Monday, February 28

The Math Works for Martin Kaymer

MARTIN KAYMER HAS 8.36 POINTS in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), which makes him the new No. 1 golfer in the world. After Tiger Woods held the No. 1 spot for a bazillion weeks, there have now been two on top since November 1. Kaymer displaced Lee Westwood (8.16 points) and is the first German since Bernhard Langer to reach golf’s summit, nearly a quarter century after Langer debuted as No. 1 in the new world golf rankings in April 1986.

Kaymer, who this past weekend finished as runner-up to Luke Donald at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, sounded like he was still in a state of disbelief in a CNN.com story. With an open week in his schedule, the 26-year-old German star said he will have some time to let his accomplishment sink in.

As I’ve said before, I don’t understand how the math behind the OWGR works. I haven’t tried, to be honest. But I do feel better with Kaymer on top. He deserves it. He’s actually been winning golf tournaments.

To review, Tiger Woods remained as world No. 1 until last Halloween despite a lackluster 2010 season. Westwood had two late-season wins in 2009 and one 2010 victory at the St. Jude Classic. Not bad, but certainly not a compelling case for world No. 1. Tiger fell on his own more than Lee knocked him off the pedestal.

Kaymer, on the other hand, has had five wins in the last 13 months, including a major, the PGA Championship. However you do the math, that adds up to world’s best golfer in my book. Martin has played his way to the top—with wins. It’s about winning, ultimately. Or it should be.

Official World Golf Ranking Top 10

(as of 2/27/11)
1. Martin Kaymer
2. Lee Westwood
3. Luke Donald
4. Graeme McDowell
5. Tiger Woods
6. Phil Mickelson
7. Paul Casey
8. Rory McIlroy
9. Steve Stricker
10. Matt Kuchar

−The Armchair Golfer

Related:
Martin Kaymer’s Quiet Golf Takeover

Saturday, February 26

Tee Off in a Long Drive Competition—in Patagonia



YOU’RE INVITED TO TEE OFF in an amateur long-drive competition this summer at El Desafio Mountain Resort, the first Greg Norman-designed golf course in Argentina. As you can see above, the course is still under construction. So if you happen to be drifting through Patagonia, stop by and let ’er rip. You’ll get three swings. Don’t hold back!

I’d aim just right of that tallest mini peak in the distance. But I wonder how they plan to find the golf balls and measure the drives. It looks pretty scruffy beyond the El Desafio and TaylorMade signs.

−The Armchair Golfer

Friday, February 25

George S. May, Hero of American Golf

Between 1941 and 1958, some of the greatest golf tournaments in America were staged just west of Chicago at Tam O’Shanter Country Club in Niles, Illinois. The man behind them was the country club owner and tournament organizer, George S. May. Golf Magazine would name May one of the “100 Heroes of American Golf.” And Senior Golfer magazine said of May, he “singlehandedly lifted golf to prominence.”

Here, in short form, is the story of May and his tournament and what he did for American golf in the Forties and Fifties. It begins with a club house fire in April of 1936 at Tam O’Shanter.


By John Coyne
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


GEORGE MAY HAD BEEN a member of Tam O’Shanter for over a decade and, after a devastating fire, he rallied with other members and rebuilt and remodeled the club house. Then, two years later, on July 4, 1938, the waters of the north branch of the Chicago River, which wound through the course, rose to flood stage and completely inundated the grounds and the new club house. It was then that May stepped in and took over the ownership and management of the country club.

May was a management consultant who started his business in 1925, operating out of one room of his Chicago north side apartment. Within two years he owned a building on North Shore Drive. By 1940 he employed more than 400 people and had offices in fifteen cities.

(Photo: John Coyne)


Between 1938 and 1941, May invested $500,000 in Tam O’Shanter. He was determined that the place would operate the same as any other business. May set up two corporations to operate the country club. With 80 members he formed Tam O’Shanter, Inc. holding onto 84% of the stock for himself. Next he leased the property for 50 years to the Tam O’Shanter Country Club. Meanwhile, he made himself president of both the corporation and the club.

In an article written by the great golf writer, Charles Bartlett of the Chicago Tribune, published in April, 1940, May said, “There’s no reason why a golf club should not be run successfully if it is treated as a business. You have to spend money to make money, and that is going to be our plan at Tam O’Shanter.”

May did just that. The new clubhouse had five bars, a dining room for 200 guests, and 602 lockers, 346 for men, 192 for women, and another 64 in a separate section for trade and fraternal tournaments. He next built an 80’x 35’ swimming pool; a playground for children; four tennis courts; paved parking for 254 cars, and a new caddie house. Turning to the course, May built back tees on five holes, lengthening the course from 6,395 to 6,680 yards. He built seven steel and concrete bridges across the branch of the Chicago River and raised five greens, including the short third hole, about 135 yards long, making it one of the toughest tests in Chicagoland.

Hosting the Chicago Open

Once his club house and course were ready, May turned to staging tournaments. The first was in 1940, the Chicago Open. It was being held for only the third time, and the first time on a single 18 hole course. Previously, it had been hosted by Medinah and Olympia Fields, both of which have more than one course.

This three-day tournament of four rounds drew the finest players of the age, many of whom played out the Chicago area: John Revolta, Evanston; Chick Evans, Edgewater; Tommy Armour of Medinah; Harry Cooper, Northmoor; Dick Metz, Horton Smith and Lloyd Mangrum, all from Oak Park.

Also in the field, where first prize was $1,500, with total prize money of $5,000, were Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Johnny Bulla, Gene Sarazen, and Jimmy Demaret.

The Tam Chicago Open was won that year by local pro Dick Metz. Johnny Revolta of Evanston finished second. Third was Ben Hogan and amateur and golf writer, Jim Ferrier of Australia, who had a 66 in his first round. (In a personal note: deep in the pack that first round was Charles “Red” Dennison, of Midlothian Country Club who shot 75. “Red” was the pro at Midlothian when I first started to caddie at the club in the mid-forties.)

Following the Chicago Open, May would make his move to dominate tournament golf in America. He announced that Tam would hold its first annual Tam O’Shanter Open in 1941. Prize money would be $15,000, making it the largest purse in professional golf. (Three other events had prize money of $10,000: Miami, Los Angeles, and New Orleans.)

But for George May, this prize money was just a beginning. The best was yet to come.

The conclusion of this story will appear next Friday.

John Coyne is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. His next book, coming this spring, is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

Thursday, February 24

Rickie Roughs Up Phil

PHIL MICKELSON WAS SMILING. But inside he had to be hurting from the 6 and 5 smackdown he received from that young dandy clad in pink and white, none other than Rickie Fowler. The early Thursday match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship got off to an ordinary start. Phil won the 3rd hole to go 1 up. Then Rickie climbed all over Lefty, reeling off birdie, eagle, par, par, birdie, a something (Phil conceded), birdie, birdie, par and, at last, another Phil concession. Match over.

I thought Fowler might beat the goofy grin off Mickelson’s face. I should have known better. Not going to happen. Besides, they’re friends, the Golf Channel talking heads emphasized.

Match play is a different animal. You can play pretty well and still get thrashed. Pars don’t get it done, as Phil and others (ahem, Rory McIlroy) learned. You and I might have some bad days at work. But I’ve never come home and said, “Honey, I had a tough day at the office, took an 8 and 7 beating.”

That, by the way, was the score of the Ben Crane-Rory McIlroy match. Rory, the No. 2 seed in his bracket, got “hammered,” as the PGATour.com headline writers put it, by gentle Ben. Let’s just say Crane birdied Thursday. The No. 10 seed will meet Miguel “The Mechanic” Jimenez on Friday.

Another wax job: Bubba Watson polished off Mark Wilson, 6 and 5.

With Tiger and Phil already gone, Lee Westwood became the third No. 1 seed to be eliminated, losing to Nick Watney. Kaymer, No. 1 in the Gary Player bracket, is still alive. The Germanator faces Hunter Mahan in the quarterfinals.

It could be a bloodbath. Because anything can happen in match play.

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, February 23

2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship TV Schedule and Tournament Notes


Tiger made a clutch birdie on 18 to square his match
with Thomas Bjorn, and then lost on the 19th hole.


THE 2011 WGC-ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY Championship is underway at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, in Marana, Arizona. The field of 64 sliced in half. Early high-seed exits: Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson and Retief Goosen. This is match play, folks. Anything can happen.

Purse: $8.5 million
Winner’s share: $1.4 million
Defending champion: Ian Poulter

The brackets
The course
Tournament overview
Tournament news
Video
Interviews
WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship website


2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship Live Scoring


TV SCHEDULE

TV coverage of the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is on Golf Channel and NBC. All times Eastern.

GOLF
Wed 12 – 6 pm
Thu 2 – 6 pm
Fri 2 – 6 pm
Sat 12 – 2 pm
Sun 9 – 1 pm

NBC
Sat 2 – 6 pm
Sun 2 – 6 pm

−The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, February 22

Tucson or Gone for Graeme McDowell?

Editor’s note: Brian Keogh, a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun, is in Tucson, Arizona, this week for the Accenture World Match Play. Brian filed this report at his Irish Golf Desk. Used with permission.

By Brian Keogh
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


GRAEME MCDOWELL IS DETERMINED to improve his disastrous Accenture World Match Play record in Tucson. The US Open champion and Ryder Cup hero has made it to the second round just once in four appearances in the World Golf Championship event. But he believes he can feed off his sensational 2010 form and make a run at the title if he sees off debutant Heath Slocum tomorrow.

At world No 4, a spot ahead of Phil Mickelson, McDowell said: “I look back at the last two years and I’ve had my clubs in their flight bag at 12.30 on day one. You start to think that this is the worst event in the world but I have actually played pretty well the last couple of years and shot the equivalent of 67s and just gone home.

“If you can get a couple of matches under your belt, all of a sudden you gain a bit of confidence and a bit of momentum and suddenly you are in the weekend with a great chance to win a big event.”

McDowell beat Darren Clarke in the first round in 2005 but then lost to Robert Allenby and hasn’t won a match since.

Beaten by Vijay Singh, Zach Johnson and Luke Donald in his last three starts, McDowell said: “That’s the nature of the beast. You run into a guy who plays great and you have got to try and play better than him.

“If you look at this event on its own and you’d say I am not a good match player but I have got a good match play record in general. I look at my Ryder Cup record, my wins in the Seve Trophy and even looking back to my old amateur days. I still maintain that I am a good match player.”

McDowell finished third in the PGA Tour’s season-opener in Hawaii and at the Abu Dhabi Championship before deciding to take a month off.

“I am back here this week feeling refreshed and recharged and ready to go.”

If he beats Slocum, McDowell could face stablemate Ross Fisher in the second round. The English star takes on Australia’s Robert Allenby.

Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.

Monday, February 21

Presidents Day Giveaway: Autographed Copy of ‘First Off the Tee’

IN HONOR OF PRESIDENTS DAY, I’m giving away an autographed hardcover edition of First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush by Don Van Natta Jr. This lively and authoritative story of presidential golf was a New York Times bestseller and Sports Illustrated book of the year.

Due out in June, Don’s new book is Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Zaharias was an athletic phenom and one of the 13 founders of the LPGA. More here

How to Enter Free Book Drawing
(The drawing is now closed. A winner has been selected. Keep reading ARMCHAIR GOLF for more chances to win cool prizes.)
To enter the drawing for First Off the Tee, send an email to armchairgolfer@gmail.com that includes your name and mailing address. I’ll notify you if you’re the winner, and Don will autograph and mail your book. Good luck!

Following is an encore of the Presidents Golf Championship (my fictitious matchplay tournament) that appeared at ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG in January 2009. Don was the guest analyst.


EISENHOWER WINS PGC IN SUDDEN-DEATH PLAYOFF

BY HOLING A 40-INCH PAR PUTT on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, Dwight Eisenhower conquered his putting demons to upset top seed John F. Kennedy on Sunday in the Presidents Golf Championship (PGC) at Augusta National Golf Club. It was a redemptive stroke for Ike, who had three-putted the 18th hole to allow Kennedy to even the match and send it to extra holes.

“I thought I had lost it on the low side,” Eisenhower said of the match-clinching putt, “but it caught the edge and fell in, thankfully.”

JFK bunkered his approach on the 10th, the first playoff hole. The 35th president left his long bunker shot well short and his uphill 18-foot par putt stopped inches shy of the hole. Ike played his third shot from the depression in front of the sloping green, a nifty pitch and run that rolled to within throw-up range for the general, who backed away twice before nervously jabbing his Titleist into the cup.

How Ike Prevailed

Eisenhower was clearly the underdog, and many on hand were shocked that the match had gotten away from the youthful, athletic Kennedy, who had dominated his opponents in earlier matches.

Theories abounded. JFK was overconfident. He was tired. His chronically bad back ached from too much golf in recent days. Or, as one Kennedy aide suggested with a wink, JFK was distracted by the many attractive spectators in the large gallery.

Perhaps the most reasonable explanation for Eisenhower’s upset victory was that the old general knew the ground better than his opponent. A longtime member, Ike had recorded more than 100 rounds at Augusta National. The former Commander of Allied Forces knew his way around the former tree nursery. He also knew his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of his opponent, and he put that knowledge to work.

“In match play, I really felt like I had a chance against him,” Eisenhower said, “especially here.”

Angry Loser


Kennedy shrugged off the defeat. “That’s golf,” he said. “What can you expect? Ike had a good day. He knows where to hit it around this place.”

Onlookers knew better. Underneath his smooth veneer, JFK was furious that the rival he had labeled “duffer-in-chief” and once called “that old asshole” had bested him. Sometimes the wrong man wins, Kennedy thought, whether in politics or golf.

Ike thought the same thing, and was glad it didn’t happen on Sunday.

TOURNAMENT RECAP


Final
#2 Eisenhower defeats #1 Kennedy, 1-up (19 holes)

Semifinals

#1 Kennedy defeats #13 Nixon, 10 and 8
#2 Eisenhower defeats #3 Ford, 3 and 1
Summary

Quarterfinals
#1 Kennedy defeats #8 Obama, (match score not disclosed)
#13 Nixon defeats #5 George H.W. Bush, 1-up
#2 Eisenhower defeats #7 Clinton, 9 and 7
#3 Ford defeats #6 George W. Bush, 4 and 3
Summary

Opening Matches
#1 Kennedy defeats #16 Grant, 10 and 8
#8 Obama defeats #9 Reagan, 1-up
#5 George H.W. Bush defeats #12 Wilson, 4 and 2
#13 Nixon defeats #4 Roosevelt, 2 and 1
#6 George W. Bush defeats #11 Taft, 5 and 4
#3 Ford defeats #14 Johnson, 6 and 5
#7 Clinton defeats #10 Harding, 1-up
#2 Eisenhower defeats #15 Coolidge, 9 and 7
Summary

−The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, February 19

Fred ‘My Achin’ Back’ Couples Leads in LA

AS I WRITE THIS with the third round in progress, Fred Couples is leading the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. Freddie shot a 68 in the first round. He backed that up with a 66 to take the sole lead at the halfway point. A bunch of flat bellies (Aaron Baddeley, Kevin Na, John Senden, Trevor Immelman) are chasing the 51-year-old veteran who now calls himself a Champions Tour player.

It was just a week or two ago I read that Couples was couch ridden with his chronically bad back. His annual golf trek to Pacific Palisades sounded like it was in serious jeopardy. But if Freddie could crawl to his car and make the two-hour drive from his home in La Quinta, he would play in LA. He loves the event, loves Riviera.

Couples has to be the best bad-back golfer of all time. (I probably could think of a few others if I tried.) The guy can hardly practice. He warms up with woods because he doesn’t want to aggravate his back with the shorter iron clubs. He has to save it for the course.

They showed his swing in slo-mo. He still has a great big turn, especially for an old player. Pretty amazing. He’s averaging 298 off the tee this week—with an aching back. And we don’t despise him, do we? Any other 50 something who could drive it 298 with a faulty back and without practicing would be an object of hate. Not Freddie. Everyone loves Freddie.

So Couples shows up and strolls into the lead. Can he last for 72? Will his back and putting stroke hold up? Can he actually win?

I don’t know. Probably not. I’d like to see it, but I don’t think it will happen. I hope he proves me wrong.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: Bill Spruce, Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Friday, February 18

Book Excerpt: ‘The Intelligent Golfer’ by Scott Martin

Following is an excerpt from The Intelligent Golfer: How to Play a Civilized Game by Scott Martin. The book is billed as “the essential guide to succeeding on the world’s finest courses.” It covers rules and etiquette, dressing for the game, surviving difficult lies, touring courses and more.

By Scott Martin
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


© 2011 Universe Publishing. Text © 2011 Bryan Curtis and Scott Martin. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU to a gentleman named Nigel Denham, not perhaps the most famous golfer of all time, but nonetheless a better-than-decent player who competed in the 1974 English Amateur Strokeplay Championship at Moortown Golf Club in Leeds, a bustling city in northern England.

Near the conclusion of his round, Denham struck his approach shot to the eighteenth green, only to watch in amazement as his ball went over the green, landed on a path in front of the clubhouse, clambered up some steps, entered an open door, and pinballed to its final resting spot on the bar, which, at the time, was populated with several members who had been enjoying a full afternoon of refreshment and banter.

As Leeds can be a somewhat muddy place, even in a biblical drought, golfers at Moortown must change their shoes before entering certain parts of the clubhouse, including the bar. So Denham dutifully removed his golf shoes and entered the fray to assess the situation.

The clubhouse was not out of bounds. Fortunately, Denham discovered that he had a clear shot to the green, albeit through a window, and simply followed the most important rule of all: play the ball as it lies. He had to move some furniture and ask the members to relocate their libations momentarily.

Denham selected a club from his bag, opened the window, and hit a fine shot that ended up a mere 12 feet from the hole, much to the amazement of the members, who expressed their admiration for the achievement.

Similar situations are, of course, extremely rare. They are so rare that Denham’s initial plight and subsequent recovery created a great deal of headscratching among the people who interpret the rules of golf in the United Kingdom, specifically a group of rules experts in the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Golf has a set of official rules that fit neatly into a small pocket-sized booklet appropriately titled The Rules of Golf. However, the accompanying tome, Decisions on the Rules of Golf, weighs 1.3 pounds and has 670 pages. This proves that while golf can sometimes seem like an easy game to understand, the written rules are usually mysterious, indecipherable, occluded, baffling, foggy, and bizarre.

Thankfully, and ironically, golf’s unwritten rules are much easier to understand. Many people who take up golf leave the game shortly after their first foray because they feel intimidated, clumsy, and very much on the outside looking in, most often because their knowledge of basic etiquette is sparse, which is a pity.

As Dana Rader, the founder of the Dana Rader Golf School in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, the goal of every golfer and everyone in golf should be to grow the game. So this book represents my way of making that happen by helping you feel at ease with the game, its people, and its surroundings so that you feel confident and comfortable wherever you happen to find yourself in the golf universe.

Thursday, February 17

2011 Northern Trust Open TV Schedule and Tournament Notes

THE 2011 NORTHERN TRUST OPEN is underway at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. Let’s just call it LA, where, to quote Neil Diamond, “the sun shines most the time. And the feeling is lay back.” Currently, there are a bunch of 67s on the leaderboard. Three of them were posted by Aussies Robert Allenby, John Senden and Aaron Baddeley.

Purse: $6.5 million
Winner’s share: $1.17 million
Defending champion: Steve Stricker


Inside the field
Inside the course
Tee times
Tournament overview
Tournament news
Interviews
Northern Trust Open website



2011 Northern Trust Open Leaderboard


TV SCHEDULE

TV coverage of the 2011 Northern Trust Open is on Golf Channel and CBS.

Thu, 2/17:
GOLF 3p - 6p ET

Fri, 2/18:
GOLF 3p - 6p ET

Sat, 2/19:
GOLF 1p - 2:30p ET
CBS 3p - 6P ET

Sun, 2/20:
GOLF 1p - 2:30p ET
CBS 3p - 6:30P ET

SIRIUS-XM broadcast times

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, February 16

The Original Home of the Tournament of Champions

HERE’S A BRIEF HISTORY of the event currently known as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the PGA Tour’s season opener. The tournament that features an all-winners field has been played in early January at Maui’s Kapalua Resort since 1999. Prior to that, the event spent three decades at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California (outside of San Diego). I used to go to the tournament in the 1980s and once caddied in the pro-am. The feisty Raymond Floyd was our pro.

But did you know the original home of the Tournament of Champions was Las Vegas, Nevada?

It began in 1953 at the Desert Inn Country Club. Las Vegas was in the midst of a development boom, but Las Vegas golf was nowhere near what it is today. Al Besselink won the first edition. (You get bonus points if you’ve heard of Besselink, who I saw last year in North Carolina.) Art Wall Jr. won in 1954. Then Gene Littler reeled off three straight victories in the desert. In those days the Tournament of Champions was played in late April just before the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. The event moved down the Las Vegas Strip to the Stardust Country Club in the mid 1960s.

Nearly a half century after Littler’s win streak, Stuart Appleby snagged three consecutive trophies in Hawaii. Jack Nicklaus leads with five TOC titles, claimed from 1963 to 1977.

The Desert Inn Country Club is gone. Built in 1961, the Stardust Country Club is now the Las Vegas National Golf Club. Of course, today there are dozens of new Las Vegas golf courses. And all bogeys, double bogeys and “others” made in Vegas stay in Vegas.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Brought to you by Your Golf Travel. Check out their latest golf offers.)

Tuesday, February 15

The Ladies Tee Off in Thailand

HERE COME THE LADIES. Finally. The 2011 LPGA season gets underway on Thursday at the Honda LPGA Thailand. A field of 60, including new World No. 1 Yani Tseng, will tee it up at the Pattaya Old Course at Siam Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand. The 22-year-old Tseng was last season’s Rolex Player of the Year. She has superstar potential.

World No. 6 Ai Miyazato is the defending champion. A year ago Miyazato chipped in for birdie on the final hole to beat Suzann Pettersen by a shot. She went on to win the following week on her way to five 2010 victories. Her favorite pizza topping is pepperoni. And she doesn’t like cilantro. (It’s true. I read it at LPGA.com.)

(Photo: “I’m pretty sure this is my driver.” It’s been a long layoff for Ai Miyazato and all the ladies.)

Miyazato told USA Today’s Steve DiMeglio that she hasn’t played a competitive round of golf in two and a half months. Nonetheless, Ai said she’s ready to go after spending much of her offseason in Phoenix. She worked on getting the clubhead more square at the top of her backswing.

A long offseason is probably nice. But the rust can set in quickly. World No. 4 Cristie Kerr spent her break working on fitness—and relaxing. Kerr took five weeks off from playing golf, starting up again in mid-January. Her goals for 2011 are to bag another major and have a multiple win season.

Other LPGA players who are expected to contend for top honors such as player of the year and the money title include Jiyai Shin, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi, I.K. Kim, Sun Ju Ahn, Song-Hee Kim, Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie.

The season opener is the first of 25 LPGA events on the 2011 calendar. The ladies tour has lost nine events since the economy tanked in late 2008. The Solheim Cup will be played in late September in Ireland.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: Keith Allison, Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Monday, February 14

Be Mine, Pebble Beach Golf Links

D.A. POINTS AND BILL MURRAY won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Yeah, whatever.

The real question on this Valentine’s Day—and as I stared longingly at Pebble on my TV screen on Sunday—is this: When am I going to play America’s majestic golf sweetheart? When will Pebble Beach Golf Links be mine, if only for a day?

I had a goal. The goal was to play Pebble by my 40th birthday. I talked to my pop about it. He would be 70. I lived in Seattle. He lived in Southern California. We could meet in between on the Monterey Peninsula. It didn’t happen. Several birthdays have since passed. Now I live on the East Coast.

At the time, I could get my head around $250 green fees. Now Pebble is up to $495 for 18 holes, among the highest green fees in the galaxy. A caddie runs $75. The suggested gratuity is $50. On the other hand, you can ride a cart for only $35.

I realize my chances of playing Pebble are not improving. Distance and dough are coming between us. Maybe I need to rethink this item on my bucket list. (This is starting to get a bit maudlin. Sorry.)

In an article at PGA.com, PGA professional Danny Elkins wrote, “Pebble Beach is the type of course that every golfer should aspire to visit. It’s not about your score when you play there, it’s more about the experience of playing there. The scenery and setting, the history and the challenge will last you a lifetime.”

I’m a sometimes golfer. So, yes, Danny, I still aspire to get there. I haven’t lost hope.

And if I do make it to Pebble, I promise, promise, promise I won’t spit on the greens—or anywhere else, for that matter. I’ll drool uncontrollably. And there’s a very good chance I’ll pee my pants. But I would never spit. ABSOLUTELY NOT.

−The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, February 12

Rory Leads, Tiger Lurks, in Dubai

Editor’s note: Brian Keogh is a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun and a contributor to The Irish Times, Golf Digest Ireland and other golf publications. The following piece from Brian’s Irish Golf Desk is used with permission.

By Brian Keogh
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


RORY MCILROY SHOT A THIRD round 75 as high winds blew the Dubai Desert Classic wide open. The 21-year old finished the day tied for the lead on eight under par with Dane Anders Hansen and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken. But there are now 30 players within five shots of the leaders with Tiger Woods lurking ominously just a stroke off the pace after a battling 72 that featured an eagle, four birdies, four bogeys and a double.

McIlroy was simply pleased that he managed to dig deep and limit the damage after high winds caused major problems for the afternoon starters. After bogeys at the first three holes, the world No 7 did well to drop just one shot at the seventh before covering his last 11 holes in one under par.

“I just got off to a rough start but I thought I steadied the ship really well,” McIlroy said after hitting just five fairways in winds gusting over 25 mph.

A year ago, McIlroy might have lost his patience and the plot but he did well in the end to remain in the lead and he puts that down to maturity.

“There’s been a few rounds that I let get away from me, the second round at The Open last year, being a prime example, and I didn’t let that happen today, which was a positive sign,” he said.

Woods went out in 39 but started the back nine eagle-birdie and eventually came home in 33 thanks to a sliding, left to right, 15 foot birdie putt at the 18th. He punched the air after that one to earn a final-round pairing with Sergio Garcia, who led by two shots at one stage but came home in 41 for a 75 that leaves him in a seven-way share of fourth.

Asked to comment on a less than orthodox 72, Woods joked: “18 pars. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

“No, it was tough out there. I got off to a tough start there and battled back and then lost it just before the turn; and battled back again and lost it again at 16 and then battled back at 18. So, it was a tough day.”

After struggling to control his ball in windy conditions, Woods expected to finish the day several shots behind but Garcia double bogeyed the 17th when he tried to drive the green, hit a tree and ended up being forced to take a penalty drop from a bush in the desert.

Woods said: “We have a bunched leaderboard. There’s a bunch of guys with a chance to win tomorrow. Sergio and Rory didn’t pull away.”

Conditions are forecast to be similar on Sunday and McIlroy knows that he will have to be more patient than ever if he is to get his second European Tour victory.

Garcia lamented his back luck on 17 but he despite his 41 on the back nine, he knows he’s still got a fighting chance in the final round.

“I didn’t play the back nine that badly,” he claimed. “I hit a couple bad shots, but I was holding it nicely.”

Michael Hoey bogeyed the last for a 73 but at six under par he is just two shots off the pace in a share of 11th while world No 1 Lee Westwood is just three behind on five under after a 72.

“Might have a sniff at it,” Westwood said. “You never know.”

Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.

Friday, February 11

Matt Kuchar Displays Strong Grip on Vardon Trophy




























THE VARDON TROPHY LOOKS like it’s a heavy rascal. But Matt Kuchar, shown above in a recent appearance on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show, has a strong grip on the trophy and that ever-present Cheshire cat smile on his face. The Vardon Trophy is awarded to the PGA Tour player with the lowest adjusted scoring average, which happened to be Kuchar in 2010 with a mark of 69.43.

Harry Vardon, for whom the trophy was named, is famous on several counts. Vardon won the British Open a record six times and was twice victorious in the U.S. Open. Harry is also credited with the overlapping grip that’s favored by so many amateur and professional golfers. I thought of the famous Vardon grip as I took a close look at the trophy in the photo: two hands gripping a club and anchored to a slab of mahogany (or some other hardwood).

It’s early in the 2011 season, but Kuchar’s Vardon Trophy defense is off to a good start. He has three top 10s in his first three events, with a scoring average of 67.62. He is ranked 11th in FedEx Cup points and 13th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

And Kuchar is locked in a first-place tie with Phil Mickelson in the aw-shucks grin category.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: Courtesy of Golf Channel)

Thursday, February 10

2011 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am TV Schedule and Tournament Notes

THE 2011 AT&T PEBBLE BEACH NATIONAL PRO-AM gets underway on Thursday on three gorgeous golf courses on the Monterey Peninsula: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Defending champion Dustin Johnson headlines a strong field that includes major winners Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy and Vijay Singh.

Purse: $6.3 million
Winner’s share: $1.16 million
Defending champion: Dustin Johnson


Inside the field
Inside the courses
Tee times
Tournament overview
Tournament news
Interviews
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am website



2011 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Leaderboard


TV SCHEDULE

TV coverage of the 2011 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is on Golf Channel and CBS.

Thu, 2/10:

GOLF 3p - 6p ET

Fri, 2/11:
GOLF 3p - 6p ET

Sat, 2/12:
CBS 3p - 6p ET

Sun, 2/13:
CBS 3p - 6:30p ET

SIRIUS-XM broadcast times

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, February 9

The Common Retirement Path of Lorena Ochoa and Bob Jones

LORENA OCHOA HAS A COUPLE of things in common with golf great Bob Jones. Like Jones, Ochoa walked away from competitive golf at the age of 28. Lorena also left while she was world No. 1, just as Jones did after winning the Grand Slam in 1930.

Ochoa picked up the 2011 Bob Jones Award at the USGA’s annual meeting in Phoenix last weekend. Lorena said she was “speechless” when first informed about being the recipient. After weeks to prepare her acceptance speech, an emotional Ochoa said the words still didn’t come easy.

“It would have been easier in Spanish,” she confessed. That got a hearty laugh.

The Bob Jones Award has been around since 1955. The USGA honor is given to players who emulate the lifelong amateur and 13-time major winner. Ochoa is a great selection.

Maybe Lorena will return to tournament golf someday. But for now she’s happily pursuing her foundation work that she said drove her to be the world’s best female golfer. The strong desire to help youth in her native Mexico motivated her to excel at the game she took up at the age of five. The Lorena Ochoa Foundation benefits underprivileged children in her hometown of Guadalajara, Jalisco.

Ochoa was a two-time NCAA Player of the Year at University of Arizona before embarking on an eight-year career on the LPGA Tour. She retired in 2010 with 27 wins, including the 2007 Women’s British Open and the 2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Lorena Ochoa tribute video shown at USGA annual meeting


−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: memoflores, Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Tuesday, February 8

Kenny Perry Heads Champions Tour Rookies

ANOTHER CROP OF FRESH 50-year-old faces is invading the Champions Tour. There’s no Fred Couples or Corey Pavin this year. But there are more than a few guys who can play. (Actually, they all can play.) Fourteen-time PGA Tour winner Kenny Perry heads the list. TV tower men Paul Azinger, Ian Baker-Finch and Brad Faxon (who NBC let go and turns 50 in August) will test their skills on the old-boys circuit. It will be interesting to see if Baker-Finch can compete. His game disintegrated a few years after winning the 1991 British Open.

There are a few other players with solid PGA Tour resumes. Mark Brooks won seven times, including the 1996 PGA Championship. Steve Pate was a six-time winner and played on two Ryder Cup teams. John Huston, Steve Lowery and Jim Gallagher Jr. are also proven winners. There are also a handful of lesser-known players who might flourish the second time around.

CLASS OF 2011
Paul Azinger
Ian Baker-Finch
Mark Brooks
Tom Byrum
Jim Carter
Roger Chapman
Brad Faxon
Jim Gallagher Jr.
Ernie Gonzalez
John Huston
Steve Lowery
Bob Lohr
Frankie Minoza
Mark Mouland
Steve Pate
Chris Perry
Kenny Perry
Lee Rinker
Greg Twiggs
Willie Wood

The Champions Tour visits Boca Raton, Florida, this week for the $1.8 million Allianz Championship. The indestructible Bernhard Langer defends.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: ben_lei, Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Monday, February 7

No Pain, No Gain(ey)

“RIGHT NOW, IT HURTS.” That was Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey after his chance to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open turned into an 8th-place tie. Trying to catch leader Mark Wilson, Gainey attempted to drive the short par-4 17th hole. His ball hit a red hazard stake and disappeared into the water. Gainey chili dipped his chip and again ended up wet. Two Gloves may have taken a triple and thrown away a hefty payday, but he wasn’t second-guessing his decision.

“I’m one back,” he explained. “I’m trying to win the golf tournament. That’s all I was thinking.”

I can’t fault Gainey. It was an aggressive play by a journeyman gunning for his first PGA Tour title. There was another way to make a birdie—lay up and pitch it close—but Tommy preferred Option A, driving near or on the green. He just didn’t pull off the shot.

Wilson beat Jason Dufner on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. It’s Wilson’s second victory in this young season and fourth PGA Tour win. The happy “Cheesehead” (Wilson is a Green Bay Packers fan) won the Sony Open a few weeks ago.

Wilson called Gainey “a great player and a great character.” I don’t know about great player, but Tommy is certainly a great character. His interview with Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo on Saturday was a hoot. I’m at a total loss to describe his swing. It’s divot-digging blue-collar golf.

Gainey will pack up the sticks and head to the Monterey Peninsula. “All I can do is try to get ready for Pebble,” he said.

−The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, February 5

The Greenest Show on Grass



ONE WEEKEND, A HALF MILLION PEOPLE and 100 some odd of the world’s best golfers equal the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It also equals a whole lot of trash. But it’s the perfect advertisement for tournament sponsor Waste Management. They can handle it with ease because they’re pros at the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.

Saturday is “Green Out!” day at the tournament. Waste Management is showcasing a number of green initiatives at TPC Scottsdale. There are recycling stations staffed by 200 recycling ambassadors. (Yes, ambassadors.) There are 60 solar-powered compactors for food waste disposal. There are recycling kiosks where fans can receive coupons from tournament sponsors. And there are food composting bins. Food waste will be sent to a “food digester,” where it will be turned into compost for local use. Finally, compressed natural gas trucks will transport waste and recycled materials from the tournament site.

The players are in the act. Several are wearing green today, such as Jonathan Byrd (shirt), Bill Haas (shirt) and Rickie Fowler, who has become the color green for the day.

The PGATour.com staff brainstormed some “green” costumes for those crazed Phoenix-area golf fans. They came up with the Jolly Green Giant, Green Hornet, The Riddler and the Green Lantern. (What, no Incredible Hulk?)

They also looked into the history books for PGA Tour players named Green. For me, three immediately came to mind: Nathan Green (current), Ken Green and Hubert Green. That’s barely a start. According to the tour staff, there have been a total of 36 players named Green. There also have been players named Greenbaum, Greenbach, Greene, Greenfield, Greenhill, Greenhaw, Greenleaf, Greenwood, Greenwell and Greenwald.

With that, I’m greened out.

−The Armchair Golfer

Friday, February 4

Lee Westwood Misses Cut at Qatar Masters

Contributed by Alan Ewens
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


MARKUS BRIER IS THE SURPRISE leader by one stroke at the halfway stage of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy. The 42 year-old Austrian shot a second round 66 to reach seven under par for the tournament on a day that saw several more illustrious names fail to make the cut in the $2.5 million event, the third stop on the European Tour’s Desert Swing.

(Photo: Brier celebrates a birdie.)

It was a superb round by Brier whose sixth and final birdie on the ninth—his 18th— ensured a one-shot lead over 2003 champion Darren Fichardt who carded a 68. A two-time European Tour winner, Brier had to go back to Qualifying School last November to retain his European Tour card and is playing on a sponsor’s invite.

“I got lucky on the last hole as I hit it way right off the tee, maybe 30-40 yards right,” Brier said. “I was lucky to make a birdie from a wayward drive, so that’s like a two-shot win there.”

But while it was a brilliant performance by World Number 478 Brier, for Lee Westwood, who ranks 477 places higher, there was only disappointment. Putting for eagle on the last, the Englishman missed by an inch to leave himself on four over par and out of the tournament.

“It’s early season rust. I think that’s it,” said the World Number One who finished third in last year’s event. “I’m going to go on the range the next couple of days and try to get into some kind of rhythm.”

Although Westwood is the biggest casualty, he is not the only big name to miss the cut. Former Qatar winner Henrik Stenson (+6) and Englishmen Paul Casey (+5) and Ross Fisher (+4) also missed out.

World Number Two Martin Kaymer, who can replace Westwood as Number One with a top two finish, got himself back on track with a second round 70 to put himself on three over for the tournament, right on the cut.

“I definitely played a little better today with no bogeys,” Kaymer said. “The golf tournament here is tight and no one is really running away with it and I’m only seven shots away right now.”

Experience seems to be the key over the 7,388-yard Doha course, with four former winners in the top eight. Defending champion Robert Karlsson of Sweden remains two shots off the lead on five under par alongside Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and Englishman Richard Finch, while 1999 champion Paul Lawrie and 2007 winner Retief Goosen are on four under with South African Thomas Aiken.

(Photo credit: Alan Ewens on behalf of Qatar Masters)

Thursday, February 3

2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open TV Schedule and Tournament Notes

THE 2011 WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN is scheduled to start on Thursday at TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona. Currently, the start time has been pushed back at least two hours due to frost. A strong field will play in front of the largest crowd on the PGA Tour, including Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, defending champion Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Jhonattan Vegas, Bill Haas and Camilo Villegas.

Purse: $6.1 million
Winner’s share: $1.08 million
Defending champion: Hunter Mahan


Inside the field
Inside the course
Tee times
Tournament overview
Tournament news
Interviews
Waste Management Phoenix Open website


2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open Leaderboard


TV SCHEDULE

TV coverage of the 2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open is on Golf Channel and CBS.

Thu, 2/3:
GOLF 4p - 7p ET

Fri, 2/4:
GOLF 4p - 7p ET

Sat, 2/5:
CBS 3p - 6p ET

Sun, 2/6:
CBS 3p - 6p ET

SIRIUS-XM broadcast times

−The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, February 2

Jack Frost Is Late Entry in Phoenix Open











IT’S COLD IN PHOENIX. How cold? It’s so cold that people are actually wearing sweaters instead of just tying them around their necks. Seriously, the current temperature in Phoenix is 42. But it feels like 33. The Sun Belt has iced over.

The temperature had only climbed to 35 degrees at 11 a.m. today at TPC Scottsdale, site of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Tournament officials, through chattering teeth, I expect, canceled the pro-am.

“There’s a reason why people move here from up north in winter,” Geoff Ogilvy told the AP, “and it’s not for days like this.”

The PGA Tour’s Slugger White didn’t sound too hopeful. It might not be any warmer tomorrow. With frozen greens a possibility, Thursday’s first round may be postponed.

Maybe all the players will head to Starbucks for a hot chocolate and to read up on the rules.

−The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, February 1

Miguel Angel Jimenez: Putting Without a Putter

MIGUEL ANGEL JIMENEZ MISSED a three-footer last week at The Royal Golf Club in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The cigar-chomping veteran momentarily lost his pony-tailed head. He tossed the guilty putter at his golf bag. It broke.

Putter-less, Jimenez faced five more holes with 13 clubs in his bag. Which club did he put into service on those last five greens? The lob wedge. How did he finish? He birdied three out of the last four holes to shoot 65, giving him a share of the second-round lead at the Volvo Golf Champions. He went on to finish second.

That, my friends, is another reason why Jimenez and his tour comrades have their names on their golf bags and I don’t. If Miguel can birdie three of four holes putting with a wedge, I wonder why he even bothers with a putter.

The last time I broke a putter mid-round was a couple of years ago. It was an accident. My 20-year-old Slotline simply gave out, a case of metal fatigue. I was on the 1st hole. I putted with a long iron, but soon decided it was a poor choice. I ended up using my 3 metal. That worked OK. But I made no birdies like “The Mechanic.” And I couldn’t shoot 65 in my dreams.

I didn’t see Jimenez in action without his putter, so I wondered how he did it until I read his quote: “This is not the first time I putt with a lob wedge.”

Jimenez and a stellar European Tour field tee off this week at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters. Eight of the world’s top 20 players will be in action, including defending champion Robert Karlsson, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey, Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen.

Someone may have to putt without a putter—and could still go low.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: Perez, Flickr, Creative Commons license)