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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?

 

 

How Do You Plan The Best Golf Trip?

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse
With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

It’s the middle of winter and we all have cabin fever.  Wouldn’t it be great to tee it up tomorrow at a tropical golf destination?  Lately, I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries on how to book the best golf trips at the lowest cost.  Getting bang for the buck when you travel is a great source of satisfaction, but remember the most important element in a golf trip is the golf.  A great hotel, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment are fine, but if the golf is substandard, that’s what you’ll remember.

Course Reviews:  To get the best golf, start your travel planning reading websites focused on course reviews.  Skip the sites like Golf Digest where you’ll get lists of great courses and glossy marketing material (yeah, we all know Pebble Beach and Whistling Straights are great venues), and focus on personal experiences because you want a straight call on the good and bad.  You want to find the hidden nuggets of value, the starters and course marshals who took the extra steps to make you feel special, the details about conditions that stood out or didn’t meet expectations, and the ups and downs of customer service from your reservation agent to the pro shop staff.  Here’s some top sites to get you started:

  • 2 Play the Tips has reviews from world famous golf courses across the country.
  • OneBeardedGolfer has got you covered on Kentucky and other courses in the southeast USA.
  • Golf Is Mental has great information on Alberta, British Columbia, and visiting the western USA.
  • We’ve got plenty of reviews on this site from the  Washington DC, Eastern Shore, and Myrtle Beach areas.
  • Finally, Vet4golfing51 sprinkles his interesting playing insights in with information on his journey to play 100 courses in the western Pennsylvania region.  There are many others.

Conditions:  Once you decide where you want to play, seek out information on course conditions for the period of time you’re going to play, not necessarily the latest conditions.  Pay close attention to reports of when courses will schedule aeration.  We hit Pinehurst #2 the day after an emergency aeration.  Nothing is worse than traveling to a world class venue only to find you are putting on bumps and top dressing.  Hit up a site like Golf Insider for Myrtle Beach.  They have thousands of personal visit reviews for hundreds of area courses.  Then go to Trip Advisor and look at reviews that can be sorted on the time of year you’re traveling.  Getting a good cross-section of opinion yields the best experiences.

Lodging:  Next, look for a good package that couples lodging, golf, and maybe some food.  In June, my travel group has a package lined up in Myrtle Beach with seven nights lodging, six rounds of golf, carts, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary daily replays for under $600.  If you don’t want to couple resort lodging with golf, look to book a hotel separate to save money.  We traveled and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama staying at Hampton Inns across the state and had a great and inexpensive experience.

Peak Discounts:  Lastly, if you’re traveling in high season and don’t want to pay those exorbitant prices, don’t worry; there are tools that can help.  I am traveling next month to Myrtle Beach during peak tourist time and didn’t feel like paying $150 for a round.   I used a tool at Golf Insider that allows you to plug in your desired dollar range and date, and searches the entire Grand Strand for a match.  Got one for $60 and I’m ready to go!

You can get overwhelmed with information and will save time and money reaching out to an individual who’s traveled ahead of you to your destination.  Often times you’ll pick up local knowledge about good venues and ones to avoid, and most folks are very happy to help.  I know I am.  Good luck!

#9 The Great White course at Doral
#9 The Great White course at Doral

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.

Dangers of Copying a Pro’s Swing

Adam Scott at the top Photo at Youtube.com
Adam Scott at the top
Photo at Youtube.com

Here we are in the dead of winter and I am fighting the irresistible urge to tinker with my golf swing.  Last weekend, it was 60 degrees and I spent two hours on the range and had a real good opening session.  Probably too good, which is why I’m feeling greedy.  If you are like me, the reason we do this is because of the safety factor of winter.  You can make minor tweaks or wholesale changes during periods of inactivity without suffering the consequences of a slump-inducing fix.  I know it’s a bad idea and still do it.  Do you as well?

Two years ago, I became infatuated with Adam Scott’s golf swing and tried to impart his down the line setup and move through the ball.  I loved the way he kept his spine angle rock solid and the way he torqued against his very stable lower body, and modeled it for myself over the winter.  Problem is this 54-year old bag of bones has nothing in common with Adam Scott.  The wholesale changes fell apart with the first ball struck in anger.

The modern day swings of players like Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson, are all modeled off Tiger Woods and are not meant to be copied by desk jockeys.  Each has clearly spent many hours in the gym, and if you watch the follow through with their driver swings, each gets tremendous body rotation and the shaft points towards the target at finish.  Is the human back designed to undergo this much rotational stress over a protracted period?  I’m left to think that it’s not and players with a more upright swing like Phil Mickelson are doing their backs a favor.  Phil has his own physical issues, but I suspect lower back pain is not one of them.  Only one guy on the Senior Tour torques his body even close to these guys and that is Fred Couples.  Most others have more of a classic restricted finish and are still playing into their 50s.  Of course, Freddy’s back issues are well known and I can’t help but wonder, beautiful tempo aside, if the tremendous rotation he gets is responsible.

Adam Scott follow through Photo by ESPN
Adam Scott follow through
Photo by ESPN

So I smartly re-read the Grateful Golfer’s post on The Best Golf Swings Ever, where he reminded us that despite the number of writings and videos available on the swings of the greatest professionals of all time, the swing we should be working on is our own.  This is great advice and would add that you copy the visualization, pre-shot routines, and mental preparation of the top pros, but when it comes to swing mechanics, focus on improving your own technique.

So it’s off to go pump some 12 oz curls old style.  See you in the gym.

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?

Bear Trap Dunes – Course Review

Summary

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes
The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

Our group played Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE on Tuesday, November 11, 2014.  This 27-hole facility is three miles west of Bethany Beach, and I’ve practiced here on many occasions while vacationing at the beach, but have never played the course until now.  The operation is first class and the practice facilities top notch.  Of the three nines, we played Kodiak and Black Bear and will reserve judgement on Grizzly for another time.  The course is operated by Troon Golf and is semi-private.  Rick Jacobsen (architect) used to be on the Jack Nicklaus course design team, and the course has that familiar Nicklaus look and feel off the tee.  Many of the holes are framed by groups of three and four bunker configurations located at different distances on opposite sides of the fairway.

I found the layout pleasing to my eye and relaxed into a good ball striking day off the tee but my luck ended there.  To score well, you need local knowledge off the tee and accurate iron play; I had neither.  Missing in the deep and expansive greenside bunkers left awfully tough up-and-down opportunities, and once you hit the greens, we found them large, fast, fairly flat, and fair.  Twice on the Kodiak nine, I hit perfect drives into fairway bunkers that I had no idea I could reach.  If you are playing #6 and #9 with a tailwind, 3WD is plenty of club off the tee.  Otherwise, I came away from a bad iron day thinking you could score better and put less pressure on yourself playing for the middle of most greens instead of flag hunting to precise yardages, as I attempted.  A few of the holes like #5 on Kodiak are beautiful and play into a nice U-shaped backdrop of woods, but most of the holes were nondescript despite the very good course conditioning.  One of my playing partners remarked that the Bear Trap experience reminded him of the time we Played Pinehurst #2.  Very good golf course, but very few of the holes stood out; I have to agree.

Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak.  Bear Trap Dunes
Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak. Bear Trap Dunes

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

We played on an off season rate of $39 which included cart and range balls.  For the course conditioning, service, and quality of facilities, this was an awesome value.  I’d rate this as a $70-80 golf experience so why the average rating?  They advertise their in-season rates at $100 – 135 for a weekend round which is exorbitant.  If I’m paying that kind of money, I want memorable holes and a tremendous experience.  Bear Trap was a very nice afternoon of golf on very good conditions with a quasi-country club feel, but not $135 worth.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse hosts the pro shop, locker rooms, full service grill (The Den), offices, and banquet space.  It is a beautiful building.  Conveniently located across the parking lot is the top notch practice facility.  The range is divided into halves for members and guests and boasts excellent grass hitting surfaces (mats were out for the late fall, but they were in excellent condition, as were the range balls).  They have a large and well maintained short game area and separate putting green with green speeds that were identical to the course.  As mentioned earlier, I practice at Bear Trap regularly and could spend all day using the facilities.  The rating would go even higher except most holes were in very close proximity to the local housing community.  Nice homes but I prefer a little more solitude.

Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear
Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Booking a tee time was easy and was done over the phone.  Being November, they had anything I wanted.  We did not utilize the bag drop and found out later that you couldn’t ride your clubs to your car upon completion of the round.  Some courses are funny in that regard and are weary of liability issues with golfers driving in the parking lots.  I found it more of a minor hindrance.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and attentive and we had a very nice day on an uncrowded and well conditioned golf course.   For this round I shot a 86 from the blue tees that measured 6,377 yards and played to a course rating of 69.3/127.  Bear Trap Dunes is a nice golf course and the off-season rates made it a great play.  If you’re down during the summer, I wouldn’t recommend playing here at full price, but go seek a lower cost high quality alternative like Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear
Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear

Hog Neck – Course Review

Summary

IMG_1038

We played Hog Neck Golf Course in Easton, MD on Sunday, November 9, 2014.  On every trip back, I’m reminded of the time several decades back when the United States was flirting with metric system implementation.  Hog Neck is the only course I’ve played that has distance markers in meters and yards.  Once, they actually had their scorecards and markers solely in meters, which forced you to do a minor math calculation on every shot, but they updated their scorecards and are now back to U.S. standard units.

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck
Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

The par-72 course is a tale of two halves with the front nine playing out on windswept fairways with hidden water, large mounding, penal bunkers, and nary a tree in sight.  Truly a links style experience.  The back meanders through tall pine trees and plays several hundred yards longer and is considerably more difficult.  The parkland style changeover is a great experience in the middle of November, as the fall colors are in their peak brilliance.

Playing tips from the gold tees:  There are no tricks to scoring well but a few tripwires to be avoided.  On the dogleg left par-4, 2nd there are two large fairway bunkers guarding the corner.  Don’t challenge them.  A well struck drive 10-15 yards off the right bunker will leave you with a short iron in from a flat lie.  Forget par from either of the bunkers.  The par-4, 5th has hidden water that sneaks up fast on the left of the tee shot, so be precise.  The par-4, 6th has hidden water on the right and left and again requires precision.  The par-5, 9th has a diagonal water hazard crossing the fairway that’s not easy to see.  For the landing area of your second shot, you must be able to fly it within 100 yards of the green or you’ll need to lay back to about 150 yards.

Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck
Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck

The key on the back nine is driving it solid and straight.  As you get deeper into the inward half, the holes become longer and more difficult, but there are no hidden hazards with the exception of a small pond guarding the left of the par-4, 15th green.  The approach will either be with a long iron or hybrid, and you need to favor the right side.  The par-5, 18th is the only quirky hole on the golf course.  It measures 523 yards, but when the tees are up, you think you can go for it in two.  For some reason, the designer placed a wrap around bunker that guards the entire front approach preventing a roll up option.  So lay back to your favorite yardage and try for a regulation par or birdie.

Approach to the par-5, 18th
Approach to the par-5, 18th

 Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

In season weekend rates are $55 to ride.  We played on an off-season special rate of $40 which included a cart and hot dog/chips/soda snack at the turn.  We were putting on excellent greens but the rest of the course conditions were average at best.  Still we felt this was a good deal at the off season rate.  A bucket of range balls cost $6.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

First impressions are important and Hog Neck misses the mark with their driving range facilities.  The balls were old and the hitting area was essentially 10 low quality mats supported by no bag stands or structures of any type to hold a bag or clubs.  It was barely adequate to get a few swings in and warm up.

Low budget bag stand on the range.
Low budget bag stand on the range.

The pitching area had ample space to work from and included closely mown areas and two medium size bunkers.  The pro shop was on the smallish side but was well stocked and clean.  The snack bar area was located conveniently next to the 10th tee and was also of ample size and clean.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

You make a tee time by either emailing the course with your preference or calling.  No on-line user-friendly reservation system is available.  I had no problem getting the precise time that I requested being it was the second week of November.  Upon check in, we were told not to ride carts in the fairways because their bermuda grass had just gone dormant, and some of the playing surfaces were extremely wet.  We were permitted to ride the rough all the way around the backsides of some of the greens, which was a little unusual, but didn’t present any major obstacles.  The bentgrass putting surfaces were in excellent condition and good greens always lead to a greater feeling of satisfaction.  Finally, according to my playing partner, the hot dog at the turn was excellent!

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played the gold tees at 6,477 yards with a course rating of 71.5/130 and I shot a 5-over par 77.  I have been playing this course on trips to the eastern shore for over 30 years and will be back.