Lots of great tidbits floating around Royal Portrush this week adding to the specter of the championship and interest in general.
Justin Rose complaining?
Let’s start with Justin and his criticism of the tour’s condensed major scheduling. Rose never complains about anything and this is the first I’ve heard any top-tier player criticize the format. While I love the back-to-back-to-back rapid fire cadence, I’m with him on this because he’s exposed the tour’s three dirty little secrets. 1) There are too many events in the Fall with the FedEx Cup playoffs being the primary culprit. 2) Autumn in North America is for football. 3) They have their eye on the 2020 Olympics falling into the PGA Championship’s traditional slot in August, as was the case in 2016. So, they squeezed everything up front. The football argument is reasonable and there’s nothing they can do. The other two are related. Rose was spot on when he said the majors are the measuring stick for professional success and career legacy. The FedEx Cup is just a money-ratings grab and always has been. Olympic golf doesn’t matter. Rory McIlroy said as much when he declined to participate at Rio. Is anyone going to remember Rose won the gold medal and the FedEx Cup? Probably not. If you eliminate FedEx and leave the Olympics to the amateurs and move the PGA back to its traditional August spot, everything is solved. . .and Justin and Rory can go have a pint.
A new lunch entree?
Speaking of Rory, I don’t recall ever watching a perfectly reasonable round of even-par golf at a major squeezed between a quadruple and triple bogey on #1 and #18. Should we call that a “Rory Sandwich”?
What is up with Phil Mickelson? He looks great after starving himself for six days and consuming nothing but coffee. Admittedly, he did lose 15 pounds, and at 49 must be trying to defy gravity or get a Starbucks logo on his bag. At least he warned us that this “might” not do anything positive for his golf game. After shooting +5 in round one he was right.
And finally, some in the press made a big deal out of Brooks Koepka not acknowledging Tiger’s request for a practice round and possible brain picking session with Koepka’s caddy, Portrush native Ricky Elliott. Sorry Tiger, there are no shortcuts. And where have you been while trying to peak your game for the majors? It certainly hasn’t been out on tour. Will Tiger miss another cut? Was The Masters a fluke?
Field analysis is made difficult because of the recent trend of the world’s top players taking time off and trying to peak their performance around the majors. That’s a by-product of the protracted year round scheduling problem on the PGA Tour (more on that coming in a future post). With the exception of Phil Mickelson,Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth, the top contenders don’t play frequently enough. Yes, everyone is different but you can’t just show up once per month under the heat of competition and expect to generate consistent results. Dustin Johnson played Memorial in May and the US Open in June and missed both cuts. He’s coming off a back injury and nobody thinks he should play as much as Vijay Singh, but can DJ seriously be in winning form? No way. To draw a mediocre parallel, I’m in software development. If I practiced my trade under the most stringent of conditions once per month, I’d suck at my job. These guys should go hard from January to August (playing every two out of four weeks) and then shut down.
So let’s get down to business: Rory McIlroy needs a session on the putting green with Dave Stockton Sr. It’s so bad right now, he’s not even close to contending. Jason Day‘s ball striking is in the crapper (what happened?) Defending champion Henrik Stenson has missed five of his last six cuts and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle – nope. Phil missed the US Open, then broke protocol by not playing in the Scottish Open, and finally parted ways with Bones. That may be all the change he can handle at 47 years old and I don’t think it happens for him this week. Hideki Matsuyama threw a scare into the field at the US Open with a strong Sunday finish and is going to get one soon, but it will be on U.S. soil.
Who’s ready? Rickie Fowler.
He keeps finishing top-10 in the majors and plays often enough to stay sharp. I think his conservative strategy in the majors of sometimes taking iron off the tee will play well at Birkdale, because you must drive it straight and then battle the wind from the fairway. Forget playing out of the rough here. Look for a tough battle with Justin Rose, who’s a horse for this course, Spieth, who’s tough in every major, and John Rahm, but Rickie will prevail.
Back in April, I wrote a post about my continuing struggles with Poolesville, and how the course had won again in our most recent battle. Today, I threw down another challenge and finally whipped it. Those of you that fight with a golf course know how sweet victory feels once you prevail, and most of you are familiar with the feeling that sets in afterwards when you think, “That wasn’t that difficult,” or “How’d I manage to play so bad there for so long?” Truth be told this was a mental victory more than anything because Poolesville was totally in my head and I knew it. I changed my mental approach and it seemed to work.
The first step was to schedule a game when conditions would be in my favor. I booked the round when the advanced forecast was calling for heat and humidity and no wind; perfect scoring conditions. Next, I took an honest look at my past performance at the venue. Over the last 8 years, I played 19 rounds to a stroke average of 80.26 and a paltry 6.32 GIR average. The last seven rounds were particularly frustrating with terrible ball striking and only one sub-80 score and a 92 mixed in from early 2014. The propensity to double-bogey the first hole for three straight rounds didn’t set me up for success either, especially when I was trying to overcome all these mental blockers.
My inspiration was the ESPN telecast of The Open on Friday, when they were describing Jordan Spieth and his caddy, and how they develop a game plan for each golf course and don’t deviate. So I did some hole by hole analysis and scribbled a thought down on a piece of paper on how to play each of the holes. I folded up this mini game plan and put it in my pocket. Today, I pulled it out on every tee to re-commit to how I wanted to play the hole.
I don’t know if this is the reason for my success, but it did allow me to focus on playing the game and prevented over-mechanical thoughts from creeping in. At the end of the day, I hit 13 greens and shot a 2-over 73 which was three clear of my lowest round at Poolesville.
Sometimes you know what you have to do but simply can’t execute it because you’re not fully committed. It really helps to write it down to cement the commitment.
How’s your focus and commitment coming this season?
Outstanding finish to The Open Championship, complete with the the resurrection of Ernie Els after the Big Easy came so close earlier in the year at Transitions and the Zurich Classic, and dealt with his own crushing disappointment along with a missed opportunity to play in The Masters. As sweet as this was for Els, you’ve got to feel for Adam Scott and the way he went down. Major golf is such a mental grind and it definitely benefits those who try and fail and fail and fail, as the battle hardening and lessons learned can be used to toughen the resolve of the defeated. Scott was tested and failed. Hopefully he can bank the experience and benefit from it. Oddly enough, Els wasn’t subject to the pressure of defending the lead, played solid and let the championship fall into his lap. He seemed almost as surprised to win as Scott was shocked to lose.
I had Tiger Woods winning this event and Ernie finishing third so their top performances were expected but I totally missed on Lee Westwood (my runner up pick). On Woods, I was surprised he tried that play in the bunker on #6 (the first one) because his approach had been totally mastery-based to that point, and suddenly turned ego-based as the challenge of showing off his skills to pull off the shot became irresistible. I much preferred Graeme McDowell’s approach of spending a shot on a sensible play in the bunker and giving himself a better look on an easier out. The triple bogey effectively ended Tiger’s chances. No idea what happened to Westwood other than he probably tried too hard to win one ala Colin Montgomery.
The Open is a very cool event to watch because the uniqueness of links golf brings the players who embrace the style to the forefront every year. Often it’s age defying and was again at Lytham & St. Annes as seniors Tom Watson and Mark Calcavecchia both made the cut. Greg Norman seriously contended at 53 years old in 2008, and the way the round bellies continually show up for this event is amazing. It’s simply not possible in the three other majors (or is highly improbable), and is a pleasure to watch.
So congratulations to Ernie Els, and we’ll see you at Augusta in April!
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