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Monday, July 11, 2016

US Women's Open - Did Lang Win or Did Nordqvist Lose?

Did Brittany Lang with the 71st US Women's Open or did Anna Nordqvist lose it when she grounded her club in that fairway bunker on the 2nd playoff hole? The same question might be asked of others who were battling for the top of the CordeValle leaderboard Sunday afternoon.

The back nine on Sunday at the 71st US Women's Open was packed with drama - much more than any of us expected. And it wasn't limited to Anna Nordqvist's tragic mistake on the 74th hole.

There was Lydia Ko's massive stumble that began before she made the turn, starting with her bogey on the 8th and her double on the 9th - the result, I think, of a rare and unusual course management error on Ko's part that sent her tumbling down the leaderboard. That was the end of Lydia Ko's bid for the championship not because she fell back three shots - Lydia Ko is perfectly capable to picking up three birdies in nine holes - but because it was the end of her focus. By the time Lydia Ko made the turn her confidence in her game was badly shaken. The woman with the flawless short game who had started the final round leading the field, carded two more bogeys and ended her final round with a 75.

Then there was Sung Hyun Park, who had for 54 holes delivered the kind of golf most of us can only dream about, climbing into contention against almost impossible odds including a language barrier that should have proved insurmountable. Park's caddie gets a big shout-out from me. There's no doubt that his creative and professional work kept his player in contention until the magic drained out of her flat stick Sunday afternoon on the back nine. Those three back nine bogeys were what made the difference between hoisting the trophy and a 3rd place finish for the Korean who told the media she didn't feel her game is yet ready for the LPGA. Indeed? It looks ready from where I'm sitting.

Still, there's nothing like the pressure cooker environment of a major to wear players down to a nub and it was no surprise that at the end of 72 holes of regulation play two seasoned professionals were heading for a playoff. In addition to being friends - the kind of friends who play practice rounds together and who have competed against each other for many years - Brittany Lang and Anna Nordqvist are both splendid golfers. They have solid technical games and the mental fortitude that is forged in the heat of repeated competition. They both play with incredible grace and impenetrable resolve.

The 3-hole playoff began on the CordeValle par-316th hole. Lang and Nordqvist matched each other shot-for-shot for the 73rd and 74th hole, including errant tee shots on the 74th, Lang into the right rough, Nordqvist into a fairway bunker on the left. Then came the grounded club and subsequent penalty decision, rendered mid-way through the 75th hole, that put Nordqvist two shots back. I'll leave debate about the timing of that decision to others. It was a properly rendered decision.
Yes, the wind was howling. No, Nordqvist didn't ground her club intentionally. Yes, the grounding barely occurred. But the Rules of Golf are clear: there was indeed a violation, no matter how small, and the penalty was imposed as soon as the decision was reached.

While nobody wants to win on the mistake of a competitor, the fact of the matter is that every win comes on the missteps of competitors. Certainly, Lang and Nordqvist advanced to the top of the leaderboard on the ladder of Ko's and Park's missteps.

In the game of golf technical skill is only one element of the winning equation. Club decision and course management strategies, the direction and strength of the win and the speed of the greens, and many other factors - some well beyond the players' control - all figure into ultimate success or failure. That's the allure of the game.

Let's not detract from Brittany Lang's enormous triumph at CordeValle. In the game of golf, the survivor of the contest hoists the trophy!

Friday, July 8, 2016

If Only Life Could Be More Like a Golf Round - A Modest Proposal

What would life look like if we lived it using the principles that inform our rounds of golf?

I've often thought we could settle most human disputes with a round of golf rather than with guns and bombs - I'll explain how that might work in a later post. I've even considered the viability of substituting a round or two of golf for those political debates that periodically clutter up our television viewing schedules.

But what if our social life could be reshaped to most closely resemble a round of golf? I think we would see a dramatic decline in conflict and violence. The very structure of the game is designed to minimize violence and hostility while preserving the spirit of competition that draws me to the game.

Consider the possibilities -
  • In the game of golf we all play by the same set of rules and are subject to exactly the same penalties for violating those rules.
  • In the game of golf the playing field varies while the target remains constant, providing balance in competition. This adjustment of the playing field gives older players, younger players, and physically weaker players an equal chance to reach the target in regulation when competing against stronger players.
  • In the game of golf our equipment is standardized and uniform. Which 14 clubs we choose to put in our bag is a personal decision but there will be only 14 clubs. 
  • In the game of golf cheaters are disqualified from further competition.
  • In the game of golf we accept the inevitability of bad shots and play on, trying to do better on the next shot, the next hole, the next round.
  • In the game of golf we accept the inevitability of good luck and bad, the fortunate bounce in the right direction, the lip out instead of the drop. We typically applaud the former, groan about the latter, and play on.
  • In the game of golf our scores are public knowledge. We keep each other's scores and sign each other's scorecards as well as our own - there are no secrets.
  • In the game of golf, when the round is finished we sit down together, settle our wagers, and replay the round - the good moments and the bad ones - while we eat and drink.
If we could devise a strategy to translate these basic principles from the game of golf to the game of life I submit that we could achieve that kinder, gentler, saner world that Meisterbuerger envisions.
Perhaps the USGA could launch a Guns-for-Clubs exchange program!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Salas Effect

Brittany Lang, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Brooke Pancake, Lizette Salas,
& Jennifer Song ready for the Women's Health Classic Pro-Am at Stony Point.
The Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women's Health Classic is in full swing at The Links at Stoney Point even though the tournament action is still three days away.  The topiaries that will reappear at the Festival of Flowers in about 6 weeks are artfully placed around the clubhouse, the leaderboard is up and waiting to record the action on the course, the spectator seating is where it needs to be, and the months of planning and hard work are behind Jim and Denise Medford.  Show time started at 7:30am Monday morning with the first of three Pro-Am events.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I'm Taking That One Home With Me!

My golf game has been up and down recently.  The grass is growing again and because I'm hitting off almost fluffy green stuff rather than dry, dormant brown stuff I've finally stopped skulling my chips and my trusty flop shot has returned but, of course, there are other issues.  Golf is sort of like marriage -- while I tweak it over here, something else tends to pop out over there and at times I feel trapped in an endless, futile search for the perfect round that doesn't exist.  I probably need some therapy around this issue because my rational self knows golf doesn't work that way and it's just not going to happen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Golf and Character: My Take on Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth's Thank You Note
This thank you note from 15-year old Jordan Spieth rolled across my Facebook page recently.  It says much about the character of its author and also suggest much about the sport he loves.

I've long believed that because of its nature the game of golf provides a lens through which the interior character of individual golfers is revealed.  Even in team events like the Curtis Cup, the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup and their various spin-offs, collective success or failure is the cumulative product of individual performance rather than the result of a collaborative effort.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Deactivated or Finished?

Tiger Woods, Deactivated or Finished?
Is this about Tiger, or is it about something bigger than any individual?  The latter, I think.  This is about why we do what we do, in work and in play, about who and what we choose to represent our ideals, and about how we manage tarnished images.  It might also be about how we know when it's time to refocus our physical and mental energies, about how we manage change when what we're doing no longer brings a greater measure of joy and delight than pain and suffering, when what was at one time an exhilarating challenge has become a grinding, painful drudge.  But I think at the core this is about letting go of an icon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Winter Golf Blues? Try This!

Has anybody else just about reached the end of their emotional rope trying to play golf on dormant grass, no grass, even mud?  I've come close to slitting my wrists more than once over the last month as I've skulled chip after chip and watched my ball perform what would in other circumstances be a stunning imitation of Hans Brinker on his Silver Skates as it zipped across the green, inches from the cup, coming to rest in what in April will be the second cut of rough but what is right now a snarled tangle of dormant grass, leaving me an impossible 4th shot just to get to the putting surface on a par-4 I routinely bogey.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Golf, Oui -- Jihadis, Non

I generally maintain an impermeable boundary between what I write here and the larger world of war and politics and global epidemics.  To be sure, I'm aware of and sensitive to the depths of human misery and suffering forged in those crucibles, but this is a place where I write about the mysteries surrounding the game of golf and, in a compact with my readers, this is a place apart from the human tragedies that surround and bombard us to which you, my readers, can retreat for a brief respite.

Tonight I'm breaking that compact.  To my sorrow, France -- that nation that provided the intellectual synergy and enlightenment that inspired the American Revolution, the culture that set the 20th century standard for sophistication and inclusion, that place where fine food is a taken-for-granted basic human right, where street vendors ply their trade with a panache that escapes ordinary folk elsewhere, the nation that has suffered and resisted and survived occupation, a place I have visited again and again, and a place that I love despite the haughty scorn I endure when I attempt to communicate in French (I long ago gave up and turned to the more universal language of American Express) -- has joined the ranks of jihadi's victims.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Endings, Beginnings, & A Meditation on the Game of Golf

Alma Barnes, Me & Bonnie Bell (left to right)
Despite the problematic weather I got in my traditional New Year's Eve and New Year's Day rounds again this year.  I typically play these two rounds solo and use my time alone on the golf course for some quiet meditation and reflection -- about the year that's passing, about the year that's promising, about how I'm doing managing my life -- but when I offered last week to make a New Year's Eve tee time for the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association a number of women perked up and said they'd enjoy a round too.

We were all monitoring the long-range forecast and the sun was predicted to make a brief appearance between two winter storms marching across the continent.  Still, after several days of cold rain I wasn't too surprised when I arrived at the golf course to find that our number had dwindled to three: Alma, Bonnie, and me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Come On! Let's Just Get In A Quick One!

Wes has dropped in for a quick Christmas visit, tucking me in between a stop in Florida and his Virginia holiday blowout.  I had a short list of chores only a son can complete ready for him, and he had a short list of things I needed to help with, including a particularly delicate shopping assignment, but then the sun peeked out.  You know what happened!