Spy on Golf: Countdown to 2012

Could 2011 have ended any better for golf fans?

All signs point to a thrilling 2012, and beyond, as the stars aligned in spectacular fashion during the latter stages of this season. Here just a few recent developments that signal a looming golden age:

  • Tiger Woods regains winning form at the Chevron World Challenge.
  • Luke Donald cements No. 1 ranking by topping the U.S. and European money lists.
  • Wunderkind Rory McIlroy follows up his U.S. Open triumph with another victory (Hong Kong Open) and six top-sixes in his last eight starts.
  • Sergio Garcia claims two titles in his native Spain.
  • Young Americans Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas dominate the FedEx Cup playoffs.
  • Jim Furyk goes 5-0 to pace the U.S. Presidents Cup effort.
Luke Donald

Luke Donald aims to keep his No. 1 ranking.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Professional golf is flush with great players in or entering their prime, aging stars with gas left in the tank, and emerging lads with big games and matching personalities.

Never has golf’s international talent pool been this deep or wide. For proof, here’s a breakdown of current standouts by age group:

Young guns (under 30): Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Alvaro Quiros, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero

Prime-timers (30-somethings): Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley

Elder statesmen (40-plus): Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, David Toms, K.J. Choi, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez

Getting excited yet? Me too.

Tough stuff

Kiawah Island Ocean Course

Grrrr... The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

Back in the day, Golf Digest’s list of America’s toughest courses was its de facto list of the country’s top courses. When folks stopped equating difficulty with quality, the magazine introduced new criteria – like design balance and shot values – and changed the rankings to America’s best courses.

Now it’s doing both. Golf Digest is out with an updated list of the 75 toughest tracks in America, and it is indeed a Murderers Row.

No. 1 is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, and I can vouch for its nastiness firsthand. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the remainder of the top five: 2. Pine Valley GC (N.J.) 3. Oakmont CC (Pa.) 4. Spyglass Hill (Calif.) 5. Bethpage Park, Black Course (N.Y.)

Others of note include TPC Sawgrass (7), Pinehurst No. 2 (10), Pebble Beach (14) and Augusta National (31).

Of course, tackling any of these courses is even tougher when you’re paired with one of Golf Digest’s 18 Most Annoying Golf Partners, whose aggravating ranks include our personal No. 1, the Cart Girl Schmoozer.

If the cart girls at these places are as mean as the courses, methinks our buddy would incur a rather harsh penalty.

Spy on Golf: Week’s Headliners Span the Globe

A quick trek around the golf galaxy, with stops in South Korea, Oregon and Jupiter on the itinerary.

Your in-flight movie is “Drive,” so we can all figure out how the film inspired a California man to toss a hot dog in the general direction of Tiger Woods last Sunday. Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction…

Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler

Fowler wins, draws yawns: Much debate this week about Rickie Fowler’s victory at the Korean Open, a stop on the OneAsia tour. Thanks to its remote dateline, Fowler’s first win as a pro was met with a collective so-what by a large chunk of pundits.

But considering he won by six shots over fellow wunderkind Rory McIlroy, we’d say Fowler deserves some credit. Former PGA champion Y.E. Yang finished 11 shots behind despite the home-country advantage.

Prediction: Fowler wins at least twice in 2012. On the PGA Tour, that is.

A-Bandon hope, Pebble Beach: All hail Bandon Dunes, the new king of North American resort golf. So says Golf Digest, and – having yet to make the Bandon pilgrimage -- who am I to argue?

Frankly, I have no desire to debate GD on this one. Given Bandon’s expansion to four courses, all of which rank among America’s 100 best, it was only a matter of time before Mike Keiser’s pure-golf wonderland knocked Pebble Beach Resorts from the top spot.

If you’re thinking of visiting all 75 properties, you’d better be well funded. Nineteen of them feature nightly room rates of $500 or more, including the breathtaking $1,445 commanded by Sandy Lane in Barbados.

At a paltry $250, Bandon’s a relative bargain, too.

Jupiter is the new Orlando: If it often seems the pros’ games are other-worldly, this might be why: A large number of them have relocated to Jupiter.

Sorry, wrong Jupiter. Apparently, Jupiter, Florida, is the hot place to be for the PGA Tour’s elite. Everyone knows Tiger Woods recently moved into his $54 million palace on Jupiter Island, but the likes of Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel have also set up shop in or near the Palm Beach County golf haven.

As luck would have it, this blog is based in Jupiter as well. Here’s hoping some of that pro golfer mojo rubs off on the locals.

Els supplies belly laugh: We nominate this paradoxical gem from Ernie Els, addressing his use of a belly putter, for Quote of the Year: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”

Now that honors for the year’s best quote and headline (Saltman wins body weight in ham for hole-in-one) are wrapped up, all that’s left are trivial titles like Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Leading Money Winner.

We almost forgot: Brandon Kelly of Petaluma, Calif., the man who threw the wiener at Woods, is our Tosser of the Year.

New Technology, Obsolete Courses and Phil Mickelson Did What?

August 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Pro Insider 

Have the rest of you noticed how far the ball is going these days? It’s no longer just with the driver but every club in the bag. I think even putters are being used from 100 yards out.

Sure distances have been creeping up over the years. But the last few years have wrought extraordinary damage to the game as we know it. We all recognize that some of this new found machismo is the result of better conditioned athletes. But most of it can be attributed to new technologies.

The PGA Championship 2011

Were you watching the recent 2011 version of the PGA Championship? Did you happen to notice the course was over 7400 yards AND was only a Par 70? I wager this is nearly 1000 yards longer than the courses most of us play while also being 2 strokes less than the typical Par 72’s. Did you happen to watch Phil Mickelson play a 450 yard Par 4 by hitting 5 iron and 5 iron? That’s right! He hit 5 iron off the tee of a 450 yard hole. Ridiculous.

There was a time when the professional game had some relation to the game the rest of us play. We might have hit a 7 iron 150 yards and the pros would do the same with an eight. Now they hit a sand wedge 150 yards while we maybe hit an eight. The average golfer can no longer relate in any way to the game the pros are playing.

How long will it be before more storied courses such as Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Shinnecock Hills, etc are no longer considered suitable for tournament play because they do not have the room to lengthen them to keep up with today’s technology? What about the great golf course in your own area that has become outdated only because of their inability to add length?

Caddies Agree

I just finished watching the David Feherty show and his guests were caddies “Fluff” Cowan and Jim “Bones” Mackay. Fluff is a lifelong caddie having carried for Peter Jacobsen, Tiger Woods and now Jim Furyk. Mackay has been on Phil Mickelson’s bag for Phil’s entire career. Both of these legendary caddies took note of their players being 3 – 5 clubs longer since they began their careers as caddies.

It is time to de-tune the equipment. We need to keep the professional game relevant to the amateur game. We need to stop the demise of the classic courses that have been sacrificed to modern technology before it is too late. Hitting 5 iron – 5 iron to a 450 yard hole benefits no one and in fact only serves to drive the proverbial wedge between the pros and the rest of the game.

Spy on Golf: Tiger, Pine Valley Among Top Talking Points

What’s the golf world talking about this week?

Why Tiger Woods, of course.

New golf course rankings, too. Top 100 lists always get a certain segment of the golf world talking – we’re looking at you, architecture snobs – and GOLF Magazine contributed a conversation piece with its 2011 list of the best in the U.S. and the world. Plus, Golf Digest revealed a surprise winner in its Fans’ Choice tourney to determine America’s favorite public track.

Without further ado, here are our takes on this week’s hot golf topics:

Cap’n Couples pondering Presidents Cup picksPresidents Cup logo

Couples wants Woods on his team. He needs Woods on his team. (Actually, that part’s debatable.) And Freddie has the last word on whether Woods will, indeed, be a member of America’s Presidents Cup squad taking on the Internationals at Australia’s Royal Melbourne, Nov. 14-20.

On Sept. 26 Couples will add two captain’s picks to the 10 automatic qualifiers. Woods is currently 28th in the standings and has just one event, the Australian Open, scheduled between now and the Cup.

Cap’n Couples may be willing to take a flier on Tiger – but only if he commits to playing a couple more times between Sept. 26 and Nov. 14. “I really want him on my team based on my opinion that he’s been the best player for 10 straight years,” Couples told the AP. “I just don’t think he can sit there and think his game is going to improve.”

While Woods was an obvious captain’s pick for last year’s Ryder Cup team – he was still ranked No. 1 in the world, after all – he’s certainly not a no-brainer this time around. Then again, neither is anyone in spots 11-27, including Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and Keegan Bradley.

At this point, Bradley looks like a better choice than Woods. When it comes to the topsy-turvy state of golf, that pretty much says it all.

U.S. vs. the world for GOLF course supremacy

American golfers may have lost their place atop the world standings, but the country’s courses still reign supreme.

At least, according to GOLF Magazine.

GOLF recently rolled out its rankings of the top 100 courses in the U.S. and worldwide, with Pine Valley GC in New Jersey leading both lists. No surprise there, since Pine Valley – a mind-blowing combo of penal and strategic design – almost always comes out No. 1.

The magazine’s world rankings leave it open to cries of provincialism, though. GOLF ranked eight American courses among the world’s top 10 and 20 in the top 30. All told, the top 100 features 51 tracks on American soil.

And how many of the U.S. top 100 can you, John Q. Public Golfer, play without a membership or invite? Sadly, only about 20. The public ranks are boosted mightily by Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Resort, with all four of its courses among the nation’s 100 finest.

How will the Wolf survive? Quite nicely, thanks Wolf Creek Golf Club, Mesquite

Speaking of public golf course ratings, the winner of Golf Digest’s Fans’ Choice contest is… Drumroll, please…

Wolf Creek Golf Club in Mesquite, Nevada (pictured right).

What, you were expecting Pebble Beach?

Actually, Pebble entered as a No. 1 seed in the 64-course tournament, but was upset in round two by True North GC in Michigan. Joining Wolf Creek in the final four were 2015 U.S. Open host Chambers Bay (Washington state), Bulle Rock GC (Maryland) and Oregon’s Pacific Dunes.

What put Wolf Creek over the top? It’s over-the-top setting and design, most likely. Equal parts golf course and amusement park, Wolf Creek roller-coasters over massive cliffs into canyon floors – it’s nothing if not memorable.

Pebble Beach – The two most famous words in golf

No two words in all of golf elicit such praise and reverence as these…..Pebble Beach.

Ask anyone who has played there, or even anyone who has watched glued to their television, and to a person this is the Holy Grail of golf. Heaven on earth for those who play the game. A once in a lifetime experience for those lucky enough to have walked its hallowed grounds. And a dream yet to come true for the majority who someday hope to tread these seaside links on the Pacific shores of the Monterey Peninsula.

From the moment you arrive, hopefully via the famous 17 Mile Drive, the suspense builds. The gleaming white clubhouse and the small gathering of shops, cafes and the Pro Shop nearly envelop the practice putting green and first tee. You smell the salt water, stare at the Rolex starter clock, and if you are lucky, try to settle your nerves as you greet your caddy and fellow players.

The first hole is a short 377 yard dogleg right Par 4 but the tee shot may be the most nerve wracking you will ever have on any golf course. People in the shops, cafes and Pro Shop stand in silence and watch as you attempt to put a swing on the beginning of what may be the most memorable round of golf in your life.

If you survive the first few inland holes intact be prepared for what lies ahead. The fifth through tenth holes all front the Pacific and Monterey Bay and contain some of the most iconic holes in all of golf.

The postcard 7th hole is a downhill Par 3 of only 106 yards from the tips. It plays to a tiny green set on a peninsula jutting out into the bay. Many call this the most beautiful hole in all of golf. With no wind it is an easy wedge. If the ocean breezes are blowing this can play three or four clubs longer!

The 8th hole tee shot features a wide flat fairway that ends precipitously at the edge of a towering chasm. Another small green beckons from far below you and across a gaping watery grave for golf balls. This is one of the most heroic and intimidating shots on the course (or any course for that matter).

And on it goes. Holes nine and ten continue along the ocean which swallows any wayward shots to the right. Now the course turns inland again and back towards the safety of the clubhouse. Holes gently rise and fall amongst tree lined fairways and the 17 Mile mansions of the rich and famous.

Finally you’ve reach the famed 18th tee box, seemingly perched out in the water, overlooking perhaps the most well recognized golf hole on the planet. The ocean lines the entire left side. A large tree sits menacingly in what seems to be the middle of the fairway exactly where you need to hit your drive. Take some time to admire the view from the tee as it may be the last opportunity to relish one of the most incredible finishes of any golf course you will ever set foot on. Then thank the golf gods that the comforts of the clubhouse await your return. When your last putt drops, wave to the imaginary crowds, shake hands with your caddy and playing partners and take one last glance back at the famed finishing hole. Then go inside and have your beverage of choice in The Tap Room and reminisce over what was or could have been.

Golf Channel Sucking It Up At Pebble

February 13, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Pro Insider 

Great article by Matt from The 20th Hole Golf Blog:

Throughout my time working on this blog, I've tried to be as positive as possible about golf and everything golf related.

However, after attempting to watch the Golf Channel's coverage of the AT & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am today, I have to say that it 100% sucked. It was awful. Terrible. Atrocious.

First of all, they would show one or two golf shots, show some guy walking his dog on the beach, cut to commercial, show one or two shots, show kids making sand castles, cut to commercial. Same thing over and over.

I get it. Pebble Beach is the most scenic golf course in the world but how about maybe showing some actual golf.

Second, how about showing the professionals. For some reason, they did not show any shots by first round leader Dustin Johnson or any of the other leaders with the exception of David Duval. They only had cameras on Pebble Beach apparently. No shots by Phil Mickelson or any of the other leaders that everyone actually wants to see.

Instead, who do they show? Chris Berman, one of the worst golfers ever, as well as one of the worst golf commentators ever, taking pathetic swings, chunking shots, and taking five shots to get out of the bunker. Berman then acts as if he is mad at his poor shots. Ridiculous display. They also enjoyed showing Pederman from Seinfeld more than any professionals.

Even funnier is when Jim Gray interviewed Berman after the round. He asked Berman if playing Pebble Beach would help him when he does the ESPN coverage at the U.S. Open in June. Uh, no Jim, he shot 175 today. He can offer no insight whatsoever as to the strategies the players will use. One thing is for sure, if Berman does the coverage, I will have my mute button on the entire time.

Read about others not amused by Berman here and here. After one minute of browsing, I've found there are many Berman haters out there but that is besides the point for now.

Why is the golf channel showing terrible celebrities play rather than the professionals? It makes absolutely no sense.

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