Tag: US Open

Monday After The US Open Hot Topics

So after roughly 80 bazillion picks of who will/won’t/might/maybe contend at this week’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, the winner was Brooks Koepka, otherwise known as the same guy who won last year.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly a week of smooth sailing.  Traffic (who knew that summer traffic in a summer destination was going to be an issue other than the millions of people who live/work/vacation in the area), course set-up, and a host of other issues got everyone riled up.  Rather than offer my opinions, I’m ceding the floor to Golf Twitter to argue the issues of the week.

Issue: Phil Mickelson’s attempt at playing polo on 13 on Saturday was a disgrace and he should have been DQ on the spot and drawn & quartered.  Or he was making a comment about the course conditions.  Let’s go to the evidence.

For: He deliberately hit a moving ball to keep it from running off the green!

Against: The USGA gave him a 2-stroke penalty as prescribed by the rules.

For: Several players weren’t exactly happy with this.  They typically don’t sound off en masse unless something goes completely off the rails (see Johnson, Dustin in 2016).

Against: He’s Phil Mickelson.  It was his birthday!  Fans love the guy!  Fans don’t care what the haters think.

For: Oh, so the rules don’t apply to beloved players.  His explanation was…well, you watch it.

Against: He wasn’t going to win so what’s the big deal?  Shut up!  Phil’s awesome!

For: Have you heard of protecting the field?

Against: Dummy says what?

For: He should have done the honorable thing and WD on Saturday night.

Against: He offered to and the USGA said no.  Says his wife Amy.

Resolved: We disagree.  Brendan Porath has a pretty smart take here.  I also think John Feinstein gets it right (his words, not mine):

Here are two things that are crystal clear: First, Mickelson embarrassed himself with his sprint, spin and putt while his bogey putt was still rolling. Second, the USGA, already having a bad day because of the way Shinnecock Hills was set up, embarrassed itself further by not disqualifying Mickelson the instant he smugly told the media his act was intentional.

Issue: The USGA’s course set-up went off the rails.  Again.

For: When you look at every foul-up or controversy at a men’s US Open, the problem can be traced back to course set-up.  Golf Channel certainly didn’t mince words.

Against: It’s the National Championship!  It’s supposed to be hard!  Who wants to see someone win with 20 under as a score?

For: The USGA admitted that they lost the course on Saturday and several players agreed.

Against: Oh great, now the players are turning into snowflakes because the course is a bit difficult.  Why not just get rid of all the rough and give everyone a trophy?  I want it harder!

For: The greens were dead.  Again.  After pinkie-swearing that there would not be a repeat of 2004.  They lost them in 2016, 2015, 2014.  Merion was lambasted in 2013.

Against: US Open is supposed to be hard. HULK SMASH.  Put bears in the fairway and land sharks in the rough.  MUST MAKE HARD.  What- they can’t play in wind anymore?  Winning score should be 20 over par so that us regular golfers can relate!

For:  It was windier than they expected.  In an area that is known to be windy.  Apparently with all this technology they literally can’t forecast wind a day in advance.

Against: It’s the National Championship, not some random tournament.

For: You can create a difficult challenge without stressing out greens.

Against: NO YOU CAN’T.  They should be stimping out at 20.  I WANT CARNAGE!!!

For: The Masters, Open Championship and USPGA manage course set-up without turning greens into parking lots.

Against: Did I stutter?  I WANT CARNAGE!  Tears, blood, and everything unfair.  It’s our national championship and it should be hard!

For: It already is.

Against: No it’s not.  I want a literal bloodbath.  I want a 79 to be the low score of the week.  I want to see scores in the 100’s.  9,000 yard courses, bunkers with poisonous snakes, 5-yard wide fairways.  AHHHHH!

For:  In that case they should just change the putting surfaces to concrete.

Against: Now you’re talking!

Resolved: Somewhere between last year’s event and this year, the USGA can and should create a difficult test that involves something more than lightning-fast greens.  Luckily they should not need to do much to Pebble Beach for 2019.

Issue: Fans at the US Open behave inappropriately.

For: You don’t see this in Augusta or at the Open Championship.

Against: Mashed Potatoes! Dilly Dilly!

For: This isn’t the Ryder Cup.

Against: U!S!A!  Hey look it’s Poulter….boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

For: Maybe a few less beers.

Against: Baba Booey!  Look at me everyone!

For: Seriously…can you not?

Against: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Killjoy.  Stop being a hater, broheim.

Resolved: The 2024 Ryder Cup is going to be a gong show.

Issue: Fox completed their 4th US Open so only 8 more years of this.

For: Their production and their technical advances are outstanding.

Against: Joe Buck.

For: Shane Bacon was outstanding.

Against: The Bill Hemmer interview during the 2nd round was a special kind of tone-deaf stupidity you only get from Fox.

For: Brad Faxon was outstanding.  Not flashy, but does a solid job of telling the viewer something they probably don’t know.

Against: Picking up player-caddie discussions are great. Fan discussions about their…ahem…partners isn’t.  Who thought this was a good idea?

For: Mike Davis appeared at the end of the 3rd round and took the hit for the course setup.

Against: Seriously.  Get rid of Joe Buck.  While you’re at it, tell Paul Azinger to drop the Grumpy Old Man bit.

Resolved: If Fox feels like they need him around, push Buck into a host role (think Bob Costas when NBC had the US Open) and find a competent 18th hole tower announcer.  Maybe Shane Bacon is the answer, maybe he’s not.  Think beyond the norm.  Some people are good at golf. Buck isn’t.  It’s been four years of USGA events; he’s not going to get better.  It’s just not his thing.

SONG OF THE DAY

30 years ago today I went with some friends to see Depeche Mode at the Rose Bowl in California.  Good times, minus the five couples around me who broke up (including the couple I went with), and two people projectile vomiting in the sink of the men’s washroom.   Enjoy.

 

My 2017 Predictions (and Wishes)

After saying farewell to a truly terrible 2016 (a year that can be summed up as “well, that’s over”), 2017 is in its infancy which means that the PGA Tour is starting up this week (NBC running promos for the Hawaii swing is equal parts brilliant and torture).  Which means new seasons for the PGA, LPGA and European Tours.  The PGA Tour’s promo video has plenty of visuals to torture you as we endure a cold snap here in the DMV and a couple light snows.

With Nike out of the hard-goods equipment business (that’s clubs, balls, bags), it’s been interesting to see how the former Nike players shake out.  Rory McIlroy has gone to a multi-brand approach (notably back to a Titleist ball); and a fist bump to the fine fellows at No Laying Up for breaking the story (I’d call them competition but they’re 1000 miles ahead of your humble scribe).  Tiger Woods is doing something similar, but honestly for him it’s about being physically able to complete 72-hole stroke play tournaments.  I don’t think it’s crazy to think that, if healthy, McIlroy will have a very good year.

I’ve played Ko’olau on Oahu.  This sort of captures why this is remains one of my two favorite places I’ve played.  The video is a pretty good indicator why.

The other big player has been PXG.  Only in their second year of existence, they continue to add players to their stable; focusing on the LPGA at the moment (Lydia Ko and Christina Kim are solid names to get under their umbrella).  I’ll admit I was skeptical of their approach last year, and it’s curious that they’re staying out of the big-box/online retailers to this point.  With that being said, their clubs are striking in appearance.  The question that others have asked is reasonable- is a $5,000 set of clubs worth it (and is there really a market for this)?  I don’t know, but it’s certainly going to be interesting to see how it shakes out (full disclosure: my website is hosted by GoDaddy which was Bob Parsons’ company- I pay for the hosting and have not accepted any compensation from PXG or GoDaddy).

Former #1 Jason Day made news this week by saying he’s going to play even slower than he has been because he felt he was rushing things.  I will start a GoFundMe for the first official who hits him with a stroke penalty for slow play.  If it’s taking  him more than 35 seconds to hit a shot, then he’s clueless about what he’s doing.  My fear is how many people are going to watch him go from glacial to stationary and think “that’s what I should do!” and then wonder why 6 hour rounds are commonplace at public courses.

In terms of majors, the men visit an unknown entity in Erin Hills for the US Open (so having Fox on the broadcast makes me fear the worst since they have nothing to go off of), go back to Royal Birkdale for the Open Championship, and to Quail Hallow in Charlotte for the USPGA Championship (the Wells Fargo championship skips Quail Hallow for Eagle Point GC in Wilmington).

I’m still not a Joe Buck fan and I still think that Fox does more wrong than right, but there are a couple things I do like about their telecasts.  For starters, they use a ProTracer or something similar on most shots (this should be the standard by now), and Paul Azinger is a competent 18th hole tower analyst.  They still get way too much wrong, but Azinger and Brad Faxon are good at what they do.  For Fox’s other three high-profile events (US Amateur, US Women’s Open, US Senior Open), it’s to Riviera (fantastic call) for the US Amateur, Trump National in New Jersey for the US Women’s Open (so the best women in the world will be upstaged by the venue’s name when it should be all about the players), and to Salem Country Club in Massachusetts for the Senior Open).

NBC/Golf Channel will cover the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.  They did everything you could have asked for at the 2016 Open Championship (and the Olympic tournaments).  Wall-to-wall coverage, and on Sunday got out of the way and let that memorable Mickelson-Stenson duel play out (which can be the hardest thing to do).  Nothing against Dan Hicks but if Hicks were to move on, Mike Tirico is tailor-made for the 18th tower and probably becomes the best in the business (better than Buck and yes- even better than Jim Nantz).  If they can figure out what to do with David Feherty (seriously), they’d be near perfect.  I still don’t know what the best use of him is.  Is he a tower analyst?  Raconteur?  Replacement for Roger Maltbie?   One suggestion for David- when you ask guests on your show a question, don’t frame it to give them an easy answer.  Frame it to make them think about an answer.  And then follow up.  Saying you’re something and actually walking the walk are two different things.

CBS will have the Masters and the US PGA Championship.  For me, CBS remains something to watch this year.  Their coverage has gotten stale (if not out-and-out bad), and frankly their problems start with Nantz and Faldo.  Nantz sounds like a guy phoning it in (I’ve said I think the issue for him is his workload is way too heavy), and Faldo seems to be perfectly happy to go months without saying anything remotely interesting.   The problem is that they’re not going to blow it up (they should), which means another 6 months of Nantz on autopilot, and Faldo droning on about nothing.  Meanwhile, Peter Kostis and Dottie Pepper do great work and get lost in the shuffle.

Golf Channel will have the bulk of the LPGA season.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Judy Rankin is outstanding on their coverage (her and Terry Gannon have good chemistry).  She knows how to inform the viewer and be critical without being bombastic (we used to call this “being smart”).

Note to Michael Breed: Love your work…have you considered cutting back to 1 or 2 triple espressos a day?  If nothing else, you clearly have a passion (which is good).

For Golf Channel- please, pretty please give the endless loop of the trilogy of golf movies a rest.  Develop original programming geared towards average golfers.  Showing Tin Cup or Caddyshack 27 times a month isn’t serving that need.

Major Predictions (use at your own risk): Mickelson (Masters), McIlroy (US Open), Shane Lowry (Open Championship), Dustin Johnson (USPGA).  For the women, Christina Kim (ANA Inspiration), Brooke Henderson (US Open), Jutanugarn (USLPGA Chp), Piller (Open Championship), Lydia Ko (Evian).  Again- using these at your local wagering house is your decision, not mine.  Most likely they’re all wrong.

Some wishes:

1) Both tours (men and women) decide to start seriously cracking down on slow play.  If this means handing out penalty strokes, do it.

2) The LPGA continue to gain traction and grow their TV audience.  And while they’re at it, add an event in the DMV (Williamsburg doesn’t count).

3) The R&A take over as the sole body for rules, and that they bifurcate the rules.  The cutoff can be national amateur and above competitions.  Let average golfers have a few advantages.

4) The tours agree to roll back the ball, which will negate the need for 8,000 yard courses.

5) The USGA does not decide to fiddle about with golf courses at their national championships.  Less is more.  Stop worrying about protecting par.  If someone goes lights out and shoots -15 it’s not a bad thing (see Tiger Woods 2000 at Pebble Beach).  People want to see great shots and birdies.

6) We see Tiger Woods healthy at the start and finish of the season with a healthy sense of humor.

7) The Solheim Cup is contested with passion and great golf, and is remembered for the quality of golf and not a dispute over a rules issue.

8) We see no more ‘scripting’ of outfits for majors.  Make this stop being a thing.

9) We see a return to professional tour rounds finishing under 4 hours.  No exceptions.

10) That everyone have their best season possible, and if you see me lumbering about, say hi.  It may not appear to be the case but I’m not as cantankerous as I appear to be.  That the DMV continues to grow and thrive and become a region with strong public courses that do well.  Hit ’em straight and make those putts.

Enjoy some pre-2000 Tragically Hip.  Forgot they played Woodstock 1999.  Courage.  Much thanks to Mike in Toronto for posting all 4 hours of The Hip 30 from the Strombo show.  I was too busy watching the Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day to tune in.

 

Your US Open Recap You Probably Expected

Less awkward than Diana Murphy's presentation yesterday (sponsored by grain alcohol).

Less awkward than Diana Murphy’s presentation yesterday (sponsored by grain alcohol).

For the second consecutive year, the self-appointed guardians of the game who conduct this country’s national championship have provided the viewing public with proof that they should never be allowed to conduct a tournament or hand out a trophy (have another drink, Ms. Murphy!) again.  Seriously, just when I thought Gary Bettman had a monopoly on horrible trophy presentations, USGA President Diana Murphy doubles down on stupid (in my happy place they start getting booed similar to Bettman’s annual rite of passage).  At least Bettman is sober when handing out the Stanley Cup.  Grab those dandruff-filled blazers and burn them all.

Maybe just have Nicklaus or Player hand out the US Open trophy for a while.

Maybe just have Nicklaus or Player hand out the US Open trophy for a while.

 

First off, congratulations to Dustin Johnson for having to endure needless mental hardship inflicted by the USGA.  The issue occurred on the 5th hole (where he discussed the issue with a rules official AND his playing partner; at which point it should have been done and dusted), and Johnson was notified on the 12th hole that they’d want to take another look at it after his round.  Why don’t they just have phones going off in his backswing on every hole (and whoever that turd-wrangler whose phone went off while he was hitting his approach on 18, I hope you get eaten by a bear) or have some drunken rube yell “NOONAN!” while he was putting.

If you look at the video, it’s very difficult to see where the ball moves if you view it at regular focus at normal speed (it does, but it takes a super-slo-mo camera and blowing up the picture to see it move).  He didn’t ground his club and he didn’t address the ball.  As Frank Nobilo pointed out, there were 3 incidents (including Johnson’s) of virtually similar things happening.  One didn’t get penalized even through the player clearly grounded his club behind the ball.  In Johnson’s case, he got a rules official involved who said it was no penalty.  Right there should have been the end of it (or at worst, stop him after the hole and review it).  The player, his playing partner and the rules official all said it was fine.  Instead, the USGA, seemingly unhappy unless they manage to piss off the players competing in their national open and 99.99% of people watching, had to get involved after the fact.

What next- an NRL-style (rugby league) bunker where officials will monitor every hole and buzz down if there’s a problem?

Coming soon to a golf tournament near you.

Coming soon to a golf tournament near you.

Of course, this is the USGA, and having seen their prototype, I’m leaking the following photo of their new Rules Bunker that they will employ for the 2017 USGA Championships.

The USGA Rules Enforcement Bunker!

The USGA Rules Enforcement Bunker!

Rarely, if ever, have I seen a group of his fellow touring professionals take to social media to support Johnson and destroy whatever shroud of dignity that the USGA might have had (after this weekend they’ve nothing left).  The worst part is that every one of them was right.  I’ve previously voiced that the USGA serves no purpose and should be disbanded, and after numerous screw-ups at their marquee event, it’s time to administer the last rites and send the USGA to the farm.  It’s not to say that the USGA should turn their national championship into an event where the winner shoots 22 under to win.  Look at the Masters.

The PGA Tour conducts tournaments every week, and somehow, they’re able to conduct tournaments without losing the golf course (that they did lose the course this year at the Players Championship was very much the exception and not the rule).  So instead of having people that do this for a living, you have people who do this 1-4 times a year (assuming that they also set up the US Senior Open, the US Women’s Open and the US Amateur), with only one of these events played by the PGA Tour professionals.

In the link (I’m unable to embed the video), Brandel Chamblee goes after the issue with having a fetish over green speeds (he points out that Augusta National, the R&A and the PGA of America don’t do this).  Oakmont, of all courses, does not need to be tricked up.  After their debacle the last two years (2014 and 2015) of losing the golf course, Oakmont should have been a layup.  A course whose natural agronomy has quick greens and thick rough (literally they don’t need to do anything).  Instead, the USGA tries to trick the course up because they have to “protect” par (this idea needs to be removed from their collective brains).  They wouldn’t have to do any of this golf course kabuki theater of the insane  if they had done what Jack Nicklaus had told them to do 30 years ago (go to a tournament ball).  I’ll point out that if the USGA had greens running at a more normal speed, then the ball wouldn’t move (try balancing a golf ball on a sloped hardwood floor to get the idea).

Instead, as Chamblee points out, because the USGA didn’t rein in the ball, we’re left with 2 options: 8,000 yard courses or let scores become what they become.  On twitter I joked about when we will see a 700-yard par 5 (but I wasn’t kidding).  As Gary Player pointed out, the 8,000 yard courses are ungodly expensive (more turfgrass, more water, more fertilizer, more people to care for the course) and are sending the wrong message to the golfing public and running counter to what the USGA was touting a couple years ago.

The R&A has never worried about protecting par.  If someone shoots 15 under, so be it.  If the winning score is 4 over, then that’s okay as well (the weather can be a huge factor).  They don’t have this fetish about green speeds because the wind is a factor so they can’t turn greens into dining tables.  If the weather is mild with little wind, then scores are going to be lower.  If the wind gets up, then scores will go up.

The PGA of America doesn’t have this fetish over green speeds and protecting par.  They set up courses with some rough and some tucked hole locations, but nothing that gets to the absurd.  If the winning score is 8 under, then great.  If it’s 15 under because guys play lights out, then it’s no big deal (see Valhalla 2014 where you had McIlroy and Mickelson going at it with some fantastic golf).

While I’m having another go at the USGA, while it’s great that they were able to get the course in great shape after the storms on Thursday, it needs to be pointed out that your local golf course does not have a team of over 200 superintendents getting your course ready after a storm.  The folks who do this in our area do a great job by and large but there’s a practical limit to what they can do; tournament conditions should not be expected, but they can do a good job of keeping the course playable (and almost always do exactly this).

It’s nice that the USGA apologized on Monday (sort of) for the confusion, but that is literally closing the barn door after all of the horses got out.  You can say they avoided a fiasco (Jamie Diaz’ piece is a good read) but this was self-inflicted.  You simply can’t tell a player we “might” penalize you for something that a rules official said was fine (once the official cleared him, this should have been the end of it).  Johnson’s fellow competitors all thought it wasn’t a penalty, so this idea of protecting the field is nonsensical.

In the meantime, we can only hope that next year the USGA will take my initial call to action, and cease to exist.  They serve no purpose that can’t be handled by other entities and their relevance to average golfers like myself is zero.

As for FOX, their coverage is still miles below CBS at their worst (the 3-man booth interviews are terrible, there’s way too much dead air, Joe Buck needs to learn how to make a point and punt to his analysts, dumping Saturday off to FS1 for regular season baseball is absurd at best), but their use of Trackman is very good (CBS could do this tomorrow- would REALLY like to see this at the PGA Championship).  If you take FOX production and put it with an NBC/Golf Channel crew you’d have something (and there’s no way NBC would have dumped US Open coverage on the weekend to a cable outlet).

 

The US Open on Fox Drinking Game You’ll Need (2016 Edition)

He's back.  Prepare accordingly.

He’s back. Prepare accordingly.

After a debut that would be charitably described as poor, Fox Sports will air next week’s US Open (after next week only 10 more years of this dirge) from Oakmont CC in western Pennsylvania.  Greg Norman is no longer their main analyst, however Paul Azinger will step into the booth alongside Joe Buck.  I suppose this will be a good time to point out they’ve never worked together covering a major championship (Azinger did, however, work at ABC/ESPN in a 3-man booth with Nick Faldo and Mike Tirico and a 2-man booth with Tirico).  Here’s their new promo…see if you notice anything:

Other than Spieth and McIlroy, none of the people they showed are playing.  So the ad seems to say “tune in and see none of these golfers” which sounds a brilliant idea.  While the theme music was really good, I had something in mind more appropriate to their broadcasting expertise, or how I picture people going to their production meetings.

In that vein, if you tune in to watch, you’re going to need something to keep you going, and your faithful scribe has just the thing you need…a drinking game!  Yup, I’m dusting off the old and tired hack-worthy bit and creating your very own U.S. Open on Fox Drinking Game (the Oakmont 2016 version).  As always, drink responsibly, but if you don’t, then at least have a sober friend drive you to your AA meeting because drinking and driving isn’t cool.

Take 1 drink (sip) every time the following happen:

-Someone on the air refers to it as a tournament, and not a championship.

-Joe Buck correctly pronounces Centenario.

-A retired former Pittsburgh-area pro athlete is shown at the course wearing his team’s apparel.

-Any mentions of Tiger Woods during the broadcast.

-Any mentions of Spieth/McIlroy/Day/Mickelson during weekend coverage if they miss the cut.

-Any mentions of the Stimpmeter and how the greens are faster during Oakmont’s annual member-guest event.

-Any mentions of Paul Azinger’s 2008 Ryder Cup captaincy.

-Any mentions of Donald Trump.

-Any time there is more than 5 seconds of dead air.

Take 2 drinks (sips) every time any of the following happen:

-Fox mid-identifies what hole they’re showing.

-2 or more people are speaking at the same time on-air.

-Any mentions of Greg Norman.

-Mentions of Ernie Els winning in 1994 or Angel Cabrera winning in 2007.

-Mentions of Brad Faxon’s Ryder Cup record.

-Any mention of Tiger Woods and 18 majors (or for that matter, 18 majors).

-Any mentions of The Golf Boys video.

Take 3 drinks (sips) every time any of the following happen:

-Fox critiques the USGA course setup.

-Anyone on-air calls the USGA a group of idiots who couldn’t organize a 2-car parade.

-Any mentions of Mickelson’s gambling habits or his settlement with the SEC.

-Any mentions of Deer Antler Spray.

-Any mentions about OJ Simpson’s Bronco chase during the 2nd round of the 1994 US Open at Oakmont.

Take 4 drinks (sips) every time any of the following happen:

-Anyone says “Mike Davis is a turd wrangling asshole” on-air.

-Someone asks “why are we covering this event?” on-air.

-Anyone says “you know what would make this better…glow-pucks!”

-Someone on-air refers to the local area as a cesspool of inbred hayseeds and rubes.

-Anyone on-air references Benghazi.

-Someone says that the putting greens are too slow.

-Joe Buck is drinking out of a paper bag on-air.

-Joe Buck is reading tweets from Dan Jenkins about Sergio Garcia on-air with a fake Spanish accent.

-A post-tournament apology followed by “well folks, only 10 more years of us covering this event!”

-“Joe Buck has taken ill. Filling in for him will be GUS JOHNSON OH MY GAWD!!!”

However, no drinks for the following:

-Mentions of Johnny Miller’s 63.

-Any shots of people waiving those yellow towels that Pittsburgh people think is a thing.

-Random former Pittsburgh-area athletes on-air.

-Any mentions of Fox shows.

 

 

 

A Sharkless 2016 and What To Expect on Television

Lost amid the NFL divisional playoffs and a fairly exciting final round at the Sony Open in Hawaii was Fox Sports announcing that Greg Norman was being let go as part of their announcing team.

Insert witty caption for Greg Norman no longer working for Fox.

Insert witty caption for Greg Norman no longer working for Fox.

Credit to Links Magazine for breaking the story via Twitter; Golf.com, Golf Digest and Golfweek quickly followed confirming the story.

I’ve been critical of Fox from the word go, and their 2015 US Open coverage was terrible (the other events they covered were equally poor- their effort with the US Women’s Open was laughably poor).  As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, golf is different from the other sports to cover, and no sport would hire a complete outsider with no prior experience and think that they’d do well the first time out (which unfortunately was this country’s national championship), but that speaks mostly to the incompetence and hubris on display at the USGA (who I argued needs to be eliminated entirely).

What's a golf?

What’s a golf?

While Fox is making cuts, I’d offer that letting Joe Buck do baseball full time over the summer would be a good idea as well.  He seemed completely out of place hosting their golf coverage and seemed to lack what better hosts do- know how to rely on their analysts.  Don’t defend the USGA blindly.  Acknowledge what they got right, be critical of what they didn’t, and provide facts and analysis to support this.  Buck still doesn’t know how to use his analysts, and has a bad habit of not knowing when to talk and when to let the action speak for itself (I have no idea what he’s like as a person- this isn’t a personal attack on him – I just wish he’d be better in the main role); as I’ve said repeatedly, it was bound to be a failure…and it was.

If I were rebuilding the Fox team, I’d find another host, or use the Golf Channel/NBC team and production (Steve Sands- who’s actually good at this can host if NBC won’t let Dan Hicks host for Fox).  Jamie Diaz of Golf Digest has 5 candidates to replace Norman.  Read his piece, but I’ll say this: Azinger makes sense, the other four are not going to happen (Chamblee is under contract with Golf Channel/NBC, Woods would be worse than his press conferences (I don’t see him as being someone who’d be quick to be critical of a player- even where appropriate), Nicklaus (who I love) is not suited for that role, and Irwin has never done TV).

If Fox could land Tirico (who’s a decent host/anchor) you could go with someone new in the analyst role, but whoever you pick needs to be able to be critical and be able to actually tell the viewer what they don’t know.  I’d shake the trees on Lee Trevino.  Trevino might have gone to seed, but he has a sense of humor (good) and I do think the fact that he’s won the damn thing (a US Open) important.

Tirico and Brad Faxon (the best of a decidedly not very good cadre of talking heads) would be interesting.

A Tirico/Azinger pairing would be “getting the band back together” and it’s not a bad idea, but Fox has to pare down the bodies.  Having 4 people in a booth at a major is too many. It doesn’t work.

I wouldn’t mind giving Faxon and Azinger a run but with a more experienced hand at the tiller (I mention Tirico because he’s the only ESPN person you see or hear from during their early-round Masters coverage, which otherwise is handled entirely by CBS personnel).  So my host preference would be 1) Steve Sands 2) Mike Tirico 3) Someone else not named Joe Buck.

As I said before, they have to be unafraid, where appropriate, to be critical of the USGA.  It’s not being petty and spiteful, but if players are complaining about the course, then it merits coverage.  Their on-course reporters could have and should have done some work showing specifics.  This is not that hard.

The other big change will be at the Open Championship, where thankfully ESPN will no longer be handling things.  NBC/Golf Channel will take over (this wasn’t supposed to take place until 2017, but for once ESPN did the right thing and walked away).  NBC has already started promoting their coverage (while watching my beloved Liverpool lose yesterday morning to Manchester United (who I detest with every fibre of my body) they had ads in-game promoting that they’d have the Open Championship in July).  Good for Golf Channel as they’ve proven they’ll treat the event accordingly (if early rounds are on Golf Channel then good for golf fans).  Having said that, I’d really like to see them go to a “Live at” remote studio for at least the US Women’s Open and the ANA Inspiration (the old Dinah Shore)) and bring in some of their big names.

ESPN has long kicked golf to the bin in terms of the coverage that it gives the sport on Sportscenter and other on-air platforms (Jason Sobel does a decent job heading up their online coverage).  It feels decidedly similar to how they kicked the NHL to the curb when the NHL went with NBC/OLN after the 2004-05 lockout (they ignore the PGA and LPGA Tours unless Tiger Woods does something, and they ignore the NHL the same way).  It’s unfortunate because Pierre Lebrun is a good writer, and Grantland casualty Sean McIdoe is a fellow Leafs fan and a damn fine writer (follow him on Twitter and buy his hilarious book).

Look- making fun of what a complete shit show ESPN has become is low-hanging fruit, but frankly it does call into question their overall lack of judgement.  They treat the NFL with kid-gloves rather than be critical of issues like domestic violence, CTE, and other issues that deserve critical coverage, and ignore golf, NASCAR (lost the rights to NBC/FOX so they can screw off), and the NHL (NBC/NBCSN have been somewhat critical of the NHL and should continue to do so).  My advice?  Stop watching their garbage (their various “have two guys yell at each other” shows are hot takery excrement).  You’ll be smarter.

Because of the Olympics the USPGA Championship moves to July, so by the time we get to August all four majors will be handed out, and three of them handed out over a six-week period in June and July. August will have the Olympic tournament in Rio, the FedEx Cup Playoffs start during their normal period, and the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup fall on consecutive weekends, because why not?

The other news is that David Feherty has moved from CBS to Golf Channel/NBC.  No word on what his role will look like.  As they say, stay tuned.  I’m surprised he wasn’t in use during the Hawaii swing on the PGA Tour, and I’ve not read anything indicating he’ll be on Golf Channel during this week’s event in Palm Springs.  I’d have to think he ends up being part of their Olympics team in Rio, but we shall see.

Not exactly golf weather in the DMV, but we’ll be there soon enough. I hope.

It’s been a rough week for musicians and actors, but I guess the one that hit home the hardest was David Bowie. He made it okay to be different.  Without him, you don’t get the New York Dolls, and (for better or worse) you don’t get KISS (they should send him residuals), and you probably don’t get the punk and post-punk music I still identify with.

Normally I hate remakes, but here’s a video of Bauhaus covering Ziggy Stardust.  Enjoy.

Worthington Manor Course Review

Much like Whiskey Creek, when Worthington Manor golf course opened in 1998 I wasn’t in the market of playing upscale daily fee tracks.  It looked good and certainly got its share of accolades.  Golfstyles magazine has repeatedly given it accolades as has Golfweek magazine (full disclosure- I subscribe to both publications) in their “best you can play” rankings.

Since I’m trying to expand beyond the usual tracks I play at, I took another flyer of sorts on Worthington Manor to find out how good it really is.  How good of a course is it, and despite the fact that it’s been used for US Open qualifying on several occasions, does this still translate to a course that regular players can play on?

On a chilly summer morning (which we’ve had quite a few of- no complaints as I’ll take having to wear a windshirt over searing heat and humidity every day of the year) I got in the golf wagon and headed west (it’s in Frederick but only about 10 minutes from Whiskey Creek- you could, I suppose, play both tracks in the same day if that sort of thing had appeal).

Check in at the pro shop was quick and friendly (and I have to say that for whatever reason, I’ve had great luck this year by not running into your Golf Police types in the pro shop).  They asked if I’d like to donate for Patriot Golf Day (I’m happy to say I’ve donated every year I’ve played over Labor Day weekend…it’s a worthy cause and worth a couple bucks if you’re so inclined).

If nothing else, Worthingon Manor seeks to provide value.  Range balls are included, and there’s a serviceable short game area in addition to a practice green.  My only complaint on the day I played was that the range was open for mats only.  If we hadn’t had the best summer (weather wise) I can remember I’d totally understand (i.e. drought, course was waterlogged, they’d had fungus issues, etc.) but the range was green and lush.  A friendly starter paired me with another twosome (very friendly guys…if they played faster it would have been perfect) and we were off.

While most courses give you something of a handshake opener, Worthington Manor immediately tests you with a forced carry over a ravine to a fairway running 45 degrees to the left of the tee box.  It’s just enough to get inside your head and make you think about trying to make a good shot.  From the back tees it’s soil yourself time, but from the blue tees (where I played) it wasn’t that bad.

Worthingon Manor 1st hole

Worthingon Manor 1st hole

The second is similar to the first hole; a forced carry at an angle.  While not a particularly long hole, a wayward shot will get punished.  The third hole is one of their “signature” holes, a long par 4 that plays shorter than the number on the card due to an elevated tee box (the view, seen below, is really nice).  A second shot brings a large tree and another ravine into play.  One oddity of their course- no intermediate rough.  Your ball is either in the fairway or in some fairly lush and think rough.  I didn’t care for this since several of my drives were in the cabbage by a foot or two.  I’ll be polite and simply say I didn’t like this.

Worthington Manor 3rd hole

Worthington Manor 3rd hole

Four straight par 4’s to start was a bit boring, if we’re being honest.  The par 3’s on the front along with the 9th are the gems, in my opinion.  The sixth hole is the first par 3; a carry over water and a long bunker to a well-protected green.  The 8th is a longish, uphill par 3 to a plateau green.  Number 9 is a great par 5; a true 3-shot hole (the third requires a carry over a ravine to an uphill green; the number on the card might make a bomber think about going for it in two, but the green is very well protected).

The back nine is fairly mundane; 10 is a short par 4 with a green protected by water (another short and/or right is getting wet).  14 is a short par 4 that long hitters might try to reach (the elevated tee makes it play short).  The closing holes are the best of the bunch.  17 is a classic downhill, tree-lined par 3 to a tiny green well protected.

Worthington Manor 17th hole

Worthington Manor 17th hole

All courses should have a home hole that gives you something to remember, and Worthington Manor doesn’t disappoint.  A tee shot through a chute of trees to a fairly open fairway that splits for the second shot, all leading to a well protected green (left is dead, right is heavily bunkered, and long is dead as well).  I’d like to say my finish brought honor to my round, but I took a pedestrian bogey at the 17th and was lucky to save par at the 18th.

Worthington Manor 18th hole

Worthington Manor 18th hole

There’s a bar and grill if an on-course 19th hole is your thing (I played early so they weren’t open); they have a pro shop that, while small, had a decent if not great selection of balls, hats, tees, and a couple racks of shirts and the like.

Course conditions were good; greens had clearly been punched but otherwise rolled fairly true and didn’t lack for speed.  Fairways were in good shape, and the aforementioned rough was lush, thick, and deep (again, not having an intermediate rough or collar didn’t get me all giddy but the superintendent and his staff should be given credit for taking full advantage of favourable summer weather.

The course has four sets of tees- the blue tees measure just over 6500 yards on the card, which is my upper limit.  The white tees were just over 6000 yards (the black tees are over 7000 yards and should be avoided unless you’re a scratch golfer).  A set of forward (red) tees are just over 5200 yards and still offer plenty of challenge.

Comparing one course to another is, at best, subjective, however it’s worth noting that Worthington Manor’s prime weekend rate is more than $10 below that of Whiskey Creek (I played on a Friday and paid substantially less).  Both courses are among the best that the state offers.

All in all, I had a great time.  Would I go back?  Yes.  A friendly staff coupled with great conditions and a challenging layout puts it as an option for me to consider.

 

The USGA and the Fourth Estate

With our golf season largely done now that we’ve had a freeze (some courses are still open but with limited daylight hours it’s hard to find time), I have to say that I managed to play my best golf of the year in September/October. I kept expecting my game to regress, but somehow I kept posting scores of 80 and lower. I’d like to say that I took lessons or had some mental breakthrough, but it came down to putting better and not taking a handful of 3-putts every round (again- no lessons or “oh wait- so I should putt the ball toward the hole” level stuff).

On that note, I have to say that the more I read about the “new” USGA, the less I like. Their inability to adapt bifurication with regard to belly putters is, I suppose, the starting point. As someone who plays other sports, it’s ridiculous to have the NHL govern beer leagues or the NBA try to govern recreational basketball (or at the very least give amateurs a different rulebook). But yet, the USGA waddles about trying to tell double-digit handicappers that they can’t use a belly putter. The “While We’re Young!” campaign was pure folly given that the pace of play at the US Open was glacial (and that’s with every hole having marshals and spotters helping players out). Lastly was the manner in which they handled their new TV contract. It’s “their” contract and they’re free to go to another body (and certainly they’re free to go to the highest bidder). But to make that announcement during the USPGA Championship is, at best, tacky and at worst a move on a par with not repairing divots and ballmarks (making matters worse were Glen Nager’s derogatory comments about NBC). I’ve been a member but I cannot and will not be renewing. To give the USGA another dollar is literally making a deal with the devil. The sooner Glen Nager buggers off the better for the sport.

The other imbroglio involved…wait for it…Tiger Woods who didn’t like Brandel Chamblee’s column about the year in review, and specifically, his comments about Woods’ frequent rules violations. That Woods’ handlers threatened legal action is almost comical. Woods had four rules violations in 2013. This from someone who has stated that he considers himself an expert on the rules. That the 4th estate is still afraid to be critical of His Tigerness is beyond silly (and if Woods can’t handle being criticized he should quit). Unfortunately, the path we’re going down is to where you’re going to have to have rules officials on every hole or with every group and the policing at tournaments will have to be done for the players and not by them. I do think the Tours (PGA and European) have to work out some form of rules change that prevents people calling in rules violations and players being DQ’d the day after. It’s unfortunate that this is where we’re at, but you cannot have players be unaware of a violation, sign for a score, and then be DQ’d because someone called in a violation that the player and his playing partners missed. Woods was bang-on wrong to be critical of Chamblee but you’re going to have to have a better form of policing the game.

On the USGA and TV coverage

A heavy work schedule meant that I was spared the annual two-day assault on the senses that is ESPN’s first and second round coverage of the US Open, led by its moron-in-chief Chris Berman. I know that picking on Chris Berman’s announcing seems a bit overdone by now, but it leaves me asking two questions:
1) Who are these people who like Berman’s schtick (which was old 20 years ago)? Are they the same people who think the Internet is a fad?
2) What kind of deal with the devil has ESPN made with this rube? At least with someone like Joe Buck doing baseball or football games on Fox, his knowledge of the game is solid. Same with the NHL’s lightning rod (Pierre McGuire of NBC); while hockey blogger supremo Greg Wyshynski (you might know him better as Puck Daddy of Yahoo! Sports and the best hockey podcast “Marek v. Wyshynski) isn’t a fan, at least there’s an acknowlegement of his knowledge followed by a thorough critique of McGuire’s shortcomings (in the main I like McGuire but he was much better working with Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert of TSN). In short, Berman’s an idiot, he comes off as unprepared, and yet, ESPN serves this up to golf fans; what should be 2 of the best days of golf on television are sullied by Berman (all you need to know is that while ESPN also has the first 2 rounds of the Masters…the Men of the Masters aren’t having it).

Berman, on the other hand, comes off like an uninformed rube with zero charm; a comic who’s bombing but doesn’t have the chops to go along with things. I feel bad for Roger Maltbie, who by Friday night appears to be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome; laughing at Berman’s tiresome and frankly useless banter. I wrote about the passing of Ken Venturi a few weeks ago; it pains me that these two cover the same sport. Nobody expects Berman to become a Venturi; but he could knock the act off a bit and try to do what a good host does- defer to those that know more about what it is you’re covering.

Which leads me to the USGA. Their new ads trying to get average golfers to play faster are well intended (and if we’re being honest, six-hour rounds isn’t the fertile breeding ground where new golfers come from). However, it’s hard to conduct a championship being played at a pace I’d charitably describe as glacial and then prattle on about picking up the pace. And as they say, this leads us to the larger problem.

At the Masters, amateur Tianlang Guan was penalized for slow play. By the reaction from the 4th estate and his fellow competitors, you’d have thought they DQ’d him and insulted his family. The problem is that everyone complains about slow play until they’re the one under the spotlight. Everyone “thinks” they’re a fast player. Except when they’re not. Nobody ever says “man I played slow out there today”…everyone uses the same boring, tiresome excuses instead of copping guilt.

What’s the answer? The usual suspects…play ready golf (forget who has the damn honor!). Continuous putting (the Ohio Golf Association did this and it cut rounds by 15 minutes). Once practice swing. If you’re at double par (or your handicap max)…pick up! Learn how to use a golf cart. If you’re in a group and a couple of the others are looking for a lost ball, hit your approach and then go help them. Limit your search to two minutes. Play the appropriate set of tees.

What can courses do? Have tees listed by handicap range (if you’re already doing this then great). Sprinklerheads should have yardages. Use local rules to avoid having golfers re-tee. Have Marshals out on the course.

And lastly…every single one of us needs to try to play faster. It starts with me. And you. And everyone else.