Thursday, December 31

2015 Rewind: Another Nice Guy Wins a Major

(The following piece originally published on August, 17, 2015.)

LEO DUROCHER FAMOUSLY SAID, "Nice guys finish last." That quote, I've learned, was actually a condensed version of Durocher's words by newspaper men. According to Wikipedia, what the cranky baseball legend actually said was: "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place."

Nonetheless, Leo liked the ink slingers' quote. He claimed it. And he put out a book using "Nice Guys Finish Last" as the title.

Well, nice guys do finish last. But nice guys also finish first.

This year's major championship season was a nice-guy parade of winners: Jordan Spieth, Masters. Jordan Spieth, U.S. Open. Zach Johnson, British Open. And yesterday, at Whistling Straits, Jason Day, PGA Championship.

After coming close so many times, Day pinned this major to the ground until it said "uncle." And like the nice guy he is, the 27-year-old Aussie did it with a smile on his face and a tear in his eye.

Even a remarkable 17-under performance by new World No. 1 Jordan Spieth couldn't deny Day his first major victory. When you shoot a record-breaking total of 20-under par, your name is going on the Wanamaker Trophy.

Day fired four rounds in the 60s, including a final-round 67. Any questions?

Not from runner-up Spieth, who said, "This is as easy a loss as I've ever had ... " adding that he "accomplished one of my lifetime goals in golf. That will never be taken away from me now. I'll always be a No. 1 player in the world."

Meanwhile, former top-ranked golfer Rory McIlroy showed good form at Whistling Straits when most people wondered if he'd show up and play after severely injurying his left ankle in early July. Rory shot 71-71-68-69 to finish 17th.

The Irish wunderkind, another nice lad, acknowledged the boys at the top, including the fact that Spieth is no longer in his rearview mirror.

"[Two] inevitable things happened today," McIlroy tweeted. "[Jason Day] winning a major and [Jordan Spieth] getting to [No.] 1 in the world! Congrats guys!! Inspiring stuff!

In this age of media hyperbole, is this a new era in golf?

Cautious and reluctant earlier, I'm now on board. It's also a new era of nice guys.

Wednesday, December 30

2015 Rewind: Zach Johnson's Improbable Open

(The following piece originally published on July 20, 2015.)

MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS AFTER being no one's pick to win the Masters, Zach Johnson has won the Open Championship by shooting a final-round 66 and defeating 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Australian Marc Leishman in a four-hole playoff at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.

After it was over, Johnson said he was speechless.

He probably wasn't the only one at a loss for words after an Open that stretched over five days and produced incredible excitement during a Monday finish that saw so many players with a chance to clutch the Claret Jug, including Jordan Spieth, who fell one stroke short in his march to the elusive Grand Slam.

Johnson, 39, started birdie-birdie in the four-hole playoff and held on to edge Oosthuizen by a shot.

"I'm grateful. I'm humbled. I'm honored," an emotional Johnson told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi on the 18th green. "This is the birthplace of the game .... I'm just in awe right now."

He added: "I've come a long way since 2007."

Yes, he has.

As for his place in the game, Johnson now has 12 PGA Tour wins, including two majors. To win a major puts you in special company, but to win multiple majors says a lot more, especially in this era.

"Dreams have been realized, goals accomplished," Johnson said at the trophy presentation.

He thanked everyone -- the R&A, his caddie, his wife, the spectators, people back home -- and said the course played fantastic through a lot of adverse weather conditions.

"I had a peace about the day," Johnson said. "It was divine."

And then he took a victory lap along the edges of the Old Course, slapping hands with the people who witnessed another major victory from someone who seems like an unlikely champion but is actually an exceptionally determined and talented competitor.

Tuesday, December 29

Mike Ditka to Kids: 'You Ought to Try Golf'

WITH NUMBERS DECLINING, GOLF CAN USE all the help it can get. But who knew legendary football player and coach Mike Ditka would be a booster?

Here's what Ditka told the Chicago Tribune, according to Steve DelVecchio:
In a recent feature from Jared S. Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune, Ditka discusses the passing of Bears legend and friend Mike Pyle, who suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). When asked if he thinks parents should let their young children play football, Ditka gave a response that would not please NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. 
"People ask me the question. I would never discourage my son from playing football or baseball or anything else, but I would probably say, 'Hey, listen, you ought to try golf,'" he said. "Seriously. And I think that's what’s going to happen to a degree. And that’s just the way it's going to be."
DelVecchio also wrote that "comments like that hold a lot of weight coming from [Ditka]."

Like a lot of people, I grew up watching football and still enjoy it. But I never played the game in high school; I was a basketball player. It was the right choice for me, and, besides, my mom would not have allowed me on the gridiron. That I know with certainty. Same for my older brother.

Of course, I also played golf. The only injury I suffered was psychological. Ha ha.

Football will continue, but I appreciate Ditka's comments and support of golf.

Monday, December 28

2015 Rewind: Strange Golf Theater on the Puget Sound

(The following piece originally published on June 22, 2015.)

WHAT A STRANGE U.S. OPEN. And I'm not talking about Curtis.

Jordan Spieth has two majors.
(Image courtesy of AT&T)
This one, the 115th, had some firsts. The first U.S. Open in the Pacific Northwest. The first U.S. Open broadcast by FOX Sports. The first U.S. Open (that I know of) that had holes (1 and 18) that changed par according to the whims of the USGA's course-setup guru, Mike Davis.

It might not have been the first U.S. Open to look and play like a British Open (think Shinnecock Hills), but it seemed as if it was. And, although loud complaining about the course is an annual U.S. Open tradition, it may have been the first national championship to provoke a near unanimous rejection of the putting surfaces.

(How many times did you hear about fescue and poa?)

On Golf Channel, Gary Player totally lost it. You'd think he'd spent four days hacking it around Chambers Bay and jabbing putts on those bumpy brown greens. What a spectacle.

In the end, that same kid who slipped into the Green Jacket in April now has his name on the silver U.S. Open trophy. Jordan Spieth was the winner after Dustin Johnson, who at times seemed destined to finally win his first major, three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd green.

Halfway to golf's grand slam, Spieth, at least initially, couldn't process what had happened. "I don't really know," Spieth replied when asked how he felt moments after it was over.

I could have said the same thing after watching this U.S. Open the last several days. I was trying to figure out what I thought about that bizarre finish, about Chambers Bay, about FOX Sports and about the USGA, the course setup and, yes, those greens. And I've watched a lot of U.S. Opens. Perhaps too many.

About the finish. Some U.S. Opens are won. (Last year's, for instance.) Some are survived. This one felt like the latter. Not to take anything away from Spieth. His 5-under total was the lowest score, and the lowest score wins. But the leaders -- Johnson, Spieth, Branden Grace -- stumbled through the closing holes, hitting sublime shots and then suddenly spraying the ball to ungodly places or nudging tentative putts on those crazy greens.

I'll admit this: I didn't have a good feeling when Johnson settled over that comebacker on the last green. There might have been millions of others who felt the same way.

Spieth simply survived Chambers Bay better than the rest.

Prior to the start of the tournament, I didn't think much about the interchangeable par employed by the USGA on holes 1 and 18. Now that it's over, I'd say I don't like it. It's as if they're trying to be a little too clever, adding yet one more trick to their bag of tricks for golf's toughest examination. I don't think it's necessary.

I do like that the USGA took the U.S. Open to Chambers Bay, a relatively new public links-style course perched beside the Puget Sound. It was a risky move. Yes, the greens were a problem, but the course itself was interesting and a departure from typical Open venues. Maybe Chambers Bay will get an encore. Maybe players will get another crack at it with smoother putting surfaces.

I had an open mind when it came to FOX. By the end of the week, I admit to broadcast fatigue. I expect they'll get better.

The good thing about modern golf telecasts is that we get to see coverage of all the holes and watch virtually the entire tournament. That's also the bad thing. There are hours and hours and hours to fill. That's a curse, I think, especially here in America where more talk, more everything are often considered better.

It's not better, though, especially when quality is absent.

On to St. Andrews.

Saturday, December 26

2015 Rewind: The Masters Mindset of Jordan Spieth

(The following piece originally published on April 13, 2015.)

JORDAN SPIETH HAS HIS GREEN JACKET. And on this Monday following the Masters, the superlatives about the 21-year-old are piling up as fast as those record 28 birdies he made over four rounds at Augusta National Golf Club.

In the mad rush by everyone to get to know this new phenom and to explain his rapid rise in the sport, there are already many fairly obvious reasons for his early success. There are no real weaknesses in his game. His short game and putting at Augusta and elsewhere have reminded us of the all-time greats. He is intensely committed and competitive. I could go on.

Instead, I will point to one particular thing I read this morning that highlights Spieth's mindset. After all, it's the space between the ears that always seems to separate the great ones from the good ones.

"We kept our head down," Spieth said.

"We stayed focused. The way we did it was, the beginning of the day, I texted Michael (his caddie) this morning and said, 'Michael, I want us to get to 20 under. I want to get to 4 [under]. I want to be focused on that."

In his quest for the Green Jacket, Spieth was not content to idle, to hang on, to just make pars, after three record-setting days at the Masters. He was always out front -- sometimes way out front -- and seemingly never hit the brakes, or even tapped them. Spieth, in setting a target of 20 under, was intent on going where no man had ever gone at Augusta, not even Tiger Woods. 

He almost got there, becoming the first player to reach 19 under in the Masters. When it was all over, Spieth tied the tournament record of 18 under set by Woods, winning by four shots. He is the first Masters champion in nearly 40 years to lead wire-to-wire. The last one was Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd.

The world's best players chased Spieth for four days at Augusta. That should have bothered him. I suppose it did, at least a little. But it's telling that it didn't bother him a lot more. And when the challengers closed the gap, or when Spieth stumbled, the young man hit a shot or sank a putt that defied conventional wisdom about major championship golf. He was unshakable.

"I had a lot of moments today that were a little sticky for Jordan," said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, a fellow Texan who has mentored Spieth, "but I had never seen anyone handle such situations with such nerve. It is like he knows exactly where he is going."

Now it will be fun to see where Jordan Spieth goes from here.

Wednesday, December 23

Spieth in Hunt for AP Male Athlete of the Year

ARE GOLFERS ATHLETES? They must be. Jordan Spieth has a 1 in 3 chance of winning AP Male Athlete of the Year.

From the Associated Press:
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, NBA MVP Stephen Curry and Masters and U.S. Open champ Jordan Spieth are the leading candidates for The Associated Press 2015 Male Athlete of the Year award. 
The AP announced the top three vote-getters Monday, and the winner will be announced Saturday.
In addition, AP golf writer Doug Ferguson wrote, "Jordan Spieth's accomplishments stand alone, and they are accentuated by context. The combined winning score in all four major championships this year was 58-under par. Spieth was 54-under par. He was the first wire-to-wire winner at the Masters in 39 years. He won the U.S. Open to join Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to get halfway to the Grand Slam since 1960."

I think it would be an upset if Spieth won this honor. I'd like to see it, though.

Tuesday, December 22

2015 Rewind: Jack Nicklaus Turns 75

(The following piece originally published on January 21, 2015.)

Jack Nicklaus in his North Palm Beach office in May 2013.
JACK NICKLAUS WAS BORN ON THIS day in 1940 in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. He took up golf in earnest at age 10, putting in long hours at Scioto Country Club, where Bobby Jones won the 1926 U.S. Open.

Compared to others, the game came easily to Nicklaus, and he won often at every level before experiencing his first prolonged slump in the late 1960s. Even then the man who would become known as the Golden Bear won golf tournaments, although he did have to endure a majors drought from the summer of 1967 to the summer of 1970.

The drought ended when Jack beat Doug Sanders in an 18-hole playoff to win the British Open at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. It was his eighth major title. He would go on to win 18 major championships as a professional, with the last one, the 1986 Masters, being arguably the most dramatic and most memorable. Nicklaus slipped into the Green Jacket for a record sixth time at age 46.

I interviewed Jack at his North Palm Beach office in May 2013 for my book about the 1969 Ryder Cup, DRAW IN THE DUNES. The conversation strayed into several areas, including all those seconds in majors (19). Here's what he told me.
ME: When I think of your career, you played smart golf and didn't make as many mistakes. 
First professional check for $33.33 at the L.A. Open.
Nicklaus tied for 50th place.
JACK: That's probably why I finished second a lot, because I didn't make a lot of the dumb mistakes but somebody else just happened to play better that week, which is OK. I never had a problem with ever finishing second, if I had prepared properly and played the best I thought I could play, and somebody played better, then well done, that’s congratulations. But if I do something stupid, like I did at [Royal] Lytham, and bogeyed the last two holes to lose a tournament, or if I would have missed the putt [on the final hole] at the [1969] Ryder Cup, that would have been stupid. Those are the kind of things that really, really sit in your mind and you say, "Why would you ever do something like that?" Because you have total control over it, or at least you hope you have total control over yourself. That's what you're trying to do. 
Happy 75th birthday, Jack Nicklaus.

Monday, December 21

Babineau's 2015 Recap and Golf Shot of the Year

GOLFWEEK'S JEFF BABINEAU HAS COVERED THE SPORT for three decades. On Saturday, in his "My Year in Golf" column, Babineau was "trying to recall a year as complete from start to finish as this one. It never let us down.

"It. Just. Kept. On. Delivering."

I've been watching golf just as long, and it's hard to disagree with Jeff's assessment. Read his full column here.

Included in his article was the best shot of the year. There's a good chance you've never heard of the player who hit it. Babineau wrote:
That said, considering what was on the line (a playing spot in the 2016 Masters at Augusta National), I confidently can state that I saw the very best shot in the world in 2015: Sammy Schmitz's ace at the 260-yard, par-4 15th hole at John's Island's West Course (Vero Beach, Fla.) in the final match of the 35th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. 
Schmitz had a 2-up lead over Marc Dull on the 33rd hole of the day, and smashed a driver that flew onto the green at the shortened par 4, with his ball rising up a steep slope, stopping, and slowly curling back toward the hole, finally vanishing for an improbable ace. I mean, c'mon – a man steps to the tee in the final match of a coveted U.S. Golf Association championship and hits a tiny golf ball into a 4 1/4-inch hole carved 260 yards from where he is standing? Pretty legendary.
The Minnesota native's only previous ace had come in a scramble.
Pretty legendary, indeed. As Babineau wrote about Schmitz in October, "Next big stop, Augusta National."

Friday, December 18

Stats Roundup: Jordan Spieth's Sweet 16

IMAGINE MAKING 1 IN 4 PUTTS from the 20- to 25-foot range. That's what Jordan Spieth did in 2015. Of course, Spieth also won two majors, the FedEx Cup, $12 million (not including the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus) and PGA Tour Player of the Year.

For you golf-stat nerds, here are the 16 statistical categories Spieth topped this past season, according to via Matt Cochran at FANSIDED:

Image courtesy of AT&T.
Approach the Green
Rough Proximity – 37’7″
Left Rough Proximity – 35’10”
Approaches from 50-125 Yards (RGH) – 19′ 7″

Putting Average – 1.699
Overall Putting Average – 1.545
One-Putt Percentage – 44.26%
Putts per Round – 27.82
Putter per Round (Second Round) – 27.33
Putting from 20′-25′ – 25.93%

Lowest Round – 61
Scoring Average – 68.938
Scoring Average (Second Round) – 68.67
Front Nine Scoring Average – 34.44
Late Scoring Average – 69.05
Par 4 Scoring Average – 3.93
Par 4 Birdie or Better Leaders – 22.54%

(H/T Bernard Daily)

Thursday, December 17

Golf Channel Airing Biggest Events and Moments of 2015

By Golf Channel Communications

Golf Channel will showcase the game’s most iconic feats of 2015 with a lineup of special year-end programming, including Rickie Fowler’s unforgettable final round and playoff victory at THE PLAYERS (airing Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. ET), Jordan Spieth’s run at a Grand Slam, the heroic comeback by the United States amidst controversy at the Solheim Cup (Saturday, Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET), and several dedicated Golf Central and Morning Drive specials encapsulating the year that was in the game of golf.

Golf Channel will revisit the crowning of several PGA TOUR winners from 2015 (including Fowler’s victory at THE PLAYERS), along with LPGA, Champions Tour, NCAA Golf and the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship events from earlier this year. Golf Central and Morning Drive each will unveil a dozen year-end special shows recapping the game’s most extraordinary moments and looking ahead to a promising 2016 schedule led by golf’s return to the Olympics and the biennial Ryder Cup. Additionally, three PGA of America-focused programs will air Tuesday-Wednesday, Dec. 15-16 recapping the past year and looking ahead to 2016, with “2016 Ryder Cup One Year to Go Show” (Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m. ET); “PGA of America 2015 Year in Review” (Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. ET); and “2015 PGA Championship Highlight Show, presented by Omega – One Fine Day” (Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 9 p.m. ET).

The network also has carved out its Christmas Eve and Christmas Day schedule to devote a 30-consecutive hour marathon of the game’s storied “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” series, featuring matches with icons of the sport including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson.

Thursday, Dec. 17                   RBC Heritage                                                 3-6 p.m.
                                                The Honda Classic                                          7-11 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 18                       Zurich Classic of New Orleans                       3-6 p.m.
                                                Valspar Championship                                    7-11 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 19                   Wells Fargo Championship                             3-6 p.m.
                                                THE PLAYERS Championship                     7-11 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 20                     Arnold Palmer Invitational                             7-11 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 21                    Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open 2-6 p.m.
                                                WGC-Cadillac Championship                        7-11 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 22                    WGC-HSBC Champions                                2-6 p.m.
                                                WGC-Cadillac Match Play                             7-11 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 23               WGC-Bridgestone Invitational                      2-6 p.m.
                                                The Barclays                                                   7-11 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 26                   Deutsche Bank Championship            Midnight-4 a.m.
                                                Presidents Cup – Day 3                                  1-6 p.m.
                                                BMW Championship                                      7-11 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27                     Presidents Cup – Final Day                            1-6 p.m.
                                                TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola              7-11 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 2                      Open Championship                                       7-11 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 3                         PGA Championship                                        7-11 p.m.

Monday, Dec. 28                    ANA Inspiration                                             7-9 p.m.
                                                KPMG Women’s PGA Championship           9-11 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 29                    RICOH Women’s British Open                     7-9 p.m.
                                                The Evian Championship                                9-11 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 2                      Solheim Cup – Final Day                                1-6 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 30               Regions Tradition                                           7-9 p.m.
                                                Senior PGA Championship                             9-11 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31                   Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS                7-9 p.m.
                                                Senior Open Championship                            9-11 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 24                   Drive, Chip & Putt Championship                  2-6 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 26                   World Long Drive Champ. – Round of 16    11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27                     World Long Drive Champ. – Quarterfinals    11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 28                    NCAA Women’s Golf Champ. – Stroke Play   3-6 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 29                    NCAA Women’s Golf Champ. – Match Play   3-6 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 30               NCAA Men’s Golf Champ. – Stroke Play     3-6 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31                   NCAA Men’s Golf Champ. – Match Play     3-6 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 1                          East Lake Cup – Day 2                                   3-6 p.m.

GOLF CENTRAL SPECIALS SCHEDULE (**each premiering at 6 p.m. ET**)
Thursday, Dec. 17                   History Recorded: The Best of 2015
Friday, Dec. 18                       Jordan Spieth: Player of the Year
Saturday, Dec. 19                   2015 Insiders Debate: Part I
Sunday, Dec. 20                     2015 Insiders Debate: Part II
Monday, Dec. 21                    2015 Top 10 Stories
Tuesday, Dec. 22                    2015 Majors
Wednesday, Dec. 23               2016: Rio, the Ryder Cup, and Beyond
Saturday, Dec. 26                   2015 Top Feature Stories
Tuesday, Dec. 29                    2015 College Golf
Wednesday, Dec. 30               Tiger Turns 40
Thursday, Dec. 31                   2015 Top Shots
Friday, Jan. 1                          2015 Awards

MORNING DRIVE SPECIALS SCHEDULE (**each premiering at 7 a.m. ET**)
Wednesday, Dec. 16               Golf’s Big Four: Palmer, Nicklaus, Player & Trevino
Thursday, Dec. 17                   Golf’s Top Feature Stories: Part I
Friday, Dec. 18                       Golf’s Top Feature Stories: Part II
Saturday, Dec. 19                   Top Golf Trips: Part I
Sunday, Dec. 20                     Top Golf Trips: Part II
Monday, Dec. 21                    2015 Majors        
Tuesday, Dec. 22                    2015 Top Shots
Wednesday, Dec. 23               2015 Top Guests: Part I
Thursday, Dec. 24                   2015 Top Guests: Part II
Saturday, Dec. 26                   2015 Top Tips
Thursday, Dec. 31                   2015 Top Moments
Friday, Jan. 1                          2016: Wild Year to Come

Thursday, Dec. 24                   Nicklaus vs. Palmer (Pinehurst No. 2 – 1994)            6 p.m.
                                                Couples vs. Els (Nicklaus North – 1998)                    7:30 p.m.
                                                Nicklaus vs. Player (Sunningdale – 2000)                  9 p.m.
                                                Azinger vs. Ballesteros (St. Andrews – 1995)            10:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 25                       Els vs. Price (Leopard Creek – 1999)                         Midnight
                                                Player vs. Trevino (World Golf Village – 1998)         1:30 a.m.
                                                Duval vs. Els (Cherokee Plantation – 2000)               3 a.m.
                                                Nicklaus vs. Trevino (Cabo del Sol – 1996)               4:30 a.m.
                                                DeVicenzo vs. Snead (Congressional – 1968)            6 a.m.
                                                Palmer vs. Boros (Cotton Bay Club – 1968)              7 a.m.
                                                Palmer/Rodriguez/ Brewer (El Conquistador – 1969) 8 a.m.
                                                Player vs. Thomson (Royal Melbourne – 1962)          9 a.m.
                                                Sarazen vs. Cotton (St. Andrews – 1962)                  10 a.m.
                                                Nelson vs. Littler (Pine Valley – 1962)                      11 a.m.
                                                Mickelson vs. Montgomerie (Cordillera – 1997)        Noon
                                                Nicklaus vs. Watson (Pebble Beach – 1995)              1:30 p.m.
                                                Couples vs. Mickelson (Gaillardia – 2000)                 3 p.m.
                                                Palmer vs. Player (Manele – 1996)                             4:30 p.m.
                                                Faldo vs. Norman (Sunningdale – 1994)                    6 p.m.
                                                Couples vs. Daly (Crosswater Club – 1999)               7:30 p.m.
                                                Garcia vs. Mickelson (Querencia – 2001)                   9 p.m.
                                                Couples vs. Watson (Mount Juliet – 1997)                 10:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 16

Jack Picks Up Another Award

YOU KNOW, THIS NICKLAUS FELLA has done alright for himself.

Jack Nicklaus was in New York City last night for the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Ceremony. In case you missed it, tennis great Serena Williams won this year's SI sportsperson honor against tough competition that included Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah, NBA superstar Stephen Curry and golf's own Jordan Spieth. 

Enjoy the above video clip. This from SI Communications:
The evening saw surprise guest Will Smith tribute the legacy of Muhammad Ali, with a raucous speech that included an impersonation of Ali and a heartfelt dedication to "The Greatest." Smith was on hand as part of the first ever Muhammad Ali Legacy Award presentation to legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus. Lonnie Ali presented the award to Nicklaus who spoke glowingly about Muhammad Ali and his own wife and family, the inspiration behind his philanthropic devotion to children. Nicklaus and Serena also appeared on stage together, with the celebrated golfer praising her work ethic and competitive drive.

Tuesday, December 15

VIDEO: Bernhard Langer Doesn't Know How He Will Putt Come January 1

BERNHARD LANGER IS SURELY THE MOST SUCCESSFUL anchored-putter tour player in the game's history. The man has been using the anchored stroke and long putter since Bill Clinton was president. He has won a ton of golf tournaments all over the world and has had his way on the Champions Tour.

But golf life, as Langer has known it, will change on January 1, 2016 when the anchoring ban goes into effect (Rule 14-1B).

So what's the two-time Masters champion going to do? He doesn't know.

Judging from the above interview with ESPN's Michael Collins, Langer doesn't seem too worried about it. Despite his nonchalance, I have a feeling he is more than just tinkering. There are a variety of putters and methods available to him. Plus, there's no quit in the greatest German golfer. We know that.

Don't be surprised if Bernhard still finds a way to win.

(H/T Geoff Shackelford)

Monday, December 14

Millennials and a Golf Revolution

WILL MILLENNIALS DECIDE THE FATE of recreational golf as we know it? I suppose, to some extent. It's already happening, according to several reports.

Nextgen City Tour: Millennials enjoying golf.
In "Millennials upsetting the golf cart, traditionalists," Craig Handel wrote:
Golf may be steeped in tradition, but millennials are forcing a mini-revolution in the way the sport is viewed and played. 
To accommodate the 18- to 34-year-old generation, some course officials are relaxing dress codes, allowing music during rounds and being flexible in how many holes they play.
"We need to get over what golf is and was," Greg Norman said at the Franklin Templeton Shootout.

I would agree with Norman, to a point. I don't think the game itself should be diluted with larger holes and other gimmicks. If you want to play an easy game, don't play golf.

As for loosening up in other areas such as dress code, why not? There is essentially no dress code in any part of our society these days. Why should golf be much different? (I realize there will be some exceptions.)

I'm in favor of anything that speeds up the game, including shorter rounds. For heaven's sake, though, could people just get on with it and play faster? You're not those guys on TV. Sorry, but you don't need exact yardages or to look at putts from every angle.

Handel runs down many of the dreary statistics we've heard before. Golf courses are closing -- 643 since 2006, according to the National Golf Foundation. There are four million fewer golfers than a decade ago. Up to 160 courses are expected to cease operations this year.

Handel quoted Paul Chipok, a land-use local-government expert:
"It's attributable to an aging baby boomer population and millennials watching too much MTV and having an attention span of about 30 seconds. [Millennials] are very tentative. They don't want to make commitments. They'd rent rather than own, they prefer city dwelling as opposed to suburbs because they don't want to own cars. This also lends itself to the golf game where you have to commit at least five hours. It's different than going to the gym for an hour or playing a quick racquetball game."
Yes, millennials are different than boomers. They've grown up in a different time and with different cultural and economic circumstances. I don't blame them for making different choices. I also don't think golf is doomed.

Things change.

Remember bowling? My dad was on his college bowling team, and there were church and other bowling leagues when I was kid growing up in Indiana. Bowling alleys were everywwhere. (Pops also pitched horseshoes and softball and played industrial league basketball.) Boxing was also huge. Baseball was America's pastime. (I loved baseball as a youngster.)

Yes, things change, but I think golf will survive, even if it contracts and adjusts. It has always been a niche sport, so there's no need to panic. But I suppose that's easy for me to say. I'm not the PGA of America or the USGA or other interests with a large stake in this ancient game.

Friday, December 11 '100 Years of Sinatra: The Golf Connection'

TOMORROW MARKS 100 YEARS SINCE legendary singer Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Sinatra loved golf and even hosted a PGA Tour event at Canyon Club in Palm Springs. The Sinatra Invitational was played in November 1963. Frank Beard won the tournament, the first of 11 career victories.

Mike McAllister penned Sinatra's history in golf at A snippet:
Frank Sinatra wasn't a great golfer. Some references had him at a 24 handicap. The late Bob Rosburg, the former TOUR pro turned TV analyst, told Golf magazine that Sinatra "liked to be good at everything, and he was not a great player." 
His personal valet, George Jacobs, also told the magazine that Sinatra could "hit it pretty well off the tee but that was about it. He would hack it around, having fun, you know?" 
Having fun, especially as the leader of the Rat Pack, would seem very Sinatra-like.
Below is a video of a Sinatra charity tournament in Palm Springs. It includes an interview with Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. and glimpses of other Hollywood luminaries such as Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Jill St. John and Robert Wagner.

Thursday, December 10

PGA TOUR'S Doug Milne on 'Dealing With' Lee Trevino

PGA TOUR Media Official Doug Milne shared the following reflection about Lee Trevino on Facebook and granted permission to publish it here.

By Doug Milne

IF A SINGLE IMAGE HAD TO REPRESENT my collective experience at the PGA TOUR to this point, nearing 25 years, [the below image] would be it. This gentleman scared me into a pale hue of white. He taught me not so much about fear and intimidation as much as my ability to react and respond to it on the fly and with some semblance of grace.

Lee Trevino and Doug Milne in Orlando.
(Image courtesy of Doug Milne)
When I first started with the TOUR in 1991, Lee Trevino was a player I was told I'd be "dealing with" on a regular basis. Relatively new to the Champions Tour (50 and older), Lee was the Tiger Woods of the era on that Tour. He was expected to win every time he teed it up and, for a long time, he usually did.

With Lee, however, I never knew what side of him I would get. It was either wonderful or catastrophic, with no middle ground. The first time I met him, he spent the ensuing 20 minutes asking genuine questions about me, my job and family. It was wonderful. The second time I met him, a week later, he cut my greeting short, telling me to "go the hell away before I get security." It was catastrophic.

Thus began my relationship with Lee Trevino.

I always prepared for the worst reaction, but celebrated the good ones. Also, there were never rhetorical questions from him. When he would grant me time for an interview, he would first interview me on exactly what I wanted from him. He expected thorough and quick answers. I learned to never fail with him. Before too long, I grew less and less intimidated by him, or anyone for that matter. He had helped me thicken my skin and strengthen my resolve. That would come to work well for me on the job and in life.

Lee would go on to win 29 times on the Champions Tour between 1990 and 2000. Not a bad showing. Thanks largely to him, my showing hasn't been all bad, either.

When I asked him for [the above photo] today in Orlando, it was the first time I had seen him in more than 10 years. I was certain he wouldn't remember me. I was wrong, and being wrong this time felt as good as anytime I can ever remember being right.

When I thanked him, he responded with "Anytime, you know that." To that, I said, "Yeah, anytime except next time, right?" The shared laughter right then said a lot more than any words could ever have.

Wednesday, December 9

The House That Rick Built: Golf Lodging Reimagined

WHILE THE GOLF ITSELF WAS USUALLY great, the lodging for golf trips often left something to be desired. This was the observation of Rick Oster, a TV advertising executive living in Southern California in the mid ‘00s. (If you go on golf trips, there’s a good chance you’ve had similar experiences.)

Rick Oster and family.
“The reason I go on trips with friends is to be together,” Rick says. “I became increasingly frustrated by the lodging choices at golf resorts.”

Rick noticed that those choices typically fell into a few categories. For example, hotels separated Rick from others in his group. There wasn’t any private, built-in space to socialize. Vacation rental homes were good in theory, but finding one that comfortably accommodated a group of eight golfers was difficult at best. And, while certainly nice or even luxurious, hotel suites or cottages were often ridiculously expensive.

Rick came to a conclusion. “I realized the type of experience I was searching for didn’t exist. So I decided to create it myself.” It was a personal turning point, although he didn’t know it at the time.

In 2005, in his house in Los Angeles, Rick pulled up a chair and got out a blank sheet of paper. “I asked myself one question,” he says. “If I were to design a home specifically for golfers on a buddies trip, what would I include in that home?”

Here’s what Rick jotted down that day:

Living area – large, open concept, plenty of room to hang out, pool table, big plasma TV, table for eight to play cards, fully equipped modern kitchen.

Bedrooms – four big master suites, two queen-sized beds in each, plush mattresses, plasma TV, attached bathrooms with walk-in showers, granite vanity for two.

Outside – large patio with seating for eight, fire pit, stainless steel grill, putting green.

Services – offer services like an upscale hotel: private chef, grocery shopping, massage therapists, more.

Rick’s “dream” became a set of blueprints two years later. Not long after, his first golf house was built near Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, the famous destination on the southern Oregon Coast. “It was a huge success,” he says. “I didn’t realize it but a business was born.”

A few more years went by with Rick feeling unfulfilled in the corporate world until he “found the courage” to pursue his dream on a fulltime basis. That dream now had a name: Oster Golf Houses. Rick began a nationwide search for an ideal location to build his unique golf houses. That search took him to Alabama and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, where he says, “everyone was a pleasure to work with.”

Today, there are three Oster Golf Houses on the Trail – one house at Oxmoor Valley in Birmingham, and two houses sitting side-by-side with a putting green in between at Capitol Hill in Prattville.

“We’ve made continuous improvements to our homes and strive to provide the best lodging experience at a reasonable price,” Rick says.

Preview the Prattville Houses

One of two Prattville houses.
Comfortably accommodating eight people each, the two Prattville houses are side-by-side and located just 200 yards from the entrance gate of The Legislator course at Capitol Hill. This pair of Oster Golf Houses overlook the golf course and share a putting green. The houses can be reserved together or individually. Explore the floor plans, amenities, rates and reviews, plus view images and take a video tour (click here).

Sponsored by Oster Golf Houses.