Monday, 21 October 2013

The Golfing Etiquette Cheat Sheet

"Yeah," he says, sensing your mistrust, and feigning a mild indignation. "One off the tee, two in the woods, three out, four on, two putts: Six."

You say nothing. Your expression is as steel but your mind reels with doubt and aggrievement. By now you're certain the ball he has played wasn't the one that sliced into the conifers.

"Yeah," he adds, "I had a hell of a lie in the woods. Lucky to find my ball and even then could scarcely take a practice swing. Took three, in fact."

His elaboration gives the lie to his accounting. What was suspicion is now certainty. But what can you say or do?

Over time, the experienced golfer will have developed, through practice at the mirror, a range of expressions capable of conveying varying mixtures of doubt and disapproval, from mildish skepticism to the unspoken outrage felt on coming home to find that the family has been put to the sword by Mongol hordes.

Without having been forced to say so in plain words, you want the cheater in your midst to head for the next tee thinking, "He knows. He knows!" I think you'll find that his ensuing play will more than compensate for any advantage gained through earlier defalcations.

Appropriately enough, in Scotland, the land which gave us the immortal pastime, there is a verdict that is handed down in trials where the evidence falls just short.It is called "Not Proven." What it means is: "Not Guilty-But Don't Do It Again." What you want to have in your psychological kit bag is the physiognomic equivalent of that verdict.

Your other options

Beyond this, you have but three options. The first, totally unacceptable, is to start cheating yourself. The second is never to play with the other person again. But what if it's your boss-or your spouse? #

The third choice is to take a caddie.

Modern popular culture offers two famous scenes in which caddies, in a golf context, play the role reserved for the avenging Furies in Greek tragedy. One is the film of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger in which James Bond (Sean Connery) employs a wily caddie who substitutes balls on Auric Goldfinger (the late Gert Frobe) and foils the cheater at his own game to win the match. The second is an 18th-green confrontation between two millionaires that occurs in "High Stakes," a story by the incomparable P.G. Wodehouse. The stakes have indeed been high: a much-coveted English butler.

Here's how it goes:

"You don't suppose," said Gladstone Bott, "that I would play you an important match unless I had detectives watching you, do you? This gentleman is from the Quick Results Agency. What have you to report?" he said, turning to the caddie.

The caddie removed his bushy eye-brows, and with a quick gesture swept off his mustache. "At the 16th hole the man Fisher moved his ball into what-from his actions and furtive manner-I deduced to be a more favorable position. On the 17th, the man Fisher picked up his ball and threw it with a movement of the wrist onto the green. I took the precaution of snapshotting [him] in the act with my miniature wrist-watch camera, the detective's best friend."

It would be an irony if one of the game's most rapidly disappearing noble features, the caddie, should be rescued from oblivion by one of the game's most rapidly proliferating ignoble features, the cheat. The effect would be largely deterrent in nature. Is not prevention nine-tenths of cure? And better the caddie than I, because if I let my suspicions take over my time in Paradise, if I pay more attention to my opponent's situation than to mine, then it is Paradise no longer.

The sad conclusion is that every artificial step we take to protect golf against cheating is a pimple of suspicion that only disfigures this glorious pastime. We lose more than we gain. The only true, decent, long-range solution is to exclude from the game, at whatever level, those who are not prepared to put their full faith and credit behind its principles. Over time, as Tom Watson suggests, we will know who they are. If we do, we should not play with them. Or, for that matter, vote for them.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Stop the madness!

Stop the madness!
A friend of mine owns a local golf shop, a quiet place where he installs shafts, tweaks lies and lofts and sells classic books. It also is a spot where people gather to talk about the sport, whether it is the PGA Tour, Annika’s workout regimen or their own miserable games. I visit the shop once in a while, and its down-home air and breezy gossip remind me of Drucker’s General Store in “Green Acres.” Only in this case, the wood stove is replaced by a shaft calibrator. And no one is wearing bib overalls.

For years, I found the shop to be a wonderful refuge, and it was easy to get lost in the pleasant conversations. But I barely can walk through the door anymore. It’s not that the owner and I have had a falling out, or that my interest in the sport has waned. Rather, I am put off by the emergence of the golf psycho and the way he now dominates so many of the discussions.

The golf psycho, for the uninitiated, is the person who has become so caught up in technological minutia that he, or she, can think or talk of nothing else. Forget about appreciating the brilliant design of a Seth Raynor Redan or the views across a stretch of golden fescue as a cock pheasant bursts from the tall grass. The golf psycho is much more interested in the “spining” of his graphite shaft and whether the toe of his 2-iron has been properly ground.

I am no dinosaur, and my bag holds the latest and greatest in woods, irons and balls. I also know why friends who have scratch handicaps or better get caught up in the subject; they are good enough to truly understand and benefit from subtle changes in their gear and are constantly looking for an edge. But it’s just not for me, even as my USGA index hovers around 5, and certainly not for those in double digits who could no doubt benefit from having less information spinning around in their heads on the golf course. And I refuse to cross the line by contemplating the optimum length of my driver when I instead could be abusing a player about the sorry state of his game or falling over in laughter at the fellow who splits his khakis when he bends down to mark his ball.

I also have a difficult time hearing others go completely off on the subject, and it makes me sad when I think of how demented they have become. Like the fellow who changed shafts on his driver three times last winter based on how he hit balls at a heated range. Or the guy who walked into the shop to say how the balls he hit with his recently reshafted 3-wood were bouncing “funny” when they landed in the fairway. “Has anyone else complained about that?” he asked with a straight face. Then there was the 10 handicapper looking for the exact same Titleist 3-wood Tiger Woods uses. Estimated price tag: $850. Estimated number of players on this earth who actually can hit a decent shot with that stick: 12.

The stories flow steadily out of the shop, and the best ones often are recounted to me. Such as the guy who was getting set to smack balls into a net there a few months ago so my friend could help determine what shafts would work best for him.

“What kind of shot do you want me to hit?” the customer asked.
“Just hit it,” the store owner said.
“You have to tell me what kind of shot you want,” he replied. “A butter-cut fade? A honk and hook?”
Fortunately for my friend, the work- day was about over, and his partner already was tapping the keg they sometimes set up in the back. A lager, it seems, was most definitely in order.

Sadly, such madness exists all over the country. Consider, for example, the player who flew to Arizona for a personal club fitting that cost more than $2,000 and returned home thinking he was ready to tee it up with the pros. Three weeks later, he put a different set of custom-made irons in his bag.

I appreciate the passion of these folks, but I do believe they need to ease up. And it wouldn’t hurt if they used some of the money they spend on new equipment for a little psychoanalysis.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Just give me a number: our obsession with handicaps

There is only one question in the English language that is impossible for golfers to answer with a single word, and that is: What’s your handicap?

It doesn’t matter if it is being asked at stylish Cypress Point or at some beat-to-hell muni on the Jersey Shore. It doesn’t make a difference if the person being queried has the bluest blood in Boston or a lineage that includes three consecutive generations of felons. If he plays this wonderful game, he is incapable of providing a simple number and leaving it at that.

“Well, I’m an 8 now, but I was a 6 at the start of the summer,” a reply might begin. “But I hurt my wrist taking out the garbage a few weeks ago and can’t really turn the ball over. Actually, I should be a 10.”
Or you have the self-proclaimed comedian who wants to show everyone how funny he is. “My handicap?” he asks. “It’s bad breath and a very short . . . attention span.”

Multiply either of those comments by four, and you have the weekend morning scene at most first tees in the country, with some poor slob with a scorecard and pencil desperately trying to discern the pertinent stroke information as he listens to more obfuscation than a Bill Clinton press conference.

“What is my handicap?,” the former First Golfer might ask. “It depends what your definition of ‘is’ is.”
And you’d think any riddles about handicaps would quickly be solved once play actually starts. But people rarely seem to have the handicap they say they do. There are the 15s who drill their drives 290 yards down the middle and the 5s who dribble tee shots between their legs. I know of entire clubs dominated by sandbaggers whose handicaps are so criminally high they should be in witness protection programs. I once played against a member of one such club, and thought we had a pretty good game going until he had a 60-yard pitch to the hole on No. 15. But then he asked his caddie not only to mark my ball, which was only a few feet from the cup, but also to take out the stick. Then the man, who said he was a 14, damn near holed his shot. He went on to win the remaining three holes, leaving me $10 poorer and more than a little chagrined. But he was just one of the guys at his place, because golf to them was mostly about winning.

Conversely, there are clubs where vanity is king and the handicap numbers are much lower than they should be. Too bad if someone loses $20 on a Saturday bet; they still have that 6 in the computer, which in their mind is akin to pulling up in a fully loaded Lexus. We have a few of those at my place, and it’s always a hoot watching them on the first hole. They conduct deep discussions about their respective indexes, all of which are as out of sync with reality as their perceptions of their own games, and then they play from the back tees. Problem is, there is rarely a time when more than one of those hackers actually lands a ball in the fairway, and that’s with everybody taking at least one mulligan.

It must be mentioned, however, that even the most honest golfers can suddenly get hot or cold, and there is nothing the rest of us can do when that happens but cringe. Such as the time a colleague, a legitimate 16 handicapper, played Carnoustie in a foursome that included a Scottish acquaintance and shot 110. Flash forward to Royal Birkdale a year later. The Scotsman had invited the American, still a 16, to join several U.K. journalists in a Stableford event. This time, the 16 carded a 78, won all the money and nearly got lynched. “They all wanted to kill me,” he says with a wry smile. “But they were really after the guy who invited me.”

While having too high a handicap can be hazardous to your health, having one too low can be just as dicey, as my friend Stratford learned one day last summer when he came home to announce he had dropped to a 1. He beamed proudly as he delivered the news, but his wife quickly set him in his place.

“You ought to be embarrassed to carry a handicap that is lower than the number of children you have,” she said sharply. Then she handed him a kid.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Exclusion and racism in golf

There’s the tale of Zeke Hartsfield, a superb competitive golfer who used to caddie for Bobby Jones at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and wondered why he wasn’t allowed to play Candler Park, another course in the Georgia capital. So he decided to tee it up there one morning in 1939. And when he arrived at the third hole, he was greeted by a posse of policemen who slapped a pair of handcuffs on Hartsfield and hauled him off to jail. Because he was black.

And also the story of Charlie Sifford, who carded a 68 to lead the first round of the 1960 Greater Greensboro Open and then listened to a man threaten his life over the telephone that night. As Sifford played that following morning, he heard the same man taunting him, following him around the course with a group of hecklers who constantly yelled in his backswing. And you can’t imagine anyone enduring something that bad.

But then you read about the Phoenix Open in 1952, which was one of the first times blacks were allowed to compete in a PGA Tour event. Sifford teed off in the first foursome, with boxer Joe Louis, who was a top amateur golfer as well, and two other African-Americans. And when he went to pull the flag out of the first hole, he saw that the cup was filled with human excrement. Because he, and six other golfers competing in that event, were black.

You have a hard time with stories like these, but at the same time you find you cannot stop reading about them. They make you angry and embarrassed. Sometimes they even make you smile. There was the time, for example, that Bill Spiller, a top African-American golfer who was the first to legally challenge the Tour’s despicable and long-standing Caucasian-only rule, crashed a country club dance after the Bakersfield Open. Dressed in coat and tie, he walked right to the head table in the clubhouse, where blacks were not allowed, and asked the wife of the club president to dance. She obliged, and the two of them took a whirl around the floor.

There are tales of triumph that make you glow. Like the one of Pete Brown when he became the first black to win a PGA Tour event (the 1964 Waco Turner Open). Or of Sifford winning the 1969 Los Angeles Open and setting off a long celebration in his adopted hometown that culminated in a parade through Watts. Or of Lee Elder becoming the first black to play in the Masters in 1975. Or of Calvin Peete capturing 11 PGA Tour titles in the 1980s.

But more than anything else, the stories make you sad. Sad for a guy like Spiller, who was never able to make a consistent living at the thing he loved most and did best – and that was hit a golf ball – because he, too, was black.

“The man was a great player and college-educated,” says John H. Kennedy, a longtime Boston Globe reporter who now teaches writing at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. “But he had to work as a railroad porter because he wasn’t able to compete on the PGA Tour. Or even work as a PGA pro because they wouldn’t let him become a member. He fought the PGA most of his life. And even on his death bed a dozen years ago, he still talked about his hatred for the organization. He hated what it did to him, and to others.”

Kennedy knows a lot about Spiller and Sifford and Elder and Peete because he has just written a history of African-American golfers. Titled “A Course of Their Own” (Stark Books), it gives a very readable, detailed and often harrowing account of blacks and their involvement in the game. Or should I say lack of involvement, because most of the golf establishment seemed determined to keep them out of the sport for as long as possible.

“I don’t think most people understand how long African-Americans have been playing golf,” Kennedy says. “They had their own tour for a while, sort of a Negro Leagues of golf, and there were some great players. I also don’t think many people really understand how hard it has been for them. They were shot at for playing white-only courses. They were arrested. Their lives were threatened. And all because they wanted to play a game.”

“A Course of Their Own” is a compelling read, a tough read, an enlightening read. And, perhaps most of all, it is an important read for anyone who knows and loves the game of golf.

Monday, 23 September 2013

All’s fair in love and (golf ball) war

Golf, it seems, used to be such a gentlemanly game, especially when talking about the way it was played in the marketplace.

Intense? Certainly. Competitive? Without a doubt. But even the strongest opponents managed to go at it with a some semblance of decorum and respect.

Things have become very different, however, especially as the battle for market share in the $725 million wholesale U.S. ball market has heated up.

And many of those fighting it out appear to have dropped all pretense of good behavior in favor of launching very public barbs at their business rivals.

Accusations of patent infringement fly. Research tests are openly demeaned. Marketing campaigns are ridiculed, and product quality is questioned.

This is golf? Why, there is more fraternity in a cockfight, more order in the streets of Tirana and less jawing on a Brooklyn basketball court.

Consider some of the sniping that went on during the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., in February. Taylor Made, for example, chose to counteract quickly the introduction of Callaway’s new golf balls by televising a robot test that not only touted the superiority of its own product line but also chided Spalding for its recent decision to sell premium Strata balls through mass merchants by pulling the one used in the test out of a Wal-Mart bag.

Duck hunters call that a twofer, as in two birds with one shot.

At a cocktail party that same night, a major golf company executive systematically derided the golf balls made by a couple of his competitors to a group of journalists, even going so far as to suggest some days later that one of those companies might be engaged in highly unethical – and fraudulent – activities.

Military types call that a cluster bomb.

In fact, it never seemed to take much prodding during the show to get workers from one company to start yapping about their competition. And their words often sounded a lot like those negative campaign advertisements politicians say they will never resort to, yet always do.

Even Ely Callaway got into the act one day, interrupting the Merchandise Show news conference for his new golf balls to diss his chief rival from Titleist, Wally Uihlein, asking, “Anybody seen Wally?” before a crowd of nearly 1,000 journalists and guests.

“I don’t really understand what is going on,” said one equipment company executive. “There is so much trash being talked, so many attacks of the facts. People used to think that the best way to go was to judge your company and products on their – and your – own merits. But that no longer seems to be the case.”

What’s behind this increasingly mouthy behavior? Sociologists might point to a general breakdown in etiquette and decency, but the primary cause seems to be good old-fashioned competition and the fact that more and more people are fighting desperately for a piece of the golf ball pie. As a result, the stakes for them all are huge.

So it is not hard to understand why some of those in the trenches lose their heads on occasion and start barking rather loudly.

But that doesn’t mean they sound – or look – particularly good when that happens.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Country clubs for a day? No way

Perhaps the toughest thing a golfer has to endure each year is the seasonal closing of his club and course. As bad as winter weather gets up north and as depressing as short, cold days often are, nothing is quite so frustrating as your regular retreat being closed. To be sure, you still can get in your rounds during those months. But the games almost always are played at faraway resorts, and no matter how good the layouts, the experience is never really the same.

That’s partly because of a lack of familiarity with the courses and a lack of camaraderie around places that aren’t quite home. There are, however, other factors:

Take footwear. One of the pleasures of belonging to a club is having someone take meticulous care of your golf shoes. At my place, cleats are replaced promptly; new laces put in when needed; and leather shined, polished and conditioned after each round. Consequently, even the lousiest duffer can look like Beau Brummel when he struts to the first tee, his saddles shining in the early morning sun.
But forget about that at most resorts, where golf shoes are the subject of more neglect than a middle child. What that means for the club player is that his FootJoys and Nikes become as ratty as the work boots worn by a highway paver. That’s why the first thing I do at the start of each season is haul in the different shoes I have been wearing all winter to our trusty locker room attendant, and with a crisp twenty in hand, ask if he would please bring them all back to life.

Another issue, of course, are my street shoes, none of which would ever get buffed and polished (at least from May to October) if not for that same fellow. No one at the resorts I visit seems to know how to work a can of Kiwi black and a good brush.

Cleaning is a problem that can extend to irons and woods as well, and there are few, if any of those “pay to play for a day” retreats that do quite as good a job as your own club. I also like the luxury of my bag waiting for me when I get to the pro shop and not having to haul it in and out of the trunk of my car, or to and from my room, every time I want to play.

It also seems that at many resorts, you spend whatever time you are not on the course handing out dollars to whomever is handling your bag, as well as to starters, beverage cart drivers and assorted “valets” and “concierges.” After a while, you look and feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack,” peeling ones from a big roll of bills to anyone and everyone who walks by. Back home, it’s $5 to the shoe guy every week and whatever I think the caddie deserves.

Actually, there always is something disconcerting about the money a club member has to pay for an individual round of resort golf, and everything else that goes with it. A first-rate course, for example, costs $500 for a day, a price that includes the green fee, a caddie, a snack at the halfway house, a couple of tips and maybe some lunch and a drink afterward. That may be only slightly more than the per-round cost of a golfer paying $7,000 per year in dues for a club at which he plays, say, 25 times per year. But having to cough it up for each 18 you play just seems more expensive. And even if it is comparable financially, it rarely is emotionally, because it is not your place.

Then there is the concern of whom you play with. Unless you are foolish enough to sign up for an out-of-the-hat scramble, club golf ensures that you go out with people you generally like and enjoy. But visit a resort with anything other than your own foursome, and you are at the mercy of the draw and golf’s version of a blind date. Harvey Penick’s credo to the contrary, just because someone plays golf does not make him, or her, your friend.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Paranoid in Carlsbad

Covert operatives apparently moved to Carlsbad, Calif., when the Cold War ended. The golf equipment capital of the world seems like a second-career haven for intelligence types who don’t have the Soviet Union to kick around anymore. Physicists who once built missiles are designing irons, while agents who tried to keep the world safe from Communism are trying to keep club and ball makers safe from each other.

Those “Intell” alums can be a pretty cautious bunch, especially when it comes to matters of security. And the culture they have helped create in Carlsbad – similar to that of other industries with security concerns – has a way of making even the steadiest soul feel a little paranoid.

Consider, for example, the Callaway Golf Co. receptionist who cheerfully insisted I sign a “Non-Disclosure and Facility Admission Agreement” after I walked into one of the company’s buildings during an October visit. I resisted, largely because it seemed the document would prohibit a person from ever writing or saying anything about what he saw there. And I didn’t see how a journalist could consent to something that would prevent him from doing his job. Besides, I work for a well-respected golf publication and have never tried to overthrow a Third World country or sneak trade secrets out of a company lab.

But the receptionist refused to give in. I had no choice but to sign (if I wanted to make my meeting on time), although I assumed that whatever I would write about Callaway from then on would violate the agreement. The only question left to ponder now: Where will I serve out my time?

The second person I met was the “manager of investigations,” a former Army Intelligence officer who said he used to “catch spies.” Nice guy, but I still felt a little nervous sitting next to someone who once collared KGB agents for a living and probably knew dozens of ways to make them talk.
Then at the end of my afternoon, I got to enter the new, super-secret building from which Callaway will market and manufacture its line of golf balls. And as I was being escorted to the office of president Chuck Yash, I couldn’t help imagining what would happen if I suddenly bolted to some forbidden sector down the hall. Would I be “neutralized” by Dr. No-type drones clad in brightly-colored jumpsuits? Would I die in a hail of machine-gun fire like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape? Was all this security stuff making me a little nuts?

The answer to the last question was probably yes. I tried to flush those ideas from my mind, but as soon as I walked out of the building, I saw a helicopter hovering overhead. And I instantly started to wonder: Who is up there, and what do they want?
See what just a few hours in Carlsbad did to me?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Hogan mystique still going strong

I was born a bit too late to be much of a fan of Ben Hogan the player, and he had stopped winning majors long before I ever got interested in golf. Sure, I remember seeing him bang balls around Merion before the 1971 U.S. Open, when I was 15 and watching practice rounds with my father. But Hogan hadn't been a factor in any big event for ages and wasn't much more than a hazy has-been to me. He was like Ted Williams in baseball or Sammy Baugh in football, great players that I knew only vaguely through stories I read and heard. And that made it difficult to truly appreciate him.

But not too many years later, I became a real fan of Ben Hogan the club maker. And that's because the first new set of sticks I ever owned bore his name. I had Ben Hogan Medallion irons and Ben Hogan woods, and I remember how stylish and sleek they looked, how crisply a well-hit ball came off of them and how happy I was to break 90 for the first time just a few weeks after I had put them in my bag.

Actually, it seemed as if most people I played with back then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, used Hogans. So did many of the club pros I knew. The man after whom those woods and irons were named may not have played competitively any more, but his legend lived on in his clubs. And for a whole generation of golfers, that is how we came to know the Hawk.
Ben Hogan

So I was pretty excited when I had a chance to take a tour of the Ben Hogan manufacturing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier this year and then go tee it up at the Shady Oaks Country Club, which was one of his favorite, off-hours haunts. Yes, I had traded in my Medallions long ago for a set of oversized, perimeter-weighted irons and trashed my Hogan persimmons in favor of something a bit bigger in titanium. But I still held fond memories of those old clubs and was curious about what the company, which is now owned by Spalding, was turning out. Plus, I wanted to see where he had chosen to spend most of his post-playing days - in the office and at the club - before passing away more than two years ago. The Hogan plant is in a nondescript industrial area of Fort Worth, a new facility that opened last fall after Spalding had moved operations there from the original site, which had opened in 1953. The Hawk never saw this building, but Spalding brought his old office over, and it stands like a shrine just off the lobby by the receptionist's desk, manned by Sharon Rea, who worked as his secretary for many years. It has his name on the wall outside the door (office No. 111) as well as his desk, chair, photographs and books. I saw a notepad with Hogan's name on it, and a drawing of his late wife, Valerie, on the wall. Open the drawers, and there are old sleeves of golf balls as well as different brands of eye drops and throat lozenges. Workers say the room is pretty much as the Hawk left it the day he died, and you half expect him to walk in suddenly (and to be none too happy that you are gawking at his digs).

There was nothing particularly unusual about the plant tour, though it was amazing to meet men and women who had first come to work for Hogan in the 1950s and still punched their time cards there. Some had gone to Virginia in the early 1990s when the previous owners moved operations there, while others stayed behind. And then they all got back together in 1998, after Spalding bought the company and decided to relocate to Fort Worth. There was 70-year-old Dalton Grissom, who had started in 1954. And also Roger West.

"I was 19 years old when I came to work for Mr. Hogan in the fall of 1959," West says. "I stayed here for all those years and even went up to Virginia for a while. But I am glad they moved us back, because for Hogan, this is home."

The sense of the man and the history he made is just as evident at Shady Oaks, which opened in 1958 and served more or less as his second home. Though Robert Trent Jones designed the course, it was Hogan who put in the back tees. He was also the one who pounded balls on the driving range there, who played the occasional round and who used to sit in his favorite seat at a big table in the grill room for lunch almost every day, facing the ninth and 18th greens and watching players finish up.

Sometimes, the people coming in could see the Hawk peering at them from behind the glass, and the mere thought of the four-time U.S. Open champion checking them out made even the most collected players feel as if they were riding a runaway elevator after a seven course meal. Because of that, Hogan watched an inordinate number of Shady Oaks members and guests gag on their approach shots.

There is a plaque where the Hawk used to sit at his table, portraits of him on the walls, a display of his shag bag and the first set of Hogan irons in the pro shop. There is even his locker, still filled with his shoes, slacks, balls, hats, sweaters and at least a dozen different salves and ointments. And the name plate on front simply reads: "Ben Hogan".

That day, I was able to play nine holes with a set of the new Hogan Apex Plus irons. It seemed appropriate that I should use them in this spot, and I somehow managed to card two birdies on the back. I was only 1-over when I came to 18 and had visions of bragging to my friends back home about the way I tore up the back nine of the Hawk's old track. I liked the feel of those new sticks and the greater appreciation for Hogan as a player that I had developed over the years. It made playing his clubs - and his club - even better than I could have imagined.

But then I snap-hooked my second shot to the par-4 18th, chipped onto the green and three-putted, playing the hole as badly as so many others did when they knew the man was there, watching, between bites of his lunch.

I have no idea what my excuse was, but it didn't really matter. I was just happy to be there.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Meet Isabel, golf's new star

My granddaughter Isabel, who is going on 6 months, will do more for the human race than Mother Teresa and Billie Holiday combined. Why not? She's got some of my genes, and there's never been a plan like this:

Mickey Wright has agreed to teach the infant the swing-Mickey's swing. We'll keep the child down in the old family room. It's best that Isabel see nobody except me and Mickey-until she's got the swing down cold.

After Mickey leaves, Nancy Lopez will move in. What she'll do is teach putting-the putting stroke Nancy had 20 years ago. And then comes Karrie Webb, the first woman I've ever seen who hits knockdown wedges and makes the ball dance.

For the mental part, Isabel's coaches will be Anna Freud-if she's still alive-and Margaret Thatcher.
For the last piece of the package, I counted on securing for Isabel the twinkle in Hollis Stacy's eyes. But Hollis, who can be tough on these matters, says she wants 3 percent of the gross. To me, 3 percent seems awfully high for a twinkle. I'll bet we can get one of Laura Baugh's dimples for 2 percent. I asked Helen Alfredsson for her hair, but she just cursed in Swedish.

What do I care? This little lady will make the world forget Joan of Arc and Roseanne.

I've already talked to Nike. Phil Knight very much wants a diaper deal with that swoosh thing right across the front. I threw out $10 million to him, but he said that's way too much if the baby happens to toilet train early. I argued that with a baby in a swooshed diaper, that tired and corny Nike phrase "Just do it" will take on a whole new meaning and come back to life. I informed him it's no sweat, Isabel is going to be bigger than Madame Curie and Oprah rolled together. But he wouldn't budge off his number of $5 million.

So I took on Michael Ovitz to represent us. So far he's made just the one commitment. There will be a book to come out to celebrate her third birthday-My Life So Far-as told to Danielle Steele and Lady Antonia Fraser.

He asked if she's ready to do lunch with the producer of "Seinfeld," who wants her to appear as a baby who is left outside Jerry's apartment in a basket with a 60-degree wedge. Why not? She's predestined to make people forget Shirley Temple and Golda Meir.

Ovitz did say he's not absolutely in love with "Isabel" as a marketable name with big-time resonance. He could be right. I just might have her name changed to "Bubbles" in honor of Bubbles Castellano-a guy from Brooklyn who just about saved my life by volunteering to do my weekend KP back when I was occupying Germany and had a weekend pass to Hamburg.

I almost forgot about a lawyer. We need a perfect lawyer. It'll be one of those two lady golfers from the Supreme Court-Sandra Day O'Connor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The only thing that could be tough about pulling this off is prying the kid loose from her parents. They are both tough Chicago lawyers who couldn't care less about golf. They are baseball wackos, obsessed with the White Sox. Maybe they would be willing to trade Isabel for a ball signed by Albert Belle.

Once we cut a deal with the parents, we're off to Florida. I think we'll buy Fisher Island, with what we save by beating state income tax.

Professional Golfers Are Not Entertainers

The ugly face of golf
For golfers to be entertainers presumes that professional golf as we know it would not exist were it not for television coverage. That notion is wrong. Professional golf exists at many levels that are not televised (local PGA, mini-tours, developmental tours, etc.) Many PGA Tour events were once held untelevised.

Without television and the ad revenue it produces it may be true that professional golfers would not be playing for the same amount of money they play for now. But make no mistake about it, professional golf can exist without television. Television, although it can exist without golf, cannot exist without programming. And golf is programming.
We have all witnessed the powerful effect of television when it comes to new-reporting and politics. TV is full of “pseudo-events”, i.e., events that occur only to be reported. If it weren't for their need to act as programming to be “reported” these “pseudo-events” wouldn't occur. That is not the case with professional golf.

Without TV the US Open, the Masters, the PGA and British Open would all continue as major championships. Much of the history of these events pre-dates TV. TV doesn't add to the events themselves it only adds to the coverage of the event. Players aren't to “act” on TV as professional golfers. They ARE professional golfers and these are professional golf events. All TV does is allow a wider audience to spectate.

TV has become the 9 foot gorilla in today’s world. The press for constant programming has caused news to be transformed into “entertainment”. New stories, instead of presenting facts are “scripted” for the “entertainment” value (“if it bleeds, it leads”). The worst of human frailties, foibles and morals are constantly portrayed. What gets portrayed most often usually becomes “accepted” after a while and “accepted” leads to “normal”. Thus the morality of a culture is changed, coarsened and degraded all because the pervasive medium of television needs its 24-hour programming.

Let’s not let professional golf ever become entertainment. If we do it will go the way of professional wrestling. All that is done is done for “the show”. If this mindset prevails and golf becomes entertainment what’s next? Fan participation?

TV and live-event golf fans already have to endure the constant verbal barrage of idiots who think it is their right to shout “get in the hole!” one nano-second after the pro makes contact with the ball. Soon we will have fans purposefully interfering with the flight or travel of the ball. We already have fans thinking they are “participating” in the Ryder Cup by verbally abusing players and taking them out of their games (re: Colin Montgomery at the ’99 Ryder Cup).

Let’s do all we can to preserve our game, this great game of golf with the distinctives that set it apart from today’s “entertainment sports”. Self-policing of rules infractions, gentlemanliness and sportsmanship all contribute to make golf unique among sports. Let’s be sure, in our “rush” to provide TV with its insatiable need for “exciting programming” that we don’t lose everything that once made golf different. And better.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

My Never-never Land: Golfing Rules They Don't Publish

People often ask me why I enjoy playing golf so much. I tell them it's because I have these rules I follow, rules I try never to break, except where money is involved.

Here are the rules to follow if you want to play better and live longer.

Never play golf with a guy who keeps a tee behind his ear.
 I don't think this needs an explanation. But it's the same reason I don't smoke with a guy who keeps a cigarette behind his ear.

Never play golf with a guy who wears a hard hat, smokes Camels and carries only seven clubs in his canvas bag.
 Play this guy and he not only beats you out of $700, he sets a course record doing it.

Never play golf with a guy who carries a towel to the green.
 Adds an hour to the round.

Never play couples golf.
 Matter of fact, my fee for playing one round of couples golf has just gone up to $10,000.

Never play golf with a guy whose head covers resemble Disney characters.
 He's a gut cinch to wear shorts and anklets.

Never play golf with a guy who wears shorts and anklets.
 Unless you can beat him. It's a horrible thing, losing to shorts and anklets.

Never play golf with a guy whose nickname is stitched into his gigantic leather bag.
 Makes you think about what his wife says at the dinner table:
"Would Big Bad Buck like to pass the butter?"

Never play golf with a guy who wears more than one gold wrist bracelet.
He's got a cell phone you haven't seen yet and will make 37 calls before you reach the ninth green.

Never play golf with a guy who can't seem to find something in his golf bag before you've even teed off on No. 1.
Cancel. Plead illness. Every hole, this guy is going to be digging around, trying to find a new ball, an old ball, a tee, a pencil, a ball marker, his peanut butter sandwich, his banana, the bottle of water, his muscle relaxers. 
He'll find the shoehorn he was looking for on about the 14th hole.
It was in his left shoe. That's why he was limping.

Never play golf with a guy who has one of those bags with separate compartments for all of the irons.
Each club will have to be soaked, rinsed, dried and polished after he uses it. And it will have to be stored in the proper sequence.
A 7-iron gets in the wrong compartment, there goes a half-hour.
The guy eats nothing but tuna on whole wheat. OK, once in a while he feels adventurous and goes for the eggplant.
He's a 24 from the whites.

Never play golf with a guy who keeps personal stats.
Writes it all down.
"That's my third sand-save this week."
I believe you're on the tee, Fred. Soon as you knock out that last chapter of War and Peace.

Never play golf with a guy who keeps those little sweaters on the clubheads of his irons.
You've got head covers on your irons? Are you kidding me?
He's a first cousin of the guy with the bag that has those compartments for the irons. Also eats nothing but tuna on whole wheat.
Yo, Tuna Man! How's it going with the color-coordinated closet?

Never play golf with the guy who feels it's his personal responsibility to keep the entire course in shape.
Mr. Groundskeeper. Repairs every divot in every fairway and on every green. Searches them out. He's never met a bunker he didn't want to rake.
The book on him is, he wants every round to take six hours. Otherwise, he has to go to the mall with Doris.

Never play golf with the guy who holds an arm of his prescription sunglasses in his teeth while he writes down a score on a hole.
"Let's see. I was two in the pond, three out, four over the landfill. Then what did I do? Oh, I know. I was six short of the bridge, seven on the other side of the bridge, then . . .hmmm . . . eight by the fence, nine behind the shed, 10 over the green."
Right. On in 11 and four putts. Can we move it along?

Never play golf on Ladies' Day.
It's been known to turn a perfectly decent gentleman into a serial killer.

Never play golf with a guy who writes about the game for a living.
It could be me.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

In search of the great, short par 4

They are not worried about vampires at Golf House. As for ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, officials at the U.S. Golf Association are terribly brave and do not even sleep with the light on, or so I believe. Nevertheless, they are gripped by a neurotic, superstitious fear of the supernatural, in the form of a golf ball that will need only a gentle tap to make it soar off a quarter of a mile down the fairway.

The 16th at Cypress Point: A par 3 that would make the world's greatest short par 4
So what, you may ask? They are harmless. Let them hang up sprigs of garlic for all we care. The natural laws of physics make it impossible to add significantly to the distances a golf ball can be hit.

But the hysteria over the limitation of distance has created an unhealthy climate of opinion in golf, especially among architects who tend to believe these days that anything under 7,000 yards is a pitch-and-putt course. This obsession with length and power has led to a decline in one of the glories of golf, the short par 4, from 251 to about 360 yards. You still find them in new courses, but they are nondescript holes calling for a routine drive and pitch. The vanishing short par 4 that I have in mind is a rare jewel, the embodiment of the dictum that small is beautiful.

Good architects of the strategic school chortle with malicious glee as they draw their plans. "Every shot must challenge the mind and skill and the nerve of the golfer," the architect reasons. "There must be a straightforward way to play the hole, but I will deny the robot golfer his birdie with this little stratagem. I will entice him to drive over here into this broad expanse of fairway and then cut off his line to the green with an obtruding stand of trees.

"Now, for the man who thinks and can play all the shots, I will disguise his options and even if he detects the optimum placement I will make him play a superb shot to get there. If he falters I will grab him and punish him with this pond or this ravine. He must tread dangerously to follow this way but if he has the guts and the finesse and the power to find the promised land then I will offer him the reward of a likely birdie."

That is the philosophy behind the greatest of the short par 4s. On both shots through the green the player should be assailed by a barrage of emotions-from fear, to greed, to puzzlement-and he should be forced to assess his own capabilities with complete honesty. Power and bravado should never be enough to conquer a great, short par 4. Oddly, Augusta National does not have one. Both the third and seventh, which qualify by length, are difficult without being devious. The same goes for the eighth at Baltusrol and the 10th at Merion. I would qualify them as penal holes.

We are getting closer with the 17th at Pine Valley, a little brute of a hole at 344 yards, where you drive over a daunting desert to a deceptively generous oasis of fairway, tempting you to swing all out. What does it matter if the ball fades or hooks slightly? It matters. There is an area about the size of a tennis court that offers the golfer a chance to play a birdie-winning approach shot with confidence. That is the reward, if he is smart enough to recognize it and good enough to find it.

Breathtaking aerial view of 16th at Cypress Point
The finest short par 4 in the United States that I have seen exists only in my warped imagination. Everyone is familiar with the 16th at Cypress Point, the most photographed hole in the world-and rightly so. Clamber up the hillside with me in a journey of conjecture and let us build a tee 70 yards behind the real tee. We now have a hole of 303 yards, well within range of two shots by the most modest of hitters. But what shots they would have to be, absolutely precise and played under the most nerve-jangling stress. Yet, as you observe if you can achieve a moment of lucidity, the fairway is broad and the green generous. Draw the outlines of such a hole on a flat field, and a 24-handicapper would have no problem. Put it on its natural site and you have, for my money, the very essence of golf and a great, short par 4.

The only drawback is that in the process you would destroy the most splendid par 3, possibly, there is.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

John Daly, Tiger Woods and Golf's Sporting Heritage

There can be no denying that John Daly has brought the profession of golf into disrepute. Repeatedly so. He has blotted his copybook, let the side down, embarrassed his fellow professionals by making a frightful ass of himself and so on.

He has scrutinized his ways, however, and in the areas where he found them to be defective, he has mended them. The manner in which he has rehabilitated himself from the depths of dipsomania is commendable and deserving of continued encouragement.

But there is a fault line in human nature that emits gusts of noxious vapors that curdle the milk of kindness and forgiveness. Only people of impeccable virtue are afflicted by this poison, causing them--having given a dog a bad name--to pursue the wretched cur to the end of his days, baying for the noose.

A limited amount of sanctimonious tut-tutting is just about bearable from the self-appointed guardians of our moral standards, but they always overdo it. In particular they overdid it during golf's silly season, when we had some spurious and incomprehensible "world championship" every week for three months.

Daly played in a couple of those advertising stunts at the end of 1995, and he was something like 30 over par for six rounds of perfunctory golf. Letters to editors for favor of publication poured into newspaper and golf magazine offices, most of them oozing with venom. Daly was raked for bringing the profession into disrepute and also, overtly or by inference, betraying the game's heritage of royal and ancient and honorable and sporting behavior.

On closer inspection that heritage turns out to consist largely of drunken orgies and spectators deliberately kicking balls into gorse bushes to improve their chances of winning a bet. A most illustrious figure made a pact with a witch who transformed herself into a golf ball for him and flew unerringly toward his chosen targets.

An even more illustrious character prematurely celebrated victory over lunch in the inaugural U.S.Amateur, was beaten into second place in the afternoon, and then successfully demanded that the competition be declared void on the grounds that he hadn't won it. Some heritage.

These days golf is much more vigilant in enforcing the rules and monitoring standards of deportment and behavior, which is just as well since a lapse into the unsporting ethic that is increasingly infecting other popular sports would leave us without a game to play. It is impossible for an angry man or a dishonest man to play golf properly, although some still try it on. One competitor in a recent British Open was disqualified, and subsequently banned from professional golf for 45 years. When the referee was asked by how much the player had been moving his marker on the green he answered that it would have to be measured in fractions of a mile rather than fractions of a foot.

A Ryder Cup captain ordered his team not to help look for American balls in the rough, and when the players protested he sheepishly sought to justify his unsporting command by saying he was afraid of penalties for moving an opponent's ball. There is, of course, no penalty if you accidentally move an opponent's ball during a search.

The knowledge that your behavior on the course is liable to be relayed to the TV screens in 20 million homes, including the one watched by your wife and children, is undoubtedly a restraining influence on today's players.

Some of the game's more colorful characters simply could not have played tournament golf in today's conditions. There was one who released his internal pressures of frustration by head-butting trees, kicking himself on the shins and, on one occasion, knocking himself out with a self-inflicted left hook.

I had planned to offer a substantial cash reward from my personal fortune for the first reader to submit an all-correct list identifying the heroes of the above incidents. To my deep disappointment it has been officially deemed that any such competition would jeopardize the amateur status of everyone involved. That would never do.

Please note that Daly has never done anything as reprehensible as these examples. For all I know he may have grown a beard at some time, but that is no longer among the offenses officially designated by the PGA Tour as bringing the profession into disrepute.

We can all try to protect the game by doing our best to play by the spirit and letter of the law. Let our example rather than verbal outbursts of indignant censure show the malefactors the error of their ways. John Daly is trying his hardest. I earnestly suggest that we all get off his case and leave him to find his own salvation.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Improving your game with technology

Technology has always played an important role in the development of almost everything and sport is a field which demands various innovative technologies to improve the overall level of the sports. Although golf is not the most popular game but you will find most of the technologies are being used for this game as this game is the most technical one. I have listed down some of the popular technologies which are currently being used by golfers all around to improve their game.
X-Force swing trainer: This device produced by Callaway helps golfers develop a consistent and powerful golf swing. Since it is a club like structure with much more weight than a normal club, it helps in developing the muscles, rhythm and your tempo so that you can hit more powerful shots consistently. The weight also helps in warming up your muscles before any game. This is a must for every professional golfer.
X-Force swing trainer

PowerSwing trainer: The purpose of this aid is similar to the above x-force trainer i.e to add distance and power to your swing. However it takes a different approach for achieving the results. Instead of a club like structure it has a stretchable string which acts as resistance. Depending on your needs, they are available in light, medium and heavy resistance with colors as yellow, red and green respectively. Below is a video which demonstrates how it should be used.
Putting Alley: Golf is not only about hitting powerful swing, after all if  you are unable to do a proper finish by putting the ball in the hole all you swinging skill is useless. Putting alley is a very compact and portable training aid specially meant for practicing your putts. It improves all the five major factors involved in putting such as swing path, putter face alignment, putter face impact position, angle of approach and putter head speed. It is 27 inches long and is meant for improving your short putts but as you get control over your shot putts you will notice that your long putts have also improved.
Golf Simulators: When we talk about technology, then indoor golf simulator is definitely a breakthrough as it can be used for perfecting every aspect of your golf game. Some of the most talked about features of golf simulator is the swing analyzer, launch monitor, ball launch angle. In addition to these top class features, it also allows you to play on real world golf courses in a simulated environment. With this you can practice any international course at your home with your own set of clubs and balls. A basic simulator has a projector, a huge projector screen in front of you and the sensors to take all the information of the ball and club for the software to calculate the result of the shots.