Monday, May 2

Are Golf and the Olympics a Good Match?

Much has been written about marquee golfers dropping out of the Olympics, including at this blog last week. Irish golf writer and author Kevin Markham offers additional perspective on the controversial topic.

By Kevin Markham

Copyright © Kevin Markham. Used with permission.

Kevin Markham has played every
18-hole golf course in Ireland.
ON AUGUST 11, 2016, THE BATTLE for golf's Olympic gold medals will begin. The re-introduction of golf is widely seen as a blessing for the sport but not everyone agrees on its inclusion or its format. 

Is the Olympics good for golf?

Four billion people watched some part of the London Olympics. What an enormous audience for golf to reach, influence and inspire. As the biggest sporting spectacle on earth the Olympics is an unprecedented opportunity for golf to grow on a global scale and golfing bodies are falling over themselves to tell us about it.

Paul McGinley, who will lead the Irish golf team, says "It is the biggest sporting event in the world and to have a seat at the top table in sport is a big deal for golf."

That's very true, but the recent withdrawals of Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Vijah Singh signals that not all is as peachy as it seems.

Consider this: Of the billions who tuned in to the 2012 Olympics, how many people who watched the water polo were inspired to take up the sport?

A more relevant comparison is Tiger Woods' success in the 1990s and 2000s. Figures for African-American kids taking up golf show little improvement as a result of Tiger's phenomenal success. In other words, success and exposure do not equate to an uptake at the grassroots level.

Is golf good for the Olympics?

When golf was offered a place at the Olympics table, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) specified that competitors must be professional golfers. The IOC hopes and expects golf to reach a vast audience including underdeveloped parts of the world.

It clearly – and cynically – shows why the field will comprise many of the richest sports personalities on the planet, because golf's superstars mean more people will watch, which will mean more sponsors… and more money for the IOC. So yes, golf is good for the Olympics, but there is an elephant in the room.

Is a professional strokeplay event the right format?

Do we really need another 72-hole strokeplay tournament? This was a massive opportunity to make Olympic golf a riveting event. If you want non-golfers to watch a sport that takes five hours to complete, you need a matchplay format that makes every individual hole a battle, every putt a possible victory. There will also be a winner after each match… not after four days. That's what creates excitement. Just look at the Ryder Cup. 

"To grow the game of golf we need to invite amateurs to compete at the Olympics, instead of the current format of 60 (edited) top professionals," Adam Scott said last year.

For those who agree with Scott, consider who non-golfers want to watch: leading amateurs or McIlroy and Spieth? How many of us took up the game because we saw Seve, Jack or Tiger playing so many magical shots? If the Olympics is to be a showpiece for golf, then shouldn't those players who youngsters aspire to be, be the ones who play?

And finally, there's the issue of whether golf should even be in the Olympics when a gold medal is not the absolute pinnacle of a golfer's career?

Graeme McDowell has said that the Olympics is the pinnacle of sport. But is it the pinnacle of golf? A gold medal or a Green Jacket?  

The arguments regarding golf's inclusion, who should play and in what format will rage on, but for now golf and the Olympics are entwined. By the end of August that relationship might have tightened, or simply snapped. And given baseball's exclusion in 2016, we know how severe that snap can be.

Kevin Markham is the author of Hooked: An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland and writes about Irish golf courses and other golf topics at his blog.

Friday, April 29

Oops! Armchair Golf Misquotes Thomas Jefferson

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Golf.
– (not written by) Thomas Jefferson

Historical note:
Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.

This misquote brought to you by The Armchair Golfer.
Getting it wrong for the love of the game.

Thursday, April 28

Golf on TV: Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Volunteers of America Texas Shootout, Volvo China Open

By Golf Channel Communications


Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Dates: April 28-May 1
Venue: TPC Louisiana, Avondale, La.

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         3-6 p.m. (Live) / 8:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. (Replay)
Friday              3-6 p.m. (Live) / 8:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. (Replay)
Saturday          1-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (Replay)
Sunday            1-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (Replay)

Tournament Airtimes on CBS (Eastern):
Saturday 3-6 p.m.
Sunday 3-6 p.m.

Rose defends: Justin Rose finished one shot ahead of Cameron Tringale to earn his seventh career PGA TOUR win.

Headlining the field: Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Charley Hoffman, Billy Horschel, Smylie Kaufman, Steve Stricker, Patrick Rodgers, Daniel Berger and Byeong Hun An.

* * *


Volunteers of America Texas Shootout
Dates: April 28-May 1                                                               
Venue: Las Colinas Country Club, Irving, Texas

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         Noon-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 2:30-5 a.m. (Friday replay)
Friday              Noon-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 3-5:30 a.m. (Saturday replay)
Saturday          3-6 p.m. (Live) / 2:30-5 a.m. (Sunday replay)
Sunday            3-6 p.m. (Live) / 2:30-5 a.m. (Monday replay)

Format: This week’s event is unique in that while there is a cut to low-70 players (and ties) following 36 holes on Friday, there is an additional cut to low-50 players (and ties) after 54 holes on Saturday.

Headlining the field: Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Brooke Henderson, Sei Young Kim, In Gee Chun, Amy Yang, So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng, Hyo Joo Kim, Minjee Lee and Suzann Pettersen.

* * *


Volvo China Open
Dates: April 28-May 1                                                               
Venue: Topwin Golf & Country Club, Beijing, China          

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday         12:30-2:30 a.m. (Tape delay) / 2:30-5:30 a.m. (Live) / 6-10 a.m. (Replay)
Friday              5-10 a.m. (Tape delay)
Saturday          6-10 a.m. (Tape delay)
Sunday            6-10 a.m. (Tape delay)

Ashun defends: Wu Ashun defeated David Howell by one stroke to earn his first European Tour victory, becoming the first Chinese player to win a European Tour event in his home country.

Headlining the field: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thorbjorn Olesen, Peter Uihlein, Bernd Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood, Alexander Levy, Y.E. Yang and Joost Luiten.

Wednesday, April 27

Miguel Angel Jimenez Flushes an Iron Off Great Wall of China

THE MOST INTERESTING GOLFER in the world hit yesterday's most interesting golf shot in the world. Maybe the unusual scene gave Pete Dye some diabolical new design ideas.

Tuesday, April 26

FOX Sports Trumpets USGA Championship Broadcast Team

(This might be my favorite clip from the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.)

It's not too early to think about the U.S. Open coming to Oakmont Country Club in June. It should be a dandy. Carnage everywhere.

FOX Sports had a bumpy start as the USGA's new broadcast partner last year. Minus Greg Norman, they're back and trumpeting the 2016 broadcast team. This year should be better. Fingers crossed.

By FOX Sports

With the start of the 2016 USGA championship season less than one month away, FOX Sports announced its complete on-air roster, featuring the addition of several experienced contributors and highlighted by the addition of World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange as an on-course reporter and analyst.

In his new role for FOX Sports in 2016, Strange serves as an on-course reporter and analyst for the 116th U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club, the U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club, the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club and the Men's Amateur Four-Ball at Winged Foot Golf Club.

When the U.S. Open returns to Oakmont for a record ninth time, special contributor Bob Ford also joins the broadcast, providing insights and analysis of the course throughout the championship. A name synonymous with Oakmont, Ford joined the club's staff in 1975 and became its head professional just four years later, a post he held until 2013 when he was elevated to director of golf.

Five-time Ryder Cup competitor and veteran golf commentator Ken Brown also joins FOX Sports' U.S. Open coverage this year. The final addition to FOX Sports' 2016 U.S. Open roster is Golf World editor-in-chief Jaime Diaz.

Play-by-play announcers Joe Buck and Shane O’Donoghue, analysts Mark Brooks, Jay Delsing, Brad Faxon, David Fay, Steve Flesch, Natalie Gulbis, Gil Hanse, Juli Inkster, Buddy Marucci and Scott McCarron, studio host Holly Sonders and interviewer Shane Bacon return to FOX Sports’ USGA broadcast  team in 2016. Azinger makes his FOX Sports debut on May 24 at the Men's Amateur Four-Ball.

Monday, April 25

Charley Hoffman: 'This Was My Hardest One'

CHARLEY HOFFMAN MADE A 9-FOOT birdie putt on the final hole to win the Valero Texas Open on Sunday.

The 39-year-old Hoffman closed with a 3-under 69 at TPC San Antonio for a one-stroke victory over Patrick Reed. Hoffman finished at 12-under 276 and earned $1,116,000 for his fourth PGA TOUR victory.

"This was my hardest one," Hoffman said after a vigorous fist-pump and drill-team leg kick when the winning putt fell at 18. "Grabbing that lead and holding on to it -- it's tough to keep the pedal down and give yourself birdie opportunities and win golf tournaments."

(Source: Valero Texas Open email)

Olympics Controversy

Adam Scott has dropped out. So has Vijay Singh. And also Louis Oosthuizen. Golf is returning to the Olympics after a very, very long absence, but these marquee players will not be in Rio de Janeiro, according to carefully worded statements.

I've been trying to decide what I think about this. My knee-jerk reaction: They should play; they should represent their countries. It's an honor and a privilege. I've also considered this: Who am I to say what Adam Scott should do? And, does it make any difference that they are professionals rather than amateurs?

I recall when the Olympics was only for amateur athletes, with a focus on sportsmanship while competing for medals, and about promoting goodwill between nations. How do pro athletes enter into the Olympics equation? I still wonder.

Brian Keogh, quoting European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and others, has penned a thoughtful piece on the "anti-Olympics brigade." The old guard such as Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus think Scott's decision is regrettable. Read Keogh.

I cannot begin to fathom what it's like to be Adam Scott. Still, it's hard to understand why he can't carve out time for the Olympics, even if he'd rather not be bothered. Obviously, it doesn't come along often. It's an opportunity to be an ambassador for the sport and his country, a once-in-a-lifetime deal.

Why not play this one time instead of talking about his busy schedule?

I like Scott. I like the way he conducts himself. I don't understand his Olympics decision. I do understand it's his business. Hopefully, he'll understand the disappointment from his fans and countrymen.

Friday, April 22

Stolen in My Youth: Willie Mays, 'The Say Hey Kid'

(Another occasional off-golf-topic piece because, after thousands of golf stories, I want to share other stories. Thanks for reading.)

The coveted baseball card I once had.
THEY CALLED HIM "THE SAY HEY KID" when he broke into major league baseball with the New York Giants in 1951.

Willie Mays, 20, was perhaps the most complete player baseball had ever seen. Mays was a "five-tool player." He could hit, hit for power, run, throw and field.

My goodness, could Willie field. His official position was center field, but he roamed much of the outfield in the vast Polo Grounds.

When a teammate was once asked what position he played, he replied: "Me and Willie Mays play left field."

In the 1954 World Series, Mays made what is arguably the greatest catch in baseball history. The catch robbed Vic Wertz and the Cleveland Indians, which went on to lose the series to the underdog Giants.

People said it wasn't Mays's greatest catch, but it came in the Fall Classic and was televised at a time when the nation was becoming mesmerized by the small screen. Other people said the throw Mays made after chasing down Wertz's rocket was even greater than the catch.

As a boy growing up in Evansville, Indiana, in the 1960s, I was a proud owner of a Willie Mays baseball card. This was no small feat. Mays cards were a rare find. I was the only one of my neigborhood friends who possessed Mays, then of the San Francisco Giants. (The Giants franchise, along with the Dodgers, moved to the West Coast in the late 1950s.)

Each of us bought a box of 500 baseball cards. The top players such as Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente were gold. You dug through your massive box of cards and hoped to get lucky.

My friends wanted to trade for my Willie Mays card. I wouldn't do it. It was the one baseball card that was off limits. Then one day Willie was gone. I looked everywhere but couldn't find him.

Not long after one of my buddies returned my Willie Mays card. He was sorry. It was wrong.

Such was the popularity of Mays. Kids and grownups loved him. I might have stolen Willie, too, if I had thought I could get away with it.

Thursday, April 21

Profile of Henry William 'Harry' Vardon (Conclusion)

Part two of two on golf legend Harry Vardon (1870-1937). Read Part 1.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

WE KNOW HARRY VARDON BEST for his overlapping grip. Some accounts have it first being used by Johnny Laidlay, a champion Scottish amateur player. J. H. Taylor also used it before Vardon, but it was Vardon, who played with the grip in 1890s, who popularized it.

The grip is the most common used one today, that and the interlock grip. As we know with the Vardon grip the right little finger overlaps the left index finger. The overlap grip takes the little finger of the right hand off the shaft. This has the effect of slightly weakening the right hand. Since most golfers are right-handed, the overlap grip tends to balance the strength of the hands so that they function as a unit during the swing. 

Vardon knew that the secret of the golf swing was in the hands. He would hit a series of identical drives, and on each drive he took a slightly different foot position, even though all the drives dropped within a few feet of the target. The consistency lay in his trained hands. He was so unerringly accurate that an apocryphal anecdote has been handed down that when he played a round in the afternoon, his ball would land in the divots he had taken in the morning's round. 

As the great English golf writer Bernard Darwin wrote, "He had a great influence, too, on methods of playing. When he first appeared his notably upright swing, thought so full of grace and rhythm, came as a shock to the orthodoxy of the time, but has long since been accepted."

In The Gist of Golf  Harry Vardon writes how he has no idea why "Isle of Jersey golfers" like himself, used the upright swing. "That compact manner of wielding the club which came as a shock to the people who for years had worshipped the longer and flatter method known as the St. Andrews swing."

Harry writes how his younger brother Tom, and other golfers from the island, "all drifted involuntarily into the habit of taking the club to the top of the swing by the shortest route, whereas the popular way before was to sweep the club back flat at the start and make a very full flourish of the swing. Why we hit upon the other way we do not know."

Never having had a golf lesson, and coming to the game late, Vardon never thought about the swing until his first golf professional job at Ripon, Yorkshire, when he was twenty-one and "began to study and learn golf in real earnest."

That said, it is now generally accepted the modern game we play today was started by Harry Vardon, and he was the best ever. Even Bernard Darwin admitted, "It is impossible to imagine anyone playing any better than Harry Vardon."

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.