Friday, April 24, 2009

McIlroy says No Thanks to PGA Tour

When a 19-year old young man with a world of game decides he’s going to turn professional, he’s confronted with a myriad of choices. The decisions he’s forced to make could quite possibly be responsible for the success or failure thereof that will follow. Is this a fair burden for a teenager to bear? Probably not. Hey kid, welcome to the real world of professional golf.

In the past week, the PGA Tour offered a special membership to Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. To the surprise of many, he respectfully declined the offer. In this corner, the belief is that he showed wisdom and maturity beyond his years. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had the counsel of Tubby Chandler, golf’s super agent in the European theater.

Even though a player such as Mark O’Meara, a close friend of Tiger Woods, has said that McIlroy’s development is ahead of Woods at that age, Rory is staying home. At this stage of his career, it’s a wise move. He should get used to the professional routine on more familiar turf. There is a lot to learn. He has to learn how to travel and what is an effective practice routine as opposed to what is a realistic one. He’s much better off doing this near his support group than trying to get along alone some 4-5,000 miles away from home.

A decade ago, a 19-year old was faced with similar decisions and he choice was to be a world player. On the surface, it appears that Sergio Garcia made the right decision. He’s won seven times on the PGA Tour and eight times on the European Tour with his resume filled in with four more wins on other tours. He’s amassed a fortune in excess of $30 million. Yet, there are those and at times Sergio is among them that feel he has underachieved in some areas.

Garcia’s biggest win was the 2008 Players Championship in a playoff with Paul Goydos. The first thing he said in his acceptance speech was to thank Woods for not being there. Following a much less than stellar Masters this year, Sergio proceeded to blame the course and the setup for his lackluster play. Someone in his entourage wrote an apology that Sergio delivered and if you think this apology to Augusta was heartfelt, then when was the last time you heard Garcia use the word “iconic” when describing a golf course—or an icon for that matter?

I know it’s unfair, but in this day a professional golfer’s resume is judged by the number of majors won and not the body of work.

There is a school of thought that Garcia’s problems stem from the fact that he tried to do too much too early. This led him away from the progression of experience that includes building a mental toughness that deals effectively with adversity. His physical game has developed tremendously. His mental game…maybe not so much. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that can be the difference between winning and losing a major. Just ask Kenny Perry.

This brings us back to the shaggy, curly-haired Irish kid. McIlroy will play in the WGC events and maybe a selected few events around the three majors held in the U.S., but he will be a European Tour member first and foremost until his physical and mental development reaches the point where he can handle it comfortably. Rest assured that he’ll be here and that he’ll be a great performer when he does. It just won’t be right now.

Bartender, I’d love to buy a pint for Mr. McIlroy, but I don’t want to go to jail either, so please pour him a rock shandy (an Irish concoction of lemonade and orange soda). Also, the usual for Senor Garcia, a small wheel of Spanish cheese and a bottle of Spanish red whine.

See you on the first tee,


Monday, April 13, 2009

Masters brings intimacy between golfers and gallery

I guess it began two years ago. I actually started to lose interest in the Masters. They say it’s a tradition like any other although I never quite figured out the meaning of that phrase—until last Friday.

In the coverage of the final holes of Gary Player and Fuzzy Zoeller in the Masters, it finally hit me. The answer came from both Zoeller and Player and the galleries. There was an intimacy between the golfers and the people on the other side of the ropes that you don’t find in any other tournament.

I recalled walking the course with another writer during my first trip to the Masters in 1983. As we looked at the massive early week galleries and my friend pointed out that, if we came back the next day, the next year, or the next decade that the same people will be sitting in the same place. It was just what people did.

You’d have to think that after 52 years in Player’s case, or 31 in Zoeller’s case that they would recognize this as well. Because these two players in particular have never had an aversion to chatting with the galleries anywhere that the recognition factor would only heighten. No, these people weren’t just a collective gallery, they were friends of longstanding.

By the way, other players who normally wouldn’t say mud on a golf course even if they had a mouth full tend to be a bit more open at the Masters. I can tell you that you won’t find this two-way relationship at the other three majors. It’s easy to dismiss this by thinking that the reason is the Masters is played at the same course every year. That might be a contributing factor, but it’s certainly not the only one.

There really is an aura at Augusta National that breeds an intimacy between golf, golfers and fans that hasn’t been found anywhere else and most likely never will although it seemed that the tournament committee tried to quell it for the past two years by turning the course into a survival program.

This year, they gave the golfers, the galleries and the people glued to their TVs at home, the real Masters back. All they had to do was set up the course that was fair and they did. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Saturday night rain softened the greens. Everyone caught a break on Sunday when Tiger and Phil were paired together and both brought their “A” games. Another ingredient was that both were so far back, they had to fire at every pin. You can do that on a fair setup at Augusta National.

Yes, this Masters brought back memories of some of the best of all time and that was before Angel Cabrera two-putted for par on the second playoff hole. For me, the memories that will last forever occurred on Friday afternoon. The South African golfers who had already finished came back to the 18th green to greet Player for one last time. Trust me; you wouldn’t see this anywhere else.

Another was the greeting Fuzzy got at the 18th hole. From tee to green it was a steady wave of applause and cheering. By the time he and his daughter Gretchen who caddied for her father reached the green, both were unsuccessfully fighting back tears. As the TV camera panned the gallery it showed that many were having the same problem.

It’s that shared emotion found only at the Masters that makes it a tradition unlike any other.

Bartender, please have a single malt scotch delivered to Mr. Player and vodka and tonic delivered to Mr. Zoeller. They’ll both be on the balcony outside the champions locker room where they can now be found during the weekend of the first full week in April resting comfortably while their friends on both sides of the ropes will be celebrating the tournament that they helped build in the minds and hearts of golfers everywhere.

See you on the first tee.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Not even Tiger is bigger than the game...

I’ve got to admit it. I am somewhat an Internet junkie. Sports (golf in particular) sites are of special interest. I’m particularly fond of, although after this morning, not so much.

While I’m not in the habit of writing critiques of other writer’s work, this morning a column typed by Michael Walker, Jr. Senior Editor of Golf Magazine caused me to burp uncomfortably. Mr. Walker proudly proclaimed that Tiger Woods is bigger than the game of golf.

I take exception to that statement and not in a casual way. This is not a new theory by the way. There are a lot of pundits who echo Mr. Walker’s feelings and they all seem to have a definite commonality. They share one very definite trait. None of them have as much as one gray hair. We can also add that none of them EVER saw Jack Nicklaus in his prime. By the way, the writers of Jack’s era never and I mean never would dare write that the Golden Bear was bigger than the game of golf. Writers of that time certainly had their faults, but shortsightedness wasn’t one of them.

Everyone gushes over the TV ratings when Tiger plays. The TV networks go so far overboard that if Tiger is playing on the weekend, in contention or not, their focus is on him. Forget the leaders. God forbid they should cover the story of the tournament. I might also add that the only place where a human could possibly have a lower profile than the Witness Protection Program is to be the third member of the threesome in the final group on Sunday with Tiger near the top.

This is not to say that Tiger isn’t a great golfer. The numbers confirm his status. However, and I can’t say this enough, he’s not the greatest of all time—yet. He may well become the greatest of all time if his health holds up. After numerous knee injuries, that’s not a guarantee. It’s a probability, but certainly not a guarantee. Having said that, he will NEVER be bigger than the game. No one ever has and no one ever will.

There have been stars before Tiger who’s reputation in the game was at least the equal of Tiger during their era. Sam Snead and Byron Nelson were two of the greatest players of all time, yet the dominant player of their era was Ben Hogan. I’m not going to go off on a tangent about what Hogan could have done had he not been in a near fatal car crash. The fact is, he was in an accident and that fact can’t be changed. When you think about it, that fact enhances Hogan’s lore. His accomplishments post-crash speak volumes about his dominance.

Speaking of dominance, Young Tom Morris dominated the British Open to the point where other players wouldn’t play if he was entered. Was he bigger than the game? No, and his father was credited with the reinvention of the game and he wasn’t bigger than the game either.

People cite TV ratings as the true measuring stick. Truth is, if it wasn’t for the charisma of Arnold Palmer golf on TV may have been delayed for years.

As a final point, if Tiger is in fact bigger than the game, why haven’t people flocked to golf courses to try the game he’s mastered? They haven’t, even in better financial times, they stayed away. Folks, Tiger is a great player, but bigger than the game? It hasn’t happen yet and it never will.

Bartender, please pour a shot of Sodium Pentothal for Mr. Walker and a goblet of nectar of the gods for Mr. Woods and add a dose of humility as well. He doesn’t need it, but an ounce of prevention can keep him from believing some of the drivel being written about him.

See you on the first tee.