Friday, December 21, 2007

Tis the season to be jolly - NOT!

Ah, tis the season to be jolly! Forget about it. I might look like St. Nick, but that’s where it ends. Sorry, but with all that’s been happening lately, it’s a cynic’s civil duty to get all over these tidbits.

Word out of David Ledbetter’s academy in Florida is that Michele Wie will NOT play in any men’s events in 2008 with the exception of an Asian tournament late in the year. Did someone beat her parents with a smart stick, or something? It certainly looks that way.
It will be interesting to see if she has in fact lost her game or if her rapid decline was injury driven. This will be big year for Ms. Wie. Can she seriously compete with the best the LPGA has to offer? We’ve seen glimpses of enormous talent and we’ve seen glimpses of a 10-cent head as well.

Her success or failure will be critical for the LPGA as well. Annika Sorenstam is going for her last hurrah before she marries in 2009. There are questions as she’s setting up to morph into the business world. Her injury status and focus have to be questioned. While Lorena Ochoa is a fine player, there isn’t a lot of magnetism there.

The LPGA is in need of a true rivalry of the Mickelson/Woods level. The potential is there. Morgan Pressel, who can really play, has been openly critical of the advantages handed Wie by all of golf’s governing bodies. At the top of her list is the USGA who hands Wie US Women’s Open exemptions as if they’re a birthright. This could be interesting. Don’t think for a minute that most of the players will fight not to be beaten by Wie. No one likes a spoiled brat and that’s the perception Wie will have to overcome.

A half century ago, Americans thought that Republican Harold Stassen was stubborn when he ran (unsuccessfully) for president nine straight times. Nope. Stassen was just persistent. Stubborn has been John Daly’s refusal to seek help stopping the total erosion of his game. Now, it appears that a light has come on and there’s someone home. Recently, Daly enlisted the help of Butch Harmon formerly of the Tiger Woods and presently the Phil Mickelson coaching box.
If Harmon can capture the Daly’s flailing action and mold it into an effective swing, more people will visit him in Las Vegas than travel to Lourdes for a quick cure.

For the record, Butch isn’t going to try to cut down on the length of Daly’s swing, but he feels he has to reposition Daly’s hands at the top to provide a better angle of attack through impact. He will not touch Daly’s short game as he feels it’s one of the best in golf.

Daly admits to a stubborn streak in the past and realizes where it’s left him. The truth is, as popular; as he is, he can live just so long on sponsor’s exemptions. The time has come to earn them. It might also be advisable that when he receives an invitation that he refrain from withdrawing at the warp speed he’s used in the past few years. That wears a little thin after a while.

Congratulations to Chris Evert Lloyd Mills and Greg Norman who recently announced their wedding engagement. For some of us, it’s still too early to accept cute, little Chrissie Evert in the role of “The Other Woman.” It’s tough to find out that we were victimized by a powerful PR campaign.

Chris now adds a swashbuckling raconteur to her list that includes a doubles specialist (Lloyd) and a professional skier (Mills). Let’s hope that she doesn’t buy into the “third time never fails” garbage and shows up in the same dress for her third waltz down the aisle.

This should be an interesting pairing. She almost always won on Sunday and he—not so much.
Rather than raid the Greg Norman Estates vineyards for yet another bottle of merlot, bartender, in keeping with the spirit of the season, pour me another bowl of wassail with just a touch more of cinnamon, please.

Have a merry and a happy.

See you on the first tee,


Thursday, December 13, 2007

They finally got it!

It pains me to say this, but it appears that under the stewardship of Billy Payne, Chairman of the Masters Tournament and Augusta National Golf Club, the good ole boys just might leapfrog the USGA blowhards in bringing the game into the 21st century.

Sure they’re still stuffed shirts, but they just may get it—that golf is not in good shape and they’re willing to do something about it.

On Dec. 6, Payne announced the beginning of a long-term plan to use the Masters brand to expand the game of golf on an international basis. The first move is that beginning in 2008 every accredited patron (I hate that reference) can bring a child age 8 to 16 with them on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday free of charge. It’s a simple idea, but brilliant at the same time.

Think of it. Now Mom and Dad can share the experience of watching the greatest tournament in golf with the kids without having a remote in their hands. They’ll see the beauty first hand; experience the sounds and smells together. I daresay after four days of walking Augusta two things will happen to those kids. First, they’ll be tired because of an endless range of some of the steepest hills in golf (the 18th has to be seen in person to be believed). Second, you’ll have kids that will just have to try to play golf. All the cartoon messages and TV commercials in the world urging kids to play golf couldn’t compare to the effect of the opportunity Augusta National has presented.

Payne then backed up this landmark plan with another.

One of the traditions of the Masters has always been the Wednesday Par 3 Tournament. Everyone has heard about it—how the winner never wins the real deal (he never has). Yes, everyone has heard about it, but few have ever seen it. This year the Masters is opening another door and will allow ESPN to broadcast it.

Payne was quoted as saying “You don’t have to be an avid golfer to root for a hole-in-one.” He’s right, but just about anyone can get into watching players having their kids caddie for them and having fun joking around with the fans (sorry—patrons). If it looks like fun instead of a pressure-packed death march, there are probably a few couch potatoes who might get their butts to a golf course to see what it’s like.

The cynic in me says that they’re just trying to burn extra cash that’s endangering their non-profit status. That may very well be true, but at least they’re using their power to promote the game in very real ways. Regardless of their possible ulterior motive, I applaud their initial steps in giving back to the game.

From time to time, Augusta National and the USGA have seemed to be interchangeable, but the Georgia gang has separated themselves now. The USGA is left to suffer through the throes of misery of the Donald Driver reign. He has certainly left his mark on golf’s governing body in the U.S. Some would call it a scar.

The USGA has been teetering on the edge of losing their non-prof status as well. They have too much money. Instead of spending wisely, Driver started his own inquisition all but eliminating certain departments in the organization. Cutting overhead coupled with a little accounting hocus – pocus and the bottom line is served. Of course he sank the morale in Far Hills deeper than the Titanic. The Titanic was raised. Who knows about the USGA’s morale?

As I just read over the above paragraphs, I had a spasmodic shiver. You know the kind you have when you swallow something that tastes absolutely vile. After all these years, it’s happened. I’m applauding the people who run the Masters—and not just with one hand. YECCH!

I’ve got to right this ship. Okay, one semi-quick story.

It was 1983 and my first Masters. I was writing for the Boston Herald and I was to focus on an amateur named Jim Hallet from Cape Cod who qualified from the 1982 U.S. Amateur. 1983 was also the first year players could bring their own caddies and didn't have to use Augusta National caddies.

Well, the Boston Herald was a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid at the time and the more controversial the story, the better the editors liked it.

It occurred to me that a story about the first white caddie in the Masters might have merit. As luck would have it, the first non-Augusta National caddie to sign in was Jack Tosone, Hallet’s caddie ands also from Cape Cod. I had a double-edge story. It was controversial with a local angle.

I wrote the story for Wednesday’s paper and they put it on the back page (just below the Red Sox story of course). I thought nothing of it and went on with my week.

As I was entering the media center Friday morning, an older gent wearing the club’s green jacket and white bucket hat with the Masters logo stopped me. “Are you Jack O'Leary, the writer from Boston?” he demanded.

I told him I was. He then vociferously questioned my news judgment. “Did you write that story about the caddie? And do you REALLY think that was a newsworthy event?” he said with a rising voice and poking his bony finger into my chest.

I assured him that I had too much respect for newspaper space to ruin it with a non-story. He then rustled up all the righteous indignity he could muster. “You will leave the running of Augusta National to Augusta National, sir!” he stammered and strutted off probably to jump into a bourbon and branch water.

I was later apprised that in the not too distant past, a special member committee would go to where I was staying, pack up my things, arrange for a limo and change my flight itinerary to return to Boston that day. I escaped that, but I had experienced the well-known wrath of Augusta National. It’s a different place. I’m glad to see a gentler humble side as expressed on Dec. 6th.

Here’s the curse of age. Just when being a kid could get me into the Masters, I look like one of those USGA old farts—complete with the dandruff on the shoulders of my blue blazer. Unfair I say!

Bartender! Another bourbon and branch water if you please and let’s raised a glass to the kinder, gentler and dare I say avant garde membership of Augusta National. Well done!

See you on the first tee,


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Playing the game faster - better?

The last time we met, I mentioned a few ideas that the common man has brought up that would make them play more golf, or in some cases, take up the game. Here are a few things they mentioned.

Time. This has been a common complaint for awhile. In today’s society, the thought of spending four to five hours on any one activity is unacceptable. Personally, I’ve always believed that a certain commitment is necessary if you’re going to be a participant. However, since I’m in a small minority on this issue, there are options.

Please don’t tell me a Scramble is an option. We’ve all played in scrambles that have seemed to be interminable. The main reason is that the strategy discussed among the team, make the meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff look like an office water cooler discussion. Forget the scramble.

A viable option is a Shamble. This is where the team selects the best drive and plays their owan ball through the hole with a double bogey maximum. There’s only one team decision and the lesser-skilled players will be playing from a better position than usual. Trust me on this—a Shamble is quicker than a Scramble by a lot.

A better option is a true round of Alternate Shot. A few years ago, I had the thrill of playing Royal Dornoch. There were just two of us walking (another way to speed up the game). We were played through by a foursome playing Alternate Shot. Their precision was incredible. The two players who holed out on the green would immediately proceed down the fairway while their partners hit their drives. While the drivers would immediately proceed towards the green, the other pair would hit the second shot. There were always two people in motion.

When we finished our round, we asked the club secretary about that foursome. We were told that they play every day at lunchtime and are back at their job in the village in an hour and a half.

Somewhere along the way, Ready Golf has become Rude Golf. Truthfully, I’m surprised someone hasn’t been killed playing Ready Golf. For some reason, golfers who choose this path think if they can run to their ball first, they can just hit it is on a course to disaster. I’ve seen more near-misses because the hitter hasn’t visually accounted for the rest of the group. I’d rather see the golfer away be prepared when the time comes.

One other idea that would have merit in a civil society would have every golfer be issued a time card. It’s punched on the first tee and the 18th green and you’re charged by the hour. Unfortunately, if one group is playing behind a slower group; mayhem may ensue.

Equipment. Golf is one of the few industries regulated by a non-profit organization that caters to one to two percent of its membership. I’m talking about the USGAs regulation of equipment. Hey, I’m all for maintaining the skill level of the game, but right now it’s not totally in the best interest of the game. Why not give the players who really need it the most, the novice and high handicappers, the real game-improvement equipment. Trust me; the stuff these engineers can produce goes way beyond the clubs, shafts and balls now available. Then make certain criteria. If you achieve a certain skill level, the level of game-improvement equipment is dialed back; but only if the golfer wishes to attain a legitimate handicap and compete in a tournament. Give the golfer the option.

Mr. Bartender, would you mind pouring me another tall, ice cold draught beer. Please use that high tech mug that keeps the suds at the optimum temperature from first sip to the last. It’s time to vacate the soap box for another week.

If anyone has an idea how to make the game more viable for more people. Please let us know and we’ll give your idea a trial balloon.

See you on the first tee.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No Golf 20/20 Conference

It will hardly be noticed by the golf public next weekend, but for the first time since 2000, the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremonies won’t be preceded by the Golf 20/20 Conference. Instead there will be a Board of Directors meeting where decisions will be made concerning the future of this tremendous undertaking.

For those of you who have never heard of Golf 20/20, it is an undertaking in which the world golf organizations, the golf club manufacturers, course and club owners and developers and the media collaborate in trying to find ways to preserve and grow the game and industry of golf. They’ve been at it for a full six years and while there have been some seemingly worthwhile programs; these efforts have been punctuated by seemingly interminable wheel spinning.

It would be pure folly to pull the plug on Golf 20/20; however it would be worse to continue on its present path. Thus far, figures have been produced on how the game and industry has flat lined. Programs have been formulated to enhance the efforts of the First Tee which is good for future of the game.

A program called Link Up 2 Golf that encourages adults to begin playing golf has been incorporated into the PGA of America’s Play Golf America program and has yet to yield noticeable numbers.

Basically, Golf 20/20 has taken note of the lack of country club golfers and not necessarily the grass root golfers. I’ve never seen it and I doubt anyone has ever seen a questionnaire asking what golfers want to see in the game and industry.

Although hardly a scientific poll, I have asked in the course of golf conversation what people would like to see. Here a few general responses.

Cheaper Golf. This has been the most common refrain. People are tired of paying upwards from $50 for a round of golf. Good luck. On a worldwide basis the price of golf is going through the roof. Maintenance costs have escalated, but the real culprit can most often be found in design fees. Tour players turned golf course architects provided a great growth spurt in the game, but enough is enough. Two million dollars will get a developer a great course designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, et al. It will also give green fees or membership dues a real boost. Who did you think was going to absorb the cost? The developer? Get real. Just wait until the Tiger Woods designed courses start to pop up at a $20 million design fee. These golfers-turned-designers had a tremendous effect on the growth of the game, but the lingering effects are beginning to stifle it.

The Game is too Difficult. This goes back to the expense of playing the game. Developers are hung up on getting their courses on a “Best” list and this means making it a real challenge with aesthetics thrown in for eye candy. Somewhere along the way, difficulty became synonymous with great. A challenging course must first be fair. If a golfer is rewarded for meeting the challenge with something better than another more difficult challenge, chances are he’ll come back. There are too many courses being built where golfers play once just to say they played there. That’s not a solid base on which to build a game. By the way, these fair courses can be designed and built for less, thus providing an answer to the first problem.

There are a few more ideas that I’ve gleaned during these conversations and we’ll get into them down the road.

Right now, I’d appreciate it if the bartender would pour me another tall, cold draught beer. I might as well go straight for the suds. What did you expect from a guy on a soap box?

See you on the first tee.


Friday, October 26, 2007

The Wonderful World of the Wies

You know what the best thing about the off season is going to be? We won’t have any new episodes of “The Wonderful World of the Wies.” This reality program is wrapping up its fifth season on our golf radar.

“The Wonderful World of the Wies” has taken us from watching with amazement as an absolutely phenomenal golf talent named Michelle has been misled to the point of abuse by dominating, meddlesome and manipulating parents. She went from almost making the cut in PGA Tour events and challenging in LPGA majors to a very amateurish 76.6 scoring average at the age of 18.

Like any successful TV show, the final 2007 episode will leave us hanging until the new season. In the finale, Michelle’s business manager Greg Nared left team Wie making it two managers in two years who couldn’t stand the situation. Teaching guru David Leadbetter hinted he might be next when he was quoted as saying, “it’s like rats leaving a sinking ship.”

Ostensibly, the now 18-year old Michelle is off to Stanford to live the life of a college freshman (you know, a real person). Then, in a twisted bit of intrigue, Mom and Dad leave Hawaii (much to the delight of many islanders) and move very close to Michelle’s Palo Alto, CA dorm. Just when you thought the young phenom was going to escape their clutches—THEY’RE BACK!

Now that the Sopranos are off the air, is their any doubt that “The Wonderful World of the Wies” is a mortal lock for multiple Emmys?

News Flash! Greg Norman takes over as Chairman of the Board of MacGregor. After making a sizeable investment in the company to become a large minority owner, Norman engineered a parlay of investors to run former CEO and 51 percent owner, Barry Schneider out of the company. They relieved him of his CEO duties and recently issued a statement that Schneider had left the company to “spend more time with his family and pursue other challenges.” Don’t you just love corporate America? Let’s lay some guilt on the kids for the old man being canned.

Norman refers to this coup as the biggest business deal of his life. That’s mind-boggling when you consider he recently signed over $250 million and a couple of houses in his divorce settlement. As one wag once said, “Why does a divorce cost so much? Because it’s worth it.” In this case it may be. The jury is definitely out on the MacGregor deal.

Just a suggestion, but it might be prudent for the company to lock the doors on their Albany, GA—based company on Sundays. The Chairman has made a few poor decisions on the Lord’s Day, if you know what I mean.

Who is the one person who can bring the Ryder Cup back to our shores? It’s Nick Faldo of course.

Faldo has done yeoman duty in trying to bury the “Nasty Nick” image. His TV work is tremendous, but once he drops his guard, the nastiness comes coursing back.

While captaining the Seve Cup on the European Tour, Faldo called out team member Colin Montgomerie for missing team meetings and said that the often churlish Scot had to be prodded to join his victorious teammates in celebration. Faldo took it one step farther and said that Monty is not a team player.

Hey Nick! In the first paragraph of Golf Team Captain 101, it says don’t piss off your best player. You made the US team’s day. For his entire Ryder Cup career, Monty has transformed himself from a hefty Clark Kent into a chubby Superman every other September. Monty—not you has been the backbone of the Euro’s success. Let’s hope the Earl of Surl festers over these remarks for the next year.

Of course, we could almost see this coming. Paul McGinley, who Faldo had hand picked to be his assistant, quit him in July without public explanation. Keep it up Nick.

Bartender, let me know if Norman expands his Scottish named empire and purchases a Scotch whiskey distillery. Climb up to that top shelf and get me a dram of Malvenie to toast the impending US Ryder Cup victory.

See you on the first tee.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Presidents Cup = Ryder Cup Lite

A post mortem about the Presidents Cup. Folks, it’s still Ryder Cup Lite. If the Ryder Cup is the Oscars, the Presidents Cup is the Golden Globe Awards. It’s pretty much a made-for-television event invented by the PGA Tour to showcase the globalization of the game as well as the dominance of the PGA Tour. (Well, the Euros aren’t invited, are they?)

Think about it, the two biggest stories out of the PC were Woody Austin taking a dive on the 14th hole and actually having a lot of fun with it. Trust me, if this was to take place next year at Valhalla there wouldn’t be as much as a grin and if he showed up the next day wearing a diving mask, we’d NEVER hear the end of it. However, at the good ole pc PC there’s grins and giggles.

This is not to disparage Austin’s play, or contributions to the winning effort. He played very well and even better at times. Yet, there are those who are publicly stating that Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger will have a tough time not making sure that Austin is a member of next year’s squad. HUH?

Beyond, Tiger, Phil and Furyk, is anyone ready to concede a spot to anyone? If Woody gets there, it will be because he earned it NEXT YEAR, not this year. Methinks some people who should know better got a little too friendly with the Labatts and Molson while in Montreal.
The other big story was Mike Weir battling Tiger in their final round singles match. A doff of the fedora to Weir for his tremendous effort. Not only did he take a lead, but he lost it and then regained it to win the match.

Taking great risk of sounding derogatory in regards to Weir, if this match had occurred next September in the Ryder Cup and Tiger’s opponent was, oh let’s say Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke or even Sergio Garcia (forget that, Sergio would have wilted on his own) that comeback never happens. Now that I reread it, that is a tad derogatory. Sorry Mike.

The nabobs of Augusta National have issued their changes to the course for the 2008 event.
Four holes have been altered in what seems to be an uncharacteristic softening of the fabled course. According to Masters Chairman Billy Payne the holes that have been changed are the 1st, 7th, 9th and 11th.

They’ve added 10-yards onto the front of the first tee. This will be critical if there’s a strong northeast wind. That yawning cavern of a bunker on the right side of the fairway is impossible to carry from the addition they added to the back a few years ago. They also eliminated some of that addition to give the, ahem, patrons more room to move.

They claim that it’s for agronomical reasons that they added six feet to the left side of the seventh green. The truth is that with the lengthening of the hole a few years ago coupled with a fairway so narrow that it takes the driver out of many hands, the green didn’t fit the hole. They’ve now added two or three new pin placements which the green needed.

Again citing agronomical reasons, they soften the right hand pin positions on the first and middle tiers of the ninth green. In the early 1980s, I saw Lee Trevino at the back right of the ninth green during a practice round. We were talking about the course and he asked do you know what’s wrong with this place? I’ll show you. He reached in his bag and got three balls. He placed them where he stood, took his putter and barely got the three rolling. He then turned and walked to the club house. The balls stopped 85-yards down the fairway.

The last change they made was to remove more trees from the left side of the 11th fairway. The stated reason is better sight lines for the patrons. Well, it has to help in that area, but historically the preferred way to play the hole is to the extreme right side. In fact, Ben Hogan used to say that if he hit the 11th green, he’d pulled the shot—badly. Now, the combatants might be able to use a little more of the traditional strategy. That is if any 500-yard-plus par 4 has a traditional strategy.

One final note. A quick perusal of revealed a story about Maria Hjorth denying Lorena Ochoa’s bid fourth a fourth straight win. Stories about the LPGA have shown up a little more frequently on this Web site.

I’m not saying this will happen, but it wouldn’t be a surprise either. Wouldn’t it make sense for the PGA Tour to take over the running of the tournaments from the LPGA? It would be a tremendous aid to the ladies organization. They would move from often scurrying to fill their tournament schedule to being under the umbrella of the most successful golf tournament organization in the world. The noted LPGA teaching program could be under the wing of the PGA of America bringing new, higher standards to that end of the industry.

Sorry, but I can’t let this idea go. It would be easier if former LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw did take a position as a special assistant to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
Ah, as the golf season winds down, bartender pour me a LSD, that’s Lone Star Draught, a reasonable Texas brew. Maybe it will spark some interest in this week’s Valero Texas Open, but I doubt it.

See you on the first tee.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Drugs 'rampant' on Tour ...

The leading golf organizations around the world have come together to pat each other on the back and congratulate each other on how they’re going to deal with the “rampant” drug problems that have infested the game.

The obvious question is what drug problem? Well, in uncharacteristic foresight, the global golf organizations are trying to keep the problem at bay and are being proactive. To alert the world, these organizations sent out a global press release expounding the policy’s virtue. However, reading this release a second time a few questions popped off the page.

The R&A will be a signatory for The Open Championship. The USGA signed off for the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Senior Open. What this says is, if you want to juice and play for the U.S. or British Amateur Championship just shoot away. If you want to bulk up for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship—go right ahead. Don’t worry about the British Mid; they just did away with the event. Doesn’t this sound a bit strange?

In the list of signatories which included just about every major tour around the world from Asia, to South Africa, to Central America and even up to the Augusta National Golf Club (you know they signed on so they could be listed first alphabetically), there was one Tour missing.

You probably wouldn’t have noticed this if the Solheim Cup hadn’t just concluded, but the Ladies European Tour didn’t scribble their “Jean Hancock” on this grand plan. Why? Has Laura Davies done some HGH? Hmmm. Why didn’t they sign on? It’s one of those things where if you sign on it means significantly less than if you don’t.

Trust me on this, the last thing any Tour commissioner wants to know is that one of his/her players is taking performance-enhancing drugs. The cover-up would be of legendary proportions. What this policy does is make people think about the possibilities. Tiger’s buffed…or is he really? David Duval bulked up and then lost his game…what’s up with that? How did that happen? Public relations-wise, the signatories may have opened a Pandora’s Box that they won’t be able to close if something breaks.

With this policy in place, golf fans won’t be able to look at a well-conditioned golfer and not wonder if? Recently, Woods called for serious consequences for anyone testing positive. He should be careful what he hopes for; that could turn the policy into a witch-hunt.

A look at the list of banned substances is interesting. There’s the usual anabolic agents, hormones, agents with anti-estrogenic activity, diuretics and other masking agents, stimulants, narcotics, cannabinoids, beta-blockers enhancement of oxygen transfer, chemical and physical manipulation and possibly glucocorticosteroids and beta-2 antagonists.

While all of this might be more than you can comprehend and I suggest that that means most of us, I will say this. Many of these drugs are found in over-the-counter products. The global golf world has an opportunity to bring some sanity to the “Drug Hunt.” If it’s over the counter and it helps relieve a symptom let them take it. Professional golfers have coughs, colds, allergies and probably more aches and pains than the civilian does. Give them the same opportunity to access over the counter products.

One item on the list jogged the memory a bit. A couple of decades ago, Mac O’Grady (nee Phillip Gleno) charged that a lot of his PGA Tour colleagues were taking Beta-Blockers to calm their nerves so they could putt better. To a man, golfers denied their existence. If they never existed, why are they now popping up on the banned list?

I’ve got to believe that there was a collective sigh of relief from some members of the Champions Tour and European Senior Tour. Nowhere on the list of banned substances was sildenafil citrate or tadalafil—and they’re prescription drugs. Er, you might know them better as Viagra and Cialis.

In fact, it was one of those personal drugs that got an assistant NFL coach suspended for five games and fined half his annual salary. All he wanted to do was overcome a side effect of medicine he was taking for diabetes—thus the reputation of the NFL being the “No Fun League” was perpetuated and reason was left by the wayside.

A global doping policy? I don’t know. You’re dealing with a lot of different cultures. An herbal tea with some scraping from a native root might be just a cup of tea, but its chemical reaction may set off the alarm.

I think its fine to have a policy in place, but it’s wiser to have common sense. Let the system exist without a trigger for a witch-hunt. The integrity of the game will still be preserved.
Hey bartender, a wassail of honey meade if you will. I didn’t see fermented bee byproducts on the list of banned substances.

See you on the first tee!



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm going on the Tour!

I can rest easy now. My application for PGA Tour School has just arrived via e-mail. Watch out Phil and move over Tiger. I’m going to apply under a different name this year (it has something to do with the “noncompetitive performance” clause in the application). I’ve found the secret to the game I’m ready. I’ve always been a UPS guy, but for a $10 million annuity. I’m there. I’ll be wearing the Fed Ex Cup by the end of next year. If you see the name Lance Schmidlap climbing the leader board on a weekly (or is that weakly) basis—that would be me.

Let’s look back at what the inaugural Fed Ex Cup did or didn’t deliver.
OK, Tiger won it. If he didn’t PGA Tour Czar Tim Finchem might have had a stroke. Steve Stricker made it interesting for awhile, but wasn’t so close as to be considered a serious threat to Woods’ ascension to the throne.

Golf fans everywhere got to see what they’ve clamored for—a head-to-head clash between Woods and Mickelson in the last round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. It was the best non-major drama on the tube for years and it came at the right time. The week before at the Barclays Championship without Tiger in the field, the TV ratings were surpassed by the broadcast of the Little League World Series on ESPN.

Phil and Tiger were paired on Sunday with Hefty leading Tiger by one stroke. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE looked for a meltdown from Mickelson and they got it on the 12th hole when he made an unforced error that led to a double bogey. Let’s face it, in the past this could have led to golf’s version of projectile vomiting. This time, it didn’t. The southpaw rallied for pars on the next three holes. Then, the moment of truth arrived.

On the short par 3 - 16th, Tiger hit a shot that stopped in the 12-foot range. The camera shifted to Phil and for the briefest of moments, the old Mickelson appeared. There was the old “I think I’m going to be sick and I’d rather be anywhere else right now” look on his face. He then rifles a shot to eight-feet below the hole and his face was awash in a visage of confidence. Tiger made his birdie and Phil didn’t hesitate in canning his. He had taken everything Woods could fire at him, repelled it and answered with brilliance of his own. It was the highlight of this entire silly dalliance into the NASCAR system of scoring.

Of course, Hefty had to screw it up a bit. He used the quick post-round TV interview to tell the world that rather than chase this newly-nominated Holy Grail, he was going home to be with the family instead of continuing his quest. It didn’t quite ring true, particularly after he chided Woods about skipping the Barclays and theories abounded about him and Timmie having a spat. Naturally, this opened the gates for Woods and he cruised to victories in the last two events, proving yet again, when he comes to play, just stand aside.

This spotlighted a major flaw in this grand plan. Arguably the top three players in the world, Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els skipped an event in the final four. Two (Els and Mickelson) wanted to be with their families while Woods was just plain tired. Trust me on this, the next people who will claim exhaustion will be the tournament sponsors of these events who are spurned by one, two, or all three of these stars. They’ll be tired of putting up a $7 million purse and not having it make enough of an impression to lure the three they really want in the field.

There are other problems as well. Do you really understand the playoff system? Do the players? You don’t and not many of the players do. Professional golf has had a tried and true system to identify the best players. It’s called the Money List, or on every other professional Tour in the world; the Order of Merit. It was quite simple actually. You won $5 this week and Joe Pro wins $10, he’s $5 ahead of you on the money list—end of story. Now, we’ve got Fed Ex points that are accrued throughout the season until the four-tournament “Chase for the Cup.”

Then, the top 144 are seeded by their “point totals” and reassigned a point total that could mean a sizeable reduction of the lead you had going into “The Chase.” Fair? I think not. It’s not fair because a player’s entire body of work for a season is discounted and reduced in some cases to one or two points, hardly reflecting the tens of thousands of dollars lead he had on his closest pursuer entering the final four. In some cases, it’s even worse.

Under the Money List system, David Toms would have made the field in the Tour Championship. However, he finished 32nd on the Fed Ex Cup point list due mostly to a balky back that influenced his missing the cut at the Barclays and withdrawing from the Deutsche Bank. (OK, I chose Toms because I had him in a preseason drawn Fantasy League and finished in the last payoff spot because he wasn’t in the Tour Championship). If anyone has a gripe, it’s Toms—or me.

Oh well, the first Fed Ex Cup has been put to bed. While it was flawed, it also had some excitement. On TV, it was buried by the NFL and college football on the weekends. That was to be expected, but the Little League World Series?

You’ve got to think that the scoring system has to be tweaked, yet I don’t see anyway to do it that will compel the Big Three to make a four-week commitment. Next year, the scheduling has to be changed because of the Ryder Cup which should be very interesting. The jury is definitely out, but you can count on the PGA Tour to unmercifully ram the Fed Ex Cup down our throats again next year.

Bartender, pour me another and please make it a double Balvenie 12-year old single malt Scotch. I need something to soothe the scrapes in my throat caused by the forced insertion of that damned Cup a little swing oil for Q School.

See you on the first tee.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

FedEx Cup playoffs

The FedEx Cup playoffs (better known as the Tiger Woods retirement fund) have gotten underway with an interesting tournament at the Barclays in Harrison, N.Y. I’ve got to say that watching the event on TV, the most noticeable pictures were those featuring very few people in the galleries.

Granted, this may have been by design. Barclays could have planned this as a customer outing and limited ticket sales. Also, as wonderful a golf course as Westchester CC is, it is a good course on which to play golf—not watch golf. I can’t believe New York golf fans stayed away because Tiger didn’t show. After all hey had their fan fave, Phil Mickelson there, who be the way, played the best since his wrist injury. He tied for seventh at -11. A healthy Mickelson may present a challenge for Woods which can only lend some semblance of legitimacy to this playoff system.

By the way, I’ll never understand the synergy between Mickelson and the New Yorkers. Granted, I may have a slanted view of the people from the eastern section of the Empire State since I’m from the Boston area and somewhat a Red Sox loyalist, but I just don’t get it. Philly Mick is slick west coast, usually the antithesis of New York. Hefty being popular in New York has the same probability as Mike Vick being a guest judge at the Westchester Kennel Club Dog Show.

I still can’t wait until the awards ceremony after the Tour Championship when PGA Tour Commish Tim Finchem presents the FedEx playoff winner the phony $10 million check (phony because it’s deferred and will be worth more—read below) and then gives the Tour Championship winner an “oh by the way” with a check for $1.26 million. That should be entertaining.

There has been an undercurrent of disenchantment among some of the PGA Tour pros about the deferred money. They want their $10 mill NOW. I’ll bet Tiger and Phil haven’t thought this one through.

The $10 mill goes into the grossly bloated player’s pension account and isn’t available until he reaches 45. As long as the player plays a minimum of 15 events a year, he can defer the payments until age 60 when the payments automatically begin.

Let’s say Tiger wins (there’s a stretch) and the money returns 8 percent a year. If he starts collecting at 45, he’ll have $29.4 million to ease his way towards social security. Lefty is seven years older and his take will be a mere $18.5 million—still enough for a few football bets every Fall.

What if someone like 25-year old Hunter Mahan gets hot? The 8 percent will give him a $46.6 million cushion. Let’s have a little fun with this and the compounded interest blows up to 12 percent. At 55, Mahan will be sitting on $299.6 million…and some of those guys want their $10 million now. The only legitimate argument I’ve heard has been, what if the player wants to give his caddie the 10 percent tip? A good question, but a lot of the top players can just write a seven-figure check.

Meanwhile aging writers have found a way to answer the FedEx Cup winner’s windfall. Our pension plan involves investing five bucks a week in the state lottery.

While we’re speaking about big money, let’s look in on the never-ending saga of Greg and Laura Norman. Their divorce has gotten nastier. It seems the soon-to-be Mrs. Norman not only turned down $100 million; she’s said “no” to $250 million, plus a new house in Palm Beach and a summer home in the Hamptons as well as her legal fees in this breakup. That’s a pretty large “NO.” It seems there was a hook attached to the $250 million—she would have to sign a confidentiality contract where she could not complain about her marriage anytime in the future. For $250 million, I’d catch a quick case of total amnesia and forget I was ever married. Heck, I’ve almost done that for nothing.

I’ve got admit that I am curious. What could she say publicly that would be worth $250 million for her silence? Inquiring minds want to know. By the way, we now know why Sharkie isn’t playing the Champions Tour—he’s making way too much money to go out and get trimmed by guys he used to beat by 10 shots a week.

I think this week; we should remember better days for the Normans and have the sommelier break out a bottle from the Greg Norman vineyards and make it one of the good ones, not the one with a twist off cap. Bartender, put away that plastic cup and pour us a couple of glasses of Greg Norman Estates Cabernet Merlot Coonawara and make that a 1996 vintage please and in your finest stemware if you will.

Cheerio mates! Remember the better days.

See you on the first tee.

Jack O'Leary

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back with a vengeance

Don’t pay the ransom—I escaped!!

I know it’s been a while since we last met, but I’ve been around and about for the past month, or so on business that included a trip to northwest Ireland for a week for a golf travel article I’m writing (really, it was for work). However, I have been watching what’s going on and I firmly believe there was so much more than the obvious.

Having been in Ireland during the World Cup when the country literally shut down as their boys played a quarterfinal match, Padraig Harrington’s feat was HUGE news in Ireland. When Harrington holed out on the fourth playoff hole to win the Claret Jug, he became the first Irishman to win the Open Championship since Fred Daly in 1947. Having already won the Irish Open earlier in the year, Harrington sealed his fate as a bona fide hero of every sports fan in the country for the rest of his life. There’s U2 and Padraig Harrington—Bono and Paddy. Dear God, please don’t let Paddy with his Dublin nasal twang try to sing.

Out of Harrington’s win came a very telling look at Sergio. Harrington was making an absolute mess of the 72nd hole. The air of Jean Van de Velde had sucked him in. However, as he stood over his fifth shot from under 100 yards, his thoughts weren’t about what he’d just done, they were about how was he going to win.

Following Harrington’s double bogey, all Garcia needed was a par 4 on the last to finally eject the major monkey from his back. He missed the green in two (as almost the rest of the world had done), chipped to eight feet and rolled his putt over the left edge of the cup forcing a four-hole playoff.

Harrington birdied the first extra hole to Garcia’s bogey and it was game set and match. After the playoff Garcia whined about hitting every shot perfectly and not winning and that it always happens to him.

The truth is, it will always happen to him, if he allows every bad bounce or poor shot get to him. My advice to Sergio (not that he needs it) is to take all those second place checks and buy the biggest cheese wheel you can find because you’re going to need a lot of cheese to go with all the whine your attitude is going to ferment. Remember the second place finisher is just the first loser.

Back over to the west side of the pond. Tiger, the golfer formerly known as Eldrick, Woods overwhelmed the field in the WGC Bridgestone Championship at Firestone—again. He then gave a “How to win a major” clinic at Southern Hills in Tulsa, OK—again.

Pardon me while I digress. I’ve twice visited Oklahoma and I have to say one thing about it—it’s not OK. It’s not so-so. It’s so bad. If you noticed while watching a very entertaining PGA Championship on TV, no one spoke about the beauty of Southern Hills—because there was none. You can’t find aesthetics in Oklahoma. If you asked your basic Sooner if Oklahoma has any aesthetics, the answer would be, “They all got football, basketball and maybe baseball, y’all”. If you want the worst climate in the world, just visit Oklahoma. It’s blistering hot in the summer, freezing, and snow blown in the winter. The only time Oklahoma looks good is in the rear view mirror. I’ve got to believe that the early Oklahoma settlers were sentenced there for some heinous crime. Who’d volunteer to settle there?

That aside, from the ashes of Wood’s trail blaze through the field to defend his PGA title rose Woody Austin. Old Woody has kicked around for a while. He’s 43-years old and shows the scars of a journeyman’s career. Okay, so the scars are bandaged in almost $11 million in prize money.

Woody showed guts and determination, particularly on Sunday when he shot a wonder 3-under par 67, but alas Tiger started the day with a four shot lead and finished with a 69. Unlike Garcia who descended to second place, Austin rose to it.

The world could have become Austin’s oyster. He endeared himself to the crowds. He started to win over the press until he got carried away and started to chastise the media. He remarked about how when Tiger misses a shot he bangs his club on the ground and it’s called his competitive fire and when he does it, he’s a loosed cannon. Austin’s claim was it was because Woods is a better player with a better record than his is.

Woody’s dead wrong about that one. You won’t find a film clip of Tiger missing a short putt and then walking off the green banging himself on the side of his head with his putter shaft so hard that he bent it and had to take the offending flat stick out of play. With every missed shot by Austin, there’s a chance of Vesuvian event—with Tiger, there’s a good chance for a birdie. I wish Woody would have had fun with it because he’s a good guy.

It would be criminal to omit the contributions of Boo Weekley to these two events. At Carnoustie, when asked if he knew of the history that had transpired there, he had a bit of a blank look. “I’m not good at history,” he said, “but it was fun learning about Paul Lawrie winning here and about Ben whoever that was (Hogan).”

I’ve got to believe that part of Weekley’s act is just that—an act, but based in truth. Good for the PGA Tour, they now have their own Larry the Cable Guy.

A few words about the northwest of Ireland. This part of the country features spectacularly rugged terrain with links courses the equal of just about all in the entire country at half the price. Clifden, Donegal and the like feature people and atmosphere second to none in this most hospitable country.

Having said that, I might warn you about the Clarion Sligo Hotel. It is a recently renovated mental institution. When you check in, they give you a print out of directions to your room. It’s two pages. It was literally a maze without any of Sergio’s cheese at the end. The question begged to be asked and we did.

“Why the difficulty getting from the desk to our rooms?” The answer was way too logical. “Well sir, if it were too easy, the former residents would have been able to escape,” said an assistant manager. “Now sir did you have a problem?” Hmm. Well it was a long way to the frontal lobotomy unit and a longer way back.

Sorry, but I ran out of toasts in the Castle Pub in Donegal.

By the way bartender, don’t pour me another one. I’m on the dry until the Smithwicks finishes coursing through my veins.

See you on the first tee.

Jack O’Leary

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

U.S. Open, Tiger's Cub

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks since we last chatted. An Argentinean won the US Open. Tiger and Elin had a cub. Phil and Michelle are on the DL and that old cutup John Daly was almost cut up.
First, it’s amazing that every once in a while golf provides the setting for a great story and few can match the US Open win by Angel Cabrera. Most Americans can only imagine what it was like for him as a youth. He had to quit school after elementary school to earn money to help feed the family. Golf is fortunate that he chose caddying as his work.
Granted, Cabrera had a lot of help along the way. Eduardo Romero helped back him financially when everyone noticed that he had undeniable ability. Romero was his guide when he first joined the European Tour. When Cabrera finished his fourth round of the U.S. Open, the first call he received was from Romero.
One of the first things you notice about Cabrera, right after the 397-yard drives, is his genuine humility. When he said he was humbled by winning the U.S. Open, you have to believe him. Hopefully, he’ll never change. Hopefully, he’ll go on to emulate one of his countrymen, Roberto DiVicenzo one of the greatest gentlemen ever to play golf.
Okay, call me a skeptic, a cynic, or whatever and I hope Sam Alexis Woods has a long, healthy life. God knows it will be prosperous. It seems a little strange to me that she wasn’t due until next month. Let’s see, what does Tiger have going on during the next month? There’s next week’s Buick Championship in Michigan. Tiger has a personal services contract with…Buick. What’s next? Oh, that’s right; Tiger has his own PGA Tour event in Washington D.C. during the first week in July that will benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation. This you’ll remember was supposed to be the week of the International, but Tiger single-handedly killed the tournament by refusing to play in it and thus making it impossible to get a corporate sponsor.
Then, of course comes the Open Championship, as in British Open where Tiger is the defending champion. As you can see, there was just so much to do and so little time to do these things. If you might want to deduce an inducement here, well, that’s up to you.
Philly Mick and the Big Wiesy have got to be careful. Hefty hurt his wrist in a practice round at Oakmont, a week prior to the Open. Then he tried to play. To his credit, he survived 36 holes and missed being invited back for the 37th by a shot. Instead of just walking away, he had to make one last comment.
He accused the USGA of trying to end his and other careers by making the rough so thick. Usually, I’m in Phil’s corner on a lot of things, but not this one. The plain truth is he shouldn’t have tried to play at all. As a result, he—not the USGA, placed his career in jeopardy. He’s been advised not to touch a club for at least two weeks. I’d be surprised if he returns to form this year. Now I guess I understand a little bit why he’s not the most popular player with his colleagues.
Wie has been the subject of blanket criticism for her quitting on the 16th hole in the opening round of the Ginn Invitational. She blamed her aching wrist. The truth is, if she shot 88, she couldn’t play any LPGA events for the rest of the year. She was definitely headed there. So, she quit.
Evidently, it was a short-term thing because she was on the range that weekend at the site of the McDonald’s Championship that she was in the following week. The truth is, the girl can’t break par and hasn’t for 28 rounds. At least she withdrew from the PGA Tour John Deere Classic citing a lack of strength in her wrists. This is the first smart thing Team Wie has done maybe ever.
File Hefty and the Brat under wrist-reward.
Trust me on this John Daly is a great guy. However, as Fuzzy Zoeller once said, “Find me the craziest woman in the world and I’ll introduce you to John’s next wife.”
This time, it’s dangerous. He got away with just having his face scratched. The next time, he just might get killed. JD isn’t going to practice celibacy anytime soon, but just maybe, he might be a tad selective. Cruising the psycho wards of America hasn’t worked out very well.
In honor of the new U.S. Open champion crack open a cold cerveza and say
Angel, salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo.

See you on the first tee,

Jack O’Leary

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

PGA Tour schedule woes

The massive overhaul the boys in Ponte Vedra Beach gave the PGA Tour schedule is wreaking havoc for the tournament sponsors. Even Jack Nicklaus couldn’t entice Phil Mickelson to play in his Memorial Tournament. The Colonial drew two of the top 20; Jim Furyk (3) and Trevor Immelman (14) are it.
Originally, it was thought that the only casualty was going to be the International and their modified Stableford system that brought relief to the same old—same old. They folded their tent because they could never get Tiger Woods to play. The next day, the Tour awarded the AT&T Championship to Tiger, of all people. Imagine that!
Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem calling upon the wisdom of the ages lined up Fed Ex to sponsor a points race with a $10-million first prize. This is supposed to emulate NASCAR’s “Race to the Chase.” Thus far, no one’s buying it. The idea was to make the better players play more during the season. As the Tour has found out, the top players will never have to worry about making the final field, so they’re actually playing less. They’re saving themselves for the chase—a four tournament series where the player with the most points wins the $10M. Well, almost, you see; it’s a 10-year annuity of a million a year for a decade.
We think Rich Beem’s summation of the Fed Ex Cup says it all. “I really hope that someday a kid is standing over a putt on the practice green and says, ‘this one is for the Fed Ex Cup.’ I’ve got agree with Beemer.
By the way, if you said Tiger and Phil are one-two in the standings, I’ll bet a sleeve of scuffed range balls; you can’t tell me who ranks fourth as of 5-24-07. (Answer below).


It looks like the PGA Tour is turning into a cross between a reality show and a soap opera. It’s been a bad stretch for the Norman clan. First, eldest daughter Morgan-Leigh and Sergio Garcia ended their whirlwind romance. Then Greg and tennis great Chris Evert visited Splitsville as Greg claimed they were “just friends helping each other through a divorce.”

We remember when Greg was blown out of the 1986 PGA Championship when Bob Tway holed out from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole. He had just recently cashed a huge check when Cobra was taken over by Acushnet (Titleist). When asked about how he felt with yet another disappointment, the reply was, “When you’ve got the $42M, you’ve got the $42M.”

Today he has more than doubled that amount (minus what ex-wife Laura was awarded). He doesn’t play much golf anymore, but he has his money to keep him warm.

Let’s see, Adam Scott is on the short list of tennis star Maria Sharapova. Judging by her picture spread in the SI swimsuit issue, too much of that stuff and he’ll never make a 3-foot putt again.

Evidently, the PGA Tour has been targeted by female tennis stars. If you follow Hank Kuehne during a round, say hello to Venus Williams. The long-hitting Texan and perhaps the most physically powerful female in tennis are an item. They could start a mixed doubles arm wrestling tournament—and win—hands down! (Ouch, I didn’t type that, did I?)

Who is Ryo Ishikawa and why would we care? Well, in the oft rain-delayed Munsingwear KSB Cup, Ishikawa San became the youngest winner on the Japanese men’s Tour. He fired 69-65 on Sunday for a one-stroke win. That’s not bad for lad who has spent 15 years, eight months on this planet. He beat out Seve Ballesteros by a mere four years and 11 months. Rumor has it that Seve has called for a ruling.

Here’s an interesting note on Jack Nicklaus. When asked if he had one round to play, which course would it be. Pebble Beach was the answer. When asked what his favorite courses to play in competition are, the answer was simple. “Augusta National and St. Andrews are tied, followed by Muirfield and Pinehurst No. 2,” answered the Golden Bear. Interesting, considering that Nicklaus has designed hundreds of courses himself. While there may be one or a dozen of his tracks that he has true affection for, he has more respect for the developers who shelled out a million-plus for one of his designs.

Imagine paying out seven figures to Nicklaus and he not thinking it was one of his favorites. Smart move; remember if anyone asks you about your favorite course, you’ll never go wrong with Pebble, Augusta and Pinehurst. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played them, all that was asked was, what are your favorite courses? Your golf stud rating will soar!

Oh, who is fourth in the Fed Ex points race? Charles (don’t call me Thurston) Howell III


One last note. Word has it that Tiger has beseeched the powers that will run his AT&T Championship to cut back the numbers of amateurs in each Pro-Am group from four to three. At three grand a clip, that’s in the vicinity of $200,000 less for charity. This is a prime example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face since the Tiger Woods Foundation is a major beneficiary of the event.

Mr. Bartender, if you please mate, get me a nice bottle of Limestone Coast Shiraz from the Greg Norman Estates and pour me another. When you’ve got the vineyard—you’ve got the vineyard. Know what I mean.



Friday, May 18, 2007

Players Championship

The Players Championship stands two chances of ever being considered a major championship—Slim and None and Slim just left town. There are four major championships and that’s the limit. The term “Grand Slam” connotes four runs as in baseball. There’s no crying in baseball and there are no five-run home runs either. Therefore, the Tour is just going to have to deal with it.

In fact, one of their own said it best. Justin Leonard, a British Open champion when asked if he considered the Players to be a major championship replied, “That would be like comparing apples and oranges. The majors are apples and the Players Championship is a very nice orange, but an orange nonetheless.”

By the way, the O’Leary history lesson of the day is the real origin of the term ‘Major Championship.”

A decade ago, I was writing a Masters advance for Senior Golfer Magazine. The subject was golfers on the Senior Tour who had won one major and it was the Masters. Fine gentlemen such as Art Wall, Charles Coody, Bob Goalby and Tommy Aaron provided some great anecdotes, but it was 1969 Masters Champion George Archer who provided the history lesson.

“The Masters was always a favorite of the guys on Tour,” said Archer. “We got to meet and spend some time with Bobby Jones and were treated real well. It was a great little tournament.
“That’s the way we all looked at the Masters,” offered Archer. “Early that week, either Tuesday, or Wednesday it rained hard. The writers were looking for a story, so they brought Jack Nicklaus into the pressroom. I guess the conversation came around to how he made out his playing schedule. Jack told them that the major focus of his schedule was around the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. In the papers across the country the next day, everyone found out that we had four ‘majors.’ I thought I’d won a nice tournament, but I’d become known forever as a Major Champion. I wonder what would have happened if it hadn’t rained.”

Pardon my digression. This year’s Players Championship was special. The first phase of the “New Phil” was very impressive at the very least. Just three weeks into the process, it appears that Mickelson has assimilated every syllable Butch Harmon has said. His strategy was flawless. He only gambled when he thought the odds were in his favor. Okay, the iron shot from the sand through the opening in the trees on the 10th hole in the third round might have been a stretch, but you didn’t think he could quit cold turkey, did you?

The entire weekend was great stuff. Right down to the 17th hole on Sunday, there was drama on every shot. Let’s face it, rarely can a golfer who makes a quadruple bogey at the defining moment of the tournament emerge as a hero, but Sean O’Hair did. He went down firing at the pin, trying to win. All it cost him was about $750,000, but as he said, he’s going to make a lot of money, but he wanted the crystal. May his mantle be overstocked with trophies. The best part about it is, the kid is only 24. He’ll give a welcomed boost to future Ryder Cup teams.

Here’s the best part of Sunday at the Players. In the past, had “Hefty” been trying to stave off one T. Woods, he would have eventually melted into a pool of flaccid Jell-O. Now, there’s some doubt—no, make that a lot of doubt. The new, in control, in synch with the world Phil Mickelson stands a much better chance of standing up to Woods.

The great ingredient that will intensify the rivalry is that Mickelson is being coached by the teacher who built Woods. The truth be known, there’s a good chance that Tiger would not have thrown Harmon over if he didn’t start showing up in TV ads and attaining a profitable celebrity. That is the kiss of death in the Woods camp. His first caddie, Fluff Cowan was dumped when he started making commercials for low-priced motels and signing autographs at tournaments.

There’s only one driver of that bus and that’s Tiger himself. His wanting to prove that he was right in dealing with Harmon will drive him harder. It will put Tiger’s current coach Hank Haney on the hot seat.

As a contrast, in accepting the Players Championship trophy, Mickelson took time to thank his previous coach Rick Smith for guiding him through the years as well as thanking Harmon. Maybe for the first time in his career, Mickelson has an understanding of where he’s been and a true sense of where his career is heading.

Forget the trash you’ll hear about anyone making a move on Woods’ number one world ranking. He has such a lead that it would take at least two years for him to lose it. However, don’t be too surprised if championship golf becomes much more exciting over the summer and for summers to come.

The rivalry golf fans always wanted—Woods vs. Mickelson is about to come to fruition.

Bartender, please pour me another in honor of Philly Mick. This time make it a Diet Coke. We both could stand to lose some avoirdupois if you know what I mean.

See you on the tee!


Friday, May 11, 2007

Characters of the game

Recently, I was doing some research on the British Open for a magazine piece I’ve been asked to write and it stirred some memories of some of the golfers I’ve met through the years.

One of the great characters I’ve met through the years is the legendary Brian Barnes or “Barnsie,” as he’s better known. Barnsie was one of England’s finest players having won nine times on the European Tour. He finished between the fourth and eighth spot on the money list every year from 1971 and 1980. As a senior player, Barnsie won the Senior British Open in 1995 and became the first to successfully defend the title in 1996. He also won once on the U.S. Senior Tour before arthritis knocked him out of competitive golf.

Barnsie also competed in six consecutive Ryder Cups when it was just Great Britain and Ireland versus the U.S. In the format of the day two singles matches were played on one day and in 1975, he beat Jack Nicklaus twice in one day.

Barnsie posted an impressive résumé for sure, but all of it pales in comparison to his last European Tour win at the 1981 Haig Whisky Tournament Players Championship.
On the final day, Barnsie garnered an early tee time with some uninspired play during the first three days. On Sunday, however, all the suns moons and stars were perfectly in a row for the burly Scot. He tore the course apart. It was “around a 64” was his recollection.

Satisfied that he’d at least salvaged some dignity, Barnsie did what he did ritualistically after every round. He headed straight to the bar from the scorer’s tent. For hours, Barnsie regaled the local gentry with his wit and charm that increased with each and every lager he consumed. About three hours, or so later, someone from the tournament committee joined the party and asked Barnsie why he wasn’t practicing.

A stunned Barnsie asked why he would do such a thing. The committee member told him that if the leader didn’t birdie the 18th, Barnsie would be in a playoff for the title. Having already birdied the 19th hole, Barnsie grabbed a couple cans of beer and lurched towards the practice green.

“I wanted to make sure I could stand,” said Barnsie as he recounted the tale. Before he headed to the first tee for the sudden death playoff, he stuck the cans of beer in his bag.

“I knew that I’d need them,” he said. “I’d need one if I won and I’d need one if I lost.”
He hit a pair of great shots on the first hole and reached in his pocket for a coin to mark his ball. He didn’t have one. He asked his caddie for a coin. He didn’t have one either.

“I then did the next best thing,” said Barnsie, “I reached into the bag and marked the ball with a can of beer. When it was my turn to putt, I put the can to the side, made the putt, opened the can of beer, drank it and accepted the check. Thank you very much.”

The European Tour has always been a fertile ground for characters. Barnsie’s mentor and eventually his father-in-law, Max Faulkner was no slouch in this area.
Faulkner won the 1951 British Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. It’s the only time the Open Championship was played outside of mainland England. According to some historians, Faulkner was best known for his flamboyant dress that often included pink plus fours and yellow golf shoes and his quick wit.

The wit was best exemplified when at the prize ceremony at a small local tournament; Faulkner was called forward to be presented with the first prize check. He stepped to the microphone and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, big purse—big speech. Small purse—small speech. Thank you.” And he left the stage.

Personally, I’m also impressed with 19 career wins including the Open Championship.
It’s not just the players on the other side of the pond that are colorful. Stories abound about their golf writers. One such writer is Dai Davies, then with Guardian newspaper in London.
Dai also answered to the nickname “Mr. Grumpy.” In fact, he has reached the pinnacle of being a curmudgeon and proudly wears the crown. He has been my idol in this department for the 25-years I’ve known him.

Dai has always been known to flee the pressroom before an early round has been completed if, in his estimation, the leader has been identified and the story written. Remarkably, it rarely caught up with him.

One year, at the Open Championship Dai had an early dinner date after the first round. Having written and filed his story, he was heading for the car park and an early getaway. As he was walking up the path from the pressroom at Troon, he was stopped by a man who obviously was a golfer.

“Is the pressroom down there?” he asked. Dai said yes and asked why he wanted to know.
“My name is John Schroeder and I just shot 67 and I’m leading the tournament,” was the reply. Unfazed, Dai escorted Schroeder to the pressroom. Schroeder headed to the interview area and Dai to his phone.

When Dai connected with his dictationist, he calmly said, “Go to the top of my story and add this, ‘Unknown, unheralded American John Schroeder, playing the last match, recorded a remarkable 3-under par 67 to take a one-stroke lead. Had Schroeder not done this, here’s what had previously transpired.’ Go to the bottom and add this paragraph, ‘But Schroeder did record such a remarkable score and takes a one-stroke advantage into today’s second round.”
Davies put the phone down and arrived at the restaurant in time for a tall glass of red wine before dinner.

It seems both the golfers and the writers in Old Blighty have a much better time at their jobs than their American counterparts. Maybe there’s an opening at the Irish Independent?
Hey, barkeeper, how about pouring me a red wine and getting me a can of beer as I toast Dai and mark my ball in honor of my friend Barnsie.


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Welcome to the World Golf Hall of Fame

Welcome to the World Golf Hall of Fame Curtis Strange and Hubert Green. Curtis with your 17 tournament victories including back-to-back US Open championships in 1988 at The Country Club and ’89 at Oak Hill, you’ve ascended to the Valhalla of golf. Congratulations.

Hubert, what took you so long? You’re in by virtue of the Veterans Committee vote. Why you needed that is beyond me. I’ve always thought that 19 wins including the 1977 US Open at Southern Hills under death threats and the 1985 PGA Championship at Cherry Hills when you stared down Lee Trevino and won down the stretch would be enough. Obviously, I was wrong.

People will hear in the coming weeks and months that these inductees are two of the most irascible golfers ever to play the game. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve seen that side of them on more than a couple of occasions, but I’ve seen the other side as well.

It was about 10 years ago that I was sent to Panama City, Fla. to spend a few days with Hubert so I could write a feature article for the late, lamented Senior Golfer Magazine on his turning 50 and heading to the Senior Tour. Over the years, I had dealt with Hubert strictly on a professional basis. It was basically birdies and bogies and see ya’ later. This, I knew would be different.

Prior to flying to Florida’s panhandle, I spoke with Hubert on the phone, making arrangements to meet, etc.

I finally arrived at the Hombre Golf Club and was warmly greeted by Hubert.

“Come on with me and I’ll show you around,” he said warmly. We hopped in his convertible and he gave me a tour of his section of the Red Neck Riviera. As we traveled along, he’s point to a house and say, “I had that one built…that one too…and another over there. Yep, I’ve done a lot for the local construction business. Built one for each of my ex-wives.”

He later took me to his home on the beach, a small, but nice home. As we walked through his garage into the house, I was taken by the boxes of trophies lining the walls and asked about them.

“Yeah, they’re from tournaments I won, some on Tour I’m sure,” he said. As we went inside, the first thing I noticed was a trophy. Hubert noticed my interest.

“That’s the one that counts,” he said. “That’s my US Open trophy.”

I spent the next day talking with some of Hubert’s friends and predictably got a different perspective than his public persona. Then it was time to sit down and go one on one with Hubert, a man who was always at best an adversarial interview at best.

Before I asked the first question, he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m the type of guy no one likes because all I ever tell people is the truth.”

Figuring he’d only answer with the truth, I asked some pretty tough questions. He never smiled. He’d just look me in the eye and answer. When I wrote the story, I wasn’t real sympathetic to Hubert. On the other hand, I didn’t really rip him either.

I didn’t see him until months after the article came out. I was walking past the practice green at the Bank of America Classic, when I heard this southern drawl say, “Mr. O’Leary, I want to talk with you.”

Figuring I was about to have a public confrontation, I geared up for the worst. He waited for me inside the ropes. I walked in, expecting a verbal blast.

Instead, he extended his hand and said, “That was the finest story ever written about me. It wasn’t sugarcoated. It wasn’t mean spirited. It was honest and you know I appreciate honesty.”

I’ve had a couple of “thank yous” from subjects of some of my articles, but that’s one that I’ll treasure, because he’d never have said it if he didn’t mean it.

Curtis has a similar reputation and like Hubert has another side that the public doesn’t see. It was many years ago that he was heading to Quincy, Mass. to pick up a Boston Whaler he’d ordered. He realized that there was a tournament at Pleasant Valley that coming week and had his clubs sent north from his Virginia home. He entered the tournament and had a chance to win on Sunday and finished in the top five. It was a snarling top five because anything but number one didn’t count for him.

During that week, I got to know him a lot better and became privy to a wicked sense of humor that he kept under the surface. We renewed the acquaintance at the Players Championship the following spring. I asked him about the Boston Whaler. He motioned me to sit on the bench with him.

“This isn’t for publication,” he said, “but my caddy and I took it out for a fishing trip into the bay. Well, we were having a great time. We were fishing, drinking some beer, talking, drinking some beer, drinking some beer and fishing. The next thing we know, we’re in the currents heading towards the Atlantic. Finally, we were able to make shore. It was dark and we decided to wait until morning to try to get back home. The boat was doing great. I wasn’t.”

It’s a pity that side of Curtis never came through as a player or a broadcaster. The public missed a lot.

By the way, here’s a little friendly advice. If you see either Green or Strange at a Champions Tour event, or anywhere for that matter, do yourself a huge favor and don’t call them Hubie or Curt. You’d be inviting yourself to their dark side.

In honor of the two newest members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, pour me a beer in honor of Curtis and a smooth single malt scotch, an honest whiskey if you will, in honor of Hubert.



Surviving the conditions at Ginn

I know there's no such thing as a sure thing, but I sure would have bet the ranch on Laura Davies in the final round of the Ginn Open. She was tied with Lorena Ochoa entering the final round. The weather was going to be very windy (play was stopped on two occasions for a total of two and a half hours due to high winds).

It was a perfect setup for the British veteran. The weather was very British-like with the exception of the bright sun. She also had her size going for her. Before you yell sexist pig, hear me out. In high winds, a little extra ballast helps keep one's balance. Trust me on this. I know all too well from personal experience. Besides, Laura is a big time gambler. If you get your kicks out of staring down dealers, throwing down against a couple of kids like Ochoa and Brittany Lincicome had to make Davies the chalk bet in this field.

It had to be a sure thing, but it wasn't. There was another major factor that few took into consideration. The conditions couple with the comparative lack of experience under the gun of the other two players resulted in a situation that will likely be the ruination of professional and recreational golf as well --- damn were they slow.

This drove Davies crazy. She fidgeted, then stewed, she eventually boiled over. By the end of the round, she was more concerned about making her 5:25 flight to England than winning the tournament. She even managed to unprofessionally stickhandle her way around the last green to finish third behind Lincicome and Ochoa.

All three players were at the mercy of the conditions. Shots were out of control at impact. Davies was hitting her drives off the deck without a tee. That's nice for the Monday exhibitions, but a strange strategy in the hest of battle. If you wonder why no other players try that, all you had to do was watch those uggers squirt off Davies' club face, yuck.

In a strange way it was entertaining --- much the same as watching cars skid on ice. I don't think I'd like to watch this every week, but it might get me watching LPGA golf a little more often.

The windy weekend on the east coast blew off Sunday play at the PGA Tour Verizon Classic on Hilton Head, causing a Monday finish. Boo Weekley chipped in for Pars on the last two holes to beat Ernie Els by one shot. Word has it that Els will be allowed near sharp objects again in about six weeks.

While the two top Tour events of the weekend were played under duress, there was another commonality. Lincicome and Weekly are just the start. There's a changing of the guard in professional golf and we'd better be ready for it.

Sure, the PGA Tour will have Tiger and Phil out front for a while yet, but the underpinning is about to change. Weekley, Zack Johnson, Brett Wetterich, Heath Slocum, et al are the cream rising to the top. Davis Love and company have had their day. They'll come back on occasion. Hey, somewhere there's a show featuring Fabian, Dion and KC and the Sunshine Band and people will reminisce about the good old days and the next day go back to surfing the FM dial. That, I fear is the lot of Davis, Freddy and friends. We've got to get used to it.

While we're there, we'll be seeing less and less of Annika. Her bulging disc in her neck just might be the beginning of the end. At age 36, she's looking in a lot of different life directions. While we're at it, Juli Inkster has to break down sometime. Okay—maybe not.

Hey bartender, pour me another one. Make this one Ancient Age bourbon. Nah, let's drink to the future. Make it a dram of Early Times.

See you on the 1st tee,


These guys are good!

You've just got to hand it to the PGA Tour. First, they run an extensive self-promotional campaign about the players with the catch phrase, "These guys are good!" For once they understated something. They're great. The 200th ranked player is the 200th best player in the world. Think about it. Of all the millions of golfers in the world, he's number 200.

As a guy who thinks the 15th all time home run hitter in baseball should have his credentials for the Hall of Fame carefully examined and never on the first ballot, I'm more impressed with the 200th golfer in the world.

Okay, Timmy Finchem and the boys have me sold on this one. Why didn't they just let it be? Why did they have to bollix the whole thing up?

They did you know. It started on the Florida swing and I'm sure you're going to see it elsewhere through the year. They wanted to prove to the public that in spite of all the new equipment technology and the swing gurus, golf courses wouldn't be torn apart by the rank and file of the PGA Tour.

They started with the Honda Classic that debuted at the Champions Course at PGA National. Mark Wilson captured the title in a four-way play off with a 72-hole score of 275, which they recalibrated it as five under par. The PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup were played on the same course at par 72. Evidently, a car Classic has more integrity than either of those two events. Wilson, et al finished at 13-under par in real-speak.

Let's see. Mark Calcavecchia won the PODS Championship at Innisbrook in Tarpon Springs with a 10-under 274 score. This falls well within the parameters of defending champion KJ Choi's winning 271 and 2005 victor Carl Pettersson whose 275 cashed the big check. The Copperhead Course has never played easily, nor will it ever.

Now, let's go to Bay Hill and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Oops, that par 72 course you've been playing is just too easy boys; we're going to make it a par 70.

They dared to claim that Vijay Singh's winning minus-eight score proved how tough Bay Hill played. Hellloooo! Singh's 272 score for the championship was two strokes lower than Rod Pampling's in 2006. Tougher? Easier and the numbers prove it.

Everyone seems to be hung up on the under par number. Before TV coverage, this was never a factor. It took CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian to devise the negative-plus system so viewers would know where everyone stood. The low score still won and the low score will always win. Oh, by the way, birdies sell tickets. They provide ratings. They do all sorts of good things. Golfers want to see birdies. They want to see the best at their best. They want one torture chamber a year for their heroes—the US Open and the PGA Tour doesn't run it. Let's hope they don't try.

Lorena Ochoa is poised to wrest the Best Woman Player in the World from Annika Sorenstam. She can do it with a win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first LPGA major of the season. It's a pity that their marketing genius of a commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, doesn't get it yet. This is a showcase for woman's golf. There is one other event this weekend now that the Players Championship has moved and they have brackets in every office across America. There aren't any brackets or fantasy pools for the KNC. What are you doing knocking heads against the Final Four?

Missing from KNC this week is Michelle Wie, who is nursing a wrist injury. This could be the best injury she'll ever have. It gets her away from the game and maybe give her some perspective. Better yet, it might give her parents some perspective.

Reports are that thus far, Michelle is still on somewhat an even keel, but Mom and Pop are teetering. It seems their attitude at home doesn't have the natives welcoming them home with leis and alohas.

Word also has it that there's a couple who offered to share their home with the Wies during a previous KNC. The elder Wies wouldn't allow Michelle to mingle with the hosts and insisted that the hosts vacate so they could host a private dinner. When the home owners returned, not so much as a dish had been washed and they were left to pick up for themselves.

There's some installation of proper values in a child. Let’s hope Michelle avoids the trappings of celebrity as well as the Parent Trap.

All that Hawaiian chatter has worked up a thirst. How about a rum and pineapple juice? Hold the umbrella please.



Club House of Gloom

For many, many years, I had gone through this life happily engorged in misery. My golf game sucked. Even when I had the odd good round, I knew another lousy one was just around the corner.

I got to the point where I even reveled in physical pain. Advanced carpal tunnel in both hands? Great! A right knee that sometimes hobbled me so badly that I had to walk downstairs backwards? Fantastic! Of course, there was the innate ability to combust internally where people could watch my face turn red and see the blood rise like mercury in a thermometer. You could actually watch me come to a boil. All of this, you see, was a ready-made obvious excuse for yet another bad round. (Actually, I never used the word excuse. It was, I said, "the reason.")

As a lifelong cynic and skeptic, I greatly enjoyed morphing into a curmudgeon. It became a goal that I think I achieved, because I knew I was damned good at it.

Having comfortably settled into my cozy nest of thorns, I almost looked forward to the next bad bounce the golf gods would send my way. When I went to the practice green before a round, I'd tell my cart partner that I was going to practice my lip outs. Yessiree, I was well on my way to scripting another Indiana Jones flick for Harrison Ford; Jack O'Leary's Club House of Gloom.
I can't say that I enjoyed all the trappings of my curmudgeoness (Is that a word? Spell-check tells me no. I say it is for today), but I certainly accepted them.

Then three guys had to produce products that absolutely destroyed my merry march to misery.
First, there's John Allan at Q-Link. Actually, John who is now the president of the company gets a bye on this one. He wasn't sailing that ship when I first had this plastic and copper circle hanging on a string draped around my neck, but until I find the cur that did, John takes the hit.

The Q-Link is supposed to help control your stress level on and off the golf course. Sure—and if wrap two around my wrists, I'll wake up the next morning as Brad Pitt's double. Well, I did wear the one around my neck and after a couple of days, when I woke up, I didn't feel the pits. I guess that was a plus. On the golf course, there seemed to be a pilot light on my internal combustion for the normal course of misfortunes. OK, so I was able to override the pilot light in the direst of circumstances (that was too good a shot to hit the bank and bounce backwards into the water DAMMIT!). However, the Q-Link certainly took the edge off. It's still there today.

The next culprit is Jim Uno of Trion-Z and he doesn't get a bye; he's directly in my crosshairs.
Late last May, Jim and I were paired in a golf event in the Pinehurst area. Boy was he in for a treat. He got to see the "full O'Leary."

This was a day in which the carpal tunnel was in full bloom. On about the fifth fairway, I had all I could do to hold a club. Jim came over to me and put an elastic and plastic bracelet on my wrist. It was the Trion-Z. The plastic held two strong magnets while the cloth bracelet was filled with Japanese minerals. I learned later that the combination emits negative ions that lessen the effects of pain. By the time we got to the green, I felt a heat sensation in my hands. Jim said it was circulation that the carpal tunnel had inhibited. Within 20 minutes, the total discomfort had abated by more than half and was bearable.

My "reasons" were starting to fall by the wayside. Less stress and less discomfort in my hands were starting to bother me. What next? I found out.

Three weeks later with the Q-Link and Trion-Z adorning this temple of God, I had another "distressing" occurrence. As I got out of the car at the golf course, I stood up and noticed that something was missing. The pain in my knee that had been present for the past three years in some shape or form was gone. I couldn't believe it. The only thing I'd done differently was wear the band of magnets and minerals on my wrist. I kind of bounced up and down standing on my right leg only and there was nothing. That day, I played my first round of golf without a heavy knee brace in three years and I haven't worn it since. OK, the skeptic in me demands that I still carry the brace in my bag, but I haven't used it.

I'll get you for this Uno—if it's the last thing I do.

I was down to my last defense. I was still as negatively miserable as any golfer could be. If something bad could happen, it would and would always carry a two-stroke penalty. Enter Dr. Jerry V. Teplitz.

I know. Those of you out there in cyberspace, who know me, think it's time I see a shrink, but Dr. Jerry is a doctor of Holistic Medicine, not a psychiatrist—although he just as well could be.
Last week, I had to watch his DVD Par and Beyond: Secrets to Better Golf for a piece I was writing. Trust me on this; I've seen enough of this psycho babble to qualify me for my PHD (In my case that stands for Piled Higher and Deeper) on the subject. Prior to last Thursday, I was filing these entities under "You Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time, etc." This was different.

Dr. Jerry's premise was set in Behavioral Kinesiology. I'd heard of that before. I didn't understand it, but I'd heard of it. In this DVD, he demonstrates tips on how to get out of whatever funk this dastardly game puts you in right there on the spot. He showed physical proof that the mind inhibits the body's performance and how to overcome it. He showed how the negative words of playing partners can effect you and what to do about it.

I've got to be going soft. I figured, what the hell? I bought into the Q-Link and I guess it's worked. I bought into the Trion-Z and I know that works. I've added a necklace to the bracelet in hopes that it will help a few other parts of the body, although Butch Harmon who endorses Trion-Z told me that this might not be what I'm looking for. I'll give Dr. Teplitz' advice a shot on Saturday.

Using the cues from Dr. Jerry, I bombed my first tee shot down the middle with a mind-released shoulder turn, hit my second shot to 12-feet and made the putt for a birdie. He had me. I was his winning fish in the bass derby. Hook, line and sinker baby!

The best was saved for last. An event occurred on the 17th green that in the past would have had me blazing a trail over the moon. A playing partner didn't get out of the way of my chip and the ball hit him, knocking me out of the hole. Instead, of becoming the personification of "The rocket's red glare" and launching my drive OB, I forgot about it by the time I addressed the tee ball. I ask you, what the hell kind of fun is that? Where's the misery?

I hit a good drive, a good second shot and a good putt to win some money in the weekly point quota game. Then it happened. I walked off the 18th green with a smile on my face. I didn't complain about anything at the 19th Hole. I was calm and in a great mood. Sorry guys, that's not golf. What am I going to do? My regular foursome is so accustomed to the sight of me riding to the green or tee with my arms folded and a frown resembling the mask of death etched in my face, they're not going to be right for a long time. Hell, they don't even know that I can smile.

Hey, before I leave, pour me another and keep pouring for those three guys until they can't take anymore. Someone has to be miserable. After all, this still is golf and I know for a fact, all the pendants, bracelets, necklaces and DVDs in the world won't do squat for a hangover. If I can't be miserable on the golf course, someone has to be tomorrow morning.



USGA sells its wares

Alright, we all knew it would happen, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. The USGA has put its wares on sale and found a buyer. They've seduced and taken on an "automotive partner." In most states, the world's oldest profession is illegal. Now, it seems in the state of golf it's profitable.

The USGA announced during the PGA Merchandise Show that Lexus would be their first automotive partner in their 112-year history. This "partnership" is a multi-year relationship and will include the U.S. Open, the U.S. Woman's Open, the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur Championship.

I find it hard to believe that this relationship was found necessary due to financial hardship when just a few years ago, the USGA was handing out big buck grants to just about anyone who promoted the game so they wouldn't lose their non-profit status. I also don't believe they just handed the "partnership" to the Japanese giant. So, why is there a need for this "partnership" now?

There are 10 other national championships that the USGA can sell. What are we looking forward to in the future---the Mary Kay Woman's Amateur? The Viagra Senior Amateur? The Botox Senior Woman's Amateur? How about the Toys R Us Junior Championship? Regrettably the possibilities are endless and now possibly a reality.

Some things in golf shouldn't be for sale and our national championships should be at the top of that list.

Ah yes, the PGA Merchandise Show...

This show used to be the ultimate golfer's candy store. Now, it's evolved into more of a snack shop. Gone are the days when the newest and brightest equipment was first shown to the world. Now, the big players are releasing their newest technology randomly, so any of the big guys who exhibit at the show are showing off stuff that's been out for a while.

This year was more of a golf lifestyle exhibition with gadgets and widgets that surround the game more than affect the playing of the game. If there's any one segment of the industry that benefits from the timing of the show, it's the apparel side. The end of January time slot works well for them.

The show is now a stage for the startup companies and the training aid industry---the latter being somewhat a freak show. They have golfers putting their bodies in positions the human body should never be, all in pursuit of be able to hit a little white ball, or qualify for traction.

One other factor that really stuck out at the show was the globalization of golf. Not only were there destinations on display, but there were a lot of companies participating that were headquartered in other countries. It shows what has long been surmised; that while the industry may be flat in this country, it's having a healthy growth spurt around the globe.

In honor of golf's globalization, it's time for maybe a pint of Guiness, or perhaps a Stoly on the rocks. Nah, make it an ice cold Crown lager from South Africa and after you pour me that one---pour me another one.


Golf Channel shakeup

Just a few thoughts on this young golf season.

The Golf Channel is working hard to get their production headed in the right direction. Rich Lerner does a good job in the role of Jack Whittaker and will be better once he acquires the elder statesman look. With the exception of Nick Faldo, everyone has to get comfortable in their role and loosen up a bit.

It appears obvious that Kelly Tilghman still thinks she's in charge as the first woman anchor of a golf telecast. Kelly, the truth is it's Nick's show and Nick's alone. You're main role thus far, is to fill the dead air when Faldo takes a break. Let's face it, working with the right straight men, Faldo and Johnny Miller are in a class of their own.

It will be interesting to see how the season plays out. They can actually make a difference in the way the first two rounds are seen by the public. Personally, some of the most intense golf I've seen has been played between 4 and 5:30 on Friday afternoons. That's when a missed putt can equal a missed cut and no paycheck for the week. Trust me; TV ratings go through the roof in every PGA Tour locker room between those hours. Let's hope TGC can capture the moment.
This is the week of the 2007 PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.

For the past four or five years, the show appeared to be in decline. Titleist, TaylorMade and a few other staples of the industry rethought their strategy and passed on the show. This allowed Callaway to flourish and gave Nike the impetus and sales to sign a few more stars, dress them in black and stand them behind Tiger in yet another overpriced ad.

This year, TaylorMade returns to the show trying to reinstate their prominence in the industry. They'll find a different beast than they left.

What was first thought to be a decline by the various pundits wasn't a decline at all. It was more a correction in direction. It became a forum for smaller companies in front of the largest collection of buyers in the world. The little guy had a chance and took advantage of it. TaylorMade won't dominate the show; they're going to have to learn how to coexist.
As in every year, there is one product that makes you think, "what were they thinking of?"
This year a release landed in my e-mail box about the Windage. It's a container of "fine powder" reads the release. The golfer is spray the powder into the air, watch it closely and be able to tell exactly the direction in which the wind is blowing.

In truth, this is the second generation of a product called "Windfloater." That was a container of what appeared to be lint. You'd take it out of this hockey puck-shaped container, throw it in the air and watch it fly.

I thought at the time about a guy who had thought and planned for years to invent the greatest golf gadget of all times. When he finally had it, he proudly showed it off to a friend and the friend turned to him and asked, "Have you heard of grass?"

As a side note to the Windage people. The USGA and the R&A have ruled that such tools that gauge the wind are outside elements. Every time you spray the powder or toss some lint, it's a two-stroke penalty.

Like I said, what were they thinking?

Hey, on that note, Pour Me Another One. I'm working on this gadget sets off a buzzer every time I start the club back off line. It fits in the glove. No one will ever know. This is such a great idea---make it a double.


The Season Opens

"Pour Me Another One" is an editorial column by Jack O'Leary that contain his musings on what is going on in the world of golf. The views expressed in his columns in no way reflect the views or opinions of Golf Marketing Services. Check back on a regular basis to find out what thoughts the golf scribe has imparted to his public.

Ah yes, it's the first week of the PGA Tour and the 2007 Mercedes Championship at the Kapalua Resort on Maui where the 2006 tournament winners congregate to divvy up another few mill.

It's similar to the Tour Championship where the rich get rewarded for getting rich over the season with a 30-player field, no-cut cash fest. Only last year, it was a 28-player field as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson passed on the opportunity. Come to think of it, Phil never plays in that event. Usually, he's had a full pot of subglutaenous fat (read money) by then and goes home.

For the past three years this event has garnered a bit more mainland coverage then normal, because a 13, no 14, no 15-year old girl was going to play in the Sony Open the following week in Hawaii. She'll be there this week as a 16-year old as well. Rather than her appearance being considered her challenge to the men, the fourth estate looks at it as a sponsor's appearance for Sony, one of her largest benefactors.

She was amazing as a 13-year old; precocious as a 14-year old; fraught with possibilities as a 15-year old and now just another sponsor's exemption as a 16-year old. If she's going to earn her way back into the golf public's heart, she's going to have to do something positive and do it this year.

It's time for a strategic reconstruction. She's a lot closer to a beautiful woman than a little girl. It's time her schedule reflects that. She could be walking down the aisle towards her coronation as Queen of woman's golf, but it's a long ceremony and the procession has to start now.
Not only does she have the presence and the style to carry this off, she also has the perfect foil for years to come in Morgan Pressel. Judging by her snipes at Wie over the past few years, the potential for not only a rivalry highlighted by tremendous golf is possible, the cat fights would be very entertaining. It would finally give the LPGA a spotlight.

Here's a real coincidence. Golf's two names with the biggest buzz in recent vintage have been Woods and Wie. They both play equipment ostensibly manufactured by the company with the swoosh. It wasn't many years ago that Mickelson publicly marveled at Woods' record saying, "it's amazing considering he's using inferior equipment." It must be said, that that was about four, or five major championships ago for Tiger. However, in a recent pre-holiday during a golf version of a 10,000 mile checkup, it was reported by "someone who was there," that there was barely a correctly constructed club in Wie's bag. Evidently, her equipment needs a bigger makeover than Rosie O'Donnell.

This can't happen when there's the future of a real prodigy at stake. Bad equipment yields bad swing habits which in turn yields bad years. You know the rest. Diligence people, diligence.
There was a bit of to do about Wie being accepted to Stanford. After all, she can't play golf there, having turned professional and all. Also, isn't there a tremendous financial opportunity out on the fairways of the LPGA directly ahead?

Don't be taken in by her desire to go to college. Sure she wants to go, but it will be mostly by a virtual classroom that she can connect to whenever needed (most likely connected by a Sony product).

This is a great deal for Stanford. There's a veritable plethora young Oriental students who want to study in the U.S. Most of those don't have to worry about a grant-in-aid, if you know what I mean. So a letter from Michelle inviting them to join her at Stanford accompanied by an autographed picture should be well worth the free ride she'll receive. Judging from the recent talent on the LPGA Tour, the Stanford woman's golf team won't suffer from this move either.

This could be the year for Michelle Wie. A few less appearances in the John Deere Classics, et al and a few more on the regular LPGA schedule would be a very positive career move and you can believe she's in need of something positive on the golf course.

All right, she can try to qualify for the U.S. Open. If she makes it to Oakmont, than she will have earned the headlines against the men. Until then, become a golfer and not just a story.
By the way. You don't have to pour me another this week---the holidays, you know (I need a little break).

See you soon,