Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.



Ryder Cup: My take on the pivotal moment might surprise you

This will be a short post because like most golf fans cheering for the USA, I am still shocked (or amazed) that the European team won the Ryder Cup.  The USA had a great lead going into Sunday (10 to 6).  Heading into the singles matches on Sunday the USA only needed 4 1/2 points to win and Europe needed 8 points to retain the cup.  Who would have thought Europe would get 8 points and win!

There will be many opinions as to what happened.  Some might say it is the fault of Ryder Cup veterans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker (and Captain’s picks) because neither played their best.  Some might say it was because the pairing of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker did not win.  Others might say it was the fact so few of the American players could deliver in the singles matches.  However, that doesn’t seem fair to players like Jason Dufner (in my opinion, the MVP of the USA team) who did win.  I’m sure the debate will go on for days on the Golf Channel.

Since second-guessing is part of the fun of being a sports fan I decided to give it a shot.  Here is my take on what was the pivotal moment in the 3-day event.  It was not a particular match on the final day but a decision by Captain Davis Love III to sit down the hottest American pair on Saturday — Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson.  The reason I believe this is the pivotal moment is that the momentum changed Saturday afternoon.  Yes, you can give huge credit to the European player Ian Poulter who won a critical match on Saturday; but I think the fact Bradley and Mickelson were not playing was a huge mistake.  It was a mistake because the success of Bradley and Mickelson inspired the USA team and ignited the crowed.

During the TV interview (after winning the Saturday morning match) Mickelson said that “statistically” no golfer that played all 5 matches in the Ryder Cup played well in singles so don’t be surprised if they (Bradley and Mickelson) sit out Saturday afternoon.  In retrospect that would sound wise if Bradley and Mickelson had won their singles matches but they both lost (that’s two points).  If the hot team of Bradley and Michelson had played the 4-ball Saturday afternoon and won a point — that might have kept the momentum on the side of the USA.  You can argue that my view is simplistic but I do believe in momentum.  Not to mention the fact that all the golf pundits said, in post round discussion on Saturday night, that 11 points would have been “insurmountable.”

The MVP of the European team is Ian Poulter because he was the catalyst for the European team’s belief that they could still win.  Poulter’s play during the Saturday afternoon 4-ball match was amazing with five straight birdies to win his match and inspire his team.

Final words — Congratulations to the 2012 European Ryder Cup Team.

Kevin Na’s personal frustration translates to golf fan frustration with slow play

The big story from the 2012 Players Championship was Kevin Na’s endless struggle with his pre-shot routine.  What I thought was fascinating was that the press was so empathetic and forgiving.  Normally, the press would be very critical but this time it was the fans that were outwardly critical.  The fans were respectful the first three rounds but by the 4th round, the fan frustration was evident with the haggling Na had to endure.

What led to this “gentler and kinder” press?  The answer appears to be in the fact that he did not hide from their questions.  Many reports stated Na “is refreshing” in his admission of his problem.  He not only apologizes to his playing partner but opens up in his press conference explaining:

“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It’s usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the triggers. But if it doesn’t work, I’ve got to go in pairs.  So it’ll go four; and if it doesn’t work, it’ll go six; and after that, just — there’s a lot going on in my head. (Laughter).  And it’s not — I’m not being nice to myself, trust me. I’m ripping myself.”  See more of Kevin Na’s press conference at PGAtour.com

Now, I certainly have sympathy for any personal struggle but I must admit that more than once I was yelling at my TV — “just hit the ball.”  Eventually, I turned away from golf (something I rarely do on a Sunday of a big tournament).  I’m sure I am not the only fan that stopped watching.  My reaction is something golf cannot afford. The goal of the golf industry is growth (both in the fan base and in recreational play) and risking that a percentage of the current fan base might “walk away” from a telecast is going in the wrong direction.

Even though the tournament officials put Kevin Na on the clock (which added to his stress); it did not appear (to me) to quicken the pace of play.  Slow play is one of the biggest issues in golf today (both in professional and recreational golf).  If the professional golfers are role models for “how to play” then they need to send the message that playing slow is not acceptable.

Many tour players have expressed their dislike for slow play but it helps the cause when big name players take a stand.  Yesterday the biggest of big name players, Tiger Woods,  stated his opinion on how to fix slow play on tour.  Currently the fine for slow play is $5,000 up to $20,000 depending on the situation.  Tiger Woods said that he believes a penalty stroke should be accessed for slow play.  Woods explained:

“Strokes is money….what’s the difference between first and second [at the Players] right now?… $800,000…that’s one shot, and that’s the difference. That’s what people don’t realize, that one shot is so valuable out here.”

I completely agree with Woods, given the income of professional golfers a $5,000 fine is nothing but a stroke is significant.  A stroke not only impacts the wallet for the professional; but it could impact where they place in the tournament which can also carry over to Fed-Ex points and world rankings.  All of these combined make a stoke penalty a more meaningful deterrent.

Finally, I think the PGA could learn something from the LPGA.  Both the PGA and LPGA do have stroke penalties in the rules for slow play.  Both the PGA and LPGA give the slow player a warning before giving a violation.  But the difference comes when the first violation is given to a player.  The  PGA only imposes a fine; not a stroke on the first violation. The LPGA imposes a fine and stroke on the first violation.

Final word — gentlemen it’s time to follow the ladies lead — give a stroke penalty for the first violation of slow play.

The great, good, bad, and the ugly at the Masters

Everyone that watched the Masters will have an opinion on moments that were great, good, bad, and ugly. There is no shortage of examples but I’ve picked one player for each category and I also share the player I believe manages to fall into all four categories.

First, the greatest moment had to be Bubba Watson on the second hole of the sudden-death playoff.  His 40-foot hook-draw shot from the trees, off the pine needles, on to the green to put himself in position to win was awesome.  Of course it ended in the most touching moment when he was embraced by his mother (normally, the wife is there to share the moment; but his wife was at home with their new baby son).

My vote for the number one good moment — the run that Matt Kucher was making on Sunday to finish with a 69.  When Kucher made an eagle on the 15th hole (par 5) and went to 4 under par it was just fun to see a player so happy.  There was no arrogance, just joy, in his response.

Unfortunately, the bad moments in professional golf tournaments are not always bad shots but bad behavior.  Tiger woods wins the bad moment award for drop-kicking his putter. Tiger later apologized but I am tired of professional athletes misbehaving and apologizing later.  These are “adults” and need to stop acting like children when something goes wrong.

My favorite player, Phil Mickelson, had the ugliest moment. His effort to try to hack the ball out of the bushes at the 4th hole resulted in a triple-bogey. What was he thinking?  I mean that would be the kind of stupid shot I would try (not because I could make it but because I am an amateur and don’t always make good decisions).  On the other hand, I’m not totally surprised by his choice. I like Phil because he is a risk taker and is exciting to watch.  Unfortunately, this time it turned out ugly.

So what could possibly be great, good, bad, and ugly?  It is the final round score card of the low Amateur, Patrick Cantlay.  Look at the card below — birdies, bogeys, double-bogeys, a quadruple-bogey, and eagles!  Most golfers would have fallen apart after what Cantlay did on the 13th and 14th holes (quadruple-bogey and double-bogey) but he turned it around on 15 with an eagle.  What a great final four holes — eagle, birdie, birdie, par!

Patrick Cantlay Score Card

Cantlay is viewed by many as the best amateur in the game right now and getting the “low amateur” trophy is a good indicator of his future. By the way, other past “low amateur” winners include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Fantasy Golf Results: Match Play and Mayakoba

Most of my players did not do well this week but the one heartbreak was when Rory McIlroy lost in the final round of match play against Hunter Mahan.  Mahan is an excellent golfer, but up until now he is probably better known as one of the “golf boys,” so it was fun to see him win.

WGC Accenture Match Play Championship

(1) Luke Donald — Number one player in the world taken out in the first day by Ernie Els (a player that only got into the tournament because Phil Mickelson went on vacation with his family).

(2) Ben Crane — So much for being the number one putter on tour (based on PGA Stats.)  He was taken out by Bubba Watson on day one.

(3) Rory McIlroy — My favorite European player.  If he had won in the final match he would have been the new number one player in the world but it did not happen.

(4) Tiger Woods –Tiger did not have his “A-game” this weekend and lost in the second round to Nick Watney.

Mayakoba Golf Classic

You have to love the name of the winner of the Mayakoba — John Huh.  Fans are already wearing T-shirts with Huh? on the back.  Not only is his name a good “story” but his year so far is a good story.  He qualified for the tour via Q-School and he has made every cut in the 5 tournaments he has played — culminating with a win this weekend.  It was not an easy win — he won in an eight-hole playoff against Robert Allenby.  My picks, on the other hand, ended the weekend very far down on the leaderboard.

(1) Johnson Wagner  — Tied for 30th with a final of four under par.

(2) Brian Gay – Tied for 54th place with one over par.

(3) Jerrod Lyle — Tied for 37th with two under par.

(4) Cameron Beckman  — Tied for 63rd place shooting a 4 over par.

These are awful scores given the leader was at thirteen under par.   I had good reasons for these picks but you never can tell how players will perform from week to week.

Fantasy Golf: Match Play and Mayakoba

There are two PGA tournaments going on this week.  The Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun Mexico and the World Golf Championships (WGC) Accenture Match Play Championship.

This is an interesting week because of the WGC Accenture Match Play.  Basically the top 65 players in the world play in head to head matches.  If a player loses his match, he goes home.  So day one —  65 players in the field, day two — 32 players, etc. Until it is down to the final two players on Sunday.  Match play is exciting to watch because anything can happen but it is really hard to pick for fantasy golf.  But, here it goes.

WGC Accenture Match Play Championship

(1) Luke Donald — He is the number one player in the world.

(2) Ben Crane — He is the number one putter on tour (based on PGA Stats.)  Match play is supposed to be “won or lost” in the putting game so that is why I pick Crane.

(3) Rory McIlroy — My favorite European player.  He did not do that well last year but I think he has what it takes to win it all.

(4) Tiger Woods — He loves match play and did well at the Presidents Cup.

Update on match play — the first round is over and Luke Donald and Ben Crane are out.  I can’t believe the number one player in the world is out.

Mayakoba Golf Classic

So none of the top players in the world are in this tournament so it gives other players a chance to make their name. 

(1) Johnson Wagner  — He is the defending champion and is playing well this year so I am hoping for back to back wins.

(2) Brian Gay – Won Mayakoba in 2008 and was tied for 5th last year.

(3) Jerrod Lyle — Tied for 5th last year at Mayakoba.

(4) Cameron Beckman  — Tied for 12 last year at Mayakoba.  He is my “What the heck” pick this week.

Why Spit on a Golf Course?

During the playoff at the Northern Trust Open Keegan Bradley spit incessantly.  And it is not just my opinion.  One of the TV commentators said something like, “You wouldn’t think he had any spit left.”  The other commentator was questioning the fact that Bradley must know he has cameras on him so why is he spitting with everyone watching. And then they noted that he will certainly be spoken to when he gets off the course. There was so much buzz about it that Bradley actually tweeted an apology.

Keegan Tweeted Apology for SpittingSo I give Bradley credit for apologizing but it did make me wonder if this was against the rules of golf.  In my research I found that it is not listed in any rules but tournament officials do have discretion (based on code of conduct) to fine a player. To my knowledge Bradley was not fined but I wondered if any player has ever been fined. The answer is yes. Tiger Woods was fined last year, in February at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Tiger spit on the green (of all places) and the commentator was spot on with his analysis. The well-known British golf announcer,  Ewen Murray said “…there are some parts of him (Tiger) that are just arrogant and petulant. Somebody now has to come behind him and maybe putt over his spit. It does not get much lower than that.”  The amount Tiger was fined was not disclosed, and like Keegan Bradley, Tiger apologized  via twitter but it is still disgusting and unprofessional.

Some online comments, at the time, were saying that it was wrong to fine Tiger.  Most of them seemed to feel that spitting is just part of sports.  Yes, many professional athletes spit when playing sports (you see it in football and baseball when the show the players on the sidelines or in the dugout) but is it really necessary or just a bad habit?

I can’t speak for other sports fans.  I can only speak as a golf fan.  For me, golf is supposed to be a “gentleman’s sport” and spitting is not a trait of a gentlemen.  Spitting is just plain gross and incredibly disrespectful of the group coming up behind you on the course.

It is not just the professionals that have this bad habit.  Unfortunately, if you have played golf, you have probably seen a guy spit on the course.  So to all the guys out there that have this “bad habit” — why don’t you try to “conquer it” and give the group behind you some respect.