Friday, February 27, 2009

The second coming

I freely admit that I’ve started my back nine on this planet, but I’m not old enough to have seen the first coming of the Messiah. However, if you listen to broadcast and read written reports, the second coming has occurred this week.

In case you missed it and I doubt that, Tiger Woods is back.

On Wednesday, The Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman yet again displaying her lack of knowledge of golf and golf history proclaimed that Woods’ return was the biggest “in the history of golf.” If she had an iota of an idea of what she was talking about, she may have recalled that in 1953 Ben Hogan returned to tournament golf following a 1952 near-fatal car accident to win the U.S. Open. Woods, on the other hand, is returning from a knee surgery that is performed on athletes every week of the year.

I would call for some perspective here, but that would suggest that the person I was calling to would have a clue about the subject she was speaking. I won’t waste my time.

Perhaps you could say that it’s unfair to pick on Ms. Tilghman because it appears the entire media, broadcast and print, swallowed the Kool-Aid on this one. However, I’ve never been one to avoid taking the easiest shot and in this case as so often happens, she’s a very slow moving target.

The fact is, with few exceptions, the media and moreover the PGA Tour has missed the point. Believe it or not, golf was played since the U.S. Open last year and played at a very high and entertaining level. However, the Tour and the media all but ignored it.

Case in point number one. Padraig Harrington won both the British Open (a successful defense) and the PGA Championship. He heads into the Masters with a chance to win three in a row and be the first to do it since … let’s see … Oh yeah, Tiger Woods. Should Harrington be successful in Augusta, what are his chances of getting the acclaim Woods did? Slim and none and Slim just left town. Trust me on this, any Harrington stories will be balanced by “What happened to Tiger” epics.

Case in point number two. Camillo Villegas wins the last two tournaments of the Fed Ex Cup series. On a Tour often bereft of charisma and star power (except Tiger of course) this Columbian is dropped into the Tour’s lap. With the growing Spanish-speaking population in this country, Villegas could bring a whole new segment of the population to the game and the viewing audience. Does the Tour do anything with this? Not yet. At the Bob Hope event Villegas stuck his hand into a cactus bush and came out with a handful of needles. A comely young lass in the gallery offered her tweezers to Villegas to remove the needles. She wasn’t the only one either. It reminded one of a day when a gallery removed a boulder from you-know-who’s line of fire.

Case in point number three. Remember the Ryder Cup? I thought you might. It was best golf theater in years. It had everything and everyone except whom? That’s right, TW himself. What it had were the players who will mold the future of the PGA Tour. Players like Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim (who isn’t lacking game or star power either), JB Holmes and Ben Curtis will be on radar screens for a long time to come. Yet, during Woods absence, it seems they never appeared on the Tours’.

Here is something the Tour and the media has to understand—Tiger Woods isn’t going to play forever.

Even at tender age of 32, the phenom has suffered more injuries than most golfers his age. This was his third knee surgery. He started having recurring wrist problems when he was a teenager. There will come a day when enough will become enough and he’ll limp away.

Another thing to consider is who’s to say he’s going to play another 10 years? Sure he’s perhaps the fiercest competitor in all of sports—now. What happens when there are no more mountains to climb, no more records to set? What will light his fire? It just may be hanging out with Elin, Sam and Charlie and who knows how many more children there will be.

I’ve got to believe that golf is only stage one of his career and it’s not forever. What then?

It’s time the Tour and, yes, the media get their collective heads out of their butts and take advantage of the resources that surround them before the Woods ride ends and they’re left looking at each other asking, “now what?”

Bartender, fix me an Alka Seltzer if you will. The sycophantic aura emanating from PGA Tour headquarters and press rooms everywhere has made me nauseous.

See you on the first tee,


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Michelle Wie's game lacks experience

It’s now official. Michelle Wie is officially a card-carrying tournament tested member of the LPGA Tour. No longer is she an interloper. In one week she showed what many had thought about her.

She’s got some game and she has no experience. Perhaps the early stages of her career would have been better spent learning how to play tournament golf as opposed to learning how to swing a club. She needed to learn how to hit shots under the gun, but her parents were more concerned about her media image. This is not to say that her image isn’t important, but she’s only 18 and not old enough to have her image take a hit. Besides, no one is going attack an 18-year-old.

In retrospect, her time would have been better spent competing as an amateur. True it wouldn’t have been as profitable, but golf-wise Wie would have been much better off. Rather than honing her competitive skills with a full summer of tournaments, she had about seven opportunities a year. Predictably, when an opportunity arose, she didn’t play well.

This past Friday, Wie entered unchartered waters as she took a three-stroke lead into Saturday’s final round of the SBC tournament. The Golf Channel broadcasting team decided to take the high road during the final round and portrayed the action as an Angela Stanford charge. The fact was, Wie was learning how hard it is to swing a golf club with both hands wrapped around your throat. Unfortunately, the degree of difficulty was enhanced, by brain cramp after brain cramp.

When she needed to make a shot and take control of the situation, she was flustered. She hit a 3-wood off the tee on a par 5 she could have easily reached in two had she hit driver. She didn’t take advantage of a drop situation where she could have saved a shot. Instead she took an option from which she couldn’t reach the green. She blasted three drives off the charts to the right. All this happened over the final nine holes.

She just wasn’t ready. There are a lot of flaws in her game and none of them have anything to do with her swing. A lot of times a player who throws away a tournament will chalk it up as a “learning experience.” They’ll claim that it was actually a positive step forward. Don’t believe it for a moment.

In her favor, the LPGA Tour moves out of the country until the end of March. Perhaps that will give her time to regain her psyche. It had to be pretty bruised by the end of Saturday’s round.

Another thing in her favor is she’s only 18. That means after five years on the LPGA Tour she’ll still be just 23-years-old and hopefully a lot wiser. Time is definitely on her side and that’s important.

No, there was nothing positive that came from the SBC final round for Wie, unless she remembers and admits her mistakes. Until then, she’ll go on probably losing more tournaments than winning and that’s sad. She should have already been through these growing pains. Let’s just hope it won’t be too traumatic for her. The LPGA needs her now and will in the future. She has to survive in one piece to achieve her potential. It would be a disservice if six years from now, we’re asking, “what if?”

Bartender, please bring a pitcher of ice water for Ms. Wie, although I think it would be better if injected into her veins rather than served by the glass.

See you on the first tee,


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post PGA Show quips

It’s taken about 10 days, but I think I’ve recovered from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. It was three days plus the Demo Day. By the closing on Saturday evening, my legs felt like two fiery stumps. Memo to self—avoid any exhibition that brags about having “10 miles of aisles.”

Okay, having gotten the nagging and complaining off my chest, in retrospect and careful thought, I’ve got to say the golf industry could be in worse shape than my legs. Even the big boys like Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist are pulling in the reins and it’s not just the economy that’s causing it.

Sure the backpedaling economy is the largest reason, but the final stranglehold is being applied in Far Hills, N.J. at the USGA headquarters. Dick Rugge, who sets the limits on technology used in designing clubs and golf balls tightened the belt on creativity to the point where there’s very little new on the market.

Sure, PowerBilt created some buzz with their Air Force One driver because the head is injected with nitrogen gas that will support the club face which will expand the sweet spot. However, I think the fact that they offer three different thicknesses of the club face which will match up with swing speeds will have a lot more positive effect for the player. At least they’re thinking about the wide spectrum of golfers rather than the small percentage who swing 100 MPH-plus. They’re one of the few who do.

TaylorMade, in a presentation separate from the show introduced their new R9 driver, fairway woods and Burner irons. During the presentation, they related tremendous success stories about golfers with 100 MPH swing speeds gaining 30 yards off the tee and adding a club and a half of distance with the irons. During Q&A following the presentation, the question was raised asking what will be the effect if the swing speed is closer to 85 MPH. After a couple of hems and haws, they answered that improvement wouldn’t be at those distances, but the golfer could expect some added distance with the driver, perhaps 10 yards and maybe a half club with the irons.

Let’s see should I buy a new set of irons for $800-plus and a driver for more than $300? That’s more than $1,100 and in return, I might hit the ball 10-yards farther off the tee and five yards with the irons. It’s obvious, that TaylorMade, et al have been caught up in the USGA syndrome where they cater to the top one percent or so of the golfers and blow smoke up the butts of the rest.

By the way, the USGA’s role in the smoke blowing is when they tell any golfer with a handicap higher than one that they’re here for them. They do nothing other than provide a handicap system and make rule books available all for a fee. Do they run competitions for higher handicap golfers? No. It’s a not so subtle bias.

Now, it appears the equipment companies have adopted similar strategies (have you ever tried to hit a ProV1 with a slower swing speed? You’ll lose distance) coveting the one or two percent of low handicap golfers. Is that wise in this economy?

Personally, I left the show with no incentive to buy a set of clubs. That hasn’t happened very often.

Now, if the USGA really wants to something that may entice people to play more, they could broaden the parameters for conforming equipment for the higher handicappers and have different standards for different skill levels.

The highest handicappers could have the hottest equipment on the market. They will enjoy the game more and will probably play more often. Once they improve to the next level, their conforming equipment will be cooled off a bit and so on and so on until they reach the highest tolerances. A suggestion would be that once a golfer’s handicap reaches the next skill level, he/she won’t be able to fall back to a higher handicap group.

The pros of course will have the most difficult equipment setups.

Players would love the opportunity to make the game a little easier by not being held to the same demands facing Tiger Woods. Equipment companies would love it because as the players improve they’ll reconfigure what is in their bag.

Personally, I never thought I’d write or even think these thoughts, but given the state of the industry, the time has come for radical strategies.


There were two other notes of interest. Shortly before the show, McGregor was acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods. This gives the sporting goods giant control of Maxfli, Slazenger and McGregor. Given anyone of these, maybe not, but with all three Dick’s has entered the realm of a player in the industry. The good news is this might give Greg Norman, who’d taken over McGregor a little more than a year ago, time to practice and be ready for what might be his last charge for the Masters. Don’t fault Norman for this. His task to right the McGregor ship was more than Herculean in a good economic climate. In these days it was downright impossible.

If you’ve ever won an Irish crystal trophy at a golf event, it was most likely made by Waterford Crystal. They made crystal golf trophies an art form and greatly elevated the beauty of crystal in all products. Don’t count on crystal being handed to you in the winner’s circle this year. The Friday before the show they closed the doors of their Waterford, Ireland facility. They’re looking to sell, but will be fortunate to get pennies on the dollar.


Every year, I try to find a “Product of the Show.” This is a tongue-in-cheek award given to the company that exhibits a product that when walking down an aisle makes you come to a screeching halt to find out more about it.

Drum roll please! The 2009 winner is…Anti Monkey Butt Powder.

This breakthrough product provides golfers with relief from Monkey Butt, a sweaty condition that attacks the nether regions during both the heat of the competition and the day as well. It comes in pink for ladies and white for men. As an added bonus, Anti Monkey Butt Powder contains calamine for those real itchy days. Trust me, this is all true. I couldn’t make this up.

Bartender, please decant a fine brandy from my Irish crystal decanter for Greg, Parker and myself. We’ll toast the remains of the golf industry with the hope that those companies just hanging on will survive.

See you on the first tee,