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Steve Stricker, Mr. Comeback

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Steve Stricker is one of my favorite golfers.  I’m not sure why.

Steve Stricker shot a 4-under, 69 to win the first PGA Tour event of the 2012 season in Kapalua, Hawaii. It was his eighth PGA Tour win since turning 40.

Maybe it’s because he’s about to be the same age as me.

Or maybe it’s his calm, cool demeanor.

Perhaps it’s just because of his sheer love of and commitment to the game of golf: He hits balls out of the side of a heated trailer near his home in Madison, Wisconsin during the winter recess.

Leading into the 2012 PGA Tour opener, the Hyundai Tournament  of Champions played Friday through Monday at the Plantations Course in Kapalua, Hawaii, I decided to watch the coverage from tee to green because it was the season opener (All the players invited had to have won a PGA event last season)

I also was just interested in seeing the beast that is either of the courses in Kapalua, but in particular the Plantation course.

Also little known to non-golf fans, Steve Stricker was having some medical issues towards the end of last season.  He’d had some tingling in his fingers and a weakened left arm, and was concerned he might have to have surgery to address the disk problems with his C6 and C7 vertebrae.  Not good news if you’re a professional golfer.

Fortunately, they didn’t have to go to that extreme, and instead Stricker was able to get the problem addressed with a cortisone shot to the neck.

Yes, you heard me right, the neck.

In any case, whatever Stricker did, it worked. Even though last year’s winner Jonathan Byrd took an early lead, by round two Stricker was in control, although not running away, with the tournament.

His drives stuck largely to the middle of the fairways, his putts fell from all distances, and his short game was like watching someone throw darts at the center target at the local pub — and hit the bullseye nearly every time. Save for some errant fairway sand falls, shots also out of which were pure Stricker mastery, the winter golf in Stricker fell away like the shedding of a snakeskin, and he left the 20-something flatbellies pitching in his wake.

Yes, Byrd stayed close on his heels, and Webb Simpson gave him a good day of competition, but it was never enough.

And considering the length of the course, 7411 yards from the tips…well, it’s just a remarkable thing for a 44-year old golfer with nerve problems to have the nerve to take on those young guns and win, and that’s precisely what Stricker did.

Congratulations, Mr. Comeback.  Well done.

If that’s any indication of how the 2012 PGA Tour is going to go, I can’t wait for the action to begin at the Sony Open this weekend in Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

Written by turbotodd

January 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Kicking Off The 2012 PGA Tour

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Today has to be one of my most favorite days of the year.

The par 73, 7,411-yard Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii, is the course of the champions, site of the PGA TOUR Hyundai Tournament of Champions starting today and featuring an elite field of previous year's PGA TOUR winners.

And not because it was the day that New Mexico was admitted into the U.S. As the 47th state, although that’s pretty cool, too.

No, it’s the start of golf season.

If you harken back to an earlier blog post, I didn’t have to wait too long at all, huh.

To be precise, it’s the start of the 2012 PGA Tour.

Golf fans everywhere are ready, I think.  Tiger finished off his own year for a victory, sure, but it was Bill Haas who took the Fed Ex Cup for 2011.

But now it’s a whole ‘nother year, and it’s anybody’s guess who’s year it’s going to be.

There’s a nice mix of 20-something flat bellys, 30-something seasoned golfers, and 40-something veterans, and as 2011 demonstrated, a member in any one of those groups can take any given tournament.

As for my own golf game, I laid off a bit last summer and even some early winter, but I found myself in Golfsmith this Christmas looking for a present for my father, when I wandered into the “pre-owned” section, where I found a nice set of Mizuno used MX-25 irons on sale.

I’ve always heard great things about Mizuno, but had never owned any, so I went out to the range and after a few swings had fallen in love.

Ah, why NOT treat myself to a Christmas present.  It’s the holidays, right?

So I’ve played with them a few times now, including with my father on his home course, the Denton Country Club — not exactly a simple track, certainly not short, and with bent grass greens that most courses only pray for.

As with most golf games, it’s the short irons (and short game in general) that weaken first after a layoff, because those shots are typically all about touch.

The longer irons (the set was 3 through PW) are just…well, you know how it is when you hit a sweet shot right in the center of the club. But, Mizuno forged clubs are a lot less forgiving than your Callaways or your Titleists.

Sweet spot shots are key, and so the fundamentals (head down!  smooth swing!) become that much more critical, because there’s just not a lot of forgiveness.

But like I said, when you hit that near perfect shot…well, let’s just say you start beaming a smile, like you just got away with something, especially when it strikes the green in the general vicinity of where you actually wanted to hit it. We golfers live for those shots.

And that’s the part of golf that I think is so easy to forget. At the end of the day, golf is a target game. Some think it a distance game, and while distance is also important, the closer you are to the target, so the theory goes, the less strokes you can expect to get it into the hole.

So, the closer you can get to the hole on the green in that all important regulation stroke, the better chance of a lower score.  So, distance is key, but accuracy is critical.

I’m hovering right around a 16 at the moment, but my goal is to be back down to a 12 (or less) by the end of the year.  I’ll keep you posted.

But in the meantime, check out some of the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tour of Champions. Kapalua is a beautiful track, and the wind there on the Plantation Course could be the great equalizer this weekend.

Written by turbotodd

January 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm

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