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Thursday, August 25, 2016

What in the World Happened to My Tee Shot?

The wheels came off my round when I made the turn - where, or where, did my dependable tee shot go?

I was really looking forward to my regular Thursday round this morning. I've been doing some work on my short game - tweaking my bump and run shot, changing a couple of short irons in my bag to get better coverage from 70 to 90 yards out - and was eager to test out the changes on the course.

Things started out well enough. I had 5 up and downs on the front nine and despite a triple bogey on the dreaded water hole and a missed birdie putt (depressingly short) I was looking at a fairly good score when I made the turn.

Then the wheels came off. My consistently dependable and predictable tee shot didn't make the turn with me.

On the 10th hole my tee shot went left and I ended up in a fairway bunker. That wasn't terribly worrisome. Sometimes I lose my rhythm when we make the turn and it takes a hole to get it back. So I came out of the bunker with my five wood, made good progress down the fairway, and finished the hole with a bogey, a good score for this girl on the long par four.

Then I did the same thing on the par five 11th hole, only this time I hit the cover off the ball. It was flying off to the left and headed for OB, but hit a tree and bounced back into the fairway. Thank you, golf goddess! Two good three wood shots later I was sitting at the front of the green and again walked off with a bogey. This time a waster opportunity - I can easily shoot par on the 11th hole.

The long par three was trouble-free - my five wood was behaving. But trouble came back in a big way on the 13th. In an attempt to get my driver back under control I choked down about three inches. I still hit left, but now pitifully short, and it sounded like I'd hit a marshmallow.  The trouble continued on the 14th - left, short, and mushy.

By the time I teed it up on the 15th hole I was terrified of my driver, so I left it in the bag and pulled out my three wood. That was a good decision, for a while. I didn't get the distance my driver generally delivers, but I did advance the ball and land it in the fairway, which was an improvement over what had been happening.

Then the troubles shifted to my par three tee shot on the 16th hole, this time with a five hybrid. Left. Never mind that I managed to get the ball out of the rough, up over a bunker, and onto the green with a magnificent flop shot.  What was going on with my tee shot?

I stumbled through 17 an 18 using my three wood off the tee, but it wasn't a pretty finish. The short game changes seemed to work. With 13 putts on the front nine and 16 on the back, I managed to salvage the round but I'm left dreaming about the round I could have had - the golfer's endless quest for that round when it all comes together simultaneously - and wondering what in the world happened to my tee shot on the back nine?

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Olympics and Me

Despite dire predictions and a rough start, golf's return to the Olympic Games has been a glorious success!

I'm a 74-year old jock of mediocre talent. Yet even with these fundamental limitations, I love to compete - on the golf course, in the swimming pool, on a small sailboat, at the bowling alley. It's not in my makeup to play at anything just for the sake of playing. My genes are calibrated to competition.

Watching first the men and then the women who play golf at the highest level of competition make their return to the Olympic venue has sharpened my own competitive impulse and unleashed the flow of my competitive juices. There's no way around it. I love watching Charley Hull and Lydia Ko going head-to-head, battling the wind, the golf course, and each other in their quest for Olympic gold.

But I'm also enjoying Aditi Ashok's excellent performance and I'm applauding Maha Haddoui because, even though she's dead last in the Olympic field and very likely to finish in that position she's unleashing those same competitive juices that so energize me. I know how good it feels to compete. It's a pure, near-spiritual experience. Therein lies the bottom line for athletic performance and the essential core of the Olympic Games, ancient and modern.

Of course competition is about winning, but it's also about engaging, about the willingness to take risks, to measure self against other. What was all that grinning about as Usain Bolt pushed ahead of Andre De Grasse? What are all those hugs and high fives and fist bumps between competitors about when the contest has been decided?

Those naysayers who have denigrated golf's return to the Olympic venue just don't get this aspect of the game. K.M. McFarland just doesn't get it - golf didn't "land in the Olympic rough" as McFarland falsely claims, and it was never about providing an international showcase for Tiger Woods.

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth may have decided to take a pass on Rio but Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, and Matt Kuchar didn't; and Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn, and Brooke Henderson are on the golf course and engaged in a fierce battle for Olympic gold as I write. The following galleries for both the men's and women's Olympic golf competition have been large and enthusiastic and national television viewerships have exceeded expectations.

Peter Dawson knew what he was doing when he assured the IOC that the sport embodies and would embrace the Olympic spirit and the IGF has done a fine job of reopening the Olympic venue.  All-in-all, 2 weeks of Olympic golf have inspired, entertained, and taught me a few things.

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!