Monday, January 2, 2017

Will 2017 be the Year of the Rooster – or the Tiger (Woods, that is)?

Are you looking forward to 2017? I’m talking about golf here – not politics, not movies, not football, baseball, basketball or tennis: strictly golf. If you are, what exactly are you looking forward to?

Let me be prescient for a moment, or try to be, and see if I can predict what you’re going to say, or what many are going to say. I predict that many, many of you will say that what you are looking forward to in golf in 2017 is The Return of Tiger Woods (though maybe that should be in all caps: THE RETURN OF TIGER WOODS.)

Ever since Woods embarked on his course of back surgeries some, what, 16, 17 months ago now? – the world of golf has been panting for The Return of The Big Cat. He teased his fans with talk of a return at the season opener of the 2016-2017 PGA Tour year at the Safeway Open in Napa, only to bail out at the last minute. (Screwed me out of a paycheck for an article on his return that I never got to write, but I’m not bitter about that – much – and the lunch spread in media dining was amazing.)

When he did return, several weeks later, it was at the Hero Challenge, an event which he hosts, sponsored by a company which sponsors him. A limited-field event for the top 18 players in the world – at a time when he was ranked 898th. (Nice to be on the selection committee, isn’t it?) OK, to be fair, his rankings slid to those depths because he hadn’t been playing, of course, not because he had been playing and had sucked.

So how did he do? He finished 15th out of 17 (Justin Rose WD’d with back pain), 14 strokes back of winner Hideki Matsuyama – but the golf world, or at least the majority of it, went berserk. “HE’S BACK!”, the headlines screamed.

Thanks to a “strong” showing against the top dozen and a half players in the world – and the OWGR’s wonky algorithms – Woods vaulted to #650 after his performance at the Hero Championship, a nosebleed-inducing ascent of 248 spots in one go, and now “Tiger’s back” is the story for 2017, as it has been for a year and a half (yes, I know – bad pun…).

Many pundits and players alike are predicting a great year for Woods in 2017 – a PGA Tour win, a strong showing in one or more majors – good things all around. Of course, the departure of Nike Golf from the hardware side of the business is a factor for Woods, among others, but many see hope in his return to the faithful Scotty Cameron putter which served him so well for so many years. He had Taylormade clubs in the bag above the irons for the Hero Championship, and has recently announced a switch to the Bridgestone B330S golf ball.

One of the big questions surrounding Woods’ return concerns the schedule he will play. Lacking a win on Tour in 2015-2016 the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua is out of the question – not that he bothered showing up for it in recent years anyway. The desert events – the Careerbuilder Challenge and Phoenix Open are out – a pro-am and a zoo. For his first event the smart money is on Torrey Pines, a venue at which he has enjoyed nearly unprecedented success, including his most recent win there, in 2013, one of the five he notched up that season.

After Torrey will he then play in the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, the scene of what is arguably the greatest triumph of his career, when he lapped the field at the 2000 U.S. Open? Despite his success there he has often bad-mouthed the greens at Pebble, which grow bumpy late in the day thanks to their poa annua content. In his last appearance there, in 2012, he was crushed by Phil Mickelson in the final round after Mickelson overcame a 6-stroke deficit to roll up his fourth win at the iconic Monterey Peninsula venue – so I’m guessing Pebble is a “no”.

Woods has committed to play in the Genesis Championship at Riviera Country Club, the location of his first PGA Tour event, at the age of 16, in 1992. His TGR Live organization is putting the event on, and it will benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation. Without that association I’d guess that he would be a no-show at Riviera; he has never favored the venue, and this will be his first time back at Riviera since 2006.

After Riviera my guess is that he is not likely to come out again until Bay Hill, out of respect for the late Arnold Palmer, and after that, of course, the Masters. Post-Masters I would bet on The Players Championship as his next event, the site of another of his five wins in 2013; it was his second win at the PGA Tour’s flagship event, his first having come in 2001.

After mid-May my crystal ball gets fuzzy, with moments of clarity around the time of the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship – assuming that between playing and practicing his back woes don’t return, or some other injury doesn’t jump up and make itself known in his increasingly creaky, cranky 41-year-old body.

There are many in golf, media and fans alike, who think that Tiger Woods is Good for Golf. If by “golf” one means TV ratings for the PGA Tour then I think that they have a point. People tune in to watch him, as the ratings for the 2016 Hero Championship show – they were exactly double the number for 2015, increasing by 100% over the previous years, and viewership more than doubled, with a 115% increase over 2015. If we’re talking about the larger concept of the game of golf, though, I don’t think it means much to business at your local golf course whether Woods is in the field at that weeks’ PGA Tour event or on the sofa with a bowl of Froot Loops at his mansion in Jupiter.

That being said, there are any number of people playing the game recreationally, and maybe even professionally, who will tell you that Tiger is the reason they got into the game. For them, though the Chinese calendar calls 2017 the Year of the Rooster, they are hoping that it will turn out to be another Year of the Tiger.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Record-setting first day at Silverado opens 2016-17 PGA Tour season

Thin high clouds and temperatures in the mid-70s greeted fans and players on the opening day of the 2016-2017 PGA Tour season in the inaugural Safeway Open at Napa’s Silverado Resort and Spa. Windy conditions predicted for the opening round never materialized, and playing conditions on the historic North Course were perfect.

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot at the par-3 second hole during the first round of the 2016 Safeway Open at Napa’s Silverado Resort and Spa. Mickelson finished the day at 3-under, seven strokes back of leader Scott Piercy.
Topping the parade of players who took advantage of the pristine conditions today was Las Vegas, Nevada, native Scott Piercy, who fired a 10-under 62 to take the lead after 18 holes, as well as sole possession of the course record. Among the four co-holders of the previous record of 9-under 63 was tournament host and resort co-owner Johnny Miller.

Two strokes back of Piercy after 18 holes were second-year PGA Tour member Patton Kizzire and England’s Paul Casey. Casey’s career ratcheted into high gear in 2016, after several years of injury-related doldrums, with back-to-back second-place finishes at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships during the FedEx Cup playoffs, part of seven Top 10 and twelve Top 25 finishes in 17 (out of 22) made cuts.

Besides the predicted windy conditions, the other thing that never materialized at Silverado was Tiger Woods. After his September 2 announcement of a tentative schedule for his return to tournament golf after a 14-month absence – a return which was to begin with the Safeway Open – and confirming his entry to the tournament on October 7, Woods doubled-back three days later, withdrawing from the tournament and issuing a statement on his website on Monday, October 10, citing a shaky game, but not physical injury, as the reason for his change of heart.

Phil Mickelson had expressed interest in being paired with Woods for the first two rounds, and media reports in advance of the announcement of tournament pairings indicated that the two would indeed be placed in the same group. That dream pairing – or nightmare, depending upon whether you are a fan, a golf writer, or a course marshal – was not to be, however. Still, Phil’s Faithful lined the fairways and surrounded the greens during his round, as he played with defending champion Emiliano Grillo and 2011 Fedex Cup champ Bill Haas.

Phil put on a show for his gallery, scrambling to a 3-under 69, hitting five of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens, with 29 putts – and only handed out one signed glove, to a spectator on the right side of the fairway who got clipped by his drive on the par-five 9th hole.

Asked about the course, Mickelson said, “I really like it. It reminds me of the old Torrey South. The way the holes moved, the way the greens have similar contours to them and the length wasn’t overpowering but you had to be very precise to get it close to some of the holes. I like the feel of the golf course.”

Notable performances by Northern California players in the field include rounds of 2-under 70 shot by former San Jose State golfer Mark Hubbard and Clovis’s Bryson DeChambeau.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book review: The Anatomy of Greatness, by Brandel Chamblee ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5)

Golf Channel analyst’s instruction book scores A- for content, C+ for presentation

Golf Channel analyst/commentator Brandel Chamblee knows a thing or two about the golf swing, and when he talks, or writes, about it people should take notice. A former PGA Tour player himself, Chamblee brings a tremendous amount of insight and experience, as well as a sense of history, to his on-air role, and in his recent book, The Anatomy of Greatness: Lessons from the Best Golf Swings in History, he brings the same qualities to bear in writing about the golf swing.
In his new book from Classics of Golf, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee
breaks down the simple concepts that the great golf swings have in common. 

The Anatomy of Greatness is not just another swing instruction book, like the thousands that have been published over the decades since the first, The Golfer’s Manual, by Henry Brougham Farnie, was published in 1857. Even a cursory look through the pages of the book will show that Chamblee has taken a different approach to the matter at hand. Rather than the Golf My Way (Jack Nicklaus) or How I Play Golf (Tiger Woods) approach, telling the reader “This is how I do it”, Chamblee shows the reader the characteristics of the golf swing that are common to a panoply of the greats of the game – including, of course, Nicklaus and Woods.

Taking the basics of the golf swing – the grip, the setup, posture, and the various phases of the swing movement itself – in order, Chamblee explains the basic concepts that helped make these past champions great. With a wide variety of illustrations and photographs, he shows how the greats of the game – from Jones, Snead, Hogan, and female golf great Mickey Wright, to Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Woods and others – utilized these basics to produce their championship-winning golf swings.

Along the way Chamblee debunks some popular misconceptions, especially the widespread, but misguided, concept of loading the mid-body like a torsion spring to produce power in the downswing. Instead, the reader is shown how the great champions of the past used a few key movements to produce the fluid, free-flowing swings we have seen in newsreel footage (for the earlier players in the comparisons) and television coverage of tournaments, for years. He also explains how the looser, freer swing described in the pages of the book is easier on the body, especially the thoracic spine (lower back), which is a key element in a long-lived quality golf swing.
“The premise of this theory is so massively incorrect and its problems so numerous that for over thirty years it has almost completely divested the PGA and LPGA Tour players of their ability to build on the methods of a previous generation…”

One of the really interesting things about The Anatomy of Greatness is how Chamblee traces the common roots of these fundamental concepts back to Los Angeles-based golf instructor Alex Morrison, whose influence can be seen in the swing motions of such greats as Bob Jones, and through Morrison disciples Henry Picard and Jack Grout, in the swings of Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, respectively. The same concepts can be seen in the swing motions of such 20th-century greats as Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, who though they arrived at them independently, were themselves very influential on a great number of later players.
All that being said, there is room for improvement in the book’s presentation. The layout is clumsy and rather unprofessional looking, with frequent unwelcome blocks of blank space, and in at least a couple of places, multi-page jumps in the text to accommodate poorly arranged stretches of photos and captions. The prose is rather stilted and stiff, in general, and appears to have lacked the input of a good proofreader and a firm-handed, knowledgeable copy editor. 

The mediocre-to-poor layout of the book is the reason it missed out on a fifth star, but despite those minor complaints, this slim volume (121 pages of content, plus a two-pages-and-a-bit foreword by Tom Watson) is a book that every golfer should read, and that all golfers can take advantage of to improve their game, with a bit of reading, and a bit of practice.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Olympic golf’s Northern California connection – H. Chandler Egan

It has been 112 years since men’s golf was played in the Olympic Games, and on the eve of its return in the Rio Games of 2016, it’s worth looking back at one of the men who claimed the medals the last time around, a man with a strong connection to Northern California golf.
H. Chandler Egan, noted West Coast golf architect, and individual silver medalist in men’s golf at the 1904 Olympic Games.

H. Chandler Egan is a name that is familiar to golf history buffs with an interest in Northern California’s Monterey Peninsula and San Francisco Bay Area golf meccas. Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1884, Egan attended Harvard University, where he captained the golf team. Egan won the NCAA Individual Golf Championship in 1902, and was a member of the team which won three straight NCAA Division I Golf Championships, from 1902 to 1904.

Egan’s successes in amateur golf outside of the collegiate game included winning the 1902 Western Amateur at Chicago Golf Club – the first 18-hole golf course in the United States – and the 1904 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club, the first of four U.S. Amateurs held at the venerable New Jersey course, which recently hosted its eighth U. S. Open.

When the Olympic Games came to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904, Egan competed as an individual and as a member of a team from the Western States Golf Association, one of 74 Americans and three Canadians who played for the medals at Glen Echo Country Club in September 1904. Taking home the individual gold in the second and last – until now – men’s golf competition in the Olympic Games was 46-year-old George Lyon, of Canada; Egan took the individual silver, and his team from the WSGA took the team gold.

H. Chandler Egan’s individual silver medal (left) and team gold medal (right) from the 1904 St. Louis Games.
Egan’s Olympic medals were thought to have been lost until they turned up in the autumn of 2016, tucked away on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in the former home of his daughter, and only child, Eleanor, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 101. The medals were discovered, along with a trove of Egan’s other golf memorabilia, when one of Eleanor’s sons, Morris Everett Jr., was cleaning out the house, which is located on the farm near Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where he and his brother grew up.

Chandler Egan’s connection to Northern California golf stems in part from his collaboration and association with revered golf course architect Alister Mackenzie. Mackenzie is best known in the Monterey Peninsula and San Francisco Bay region for designing the Cypress Point Golf Club in the Del Monte Forest (near Pebble Beach Golf Links) and Pasatiempo Golf Club, north across Monterey Bay in the hills above Santa Cruz.

In 1929 Egan took the lead in a partnership with Mackenzie in the renovation of the then 10-year-old Pebble Beach Golf Links layout in preparation for the U.S. Amateur. Egan played in the event (with some advantage over his competitors, we can imagine…), and reached the semifinal round before being eliminated.

That same year Egan worked with Mackenzie and his partner Robert Hunter on the design and construction of the Union League Golf and Country Club (now known as Green Hills Country Club), in the San Francisco Peninsula town of Millbrae. Across the bay in the Oakland Hills, Egan took over the re-design of the Sequoyah Country Club course in 1930, after the death of famed architect Seth Raynor, who passed in 1926 not long after submitting plans for the re-design.

Egan also worked with Dr. Mackenzie on Sharp Park Golf Course, in the coastal town of Pacifica, 10 miles south of San Francisco. A rare publicly owned Mackenzie course, Sharp Park and the Eden Course in St Andrews, Scotland, are the only two seaside public courses designed by Mackenzie. Egan oversaw the construction, in 1929, of this handsome layout, which is situated on partially reclaimed land next to the Pacific Ocean, overlooked by the rugged western face of the Coast Range hills that lie between the Pacific and San Francisco Bay.

Egan is also responsible for one of the most cherished public golf courses in the Monterey Peninsula region, Pacific Grove Golf Links, known as “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach.”

Opening in May 1932, PG Golf Links was laid out by Egan on land which Del Monte Properties Company owner Samuel F. B. Morse sold to the city of Pacific Grove for a $10 gold piece and a promise to operate it as a public course for at least five years. Lying just inland of Point Piños, the rocky stub jutting out into the Pacific which closes the southern “hook” of Monterey Bay, Egan’s original nine-hole layout was expanded to 18 holes in 1960 with a back nine laid out right on Point Piños by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, the original architects of Pebble Beach.

As golf returns to the Olympic Games this week, golf fans in the Monterey and San Francisco Bay region can be proud of the area’s connection to the history of Olympic golf, and can still play golf courses which were designed by a man whose name is forever linked to golf and the Olympic Games.