Turbotodd

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It’s Snowing In Tucson

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Okay, golf fans, the Accenture Match Play tournament has finally moved from being one big snowball fight in the parking lot to an actual competitive golf tournament.

I had turned on the TV late yesterday afternoon to check in on the supposed first day’s play that I had recorded on the DVR, only to discover that play was slowed to a halt by a snowstorm…in Tucson. In the desert.

I’m not making this up.

For you golf novices, match play in golf is very different than the traditional stroke play you see on your typical weekend golf tournament.

In match play, think about how the 64 brackets in the NCAA basketball tournament break down, and you’ve got the gist of it.

For the Accenture, sixty four players are grouped into four super brackets, and in each, one player faces off another player in the first round.

Whoever wins the most holes out of the 18, wins that match and, like in college basketball, moves on to the next round.

It’s also an entirely different kind of golf strategy. When your opponent makes a mistake, you work to seize on that mistake by not screwing up yourself, so each match can be akin to watching a dance — the only question is, who will step on who’s golf shoes?

In the finishing of round one that just got underway mid-afternoon Tucson time, there have been a few surprises.

South African Charles Schwartzel, a favorite going in, lost 1 up to rookie Russell Henley.

Spaniard Sergio Garcia almost gave away a commanding lead to Thai golfer Thongchai Jaidee (who, by the way, saw his first snow ever yesterday…also in Tucson!), and they battled it out into extra holes until Garcia took the match 1 up.

Our favorite European Ryder Cup nemesis, evil-eyed Ian Poulter, stepped away from his Twitter account long enough to take out Stephen Gallacher 2-1.

But the matches much of the golf world are holding their breath for are those featuring Tiger Woods v. Charles Howell III, and world ranked number one, Rory McIlroy, matched against fellow Irishman Shane Lowry.

The big question on my mind: Has McIlroy adjusted yet to those new $90 million Nike golf clubs? Rumor was going into the tournament, he had already switched back to his faithful Scotty Cameron putter, but then I’d read Nike had added some weights to his custom “Method” putter so he’d switched back to all Nike, all the time.

Switching clubs is not always a seamless transition, as I recently discovered, and I don’t depend on my clubs to make a living. McIlroy’s first three holes today would suggest they’re good enough (he was 1 up after 3 last I checked).

Tiger…well, Tiger’s just been on, and he probably also just beat the leader of the free world by a good 20 strokes last weekend (President Obama), so his confidence is probably high.

Could it all come down to Woods v. McIlroy in the championship match on Sunday (or, Monday, assuming the snow delay pushes out the finish)?

Methinks the golfing gods won’t be THAT generous to we fans, but I’m certainly willing to send that energy into the universe to try and make it so. CBS will never have seen golf ratings so high so early in a golf season.

Written by turbotodd

February 21, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Golf Gate

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Listen up, I’m not going to get all bent out of shape over what we’re apparently now referring to as “Golfgate.”

The background: President Obama hopped a plane (actually, Air Force One, but “hopping a plane” makes it sound a lot more casual, which is what I think he was intending, a casual weekend where he could chill out away from the limelight) down to Florida for a long weekend of golf while Michelle and the kids went out west to go skiing.

The President’s team kept the press away from what was essentially a private golf course, and hence were unable to take any pictures of his swing the entire weekend.

Then, out of nowhere, Golf Channel correspondent Tim Rosaforte Tweets the following: “The President is arriving at The Floridian range. Awaiting is Tiger Woods and club owner Jim Crane. Historic day in golf. Their first round.”

Tiger Woods was in the house, and he was going to play golf with President Obama!

I’m sure the rest of the world yawned, but in the world of golf, this was a pretty big deal.

Looking at the tick tock, this was 7:52 AM EST.

By the time the evening news rolled around, the media were trying to make it a big deal that they hadn’t been invited to the Tiger/Obama foursome, missing the point that that would have turned the foursome into an eightysome, which can be quite disturbing on the golf course.

And still most of the rest of the country yawned.

But in the golf world, we wanted more details.  Lots of them.  Rosaforte, get your — out on that golf course and tell us what’s going on!

What kind of clubs does the president play with? Did Tiger give any tips to the Prez to improve his game?  If so, what???  Did he treat the rules with some casualness, as apparently did President Clinton, or did he play it straight and take no mulligans or without kicking any balls out of the rough?

This is the leader of the free world, man, we want to know what his game is like, how he swings the club, how accurate he is on the approach!

Tiger kept his lips sealed until yesterday when, I guess, he’d already arrived out west for the Accenture Match Play Championship. During an interview, he finally gave it up: The President, he said, has a good short game (chipping and putting), and that if he kept it up (after he left the Presidency) he’d be “a pretty good stick.”

Whoa…well, a good short game, that’s always a good thing, of course.  I aspire to a better short game myself, and many of we amateurs do.

But Tiger left out sooo much one can’t help but be distracted by the absence of any commentary about the President’s driving off the tee or his play from the fairways.

Is he long off the tee? Is he a complete disaster with some crazy left hook? What??! And what about his irons? Mid-irons can tell you a lot about one’s game? Both about their ball flight and tolerance for risk, never mind their course management skills.   Course management equals strategy equals possible insight into what he might do about Iran’s nuclear situation!

And what about the pace of play?  Does he time himself racing around the course like the former Presidents Bush, playing as if on deadline (which I could never understand…isn’t it kind of the point in playing golf to take your time and relax???), or did he play at a pace such that he might get threatened by Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem for hovering too long over his putts??

Nothing.

I suspect Tiger may be holding out more of the details because someday, after finishing the chase after Nicklaus’ record for the most majors, he is going to write a book about his experience playing golf with “Mr. President.”

I guess we’ll just have to hurry up and wait — kind of like the White House press corps.

Written by turbotodd

February 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm

60 And Counting

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Well, I could hardly let a near milestone on the PGA Tour go unnoticed from yesterday’s opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, now could I?

Golf fans everywhere, Phil Mickelson is back…well, at least he was yesterday, and it was both sporting triumph and heartbreak rolled all into one.

If you remember Phil’s play from last week out in Torrey Pines, which could be hard to do considering how low down on the leaderboard he was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

Phil’s driver seemed at times like it was poised to try and stretch his drives across the Pacific ocean, and playing from the wilds of the South Course is no fun, as those holes are long and difficult to reach when you’re playing from the middle of the fairways, never mind in from near the condos and office buildings sidling up along the course.

But all that changed when Phil A) put a new driver in the bag and B) flew coach Butch Harmon in for a swing tune up.

So yesterday, in Phoenix, where the crowds love to drink beer and act like they’re at a NASCAR race on the par-3 16th (It’s the only PGA stop I know of where fans actually boo the players if they miss the green on their drive!), Phil brought his new driver and swing and attitude to town!

It went a little something like this: Birdie, Par, Birdie, Birdie, Par Par, Birdie, Par Par.

Then, the back nine went like this: Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, Par, Par, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie.

Only, it actually went that way in reverse, because Phil shotgunned his start on the 10th tee.

So here’s where the drama comes in: On hole 8, he needed one more birdie and then par to shoot a 59, something only five other golfers have ever done in PGA Tour history in a professional round.

And, if he birdied 9, he would have shot 58, to my knowledge, a first in Tour history.

He gets to 8 in 2 shots, and has, I’m guessing, about a 20 foot downhiller with a slight left to it. He lines up the putt, strikes it, and the thing runs out of gas centimeters from the hole.

So it won’t be his day for a 58, not unless he eagles 9.

On 9, he once again gets it to the green in 2, and voila, now he has about a 25 footer that takes a little bit more left.

He lines up, thousands surrounding the green, most probably clued into the history that might be made here…the putt’s off and on a gorgeous trajectory to the hole…it comes along the right side of the hole and decides to make a U-turn at the very last second, gravity pulling it against the back of the cup and back around the other side and…up and out of the hole, again centimeters away from the hole.

The golfing gods can be so, so incredibly cruel. It was as if you could hear Zeus roaring down with laughter from up the road in La Jolla.

Phil’s longtime caddie, “Bones,” fell to the green on his knees, ready to sacrifice himself to the great “Caddyshack” gods in the sky to make that putt please, please, please roll back into the hole.

After the round, the Golf Channel correspondent interviewed Phil, and you could see the pain in his eyes.

Yes, of course, he shot a 60, something golfers also don’t get to do very often (and which, I can assure you, I’ll never do, unless it’s on the front nine)…but, that special personal victory was oh so close, and yes, Phil answered, he knew within the first few holes on the front nine there was something special in the air, and that he could well be on his way to a record round.

Phil continues his lead today at 14 under as of this writing, and if it keeps this up, nobody can touch him.

But boy, what he wouldn’t do to have one more shot at that putt, and the PGA Tour history books.

Written by turbotodd

February 1, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Swing Thoughts

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I’m guilty.  I just have NOT talked enough about sports in this blog yet this year, most particularly, golf.

But golf season’s just really getting underway, and with the PGA set to visit Torrey Pines in San Diego starting tomorrow at The Farmers Insurance Open, I can assure you that will start to change.

Over the Christmas holidays, I mentioned, in fact, that Santa brought me a self-imposed present: Some Ben Hogan “Red Line” irons, circa 1988.  I found them from a nice gentleman in Illinois via eBay, and the day they arrived via UPS at my folks’ place, where I was visiting, there was a few inches of snow on the ground.

Finally, later that week, back in Austin, I got to give them a go.  I’ll remind you these are the same clubs that Tiger Woods won a U.S. Amateur with back in the day, and a range of pros (including Austin inhabitant Tom Kite) played with these clubs at one point or another.

I’ll also remind you that I’m no Tiger Woods or Tom Kite…I’m a mid-level handicapper working his tail off to drive that handicap down into the single digits.

Since that first round, I’ve played a few more, and I LOVE the clubs.  But last weekend, just for grins, I went out and swung my Mizuno MP-25s, my original Mizuno set which are cavity-backed (what Mizuno calls their “Hemi Cog”).

So how did I hit those clubs now that I’d been out flirting with some blades for a few weeks?

Well, suffice it to say, my first five-iron probably sailed close to 180 yards and had this amazing trajectory and ball flight that made my want to cry.

And that happened again. And again. And again.

Ever since golf school last summer, there’s been no doubt my game improved. But, I don’t play enough as an amateur to consistently hit a thin blade in that oh-so-small sweet spot.

So, this weekend, I’m going to take the forged clubs and see what happens at a challenging course out in Blanco (the Texas Hill Country). Assuming my short game doesn’t completely fall apart, I expect to see my score drop back down into the lowish 80s, but we’ll see.

Do I regret the trial experience with those blades?  And will I ever play with them again?

No, and abso-frickin’-lutely.

Playing with those blades drives focus on the swing like you’ll never have with a forged club, because they’re not nearly forgiving. For that reason alone, I’ll continue to bring them out, because they force you to find the center of the club.

But when it comes to playing to score, and to have the most fun I can have on the golf course, I realize now more than ever why they make those forged clubs — so we “hacks” can fairly consistently hit those beautiful iron shots that we so admire when Tiger or Ricky or any other pro step up to the ball and make it look so easy.

I can’t wait for my tee time on Saturday.

Written by turbotodd

January 23, 2013 at 8:54 pm

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Europe Keeps The Cup

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The memory of former Ryder Cup captain and player, Seve Ballasteros, was never further than the flap of the Euro teams’ golf bag in this weekend’s “Miracle at Medinah,” when the Euro team came back after a 10-6 trouncing by the U.S. on Friday and Saturday to retain their title and the Ryder Cup. Both sides celebrated Ballasteros’ life and contributions to golf throughout the entire week, highlighting the critical role the Spanish golfer, who succumbed to brain cancer last year, played in breathing new life into the once-every-two-year event and in making it “must-see” golf television.

For true golf fans, this past weekend’s Ryder Cup delivered on its promise as the most exciting event in golf, and maybe in all sports.

I wrote in this blog on Thursday that the Europeans had the advantage going into this year’s tournament, and boy did they prove it.

After a weak start by the Americans on Friday morning, the U.S. team turned the tide on Friday afternoon in the fourballs, with Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson coming to life.

After Saturday’s rounds, both foursomes and fourballs, the U.S. went into Sunday’s singles matches leading 10-6 — that meant they only needed to garner 4 1/2 points  on Sunday to take the Cup back from the Euros.

It wasn’t meant to be.

Euro captain Jose Marie Olafabal had other things in mind, including a similar 1999 comeback by the U.S. in Brookline when he was a player on that year’s Ryder Cup team.

Hovering over the entire event was the spirit and memory of great Spanish golfer Seve Ballasteros, who tragically succumbed to brain cancer last year.

Ballastero’s image was imprinted on each Euro player’s golf bag, and the spirit of Seve’s commitment and championing of the Ryder Cup as a great golf event was pervasive on all sides.

Ultimate, I believe it was that spirit that was channeled through and displayed by Olafabal’s European players.

Ian Poulter on Saturday afternoon eked out a single point in a close match played with Rory McIlroy against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, demonstrating nerves of steel in his play and especially his putting.

Yesterday, Poulter was at it again, beating U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson 2 Up in a heated singles match.

Justin Rose demonstrated sheer brilliance on the last three holes yesterday, sinking one unbelievable putt after another, matching Phil Mickelson’s also exemplary play stroke for stroke.

Rose had mentioned in interviews this week that Seve Ballasteros had been a calming influence on him earlier in his career, assuaging him after he’d missed the cuts in a long run of tournaments several years back.

And Martin Kaymer’s six-footer to seal the entire deal was made with a calm and cool demeanor that was German to its core, and perhaps finally reversed the pain of a missed similar putt by Bernhard Langer in 1991’s Ryder Cup, one that would have retained the cup for Europe that year, the so-called “War By The Shore.”

No matter which side you were rooting for, this was definitely one for the ages, and my congratulations to the Euros on their holding on to the Cup — they earned it, and then some.

I watched every moment of the tournament that was aired on TV — some 26 hours worth — and it was nerve rattling sport from the first tee shot to the last putt.

You can refer to it as “Poulter-Geist” or “The Miracle at Medinah” or some other clever moniker.

I’m just going to remember it as another great and dramatic Ryder Cup, and bite my lip while I wait a long two years for the next one.

Written by turbotodd

October 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm

A Ryder Cup 2012 Preview: Just Go For It!

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Well, the 2012 Ryder Cup is only 1 day and 11 hours away, as of this writing, and the first tee-time couldn’t come quickly enough.

After such a stellar 2012 golf season for the PGA Tour, and golf more broadly around the world, the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah in Chicago will be a fitting climax to the golf year, especially considering the caliber of players lined up on both the American and European sides.

I, like all golf fans, would love to see Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy paired against one another in the Sunday’s singles matches, but I, like everyone, including the captains, will have to just wait and see how the tournament plays out Friday and Saturday in the fourballs and foursomes.

As mentioned in a prior post, the Americans will be led by veteran Ryder Cuppers Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, and Jim Furyk.

Newcomers to watch will include 2012 FedExCup winner Brandt Snedeker, as well as Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner.

On the European side, Rory McIlroy will be the defacto team leader because of his world number one ranking, but experience on the European side will fall to stalwarts like Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, and of course, Sergio Garcia.

As for pairings, we’re still eagerly awaiting those, but based on early readings, we can  expect to see Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker playing together through the weekend, along with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Phil Mickelson is expected to take newcomer Keegan Bradley under his wings, and Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia are also likely pairings at some point.

In terms of projections, the Europeans certainly seem to have an advantage, having garnered more points than the Americans the last few Cups, and certainly coming into Medinah holding the Cup they won at Celtic Manor in 2010.

Then again, these are teams with players very fairly matched, and the top players in the world at that.  I think it will come down to that side whose players can keep their nerves at bay, and still have nerve enough to go at the long par 3s at Medinah when circumstances warrant.

That, and the putting.  Always the putting.

As for the renowned 15th hole at Medinah #3, which has been shortened to a 391-yard par four, we’ll see whether or not Bubba Watson can contain himself and not attempt to drive the green in his matches.

Phil Mickelson commented to Golf Week he thought it was an easy birdie lay-up hole, and one can see in a close match with one team behind why it would be awfully enticing to just go for it!

Written by turbotodd

September 27, 2012 at 1:04 am

PGA’s New Champion: Brandt Snedeker

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Tennessean Brandt Snedeker holds both the 2012 PGA TOUR Championship trophy, along with the 2012 FedExCup, after he held off the world’s best golfers the past four days at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. Snedeker’s personal triumph comes just a week before he represents the U.S. in the Ryder Cup at Medinah in Chicago. Snedeker made 61 out of 62 putts inside 10 feet for the week, demonstrating once again he’s got one of the PGA Tour’s hottest putters.

Well, it was a wild and wooly weekend at the PGA TOUR Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Georgia, and also the culmination of the 2012 U.S. PGA golf season with the awarding of the FedExCup.

In the end, it was Brandt Snedeker’s opportunity to seize the moment, and seize it he did.

Starting with Jim Furyk’s 17th hole meltdown on Saturday with a drive into the water left, the field slowly but surely began to peel away like an onion, leaving Snedeker on the victor’s podium with his amazingly consistent putting stroke and nearly as consistent driving accuracy. (By way of proof, Snedeker made 61 out of 62 putts from inside ten feet!)

The long hitters ended up being eaten away by East Lake, with players like Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and even to some degree Tiger Woods, unable to match the needed pinpoint accuracy to stay on East Lake’s tight fairways and greens.

Snedeker also demonstrated an emotional maturity beyond his years, playing the last round like it was just another day on the links, and his double-bogey at six that included a watery tee shot?…well, that was just a minor setback (As he would later learn, both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy also found their way to agua on number six in the final round).

By the time he reached 17, Snedeker’s confidence seemed quite assured, and the chip-in from the off the green just solidified that confidence.

Even a missed tee shot into the back left grandstand on the final hole didn’t shake him up — he just laughed it off, chipped on to the green, and two putted for bogey to walk away with both the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup, and a payout of over $11 million.

Is Snedeker’s victory a prelude to the U.S.’ likely opportunity to reclaim the Ryder Cup from the Europeans next week in Medinah?

Not so fast. Rory McIlroy still continues to pace the golf world, and is backed by some other exemplary European players, including Justin Rose, who stayed close on Snedeker’s heels yesterday, and Sergio Garcia, a Ryder Cup veteran. Europe also has Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, both of whom seem to wallow in Ryder Cup pressure, while the American side has a number of Ryder Cup newbies (including Snedeker).

I’m not about to try and call this one in advance.  I’ll just say it’s generally expected to be very close, and I’ll be watching every minute before my pro golf withdrawal and depression sets in.

As for the entirety of the 2012 PGA season, it’s likely to prove to be one that golf fans won’t soon forget.

Written by turbotodd

September 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm

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