Posted on: May 11, 2008 12:59 pm

Art of random selection

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Diversity, thy name is Dye.

Pete Dye, the celebrated architect of TPC Sawgrass was announced as a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee earlier this week and freely admitted that he has no idea why his most-infamous layout, host site of the Players Championship, annually creates such a wild leaderboard full of players with seemingly so little in common.

Beyond their prescribed total of 14 clubs in their respective bags, it's a complete melange of a cornucopia of a smorgasbord of a jigsaw puzzle of a bric-a-brac mix.

There are a variety of reasons we don't need to reiterate to explain the amalgamation, since we covered that ground in a story earlier this week, but heading into the final round on Sunday, has the board ever featured a more scattershot selection of PGA Tour players of various sizes, ages and physical capabilities?

Doubtful. It's almost absurdly diverse. Consider that of the 13 players tied for seventh or better:

* There's a 50-year-old, Bernhard Langer, who is seeking to become the eldest winner in event history. He's been playing for the past few months on the Champions Tour.

* There are four 40-somethings, including the two players in the final group, Paul Goydos and Kenny Perry. Fellow graybeards Greg Kraft, who began the year with limited exempt status, and Tom Lehman are also in the mix. Lehman turns 50 next spring.

* In continuing the 2008 youth theme in which five of the past six winners have been under age 30, a slew of 20-somethings, Sergio Garcia, Jeff Quinney and J.B. Holmes, are also among the leaders. Holmes is 24 years younger than Langer.

But more crazed, still, is the array of firepower the group represents. It's like howitzers against guys shooting spitwads. 

* Holmes, Garcia, Perry and Mickelson rank among the top 26 players on tour for length off the tee. 

* Goydos, the wise-cracking leader, doesn't have a muscle in his entire body and officially ranks third-to-last on the tour in driving distance, ahead of plinkers Fred Funk and Corey Pavin at a meager 265.2 yards a poke. Quinney ranks No. 182, ahead of only 14 players. Kraft hits it a not-so-mighty average of 258 yards but doesn't have enough rounds to rank in the computer. If he did, Kraft would rank second-to-last, in fact. Several LPGA players could blow it past all three of them.

And yet the aforementioned Funk is a past Players winner. So is Mickelson. Verybody playing well seemingly has a shot at the title on this comparatively shortish, tricky track.

Care to take a crack at projections a winner Sunday, because I have no eartly idea. Not a whiff of a sniff of a clue.




Category: Golf
Posted on: May 9, 2008 7:38 pm

Not old, just older

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Kenny Perry, even at age 47, has the soft hands of a jeweler.

Not to mention the quiet feet of a cat burglar.

Earlier this week, Perry attended a Bible study at the nearby home of Fred Funk, who won the vaunted Players Championship title three years ago at age 49, the oldest player ever to take homs the massive crystal trophy.

So when nobody was watching, Perry sneaked through Funk's abode looking for the latter's trophy room. He went straight for the Players trophy when he found it, too.

"I was definitely snooping," Perry laughed.

He might be wrapping his mitts around his own trophy at this pace, because if the older guard has creaky nerves, it's hardly showing. Of the four players atop the leaderboard, three are 43 or older, including 50-year-old Bernhard Langer, a refugee from the Champions Tour who is playing for the 23rd time at TPC Sawgrass.

Come to think of it, Langer attended the Funk get-together as well.

"I think it's the type of golf course where it doesn't hurt to have played it a bunch," Langer said.

Perry has played 20 times and made it to the weekend in all but five instances. Langer has played 23 times and missed the cut only twice. These two have been alive for a combined 98 years, 62 of them as professionals.

One of the big storylines of the year has been that eight players in their 20s have won PGA Tour titles, including five of the past six. But at Sawgrass, all those at-bats over the years can't hurt. 

"Experience plays some part," Langer said. "It's more of a golf course where precision is more important than length."










Category: Golf
Posted on: May 8, 2008 4:54 pm

Firm, fast and "too &*%$# hard"

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Mostly, players have raved about the summertime-flavored setup at the Players Championship.

After a sweeping course makeover before the tournament was played last year, the fairways and greens are firm and fast, and TPC Sawgrass was surrendering a smattering of good scores Thursday to those who had their games truly dialed in.

But some offered dissenting views after the first round, including 2006 winner Stephen Ames, who dropped a profane review of the course setup on a PGA Tour employee stationed near the scoring area.

Ames had nearly holed his tee shot on the fly on the par-3 17th, only to watch the ball bounce about six feet in the air and straight into the water hazard that surrounds the green. Afterward, he was asked how close the tee shot came to going in the hole on the fly.

Ames, who shot 74, held up a thumb and forefinger. As for an assessment of how the course played, he selected a different finger entirely, if you catch our drift.

"I have said all along, with the changes, this course was going to be borderline," he said of its fairness factor after the 2007 revisions. "And that's exactly what it is. The balls don’t even make pitchmarks on the green, they're so hard."

A handful of other players saw shots on the 17th carom off the green and into the water, including Matt Kuchar, whose ball bounced twice on the green, and still plopped into the lake.

Ames said his approach shot on the 18th landed 50 feet short of the pin, yet rolled all the way off the back of the green. As he stomped away from the scoring area, Ames spotted a tour employee and let loose some steam.

"It's too &*%$#+ hard," Ames said, within earshot of several reporters. "Go ahead, keep building courses like this."

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 8, 2008 11:58 am

News gets worse for Masters winner

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Trevor Immelman's lot in life has been easily described since he won the Masters title last month.

Aside from the perks of winning, it's been mostly awful.

For the second time in the past 13 months, Immelman came down with a stomach virus, forcing him to withdraw before the first round of the Players Championship on Thursday morning.

It was merely the latest personal speed bump since he slipped into the green jacket. Immelman took a week off after winning the Masters and then played at the Byron Nelson Championship, where he shot 78-75 to miss the cut. Of the 16 first-time major winners this decade, he was the first to miss the cut in his next start.

Last week at the Wachovia Championship, he shot 76-73 and also missed the weekend.

"Trevor is certainly disappointed with the timing of the illness, as the Players Championship is a tournament that he and all the players look forward to each year," said Jon Wagner, his agent. "His main focus now, though, is to use this time that he had previously scheduled off to get well and prepare himself for his next event."

Immelman, 28, returned home to Orlando, Fla., to recover. Last year before the Masters, Immelman came down with a bug and had to spend several hours in a hospital emergency room getting intravenous fluids, though he somehow managed to complete the entire tournament.

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 7, 2008 4:50 pm

Resurgent Tryon keeps on tryin'

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Hard to believe it's been seven years.

Back in the fall of 2001, teen phenom Ty Tryon turned the golf world upside down by navigating his way through three stages of PGA Tour Qualifying School to become the youngest player ever to earn exempt status on the world's toughest stage.

Ever since, the news has been mostly lean and leaner. He lost his card, played on the developmental Nationwide Tour for a while, burned through a few caddies, plenty of his endorsement earnings and has spent most of the past four years in anonymity on the South Florida mini-tours.

Through nobody's fault, really, he became the cautionary tale of why turning pro at a young age isn’t for everybody. For every PGA Tour standout like Sean O'Hair who makes it, tenfold others do not.

So when a mutual friend passed along an e-mail this week noting that Tryon had Monday-qualified for the Nationwide event in Fort Smith, Ark., the memories came flooding back. While plenty of tour pros questioned whether he was far too young to face the weekly rigors of the tour and the off-the-course travails of a traveling player, the kid had some skills and was close to fearless.

You don’t cruise through three levels of Q-School unless you have some game.

After some decidedly unproductive years, Tryon moved back to his native Orlando, Fla., a few months back and renewed ties with former trainer David Herman, who has worked with major championship winners Trevor Immelman, Suzann Pettersen, Se Ri Pak and Ernie Els over the years. Herman always considered himself a big brother to Tryon and was happy to have him back in the fold.

Herman said that Tryon, after being lost in the woods for a while, is serious about doing everything he can to rebuild his game and reputation. Tryon, who turns 24 next month, is now married and has a young child. Tryon shattered the typical golf template by turning pro while he was still in high school, skipping college.

"He's got his mindset back," Herman said Wednesday. "He's hungry again. When he talks about his career, he sounds really good."

Tryon shot 67 at Eagle Crest Golf Club to claim the 13th of 14 spots available in the Monday qualifier. He tees off at 2:10 p.m. at Hardscrabble Country Club in Fort Smith.

So, if you need somebody to root for this week, this could mark the beginning of one hellacious comeback story.


Category: Golf
Posted on: May 7, 2008 8:56 am

Save a course, whack a politician

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Excuse me, while I vent for a moment about developments in my former home state.

The news on two fronts from California is distressing, as it usually is when the whack jobs holding public office on the Left Coast start looking to balance budgets and begin pointing fingers of blame at perceived fiscal culprits.

According to separate news reports in San Francisco and San Diego, the two coastal cities are strongly considering turning over the management of their storied municipal golf courses to private firms as a cost-cutting measure.

The assumption is that it will cost taxpayers less money if somebody else runs the courses -- and almost certainly hikes prices -- although in San Francisco, where city-owned Harding Park will host the Presidents Cup next year, they also are considering shutting down courses completely to save taxpayers some dough.

I've had it with clueless politicians, a term that represents the biggest redundancy I have typed in months. My philosophical beef with the liberal tofu-eaters is this: Why is it that nobody ever gripes about how much the hiking trails, tennis courts, soccer fields, softball diamonds and basketball courts cost to maintain?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the six courses in that city cost $1 million in red ink, a drop in the bucket, really. Still, they have done the all-too-predictable: targeted the perceived rich white guys who play golf as the first place to make budget trims. Nevermind that millions of blue-collar types look to city courses for reasonable green fees and a place to take kids to learn the game.

The concept of the muni course is already as dead as the wound ball in this country. This type of thinking only hastens their demise. My point is, why is there a double-standard for this particular sport?

For some asinine reason, city and county governments expect golf courses to generate piles of revenue. No similar expectation is heaped on tennis courts, outdoor hoops or handball courts, soccer fields or softball venues. They eat money endlessly, but nobody complains.

Despite golf's reputation as a refuge solely for those with fat wallets, muni courses are filled with people of all hues and economic classes. Golf is no less a recreational activity than any of the aforementioned sports, yet it bears the brunt of the examination when cuts are necessary.

It's a dangerous proposition when elected officials charged with protecting civic jewels like Harding Park and Torrey Pines, site of the U.S. Open next month, start trying to prove that they are unafraid to take on the perceived elite who use the golf courses as their civic playground of choice.

Judge golf by the same metric as the other sports. You want to make a trim? Why don’t the butterfly-chasing politicos shut down the frisbee golf courses or horseback trails? Oh, that's right, those frivolous pursuits are expected to operate at a loss and thus are not given the same degree of suspicion and scrutiny.

Not that I have anything against horse trails, per se. The smell is the same as the one emanating from these two city council boardrooms.



Category: Golf
Posted on: May 1, 2008 4:21 pm

Time swings and whiffs

Time out, people.

LPGA superstar Lorena Ochoa has been named to Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world, a roll that is mostly strewn with movers and shakers from the entertainment and political scenes.

Ochoa was joined by Lance Armstrong and Andre Agassi as the lone athletes on the esteemed list, which is issued annually.

Yeah, that means one name is conspicuously absent.

While Ochoa's impact on the sport in her native Mexico has made her a rock star and her relatively new charitable organization has been a success, it's hard to believe that Tiger Woods, presumed to be the most-recognized athlete in the world, was somehow stiffed when it came time to hand out huzzahs.

We're nobody's apologist. Woods is forever being slammed for his lack of political activism, or for taking a stance on the social issues of the day, but he seemingly never gets credit for putting his money where his heart is.

Maybe the millions in personal income he's donated to the Tiger Woods Foundation don’t matter, nor his efforts with regard to schoolkids in the Target Start Something program, much less his attempts to include thousands of military personnel in his new PGA Tour event in Washington, D.C.

The edition hits newsstands May 2. In honor of the idiotic snub, I will be buying Newsweek instead.

Category: Golf
Posted on: April 30, 2008 5:33 pm

The wonderful world of Lefty

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Insert your own punchline here.

Or paunch line, as the case may be.

Phil Mickelson, who a few years ago caused more than a few media smirks when he explained how the 20 pounds of off-season muscle he had gained remained hidden under a layer of subcutaneous fat, on Wednesday dropped a comparably eyebrow-hiking story.

An even taller tale at that, perhaps?

Mickelson, at age 37, believes he has grown between a half-inch to an inch because of the workouts and stretching regimen he's been undergoing over the past few seasons.

The topic came up Wednesday at the Wachovia Championship when Mickelson said he has switched to a putter that is 1.5 inches longer in an effort to improve his putting woes, which have held him back since his hot start that included a win in Los Angeles and a playoff loss in Phoenix.

"I've known that I've become a half-inch, inch taller for a few years, but I just thought, gosh, I'm not putting well, and now is the time to make an adjustment if I'm going to go to a longer putter," he explained. "It's easier on my back as much as I practice putting. 

"So, given that I wasn't putting well, it just was easier to just start with it. So that's what I ended up doing when I came back and started working on it. I just started with a 35-inch putter rather than a 33½."

I'm certainly no exercise physiology expert, but is it possible that an athlete can grow in height, specifically if he has added a good bit of weight over the years? A quick, and highly unscientific Website search generated inconclusive results.

Then again, maybe his newfound height comes from those extra-long spikes Vijay Singh was complaining that Mickelson wore at the Masters a couple of years ago. 





Category: Golf
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