Wednesday, January 30

Masters Champion Still Ailing

(Danny Fritsche/Flickr)

Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal is struggling to get back in competition. Rheumatism has kept him out of tournaments since last August when he missed the cut in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. Before that knee problems limited him to just two events -- the Scottish Open and the Bridgestone Invitational -- after the 2007 U.S. Open.

I'd like to see Jose back out there. He'll be 42 next Tuesday, but with all the injuries he seems older. I'm not sure if Ollie has another comeback in him, although he did finish in a tie for third at last year's Players Championship.

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, January 28

Two Different Torrey Pines for Tiger Woods

(Delores Knowles/Flickr)

With four consecutive wins at the Buick Invitational, Tiger Woods owns Torrey Pines in January. But what about June?

That’s the question as the golf world marvels at Tiger’s most recent exploits at the famous muni on the Pacific Coast. He made it look ridiculously easy, as only Tiger can, an eight-shot victory that ties him with Arnold Palmer with 62 career wins. Only Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead have won more on the PGA Tour.

Early in the telecast I heard this from Nick Faldo in the CBS booth: "Tiger Woods will win the Grand Slam this year."

Of course, Grand Slam talk is an annual ritual in the Tiger era. Tiger believes he can win it, and some seem to have already conceded it to him. The Grand Slam chatter is definitely trending upward.

I can’t hop on the Grand Slam bandwagon. It will take tremendous good fortune along with the skills of the greatest golfer of this generation (and likely ever) to win all four majors in a calendar year.

Possible? Yes. Probable? Um, no.

The U.S. Open may be the key to it all, a major Woods hasn’t won since 2002. Torrey Pines will be a much different (and diabolical) golf course in June -- long, fast and gnarly.

Tiger rode a hot putter to his eight-shot victory this past weekend. In June, all facets of Tiger’s game will need to be sharp, most notably his tees shots so he can hit approaches that assure pars and allow for occasional birdies.

One thing’s for sure: Tiger loves Torrey. Will the romance continue in June? I’m sitting squarely in the wait-and-see camp.

The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, January 26

Johnny Miller's Class of '08 Picks

At GolfDigest.com, Johnny Miller opines on the game's best performers, from driving to putting.

"You might be asking why Tiger's name isn't on all of them -- some would argue that it could be," Johnny writes. "But from my spot in the NBC tower, I definitely see players who have an edge over Tiger and everyone else in certain performance areas."

BEST PUTTER
Tiger Woods
(Honorable mention: Tim Clark)

BEST SCRAMBLER
Rory Sabbatini
(Honorable mention: Tiger Woods)

BEST DRIVER
Hunter Mahan
(Honorable mention: Charles Warren)

BEST SAND PLAYER
Mike Weir
(Honorable mention: Tim Clark)

BEST MIDDLE IRONS
Lorena Ochoa
(Honorable mention: Tiger Woods)

BEST SHORT IRONS
Jim Furyk
(Honorable mention: Phil Mickelson)

There's no category for course management, but I know who I would pick.

Read entire Miller piece here.

The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, January 24

The Next Bernhard Langer?

Martin Kaymer has the European Tour buzzing. Could he be the next Bernhard Langer?

One thing is certain: the 23-year-old Kaymer is the youngest German golfer to ever win on the European Tour, surpassing Langer’s age mark by 14 days.

Kaymer recorded a four-shot victory last week in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship against an impressive field that included Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.

Kaymer’s first win placed him at No. 5 in the European Order of Merit and vaulted the young Tour pro to No. 34 in the world rankings. Last year’s European Tour rookie of the year, Kaymer is the only player under age 25 in the world top 50.

Now some people are wondering out loud if Kaymer might make the 2008 European Ryder Cup team. That might be a bit ambitious, at least this time around.

Still, as Tom Abbott of The Golf Channel wrote, “Watch out for Martin Kaymer.”

The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, January 22

Colin Montgomerie Is Feeling Old

Let’s head across the Atlantic. Here’s something from last week’s media conference at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

“I'm getting older the wrong way, and the competition is getting better.”

(That’s Colin Montgomerie talking. He’s 44.)

“I'm trying to keep up somehow, but as with most sports it's a young man's game and I'm doing okay at 44 to sustain my level.”

(Colin is doing okay at 44.)

“I don't know how long it will last, as long as possible, but hopefully to 50. I'm doing okay at 44 to hang on to my status, which is important to me.”

(Colin is doing okay at 44 to hang on to his status.)

Keep hanging on, Colin. If you can last to 50, you can be a youngster again on the senior circuit. As Raymond Floyd once said, “I went to bed September 4, 1992, and I was old and washed up. I woke up a rookie. What could be better?”

The Armchair Golfer

Sunday, January 20

Fred Hawkins and Ben Hogan Face Off



Thanks to reader George McDowell for forwarding me the above photo of Fred Hawkins and Ben Hogan prior to their 18-hole playoff at the 1959 Colonial National Invitation Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.

Hogan won with a 69. Hawkins shot 73. It was Hogan's last victory on the PGA Tour and fifth Colonial title.

To read my November interview with Fred Hawkins, go here.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, January 18

Jim Apfelbaum and ‘Golf Unplugged’

In a note to me accompanying his book Golf Unplugged, Jim Apfelbaum wrote, “You’ll see soon enough. Some people ‘get’ me, some not so much.”

That was on Monday, maybe Tuesday. Today is Friday. I think I get him.

Jim exhales golf in its many fascinating and baffling forms in this paperback from Tatra Press. I say “exhales” for a reason. I especially enjoyed his section on breathing. Plus, of all things, the merits of chewing gum on the golf course.

Both could be the keys to your next round. Or not, as Jim might say. He just puts it out there for your consideration.

There’s a bit of everything in Jim’s little volume -- history, instruction, some personal stories from the golf trail. There’s Jim rifling through Ben Hogan’s desk drawer, doing a technologically challenged remote from Colonial, spying a fax to Annika Sorenstam from, well, you’d never guess.

I’m not finished, but it’s fun, not at all your usual golf book. It fits the way I often read, too. You can open it anywhere and jump right in, like cutting ahead of slowpokes on a crowded course.

Jim Apfelbaum is an Austin-based golf writer and broadcaster. Golf Unplugged is his seventh book.

The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, January 16

No Regrets for Colt Knost


Magnolia Lane will have to wait for Colt Knost.
(Torrey/Flickr)


As the reigning U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, Colt Knost had locked up an invitation to the 2008 Masters. Instead he decided to turn pro, reasoning there would be more opportunities to qualify for a spin around Augusta National.

Knost failed to qualify for the PGA Tour and earned conditional status on the Nationwide Tour. In 2008 he expects to receive a few sponsor exemptions for PGA Tour events.

Following is an excerpt from a January 11 interview published at USGA.org:
USGA: First off, any regrets about turning professional?

KNOST: No. It’s going to be painful sitting and watching the Masters at home. I said all along I wasn’t going to stay amateur for the U.S. Open. Hopefully I can get hot at Pebble (AT&T Pro-Am) or one of the first tournaments and win and get in [to the Masters]. I’ll be back there one day. I’m happy with my decision. I played those three [PGA Tour] events in the fall and have already gone through Q-School and gained that experience. I have played three [stages] of Q-School and three [PGA Tour] tournaments. I’ve played six tournaments and gave up one and I feel like it will make me a much better player down the road.

USGA: Did you have to wrestle with the decision or was your mind made up after the Walker Cup?

KNOST: After I won the Amateur, I knew what I was going to do. Once I got over to Ireland, me and [Walker Cup teammate] Trip [Kuehne] talked about it a lot. I knew I was going to turn pro. I was just waiting [to get back home].
This Monday morning quarterback thinks Knost should have waited. Playing the Masters as an amateur is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And in Colt's words, it would make him “a much better player down the road.” I can’t help but think that competing in the Masters -- even as an amateur -- is worth more than a handful of Nationwide tournaments.

Unless he pulls off a minor miracle and wins somewhere between now and April, Knost will be tuned to CBS for the Masters like most mortals. Too bad.

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, January 14

Will K.J. Choi Win a Major?

In solid wire-to-wire fashion, K.J. Choi won the Sony Open in Hawaii, his seventh PGA Tour title. The Sony Open doesn’t have the toughest field, but a Tour win is a Tour win. These guys are good, after all.

Choi is winning with more regularity, and his name now pops up as a potential major winner. Jack Nicklaus said keep an eye on K.J. after Choi won Jack’s Memorial tournament last May. Then Choi won again at Tiger’s tournament, the AT&T National in July, completing the Jack-Tiger Slam.

Even before Choi went the distance and won at Waialae Country Club on Sunday, major talk was a part of his Sony press conferences.

Was winning a major one of his goals? Yes, it was.

Why not? Choi seems to have the game for the majors, especially on tough U.S. Open setups. His short game is quite strong. Moreover, K.J. appears to have the resiliency and resolve needed to survive the sterner tests in golf.

Last year Choi finished in a tie for eighth at the British Open at Carnoustie, a good showing. He has four top tens in majors, including a third at the 2004 Masters. Choi's Sony win lifts him two spots to No. 7 in the world ranking.

But here’s the thing. While many players who win multiple times on Tour set a goal to win a major, few actually do.

Choi deserves consideration but isn’t in the can’t-miss category (if there is such a thing) reserved for players such as Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson (before he finally won at the Masters).

I’d love to see K.J. win a major -- he would be a popular champion -- but I’m not at all certain about his chances. He’s just one of many awaiting his turn. And there aren’t many turns.

The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, January 12

Open Champ Angel Cabrera Ditches His Smokes


(BBC SPORT photo)

Now what will he do to stay calm?

Anyone who watched his final round duel against Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in last summer's U.S. Open saw a twitchy Angel Cabrera chain-smoking over the final holes. Cigarettes were his habit, and they helped Angel deal with the nerve-shattering moments between the biggest shots of his life.

No more.

"It's been five months since I last had a cigarette," Cabrera told Reuters after shooting 70 in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii. "I just felt like not smoking any more."

Good for Cabrera. Maybe he's gone to gum.

The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, January 10

Mark Calcavecchia Changes Medicine to Comply with Drug Policy

When Mark Calcavecchia learned that his prescription blood-pressure medicine contained a beta-blocker on the banned list, he found a substitute.

“I looked at what's legal and what isn't legal,” Calcavecchia was quoted as saying at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.

“[It's] just common sense. Certainly, nobody is going to accuse me of doping up. I'm the fattest, weakest player out here. I can bench press about 40 pounds.”

Calc has a point. He's not exactly the first person you would think is juicing.

The Armchair Golfer

Source: Golf World

Sunday, January 6

Babe Ruth, the Golfer

(The Florida Memory Project)

Recently I read Leigh Montville’s 2006 biography of Babe Ruth, The Big Bam.

Ruth, of course, was baseball’s first great home run king who played in the late teens, twenties and thirties for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and, briefly, the Boston Braves. The Babe ended his career with 714 home runs, a record that stood for nearly 40 years until Henry Aaron bettered the mark.

After growing up in a strict Baltimore orphanage, Ruth had an appetite for life away from the baseball diamond that would make most hedonists blush.

One of his passions was golf. The Babe had limitless energy and would often play 36 holes a day, especially during spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I found this in an article from the St. Petersburg Times about a 1925 visit:
He loved it here. He loved our weather, especially when it was sunny, when he could sneak out in the morning before practice and play golf. He loved our courses, especially the wide fairways that could contain his mighty drives. He was a lousy putter; the man didn't know his strength and sometimes threw his club in disgust when the ball rolled past the cup. But he laughed afterward.
Indeed, the Sultan of Swat could hit a golf ball prodigious distances. He was known to hit 300-plus yard drives in the days of primitive golf club technology -- actual wooden clubs with hickory shafts.

Despite his poor putting, Ruth could shoot in the 70s, and when he retired he sometimes played in exhibitions with celebrities and top golfers of the day, including another “Babe,” women’s golf phenom Babe Didrickson Zaharias.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, January 4

Brandt Snedeker Aims for Ryder Cup Team

PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker exceeded his expectations in 2007. For the year, the Vanderbilt University grad pocketed $2.8 million and had six top tens, including a victory at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.

When asked yesterday at the Mercedes-Benz Championship if he was surprised by his early success, Snedeker said, “Yeah, definitely. I certainly didn't see it coming. I thought I had the game, I thought I could compete, but to come out here and have that kind of rookie season was something I really wasn't -- didn't get myself up for, but now that I'm there I have to work even harder and make sure I don't slump back and keep improving.”

As for 2008 goals, Brandt is aiming high.

“Ryder Cup is first and foremost in my mind,” Snedeker said. “To represent your country is such an honor. If I get Ryder Cup taken care of, it would be a pretty unbelievable year and something I'm looking forward to.”

Brandt carded a 71 in the opening round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship. Snedeker is currently ranked 47th in the world and finished 20th in the inaugural FedEx Cup.

The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, January 3

Golf’s Greatest Swings: Sam Snead

The greatest golf swings of all time. Who’s on your list? How do you even determine such a thing? Beauty? Effectiveness? Wins? Majors?

It’s subjective, a matter of opinion, which I think will make it a fun subject to explore as an occasional series.

Here’s a quick list off the top of my head: Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Harry Vardon, Mickey Wright, Gene Littler, Moe Norman, Gene Sarazen, Annika Sorenstam, Johnny Miller, Vijay Singh, Lee Trevino, Steve Elkington and today’s subject, Sam Snead.

The graceful, athletic Snead had a drop-dead gorgeous golf swing and was a splendid ball-striker. Wrote Al Barkow in Sam, “The sound heard when Sam Snead hit an iron shot was like the door of a Rolls-Royce slamming shut.”

“I know many of us pros would go out and watch Sam hit balls,” Jack Fleck said. “It would help our rhythm, timing and balance immediately.”

“He is, in a word, an athletic wonder,” wrote Herbert Warren Wind when Snead was in his 60s.

As for getting any clues from the man himself, Snead once said, “Golf is played with the arms.”

The File on Sam Snead
Nickname(s): Slammin’ Sam
Era: Late 1930s through 1960s
Tour wins: 82
Major wins: 7
Other: In World Golf Hall of Fame. Played on seven Ryder Cup teams. Won Greensboro Open eight times. Honorary Masters starter. Never won the U.S. Open. Balky putter throughout his career.
Case for swing greatness: Power, grace, tempo, balance and longevity. Snead’s first Tour win came in 1937; his last in 1965.

The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, January 1

6 Forward-Looking Golf Statements for 2008

Will there be a major breakthrough in 2008?
(Flickr photo)


The staffs at ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG and Down the Middle are finished deliberating. After hours of research, thought and debate, 6 forward-looking statements, or, predictions, have been unveiled.

Did I say hours? Actually, minutes. Did I say predictions? Actually, they’re “non-predictions.”
Disclaimer:
The aforementioned “non-predictions” contain forward-looking statements that are based on the staffs' expectations, estimates, projections and assumptions. These statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties. Therefore, actual future results and trends may differ materially from what is forecast in forward-looking statements due to a variety of factors.
That said, we’re behind them 100%. Read the non-predictions at Down the Middle.

The Armchair Golfer