Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Frys.com Open to Headline Revamped PGA Tour schedule

24 January, 2012: PGA Tour officials announced a major change in the Tour’s schedule for the 2013-2014 season at a player’s meeting at Torrey Pines this evening: the PGA Tour will shift the beginning of the season from a January, calendar-year start, to an autumn start, with the Frys.com Open as the season-opening event.

The change is significant for the San Francisco Bay Area’s golf scene, as the move is likely to bring more top players to the event, which is held at CordeValle Resort, south of San José. The Frys.com Open is currently a Fall Series event, one of four late-season events that take place after the FedEx Cup Playoffs have signaled the end of the regular PGA Tour season. Fall Series events carry no FedEx Cup points, and their fields have historically been populated largely by players taking a last stab at bolstering their position on the money list, or at climbing back into the sacred Top 125/150 in order to assure themselves playing privileges for the upcoming year.

Under the new schedule the PGA Tour season will conclude with the FedEx Cup Championship in Atlanta, and instead of comprising an adjunct series pasted onto the end of the season, the (former) Fall Series tournaments, headed up by the Frys.com Open, will be the opening salvo of the new season, and their results will count toward the FedEx Cup. It is the altered status as members of the FedEx Cup Championship which will make a difference for the former Fall Series events; no longer marginalized as second-tier tournaments with no bearing on the points race for the $10-million dollar prize awaiting the winner of the FedEx Cup, the four events—the Frys.com Open, the Shriners, the McGladrey, and the Disney—will be more attractive to the full Tour membership.

The Tournament of Champions, the traditional season opener for many years, will no longer hold that distinction—but it will still feel like a season opener, as the Tour will take a six to eight week break at the end of the calendar year before resuming play in early January with the “Aloha Season”—the ToC and the Sony Open, both contested in Hawaii. Play continues from there with the return to the mainland for the traditional West Coast Swing: the Humana Challenge (formerly the Bob Hope Desert Classic), the Farmers Insurance Open (formerly the Buick Open & about a dozen other names over the years), the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the AT&T Pro-Am (formerly the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am), and the Northern Trust (Los Angeles) Open.

The change in schedule will also integrate two existing semi-official tournaments in Malaysia and China, played before the end-of-year break, into the PGA Tour schedule as fully-vested Tour events – a signal that the PGA Tour is taking the globalization of the sport more seriously.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tiger, Tony, Tim & Tom: Presence of Tiger Woods and NFL QBs boost Pebble Beach ticket sales

As expected, the announcement that Tiger Woods has committed to play the 2012 AT&T Pro-Am has boosted ticket sales for the event. Tournament director Ollie Nutt told reporters last Tuesday, after the tournament’s media day, that ticket sales are up 35%, and that Saturday, traditionally the busiest day at the tournament, is expected to sell out. The limit for ticket sales is set at 37,500 and current sales are sitting at 34,000 to 35,000.
Tiger Woods & Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (seen here at the pro-am tournament before the AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club, 2009) are creating buzz as a likely pairing for the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, CA, Feb 9-12, 2012.
Photo credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-am pairings won’t be finalized until February 7th, two days before tournament play begins, but it is pretty much a sure thing that Woods will play with Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo. Romo, a scratch golfer who once tried his hand at the PGA Tour’s Qualifying school, has paired with Woods in past pro-ams. Other star QBs whose names are being mentioned in association with the tournament are Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who may yet play in the Superbowl, and Broncos QB Tim Tebow. Brady is expected to play, and Tebow has been contacted but has yet to commit to the tournament.
Last year’s big story at the AT&T Pro-Am was the joint professional and pro-am victories by PGA Tour player D. A. Points and his partner, long-time AT&T regular, comedian Bill Murray. For 2012, however – at least until play begins on February 9th – the story is Tiger Woods and the three QBs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: “The Greatest Player Who Never Lived” ☺☺

The reviewer from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer referred to The Greatest Player Who Never Lived as “Dual (sic - I think he meant “Equal”) parts John Grisham and John Feinstein”; I’d throw in a dash of Michael Crichton, too – but not in a good way. The book opens with the same annoying ploy which the late Mr Crichton used in several of his books – a prologue, referring to seemingly-real events, which is designed to blur the line between fact and fiction, setting the stage for the reader to believe that the story being presented “really happened”. Mr Veron does this with his prologue – and it’s just annoying. We know this book is fiction – so why the pretense of reality? At least Michael Crichton followed this device with densely-plotted, well-written stories –  Mr Veron does not.

Robert Tyre (“Bobby”) Jones is one the greatest and most revered figures in the history of the game of golf, and if you want your golf novel to attract attention, working Bobby Jones into the story is a good idea. That’s what J. Michael Veron must have been thinking when he outlined the plot for The Greatest Player Who Never Lived. The problem is that you must have a plausible storyline in which to place Bobby Jones, as well as the fictional characters of your invention, or the whole thing falls apart. The scenario posited by Mr Veron – that of an unknown golf prodigy, on the run from a trumped-up murder charge,  who is set up with golf matches against the greats of 20th-century golf by the greatest amateur golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, is just ridiculous.

From the weak opening the book goes downhill, frankly. The first half serves as a showcase for a lot of golf history trivia, which, if you've dug deep enough into the “Golf” section at your local library or bookstore to find this book, you probably already know. This background – which is really just padding for a woefully thin storyline – is “discovered” by law intern Charlie Hunter as he works a summer job in an Atlanta law firm cataloging old files supposedly left behind by Bobby Jones – a laughable premise. Inserting fictional characters into historical events (and vice versa) is difficult, however, and better writers than Mr Veron have failed miserably in their attempts to do so (just read James Michener’s Space if you don’t believe me).

Another challenging task for an author is writing tense, believable courtroom drama (à la John Grisham). The second half of the book is where Mr Veron's dream of being another John Grisham surfaces – and where Mr Veron shows that he is no John Grisham – in a weakly-plotted, but agonizingly-detailed, court case centered on the revelations unearthed by young Mr Hunter in Bobby Jones’ old files. Mr Grisham has nothing to fear – unless he aspires to recognition as a USGA insider, his status as which Mr Veron unashamedly trots out in the latter portion of the story. Even the twist at the end – which I won’t reveal, as it would be a spoiler, even though it is telegraphed to the reader well before it’s unveiled – while clever, cannot save the story.

In summation, then – Mr Veron should stick to writing legal briefs, and palling around with his fellow USGA committee members, and leave golf writing to folks who are good at it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012: What’s Coming in Bay Area Golf This Year

The turning of the year is a time of anticipation and new possibilities as we look forward to the events to come in the new year. For golf in the Bay Area/Central Coast region, we have two notable professional golf tournaments to look forward to in 2012: the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, and the 2012 United States Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in June.

An annual tradition on the Monterey Peninsula since 1947, the AT&T Pro-Am (originally the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am)  is a great opportunity for the region to show off its amazing natural beauty, and the world-class golf courses to be found there. The best known of the three courses in the tournament’s rotation is, of course, Pebble Beach. Its spectacular seaside location is a television director’s dream, and each year viewers around the country are treated to “beauty shots” of bright blue Pacific waters, spectacular surf (if the wind is up…), dogs frolicking on Carmel Beach, seals basking on the rocks – even the occasional humpback whale passing by on its way to Baja California. The other attraction, for the many non-golfing viewers, is the bevy of stars of the sports  and entertainment worlds who partner up with the professional golfers for the Pro-Am portion of the tournament.

For 2012 there will be an additional attraction at the AT&T, for golf fans and celebrity watchers alike – the return of Tiger Woods to the AT&T Pro-Am, his first appearance there since 2002. The crowds, slow play (6+ hour rounds are not unknown), and the bumpy poa annua greens have been cited as cause for his absence the last 10 years, and the speculation is that his return this year is in the cause of making nice with sponsor AT&T. The telecom giant sponsors Tiger’s annual tournament at Congressional Country Club, and is a huge contributor to the Tiger Woods Foundation – but they dropped direct sponsorship of Tiger last year in the midst of his marital problems and the attendant scandal.

However you feel about him (and very few people are neutral when it comes to Tiger…) Tiger moves the needle for the general public, and ticket sales are sure to soar now that he has announced his entry, just as they did for last September’s Frys.com Open when Tiger announced his intention to play the Fall Series event at the South Bay’s Cordevalle Resort. If you are planning to attend the AT&T Pro-Am and haven’t bought tickets yet, you would be well-advised to do it soon—and to be prepared for record crowds at what is already a well-attended event. Purchase tickets online at http://www.attpbgolf.com/tournament/tickets.php.

In a more serious vein, the premier golf event on the USGA schedule, the United States Open Golf Tournament, returns to the Lake Course at San Francisco’s Olympic Club June 14 – 17, 2012. The Olympic Club has hosted the U.S. Open on four previous occasions – 1955, 1966, 1987, and 1998 – and has gained a reputation for upset champions. In 1955 Ben Hogan was defeated in an 18-hole playoff by relative unknown Jack Fleck (ironically, Fleck was playing a set of Hogan clubs which he had recently picked up in person at the Hogan Company factory in Fort Worth, Texas); 1966 saw Billy Casper downing favored contender Arnold Palmer in another playoff; in the 1987 event Scott Simpson held on to a 1-stroke lead after 54 holes to prevail over Tom Watson by 1 at the end of regulation play; and in 1998 Payne Stewart fell victim to the slick undulating greens of Olympic’s U.S. Open setup, dropping 6 strokes (two of which came at the notorious 8th green) in the final round to lose to Lee Janzen by 1.

While it is too early in the season to take a guess at who will contend at the 2012 U.S. Open, it is likely to be an exciting event. The 2011 U.S. Open champion, young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, will certainly be anxious to reprise last summer’s dominating performance, though he may find the narrow, tree-lined fairways and small, well-bunkered greens of the Lake Course a more challenging test than rain-softened Congressional presented last summer.

Adding to the buzz (not that any U. S. Open is lacking in that quality…) is the return to a full schedule of pro Tour play by 3-time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods after a couple of years of dealing with scandal, injury, and swing changes; a healthy Tiger with his game rounding into shape again will be looking to add to his major count with a victory at the Olympic Club in 2012. Geography is on his side in that quest: two of Woods’ U.S. Open wins have come at venues on the California coast – his dominating 2000 performance at Pebble Beach, and his gutsy 2008 win on a painful injured leg at Torrey Pines. On the plus side for Tiger this year at the Olympic Club – a recent greens renovation program has replaced the poa annua greens with bentgrass. Woods is known to be unhappy on poa annua, which grows rapidly and can become bumpy at the end of the day – the poa annua greens at Pebble Beach are cited as one of the reasons that he has stayed away from the AT&T Pro-Am since 2002.

Tickets for the 2012 U. S. Open Golf Tournament are available online at https://tickets.usga.org/2012WinterTicketOffer/tac.aspx.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Movie Review: “Seven Days In Utopia” ☺☺☺

Despite the fact that I’m always up for a good golf movie, I had mixed feelings as I sat down to watch Seven Days in Utopia. I had gotten an invitation to a pre-release screening of the film (It didn’t work out; I stood in line for an hour but the theatre filled up before I got in), and I have admired the work of the two principal actors, Robert Duvall and Lucas Black, for years, but my reservations stemmed from having learned that the book on which the movie was based, Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, was yet another rah-rah self-help mental-game-of-golf book, and one which had quite a healthy dose of self-promoting fundamentalist-Christian proselytizing thrown in. I will admit that, based on that knowledge, and because of my skepticism in regards to the whole business (and it is a business – a huge business…) of mental coaching for better golf, I was prepared to dislike the movie before I even sat down.

I had a suspicion that my worst fears were going to be realized when the movie opened with a Bible quote. From that opening, a quick segue into the Lucas Chisolm (Lucas Black) character’s meltdown on the last hole of a qualifying tournament for the Texas Open PGA Tour golf tournament was followed by a contrived plot mechanism that resulted in his being stranded for a week in the small town of Utopia, Texas, and his delivery into the hands of Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), a former PGA Tour player who runs a golf course and driving range.

Most of the middle of the movie is taken up with young Lucas Chisolm’s tutelage in golf by Johnny Crawford, who uses quaintly unorthodox means to develop Lucas’ mental game, exhorting him to “See It (the shot), Feel It, Trust It”. This portion of the film is actually sweet and kind of “aw-shucks” down-homeish; and not too heavy-handed on the “higher power golf guidance” stuff, and I did rather enjoy the middle part of the film (my enjoyment was helped along by the handsome Texas Hill Country scenery). There is the obligatory small-town romance sub-plot thrown in, as well as a number of flashbacks which fill in the back story on Lucas Chisolm’s tournament meltdown and his years of near-abusive training in the game of golf at the hands of his obsessive father (whose poor advice while caddying for Lucas led to the disastrous final hole in the recent tournament). We also learn a bit of Johnny Crawford’s history, and how (and why) he left the PGA Tour and landed in a podunk backwater in the Texas Hill Country.

The movie starts to break down a bit from there, with a strong hit of Christian fundamentalist “seek guidance from a higher power” dogma climbing out of the subtext and coming to the fore, and the final portion of the film, in which young Lucas battles down to the wire with fictional powerhouse pro golfer T. K. Oh (played by real-life PGA Tour pro K.J Choi) at the Valero Texas Open PGA tournament borders on the laughable. Much is made in the rather scanty special features on the DVD of the “authenticity” of the pro golf action in the film, as well as the participation of a number of actual PGA Tour pros—including Stewart Cink, Rich Beem, and Rickie Fowler—when all these guys do is make a few golf swings in some scene-setting shots that establish the fact that yes, we are watching a PGA Tour event. As the competition comes down to an eventual playoff between Lucas Chisolm and “T.K. Oh”, the two players exchange meaningful glances which are more suggestive of a “your-place-or-mine” exchange than subtle “respect between competitors” eye contact.

There are some quite inexcusable technical glitches in the golf tournament sequences. When “T.K. Oh” must make a million-to-1 chip-in from a downhill lie, in thick rough, from above the hole, to a fast, down-sloping green, the ball hits the green and rebounds backwards like a child’s rubber bouncy ball, checking its momentum and allowing it to roll down toward the hole in a manner that gives it a legitimate chance of dropping into the hole. It is totally unrealistic behavior for a golf ball; indeed, from that lie, to that green, it is extremely unlikely that even a PGA Tour player could have imparted enough spin to the ball to have it back up even a little bit—it is obviously a CG shot that had the ball added by computer manipulation. Moments later, as T.K is shown putting from below the hole (after the miraculous spinning ball shot didn’t go in, but luckily also did not roll all the way off the green to the water), the hole is seen to have the usual white-painted inner rim that is common in Tour events, but the subsequent close-up shot of the ball approaching the hole shows a hole with an unpainted rim – a rather sloppy continuity error.

Probably the worst golf-related technical error in the film is the “putting secret” that Johnny Crawford shows Lucas Chisolm, and which Chisolm uses in the final seconds of the film. It involves the use of a long-handled putter, but utilized croquet-style, from a position astride the line of the putt, facing the hole. This is an illegal stroke, as defined by Rule 16-1e, which states:
e. Standing Astride or on Line of Putt
The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance
astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that
line behind the ball.

When Crawford teaches Chisolm this trick, he tells him that he will “know when to use it.” Chisolm uses a conventional putter throughout early portion of the tournament, only turning to the broom handle at a crucial, concluding moment. Makes me wonder what club he took out of his bag in order to accommodate the extra putter, and why the Golf Channel talking heads weren’t all over the odd equipment choice during the telecast…

Another distraction in the golf sequences is the blatant and egregious product placement for Callaway golf products. Balls, caps, bags, clubs—nearly everything in the film that is golf-equipment related is a Callaway product. In the Valero Open segment, which features real-life Golf Channel personalities Kelly Tilghman and Brandel Chamblee covering the tournament, Brandel goes so far as to comment on how well Lucas Chisolm has been driving the ball with his new Callaway Octane driver—an obvious product plug that would never be allowed on the air in a sports telecast.

Another, more subtle, Callaway plug is a kind of reverse plug—in the close-up of the T.K. Oh putt that doesn’t fall, the logo on his ball is very clearly visible as it rolls to a stop at the edge of the hole—and the ball is seen to be a Titleist. Now, in real life K.J. Choi is a “Titleist Brand Ambassador”, and perhaps the folks at Acushnet would have balked at him being shown using a competitor’s ball, even in a fictitious context, but the character he portrays could have been shown to be using a fictitious ball. The fact that his missed putt is clearly shown to have been made not only with a competitor’s ball, but with a ball manufactured by a competitor with whom the Callaway Company has wrangled in court over ball-technology patents (and lost…) is telling, and an obvious dig at Titleist.

All things considered, Seven Days in Utopia is only fair as a golf film. The story is, for the most part, clumsy and ill-constructed; it features blatant product placement for Callaway Golf (but don’t think that I have a grudge against Callaway—I play a Callaway Big Bertha Titanium 454 driver and a Big Bertha 3-wood that I am very happy with), and it is, as a whole, rather heavy on the mental-game hoo-ha that I find tiresome. The film’s saving graces, in my estimation (and the reason it got three stars instead of just two) are the middle portion, which is, as I mentioned above, rather sweet and down-homeish, which I liked; the Texas scenery, and the overall fine performances turned in by most of the actors involved.

**********  SPOILER ALERT  **********

The following portion of my review contains a spoiler concerning the ending of the film. If you have not yet seen the film being reviewed, and do not wish to learn a vital fact about the end of the story which could spoil your enjoyment of the movie, read no further!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

The final moment of the film is a blatantly self-promoting gimmick for author David Cook’s products related to this movie and the book on which it is based—a thinly-disguised fundamentalist Christian tract masquerading as a book of golf mental-game self-help tips.

You aren’t shown whether or not Lucas Chisolm’s final, potentially tournament-winning putt (made croquet-style, and thus illegal anyway…) drops. The screen fades to black, and you are exhorted to visit the website www.didhemaketheputt.com to find out whether or not he made the putt. The website turns out to be a proselytizing site for David Cook’s fundamentalist-Christian life-guidance teachings, as well as a merchandising site for products associated with the film where you are invited to buy balls, bags, etc. (all Callaway, of course…) with the film’s “SFT” (See It, Feel It, Trust It) logo, and multiple copies of the DVD to give to your friends in order to pass along the message, just as the book encourages the reader to buy and pass along ten copies. And they never do tell you if Lucas made the putt…