Supporting Adam Scott

Golf AustraliaYesterday it was reported that Adam Scott is skipping the Olympic Games this summer.  Good for him.  Fellow Australian and gold medalist swimmer Dawn Frazer basically had a meltdown and accused Scott of being unpatriotic.  Anyone who witnessed Scott’s magnificent 2013 Masters triumph and celebration of country knows better.  This has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with taking a principled stand against the obvious misplacement of a sport that does not belong in the Olympic Games.  Scott is a professional.  Professional golfers biggest stage is the majors.  The Olympics should be for amateurs.  I get that it’s not but there’s nothing wrong with taking a stand in what you believe in.  Thankfully, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel quickly followed suit and I suspect the floodgates of professionals sensing a guilt free option to skip has been opened.Adam Scott

The addition of professional sports to the Olympics has cheapened an event that was once the crown jewel of amateur competition.  The Soviet basketball team first violated the spirit of amateurism at the 1972 Olympic Games which started the downhill spiral.  Now the world’s biggest professional events have been added and it’s a joke.  How bad is this?  Let’s compare a few:  World Cup vs. Olympic soccer?  No contest.  Baseball World Series vs Olympic baseball?  Already decided.  NBA Championship vs USA Dream team destroying every country by 50 points?  What a laugher.  Wimbledon vs Olympic tennis?  You get the picture.

Folks who think Olympic Golf is about growing the game globally are being mislead.  Golf is a game played largely in developed countries and will probably remain that way because of market forces.  Sure a driving range or course may pop up in Senegal or Ecuador, but those are outliers.

Sometimes you simply need to take action because it’s the right thing to do.  I stand in solidarity with Scott, Oostie, Schwartzel, and anyone else who cares to skip Olympic golf.  Good for them.

Cramming for May events

CrammingNormally the golf season starts in late February in the DMV and I attempt to peak my game for the important events on the May calendar.  May 5 is the four-man scramble for the Jess Carson Charity Foundation at Queenstown Harbor, and May 30-June 4 is our annual Myrtle Beach 216-hole slug-fest.  This year we have a dynamite course line-up and I am pumped to travel, but the physical demands of this trip can be daunting if your fitness level is poor or you are struggling with your game.   Sometimes you can’t control game struggles, but this year I broke protocol by doing a poor job maintaining my fitness over the winter, and am playing catch up.  Also, rather than dedicating two days per weekend in the spring for practice and play, I was limited to one mostly because of bad weather.

As I noted earlier, I’ve been battling a long running case of the chip yips and last weekend appeared to have it whipped.  I managed to chip in again for the second time in four rounds and took great encouragement from the course despite my continued ball striking issues.  Fast forward to yesterday and I hit 14 greens in regulation (did not see that coming), but the chip yips were back – ugh!  I left the course a bit dejected after blowing a chance to go low by playing holes 15-18 bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey.  What drives you nuts in this game is that you cannot solve for one thing without something else going wrong.  But my dejection quickly faded because I realized my ball striking was coming around and I finished poorly because my poor conditioning caused some loose swings late.

It’s hard to recognize that when you lay the sod over a short pitch, you are actually improving.  Improvement is not linear and you are going to have setbacks and can only hope to see overall improvement that trends up slowly.  So the push is on and I’ll continue to work on flexibility, dropping some more weight, and tailoring practice to the May 5th tournament.  The scramble is all about driving, putting, and short iron play.  I’ll practice on Saturday featuring wedges, drivers, and putting, and then play on Sunday.  Hopefully it all comes together on the 5th.  After the scramble, it will be back to the short game focus and working hard on conditioning.

When you’re a desk jockey, it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees; you want to do your best every time out, but when you only get one day per week, it sure seems hard.  How is your early season coming?

Truly Inspired

What I absolutely love about this blogging community is my ability to rant and rave and occasionally celebrate successes, because each of you are players and you get it – no explanation required.  Trying to tell the lady stocking the fridge at work on Monday morning why I’m pulling my tee shots doesn’t illicit the same intellectual curiosity.  So thank you.

I am drawing inspiration for this piece from all the great articles you wrote this weekend, but one in particular from One Bearded Golfer.  He penned an excellent column with his Masters Hot Takes, and it got me thinking about my own struggles on Sunday.  Yes, golf is incredibly hard, as Dave has capably pointed out.  Watching Jordan Spieth implode at Augusta confirmed this, and I was off my game as well, hitting the ball poorly, but more importantly, feeling sluggish and not particularly capable of making an athletic move.  While commiserating with my playing partner, he suggested that father time was starting to play a part.  What?  I am cognizant of the double nickle non-competitive delimiter most players go through on the Champion’s Tour but could this be happening to me?  Of course nobody has the speed, flexibility, and agility at 55 than they did at 25, but there was something else at play, and I realized after watching Jordan’s crash that to play really good golf you need to be hitting on all three of your golf engine cylinders (mental, physical, and mechanical).  Jordan wasn’t hitting on his mechanical cylinder and I was off on my physical.

As players we tend to obsess about the latest weakness in our games.  As a weekend warrior, my practice time is limited and I had been focusing my entire preparation on fixing my short game.  Well, it’s fixed (for now) and oddly enough feels like a strength.  Problem was I had stopped working out and put on too much weight over the winter.  Was it any wonder I didn’t feel comfortable making a good turn?  I believe you have to have the right balance of play, practice, mental piece of mind, and physical fitness to be successful, and still nothing is guaranteed.  Jordan Spieth demonstrated that on Sunday.

So to Dave at One Bearded Golfer:  Thank you for the inspiration to get back at my TPI workouts and start eating right again.  Also know that the little one in your life is probably more of a distraction to your golf than you realize.  When I had little ones, I had to adjust expectations, rearrange ground rules, etc.

Yes, as Hogan said, “The secret is in the dirt,” so definitely keep after it but enjoy the little distractions along the way and be patient; it will come.

Thank you all and play well.

The Augusta Bracket Buster

MizeThis year’s Masters Friday feels like a Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  The early upsets are out of the way, some egos have been crushed, most of our bracket’s are busted, and a refreshing reset has set in.

Bernhard Langer and Larry Mize are headlining the weekend action!  It’s amazing how some of the old timers continually deliver and the favorites disappoint.  Is Phil finally hitting the wall?  Maybe.  As soon as Jack Nicklaus (had Phil) picks you for something, it’s like the kiss of death. 🙂

The first hole travesty that Ernie Els suffered through shouldn’t happen to anyone.  Now this has zero comparison value, but I remember playing in a tournament 25 years ago and five-putting on a par-3 hole.  I just wanted to climb into a shell and disappear.  I cannot imagine how the Big Easy felt on the first hole of the greatest tournament on earth.  It was difficult to watch and to his credit, Ernie answered all the questions with honesty and integrity.

My David and Goliath final match-up is history with both Zach Johnson (cut) and Bubba (made it on the number) shooting themselves out of contention.  Zach was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a hazard on Friday and missed it by those two shots, but was already on the back-nine bogey train and headed for the weekend off.

So how’s this play out?  The good news is that we are in for a surreal weekend treat.  Forget about the traditional Sunday birdie barrage.  Look for a U.S. Open style battle of attrition where even par is a great score and the toughest course conditions in years force the players to grind grind grind.  I think this favors all the ex-U.S. Open champions in the field.  Obviously Spieth has to be favored.  He has the toughest demeanor in the game and the guts around the green.  If the wind continues to blow, the good ball strikers like Rory and Dustin Johnson should be right there although neither of them putt as well as Spieth.  If Justin Rose can banish any putting demons, he has a shot.  Jason Day has a good patient approach and figures to be right there on Sunday, but flights it a little high which could be a problem if the wind is a factor.  And finally, despite making a 9 in Thursday’s round on #15, look for Angel Cabrera to hang tough.  All he does is win when you don’t think he should.  He is definitely a horse for this course and has an Open trophy and a green jacket.

Enjoy the weekend slugfest!  How’s your bracket doing?

Competitive Integrity Problem On Tour?

Phil BunkerDid anyone catch Phil Mickelson’s comments on NBC after Sunday’s final round in the Shell Houston Open?  I believe it was Jimmy Roberts who interviewed Phil and asked him how he felt since he was close but couldn’t close the deal in Houston.  He added were there any takeaways that Phil could share about his game heading into next week’s Masters?  Phil indicated that he basically mismanaged his game on purpose so he could hit some tee shots under game conditions that he would need next week at Augusta.  He added that if he were trying to win at Houston, he would have played more 3-woods instead of drivers off the tee because the fairways narrow considerably around 300 yards.  He said the reason for this was that he was preparing for the cut tee shots with the driver he’d need on several holes at The Masters, most notably on #13.  Phil was actually using this tournament as four practice rounds for Augusta.

When I first heard this I thought, “Phil is a smart guy; he knows how to prep for a major and that’s why he’s already won three Masters.”  Then while I was enjoying the aftermath of Jim Herman’s hard fought one-shot victory over Henrik Stenson, I began to think;  Herman and Stenson battled hard for this title, and so did Dustin Johnson.  Since golf is basically self-policed, with each player calling violations on themselves and attempting to protect the field and thus the integrity of the competition, shouldn’t players in the field be obligated to try their hardest to win at all times?  Not trying your hardest might skew the result in an odd way and have negative downstream effects.  For example, what if on the strength of his victory, Herman made the Ryder Cup team.  If Phil had played to win and defeated Herman, someone else may have made the team.

In organized team sports, at the end of the season, teams sometimes rest their star players; I get that.  However, I’ve never heard the players on the field in any sport admitting to not giving anything less than 100% effort to try and win.  And this was certainly not a case of easing off the gas at the end of a blow out game so as to not run up the score on an opponent.  Does this strike you as odd?  Even though it may be done by others, are you okay with a competitor admitting to not trying to win?  I wonder how Jim Herman might feel. . . I’m a huge Phil fan but am interested to know your thoughts on this.

 

2016 The Masters – Picking a Winner

The Masters isn’t the most difficult major to win but it has become the most coveted because of what it represents.  In Michael Bamberger’s Men In Green, he describes Ken Venturi’s inability to get past his defeat in the 1958 Masters, and how it haunted him the rest of his life.  It certainly showcases the importance of winning this championship and how it can make or break a player.Magnolia Lane

The 2016 edition feels like the passing of the torch from the cadre of players in their 40s and 50s (Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, Couples), who competed and thrilled us for years, to the younger set that is dominating play today.  Of the previous group, only Lefty can be considered competitive enough to have a chance.  But at 45, he’s seeing the slow inevitable loss of “the edge”.  Everyone who’s ever played the game goes through the process, as the venerable Arnold Palmer has described it.

A tip of the cap goes to The King who will not be hitting his ceremonial Masters tee shot this year because of an unfortunate injury.  We wish him a speedy recovery.

Now to the business at hand, let’s break the field into three groups of contenders.

  • Group 1 (Superstars):  Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Bubba Watson. The world’s #1 ranking rotates regularly in this circle and sort of confirms the lack of importance of that title.  Whomever is hot at the moment is the World #1.
  • Group 2 (Cagey Veterans):  Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk.  All major winners and usually in contention.
  • Group 3 (BPTNWM:  Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and I’ll lump in Rickie Fowler, since he’s been so close with top five finishes in all the majors.  Certainly he has the talent, and now he’s got the expectations.

There are plenty of great players on the periphery like Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kistner, and Danny Willett, but the champion will come from one of the first three groups.

Picking major winners is hard so let’s use the process of elimination to arrive at a champion.  Getting started, here’s why Rory McIlroy will not win it despite all that talent.  Rory has won his four majors but also has that Masters bugaboo since he fired the final round 80 in 2011.  Becoming a first time champion at Augusta is hard work as the magnolia baggage piles up.  I’m not wild about the timing of his putting change to left hand low.  It may be working for him now but I like to see stability with the flatstick heading into a date with these slickmeisters.  Adam Scott is striping it too, but I don’t like him for the same reason.  Too soon away from the broomstick to handle the mental grind on these greens.

Now we know what the issue with defending champion Jordan Spieth is.  He overextended himself with commitments after his stellar year.  Seems reasonable, and he appears to be regaining some mojo, but is also struggling with the putter and won’t get all the way back, at least not this week.

Someone with imagination will win The Masters  Someone who’s a great putter will win.  Someone who can grind will win.  Ricky Fowler can make birdies with the best of them but can he grind?  He got ground out in Phoenix as a front-runner and that didn’t sit well.  To have a chance he needs to come from behind on Sunday.  Not likely.

Jason Day fits the bill on the requirements.  Before last year’s breakthrough in the PGA, he seemed to always have an untimely injury or bout with vertigo, or illness, or lost a little focus, or something that just prevented him from breaking through.  Nobody was closer in the majors, but he finally broke through in 2015, but not at Augusta.  He’s the hottest on the planet coming in and I like him for a top-3 but not a jacket.

If golf was played on a 15 hole course and majors were 60 holes not 72, Sergio Garcia would be challenging Jack and Tiger for all time supremacy.  Maybe Sergio needs a golf shirt with an XXXXL size collar to have a chance.  Sorry Sergio, no chance.  I’m also losing faith in Dustin (more talent than anyone) Johnson.  Seems he runs with a bit of Sergio fever at crunch time.  I’m not picking him in a major until he wins one.

So who’s left?  It’s Zach Johnson vs. Bubba Watson.  David vs Goliath.  Bubba is hitting the ball great and leads the tour in the all important GIR statistic.  But unlike normal Bubba, his putting is mediocre and his scrambling is horrible and you’ve gotta have touch and guts around these greens to win.

So your 2016 Masters Champion will be touch and guts Zach Johnson, with Jason Day finishing second and Bubba coming in third.  For those of you looking for a dark horse in your Calcutta, Charl Schwartzel is an ex-champion, has had a nice quiet but solid start to his season and will be cheap!  Look for him to contend.

Call your bookies and good luck!Zach Johnson