Tag Archives: PGA Tour

40 Million Wrongs

My jaw dropped when I learned of the PGA Tour’s new Player Impact Bonus program.  To sum it up, the tour will divide $40M annually amongst ten players that “generate the most off-course buzz from fans and sponsors.”   Wow.  A league sanctioned entity awarding compensation unrelated to on-course performance. 

Under the program, players will be ranked by Google search ratings, media mentions, exposure ratings from Nielson Q Scores, and a non-performance MVP index algorithm.  This was a response to the threat the Tour felt from the fledgling Premier Golf League, that was trying to gather a select set of stars to compete in events with smaller fields and larger purses.  Well, that effort flopped and this bonus is a flopper waiting to happen.       

There is so much wrong here, it’s hard to unpack.  First, the PGA Tour is the world’s top golf tour where the greatest names come to compete.  Is this not enough?  The simple ability to test oneself against the world’s best is why many foreign players have relocated permanently to the United States.  Second, the tour has NEVER paid any money for non-performance; why start now?  The European PGA Tour is arguably the second-best circuit but has been roundly criticized for allowing six and seven figure appearance fees to lure players to its events.  Third, advocating self-promotion is a distraction the players do not need.  I’d rather have them focused on making birdies and winning rather than how many Tweets they can send out real time.  I’m getting flashbacks of Joe Horn’s NFL cellphone celebration – ack!  Please leave the self- promotion off the course and don’t pay anybody to do it.

The Tour recently hired Dan Glod to run its global sponsorship development.  I wonder if this is his brainchild?  A new identity for the Tour is definitely forming.  Did you notice it at last week’s Zurich Classic in the fourth round?  As the players were introduced, they were playing walk-up music on the first tee.  Really?  Save it for the WWE.

Play well.    

Does Tiger Deserve to keep Playing?

TigerIn 2011, Peyton Manning underwent surgery for a pinched nerve in his neck and missed the entire NFL season.  Many questioned his ability to continue his career.  The Denver Broncos took a chance on him and two years later, at 37, he threw a NFL record 55 touchdown passes.  Two years after that, he threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and despite winning the Super Bowl, had clearly lost the physical ability to compete.  He rode off into the sunset and now drinks Budweiser and happily pitches Papa Johns pizza.

photo from Getty
photo from Getty

Tiger Woods is one year older than Manning, and their professional careers came of age in roughly the same time period (1997-1998).  Woods is now 41.  Plagued by injuries and psychological foibles he fell from 2nd to 218th in the FedEx standings in 2014 and has done nothing since, except fill his fans with false hope.  Why he continues to play is anyone’s guess, but does he deserve to continue?

If Tiger was in Manning’s shoes, he’d be out.  We often think of golf as the ultimate meritocracy sport but is it?  The answer is still “Yes.”  Tiger earned his place in any field he wants to play in, just as any player with 20 career wins and an active 15-year Tour membership can claim.  Tiger actually still qualifies from his PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP victory in the last five years, but soon he’ll be on the 15-20 list.  Ever wonder why Tom Watson, at 67, occasionally shows up in a PGA Tour event?  He’s on the same exemption list.  Vijay Singh too.  Go here to check out the players that are exempt.  It’s updated daily.

Like it or not, successful PGA Tour events are staged when the tournament sponsor makes money.  Sponsors need those big names to draw crowds and television viewers.  That’s why they are granted exemptions for tournament entrants.  If Tiger is in the field and hacking, people are still watching.  So if better players are shut out of the field, so be it.  The difference is in football, you have a contract, you’re on a team, and you get paid.  If you can no longer perform, you get no contract and are finished.  In golf, you still have a chance.

As long as the current PGA Tour revenue model remains the same, we need that 15-20 exemption list and sponsor’s exemptions to drive attendance and positive viewership.  Guys like David Duval (45) hung on much longer than Tiger.  Duval did absolutely nothing for an entire decade.  Other guys like Ian Baker-Finch knew when they lost it and quit fast.  Tiger Woods should continue to play as long as he likes.  It might get ugly, but shoot, I’ll still be watching.  How about you; think we are good or do we need a change to the exemption rules?

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.

 

Formula for Improvement in 2016

ImprovementBefore we start, let’s try a quick mental exercise: You are playing a par-4 hole under benign conditions, and your drive has left you 130 yards to a pin cut just four paces on the front of the green with no hazards to clear. What is your approach? Do you pick your 130-yard club and go right for the pin, knowing if you may stiff it, but if you mishit it you may be 10-15 feet short of the green and have to chip to recover, or do you take your 140-yard club and hit for the center of the green, knowing you may have a downhill 30 foot putt but probably won’t be close to the flag for a realistic birdie chance? Hold that answer for later.

In my ongoing effort to improve, I just completed a full game analysis which included a statistical review of over 200 rounds played since 2010 and a subjective self-evaluation. Combining the two, I think I’ve landed on a reasonable strategy to take a couple strokes off my game in 2016.

The subjective component was derived from assessing my strengths and weaknesses as a player, and being as honest as possible. If you try it, this will vary by your skill level.  I realize I do not have the game of a scratch player, so I rated the various components of my game in relation to what an average 5-handicap might look like. If I could calculate strokes gained or lost for various categories, that would be great but you can’t so what I came up with was letter grades. My rank against the class: Driving: B, Irons: C-minus, Putting: B, Short Game: D, Mental game: A-minus.

Next the objective component was using data for scoring average, GIR, and putts per round. It’s well known that the most highly regarded statistic on the PGA Tour as an indicator of good play is GIR but we amateurs are not playing the PGA Tour so how relevant is GIR? Let’s see. I divided up my rounds into good ball striking days (10 or more GIR), poor ball striking days (less than 10 GIR), and good putting days (30 or less putts). What I found was there was a much higher correlation to good scoring from good ball striking than good putting. The data:

Category Average GIR Average Putts Average Score
Good ball striking rounds 11.21 32.97 76.46
Poor ball striking rounds 6.78 31.62 81.34
Good putting rounds 7.27 28.97 78.32

The difference in good ball striking rounds and poor ball striking rounds is clear.  Essentially, with each additional green hit, I lowered my score by one shot.  However, notice that during the good ball striking rounds, I averaged four more putts per round than during good putting rounds.  This is because the more greens you hit, the farther you are from the hole and you will naturally take more putts, but my stroke average was nearly two shots lower per round than the good putting rounds! What does this mean? Back to our initial example: I would probably benefit from hitting the 140-yard club and playing more conservatively on my approach shots to allow me to HIT MORE GREENS. It also speaks volumes that my short game is very poor 😦 and needs to improve to get me closer to the hole when I do miss.

Conclusion: I’m convinced, the main part of this plan is better course management.  During rounds, I need to discipline myself to aim for the fat part of the greens and assume that there’s nothing wrong with settling for two-putt pars. The occasional birdie is fine but I can’t force it.  I also need to focus most if not all of my practice time to improving short game and putting.  In essence, don’t be a hero, just lower my stroke average using the law of averages and common sense. Given the data, what do you think of this approach? Silly? Too conservative? About right? Please let me know!

Driving The Golf Ball – Length Vs Accuracy

Long DriveWhat’s more important, length or accuracy?  Been having a couple interesting dialogs with Jim at The Grateful Golfer and Jimmy at Tiger Golf Traveler on the challenges of driving and figured it was time to take a closer look at the dichotomy.  Let’s approach from the two perspectives of the tour professional and amateur player, which are very different, and often get munged together to create great confusion.  First the pro.  The current PGA Tour driving distance average is 290.8 yards.  This has steadily increased from slightly over 260 yards in 1993 to 287 yards in 2003 and leveled off since.  The reason was three-fold:  first was the introduction of the trampoline effect on the driver face (new technology), second was the introduction of the three-piece golf ball, and finally was the muscling up and year round conditioning of today’s tour players pioneered by Tiger Woods.  As a result, the PGA Tour has steadily lengthened its venues to maintain the competitive integrity of the game.  No doubt, length has won out over accuracy on tour as the world’s best are more deadly accurate with their approaches using wedges out of the rough than short to middle irons from the fairway.

What’s fascinating is that the playing public has access to the same equipment that the best in the world have, but for some reason they expect to boom drives in the same fashion that their heroes on TV do.  How often have you seen the guy at the driving range banging bucket after bucket over the 300 yard sign with sweat dripping from his brow and a great look of satisfaction on his face?  Or maybe that person is you???  Here’s where perception and reality are out of whack because the tour pro’s misses are far less off-line than the amateur’s and what the pro can do with his game at the other end of the drive differs considerably from the amateur.   To put it differently, given a 36oz. wooden bat and a softly tossed baseball, would you be able to stand at the plate and swat home runs like Chris Davis or Jose Bautista?  Of course not.Crush

As a young amateur, I had a laminated Top Flite driver that would almost never miss the fairway.  I couldn’t drive it over 220 yards but was incredibly straight.  In my 20s I took a couple lessons with a pro who firmed up my left side during the downswing.  Part of that instruction included strengthening my left hand grip which allowed me to generate more power through better leverage.  Well that worked and the ball started flying farther but far more crooked and I have never regained the accuracy with the big stick.  Oddly enough, in last two years, I have started driving it better just focusing on making a good shoulder turn going back.  But the bottom line for this amateur: the game is far more enjoyable if you stay out of trouble off the tee, even if that means sacrificing some distance.

So my final recommendation:  Let the equipment companies continue to try and sell you a new $400 driver every year with the promise of a few more magical yards but don’t buy it.  Invest half that much and get a professional driver fitting with a reputable club maker.  He’ll make sure the driver you are playing has the correct shaft flexibility, is not too long, and lets you keep it in the short grass.

Where do you fall in the length vs accuracy spectrum?  Play well!

How Do You Set Your Goals?

How do you set your performance goals? Conventional thinking is that goals should be SMART:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time Bound.

I usually come up with SMART goals for the season that center around achieving a specific scoring average, reducing number of putts, improving my GIR, etc., and I suspect yours look similar. But what about that secret goal you keep in the back of your mind that you’re afraid to publish because you might not get there. Should you put it out there? Don’t be afraid; do it! Everyone has these “stretch goals” and if you clearly envision them and formulate your improvement roadmap to hit them, even if they are long term and seemingly out of reach, you’ll ultimately feel more in control of your destiny and can take a more methodical approach and weather the inevitable ups and downs. And oh baby, if you hit them, watch out!

My new stretch goal, is to sustain a period of excellence over a short burst of time that tells me, I can still play to the level that I once did when I played my best. Specifically, the goal is to repeat a scenario I experienced once in my life in the mid-1990s when I played three straight rounds on three straight days at par or better. I was in the “Zone” for all three rounds and have never come close since then. Playing one round in the Zone is fabulous, but three in a row was incredible. I’m thinking of this because I tasted the Zone last week for a brief five-hole stretch, and loved it. Despite the quick exit, the touch has me juiced and motivated.

Changing your stretch goal because of current circumstances or the realities of life is fine as well. I try to keep my SMART goals in the current season (Time Bound), but the stretch goal is elastic. For example: In 2011, my stretch goal was to lower my handicap to zero from five. The lowest it had ever been was between a 1 and 2 back when I was in my 20s and playing a lot more golf than I do now. Was that a reasonable stretch goal? Maybe, but I quickly learned that a working desk jockey playing 35 rounds a year in his mid-50s and practicing once per week wasn’t going to hit pay dirt, so I adjusted. I am modeling after a guy on tour who is two years my junior (Vijay Singh). There is nobody more dedicated to improvement and excellence, but the truth is, Vijay cannot play as well as he did 10 years ago no matter how long he practices and how badly he wants to compete. I’m not telling Vijay to quit, and I love it when he goes low for a short stretch like he did at Northern Trust, but I don’t expect him to win a regular tour event any more.

So hopefully I will be entering the “Vijay Zone.” Perhaps a place where no man has gone before. Do you have a secret stretch goal?  Care to share?

Hot Start To 2015 Golf Season

HotNot sure what is going on with my golf game but I’m enjoying some early speed in the race for improvement in 2015.  I started the year with a modest goal of being able to walk 18 holes by the end of April and not experience any physical symptoms from my HCM.  Today I walked my second 18-hole round without difficulty and managed to back up last week’s 2-over 74 at Myrtle Beach National with a 1-over 71 on my home course.  I can’t recall coming out of the blocks this fast in the last 10 years and am trying not to over-analyze the reasons and just enjoy the ride.  But over-analyze is what I do, so here goes.  Maybe you can find a nugget or two that might help you.

The first key is a lesson I learned from last year’s dreadful start (92 on opening day) and some excellent advice I received from The Grateful Golfer.  Jim reminded me not to take the early season results too seriously and to ease into my game after the long winter layoff.  In 2015 I did this by walking 9-holes on my executive course on consecutive weekends and playing several balls without keeping score.  As a result, I relaxed for the start of the 18-hole rounds and played with less sense of urgency.  Jim, thanks for the reality check!

Second, I’ve sometimes found that if you are physically ill, or worrying about your health, it takes your mind off your golf game and you play better.  Has this ever happened to you?  I recall playing a round one year in my mid-20s when I was sick to my stomach and shot lights out.  Weird but true.  To be honest, my disorder is always on my mind and when I’m on the golf course I am filled with gratitude that I’m just able to play the game I love, and am not worrying about results.

Third, I’m beginning to wonder if this Rx I’m on isn’t having a positive effect.  Beta blockers are illegal on the PGA Tour for a reason.  They lower your heart rate and theoretically help you deal with pressure and nerves to an unfair advantage.  In my first 54 holes, I have yet to three-putt and feel very confident, calm, and trusting on the greens.

Finally, and most importantly, I heeded the advice of The Birdie Hunt and committed to returning to basics and not overhauling any part of my game over the winter, as I had done to disastrous results in previous years.  My only thoughts during practice and play are to check alignment, make a full shoulder turn, and clear my hips on the downswing.  Contact with my irons was solid last week and again today with 14 GIR.

So I’m going to continue to try hard not to try too hard and just let the game come to me.  Hope you can do the same.  How’s the opening of your season going?

Why Some Players Don’t Win Majors

photo by dailymail.co.uk
photo by dailymail.co.uk

The Masters is almost here and the non-major winners will be under the microscope again.  Why don’t they win?  Why do some players like John Daly win multiple majors when stellar career guys like Steve Stricker don’t?  How do guys like Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen (one tour win each) manage to make their only tour victory a major?  Of the guys that win, some overcome physical shortcomings, some overcome mental issues, but rarely will someone conquer both.  To be successful, they must have three characteristics:

 

 

Total commitment

-Belief in self

-Ability to avoid distractions for 72 holes

Of the players that win majors, you’ll always find two of the three on any given week, but the guys who lose have a major deficit in at least one. Of the winners, John Daly is the most fascinating and is the least likely multiple major winner in the history of the game.  With the charges of domestic violence, substance abuse, busting up hotel rooms, etc, Daly suffered from the most distractions, but his belief in self and ability to concentrate for the full 72 holes allowed him to prevail in the 1991 PGA and 1995 Open Championship.   Vijay Singh overcame poor putting for his entire career, but his commitment to excellence and belief in self were tremendous, and he won three majors.  Nick Faldo had just nine tour wins but six were majors.  Nick was supreme in all three facets.   Tiger Woods also excelled in each but when the distractions started, so did the current train wreck.

John Daly with the Claret Jug. photo by golfweek.com
John Daly with the Claret Jug.
photo by golfweek.com

Of the primary non-winners with double digit career victories (age/PGA Tour wins) let’s look at why they failed:

  • Steve Stricker (48/12): Lack of total commitment.  Total family man; nothing wrong with that, but 15 tournaments per year was a full schedule.  Sometimes didn’t travel to The Open when eligible to play.
  • Bruce Lietzke (63/13): Lack of total commitment.  Would rather be fishing.  Very similar to Stricker.
  • Kenny Perry (54/14):  Belief in self.  Came close at The Masters but didn’t believe he could win it at the end and choked.  Very humble, almost to a fault.  No killer attitude and has never believed he was a great player.

On the current list of Best Player to Never Win a Major, who’s got what it takes?  Let’s look at three:  Matt Kuchar (36/7); (Dustin Johnson (30/9); Sergio Garcia (35/8).

Matt Kuchar Best finish was T-3 at the 2012 Masters.  Has the belief in his abilities and is a relentless competitor.  Seems to stay in the moment and has an excellent short game.  Tough to judge his level of commitment.  I’m not wild about his recent swing changes with his closed stance and over the top move.  Historically, not a good ball striker in terms of driving length, accuracy, and GIR which is probably what’s held him back.  Best chance to break through would be at The Masters.  I have him at 50-50 odds to get a major.

Dustin Johnson Best finish was T-2 at the 2011 Open Championship but best chance to win was at the 2010 PGA (T-5) where he was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the last hole and missed out on a playoff by two strokes.  Could have the most physical talent on tour.  Obviously distractions were a huge issue in the past.  I love the changes in his pre-shot routine, especially with the putter, and they’ve been on display in recent weeks.  Still has a weak short game that will hurt in tournaments with fast greens like Augusta and the U.S. Open.  Best chance to win is at The Open where his ability to bomb it and the slower greens work in his favor.  Too soon to tell if he’s past the mental foibles but looks good in the short term.  70% chance to win a major because he’s young and oozing talent.

Sergio Garcia:  Best finish was T-2 at the 1999 and 2008 PGA as well as T-2 at the 2007 and 2014 Open Championship.  Clearly the most disappointing of the three.   What’s held Sergio back has been issues with commitment, a bad attitude, and poor putting, especially towards the end of tournaments.  He’s been so close, but the combination of mental and physical shortcomings has derailed him.  With all the second place finishes and late round failures, his major career is slightly reminiscent of Greg Norman’s, except The Shark won his first major at the age of 31 . At 35,  Sergio has improved his putting over the last couple of seasons but still struggles with pressure late in rounds.  His proclivity to choke will get harder to overcome with age and despite all the close calls, I have him at less than 25% to win a major.  Best chance would be at The Open, with the slower greens and home field advantage.

Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth are in the next group but are too young to be dinged for not winning.  Both have the talent to prevail, but as we have seen recently, will need to overcome a huge obstacle (Mr. Rory McIlroy) to break through.

Do you think anyone has what it takes to break through in 2015?  Predictions?

 

 

Would a PGA Tour Pro Tear Up Your Local Course?

One of the favorite debates we have in our regular weekend foursome goes like this, “Would a top-tier PGA Tour pro shoot lights out at the venues we play on?”  We normally visit a circuit of courses with varying degrees of conditioning, length, and difficulty.  A common opinion is that PGA Tour pros always play on immaculate conditions and they would not be able to adjust downward and tear up a common man’s track with it’s assortment of un-replaced divots, half fixed ball marks, occasional aeration holes, and partially raked bunkers.  But as Granny Hawkins once remarked in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “I say that big talk’s worth doodly-squat.”

To figure this out, we do have a couple of reference points.  First, one of the more difficult tracks we play in upper Montgomery County is Little Bennett, with it’s good conditioning, fast undulating greens, and severe changes in elevation.  As a five-handicap playing from the blue tees at 6,770 yards and a par of 72, I struggle to break 80.  The course has been the site of local qualifying for The AT&T National (Previously Booz Allen Classic / Kemper Open).  Top local pros routinely shoot 64, 65, 66 to qualify, which blows my mind when you consider the difficulty level, and these guys are the lower-tier entrants in the PGA Tour event and usually miss the cut.

Reference point 2:  Back in the mid 1980s, while working as an assistant in the Mid-Atlantic PGA section, our tournaments were contested on the best local country clubs and the difficulty level was considerably higher than the courses my weekend group now plays on.  At the time, the top local pro was Fred Funk, who was working as the golf coach at the University of Maryland.

Fred Funk Photo by theguardian.com
Fred Funk
Photo by theguardian.com

Funk ultimately won eight times on the PGA Tour and this was a few years prior to when he joined the tour full time in 1989.  When Funk was in a MAPGA event, he’d routinely shoot in the mid 60s and everyone else knew they were playing for second place.  In his career, Funk’s average driving distance topped out at 281 yards for one season but was usually in the 269-279 range.  Nothing tremendous, but he was destroying us on the best of our local courses.  Now fast forward and think what would happen if you put an average tour threesome of say, Harris English, Jhonattan Vegas, and Graham DeLaet on your local muni.  These guys all average over 300 yards off the tee.  They would be hitting short and mid-irons into all the par fives and flip wedges into the fours.  Now, put a major winning caliber group of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Phil Mickelson on the muni and you start to paint a different picture.  The only thing that could hold them back from the 58s, 59s, 60s, would be inordinately poor conditions on the putting greens.  The muni wouldn’t stand a chance.

Jhonny V winds up photo by golfweek.com
Jhonny V winds up
photo by golfweek.com

I’ve played with professionals who were good enough to qualify for the occasional PGA Tour event but never had the pleasure of playing with a top flight touring pro.  Have you ever played a round with a regular member of the PGA Tour?  If so, was it on your local course and did they tear it up?  The thought is a fun one to ponder.

When Is It Time To Quit?

On a fall afternoon in 1973, I remember watching my home town Washington Redskins do battle with the San Diego Chargers.  I was only 12 years old at the time, but the image of Johnny Unitas, struggling to stay upright, and fully embarrassing himself at the helm of the Chargers offense will always be etched in my mind.  I was too young to remember Unitas in his glory years, but recall my father telling me how great he was as the leader of the Baltimore Colts.  I was a little sad, and was left to ponder why someone would extend their playing career past their ability to compete.  Thankfully he retired after that season.  Unitas was 40 years old.

For athletes who’ve competed from adolescence through the present day, the hardest thing for them in life is to know when to quit.  Usually the deterioration in capacity is gradual, with the mind remaining sharp as the physical skills slowly atrophy.  Derek Jeter comes to mind, with his retirement feeling timely and right.

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers Photo by ESPN
Tiger Pulls out of Farmers
Photo by ESPN

For the last two years, I’ve been watching the Tiger Woods saga and pontificating about his decline in performance and how his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus were nill, and how maintaining this charade of injury and comeback attempts was no longer continuing to the betterment of the professional game.  We all know that golf is a unique sport in which players can compete at the elite levels for longer because the physical demands are not the same as other professional sports.  However, Tiger’s performance at The Farmers was Johnny U.  He’s clearly done from a physical standpoint and should retire before the embarrassment gets worse.  We can hold on to the greatness of the Tiger memories, but too much time in the gym, too much Navy Seal training, and too much repetitive stress on his back and legs has taken its final toll.  I actually believe he is capable of recovering from his mental foibles, but his body is sending a clear message.  It is time.

Do we continue with the false hope that he’ll somehow recover the old magic, or is it time to take his seat in the booth next to Jim and Sir Nick?  How do you see it?

Whipping The Dreaded F.U.A.B.

from pinterest.com
from pinterest.com

You’ve just drained that curling 20-footer for birdie and you’re on top of the world.  Brimming with confidence and positive momentum, you step to the next tee and whack your drive out of bounds.  What happened?  Nothing is more frustrating then the dreaded F.U.A.B., but why do we do it?  F.U.A.B (Expletive After Birdie), as it is known in my playing group, is a physical breakdown caused by an altered mental state.  Your mind has relaxed too far and rendered your body incapable of execution.  The PGA Tour doesn’t track F.U.A.B. for obvious reasons, but the Bounce Back stat is tracked.  Bounce Back is the opposite of F.U.A.B. and captures how often a player can post an under par score for a hole after an over par hole, and is highly valued by tour professionals.

We see the manifestation of F.U.A.B in team sports all the time.  A football team takes a huge lead into the locker room at halftime only to melt down in the 3rd quarter as they relax and think they’ve got the game won.  Or the same team has a lead late and employs the prevent defense (failure to attack and stay aggressive) which is a different flavor of the same disorder.  In either case, the team psyche is devastated.

As I work through my fall golf season, I’ve been employing different drills to help steel my game against these breakdowns and I’ve got a good one for F.U.A.B. avoidance.  The key is to pressure yourself after a good shot and condition your mind against relaxation.

The drill:  Get to your short game practice area when it’s not crowded.  Take two balls, three clubs you like to chip and pitch with, and your putter.  First, play 9-holes of a two-ball, best-ball scramble.  Take two shots from every position alternating clubs and using easy, medium, and difficult lies.  Take two putts from the better of the chips and try to get up and down as much as possible and record your score.  This will get you comfortable with technique and build confidence.  Then play 9-holes of a two-ball, worst-ball scramble.  You’ll notice the pressure get’s ratcheted up immediately as you always have to play the more difficult result.  The urgency of playing good shots AND following up a good shot or putt with an equally good effort is the key to F.U.A.B avoidance.

The results: Yesterday, during the worst-ball game, I chipped in on a hole with the first ball using my pitching wedge.  But the pressure remained intense because the chip-in meant nothing; I had to execute the next shot without relaxing.  I found this aspect of the drill difficult but very beneficial.  Using par as two strokes per hole, my best ball score was one-over par and my worst ball score seven-over.  While seven-over doesn’t sound that great, I was fairly pleased because none of my over-par holes were worse than three strokes and with the exception of the hole out chip, my second chips were usually better than the first.  I concentrated reasonably well on the worst ball game but did let my mind wander a bit on a couple of second putts, after the first putt had been holed – need to work on this.

Today, I get to test this on the golf course.  We’re scheduled to play in 10-20 mph winds so it may not be a great test (I don’t imagine too many birdies will be carded) and I may need a new drill for mental toughness while playing in adverse conditions.  Give this F.U.A.B. Avoidance drill a try and let me know how it works for you.  Good luck!

Is Losing Becoming A Habit?

from golfweek.com
from golfweek.com

The fallout from the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s defeat has settled, but theories of defeat are still abound as new details come out regarding behind the scenes team dynamics.  Let’s give Tom Watson a break, forget all the crap, and simplify:  When a team loses in golf or in any sport, the reason is usually that they have inferior players.  When losing is systemic in an organization, always look to the highest reaches of the organization for the answer.  In this case, the highest levels are the PGA Tour and the process it uses to select players.

All things being equal, the U.S. Team should have an inherent advantage year after year, being able to stock their roster with the largest pool of talented golfers in the world.  Yet they continually go down to defeat.  I propose that it’s time to remove the earning of qualifying points, over a two year period, and jettison captain’s picks.  Put the selection in the hands of the players.  Every U.S. professional with current year’s PGA Tour exempt status be allowed to vote on their Ryder Cup team representation, with the stipulation that they cannot vote for themselves.  The vote would take place one month in advance of the competition and would ensure the best and hottest players at tournament time would complete the team.  Imagine if we elected our political leaders on the polling results they accumulated over their last two years in office.  That’s crazy, and is why we have Election Day.

And someone please explain why being elected and serving as a Ryder Cup team captain is so important and is considered a full time job for two years?  If the player’s elect their own representation, you take the onus off the captain and let him focus on more important things like selecting the best and most colorful rain suits and focusing on how many gluten free options will be on the menu at the team meal.  All these guys should really be doing is working the line-up cards during the competition and keeping their players on an even emotional keel.  Seriously, how much preparation can you do over two years for a three day golf tournament?

The Ryder Cup will be at Hazeltine in 2016.  I’ll be watching and hopefully we’ll get it figured out by then.

Managing Golf Burnout

thechallengesofmentalillness.com
thechallengesofmentalillness.com

Most of us absolutely love golf and can’t seem to get enough.  But have you ever burned out on golf because of too much play or practice?  I was last burned out a long time ago.  1986 to be exact.  I was working as an assistant club professional and my typical work day started at 6:00 a.m. and ran through 3:00 p.m (Tuesday -Sunday).  Every day after work, I’d  play with the members until dark, so I was at the course for 13-14 hours.  On Monday, my one day off, I spent my day practicing.  The over-saturation was suffocating and I was so spent that I hated the game for a period of time.

This week, Phil Mickelson hit the point and withdrew mid-tournament from the BMW Championship siting mental exhaustion.  Sergio Garcia skipped the Deutsche Bank Championship to stay fresh, even though it’s the middle leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs.  Martin Kaymer has articulated how difficult it is to play for six consecutive weeks and how he dislikes living on the road for so long.

If top players can skip events because of burnout, and remain in overall contention, you are jeopardizing the integrity of your competition.  Imagine a star NFL quarterback skipping a playoff round because he was mentally fatigued – it would never happen.  I share The Grateful Golfer’s call for a format change, and to be honest, wouldn’t mind if they eliminated them all together.

The tour has taken it’s lead from the NFL and is attempting to make competitive golf a year-round cash cow.  The FedEx Cup transitions smoothly into the overlap schedule which is the start of the following year’s Tour schedule, complete with official money rankings.  This time used to be called the “Silly Season” and top pros still regard it as such.  Sorry, but my interest level drops after The PGA Championship is contested, and top players pulling out because of burnout should be a warning to the PGA Tour that they’ve exceeded the point of diminishing returns.  Their season is too long, they’re cheapening their product, and they need to scale back.

As mentioned, I haven’t been burned out for many years, but occasionally will lose a level of focus and desire.  It usually coincides with the start of football season (now) and it’s a sign for me to take a few weeks off – usually until I start to miss the game.  That’s exactly where I’m at right now and will taking a break until early October.

Have you ever been truly burned out on golf?  If so, how did you handle it?

 

What Good Can Come From A Bad Round?

Today was my opening day for the 2014 golf season.  🙂 John DalyI was going to write a post on the entertainment value  John Daly provides to golf, and about how ridiculous the 90 he shot in the second round of the Valspar Championship was, and how that included an octuple-bogey 12 on the 16th hole, and how that was the 16th time that he’s carded at least a 10 on a hole in his PGA Tour career. . . that was until I carded a 92 today in my season opener.  I did not get the number of the truck that just ran over me but I am still reeling.

We played in brilliant sunshine with heavy wind, and my game was just horrible.  The score was my worst since a 98 on November 23, 2011 and my first time above 88 in two years.  So who’s worse off, Big John or me?  I don’t have the fame, fortune, two majors, and all the notoriety that he does, but he’s clearly worse off.  Golf his his day job and just a hobby here.

Can you find a nugget or two in bad rounds?  Absolutely.  The company of my friends was great and just getting out of the house was wonderful.  With the golf, I only took 28 putts. . . even if it was an artifact of only hitting two greens.  And I managed to shape/place about five or six tee shots using the ball flights I’ve been practicing from the Nine-Shot drill, but that was it.  The irons and wedge game were putrid and I made several rookie mistakes like trying to curve balls playing directly into a strong headwind.

I kind of saw this coming because we moved opening day up from tomorrow when D.C. is supposed to get another round of snow and ice.  Saturday is usually practice day with Sunday being game day and I felt completely unprepared out there.  In fact, past rounds moved to Saturday without the benefit of a prior day’s practice have yielded similar results.  At least J.D. gets to practice before game day.

I’m not too worried about the bad start because it was the first round after a four month layoff imposed by a particularly brutal winter, and it was played in very difficult conditions.  The good news is that there’s nowhere to go but up and we’ll be back at it next weekend!

BTW:  I’m keeping 2014 season stats off a new page on the blog’s main menu.  Check back anytime to see my latest metrics.

So I’ll probably head out in the cold tomorrow before the snow starts to try and correct some of the short game problems experienced today.  They will be hard to live with all week if I don’t fix them.  Finally, I can take some encouragement from past history because back in 2011, I followed up that 98 with a 70 in the very next round.  Weird, but here’s hoping history repeats itself.  How was your opening day?

Why The Game Of Golf Is Unique and Special

Last week I participated in a market research forum where Golf Digest executives hidden behind a two-way mirror observed my dialog with five other hard core golfers.  We were conversing about magazine content, photo shoots, and covers for upcoming issues.  Golf DigestIn the course of our discussion, it became apparent that our game is very unique because there is so much more material published on a weekly and monthly basis compared to other sports.  How many periodicals cover the technique of turning a double play or properly executing the read option from the quarterback position or the intricacies of running a match-up zone in basketball?  None.

One overwhelming observation was that there was almost too much instruction in golf magazines and that consumers of everything often find tips and recommendations with fully opposite techniques for the same shots, and these are often contained in the same issue.  With all this opposing information, it’s no wonder so many golfers are mental basket cases at the amateur level.  We all know how difficult the game is when our swing goes bad and we start thinking of mechanical fixes during play.

But, imagine playing the game as a professional and struggling with the same mental foibles.  Professional golf on the PGA Tour is special because there are no appearance fees.  Either you play well or miss the cut.  There are no guaranteed contracts.  No payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars where you can ride out a slump or a bad year.  Just play well or don’t get paid.  Sure, a select few at the top make enough money on sponsor’s endorsements to sustain, but the vast majority need to get by on skill alone.  I was saddened to read David Duval’s comments on Twitter this week indicating he may retire if he can’t perform in 2014.  Has another guy fallen as fast and as far as Duval?  Ian Baker-Finch comes to mind but he didn’t stick around as long as Duval.  It’s amazing how bad it can get for some of these professionals when the physical skills remain but the mental circuits are shorted out.

Professional golf is a tremendous sport and a great meritocracy.  Despite the struggles of many to remain exempt, it’s refreshing to know we are always watching the cream of the crop every week.  Who else do you recall has fallen as far as Duval and couldn’t turn it around?

2013 Masters Picks

The MastersThe 2013 Masters has a ton of intrigue and is ground zero in the battle to settle the question of who the greatest player of all time is.  Add in a wrinkle in the scheduling process and the winning picture becomes  clear.

Like it or not, this year’s tournament is about Tiger Woods and if he can he light the flame under the second stage of his career and rocket himself to the all time top.  TigerTrailing Jack Nicklaus by four in the majors race, Woods’ three wins in six starts this year is scary good and he is primed for a run.  His main competition on the world stage is Rory McIlroy, who’s game is in shambles due to the recent equipment change and some questionable (lack of) good practice habits.  Rory is not a serious contender this year.

PhilThree time champion Phil Mickelson seems to have the next best shot and usually prepares himself to peak at Augusta.  But this year, a scheduling anomaly will hurt Phil, who likes to play the week ahead of a major.  The Shell Houston Open would be an excellent tune up for Augusta, as the PGA Tour attempts to duplicate Augusta like conditions at the Redstone GC, but an additional tour stop has been inserted between Shell and Augusta.  The Valero Texas Open at the J.W. Marriott TPC course is a poor tune-up venue with it’s high winds and tight tee shots.  Phil is playing Shell but skipping Valero.

Next best opportunity comes from the duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Keegan Bradley.  Louis finished 2012 very strong with four top-five finishes in his last seven events.  He’s got the stones to win another major and performed beautifully last year in his runner-up finish to Bubba Watson.  With only two cuts made in four starts this season, I would like to see a little more momentum heading into Augusta.  Bradley hits a long high ball and is well suited for the venue.  He’s won a major, seems to have the desire, and doesn’t get intimated by anyone.  He’s got a chance.

Defending champion, Bubba Watson has been in decent form lately but feels like more of a one-and-done guy on the major circuit.  Can he rekindle the emotional flame?  I doubt it.

On Tiger’s chances, the only thing holding him back is an occasionally balky putter.  He is clearly hitting on all cylinders and likes to skip the week before a major, so the scheduling quirk plays to his advantage.  He is not, and will never be as dominant as he once was because of his age and his propensity to sustain injury.  I’m not convinced his mental foibles are 100% behind him but he seems to be more comfortable being himself again.

So here are your 2013 Masters Picks:

Champion:  Tiger Woods.  Yes he gets it done this year as all the stars are aligned, but Jack Nicklaus’ all time record of 18 majors is safe.  I know, doesn’t take much courage to make this pick 🙂

Runner-Up:  Louis Oosthuizen, for the second straight year.

Third:  Keegan Bradley.  Needs a little more seasoning but could be a threat.

Dark Horse:  Matt Kuchar.  Winner already at WGC Accenture and would be a great feel good story.

Who do you like?

2012 Ryder Cup Preview

Who do you like?  To pick a winner in the 2012 Ryder Cup, I’ve looked at past performance, current form, and intangibles.  Let’s dive in to see who’ll win at Medinah.

Experience:

The European team has 11 of their 12 members with previous Ryder Cup experience.  Nicolas Colsaerts is the only rookie.  The American side has four rookies: Brant Snedecker, Web Simpson, Jason Dufner, and Keegan Bradley.  With your teammates and country relying on you, double the amount of pressure normally associated with a major in the Ryder Cup.  How will the American rookies respond?  Of the four, Simpson and Bradley have the best chance based on their performance on the world stage having recently won majors.  Snedecker is a wonderful putter, which is so important in match play, but his performance in the majors has been less than stellar when working with a lead and on the weekends.  Dufner is a great ball striker, which is an advantage in foursomes, but putting is his Achilles’ heel, and can be exploited in every format, especially singles.

Of the American veterans, Woods, Mickelson, and Furyk have the most experience, but none have an overall winning percentage with Woods at 13-14-2 being the closest.  Of those with minimal Ryder Cup experience, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker, and Matt Kuchar have even .500 records.  On the Euro side, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, and Ian Poulter provide the veteran presence along with tremendous records for success.  Of the 11 Euros with experience, only two have sub .500 records (Peter Hanson; 1-2, and Francesco Molinari; 0-2-1).  World #1 player, Rory McIlroy is the only other non-winning Euro, with a 1-1-2 record in one appearance.   Big advantage: European team.

Current form:

Everyone is familiar with the post-affair revelations of Tiger Woods and the effect on his game.  More than ever the Americans will need Tiger to be in top form, which he’s exhibited on occasion this year, but the difference in old Tiger vs. new Tiger has been his play on the weekends and in the majors where his ball striking, putting, and overall aggressiveness have faltered under pressure.  Tiger will need to perform strong and set an example for the four rookies.  An even larger concern is with Phil Mickelson.  His play of late and specifically his putting concerns are mystifying.  Phil is 16th ranked in putts per round and recently was tinkering in competition with the claw grip.  What gives?  Any indications of putting problems heading into Ryder Cup are a bad omen.  Jim Furyk seems to be in good form, as is Zach Johnson.  Both are known for their ability to roll the rock and should be pivotal for American team success.  Dustin Johnson has one year of Ryder Cup experience and is playing well as of late.  Dustin can bust it but his short game and putting are always the concern.  Ryder Cup pressure exacerbates poor short games as was the case in 2010 with Hunter Mayhan.

On the Euro side, McIlory is obviously coming in as the best/hottest player on the planet and will be a force.  Lee Westwood has been off his game recently and has never been a good putter, but something always switches on for him in the Ryder Cup.  His 16-11-6 record is outstanding.  Ian Poulter’s 9-2 record in Ryder Cup is so good it defies logic.  Current form doesn’t seem to matter when Ian goes head-to-head.  He’s got top 10s in the last two majors, so look out.  Sergio Garcia has certainly found his game and seems to have taken a reset on his attitude.  Add that to his 14-6-4 record in Ryder Cup and you’ve got a potential stud.  My only concern on this side is Martin Kaymer.  Missed cuts at The Open Championship and PGA Championship have been emblematic of his downfall.  He’s clearly on the team from his performance in 2011 but is a current liability.  Advantage European Team.

Intangibles:

Home field for the American team is very big, as was the case in 2008 at Valhalla when an underdog U.S. squad dominated the matches, winning 16.5 to 11.5.  Only three members of the current U.S. team (Mickelson, Furyk, Stricker) were on that 2008 squad and the infusion of new blood for the U.S. feels like a plus.  The approach to team over individual continues to exemplify the European squad and is a plus for them.  Revenge factor goes to the Americans and trying to avenge a very tough one-point loss in 2010 at Celtic Manor.  No advantage to either side for new captains Davis Love III or Jose Maria Olazabal.  Martin Kaymer feels like a liability on the Euro side and we’ll see how Olazabal uses/hides him.  Advantage U.S. Team.

Final 2012 Ryder Cup Prediction:  U.S. 14Europe 14; Europe keeps the cup.

Tiger wins 2012 Memorial as world’s best implode

Tiger Woods
By Halleran/Getty Images

Did Tiger deserve the win at the 2012 Memorial on Sunday?  Absolutely.  His final round 67 punctuated by a stellar chip-in birdie on #16 was worthy of all the hysterics and histrionics, but the confluence of bad play and unexcused absences from the world’s best certainly contributed.  Consider:

Phil Mickelson shot an opening round 79 and promptly withdrew sighting mental fatigue.    Was Lefty truly in need of a break after playing three straight weeks and then vacationing with his wife in Italy?

Rory McIlroy missed his third straight cut with a second round 79 and is making huge blunders leading to huge numbers on his scorecard.  I’m convinced something is going on outside his golf game that’s distracting and is the genesis for the poor form.

Rickie Fowler, arguably the hottest golfer in the last month, shot 84 in the final round while paired with Tiger.  Are you kidding me?

Bubba Watson is still rusty from his one month layoff to recover from burnout, and missed the cut.

Zach Johnson, winner last week at Colonial was mysteriously missing from the field.  There was an unsubstantiated rumor that he had been suspended for some sort of substance abuse issue.  Seems unlikely, but where was he?

How about Jason Dufner who was also missing from the field.  Memorial is an invitational (non full field event) but was the two-time winner this year invited?

Not trying to discount Tiger’s achievement, and he certainly has kept himself out of the news over the last few weeks, which is hard to do, but what happened to the world’s best this week?

McIlroy is fizzlin’ while Dufner is sizzlin’

Rory wingin’ metal

What is going on with Rory McIlroy and these all too frequent meltdowns in the big events?  The latest was at this week’s BMW Championship in Wentworth, England, and wasn’t pretty.  The club throwing incident in a two-over 74 in the first round was followed by an ungodly 7-over 79 in the second round and a missed cut in the biggest regular season event on the European Tour.  One of the post round reports had McIlroy indicating that he wasn’t working hard enough.  Huh?  Has he let the fame and fortune go to his head or is it something else?  Was there also this supposed lack of preparation before the missed cut at the TPC?  Either McIlroy has something going on in his personal life that’s causing a distraction that nobody knows about, or he should slow down, travel less, and dedicate more time to playing a consistent schedule against PGA Tour competition, which is still the best in the world.

Dufner wins again

Jason Dufner, the total opposite, plods along with minimal fanfare hitting fairways and greens and has snuck up on the PGA Tour with a couple wins sandwiched around getting married.  Talk about the poster child for getting your life, golf, moon, and stars aligned.  A quick look at his stats  shows superb ball striking with mediocre putting.  Indeed, his performance at the courses that require deft touch on difficult greens (The Masters and PLAYERS) was less than stellar with a tie for 24th and a tie for 68th respectively.  Big pressure events like Memorial and U.S. Open are coming up where players need to putt great and manage their nerves to contend but with Duf on cruise control, I expect him to win this weekend at Colonial.  Memorial is up next and should be a great one with the return of Tiger and all the drama of the world’s best on the same stage.

Who’s going to win at Jack’s place?

Was Tiger Woods hiring Joe LaCava a good move?

Yes, good move for LaCava.  Much speculation has been offered on LaCava’s decision to pick up Tiger’s bag with most of the sentiment running negative.  Before we jump to conclusions, consider what LaCava’s motivations are.  Early in his career he was on Fred Couples’ bag when Freddy took the 1992 Masters.  He obviously earned a good living for the next 15 years and became Freddy’s confidant.  Joe seems to want to remain on the big stage of the PGA Tour and switched to Dustin Johnson and his obvious upside potential when Freddy went on tour with the round bellies.  I suspect LaCava is looking for more notoriety than earnings potential because unless Tiger is paying him a killer salary, Dustin Johnson’s playing potential is greater than Tiger’s.  As we all know, being on Tiger’s bag can be a sideshow of its own and LaCava has positioned himself on center stage.  Of more interest will be how Tiger performs at the Frys.com Open and if he can justify his controversial selection to the Presidents Cup team.  Was the pick of Tiger and the timing of the switch of Couples’ long time caddy to Tiger coincidental?  I doubt LaCava will have an effect one way or another on Tiger’s performance but he’ll certainly be along for the ride.  The only loser here seems to be Dustin Johnson.