Thursday, 30 April 2015

My Fingers Are Crossed

Two days are in the books at the WGC Match Play. While things are still very much up for grabs, as far as who will collect the big cheque on Sunday, Messrs. Spieth and McIlroy are on song and looking very good.

This kid Spieth continues to ride a putter that is doing a great deal to thoroughly demoralize his opponents and make him appear almost invincible. He one-putted his last ten holes today and has made fourteen birdies and only one bogey in two days. He faces Lee Westwood tomorrow. Westwood, coming off a win last week, is in top form but will likely find it a daunting task to try to hang with Spieth.

Rory, unlike Spieth, is hitting it great but not making birdies in bunches because his putter is not red hot. That will be the concern for him tomorrow as he faces Billy Horschel who will be fired up and may just force Rory to start making birdie putts or go home. Rory has shown his toughness when it comes to match play, having soundly defeated Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler in singles matches at the last two Ryder Cups. Rory also has that look in his eye this week, and I suspect he feels he has something to prove after witnessing the Jordan Spieth show at the Masters.

I hope the stars align this week, and we are treated to a final match that includes McIlroy and Spieth. However, given the vagaries of match play, this may be just wishful thinking. In eighteen holes of match play anything can happen, and often does. As for me, my fingers are crossed because these two guys are the best of the bunch right now and it would be one heckuva show should they get to face each other on Sunday.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

If You Can Be Good At Only One Thing, What Should It Be?

The long ball is sexy. Everybody wants to hit it long, or at least longer. Equipment manufacturers have made a fortune out of this desire. But, if you could choose to be good at one part of the game, what should it be?

The guys who make the most money on the tour, week in and week out, are not the bombers. Take a look at the consistent money makers, like last week's champion, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and especially the new sensation, Jordan Spieth. They are definitely not short knockers, but they are definitely not power players. Yet, somehow they are constantly in the money and showing no sign of being over-run by the bombers. Other than Kuchar, they all have majors, and they have some of the healthiest bank accounts, all playing a game that has supposedly become all about power.

What is it they have? What is their secret? They know how to score. They play their own game, They have great short games, deadly from a hundred yards and in, and they can putt. The short game is not glamorous to those who don't really understand the game, but the short game is where the money is. If you can chip and putt, and otherwise manage to keep the ball in play, you are going to be a match for pretty much anyone. It may not be as exciting as hitting three hundred and thirty yard drives, but surely the sound of the ball rattling around in the cup is about as good as it gets. In fact, I have thought about recording that sound and playing it over and over to myself as I sleep.

If you can be good at one thing, make it putting. To those who don't understand the game, putting may not be as cool, or as glamorous, as belting long drives into the wild blue yonder. But making a key putt is really about as exciting as it gets. It's what really separates the men from the boys. In fact, the only way to succeed is to make the putt. It always comes down to the putt. So, if you want to be a better player, spend your time on and around the putting surface. 

Raymond Floyd said the most important shot in golf is the six foot putt. He is absolutely right. Remember when Tiger virtually never missed a six footer? I spent many years bemoaning the fact that I so often missed the five or six footers that might have made my average round a good one, or my good round a great one. But, all that time, I spent little or no time practising those short putts. This year, I intend to make a change. I'm not going to worry so much about having the perfect golf swing. I'm going to become the best damned putter I can be. 

I'm not going to resent the fact that putting is so important. I'm going to embrace it. I'm going to try to change my attitude and learn to love putting. Maybe then, it might just love me back.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Pinehurst Number One

I had the chance to play Pinehurst Number 1 the other day. This Donald Ross gem, designed in 1901, measures 6089 yards and plays to a par of 70. The Pinehurst guide points out that the yardage can be misleading, as Ross used mules to create this course, incorporating the "raw contours and undulations of the natural terrain, creating a very playable course and a favourite for a great starting round." Harry Vardon is quoted as having said, "It is very sporty, no two holes alike. You have 18 holes which it will be a great pleasure to any golfer to play over."

It was definitely a joy to play, despite being caught in a torrential downpour, which providentially led to me being joined by three caddies who were having a skins game but were willing to let me tag along. I struggled mightily on the greens, and, after a double-crossed fairway bunker shot ricocheted off a pine and ended up out of bounds, was happy to forget the scorecard and started smelling the azaleas and appreciating the master's work in designing such a beautiful and challenging golf course.

I was rewarded with a par on the 222 yard par 3 twelfth hole, despite my Sunday-best three wood off the tee ending up short of the putting surface, and happily ended the day with a birdie out of the bunker on the closing par 5. I was left feeling there might just be hope for this old, half-crippled warrior if I don't lose my sense of humour and Can learn to putt! Sometimes, it's best to just lose your pencil and enjoy the walk. 

I feel so fortunate to have visited this golfing Mecca and to have played a couple of courses designed by a master architect and played by some of the game's great players. Tomorrow, I have one more crack at Number 1 before packing the van and heading back to Canada where the snow has finally melted.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Woods Are Full of Long Drivers

I listened with utter amazement to Aron Oberholser on the Golfchannel claiming that Jordan Spieth would not dominate golf because he wasn't long enough. Length, in golf, is very seductive. It seems to be so important. But does length really matter? Unfortunately, most men certainly seem to believe it does!

Jordan Spieth is a breath of fresh air. He isn't the longest player. He isn't the best ball striker. But, since last December, he's been the best player in the game. He plays the game better than anyone. We can all learn a great lesson from him. Golf is not about adding twenty yards to your drives, or hitting a pitching wedge a hundred and eighty yards. Golf is about getting the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible.

Harvey Penick said, "The woods are full of long drivers." He also said that a good putter is a match for anyone. This young Texan has obviously learned that lesson. He has become a dominant player despite the fact that he isn't a bomber. His win in Australia, at the Hero World Challenge, and now at Augusta, prove that managing your emotions, playing your own game, and being a fearless and imaginative putter trumps the power game.

Jordan also indicated that he prefers playing golf to hitting balls on the range. Bobby Jones, who said that you learn the game by playing, would be applauding. While Tiger continues to talk about release patterns, and once again retreats to the range to try to find his game, and Rory spends hours in the gym, Jordan Spieth just keeps playing golf and seems to contend every week.

This should be good news to all of us. We can improve by learning how to manage our game, and by playing golf. We don't have to beat balls, or bench press Volkswagons, in order to get better. There is hope for all of us; not to win the Masters; but to improve and play our best. We don't need to hit the ball three hundred yards. The woods are full of long drivers. I'm talking to you, Oberholser.

Can We Now Just Get On With It

Watching the Golfchannel, after Jordan Spieth's phenomenal performance, I once again find myself having to listen to the talking heads spending time analyzing and speculating about Tiger and his game. Am I missing something? Granted, Tiger played comparatively better this week, but only comparatively better. He was never really in the tournament. So why is he still garnering so much attention? Why can we not seem to move on?

For weeks before Augusta, we had to endure all the endless speculation about Tiger. Would he play? If he played, would he crash and burn, or could he win? This was despite the fact that Jordan Spieth was playing great golf and Rory had the opportunity to get the career slam. Seemingly, all we could think about was Tiger. Can we not get over Tiger Woods?

Tiger has not been a factor in the Majors for ages. Why is he still the main story every time a Major comes around? Tiger played better this week. But he was never a factor. He never deserved all the attention and hype. Tiger had a chance to make a run today, but he would have had to shoot something in the neighbourhood of sixty one or two. He didn't even break par. Rory played alongside him and beat him by seven shots. Jordan Spieth, with all the pressure he had to face, beat him by three shots. Is it not finally time to accept the fact that there are new kids in town and they are now better than Tiger Woods?

Tiger has been a phenomenal player, possibly the best ever to play the game. In his prime he was undoubtedly a match for anyone. However, he is no longer the best player in the game. He is an old thirty nine, having battled personal problems, injury, and a definite loss of confidence. He has nothing left to prove. His record speaks for itself. It is only natural that the next generation eventually takes over and the torch gets passed. It has been something all the greats have had to face. It is also something fans and golf announcers have to face. 

Jack Nicklaus said it best today when he said, and I am paraphrasing, that it is perhaps now time to let the young players take over. Let's do that. Let's give these kids their due. Tiger may have another run, like Jack did in eighty six. If and when he does, we can all get excited, like we did with Jack. But it's time to finally admit that Tiger is not the best player in the game anymore. It's okay. Golf is bigger than Tiger, and it is in good hands with the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Let's move on.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Historic Masters

We are watching history being made at Augusta. Young Jordan Spieth has gone where no man has gone before in this tournament, and, given the sort of history we have witnessed at the Masters, that is really saying something.

Spieth faces a big gut check tomorrow. He has been playing better than anyone all year. This week, he has played better for three rounds than anyone ever has at Augusta. He should win, but what should happen, and what will happen, is to some degree in the lap of the gods. Anything can happen in this game. We know it and Jordan knows it.

A couple of times, Spieth looked a little shaky today. He admitted that he was nervous, and, if he wasn't we'd have to do a drug test on him. Imagine the pressure of carrying the lead at the Masters for three days. I was gagging for him, and I didn't have to hit a shot. But, as shaky as he might have been today, Spieth still managed to shoot 70. That's the strength of this kid's game. He somehow knows how to make a score, even when he's not firing on all cylinders.

That par save on eighteen today may be the hole we will remember if and when Jordan slips into his first green jacket. Had he not saved par, the entire complexion of tomorrow's round would have changed. Had he finished double bogey , bogey, he would have given Messrs. Mickelson and Rose reason to believe. Instead, they probably now only hope they can catch this kid.

Whether he wins tomorrow or not, Spieth has put on a heckuva show and, win or lose, he is definitely here to stay. He lost the lead at Augusta last year. He has failed to win with the lead going into the final round on four occasions, including last week. It didn't kill him, it just made him stronger. That's the mark of a champion. Not only is he not afraid to win, he isn't afraid to lose. Go get 'em, kid.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

How Good Was That?

Well, Thursday at the 2015 Masters surely didn't disappoint. Jordan Spieth, who I picked to win a few weeks ago, continued to shine with an opening round 64. It was the round of the day, if you are able to overlook the seventy one posted by sixty five year old Tom Watson. Who breaks par at Augusta at sixty five years of age? It just isn't done.

Tiger showed himself fully recovered from his short game woes. If he had the chipping yips, he has managed to conquer them in record time. Nevertheless, his one over finish amounted to more of the same since Tiger last won a major, with some wild tee shots and some very unTigerlike misses. He is most likely too far out of contention to believe that he can rally and win another green jacket this year.

Rory managed to finish under par, and therefore still in the game if he can go low tomorrow. However, compared to young Mr Spieth and several others, he was decidedly average, and definitely not looking like the number one player in the game.

Big Ernie looks to be a factor again, proving that forty five is not too old if the putter cooperates. At five under, along with Hoffman, Justin Rose, and Jason Day, he finds himself tied for second place, a position he has finished in twice at Augusta. How great would it be to see the Big Easy finally get a green jacket? He could definitely pull it off if the putter stays hot and Jordan's putter cools off.

Phil is looking good at two under, as is Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson. And the Indian from Bangalore, Mr Lahiri performed admirably in his first competitive round at Augusta, finishing at one under. 

Sergio looked great finishing at four under the card and would make a lot of people happy, particularly himself, if he could finally get it done in a major. Jason Day looks determined and ready to claim a first major, in a career that will surely include one or more major championships before it's over.

Eighteen holes does not a championship make, and there will inevitably be those who will fade and those who will come on strong before things really get interesting on the back nine on Sunday. However, Jordan Spieth looks awfully strong and, with another low round tomorrow, could run away and hide. He will definitely take some beating. Rarely, does the first round leader manage to get the job done, but this kid is fast becoming the best player in the game. I definitely wouldn't bet against him. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Come on Thursday!

Masters week seems to be the longest week of my life, waiting for three o'clock Thursday afternoon, when the real coverage finally starts. As usual, it promises some compelling stories, and some great golf. 

Tiger is apparently looking good and sporting his old swagger. Phil showed some signs of regaining some form last week. Rory will be a man on a mission. Jordan Spieth will probably contend, as he's done the last month or so. The list of contenders is as long as it's been in ages.

But, as is usually the case, Augusta National will be the star, immaculately prepared to delight the eyes, terrify the players, and provide a back nine Sunday finish that will become part of Masters lore. 

Whoever wins, I just hope it delivers the kind of excitement on Sunday that leaves us gripping the arms of our chairs, holding our breath as the contenders stand over those slippery putts. No blow outs, some real back nine drama. I wish the Masters could be every week, but my nerves probably couldn't handle it. 

Come on, Thursday!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Game On, Rory, There's A New Kid In Town

I've been in New Orleans for the past three weeks without access to the Golfchannel. Of course, when in New Orleans, the Golfchannel tends to be much less of a consideration than it might be elsewhere where there are fewer distractions. So, I have missed watching much of the golf, at least until the weekend. Furthermore, without the ability to pre-record the golf, I find the seemingly endless commercials driving me away from watching the entire telecast.

Speaking of commercials, that brings us back to the upcoming Masters where they insist upon minimal commercial interruption of their telecasts, just one of many reasons why the Masters is such a treat for armchair golf fans. I can't wait for the action to begin at Augusta. Neither, I'll bet, can young Mr Spieth. Once again, Jordan finds himself leading in Houston. He seems to be getting awfully comfortable with being in the hunt on the weekend.

During the telecast, Johnny Miller and others remarked upon Spieth's putting, including the fact that he makes more putts from fifteen to twenty five feet than anyone on tour; over twenty two percent. If my ears didn't deceive me, after commenting on Spieth's great putting at the conclusion of the round, Johnny not only said Spieth was the best putter in the game, but went so far as to suggest that Jordan was the best player in the game right now. Given his play the past few weeks, I have to agree with that assessment, not that I very often disagree with Johnny. For my money, Johnny is still the best set of eyes announcing these days. He may sometimes ruffle some feathers, but he definitely knows his stuff and he isn't infected with the political correctness virus that seems to have other announcers watering down their comments.

I like Spieth's chances tomorrow. In his comments at the end of the round, Jordan was reminded of the fact that he had failed to seal the deal with leads going in to the last round on three prior attempts. Jordan responded that he is not the same player now. He plans to play the golf course tomorrow, knowing that he will need a sub par round to get it done. He won't be protecting his lead. Whether he wins or not tomorrow is less important, in my mind, than the fact that he is once again going to be in the fray on Sunday.

On March 24th, I picked Jordan to win at Augusta. He may not win tomorrow, and the field definitely has to be the favourite going into next week at the Masters, but it's a pretty safe bet that young Mr Spieth is not going to beat himself. He's very quickly becoming the best player in the game. Game on, Rory, there's a new kid in town.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Does Tiger Have Commitment Issues?

It seems, at least with respect to the Masters, Tiger has some commitment issues. The end result is that we have been inundated with articles speculating, ad nauseum, about whether Tiger will tee it up at Augusta. Even I find myself unable to resist adding my two cents worth. The answer to whether he will play would actually seem to be no brainer. Of course Tiger will tee it up. What has he got to lose?

That answer is, of course, not really a no brainer if you happen to be Tiger Woods. Tiger has, from day one, been a winner. Second place, or just making the cut, isn't going to do it for him. He is programmed to win. He has, at least until his troubles, been the man to beat every time he teed it up. He expected to win. We expected him to win, and, for a long time, he delivered, making seemingly every putt he had to make. 

He didn't win every week, but he rarely disappointed. Then some relatively unknown Korean took him down in the PGA championship, when Tiger entered the final round with, what must have been regarded as, an impregnable lead. Then, as if to add insult to injury, his wife tried to take him down with a three iron, and Tiger was suddenly someone to snigger about, rather than to hold in awe. He was suddenly human. We knew it, and more importantly, he knew it.

Tiger now, more than a few years on, finds himself actually worrying about embarrassing himself. His confidence is gone. And, in this game, at least at the top level, confidence is just about everything. Now, Tiger isn't worried about whether he can win at Augusta. He's worried about the possibility of missing the cut, or shooting eighty two. Tiger is suddenly in the same position most of the rest of us are in when we tee it up. He just doesn't know.

He doesn't know whether he'll ever win another major. He's not judging things on whether his game is good enough to win. Now he just wants to be competitive. With that mindset, he'll never be the champion he was. Tiger is human. It ain't no crime. He's got plenty of company. It's just how do you learn to live with being just human when you were a golfing god? Only Tiger can answer that question.

Hopefully, Tiger will come to terms with, what seems to be, the fact that his days of dominating the golf world are over. Other giants of the game have done it. It is just the way of the world. There may be a few more wins in store for Tiger. He might just get his nineteen majors. But first, he just has to deal with his commitment issues. Go ahead, Tiger, commit. Put it all out there. Give it a shot. If you fail, it ain't no crime. After all, you're only human, and being human isn't such a bad thing. In fact, it can be a damned good thing once you get used to it.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Tiger Woods

This article is entitled, "Tiger Woods." It seems that is all that is required to make it newsworthy. We need to get a life! All week, I have read story after story about Tiger Woods. Notah Begay says Tiger may make some earth shattering statement. Someone thought his plane was seen in Augusta.

He may or may not have been practising at Augusta. Someone believes he will win if he plays. It's all so exciting. We seem to love to, or need to, speculate about Tiger Woods at the expense of all the golfers who have been playing great golf this year. We don't seem to be able to resist it.

Tiger has, according to a recent article, made ten starts since the start of 2014, finishing only three of those tournaments, and finishing better than sixty ninth only once. His attempts to come back in 2015 have been either sad, or laughable, depending on your point of view. And yet, all we seem to be able to talk about is will he play at Augusta. Maybe the game really is in trouble without Tiger.

What we know is this: Tiger is eligible to play at Augusta. He may play. He may, according to recent form, crash and burn. He might also win. But the simple fact is we don't know much. In the meantime, we have real stories, like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson... What do these guys have to do to earn a bit of ink?

Tiger has been awesome. He may be the greatest player ever to have played the game. But, he hasn't announced whether or not he's even playing. How about we focus on those guys who are playing, and whom we know are playing great golf? If and when Tiger tees it up, we will then have something to talk about. Until then, let's get a fricken life!