Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I thought I'd seen it all in golf ...

I've been around this game for a while and I thought it was long enough to have seen about it all. I followed Jack Nicklaus on the back nine at Augusta National in the final round in 1986. To be honest, everything else has finished second to that. Now, everything else has been put down a notch to third and Jack, well he's currently the runner up.

I hope you all watched it and of course I'm talking about the Sunday singles matches in the Ryder Cup. In fact, the Ryder Cup as a whole was the ultimate in golf drama. Moreover, it wasn't just the drama; it was the incredible quality of the golf being played by both sides that made this the greatest golf show ever. It was absolutely riveting to the point of getting up to get a beer out of the fridge wasn't going to happen...at least until the next commercial.

There were a lot of things going on out there and not the least of which was the first declarative step to the changing of the guard in professional golf. For Europe, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomery were sadly made redundant by the play of Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. Clarke may get back in two years, but Monty's next Ryder Cup appearance will be as the European captain in 2012, or 2014.

On the American side we watched the emergence of Anthony Kim and his play under pressure. As the first match out on Sunday against Sergio Garcia, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy that never subsided. Moreover, he made a veteran decision on the first hole. Both he and Garcia had short par putts for a halve. Knowing that Sergio's putting stroke deteriorates when he doesn't have a teammate and he has to be the man, Kim calmly told the Spaniard, "We'll be putting those today."

Garcia made that short one, but he missed a couple later in the match when it really counted.

To be honest, I thought Boo Weekley would contribute little more than taking the role as the team mascot. Sorry about that. It didn't matter that his Sunday opponent was Oliver Wilson. It could have been Nick Faldo in his prime and Boo would have beat him. When you post six birdies and an eagle in 16 holes, you're going to win that match.

Moreover, yes Weekley was the team mascot and provided comic relief to lift the tension, but he got into the European's heads. By the time he got to the first tee on Sunday, Lee Westwood was mush. He developed rabbit ears and heard every comment made and some that weren't. It rendered him useless. Weekley proved to be the perfect cheerleader and a great player.

I asked a friend of mine who is a sports agent what that week could mean to Boo's financial future and he said it would be as many millions as Boo was willing to earn. The opportunities are going to be there. If he's willing to forgo one hunting and one fishing trip a year, he will be a wealthy man. Good for him. The memory of him riding his driver like it was a stick horse off the first tee on Sunday will last a long time.

I asked this same agent about Kim and his thoughts were a little different than I expected. The agent felt that Kim is already on everyone's radar because you don't win at Quail Hollow and Congressional and not get noticed. However when his equipment contracts come up for renewal, companies will open the vault for him. Also look for a line of belt buckles bearing his name real soon.

Initially, I wasn't a real fan of the JB Holmes pick. In retrospect, it was great. A lasting memory will be how he played the 17th on Sunday. He swung so hard at his drive that he almost fell over. All he did was hit it 372 yards uphill in the middle of the fairway. Then he defied the odds by nestling a 76-yard 64-degree wedge shot 20-inches from the hole. The cameras showed him gasping for air as he waited to putt. It must have been like trying to roll a bowling ball into a thimble when he stood over that putt, but he made it. That experience should be a major stepping-stone for the young Kentuckian.

Speaking of Kentuckians, it was a great week for Kenny Perry. On Sunday he birdied four of the first six holes to take a commanding lead he never relinquished. It was a reward for the determination and hard work that got him to Valhalla.

This victorious Ryder Cup team was also identified by a player who wasn't there as they were by those who were. It will be interesting if this will have any effect on Tiger Woods' legacy. It would be hard to imagine it would, but I've already heard the rumblings. Maybe the next captain will keep Woods out until Sunday. They can't find a partner for him, so why fight it? Let Tiger fly into Wales on Saturday in two years. Let these guys put him in position.

Speaking of captains, Azinger was brilliant in his choices and his matchmaking. Considering the emotion and time he put into this team, it would be difficult to ask him to do it again, but the question has to be asked. In his post match press conference he said that he'll tell what he did and why, but that it would be at some other time and he couldn't say when.

Now that the Ryder Cup is relevant again in the US, maybe people will become more interested in the game. A day like Sunday can have an incredible impact on the entire industry. Let's hope the industry seizes the opportunity.

Bartender, bottles of champagne for the troops and a magnum for the captain. Me? Give me a bottle of your cheapest bubbly. I'm not going to drink it, I'm just going to douse the new golf heroes. I've been in champion's locker rooms where they done it and it looks like a blast.

See you on the first tee,


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Azinger -- "I did it my way ..."

Frank Sinatra would be proud of Paul Azinger. He made his captain’s picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team and should they should go down in flames at Valhalla, he can always say “I did it my way.”

One of the major criticisms of American teams of recent vintage has been the overall lack of clutch putting. So, with this in mind, Azinger opted for Hunter Mahan, JB Holmes, Chad Campbell and Steve Stricker. As he named his picks he qualified them as tremendous ball strikers; never was there a mention of their putting prowess. With the exception of Stricker, there was a reason for this. They are, ahem, tremendous ball strikers.

Now, in fairness, it must be said that Mahan can get white hot and shoot 62 in any given round. However, don’t ask him to back it up in the next round. He’s recently shown a proclivity to be consistently inconsistent. I don’t think this is what ‘Zinger wants. It’s certainly not what he needs.

Is it just me, or do a lot of people question the putting prowess of anyone who uses a belly putter, ala Holmes. Sure, he’ll hit the ball to places no other human can reach, although at times he’ll put his ball in places no one wants to reach. This may intimidate one or two players, but he’ll have a tough time getting any opponent to concede him a putt once he takes that bad boy out of the bag. No one and I mean no one uses an elongated putter as a first choice. It makes the bag because of an affliction. I can’t see the pressure cooker that is the Ryder Cup smoothing out any putting strokes.

I would think the aforementioned Stricker will give a good accounting of himself. Although he’s a Ryder Cup rookie, he has acquitted himself well in a couple of President Cups, aka Ryder Cup Light. He has the all around game to bring the consistency that’s needed for success.

The real wild card in the mix is Campbell. He finished 20th on the points list. He has Ryder Cup experience; however it’s been on teams that have lost by record margins. He has a pair of top ten finishes in his last four tournaments, but he hasn’t challenged for the lead. It’s usually the early Sunday morning 66 that gives him his T7 finish. At this stage in his career, the word “underachiever” is used more and more when describing Campbell. He hasn’t reached Davis Love III proportions yet, but he’s farther along that trail than he should be. He’s finding that being born under the sign of Potential isn’t always the easiest way to go through life.

When you look at the 12-man lineup Azinger will bring to Kentucky, you can almost see the remake of the movie Dirty Dozen unfolding. There’s not a superstar in the bunch, save for perhaps Phil Mickelson. It has a B movie feel to it, but with solid actors capable of giving a solid performance.

In order for this blue collar bunch to succeed at least three players are going to have to have to play totally out of their gourds and I don’t know if there are three capable of stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight. I could be wrong, but I really don’t think so.

Bartender, a bourbon and branch water if you please and make sure it’s Kentucky bourbon of course,

See you on the first tee.