speaks to me a bit more than Medinah.

 

#26--August 2006--Medinah Files:  Installment The Fourth

            This column should be about everything I experienced over the past two months as a member of the 2006 PGA Championship Operations Crew.

            I should spend the next few paragraphs telling you about all the time I spent following guys like Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and David Love III as they worked their way around Medinah No. 3.

            Heck, I should probably take the time to gloat about how Amy Mickelson, her friend and her mother spent the majority of Friday afternoon standing in my golf cart so they could see over the masses that followed Tiger Woods, Mr. Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy.

            There are probably a hundred stories I would love to tell all of you about Medinah that would pique your golfing interests.  However, to take the time to tell those stories would be to ignore a much larger story which has taken the golf world by storm. Maybe you've heard of it or him for that matter. He goes by Tiger.

            That's right; Woods' victory at the Bridgestone Invitational yesterday marked the 10 year anniversary of Tiger turning pro. It also gave Woods his fourth win in as many tournaments. Only a week removed from winning the PGA Championship to earn his 12th major title, Tiger now stands posed to take over the golf world in even more impressive fashion than ever before.

            Earlier in his career, between late 1999 and 2001, Tiger went on a stretch during which he won seven of 11 major tournaments. However, after that impressive stretch, Woods went through a few seasons of swing alterations, injuries and personal changes. While he remained a steady force on tour, often picking up a major title a year, many began to question if he could ever truly live up to his hype and talent. Willing to admit he wants to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships, Woods faces a stiff pressure to perform at an almost super-human level every time he tees it up.

            And, judging from his recent victories and dominance, Woods seems ready to finally fulfill his golf prophecy. Some believe (myself included) that he's now posed to do something even more magical than his stretch between 1999 and 2001. Another Tiger slam? The real grand slam? Nothing seems out of reach for this guy right now.

            Have you seen this guy play recently? He put on a clinic at the British Open. He blew away the field at Medinah. With his driver seemingly back in check, Woods can annihilate golf courses in a number of different ways.

            He's proving it too. Four wins in four-tournaments? That's like batting 1.000 in baseball, only harder. In a game where even the slightest gust of wind or the smallest bounce can alter competitors' fates, Woods seems immune to any problems a golf course throws at him.

            Forget talking about birdies and bogies, this guy's going to restructure golf's record books forever. It's not that far fetched to talk about Woods winning 120+ tournaments and 30 majors before he retires. He's single handedly kept so many others from achieving golf immortality.

            Think about it? Take Tiger out of the picture and Mickelson's probably the greatest golfer of our era. Sergio would probably have a major or two. We'd finally understand just how tough and talented Chris Dimarco can play. Els, Singh and so many other guys would be putting together their own runs at the record books.

            But, instead it is Tiger Woods who has completely revolutionized the sport we love to play and watch. Even as the doubters piled up during his down years, Woods never wavered from his commitment to change his swing. He never stopped believing that he would someday return to take over the golf world again. And, now that it appears that time has come, all we can do is sit back and be awed. It's scary when you reflect on the first 10 years of Tiger's career. The numbers and the memories are mind boggling. But, what's even scarier than that is the possibility of the future. If Tiger's recent success is any indication, the best of Woods may still be yet to come.

 

#25--July 2006--Medinah Files:  Installment The Third

The British Open is over. The grandstands are going up.

            It's amazing how the conclusion of the third major of the year has immediately shifted the golf world's attention toward the fourth. Even with the British Open having ended just yesterday, the intensity at Medinah has already picked up.

            Today, National Rent-A-Fence showed up to begin laying out all of the fencing around the corporate villages and driving range. Crews have begun setting up all of the different grandstands around the course. The first CBS trailers are expected to arrive later this week.

            Consequently, the amount of work we have to do has also increased. While there were a few slow moments in the opening weeks, we're now always running around to pain, windscreen, make deliveries or rope and stake certain areas.

            While the increased work might bum some people out, it gets the Mouth's juices flowing. Rumor around Medinah is that both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be playing some time this week. We're also expecting to see Michael Jordan playing sometime soon.

            It's funny, but I thought that after last year at Baltusrol, I might be a little less excited about the job. Fortunately, I was wrong. I love counting down the days until the greatest golfers ever to breathe will be here.

            Until then though, I'll continue to put in the necessary work to turn this place into a golfer's dream. Even the most mundane tasks seem exciting when you consider you're doing it for the PGA Championship.

            However, I must take time to admit that not everything we do is mundane. Just last week I had the chance to do something only the greatest guys ever to pick up a five iron ever have. Heading by the PGA Championship office, I was beckoned over by one of my superiors and asked to help move something into the Medinah clubhouse. Looking at the size of the box I had to transport, I asked what was inside.

            Dubiously, my superior looked at me and said, "The Wannamaker."

            That's right, for about five minutes one of the most prized trophies in golf was in my possession. After unloading it inside the clubhouse, I took a moment to raise it above my head and pretend I was the tournament's champion. Sure, my name may never be carved into the thing, but for a moment it made me forget that I was a 14 handicap.

            Also, before I depart I wanted to weigh in on the British. While my Sergio pick wasn't that far off, I take no shame in being showed up by Tiger. I don't know if I've ever seen a better final round than Tiger's closer at Hoylake. Every shot he hit was pure and precise. Other than one misread birdie putt, I can't think of a shot he hit that wasn't great.

            It was a reminder that when he's at the top of his game, Tiger Woods can't be beat. His invincibility may have fallen under question over the past year, but this win should remind us all of how great Tiger can be.

            It's also while I'm picking Tiger to win at Medinah. I think he's as focused as he's ever been. Plus, I think he has a great desire to win the final two majors as a tribute to his late father. While he showed a great deal of emotion this past Sunday at Hoylake, Tiger still has a lot more to accomplish this season.

 

#24--July 2006--Medinah Files:  Installment The Second

Even if you happen to be strolling through Medinah Country Club at some point during the next four weeks you'll probably be hard pressed to find me.

            Considering I've already spent most of my time buried in mulch or windscreening areas of the course even the most wayward tee-shot would struggle to find, I'm not always the most visible guy.

            In fact, that's one of the biggest differences I've noticed between this year's set-up and the way things were designed last year at Baltusrol. While many of the corporate villages at Baltusrol ran along the course, this year's set-up keeps everything close to the clubhouse.

            Other than that, thing's have progressed at about the same rate through the first two weeks of set-up. The corporate villages are still being set-up and designed. Not a single grandstand or fan entrance has been set-up yet. Medinah and the PGA haven't even broken ground on the main entrance yet.

            So, there's still a lot to be done before August 14. This week, we'll continue to mulch areas of the course and corporate villages. We'll also continue to windscreen any new sections of fence which get put up over the next few days. Pretty soon we'll begin setting up bike fence and then even think about roping and staking the course.

            Considering how much we've got left to do, my free time in Chicago has all but disappeared. I've already been able to visit the city twice and catch a Cubs game. Around our PGA-provided housing is just about any store, restuaurant or activity you could possibly imagine. And, while I've used the early part of my trip to Chicago to enjoy such things, I probably won't see another day off until August 26 when I take the nine hour drive home.

            Not that you'll hear me complain. The reason I came here was to be around one of the greatest golf courses in the world and be up and close to the PGA Championship. Over the next five weeks, I'll get more than my fair chance to experience such things. Every now and then when I get a little tired or frustrated with the long hours, I'm tempted to moan and groan about the job. However, it only takes a quick look around to remember how awesome of an opportunity I'm currently enjoying.

            My goal is to touch base with my Mouth fans once a week over the next six weeks but please forgive me if I'm a little late during the week before the tournament. I promise I'll offer as much insight into my experience as I can.
 
            Finally, I'd like to weigh in on the British Open this week. I'm frustrated because once again I don't have a clear cut favorite. At the Masters, I had a feeling about Mickelson. For the Open, I was very unsure and now I feel that way again with the British. While I'm willing to guarantee a Tiger victory here at Medinah, I'm shaky about the British.

            Still, I am not a timid soul. And, considering my love for his game and my belief that the first major he wins will be a British, I'm taking Sergio Garcia.

 

#23--July 2006--Medinah Files:  Installment The First

There are some things in this world that take your breath away.

            For me, the clubhouse at Medinah Country Club is one of those things. Inside and out, the clubhouse is sheer beauty. Stroll through the main entrance and you're instantly transported into a celestial palace. Walk down the hall of champions and you'll see images from some of the many major tournaments which have taken place at Medinah's famed No. 3 course. Stroll outside and you can admire the building's beautiful brickwork while you knock putts around its humongous putting green.

            Not that the courses that surround the building are anything to sneeze at either. The No. 1 course, (which has been partially demolished to make room for the upcoming major) is one of Illinois' top 15. The No. 3 course which will hold the PGA Championship is one of the top 15 in America. While less distinguished, the No. 2 course is full of challenging holes and shots.

            Not surprisingly, such a golf paradise has convinced such Chicago celebrities as Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey to pick up membership cards. Maybe even less surprising, the PGA has chosen to bring the final major of the year back to this golf haven.

            A week ago, as I made the long trip from Salamanca, NY to Schaumburg, IL, I had great expectations for Medinah Country Club. Having seen both Oak Hill in Rochester and Baltusrol Golf Club last summer in New Jersey, I thought I had a grasp of what a great golf facility looked like. However, Medinah has surpassed all my expectations. It's design. Its architecture. It's natural beauty. All of these things make it by far the greatest golf course I've ever seen. These things have also made me even more excited to be working on the Operations Crew for the tournament.

            Outside of taking in the beauty of Medinah Country Club, I've also been hard at work. In our first two days, we've already unloaded most of the PGA trailers, begun painting and installing windscreen along with dozens of other odd jobs. While technically operations crew members, we're referred to as swampers.  It's a term the PGA has coined to refer to us as their jack-of-all-trades type characters. We will essentially do anything and everything the PGA needs us to do to make sure this place is ready for the PGA Championship come August 14.

            Having worked the same job at Baltusrol in 2005, I've taken on much more of a leader-type role. I know what will be expected of us over the next five weeks and the PGA expects me to convey this to the other swampers around me. I'll also be working hard to convey to you just exactly what it takes to be a swamper and how our duties progress as we get closer to the tournament. So, keep checking back for my updates and I'll keep working hard to ensure Medinah Country Club delivers a major championship for the ages.

 

#22--Triple-Bonus Article--Open Conclusions

Phil Mickelson is not the only guy who feels like an idiot after this past weekend's US Open. Just read last week's column and you'll see that I more than managed to prove my lack of golf knowledge.

            Along with picking the wrong champion (I took Davis Love III), I also was way off on the winning score and really misjudged how Tiger, Mickelson and Sergio Garcia would all perform. The only thing I can feel good about is that David Duval continues to get better as he made his first cut in a major since 2002.

            Then again, it's tough for me to feel foolish after watching how Winged Foot Golf Club made the greatest golfers in the world look stupid. Easily the most challenging US Open setup in recent memory, The Foot (as locals call the place) gave golf fans four zany, wonderful days of golf. It wasn't until after the 72nd hole had been played that Geoff Ogilvy was able to stand confidently as the newest owner of a major championship.

            But, with as great of a champion as Ogilvy is, the main story from this past weekend is Phil Mickelson and just how close he came to adding his third straight major and reaching the half way point in his chase for the grand slam. Standing on the 18th tee late Sunday afternoon, Mickelson looked as if he was only moments away from his first United States Open title.

            However, fast forward through a wayward tee shot, an ugly lie in a bunker and countless bad decisions by Lefty and you get to an infamous collapse and Ogilvy's ticket to the title. Of all Mickelson's oh-so-close finishes, this one has to be the most painful. Not only did his embarrassing finish lose him a major, it also cost him a chance at the "Mickelslam" and maybe even a shot at the official Grand Slam.

            Watching Lefty over the past few days it almost seemed as if his recent success had given him the confidence to revert back to his old style of play. Hitting driver on 18 wasn't the only risky decision he made during the tournament. He also tried an array of dangerous shots earlier in the week which occasionally cost him a shot or two. And, in the end, it was such decisions which led to him coming up one stroke short.

            No doubt, Mickelson will recover from this and move on to win more major championships in the future. But, it's doubtful he'll ever get another shot at holding all four major titles at the same time. Understandably, even if he'd made par on 18 and won at Winged Foot he'd still have had to take the British Open title in July. But, with as hard as it is to win one major in golf, it's even harder to win two and nearly impossible to be in the lead at the last hole of the third. In actuality for Lefty, it's an opportunity that he will almost definitely never see again.

            None of these musings over Mickelson are intended to take anything away from the actual champion of the tournament, Geoff Ogilvy. Super-talented in his own right, Ogilvy is a budding superstar in the game of golf. Already having picked up the World Match Play Championship, Ogilvy now holds two titles in 2006. Only in his late-20s, he's more than capable of becoming a weekly contender on the tour. Sure, guys like Mickelson and Colin Montgomery made mistakes to lose the Open, but Ogilvy didn't win this thing by accident. There is a reason he made the fewest mistakes over the four day event...he's that darn good.

            So, while we can talk about Mickelson's mistake and the many missed shots at Winged Foot last weekend, the biggest story is Ogilvy. The US Open has always been the most complete test in golf. Often, the winner is not the man who dominates the course but he who manages to survive. Ogilvy managed to survive with one less shot than any other competitor and because of that, he's the deserving champion of the 2006 US Open.

 

#21--Double-Bonus Article--Open Preview

Before I begin to dissect the 106th US Open which will take place at Winged Foot Golf Club this weekend, I need to unleash a little frustration.

            A recent column posted on ESPN.com suggests that the U.S. Open qualifying process is no longer effective. To build upon this argument, the writer points out that such players as John Daly and Jeff Maggert won't be invited to the second major of the year because they lost their spots to others who did manage to qualify. The writer also points to the fact that some of the 18 qualifiers have never played in a PGA Tour event and probably have no real shot at competing next weekend.

            My response? Hogglewash.

            Not only is the US Open qualifying process perfectly fine, it's also one of the greatest things about the game of golf. In what other sport can a talented nobody be hitting golf balls at his home range one day and possibly teeing it up with Tiger Woods the next? The answer is none. I understand the writer's argument but I disagree with it completely. The US Open qualifying process is completely fair. And, it leaves room for one of the most magical sports stories ever should another qualifier ever win the event.

            Plus, it's not as if the 18 gentlemen who earned spots at Winged Foot just happened to get lucky. The qualifying process is a long, grueling test of golf endurance. Anyone able to survive can more than hold their own on a golf course. The fact that these 18 guys were able to outperform such guys as Daly and Maggert only gives more credibility to having such an open event.

 

            Outside of such talk, I'm nothing but psyched about the second major of the year. Again, there are so many wonderful storylines to follow heading in to the tournament. To help all Mouth readers gain a little insight into what they can expect next weekend, I'd thought I'd break down some of the guys who have the best chance to win next week. Feel free to disregard my information if you'd like but do remember that I'm one for one this year after I picked Mickelson to win at Augusta.

 

1) The Course - Yes, Winged Foot Golf Club's West course is a challenger itself. It hasn't held the open in over 20 years and the last time it held a major tournament, players blitzed the place with birdies. The USGA has promised it will prove worthy of the test but there are many who are suspicious. Personally, I expect it to play long and fast as is anticipated at a US Open. Still, I doubt it will prove as challenging as Pinehurst last year. Expect six-under-par to be the score that wins.

 

2) El Tigre - God I want to pick Mr. Woods to win this event. A 12th major? On Father's Day? Weeks after the famous Earl Woods passed away? It would be a wonderful moment but I just don't see how it can happen. As good as Tiger is, I don't think anybody can not play competitively for two months and win this event. So, I'm not picking Tiger. But, if anybody can overcome such a lapse from the game...it's this guy.

 

3) Phil Mickelson - This is where I could put my foot in my mouth. With as good as things have gone for Phil lately and even with all his talent, I don't see how this is going to be a special week for him. Something tells me Phil's in for a long four days at Winged Foot. Everyone's praying for the Tiger v. Phil showdown but I don't think they'll get it until the PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club. Phil will make the cut, but he won't be in the heat on the back nine on Sunday.

 

4) Sergio Garcia - There's nobody I'd rather see win this weekend than this guy. Ever since he hit that famous closed-eye shot a few years ago I've been in love with this guy's game. If he could get his putter working, he'd be one of the top three players every week. However, it's not there yet and you can't win a US Open without a putter. Therefore, look for Sergio to end up in the middle of the pack. His time is coming though.

 

5) Davis Love III - The last time a major championship visited Winged Foot Country Club this guy won the 1997 PGA Championship. The title gave DLIII his first and only major victory. I've always had this theory that once a guy wins somewhere, he's always dangerous there. That's why; I'm looking for DLIII to earn his second major title this weekend. Chalk it up to the fact that he's been playing well or just chalk it up to the good karma he might pick up from his history with Winged Foot, either way he'd serve a fitting champion.

 

 That's all I've got for now. Enjoy the Open. There's nothing like it. And, as always, look out for David Duval. Maybe this is the weekend???

 

#20--Bonus Article--Anticipating Medinah!

Alright, I can't hide it anymore. I'm starting to get really excited.

            Faithful Mouth readers may remember that last summer I spent two months in New Jersey working on the Operations Crew for the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. Well, in just four short weeks I'll be heading off to work this summer's tournament at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, IL. Ever since I left New Jersey last August, I've been looking forward to doing it all over again. Last year I got inside-the-ropes access to Lefty's second career major. I'm all ready sticking my neck out there and predicting a Woods victory at Medinah.

            Along with being excited about getting to run, manage and carry out the fourth major of the year, I'm also pumped about living in a different time zone for a little bit. I've never been further west than Indianapolis in my entire life. I'm looking forward to forgetting that it's an hour later here and waking up my family some night when I call home. However, I am slightly concerned that I'll never be hungry at the right time. Hopefully, I'll adjust.

            Outside of getting excited to go to Medinah, the Mouth has also been more than able to keep busy. Holding down jobs as a Public Relations intern, tutor, golf course attendant and free-lance writer, I've had little time to get out on the course. I did have the chance to play this past week when I traveled to Topsail Island in North Carolina with my family. I got out twice, once each at North Shore Country Club and Castle Bay Golf Club. Of the two, North Shore was a much more enjoyable track. Its layout and challenging design made it one of my favorite courses to play. Still, each course gave the Mouth more than enough chances to prove his swing's a hazard to his health. Outside of an eagle on a long par-five at Castle Bay and three birdies at North Shore, my scores were somewhat forgettable.

            Even as busy as I've been, I've had the chance to follow the professional golf world. I was somewhat shocked when Woods decided not to play the Memorial this past weekend. I figured it would be a perfect time for him to step back on the links. Not only is it Jack's tournament, but it also would have been a two-week tune up for the U.S. Open. While Woods will clearly be the sentimental favorite at Winged Foot in two weeks, it's hard to imagine Tiger winning a major after not playing the two months since his father's passing. Still, if anyone could do it, it would be El Tigre.

            That's all for now. I'll be sure to get an in-depth U.S. Open preview and prediction column up in the next week. Till then, swing easy and hit em straight.

 

June 2006--Earl Woods

They looked like a pair of balled up socks.
 
Standing only feet from the 18th green at Augusta National in 1997, Tiger and Earl Woods embraced in a ball of arms, tears and love.  Wrapped up in one another, the two men shared their joy over Tiger winning his first major championship.
Even after all the memories Tiger Woods has left golf fans with over his career, the dominating performance at Pebble Beach, the breathtaking playoff victory over Bob May and any of his other 10 major championship victories, one of the lasting images of his career is that famous bear-sized hug he shared with his father in April of 1997.
 
It's funny to look back at the image. While Earl Woods was a staple at his son's tournaments early in Tiger's career,
he was forced to watch most tournaments at home over the most recent years. Even before cancer killed Earl Woods earlier this month, it had already taken away his ability to travel and be with his son on a regular basis.
 
Still, those who have followed Tiger's career understand the impact Earl had on his son's life. While Earl couldn't teach
Tiger how to smash 350 yard drives and hit crisp flop shots, he did teach him how to work hard, focus and live with character. Countless stories have been told about the hours Earl spent with his son on the course talking about golf and life.
 
That's why the news of Earl's death has made so many waves in the golf world. Obviously, the news of his death wasn't unexpected. The elder Woods had been struggling with his health for years. Still, even though we all knew it was coming, we had no idea what kind of effect it would have on his super-talented kid.  And, in that sense, the verdict is still out. Tiger's made it very clear that he will take all the time he needs to properly deal with his father's death. Already he hasn't played since the Masters.  One expects him to try and tee it up before the US Open in mid-June, but nobody's sure.

That's also why the image of the Woods duo embracing in 1997 is such a fitting way to remember the bond the two shared while Earl was alive. They shared the most rewarding kind of father-son relationship. Neither man stood on higher ground than the other. They each learned from one another.  Once Tiger was old enough to manage his own world, the two were great friends more than father and son.

That's also why the death of Earl could be extra hard on Tiger. Not only has he lost his father and mentor, but also a good buddy. While he obviously needs time to cope with his loss, its doubtful Tiger will wait much longer to get back out on the course.  Tiger knows the greatest way to pay tribute to his father is to get back out on the fairway and start winning golf tournaments.  It's exactly what Earl would want his son to do. Knowing that, Tiger's bound to hit the links with as much determination as ever the next time he tees it up. Earl may not be waiting aside the 18th green to congratulate him anymore, but he'll still be the first person Tiger thinks of every time he puts the finishing touches on a big win.

It's also why you can expect to see Tiger back on the links soon. He'll play at least once before the US Open. And, come the second major in the year, Woods will have refocused himself on winning championships. While nothing Woods does at Winged Foot can replace the bond he shared with his father, another US Open title would be a fitting tribute.

It's almost as pretty of a picture as that Masters moment in 1997 if you think about it. Tiger, trophy in hand, fighting back tears
 as he accepts major number 11 and utters a few words to the sky...
 
"Happy Father's Day dad."

 
May 2006--The New Age Of Phil
Remember when people used to think Phil Mickelson would never win a
major? Remember 0-for-42? Remember watching your television set on a
Sunday afternoon and thinking, "That Mickelson fella always chokes."

            Most of us can probably remember such things on a dime. The strife and
struggle that surrounded Mickelson on his quest to his first major were
dominant stories in the world of golf for years. However, if he had not
done so already, Lefty erased all such memories with his victory at
Augusta National last Sunday. The win gave him his second green jacket
and his third major in nine tries.

            This time, there was no tense walk down the 18th fairway. There was no
dramatic 20-footer to win either. Instead, Phil Mickelson was able to
play the last three holes at Augusta a couple strokes ahead of the
field. He did it by staying patient for four days and refusing to make
an error on Sunday.

            "The difference is that I felt that sense of relief after I broke
through and won a major," Mickelson told reporters after his win, "And
today I felt this great feeling of accomplishment to be able to beat
guys like Tiger and Retief [Goosen] and Ernie and Vijay and Fred and
some incredible and talented players."

            While it may not have been as dramatic of a victory as his first Masters
championship two years ago, it was equally impressive. On a Sunday when
the world's greatest players all bowed to the challenge that is Augusta
National, Mickelson never gave in to his competitors or the course.

            Instead, Mickelson looked as in control of his game as ever. Now halfway
to owning all four major titles at the same time, Mickelson may be the
most dominant player right now. For all Woods has done, he can't stand
up to Mickelson's recent successes.

            In just two years, the talk about Mickelson has gone from will he ever
win to if he'll ever lose or how many majors he may end up winning.
Judging from his comments following his win on Sunday, Mickelson seems
anything but content.

            "I don't really want to trade next year," Mickelson said referring to
the green jacket. "I certainly enjoyed having the jacket put on me
rather than putting it on."

            For years now, Mickelson has been the people's champion. People have
cheered his every step down the greatest fairways in the world. When
Mickelson was still struggling to win majors, his fans hearts broke as
much as Phil's did every time he came oh so close.

            However, it was never his popularity that was in question.  All the
applause in the world couldn't erase the whispers about his weak
performance in major tournaments and his inability to hit the big shots
in the most critical of times.

            All of that is mere history now. Whether Lefty wins two, four or 20
majors over the rest of his career is irrelevant. With his second
Masters championship, Phil has insured that when people look back on his
career they'll remember his accomplishments more than his defeats.

            That being said, don't expect Phil to lay down for the rest of his
career. Behind the heartwarming smile and goofy grin, Mickelson's as
competitive as anyone else on tour. His passion for the game of golf
runs deep. For him, every time he tees it up is another chance to prove
his greatness.

            That's why, as reporters stared at the new king of the golf world and
his green jacket last Sunday, they weren't at all surprised to hear him
utter the following.

            "I'll enjoy this for a day, but starting tomorrow, it's time to prepare
for Winged Foot."

 

April 2006--The Mouth That Roars' Bold Predictions for the Masters

1) David Duval Makes the Cut - It's been a long time since fans have had a chance to
talk about Mr. Duval come the weekend of a major tournament. But, I said this year
would be the year during which he would reemerge and I'm sticking with it. Last
year, Duval went 75-77 and missed the cut badly. So far, Duval's shown some
improvements in 2006 having already made more cuts and earned money than he did all
last year. Look for him to make a statement of sorts at Augusta.

 

2) Tiger Woods won't win - Nope, don't look for Woods to add a major to his belt
until he gets to Medinah Country Club for the PGA Championship. While I'm positive
Woods will be in the mix of things come Sunday afternoon, I doubt this is his year
at Augusta. Something tells me his father's illness is taking up a little more of
his concentration than this year's Masters. He's already said that he'd pull out of
this year's tournament should his father need him. Fortunately, it appears as if
Earl Woods' health is well enough that Tiger will be able to tee it up. Still, Woods
usually uses the weeks before the Masters to focus solely on Augusta. Something
tells me he's not as prepared as usual.

 

3) Augusta National will look beautiful - Doesn't it always? From the azaleas to
Amen Corner there's no other golf course which shows as much beauty as this place.
There's a reason that it's the only golf course which gets to host a major every
year. There's also a reason why it's always so well pruned. According to a feature
on ESPN.com, the maintenance staff at Augusta has access to soil-grass-leaf disease
diagnostics lab including an infrared analyzer.

 

4) There will be a reason to watch on Sunday afternoon - The Masters hardly ever
disappoints its eager golf fans when it comes to excitement. Not only is the back
nine designed to offer thrills, the cast of players which compete in the tournament
take every advantage. Simply knowing that such names as Woods, Mickelson, Garcia,
Singh, Goosen, Els, Dimarco and Donald will be playing should give golf fans chills.
Golf is in a golden era right now. The talent is so deep and competitive that when
all the big guns come out as they will at Augusta, you're almost guaranteed a show.

 

5) Mickelson will need a tailor - At the end of last season, I really thought Woods
would be my pick when it came time for the 70th Masters tournament. However, for a
number of reasons, I've decided to put my money on Mr. Lefty. First, I think Tiger's
distracted. Second, I think Mickelson's more comfortable with his game than anyone
else on tour. If you think about it, a couple years ago he was the guy who was never
going to win. Now, he's earned two majors and seems to be in complete control. It's
almost as if he knew what he was doing all along. Last week he won the BellSouth
Classic by 13 strokes when he carded a 28-under. This week, he'll be as relaxed and
talented as any other guy who's allowed to bring their Footjoys to the links.
Something tells me, Mickelson has room for one more green jacket in his closet.
Something tells me he should get a hanger ready.

 

Heather and Darren Clarke Give Us Pause

For guys like Darren Clarke, deep bunkers and slippery greens seem about
as tough as dandelions.

            Then again, it's hard to get worked up about threatening golf course
designs when you're constantly reminded of how insignificant and
unimposing they truly are.

            Clarke, who has won twice in his 16 year PGA Tour career, has never
battled anything on a golf course as horrible as the breast cancer his wife
Heather fights everyday.

            For Heather Clarke, the disease has been a constant companion in her life
since she was first diagnosed in 2002. Since then,
it's been an up and down battle for the Clarke family. Heather's gone in
and out of chemotherapy. The disease has seemed conquered at times, only
to reemerge once again. Undoubtedly, constantly having to worry about
his wife's health has had some effects on Clarke's game.

            At times, Clarke has taken breaks from the golf world to take care of
Heather and to be with the couple's two children. Through the entire
experience, Clarke has made it clear that his wife and kids came far
before his golf career.

            "Golf has been placed into perspective after what has happened at home
and elsewhere," he told reporters earlier this year.

            This past weekend at The Players Championship at Sawgrass, Clarke was
paired with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds. Woods made headlines
when he flew back to see his father a day before the tournament started
because Earl Woods was struggling with poor health. The two had a chance
to talk about their struggles during the rounds.

            Unfortunately for Clarke and his wife, Heather's cancer has spread and
gotten worse after seeming somewhat stabilized at the start of the 2006
season. After finishing third at last week's Bay Hill Invitational,
Clarke again reiterated that golf wasn't at the top of his priorities
right now.

            You've got to feel for the guy. For all the things he can make a golf
ball do with a four iron, he's almost helpless in the face of the
disease. He can stay home, sit by his wife's side and talk to every
doctor in the world, but nothing takes away Heather's pain. Nothing
removes the constant fear that consumes the Clarkes' life.

            Still, he's been admirably strong whenever asked about it. He talks
about how he's gained perspective. He talks about how he donates
earnings to cancer research and to the tsunami relief fun. He seems to
understand the many blessings he's been given in his life.

            Listen to him talk about his wife's situation enough, and it becomes
clear that he'd give up everything he's ever accomplished with a golf
ball to have his wife cancer free. But, knowing that he can't cut such a
deal, he turns to golf to ease the pain.

            In that way, he's no different from all the rest of us. Yeah, people
love the game because it's fun and challenging. But, part of the reason
we go the golf courses is to get away from the harsh realities of life.
Amidst those deep bunkers and slippery greens we escape to a happier
world. For Clarke, it enables him to focus on something else other than
the fact that Cancer could someday take his wife's life.

            Hopefully, there will come a week when Clarke can walk the fairways
without such concerns. Until then, he'll keep being there for his family
and he'll keep trudging the fairways when he's able. And, whenever he
gets in a jam on the golf course, you know he'll assess the shot, think
of his wife and utter a single sentence to his caddy.

            "Eh, it could be a lot worse."

 

March 2006--An Augusta Vote For Phil
I'm starting to think I may need to send a letter to the golf gods asking for a mulligan before The Masters rolls around in early April.
            See, about two-and-a-half months ago I wrote a Christmas themed column suggesting I wanted to see Tiger and Phil square off on Sunday afternoon
in the last group at Augusta.

            But, now, I'm thinking I'd rather see Phil whoop the snot out of Vijay Singh for 18 holes.

            It's not that I think Vijay's got a better chance at getting there than Tiger. Or, that I'm suggesting Phil would whoop on Tiger if the two
squared off. It's just that I'm tired of listening to Vijay whine about Phil and his better-than-Singh game.

            Early in February, Vijay complained to the PGA Tour that Mickelson's driver didn't seem to be under the limit for springlike effect after the
two played the first two rounds of the FBR Open. This comes just under a year after Vijay complained about the size of Lefty's spikes at Augusta.
Fans who remember that incident will recall how Singh asked rule officials to look at Phil's spikes after Vijay missed a birdie putt on
the 12th green. According to Singh, inappropriate spike marks left by Phil's spikes caused him to miss the putt.

            Not surprisingly, Phil's driver and spikes were all well within the PGA regulations. Also, as most would expect, Phil handled the incidents with
class and professionalism in the media and on the course.

            Still, you couldn't blame Lefty if he went off on Singh for all of these shenanigans. Not only is it rude to blatantly claim Mickelson's
cheating, but it's also a great way to disrupt a guy's round. 

            It's sad really. Here's Vijay, one of the greatest golfers of our era, whining and crying like a little boy whose mother told him he had to eat
his vegetables. Even without the whining, Vijay had about as much personality and charm as monkey wrench.

            It's almost as if Vijay's saying, "Hey, that guy hit it further than me.  He must be cheating." Not only does that come off as arrogant, it's
laughable. If Vijay thinks everyone outperforming him is cheating, than he should have the Tour check about 100 or so guys' putters.

            So, I'm changing my earlier Masters wish. Tiger's bound to pick up a major or two this year, but I'm hoping Phil gets another wonderful walk
down No. 18 at Augusta with Vijay struggling to step over Mickelson's champion-sized spikemarks.

 

February 2006-Has Tiger Changed?  And Not For The Better?

It ain't a party until Tiger Woods shows up.   At least, that's what it's beginning to look like on the PGA Tour.  While the first three events of the season were the stage for such storylines as Stuart Appleby's success in Hawaii and David Duval's sub-sixty scoring, last week's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines seemed like the true beginning to the 2006 season.

A Sunday scoreboard that read as a 'who's who' list in golf and a thrilling Tiger Woods playoff victory over Jose Maria Olazabal earned CBS mega-ratings and began to set the stage for Augusta.

For Woods, it was a significant win on many levels. Not only was it his fourth victory at the Buick Open, but it was also his 47th career win on the PGA Tour. Extending his playoff record to 9-1, Woods showed that he's still got plenty of game and fire left even after turning 30 earlier this month.           

Woods shows no intention of slowing his quest to overtake Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career major victories. With 10 already under his belt,  he'll be looking to add one or two more to the collection this season.

While such success has enabled Woods to amass great wealth through prize winnings and endorsements, he's always seemed to be motivated by a sheer desire to win and be great. Watching Woods, I've always gotten the sense that if all the money and fame just disappeared someday, he'd still chase golf success as hard as ever.

Unfortunately, the idea that Woods is motivated solely by his love for the game of golf could fall into question over the next few weeks.  It has been reported that Woods reportedly accepted $3 million to appear in this weekend's European Tour stop, the Dubai Desert Classic at Dubai, United Arab Emirates. While that number would be staggering alone, it becomes even more preposterous when you consider that the entire purse for the tournament is $2.4 million. 

The revelation that Woods accepted money to play isn't earth-shattering, many have suggested appearance fees as a way of helping the PGA Tour get its big names to compete more regularly.

Even though it isn't shocking doesn't mean it isn't wrong. One of the greatest things about professional golf, which distinguishes it from other pro sports, is that player's aren't handed a check in advance. 

Yes, great golfers can build massive fortunes through their sport, but they have to win to do so. While NBA players might be able to sign big contracts and then underachieve, the same has never been true for golfers.

Should the PGA Tour follow in the European Tour's footsteps and begin offering appearance fees, it will also suggest a lack of creativity in the tour's marketing offices. Granted, no other player in any other sport has revolutionized his game the way Tiger Woods has for golf. There are still numerous other likeable personalities walking the golf course every week. The tour's failure to better market such people as Garcia, Appleby and tens of others has played a major role in Tigermania.

If Woods is really going to start negotiating million-dollar appearance fees, golf fans should be angry. Ever since the scrawnier, younger Woods blew up as a dominant college athlete he's shown an inspiring desire to play golf. The fist pump, the swagger, chasing the ball before it gets to the hole - he had us convinced there was no where else in the world Woods would have rather been than chasing the leaders on Sunday at a big golf tournament. 

Now, it's becoming clear that Woods doesn't love the game enough to just show up and play. Apparently, getting to play golf on the greatest golf courses in the world on a weekly basis isn't enough to keep him interested. Think about how many millions of hacks would kill to just spend one week in this guy's Nikes.

For a guy who just bought a $40 million dollar estate, Woods hardly needs the appearance fees. Unless he's got plans of pumping all $3 million into charity, the Dubai Classic is all about greed and ego for Tiger.

It's a major shift for the golfing world. While we're still likely to see Woods hit mind-boggling shots and take his career-major total into the 20's, the rest of the Tiger show won't quite be the same.  Two years ago Woods underwent major swing changes to reconstruct his swing and change his game. This year, it seems as if something else is different.

This time, the man has changed.

 
January 2006-Bonus Column

Alright Buffalo Golfers, it's time for a little quiz. What do the
following three things have in common?

            1) Beating Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson or anyone else who's ever teed
it up on the PGA Tour with my own golf clubs.

            2)  Doing that darn cool thing that Tiger Woods did in that old Nike
Golf commercial where he tapped the ball on his wedge about two dozen
times before smacking it into oblivion.

            3) Taking a few swings and walking my home course in January without a
snow shovel and seven layers of clothing.

            Doo-doo, do-do, do-do-do (Jeopardy theme song plays)

            If you guessed things that the Mouth that Roars never thought he'd do
while living in Western New York until last week, you'd be right. Up
until last week when I took a few clubs out to my home course, Elkdale
Country Club, I thought January, Western New York and playing golf
couldn't coexist.

            Still, I and many other giddy golfers in the area took advantage of last
week's thaw to get a few swings in and remember why we love the game so
much. Even though Elkdale only had some temporary pins in and there were
more than a few soggy spots, I was as excited as a five-year old on
Christmas morning to get out and play the game I love.

            It didn't ease my excitement that the PGA Tour also kicked off its 2006
campaign around the same time. Between playing golf during the day once
or twice and watching it at night, I almost felt like I'd been
time-warped to late June. 

            And while my early 2006 encounters with the game of golf reminded me
that my swing still looks as awkward as Yao Ming in a Volkswagen Beetle,
it also gave me some early ideas about the PGA season.

            First, nobody may love the start of the PGA season more than Stuart
Appleby. For the third straight year Appleby earned the title at the
season opening Mercedes Championship. This year, it took a birdie on the
18th and a magical up and down from a greenside bunker on the first
playoff hole to get it done and stop Vijay Singh. 

            It's hard not to like Appleby for many reasons. Besides being a quiet,
polite and friendly presence on the tour, Appleby also lost his wife in
a freak car accident in 1998. The emotional struggles that Appleby went
through as a result were well-noted and it's always a warm scene when he
lifts a trophy over his head. Last year, the Mercedes was his only
victory of the year. You've got to hope he puts a few more in the trophy
case this season.

            Also, forgive me this, but it's also worth noting David Duval's
surprising strong play at last week's Sony Open. His closing 63 was his
strongest finish in three years and gave him more prize winnings this
year than he had in the entire 2005 season. Hopefully, it's a sign of
things to come for Duval who's battled criticism and injuries since
losing his place among golf's greats over the past few years. And, if
that happens, maybe he'll stumble upon my column from last week and
suggest I change my name to The Prophet that Roars.
January 2006-Predictions for the new year
Maybe it's the promise of the New Year or just the sheer excitement that
comes with a fresh PGA season, but for some reason, I've been feeling a
little bit courageous lately. 

            And that's why I'm ready to unleash the boldest prediction of my 'Mouth
That Roars' career. You may want to take a seat. Breathe deep and unplug
your ears. You might not be ready for this... 

            David Duval will win another major before he retires from the PGA Tour. 

            Don't worry, there's no need to scroll back up. Your eyes aren't playing
tricks on you.  This isn't some mystic word puzzle. Here, read it again.

            David Duval will win another major before he retires from the PGA Tour.

            I'm sure you all think that's about as intelligent trying to putt with a
monkey wrench, but I'm not as convinced. For some reason, I firmly
believe that Mr. Duval's got another major hidden underneath those Nike
clubs in his bag. 

            This isn't some wild, zany prediction I've made up over night to anger
readers either. No, for the past few years I've been mentioning this
thought to close friends and golf buddies. Usually, I get laughed at and
people begin to wonder if I've ever been clocked by a flying Titleist.
Sometimes, someone will give me a puzzled look and say, "We're thinking
of the same David Duval right?"

            Yup. We're talking about the same David Duval who made just one cut in
2005. The same David Duval who earned a ghastly $7,630 in 20 starts last
year. The same Duval who shot just one competitive round in the sixties
all of last year.

            Sure, those stats don't exactly lend support to my claim, but I'm
inclined to look past them. Behind all the bad swings and bogeys lies a
man who used to be considered one of the greatest golfers of our
generation.

            Remember, this is also the same Duval who worked his magic and won the
2001 British Open at Royal Lytham by three strokes. The same guy who
beat Jesper Parnevik 5 and 4 to give the United States 1999 Ryder Cup
Team one of the 8 ½ final day points the team needed to earn the
greatest come from behind victory in the event's history.

            Want more? This guy once shot a 59 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in
1999.  Earlier in his career, he possessed the ability to knock the ball
300 yards and make it dance on a flag pole.

            Possibly the most telling statistic is this: Since March of 1999, only
three golfers have earned the number one ranking in the world. Their
names are Tiger, Vijay and you guessed it, David Duval.

             And, sometime in the next two or three tour seasons, I expect him to
further validate his claim as one of the greatest golfers ever with
another major victory. 

No it doesn't make sense. Yes it lacks reason and evidence. But, a new season on the
PGA Tour means a new chance for Duval to revert to his old form and take golf fans
breaths away once again.
 
December 2005-Holiday Hints
Western New York winters can be depressing for local golfers. Being surrounded by
snowballs instead of golf balls for five or six months of the year can put a deep
freeze on a hack’s love of the game.
         However, considering the upcoming holiday season and New Year, it can also
be a time to reflect on the past year of golf, prepare for the upcoming
season and introduce a new friend to one’s golf bag.
         In lieu of the season, I’ve come up with five holiday gifts WNY golfers can
give themselves and a few they can only ask the golf gods for.

 Gifts To Give Thyself
1) Defrost the clubs – 
Yeah, winter sucks if you love golf. Shoveling, plowing and
scraping don’t quite compare to pitching, putting and swinging. But, even WNY
blizzards cant completely bury your clubs. Treat yourself with a visit to an
indoor golf facility like the Wehrle Dome in Williamsville, NY.  Inside, you can
work on your swing and keep the icicles from growing on your 3-Wood.
2) Next Year, Walk – 
Make your wallet a little thicker and your belly a little
thinner by hoofing around your favorite courses instead of riding. Not only does
opting to walk save you money, it also decreases your cholesterol and lowers your
chances of suffering from heart disease. Now, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.
(Eds. Note--The Mouth's medical license was never stamped, so we have no idea what he's talking about here. 
Always consult your physician before changing your exercise regimen.)
3) Buy The Big Dog – 
Every one of us has that one club that we really want to put
in our bag but walk by every time we’re in the pro shop. This year, buy it. Yeah,
three years from now you’ll have more money and the technology will be better.
But, you’ll be older and less likely to grip it and rip it. Buy it now and launch
some long balls while you still can.
4) Get A Lesson – 
Everyone talks about getting better at golf like its some
impossible, mysterious task. It’s not. There are literally hundreds of PGA
Professionals in WNY and surrounding areas and part of their job is to help YOU
get better.  Call one of them now and sign up for a lesson early in the season.
Chances are, you’ll drop strokes and make a new friend.
5) Find Out How Good You Are – 
Next year, don’t sit on the couch and wonder if you
could be the club champion at your home course. Sign up for the tournament and
find out. Don’t wonder if you could shoot your handicap at Bethpage Black or
Pebble Beach. If you’re in the area, go find out. After reading hundreds of golf
tips and taking thousands of practice swings in front of the mirror, you owe it to
yourself to find out if they’ve paid off

Gifts To Ask The Gods Fore
        1) A Masterful Duel At Augusta – 
Let’s see, the past two guys to walk away with the
green jacket have been Tiger and Philly Mick. Phil won the last major of 2005, a
year in which Tiger won two majors. In 2006, it's time for the two to finally go
toe-to-toe in the final group at the Masters. There the obvious fan favorites, and
judging from their recent play, they’re both at the top of their games. Golf fans
have been craving this duel for years.
2) Some Good Weather – 
Remember how many weather delays and extended tournaments
there were in the first half of the PGA season last year? On Sunday at Augusta most
players had to finish their third round before teeing it up in the afternoon. At
the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, rain pushed the final three holes to Monday
morning. One can only hope things are a little less soggy in 2006.
3) The Same Ol’ Schedule – 
Talks near the end of the 2005 tour season focused on
incorporating a points system with certain tournaments and an end-of-season
playoff. The whole idea smacks of stupid to me. One of the great things about the
PGA is that anyone can show up any week and win. In other sports, if you lose the
first 10 games of the season your fried haddock. In golf, you could still win the
British Open or the PGA Championship after such a start. Incorporate a points
system and that magical aspect of the game is gone. If the PGA wants to find a way
to compete with the NFL it can restructure the tournament lineup and offer bigger
purses late in the year, but the points system is a bogey.

        That’s all I’ve got for now. Happy Holidays from the Mouth that Roars!
 
A Tale Of Two Golfers (with apologies to Dickens)
While golf may be taking a back seat to other sports as the winter
months draw near, two of the biggest names in golf to never win a PGA
tournament have been making major headlines over the past weeks.

            On a negative note, Jean Van De Velde, of triple-bogey on the final hole
at the 1999 British Open fame, has declared he has intentions to play in
the 2006 Women's British Open. His declaration is in response to the
Royal and Ancient Golf Club's decision to allow women to attempt to
qualify for the men's open.

            Since men are currently not allowed to qualify for the women's open, Van
de Velde believes his gesture will illustrate the unfairness of the
rule. However, if Van de Velde continues to try to gain entrance to the
women's open he'll commit a mistake much greater than his decision to
hit driver on the 72nd hole in 99.

            While Van de Velde may be trying to make a definitive statement, the
whole thing seems more like a circus show. Not only do such Van de Velde
comments as "(I would) wear a kilt and shave my legs if that's what it
takes," make him sound like a whiny idiot, they also show a poor
understanding of the situation.

            First, one of the greatest arguments against women being allowed to play
in the men's British Open or any other men's event is that men deserve
to be able to have their own tour, regardless of whether or not a women
is good enough to compete with them. If Van de Velde actually tees it up
in next year's Women's British Open, he throws that entire argument into
a water hazard. If any man chooses to impinge upon women's right to have
their own tour, then the above argument for men having the same thing is
discredited.

            Also, Van de Velde is dumber than a box of Maxflis if he thinks men are
treated unfairly in the sport of golf. If Van de Velde wants everything
to be fair than he should have to listen to women complain about smaller
prize winnings, fewer fans and less time on Sportscenter. Sure, the
men's tour draws more fans and thus generates more money for its
competitors. But these are reasons to stay on the men's tour not to
shave one's legs and tee it up at the LPGA Corning Classic. 

            In actuality, Van de Velde's recent announcement is nothing close to a
brave protest and actually a weak whine from a man who is incapable of
winning on his own tour. It's more of a chance for Van de Velde to get
back in the headlines and less of a sexist statement. 

            Not that anyone on the LPGA should be threatened by Van de Velde's
recent statement anyways. Anyone who remembers 1999 knows Van de Velde
doesn't have the brains or mettle to win such a major tournament
regardless of the gender of his competitors.

 

            From an entirely different and much more inspiring perspective, Casey
Martin has recently announced that he won't further pursue his career in
professional golf.

            Fans may remember Casey as the golfer with a rare circulatory disease in
his right disease that essentially prohibits him from walking long
distances. He sued the PGA Tour in 1998 over his right to use a golf
cart in PGA tour events. He later won the lawsuit.

            The whole situation was treated poorly and blown out of proportion.
Casey, who will most likely lose his leg sometime sooner than later,
should have been a symbol for courage and achievement for the tour. The
golfing world should have embraced him rather than debate whether
letting him ride a cart threatened the integrity of the game.

            Not only did Martin endure more pain in one round of golf than most of
us feel in a decade, he willingly submitted himself to it in hopes of
someday being a legitimate competitor on the tour.

            In many ways, he was successful. He earned his PGA card on a handful of
occasions and demonstrated that he could at least compete on the same
stage as the world's greatest golfers.

            In the end, Martin's story is a sad, yet inspiring tale. The man can do
things with golf balls that most of us can only dream about. However,
the lack of strength in his leg never enabled him to fully excel in the
sport he loved. As a fearless competitor, Martin should be remembered as
someone who believed in his dreams. Golf fans should talk admirably
about the man who put his own health second to chasing his desire to
succeed in golf.

            It's debatable whether Martin was at one point ever good enough to win
and compete on the women's tour. However, what's important to note is
that he never tried. He understood his limits, the tours' situations and
acted in the way a courageous, professional competitor should.

            If only the PGA tour had cared a bit more.. If only Van de Velde had
taken notes.
 
A Mouthy Review Of The 2005 Major Championships

Considering the image of Mickelson celebrating his PGA Championship clinching flop shot from the rough to the right of the 18th green at Baltusrol Golf Club is still fresh in the minds of golf fans everywhere, it's worth taking a look back at what happened over the course of this year's major season.

            Anyone who loves nothing more than spending a Sunday afternoon watching the greatest players in the world smash those small white clusters of dimples into oblivion has to be hung over from this year's championship season.

            The most notable thing from this year's season has to be the growth in competition between Tiger Woods and Lefty. Think about what everyone was saying about these guys 18 months ago when the golf world headed to Augusta for the 2004 Masters.

            Remember, Tiger was slumping and everyone wondered if he'd ever get over his marriage, loss of swing coach, change in equipment, etc. The list of reasons people were suggesting Tiger's game had fallen off was endless.

            In the left handed corner, if you listened to much talk about Mickelson's game, you could have thought you had unknowingly came to his career's funeral. Some fans of the game had all ready gone so far as to label him the greatest player who would never win a major. Adding to it, Mike Weir had taken the title of first left-handed player to win at Augusta only a year earlier. It was a title everyone secretly imagined Phil would someday capture.

            Now, zip by a few million drives, short irons and sand saves to that wonderful Monday morning at Baltusrol. When Mickelson won the PGA he gave himself his second major in as many years. Sure his win at the 2004 Masters had silenced the doubters, but his second major gave everyone something new to talk about.

            "Hey, so this Phil guy's probably one of the greatest golfers ever to breathe, huh?"

            Only one other guy in golf can claim he's one two of the last eight majors and that just happens to be Mr. Woods. His gritty win at Augusta this year brought him back to golf's forefront. His sheer dominance at the British Open reminded everyone of his intentions to shatter Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career major victories. Sure he didn't play his best golf at Baltusrol, but you're dumber than a shoe horn if you think he's not going to be the favorite at Augusta come April.

            However, this past season didn't just give us Tiger and Phil's rivalry. Remember the only reason Woods didn't have a chance to complete the grand slam at the PGA was because of a guy named Michael Campbell.

            It's hard to argue Campbell caught lightning in a bottle at Pinehurst when you consider his solid finishes at St. Andrews in the British and Baltusrol. Campbell seems to becoming a very competitive force on tour. And, if you watch fans react to him, you can tell people are starting to notice.

            What else did this year give us to look forward to for next year?

            How about Sergio Garcia? Sure, he's been around the top of leader boards since gas cost about a dollar and a quarter per gallon, but he's still only 25. This year, more than any before, showed he's just a few solid short putts from winning his first major. Week in and week out he walks the greatest golf courses in the world while hoards of fans watch him stay just a shot or two away from golf immortality. Remind you of a certain left-handed player who used to do that? Yes, Garcia's probably inherited the title of greatest player never to win a major but he's a good nine years younger than Phil was in 2004. And, sometime next year, you can expect him to rid himself of the title.

            There are others worth talking about. One of these weeks Chris Dimarco will play well and not finish second to Tiger. Vijay's still as strong as ever. Davis Love III may have rediscovered his game. And, sometime next year, Ernie Els will make a full recovery back to the top of the leader board.

            It's sad actually, the ending of the 2005 major season. In a few months I'll be surrounded by snow and stuck swinging four irons' in my dorm room while watching old golf tournaments. But, every time I walk by the calendar above my desk, I'll take a minute to count the days until next April.

            The countdown to Augusta has begun.


 

Living The Jersey Dream  ... The Real Story
 

Alright, so shoot me. Better yet, whack me with your favorite wedge.

            You don't have to tell me. I know it's been seven weeks since I reported back to Buffalo about this Jersey dream of mine. You're probably thinking I went down to New Jersey with my clubs, hung out with Tiger and forgot all about my fellow Bills fans.

            Well, stuff it. Put down the wedge. Let's take a minute and talk this out. Trust me, I'm back.

            However, while I was gone, my experience in Jersey wasn't anything like what I expected. In my mind, I pictured four irons and sand traps. Instead, I got fork lifts and bike fence. I learned more about event planning and management than I could have ever imagined. I used so many tools I'd never heard of before. This was the way conversations with me usually went the first few weeks.

            Somebody, "Hey Chris can you get the (some word I'd never heard before) and bring it over here pronto."

            Me, a few minutes later, "Here you go."

            Somebody, "Chris, are you a moron? This is a Phillips head screw driver. I needed the auger."

            Me, "Well, yes I am a moron. And I'm sorry about that, but hey, you've got to admit that was quite pronto."

            You get the point. I was an idiot amidst toolboxes.

            However, there was more to my trip than just evidence of my stupidity. I actually couldn't have asked for a more fun, enjoyable and educational seven week summer job.

            According to the PGA, I was officially hired to be a "swamper" for the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. I have no idea why we were called swampers. I never managed to see an alligator and while South Orange, NJ isn't the greatest place, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a swamp.

            Despite our name, we actually had quite an impact on the tournament. The PGA had hired 21 of us to team up and do every odd job under the sun to turn a golf course into a championship village in a little over the month. Personally, I did everything from plant flowers, water flowers, spread mulch, lay sod, and paint boards, use a forklift, clean tables, distribute merchandise, decorate corporate villages, lay bike fence and so much more.

            In the week before the tournament, I worked 98 hours in seven days. That's basically sun up to sun down for an entire 1/52 of the year. The day before the grounds opened for the tournament I worked from 7 am until 2 am the next day. At times like this, my Jersey dream was more of a nightmare.

            But, it paid off. During the week of the tournament I had tons of free time. My only real duty was to water flowers for a couple of hours after the grounds closed. So, during the day I was as excited as a little kid on his birthday. I took pictures of everybody I saw. I ran from tee box to green chasing such golfers as Phil Mickleson and Sergio Garcia. During one of the practice rounds, I came within mere feet of being hit by a Tiger Woods golf shot. I never thought I could be so disappointed I didn't get hit by a golf ball.

            You all know how the week played out. Weather pushed the tournament to a Monday finish. Everybody struggled. Tiger found his way back into it and then Lefty got up and down to win his second major, solidifying him as one of the greatest golfers to ever live. It was an experience I wouldn't have missed out on for the world.

            And, in short, that's pretty much my last seven months in a nutshell. I worked hard, I played hard and did all sorts of crazy stuff. I can't tell you to much though, I've got to save the rest for the book I'm writing about my New Jersey trip which should be out sometime next year. That's where I'll reveal all the good stuff.

            Relax, it was a joke. You can put back down your wedge. I was only kidding around. God knows if it took me seven weeks to write a column it'll take me at least until next summer to write a book.

            Hey, seriously, put down the wedge.

 

Living The Jersey Dream . . . Yeah, Baby!!

If I ever had any doubt that golf balls could give me goose bumps, the last two weeks have buried them in the sand.

            Then again, a little over two weeks ago, 2005 PGA Operations Crew Director Joe Ryan called to tell me that I would be one of the 20 or so college-age kids he was hiring to be apart of the Operations Crew for August’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.

            Since that day, I’ve been happier than Mickleson at the Maters in 04. I can’t stop telling people that I’ll be getting paid to set up the course for the Championship and hang out with Woods, Singh, Garcia and a whole bunch of other golfers that make birdies at will.

            Then again, it’s been a long, narrow, watery par five of a trip to get to where I’m at now. My journey to become a crew member on the Operations Crew started nine months ago and if it has taught me two things thus far they are the following.

            1. Be persistent as hell.

            2. Always answer the phone when you’re naked.

            See, last September at a college luncheon, I happened to run into a friend’s mother and we started up a conversation. We moved from topic to topic and eventually began talking about my love for the game of golf. She happened to mention that her brother in law had been involved with putting on the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. She also mentioned that every year the PGA hired a handful of college kids to work about two months and help with the event.

            In minutes I had his contact information. A day later, I took a blind shot and emailed him my resume and a cover letter saying while my swing might make Happy Gilmore grimace; I loved the game with a passion and would love to have the opportunity to work for the PGA.

            Fast forward a few months, whiz by a few dozen emails, an interview and countless research about Baltusrol and the PGA and you find me standing in front of my PO Box at college. Dumbfounded, I held a letter from Joe Ryan telling me that while my resume was impressive, he didn’t currently have room for me on his crew.

            Talk about disappointment. I felt like Van de Velde after his triple at the British. The coolest opportunity I’d ever heard of had slipped through my hands. My gut was twisted in a knot as if I’d just missed a tap-in.

            Eventually, as we all do in life, I moved on. I began to sculpt what my summer would look like as I worked at a local newspaper and my home golf course, Elkdale Country Club all while playing tons of golf.

            Then came that glorious Monday two weeks ago when my phone rang while I was in the shower. I debated whether or not to pick it up. Thankfully, standing stark naked in the bathroom, I grabbed the phone and spoke.

            “Hello?”

            “Christopher, this is Joe Ryan at PGA Headquarters. We’ve had a spot open up on the Tournament Crew. Are you still interested?”

            The water dripping from my body may have been warm, but before I could reply I had goose bumps. Hell yes I’m interested I thought. Finally, after shaking off the shock, I accepted the job.

            So, starting July 5, I’ll be living in New Jersey and working to set up, coordinate, run, and eventually take down the fourth major of the year. Talk about an experience, I’ll meet some of the most important people in golf and have unimaginable fun. I’ll see Tiger and I’ll see Sergio. Luckily, I’ll still be writing for this site and sharing just what exactly I’m doing and seeing with all of you.

            Since people have heard what I’ll be doing the rest of Summer, they keep asking me what I’m most looking forward too. They talk autographs, golf tips, hats and shirts, and so many other fun things I’ll have the opportunity to do. Even after hearing all of their ideas, I have but one goal. Hopefully, even after weeks of working around the best golfers and having awesome access to one of the coolest sporting events in the world, I’ll still take time to take in my surroundings, appreciate my good fortune and feel a few prickly things on my body.

            Goose bumps that is.

I Remember Phil . . . And Payne . . .

There are some images from sports like Kobe Bryant’s trips to court and Ron Artest’s trips into the stands that are shown so much they leave your head spinning and do nothing but damage their sport.

            Then there are images like the one created on the final hole of the final round played during the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 that make you fall back in love with  the world of sports and leave you wanting more.

            Has their ever been a more fitting, special or wonderful moment in sports than the final hole of the 99’ Open. Take a minute and think about all that came into play during that brilliant finish.

            There was the eventual champion, Payne Stewart, standing over a downhill par-saving 15 footer. Somewhat of a knucklehead in the past, Stewart had seemed to have found inner peace in the years preceding his Open victory. Clad in his traditional knickers and a rain vest, he knocked in the winning putt that avenged the disappointment he’d felt the previous year when he finished second at Olympic Club.

            There was everyone’s favorite runner-up, Phil Mickelson, stuck in a delightful pickle as he watched Stewart size up his putt. While Mickelson needed a Stewart miss to force an 18-hole playoff on Monday, he also needed to fly home to Arizona to be with his wife who was on the cusp of labor and having the Mickelson’s first child. Fittingly, it was Father’s Day.

            Everyone knows the rest of the story. Stewart knocks in the putt and throws a fist into the air to celebrate as the crowd roars. Then, Stewart finds Mickelson, places a hand on either side of his slightly disappointed face and hollers, “You’re going to be a father. You’re going to be a father,” over and over.

            The image is forever frozen in golf lore and fans memories. It was an ending not even Steven Spielberg could have drawn up..

            This Thursday, the U.S. Open returns to the famous Pinehurst No. 2. Unfortunately, the defending course champion does not.

            Four months after his inspirational victory, Stewart and the other members aboard a small plane were killed by insufficient cabin pressure. In memory of the late, great golfer, Pinehurst erected a statue of Stewart in his victory, fist-pump pose next to the 18th green.

            Undoubtedly, as the rest of the world’s greatest players tee it up at the Open this week, many of them will feel twinges of sadness. Stewart was a loving father, loyal friend, irreplaceable personality and champion golfer on the tour. But, as they will come to realize, the greatest way to pay tribute to him is to put on a wonderful championship for the game of golf.

            Surely, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh will be two of the favorites at this year’s championship. Toss in the Big Easy Ernie Els, streaky Sergio Garcia and Master’s runner-up Chris Dimarco, and you’ve got what shapes up to be one heck of a major tournament.

            But, here’s hoping that when the final group walks up the final fairway on Sunday evening, Phil Mickelson still has a shot to win the tournament. Not only is he as likeable and as fun a guy as you can find on the tour, but having him in such a position will force every TV network from CBS to Sports Center to show that moist-eyed moment from 99 over and over again.

Media Day At Peek 'n Peak

Apparently, a pretty girl, a gorgeous course, some ugly swings and a fellow named Guy
can teach me a lot about life over the course of 18 holes.

            As I teed it up last Tuesday with other media folks (including the Traveling Duff) at Peek 'N Peak Golf Resort for the Nationwide Tour Media Day, I learned that I do not want to be a professional golf player, bogeys ain’t bad and I am very far from being a smooth dude.

            I know what you’re thinking, just how unsmooth are you Mr. Whitcomb?

            I’m as unsmooth as a desert cactus on Prozac.

            At Media Day, following 17 holes in the warm mountain air, I finally broke down and asked the lady working the beverage cart for a cold one. Trying not to be loud and disturb the Duff who was on the opposite side of the fairway, she quietly reached in and handed me one.

            Maybe it’s because I’ve never been approached by a beverage cart during golf, maybe it’s because the young lady was attractive enough to make even Tiger Woods take his eyes off his Nikes, or maybe it’s because I’m the kind of guy that can never get his socks to match, but as I went to tip her, everything went to hell.

            A bead of sweat dropped into my eye causing me to squint and accidentally grab a ten and one-dollar bill. Surprised, the girl asked me if I had made a mistake. Realizing my error but still squinting, I reached back and grabbed the one instead of the ten. She began to pocket the ten as I finally wiped the sweat from my eye.

            “Wait!” I proclaimed as I noticed my mathematical bogey and I asked for my ten back. A little disappointed, she handed me the cash back in exchange for the single. A little intimidated and unsure of what to say, I pointed to my soda and mustered, “Thanks a lot. Good pop.”

            Amazingly, I did not leave with her phone number scribbled on my score card.

            Other than getting a chance to show of my suave skills with the ladies, I also got the opportunity to meet Nationwide Tour member and the 2003 Champion of the Lake Erie Charity Classic, Guy Boros.

            Any thoughts I had of being a good golfer were dashed as soon as I watched him rip a drive about a hundred-yards out of eyesight.

            As I approached my tee shot and thought about what club to hit, I almost asked the Duff who was standing in our fairway and what hole he could be playing. Could you imagine his response?

            “Chris, that’s Guy,” he replied. “Now hustle and hit two more shots so we can be up near him.”

            Trying to save face, I might have cursed the sun for being in my eyes before slamming another one of my weebly-wobbly, slicing skip shots into the air.

            Following the match, I had the chance to ask Guy about the rigors of the travel involved with the tours.

            “It gets old,” he said. “The hardest part for me is that I’ve got two little ones at home. I haven’t seen them in five weeks and I can’t wait to spend some time with them.”

            I thought about the long flights he must face, the way he’s forced to miss out on his children’s sports games and concerts so he can make a living and like a man staring at his opponent’s six-inch tap in, I conceded.

            “I could never live that kind of lifestyle,” I responded in admiration.

            While I wasn’t wooing the ladies or rubbing elbows with the golfing elite, I also got to play a little golf.

            Having only gotten out a few times, I expected to get eaten up by the Upper Course. Fortunately, I hit enough solid shots to carve out an 89, not bad for me this early in the season. Amidst the breathtaking holes and numerous fairway bunkers, I pieced together a string of consistent bogeys and pars. The only hole that managed to scramble my eggs and twist my Titleists was the long par 5-fourteenth. I worked magic the time I played it as I managed to build a snowman in the summer.

            After knocking my tee shot into the trees, I punched out. Then I got it fat and flubbed it over the ravine and just into the fairway. Nearly 250 out, I knocked a four iron in front of the green before airmailing a wedge over the green. Finally, I chipped up and two putted to put the finishing touches on my eighth and mustered a laugh as I thought to myself:

            "Well, that was smooth."
 

 

So You Think You've Got What It Takes To Play The Open . . .

Take your triple-doubles, perfect games and holes-in-one and stuff 'em.  They’re all about as easy as microwave dinners compared to qualifying for the 2005 US Open. 

            While the amateurs that struggle through local and sectional qualifying for the nation’s premier golf tournament won’t get a blink’s worth of air time on Sports Center, they’re actually attempting to do the toughest thing in sports.

            Don’t believe me? Take a look at just what’s involved with being one of the 14-20 guys that qualify for the Open at Pinehurst No. 2 this June. First, just to be eligible to play in the qualifying rounds, a player must have a handicap index of 1.4 or lower. That means you’ve got to be a guy who makes bogeys about as often as a seventh grader shaves.

            And, it’s not like you're playing at Frank and Tom’s Putt-Putt Palace. Nope, qualifiers for the US Open will have played some of the most grueling, challenging golf course layouts in the world.

            If the courses themselves aren’t enough of a challenge, players must also compete with over a thousand other scratch or so golfers for a handful of spots. There are 107 local qualifying sites that players flock too. After that, roughly 750 competitors travel to 14 sectional sites in the U.S., England and Japan to do battle. Those players with enough nerve in their nine irons to survive everything will have beaten about one-in-one thousand odds just to become a footnote in one of Tiger Woods or Ernie Els’ major victories.

            Then again all of those odds and numbers don’t mean turnips if you’ve got game like the late Francis Ouimet.  In 1913, 20-year old course caddy Ouimet qualified for the open at the Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts. After four days of competition the amateur found himself in a three-way tie with England’s finest golfers, Ted Ray and the legendary Harry Vardon.  The tie forced an 18-hole playoff round.

            Then, call it luck. Call it magic or call it shenanigans, but Ouimet went out and shot a winning 72, six strokes better than Vardon’s 78. The greatest upset in golf history came from a caddy with a 10-year old boy carrying his clubs for the loop.

            How much more amazing can sports get than Ouimet’s Open victory? Next time you’re at the local club and one of the young employees carries your bag or cleans your clubs think about how crazy it would be if he went out and walloped Mr. Woods by six strokes in the Open. Because that’s exactly what Ouimet did.

            It’s that openness and unknown of the US Open that makes it so majestic. Ever since the first US Open was hosted on October 4, 1985 at the nine-hole Newport Golf and Country Club, the game and the tournament have gained great popularity.

            But, when you sit down with your remote and popcorn in mid-June to watch the event, don’t believe the announcers when they say the knee-deep rough is the toughest thing they’ve ever seen. In truth, thousands of Ouimet wannabees are attempting to do something much more challenging.

            Maybe Tiger Woods will be able to win the Open this year. Maybe it will be Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh. Or, maybe it will be the tall, awkward fellow that everybody calls Rusty down at the local course who plays all day and sleeps with his putter.

            Hey, it could happen.



            Feel free to contact me at whitcocr@sbu.edu with questions, comments or anything else. I’ll be writing a weekly column for buffalogolfer.com

“What the heck was that?”

            That was the response of my friend as he and I watched my first tee shot of the year clip a tree branch and bounce into the fairway of the hole running parallel to the hole I was playing.

            I pulled the brim of my hat a little lower and watched the ball bounce and bounce in the wrong direction as I pretended to not hear my friend. I tossed my driver back into the bag and shook my head in wonderment.

            My friend, knowing I was ignoring him, reiterated his point.

            “What the heck was that?”

            Slyly, I replied, “Well, I’d say that’s golf.”

            The two of us shared a laugh as we trekked after our balls. It had been almost nine months since we’d last teed it up together.

            For many college students like me, the first round of golf doesn’t come as soon as the weather gets nice. Instead, it often comes a few weeks later when students return home to their nine-irons and home courses.

            The weeks spent watching and waiting while other people lace their Foot-Joys and head to the course ignites even a stronger passion inside the hearts of many young golfers. And sometimes, it can drive them a little bit crazy.

            “If only I had a five iron,” they’ll say to themselves. “I’d go over to that course and hit flop shots and stingers. I’d shoot par with a five iron and a shoe horn.”

            Or, “God I’d give anything to get buried in a greenside bunker and make triple bogey right now.”

            However, as my friend and I were learning on that warm May day, the first round of the year is always well worth the wait. For people who truly love the game, playing the first round of the season is like catching up with an old friend for a good couple of hours.

            However, it isn’t just college students whose hearts beat a little faster when they dust off the clubs for the first time. The love of golf, and the newness of the opening round, transcend all ages. After spending most of my last six summers working at Elkdale Country Club, I’ve seen many examples of this.

            It happens to young adults as they tee it up for their high school matches and get to experience the thrill of competition for the first time on the links.

            It happens to middle aged men who barely can find time to play the game they love.

            “Where you been all year Tom?” they’ll say to their friend.

            “I’ve been busy. You know with the kids and the wife and the new house,” he’ll reply. “But it feels good to be out here now. It’s a great day for May.”

            And the friend will reply, “Umm, Tom. It’s August.”

            Maybe the group that experiences the joy of the first round the most is the elder population. For some of them, just making it through the winter months and getting to tee it up for another summer is an accomplishment. Others spend their winters in the south and are overjoyed to play with their old friends in the North.

            “Oh gee,” they’ll say when they meet up with their old playing partners. “I broke 90 once down there. It’s always a good day when my scores lower than the temperature. But god it’s sure good to see you.”

            “It’s good to see you, too,” is the common response followed by a warm embrace.

            Whatever a person’s age, it seems that there is something special about the first round a golfer plays every year. In many cases, a golfer’s usual foursome is as strong a family is the one he has at home. People who would never even speak to each other off of the course often build lifelong relations amidst sand traps and spike marks.

            I asked my friend if he had any ideas about what it was that made the opening 18 holes of the year so magical and magnetic. He shook his head and responded.

            “I don’t know exactly. I think it’s a combination of all the emotions and feelings the game brings. When people spend four months or six months away from the game they miss out on a lot. They miss out on friends, memories, stress relief and joy. They don’t get to experience the agony of missing two-footer. They don’t get to be overcome with joy when they chip it in from 30 yards. They don’t get to feel so nervous that they want to vomit in their golf shoes as they stand over a match-clinching putt.

            More than anything, I think when a golfer’s away from the game for a long time, they get lonely. A part of them is missing and when they return for that first round, they get to feel alive again. But, in all honesty, I don’t know what you’d call that.”

            And, as I watched my punch out shot bounce in the fairway and into the rough on the other side I replied, “Well, I’d say that’s golf.”
 
To Eat Or Not To Eat (or is it, to eat some more)?

Let's talk about media perquisites for just a second.  Having that magical press pass can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you're not all that grounded.  To be fair, I'll give two takes on what media credentials might mean to the average golfer:  optimistic and pessimistic.

Cynical Guy looks at the first marshal to call him "Sir" and immediately gets suspicious:  what, I'm too good to be called "buddy" or "fella"?  What makes me any different?  C.G. then moves to press headquarters, where the PGA gives him a stewardess' bag (wheels, extendable handle, yadda, yadda), jam-packed with profiles and publications:  So, like, I'm supposed to read all this crap?  When, pray tell, should I watch the golfers then, Sandy?  Mr. Guy then sidles into the media dining hall, where his 3-tickets-per-day get him breakfast, lunch, and a late snack:  OK, there's all this healthy food, like chicken and grilled vegetables, but once I leave, I can't come back until they ring the chow bell again, is that right?  Where are the doughnuts and the beer?

Are you bitter yet?  If not, good.  If so, read on, and perhaps Mr. Optimist will bring you back to the proper frame of mind.

Mr. O. smiles at everyone who greets him as "Sir," envisioning life-long friendships that stem from the single-syllable utterance of each cheerful volunteer at the 85th PGA Championship:  Good day, good day, hello to you, thank you, no, really, I'm fine.  In spite of the 35 pounds of paper-weighted satchel, Opti is thrilled to lug the behemoth sack around the Oak Hill environs:  I have every discernible fact (as well as some cernible ones, too) about this event, the competitors, past champions too, at my fingertips.  Ask me a question, please, as I am a veritable library.  Grand Master Opty - muh - muh - Mystic closes with a visit to the scribes' food court, where his eyes brim with salinated tears as he breathes in the sumptuous array of comestibles:  Oh, succulent site, my eyes do brim with happiness.  These veggies and meats, those rolls and fruits, they give me life!  Any caffeine-free in there?

Chances are you find yourself somewhere between these two extremes.  Writing about golf, especially for a non-pro, free-lancer like me, is a great way to record your purest thoughts about the sport you love.  Every blue moon, you get a perq that you couldn't dream up on a bet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is “Lefty” Right?

Phil Mickelson says that Tiger Woods wins in spite of his inferior Nike equipment. Lefty nailed it.  He said what I have all been thinking from the inception of Nike’s venture into the golf world. Nike has a cool logo, nice hats, creative commercials, and excellent shirts (although what’s with the tapered fit XXXL).  I however do not know anyone that uses the Nike ball, let alone their clubs. Nike lacks tradition and aside from Woods, who could win with garden tools, winners.

Mickelson makes a statement like this and is ridiculed.  I disagree, Phil has nothing to lose. He has rarely beaten Woods when it counts. Why not resort to some gamesmanship. I’m not sure that you can get into Tiger’s head, but why not try. This leads me to a question this month: Who would you rather be Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson?  Before you answer, let’s do a tail of the tape:

Titles: Advantage Woods
Majors: Advantage Woods
Endorsements: Advantage Woods
Money: Push (sure Woods has way more, but neither of their grandchildren will have money worries)
Fun: Advantage Lefty (Tiger seams tense, Phil almost jolly)
Picking Super Bowl Winners: Advantage Lefty
Free time: Advantage Lefty (fewer promotions and much less workout time)
Hot wives: Advantage Lefty
Number of wives: Advantage Woods, “sorry honey”
Age: Advantage Woods
Weight: Advantage Lefty
Superior equipment: Advantage Lefty
Inferior equipment: Advantage Woods
Right-Handed Shot Making Advantage Woods
Left-Handed Shot Making Advantage Lefty
Nicknames Push, I am impressed with neither. Think of everyone that you know nicknamed “Lefty”.
I have the score as 7-7, with 2 ties. You cast the tie-breaking vote. I’d rather be Tiger Woods playing Titleist equipment and dating Phil’s wife.  See you on the first tee. Email me at cuon1sttee@adelphia.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let's Discriminate

It is surprising that golf and Augusta National are at the center of a discrimination / exclusionary controversy.  Golf has always practiced exclusion and separation. Are there not a minimum of four sets of tee boxes at most golf courses: Championship Tees, Men's Tees, Women's Tees, and Senior Tees.  Where are the Women's Senior Tees?  This is not fair to the Senior women that play these courses.   There are three separate Pro Golf Tours: PGA, LPGA, and Senior PGA.  Again I ask you where is the Senior LPGA? Golf holes are handicapped separately for men and women, should they not also be handicapped for Seniors, Senior Women, and those under the age of 18.

Second, I believe that not only should Augusta National allow women members, they should also wave initiation fees for those that cannot afford them.

Third, what is Augusta like without women members?  Who plays golf on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Augusta National?  Does the Augusta National Golf Club's Pro Shop have pink golf balls, those charming counting beads, or skorts?

Fourth, on that weekend in April, let's not keep score; keeping score is just not fair to those that are "low score challenged".  The winner can be randomly drawn out of a hat, so everyone has an equal chance.  Then they can be awarded a piece of apparel of some color to symbolize the championship. Clothing should not be excluded just because it is not green or a jacket.

Fifth, how is it that Augusta National has gotten away with the term "Masters"?   The African-American community should be up in arms over the use of such a word in the 21st century South. I am not even getting into the religious implications of "Amen Corner".

Sixth, it is obvious to me that the rose, tulip, daisy, dandelion, and every other flower have been held back by the unexplainable promotion of the Azalea.   Technically I think the dandelion is a weed, not a flower.

Finally, Ms. Burk has been quoted as saying, "The Augusta National issue isn't even in her organizations top ten of importance", but I am sure none of the others get the airtime or publicity.  Golf is a game built on tradition, most traditions change very slowly.  Maybe someday Augusta National will allow women members and probably should.  Forcing someone into a corner never results in a good situation for either side.