Friday, February 29

Oops! Armchair Golf Misquotes Ernest Shackleton

“We had seen golf in all its splendors, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
(not said by) Sir Ernest Shackleton

Biographical note: Ernest Shackleton was an Irish explorer who, along with his crew, survived a famous ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic.

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

Wednesday, February 27

Charlie Sifford, Golf Pioneer

I knew what I was getting into when I chose golf. Hell, I knew I'd never get rich and famous. All the discrimination, the not being able to play where I deserved and wanted to play — in the end I didn't give a damn. I was made for a tough life, because I'm a tough man. And in the end I won; I got a lot of black people playing golf. That's good enough. If I had to do it over again, exactly the same way, I would.
− Charlie Sifford, Golf Digest, December 2006

A black caddie from a poor family in Charlotte, North Carolina, Charlie Sifford dared to play professional golf with white men. It was not a friendly game for Charlie. He endured open heckling, insults and who knows what else.


But someone had to go first, so the resolute Sifford embarked on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and scratched out a living, including wins at the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open. In 2004 Charlie Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

I saw Charlie three times last year, in Savannah, Hickory (North Carolina) and Baltimore. Twice I shook his hand and once I spoke with him.

Charlie was stroking putts on the practice putting green at the Senior Players Championship in Baltimore last September. It’s a rare opportunity to talk to the Jackie Robinson of a sport, and I took it.

“How are you doing Charlie?” I asked.

Charlie had a heart problem that prevented him from playing golf, but he wasn’t about to miss a Grand Champions event, an ambassador of sorts riding around in a cart and swapping stories in the dining room. I can’t remember our conversation exactly, except that he was getting along OK and hoped his doctor would clear him soon to play golf again.

I do remember it was just the two of us on that putting green on a bright September morning. I felt lucky to be in the presence of a true pioneer.

As part of Black History Month, the Golf Channel has a video tribute to Charlie Sifford here.

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, February 25

293rd Time Is a Charm for Brian Gay

After 14 years and 292 career starts, 36-year-old Brian Gay got his first win on Sunday at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico. Brian shot rounds of 66, 67, 62 and 69 for a 16-under total of 264, a new tournament record.

I’m a sap. I like first-time winners, especially journeyman types who have been toiling at this fickle game for years. Way to go, Brian.

Did he have doubts about winning during the final round?

“I knew I was confident and playing well,” Brian said at the post-tournament media conference. “I had to just keep going a shot at a time and pick my targets and make good swings.”

Any advice for the young guys coming up?

“Work on your short game. Do lots of chipping and putting,” Brian said. “I don't hit it far, but if you can make putts you can always be in the game.”

Brian slept on the lead, too, not an easy way to get your first win. Then again, there is no easy way to get your first win.

The Armchair Golfer

Saturday, February 23

Tiger Woods: ‘There Was Blood Everywhere’

Tiger Woods (Eddie Honeyfield/Flickr)

Fore right!

Even the greatest golfer on the planet occasionally sprays a drive. In a marvelous match yesterday against Aaron Baddeley at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Tiger Woods pushed his tee shot at the par-4 13th and bonked a marshal on the head. Tiger's ball bounced off and rolled into the desert. After taking an unplayable lie, he lost the hole.

Meanwhile, the marshal lost some blood, although Tiger said he was OK.

“He was totally alert,” Woods was quoted as saying. “There was blood everywhere. I didn't see any knot. He said he was fine.”

Maybe the marshal felt better after Tiger gave him a glove.

Today Tiger dispatched K.J. Choi and Henrik Stenson. Tomorrow he faces Stewart Cink in the 36-hole final.

The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, February 21

Exit Strategy at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

Lee Westwood (Speedpics/Flickr)

“This is the kind of week where you kind of unpack but you don't move stuff too far away from your suitcase.”
−Lee Westwood

Brandt Snedeker ran into a buzz saw yesterday in his first match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, his agent told me today. Snedeker, a No. 12 seed in the Gary Player bracket, was four under after 16 holes and lost to No. 5 seed Lee Westwood 3 and 2.

Still, as you can see from the above quote Westwood wasn’t in a chest-beating mood. Match play is unpredictable.

Case in point: As hot as Westwood was yesterday, he currently finds himself two down to Justin Leonard and is running out of holes.

If you’re not hitting it close to the hole, you better keep your stuff close to the suitcase.

The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, February 19

Jack Fleck Still Owes Him a Buck

Errie Ball

Imagine talking to a person who played in the first Masters in 1934, a Welsh-born friend of Bob Jones who came to America at Jones’ urging in 1930.

I talked to him a few weeks ago. His name is Errie Ball. He’s 97 and lives in Florida with his wife of 70-plus years.

Errie is the last surviving player who participated in the inaugural Masters. And that’s not all. Errie is reportedly the youngest player to ever compete in the British Open, playing in the 1926 Open Championship at the age of 16, or 82 years ago. Talking to Errie Ball is like stepping into a golf time machine.

The $1 Bet

I tracked down Errie after hearing a U.S. Open qualifying story from Jack Fleck. Jack had played in the 36-hole sectional qualifier at Lincolnshire Country Club near Chicago, but was convinced his score of 146 wouldn’t hold up.

Also at the qualifier, Errie said he thought 146 was in, and bet Jack a buck. Errie was right, and a week later Jack Fleck pulled off one of the greatest upsets in golf and sports history, beating Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic in San Francisco.

I asked Errie what he remembered about the exchange with Jack Fleck more than 50 years ago.

“I was driving out of the clubhouse and you made a circle there, and it was close to the putting green. Jack was on the putting green. I said, ‘How did you do?’

“Jack said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to qualify.’

“I said, ‘I’ll bet you a dollar you qualify.’

“He said, ‘Well there’s some players still out. I’m just hanging around here putting, just to keep loose.’

“I said, ‘I still bet a dollar that you make it.’ As I drove around and was going home, I said, ‘I’ll see you in San Francisco.’”

And Errie Ball did see him in San Francisco, although, according to Jack, Errie would never accept the dollar.

I asked Errie if he ever saw Jack over the years.

“I haven’t seen Jack in a long time,” Errie said. “But I used to see him when he was playing in Chicago and he’d come up to play in a tournament. We were very fond of one another.”

“I’ll be talking to him,” I said.

“He still owes me a dollar,” Errie said, chuckling.

I’ll share more of my conversation with Errie Ball, including his stories about the Masters, British Open and Bob Jones, in the weeks and months to come.

The Armchair Golfer

Sunday, February 17

Statement? You Tell Me, Says Sorenstam

Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam.
(N Gottwald/Flickr)

Annika Sorenstam left it up to the scribblers to decide the significance of her season-opening win at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Kahuku, Hawaii. It was Sorenstam’s 70th LPGA Tour title.

“What kind of statement do you think this makes?” Annika was asked at the post-tournament press conference. “With Lorena playing so well last year and you were injured last year, what kind of statement do you think this victory sends to them?”

“You tell me,” Annika replied. “I don't know how you feel about it. But I feel great. I'm excited to be back. I got a win here. I think that's going to be easier the rest of the year for me.

“Again, knowing that I'm swinging better again and knowing that the desire is there. Those are two key components to play well. Last year the desire wasn't there. And my swing was definitely not there. Now it is. And, like I said, those are two important components you need to play well and to be the top player out here.”

Statement? It’s just one tournament, but I think Annika is healthy again and very determined. She’s back.

Still, Annika faces a tough assignment to reclaim world number one from Lorena Ochoa, who keeps getting better. And there are a handful of other LPGA Tour players ready to challenge at every tournament. It should be an interesting year.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, February 15

WD for David Duval at Riviera

L.A. not fine for Duval.
(Eddie Honeyfield/Flickr)

I was scanning the first-round scores at the Northern Trust Open (L.A. Open) at Riviera Country Club when I spotted David Duval at the bottom of the list with a WD alongside his name.

Duval started on the back nine and shot a 41 with four bogeys and a double. After bogeying his first two holes on the front, David apparently had had enough.

The official reason for his withdrawal was a neck injury.

Duval is playing on a Major Medical Extension after caring for his wife and children for most of the 2007 season. He must win over $700,000 in 20 events to keep his playing privileges for the entire season.

I’m not going to say he can’t do it, but it’s looking real tough from where I’m sitting. Duval has won a little more than a half million since 2004, most of that coming in 2006 when he earned $318,276 in 24 events.

The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, February 13

Live Course Cams: Pebble Beach and St. Andrews


This is my annual reminder about the Pebble Beach Golf Links and St. Andrews Old Course live course cams. If you’re new around here, links to both are in the right-hand sidebar. They’re also below.

As I mentioned today to a fellow blogger, if you can’t make it to Pebble Beach and pony up the $495 greens fee (includes cart), you can at least go there virtually. As that Southwest Airlines commercial says, “Wanna get away?”

The Pebble course cams show the 18th, 17th, 1st tee and the lodge, including the practice putting green. It’s dark at St. Andrews now, and I can’t remember their viewing options.

Check them out here:
Pebble Beach live course cam
St. Andrews live course cam

There’s also the course at Icicle Junction in Leavenworth, Washington. Today the forecast is sunny with snow. Lots of snow. Check it out here.

I’m guessing they’re closed for the season. (That windmill hole would play a lot tougher in icy conditions.)

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, February 11

Straight Talk from Scott Hoch

John McCain doesn’t have anything on Scott Hoch when it comes to straight talk. I’ve always liked Hoch. Some people think he’s a jerk, but I’ve always found his candor refreshing.

Hoch won the Allianz Championship on Sunday by birdieing five of the last eight holes, including the 17th and 18th. It was his second Champions Tour title.

Hoch has always had a lot of game, and had he coaxed in a two-footer at the 1989 Masters his golf legacy would be different. As it is, Hoch had 11 PGA Tour wins and 15 top tens in majors. Not bad at all. I got to meet Hoch in a hotel lobby last summer and hear some banter between him and another pro.

Hoch once referred to St. Andrews as “the worst piece of mess” he had ever seen. Others have made similar comments, both publicly and privately. In fact, I talked to a retired Tour player the other day who said as much. It’s not an unusual first reaction to the Old Course.

I’m glad Hoch doesn’t shy away from saying what he really thinks. A little straight talk is good for the game.

The Armchair Golfer

At Down the Middle: Vijay stumbles

Friday, February 8

Why Chambers Bay Snagged the 2015 U.S. Open


Well, that didn’t take long. Chambers Bay hasn’t been open a year and it has already booked a U.S. Open. It will also host the 2010 U.S. Amateur.

“We are excited to take the U.S. Open Championship and the U.S. Amateur to such an awesome site,” Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee, said in a statement.

“This is the first time the U.S. Open has been to Washington and we are confident that the golf course will provide a challenging test for the best players in the world, as well as a great spectator experience for those who attend the event and watch it online and on television.”

Judging from the photographs and most of what I’ve read (see links below), the Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Bruce Charleton design is phenomenal.

Caddie’s Wife Tipped Me Off

The wife of a former Tour caddie I met at the Legends of Golf sounded the alert about Chambers Bay in April of last year.

“Yesterday Gil (not his real name) caddied at the new Chambers Bay Golf Course in Tacoma,” she wrote in an email. “It isn’t open yet so it was the FIRST time anyone played the course.

“All the employees played for the experience and Gil got to caddy for the assistant pro. He said it is the most beautiful golf course he has ever seen. He has seen several, so that’s quite a statement. It’s located in University Place with a gorgeous view of Puget Sound. He also stated the elevation was absolutely astounding!

“Gil will get to play the course for free if he caddies there occasionally, which thrilled him as it is very expensive. (Editor's note: up to $150/round.) He was so impressed with the course our entire dinner conversation revolved around it!”

My first post last spring on Chambers Bay attracted a lot of comments. Most were positive, some were negative. You can read many of them here:

Chambers Bay raves
Chambers Bay rants

You can check out Chambers Bay here. And the live Web cam is here.

The Armchair Golfer

Thursday, February 7

Armchair Q&A: Lorne Rubenstein

Mike Weir is mentally tough says Lorne Rubenstein.

Lorne Rubenstein is a veteran golf journalist and author who writes a regular column for
The Globe and Mail. Lorne co-authored A Disorderly Compendium of Golf with Jeff Neuman, a 2006 book for “golf obsessives” I recently received as a birthday gift. Last month he answered my questions in an e-interview.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: I enjoyed A Disorderly Compendium of Golf. Who came up with the idea and how did you and Jeff divide the writing?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: Jeff Neuman and I were playing golf a couple of hours from Toronto when we started talking about all sorts of arcane bits and pieces about the game during the drive back. The drive took two hours and we weren’t even close to exhausting the subject. One subject led to another. We figured we had a book. We divided the work based upon our interests. I like the ins and outs of instruction, and everything that goes with it, and Jeff likes stats and equipment, so I did the sections to do with the former and he with the latter. That’s the way it worked for most of the segments. We also collaborated by sending material back and forth, adding, subtracting, etc.

AG: Are you working on another book?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: I’m putting together my second anthology, which will include pieces I’ve written in the Globe and Canadian and American magazines over the last 15 years. I last did an anthology in 1993, called Touring Prose. I’m writing an introduction and prefaces and afterwords to some of the pieces. The book will be published in 2009.

AG: Do you think the Tour’s new drug policy will be a help or distraction for pro golf?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: It’s necessary to nip any potential problems in the bud. It will probably take time to get it all sorted out — medical exemptions, for instance — and it could be a distraction should a player make a mistake. Players certainly need to educate themselves on the policy. The Tour is making efforts to ensure that happens.

AG: You’ve covered golf for a number of years. What still excites you about covering the game?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: I love watching golf played a high level, whether it’s the U.S. Open or Canadian Amateur. The game is all about bringing out your best stuff when it matters most. Not many players can do that. There’s nothing quite like the tension of a tournament down the last few holes when it’s all on the line. Meanwhile, it’s also exciting to watch golfers such as Tiger Woods or Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa dominate fields when they do. They’re masters of their craft. I also enjoy learning about and following young players, and, of course, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the game with the people who play it best.

AG: What are you looking forward to covering in 2008?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: I look forward to watching young players such as Anthony Kim and Jason Day. I look forward to seeing how Mike Weir, Stephen Ames and Jon Mills fare this year, and to seeing how David Hearn and Ian Leggatt and other Canadians do on the Nationwide as they try to return to the PGA Tour. Will Lorie Kane and Alena Sharp have good years? What about an amateur such as Kira Meixner? How will the Ryder Cup go? Will Tiger win the Masters and increase the anticipation of a possible, if unlikely, Grand Slam? Will Annika return to form and challenge Lorena Ochoa? Will Michelle Wie recover her form? There’s no end to what I’m looking forward to watching.

AG: Any predictions?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: I learned long ago not to make any in this game.

AG: How is Mike Weir doing? What do you expect from him this year?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: I think Mike will play really well in places, as long as he holes putts. He’s so tough mentally that he’ll continue to contend in majors, and perhaps win another. He’s certainly capable of it.

AG: How’s your golf game? How often do you get to play?

LORNE RUBENSTEIN: My game is improving after a few years in the doldrums. My index is 7.8. I play in bursts. I’ll play three or four times one week, and then not play for a couple of weeks. I particularly enjoy hitting balls and working on my game, although I’ve had way too much instruction over the years. But I enjoy keeping up on what people are teaching, so that’s a problem I’ve willingly accepted.

The Armchair Golfer

Tuesday, February 5

Off Course Heroics for Esteban Toledo

Journeyman Esteban Toledo might have some additional perspective on golf and life. This past week Toledo placed 21st in the Mexico Open, a Nationwide Tour event played in his homeland.

But it was the events of January 28 that Esteban can’t get out of his mind. Toledo was riding in a hired car on the Pomona Freeway in the Los Angeles area when the vehicle in front of him lost control, rolled and came to rest upside down in the fast lane.

The driver of Toledo’s car parked in front of the wrecked vehicle and the two men pulled two young women, sisters, from the wreckage and attended to them until paramedics arrived on the scene. One was bleeding and unable to speak. Both were released from the hospital the following day.

“I thought the car might explode,” the 45-year-old Toledo was quoted as saying.

“I have a family. I wasn’t sure what to do, but God spoke to me. I still have a hard time getting the images out of my mind, but I feel good about what I did. I know God put me there for a reason.”

The Armchair Golfer


Sunday, February 3

Tiger Woods Storms Back

They had him where they wanted him. Behind. Tiger Woods doesn’t win from behind. A refocused Ernie Els had the 54-hole lead after a 65, four shots clear of Woods and one ahead of Henrik Stenson.

It looked like someone other than Tiger would win the Dubai Desert Classic. Maybe it would be the Big Easy. Ernie was due.

And then a sudden powerful storm kicked up in the desert. On Sunday, after a lackluster 73 in the third round, Tiger tore through the back nine, demolishing everything in his path, making five birdies in his last seven holes, including a sloping 25-footer on the 72nd green.

The 31 inward nine gave Woods a 65 for a one-shot victory over the precocious Martin Kaymer who finished with a heroic 66. Another one slipped away from Els (71), who despite Tiger’s back-nine charge still had a chance until he splashed down at the final hole when he needed a birdie.

Heaven help Tour pros if Tiger starts winning from behind. Heaven help them regardless.

UPDATE: As a commenter correctly pointed out, Tiger has won several times from behind in regular Tour events, including at least four times in 2007. He has yet to come from behind in a major, not much of a knock considering his freakishly good record.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, February 1

Oops! Armchair Golf Misquotes Seneca

“Golf rules the affairs of mankind with no recognizable order.”

(not said by) Seneca

Biographical note: Seneca was a first-century Roman philosopher, statesman and dramatist.

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