Tuesday, April 22

New Series: Playing With Hogan

Shelley Mayfield told me, "I played a lot of golf with Ben Hogan ... maybe more than anyone else." In this new series, I'll share Mayfield's memories of Hogan as a golfer and a person. Along the way, I'll tell you about Mayfield and his long and rewarding life in golf.

Shelley Mayfield in 1963.
GOLF LEGEND BEN HOGAN DIED on July 25, 1997, in Fort Worth, Texas. Hogan was nineteen days shy of his 85th birthday. Three of the men who served as pallbearers at Hogan's funeral at University Christian Church were Hall of Fame golfers—Sam Snead, Ken Venturi and Tommy Bolt.

Another pallbearer with a distinguished golf career was not well known to the public, but he might have been the closest to Hogan, especially from the 1960s on. His name was Shelley Mayfield. This is a story about Mayfield's life in golf and his friendship with the enigmatic Ben Hogan.

* * *

I called Shelley Mayfield in November 2008. I don't remember how I found his phone number, but I'm glad I did.

Along with rising stars such as Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Mike Souchak, Bob Rosburg and Peter Thomson, Mayfield was featured as part of golf's "young guard" in a U.S. Open preview in the June 20, 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated. I wanted to get Mayfield's recollections of the 1955 U.S. Open for the book I was writing about one of sports' greatest upsets. I got a lot more.

This is what happens when you work on a book. You hope to strike gold, uncovering precious material for your story. Sometimes you do, and in the case of Mayfield, the veins ran in other directions. Not all of the "gold" fits and goes into the book, but you recognize its value and silently promise that you'll share it someday.

Mayfield was 84 when I talked to him. He lived on a ranch in Carrizo Springs, Texas, not far from the Mexican border. He liked to hunt and was surrounded by wildlife—deer, quail, turkeys and wild hogs. The Seguin, Texas, native spoke easily and with a respectful tone, as if we were old friends. He was a gentleman, saying "Yes, sir" in conversation with a man about half his age. He chuckled fairly often, amused about aspects of his life in golf and his friendship with Ben Hogan.

When we completed our two long telephone conversations, Mayfield asked me to send him a copy of my book when it came out. I said I would, but he died sixteen months later in March 2010.

THE LONGEST SHOT eventually published in May 2012 when the U.S. Open returned to the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Books can take a long time. Three golfers I interviewed—Mayfield was the third—died before I got the book out. The first to pass away was one of the other Hogan pallbearers—Tommy Bolt.

* * *

I asked Shelley Mayfield what I asked all the other old-time tour players. Tell me about Ben Hogan. Tell me what he was like as a person and what you thought of him as a golfer.

Next time I'll share what Mayfield told me about Hogan.

Monday, April 21

By the Numbers: Matt Kuchar's Torrid Month

Matt Kuchar won at Hilton Head. (Allison)
MATT KUCHAR THREE-PUTTED FROM four feet on the par-3 17th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links, but that didn't keep "Kooch" from winning the RBC Heritage. The hottest man in golf over the last month holed out his bunker shot on the final hole to wrap up a 7-under 64 in windy conditions and a 1-stroke victory over 54-hole leader Luke Donald.

I watched much of the coverage on Sunday and was aghast when Matt missed his four-foot birdie putt at 17, and then missed again for par, walking off with a bogey and tied with Donald. I thought, "Uh-oh. Here we go."

But Kuchar said he just shook it off and headed to 18, which "requires your full attention."

"It really feels awfully good," he said afterward. "I thought Houston I was in control. I thought that was a tournament I was going to win. But that didn't work out. I played some really good golf at Augusta last week, and I thought, 'This is where it's supposed to work out.'

"It's awfully sweet to have a chance. I kept wanting after things didn't work out in San Antonio, just give me another chance. Give me another chance. [It's] amazing to have four straight weeks of chances on four completely different golf courses. I take a lot of pride in playing good week in and week out. This has been some excellent play."

In his Monday Finish story at PGATour.com, D.J. Piehowski detailed some of the numbers during Kuchar's stretch of excellent play:

  • A scoring average of 69.6 in his last four starts.
  • Kuchar has earned $2.35 million and 1,038 FedEx Cup points in four weeks. The money works out to a little more than $2,100 per stroke.
  • Four consecutive top-5 finishes, a career first for Kuchar.
  • 72 birdies at the last four Tour stops, the equivalent of one birdie every four holes.
  • Kuchar has assured his sixth consecutive $2 million season.

Finally, Kuchar has eight top-10 finishes in 11 tournaments this season. That's very good playing. The RBC Heritage was his seventh PGA Tour title and moves him to No. 5 in the world golf rankings.

There's only one other thing he needs at this point. It starts with the letter M.

Friday, April 18

Happy Birthday: The Old White Course at The Greenbrier Is Turning 100

The 1st tee at Old White. (Courtesy of Gene via Flickr)
ON SATURDAY THE GREENBRIER WILL CELEBRATE the 100th anniversary of The Old White Golf Course. Designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and named for the Old White Hotel, the course opened in 1914. President Woodrow Wilson was among the first golfers to play Old White that long-ago April. Others who have graced its fairways include golf legends Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

Commemorative festivities get under way tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. Those on hand will include The Greenbrier's chairman Jim Justice, president Jeff Kmiec and historian Dr. Robert Conte, as well as Monte Ortel, executive director of The Greenbrier Classic.

After the presentation of the colors and the national anthem by the Greenbrier East High School Honor Guard and opening remarks, Jim Justice will hit a ceremonial ball from the first tee of Old White. Justice will swing a circa 1914 driver and hit a replica golf ball from the era.

The Greenbrier is located at 300 West Main Street in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Hole-by-hole tour of Old White

Thursday, April 17

Golf on TV: RBC Heritage, LPGA LOTTE Championship, Greater Gwinnett Championship, Maybank Malaysian Open

By Golf Channel News

(The following edited content was supplied by Golf Channel in a news release.)

Golf Channel will feature the LPGA LOTTE Championship from Hawaii in primetime, with an impressive field headlined by Inbee Park. The PGA Tour shifts to South Carolina for the RBC Heritage. World Golf Hall-of-Famers Tom Watson and Nick Faldo are in the field, which also includes Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk. The Champions Tour is in Georgia, where Miguel Angel Jimenez will make his first-career start on the over-50 circuit. Louis Oosthuizen and Lee Westwood headline the European Tour's Maybank Malaysian Open.

(PGA Tour)
Dates: April 17-20
Venue: Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, S.C.

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday 3-6 p.m. (Live) / 10:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (Replay)
Friday 3-6 p.m. (Live) / 10:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (Replay)
Saturday 1-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 10:30 p.m.-3 a.m. (Replay)
Sunday 1-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 7-11:30 p.m. (Replay)

On CBS (Eastern):
Saturday 3-6 p.m.
Sunday 3-6 p.m.

Event Notes

McDowell Defends: Graeme McDowell outlasted Webb Simpson on the first playoff hole last year to earn his first PGA Tour victory since winning the 2010 U.S. Open.

Headlining the Field: Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Ernie Els, Patrick Reed, Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk, Jason Day, Harris English, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo.

* * *

(LPGA Tour)
Dates: April 16-19
Venue: Ko Olina Golf Club, Oahu, Hawaii

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Wednesday 6:30-10:30 p.m. (Live) / 11 p.m.-2 a.m. (Replay)
Thursday 6:30-10:30 p.m. (Live)
Friday 6:30-10:30 p.m. (Live)
Saturday 6:30-10:30 p.m. (Live)

Event Notes

Tournament to be Featured in Primetime on Golf Channel: The LPGA LOTTE Championship began a day earlier than usual, with coverage airing Wednesday-Saturday in primetime.

Headlining the Field: Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Lydia Ko, So Yeon Ryu, Anna Nordqvist, Lizette Salas, Ai Miyazato, Azahara Munoz and Cristie Kerr.

* * *

(Champions Tour)
Dates: April 18-20
Venue: TPC Sugarloaf, Duluth, Ga.

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Friday 12:30-2:30 p.m. (Live) / 2-4 a.m. (Replay)
Saturday 3-6 p.m. (Live) / 3:30-5:30 a.m. (Replay)
Sunday 3-6 p.m. (Live) / Midnight-3 a.m. (Replay)

Event Notes

Jimenez Makes Champions Tour Debut: Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez will make his Champions Tour debut this week, coming off a fourth place finish at the Masters.

Building Momentum: There are seven players in the field who competed in the Masters, including five of the record six players over the age of 50 that made the cut last week, including two top-10 finishes (Jimenez, 4th and Langer, T-8th).

Langer Defends: Bernhard Langer won by three shots over Tom Lehman and Tom Pernice Jr. last year, claiming his 18th-career Champion Tour victory in the inaugural showing of the event.

Headlining the Field: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, Kerry Perry, Rocco Mediate, Mark O’Meara and John Cook.

* * *

(European Tour)
Dates: April 17-20
Venue: Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (West Course), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tournament Airtimes On Golf Channel (Eastern):
Thursday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Tape Delay)
Friday 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Tape Delay)
Saturday 6:30-10:30 a.m. (Tape Delay)
Sunday 6:30-10:30 a.m. (Tape Delay)

Event Notes

Aphibarnrat Defends: Kiradech Aphibarnrat edged out Eduardo Molinari by one to capture his first-career European Tour win in last year's event.

Headlining the Field: Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Matteo Manassero, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Francesco Molinari, Nicolas Colsaerts, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Wednesday, April 16

Bubba Miles Ahead in Ryder Cup Points Standings

FRESH OFF HIS SECOND MASTERS VICTORY, Bubba Watson is a long, long way in front in the U.S. Ryder Cup points race. Bubba's nearly 1,800-point lead on Jimmy Walker reminds me of his massive driving distance advantage, like the one he uncorked on Augusta's par-5 13th during the final round of the Masters.

"Way to go Bubba!!! Enjoy your victory," tweeted U.S. captain Tom Watson. "See you on the plane to Gleneagles."

The top nine players will automatically qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Captain Watson has three discretionary picks. Watson said that one pick is reserved for Tiger Woods if Tiger is healthy and ready to play in September.

U.S. Ryder Cup Points Standings
(As of April 14)

1. Bubba WATSON - 6,258.984
2. Jimmy WALKER - 4,459.071
3. Dustin JOHNSON - 3,759.812
4. Jordan SPIETH - 3,437.864
5. Patrick REED - 3,023.091
6. Matt KUCHAR - 2,881.333
7. Jason DUFNER - 2,668.448
8. Phil MICKELSON - 2,662.862
9. Harris ENGLISH - 2,646.047
10. Zach JOHNSON - 2,584.519
11. Chris KIRK - 2,254.956
12. Webb SIMPSON - 2,214.857

The 2014 Ryder Cup (the 40th edition) will be played September 26-28 on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Tuesday, April 15

Back Story: Tiger Not Only One Hurting

By John Christensen

Copyright © 2014 John Christensen. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Tiger Woods (Allison)
TIGER WOODS MAY RECOVER FROM his back injury and play more Masters, and he might even win more majors. But another important story after his recent surgery—the back story, if you will—is that Tiger's not the only one who's hurting.

Golfers are getting injured in unprecedented numbers—amateur and pro alike—and the culprit is the modern golf swing. That's the only possible conclusion based on information I found while researching my ebook about Mike Austin (Perfect Swing,Imperfect Lies: The Legacy of Golf's Longest Hitter).

Here's an excerpt from the book:
In 2008, a report published by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine cited a two-year study which found that 60 percent of golf professionals and 40 percent of amateurs sustained "either a traumatic or overuse injury while golfing." Low back pain was the most common injury by far, followed by those to the elbow, shoulder and wrist. The society also cited a PGA study, which found that one out of three golfers had low back problems that lasted for at least two weeks.

In August 2011, the PGA Tour posted an article on its website by Sean Cochran, who was identified as an expert in golf fitness. Cochran began this way: "Statistics indicate one out of every two golfers will incur a lower back injury at some point in their playing careers."

"Axial rotations" of hips and shoulders, Cochran writes, "load the musculature of the core." On the downswing, the hips and pelvis are subjected to "angular velocities" of 400 to 500 degrees per second while the velocities in the shoulders and back reach 1100 to 1200 degrees per second.
"Every time golfers swing," Cochran concluded, "they are subjecting their lower spine to eight times their body weight." No wonder injuries have reached epidemic proportions. Given those numbers, golf isn't a sport, it's Russian roulette, and it seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

I put together a list of Tour pros with significant injuries based solely on random remarks during telecasts or in online accounts and came up with 30 names. It ranged from older golfers like Fred Couples and Retief Goosen (backs) to younger players in their prime like Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler (also backs).

The modern swing winds the upper body against the stationary lower body to create all that velocity Cochran was talking about. But the classic, old-school swing of Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Bobby Jones allowed the front heel to rise and fall with the rotation and weight shift, taking pressure off the spine and pelvis and injuries were almost unheard of.

Austin was a journeyman range pro in 1974 when he hit a 515-yard drive with a persimmon driver and a gorgeous, old-school swing. Videos of his swing have been viewed on YouTube more than a million times, and the Golf Channel's Martin Hall featured him on his School of Golf show in April 2013. Hall praised Austin for being "years ahead of his time."

After the show, a golfer named Cyd posted the following on the network's website:

"I've had three back surgeries and I find the Mike Austin swing to be easy on my back. I can go out and hit hundreds of balls and suffer no back pain. With a conventional swing and the torque that is placed on my back, I cannot hit 100 balls and play a round in the same day. Not to mention that after hitting 100 balls using a conventional swing I can barely walk for a day. With the Mike Austin swing, I can practice and play. No problems!"

Fans of the Austin swing have hoped for years that players on the Tour would revive their careers using Austin's explosive and effortless swing. But they never dared dream it might be Tiger Woods—until now.

John Christensen is an author and award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous books, magazines, newspapers and websites.

Monday, April 14

Bubba Golf: Green Jackets and Hash Browns

Bubba Watson, wife Angie and friends celebrate at Waffle House. (Courtesy @judahsmith)
WE KNEW BUBBA HAD ALL THE SHOTS, but this time, this Sunday, the new Lefty was in total control of his game even when the kid (Jordan Spieth) threw a haymaker at him on Augusta's front nine. Bubba took it, and countered with his own combination at holes 8 and 9, cruising to a 69 and a three-shot Masters victory, his second Green Jacket in three years.

None of the other closest challengers broke 70. Runners-up Spieth (72) and Jonas Blixt (71) were unable to mount a back-nine charge. Fifty-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez (71) finished solo fourth. Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler couldn't make it happen on Sunday. Their sluggish 74s landed them in a tie for fifth. Meanwhile, two-time champion Bernard Langer, also on the other side of 50, and Rory McIlroy posted closing 69s to share the eighth spot.

There was an odd tone to the final day.

Judging from the TV coverage and social media, the collective will of the golf universe seemed to be focused on young Spieth. If the sheer force of the media and golf populace could determine the outcome, the former University of Texas standout might today be the youngest Masters champion at age 20. It seemed preordained. At least that's the feeling I got listening to the early coverage. I was reminded that it had been exactly 17 years since Tiger Woods was the youngest player to slip on the Green Jacket, which was 17 years since Seve Ballesteros was the youngest, which was 17 years since Jack Nicklaus was the youngest.

No one told Bubba, who was totally uncooperative and apparently had no sense of history. The fact was, he was just too good, too steady, too smart. Yes, smart. Guile was a part of his arsenal. This was a new Bubba.

There was something odd about that front nine, although I readily admit hindsight is 20/20.

Spieth played some incredible shots and carded four birdies on the first seven holes to take a two-shot lead over the 2012 champion, and yet I didn't feel he was in control of his game. His hand was coming off the club; his misses with his driver and iron shots were going left. My sense was that he didn't have a swing problem, but rather was quick or out of sync with his timing because of the gravity of the situation. It was Sunday at the Masters. The pressure got to him long before he began talking to himself on the final nine.

Bubba took the kid's best punches early and never flinched. After Spieth holed a bunker shot for an improbable birdie at the long par-3 4th hole, Bubba cooly sank his five-footer for a matching two. When the 20-year-old stuffed his iron shot at the par-3 6th hole, Bubba rolled in his mid-range putt for birdie.

Who was this man from Bagdad?

A two-time champion, as it turned out. Bubba controlled his golf ball better than anyone and never stumbled on those frightening Augusta greens.

Spieth made the kind of mistakes you would expect from a 20-year-old, although veterans make them, too, don't they? He parred 8, was short of the green at 9, splashed down at 12. This wasn't his time, but he reminded us of players named Seve, Tiger and Rory. He showed us that he can win a Green Jacket, and nearly did before the young McIlroy.

"This one's a lot different," said Watson after slapping hands with the patrons, his son Caleb on his arm. "The first one, for me, it was almost like I lucked into it."

No, this wasn't luck.

By the way, that "17" number the talking heads were touting early on Sunday afternoon did have significance after all. Bubba Watson is the 17th player to win the Masters twice.

Friday, April 11

'ARNIE': Golf Channel Documentary Begins on Sunday

By Golf Channel Communications

GOLF CHANNEL'S PRIMETIME TELEVISION EVENT, "Arnie," begins with the questions: "How do you tell a story of a life that's larger than life? How do you find a way to put together all the memories, all the accomplishments, all the impact? And do what a story is supposed to do? And ensure it lasts forever? Someday—even decades—maybe centuries from now, they'll hear the name Arnold Palmer and they'll want to know everything."

"Arnie" showcases how the golfing legend revolutionized and transcended the game to become one of the most beloved figures in sports history. "Arnie," a three-night television event, will air on consecutive nights at 10 p.m. ET from Sunday, April 13, following Golf Channel's Live From the Masters, through Tuesday, April 15.

Golf Channel spent the last year traveling with Palmer, collecting interviews from more than 100 people, sifting through hundreds of hours of archived film—including hours of Palmer family video that has never been seen before—and shooting in locations around the world to create television's definitive story of the most influential man to ever pick up a golf club.

"ARNIE": 3-Part Golf Channel Event

Arnie & His Army
Sunday, April 13, 10 p.m. ET (following Live From the Masters)

Arnie & His Majors
Monday, April 14, 10 p.m. ET

Arnie & His Legacy
Tuesday, April 15, 10 p.m. ET