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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WGC, Firestone South, and Tire Companies

What's up with tire companies and golf? I realized today that this week's World Golf Championship event in Akron, OH is sponsored by Bridgestone and played at Firestone. Mix in the Goodyear Blimp, and it's all tires, all the time. Does anyone else find that to be a little weird?
Anyway, I played Firestone's South Course about three years ago, and it was decent. It gets a lot of attention because it has held so many big tournaments over the years. But for anyone who has seen/played a lot of good golf courses, it is lacking in several ways. First, it's not exciting. There's hardly any elevation change, and most of the holes are dead straight. All of the holes are tree-lined, and it becomes difficult to distinguish between holes after a while. There are some excellent green complexes, and the conditioning is immaculate, but that's about it. It's currently ranked 57th on my list of favorite golf courses I have played.
Incidentally, I played Firestone's North Course four years ago, and I found it to be more interesting and fun to play than the South. The property is much more varied, doglegs are sprinkled in (it's not just long and straight), the par 3s are superior, and they have some cool holes around and over water. Though I'd like to give the South Course another try, the North is superior in my mind. It's ranked 42nd on my list, and it very well could move up if I were to play it again.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"On Paper" the Americans Are Toast at the Ryder Cup

After Padraig Harrington romped his way to victory Sunday at the Open Championship with a stellar four under par on his final nine, I thought to myself, "Other than Tiger and Phil, hasn't it been a while since an American won a major?"

Of course I turned to trusty Wikipedia to find the answer. I initially thought it was Todd Hamilton at the 2004 Open, but then Wikipedia reminded me of Zach Johnson's win at the Masters last year (how soon one forgets).

Johnson's victory aside, it's been a long time since someone from the United States not named Woods or Mickelson has won anything of substance. So this begs the question: How come every time the Ryder Cup arrives, the experts say that the Americans look better "on paper"?

Maybe it's the Tiger-Phil Factor, but I would posit that it's likely because golf writers place too much of a premium on victories at regular PGA Tour stops and are too narrow-minded in the way they view "the rest of the world". Sure, the PGA Tour has the deepest fields from week to week, but by placing so much value on the quality of its fields, pundits are indirectly devaluing the quality of the fields in Europe. It's a very Ameri-centric (is that a word?) mindset, and it borders on absurd. Non-American golfers are described as being somewhat exotic by the broadcasters and writers; one might think Sweden is on another planet.

It'll be interesting to see if we'll be reading the "on paper" argument this year. By looking at the top fifty-one cumulative finishers at this year's first three major championships, we see that fully thirty-two of the players are foreigners. That's 63%. Of course, not all of them are European (the other side of the Ryder Cup coin), but it's still a big number. On paper in the major championships, the Americans don't look very dominant.

Let's now look at the Official World Golf Rankings. There are only seven Americans in the top twenty-five after the Open Championship (28%). Again, the U.S. appears pretty weak using this metric.

Will writers change their tune and start giving the Euros more credit -- credit that they should be due after thumping the Americans in each of the last three contests? How about five out or the last six? They might if the Europeans win again this year at Valhalla, but I wouldn't be so sure of that. Old habits die hard, especially when the habit is defending athletes from one's home country.

I'm fairly certain the U.S. will lose again in September. And I don't think Woods would have made a huge difference in the outcome. Unless something changes drastically on the American side, we're toast.

Then again, as underdogs on paper, the Americans might just pull it off!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bonus Points for Davis Love

I've never been a DL3 fan. I don't know why, but he's always struck me as milquetoast. I also think he should have won more big tournaments, so that could have subconsciously turned me off.

Lately, he's redeemed himself by fighting his way into the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. I'm glad he cares enough and has enough pride to want to compete in the biggest tournaments. Lots of other guys would have made excuses and played in other, less rigorous events.

So today he gets even more bonus points for me when he ripped the players who are crying about the high winds and wet weather at the Open. He said, "If you don't want to come then don't come. That's the way to do it. Fact is this is the oldest tournament in the world and it's the biggest in the world. I'm happy to be here. It's always frustrating and that's why you need the determination of Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods to win." Unlike some golfers, Love has an appreciation for golf's history and the people who made it such a profitable endeavor for today's players.

I went to the Open at Carnoustie last year, and the weather was pretty nice, so I haven't seen this championship up close when it's brutal. However, I've played many times when lesser men would have not even stepped on the first tee. I commend DL3 for playing well and for stepping up and telling it like it is. He might have just earned a new fan.

Will Players Avoid Loch Lomond in 2009 and Prepare for the Open in Ireland?

For the past fifteen or so years, most of the top players in the world have played in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond the week before the Open Championship. Its proximity to the Open venues and the rich purse make it an obvious choice for preparing for the Open.
However, with Padraig Harrington's victory last year and his continued success this year, will players change their schedules and sign up for the Irish PGA Championship? Harrington won it in 2007 before hoisting the Claret Jug, and he won it again last week at The European Club. It makes more sense to prepare in Ireland than Loch Lomond, as Loch Lomond is not a links course. The Tom Weiskopf-designed track is American-style on Scottish soil.
Playing four rounds at a course like The European Club sounds to me like a prudent way to get into a linksy groove. The Irish PGA Championship does not offer world ranking points, but if it can increase one's confidence heading into the Open, who the heck cares about the points?
If I'm Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, or anyone else who plays most of my competitive rounds in the U.S., I'd be changing my plans for 2009 and enter the Irish PGA to get ready for Turnberry.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Open Championship Proves Depth of Professional Golf

For the past month, nearly every sports and golf publication has run at least one article about how professional golf is going to be boring until the return of Tiger Woods, which will presumably be at Augusta next spring. Some writers have gone so far as to say that there should be an asterisk next to a major victory when Tiger is not in the field. Only a handful of writers, like Golfweek's Rex Hoggard, have brushed off Tiger's absence with more positive articles like this one.

Well, here we are in the middle of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, and memories of Tiger are fading fast. It's impossible to predict how everything will end up by Sunday, but to this point, it couldn't have been scripted any better.

Fifty-three year old Greg Norman is in cruising along at even par, one shot behind K.J. Choi (a very likeable player). David Duval is showing signs of a resurrection, finishing Friday only three shots back. And Rocco Mediate is back again, battling to grab the glory stolen by Woods in La Jolla.

Hot shot Camillo Villegas threw up a 65 today to vault himself into contention, and fan favorite Paddy Harrington is positioning himself well to defend his title. If we were to believe the press, the Tour is loaded with robots, but close to the lead at the halfway point are guys with character and flair. Ian Poulter, Fredrik Jacobson, Stuart Appleby, Stephen Ames, and Adam Scott are in the mix. And who can overlook the presence of Jean van de Velde five shots behind Choi?

Sergio Gacia, Anthony Kim, Justin Rose, and Retief Goosen have held their own, and as we all know -- anything can happen on the weekend. So, we can't count out a surging Phil Mickelson or even Ernie Els, who made the cut on the number.

Jim Furyk is flying under the radar with a pair of 71s, leaving him three strokes off the lead. Can it get any more exciting or intriguing as this? Some would say yes; Woods would make it better. I say his presence would certainly change the dynamics of the championship, but the depth of the players at this level -- most of whom are underappreciated, especially the regulars on the European Tour -- is enormous.

Tiger is missed by many, but we will get along just fine until the Masters. These guys are good, but they're also interesting. Hopefully golf fans will take the time this weekend to discover it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Yahoo! Fantasy Lineup for the Open Championship

I play in a league of about ten guys on Yahoo's fantasy golf site. I've struggled to make good picks throughout the year, but I've hung in there so far and am currently 2nd in the standings.
In this league, you get an A Group, a B Group, and a C Group. The players you can select in each group are the same from week to week. In the A Group, you can pick two players and start one. In the B Group, you can pick four and start one, and in the C Group, you pick two and start one. You can change who you want to start throughout the week, but you can't change anything mid-round.
I found this week to be particularly tough because it's so wide open. Here's who I chose:
A Group: Sergio Garcia and Hunter Mahan
B Group: Robert Karlsson, Justin Leonard, Ross Fisher, and Anthony Kim
C Group: Lee Westwood and Andres Romero
Other guys I liked but didn't select include Greg Norman, Boo Weekley, Ernie Els, Nick O'Hern, and Geoff Ogilvy. So far, my picks aren't doing very well, as most of my guys went out early on Thursday, but there's still a lot of golf to be played.
Who were your picks to win?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Course Review: Cross Creek Golf Club

It's been quite a while since I wrote a course review, and though I have notes and pictures about much heftier courses that are in the course review queue, I feel compelled to write a few words about the course I played on Saturday morning, Cross Creek Golf Club.

I wasn't expecting a whole lot when I showed up at the course in Beltsville, MD at around 7:30am. When I rolled into the lot, it appeared to be just an average public course. The guy in the shop was nice enough, and the weekend rate of $59 was appealing. A small bucket of balls was included in the green fee, so I went to the range to try to find a little bit of tempo before the round got underway.

The range is grass (surprise!!), but it's an "irons only" range. These kinds of ranges really tick me off. Why build 18 holes of golf, preserve a bunch of weedy wetlands, pave cart paths, build bridges over streams, construct a clubhouse, etc. and not even make the range long enough to hit drivers? It's unconscionable. With the way I hit my driver, I need to take at least ten whacks with it before my round. Now I'm hosed.

The course starts off with a nice par 5, followed by a decent par 3. Quirky way to begin, but I let it go. Even though I got off to an okay start, I began to undertand why the starter told us that anything that goes into the trees or environmental hazards should be left alone and treated as laterals. The "laterals" are no more than five yards off the fairway on every hole. There's almost no rough to be found, as everything dives directly into "forest restoration areas" and nasty gunge. The fairways are tight enough on their own-- with these junk areas so close to the edges, there is absolutely no margin for error --- ON THE ENTIRE COURSE!

Cross Creek is one of the most penal courses I've ever played because of the way it's set up. I hit some bad shots, but some that fell victim to the gunge were pretty decent. I lost count, but I would imagine I had 10-15 penalty shots.

We played from the tips, and it was only about 6,300 yards. I don't mind short courses, but Cross Creek takes the driver out of one's hands on nearly every hole because of how tight it is. It is truly ridiculous.

My other major beef is that there was standing water everywhere in the fairways. It hadn't rained in at least a week, yet the management chose dark green, sloppy fairways over light green/tan fairways that play hard and fast. Every shot that landed in the fairway that was more than five feet off the ground, plugged. What fun...

The layout had some bright spots. Some of the par threes were nice, and the first par five (I think it is #13) on the back nine was solid. However, one feels wedged in on every hole, and unless you hit it perfectly straight, it's a pain to play.

The marshal was extremely nice. He was probably the most affable marshall I've ever encountered. Too bad he was the best thing about Cross Creek. I won't go back anytime soon. The only things that could get me to return would be: 1) a guarantee that the fairways aren't soaked, and 2) revenge for letting such a short course get the best of me.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

233 and Counting

Over the 4th of July weekend, I played my 233rd different golf course, which was the Ocean County Golf Course at Atlantis. It's an old George Fazio track that has seen better days condition-wise, but it was a special round nonetheless. I played with my cousin Tripp McKeon, and what made it cool was that the course is where my great-grandfather, Sylvester Gorman, played his final round. He played it with my dad, my grandfather, and my great uncle back in the early to mid-sixties. So, it was a nostalgic trip (with Tripp). I never knew my great-grandfather, but he knew me when I was just a wee one. Hopefully I'll get back to the Atlantis soon with my dad so he can soak up the memories.

I'm still a long way from reaching my goal of 1,000 courses, but I'm making decent progress this year. It's the beginning of July, and I've played 11 new ones in 2008. So I'm less than halfway toward my goal of 30 new courses per year (I'd accept 25), but I'm working on a bunch in the coming months.

On the docket are the following:
1) Cross Creek Golf Club
2) Lake Presidential
3) Pendleton Golf Club
4) Royal County Down
5) Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
6) Royal Belfast
7) Ardglass Golf Club
8) Malone Golf Club
9) Medinah No. 3
10) Skokie Country Club
11) Scioto Country Club
12) OSU (Scarlet)
13) Coldstream Country Club
14) Atlantic Golf Club
15) Frog Hollow Golf Club

It's a solid list, so hopefully they'll all come to fruition. Is there anywhere exciting that you're looking to play before Labor Day arrives?