Today (Aug 31, 2013) marks my birthday and what I would call my 20th anniversary of “playing” the game of golf. It was 20 years ago today–on my ninth birthday–that my dad gave me my first “set” of clubs. It was a Northwestern Golf kids set which included a bulls-eye style putter, a driver and a 3-wood that I think had plastic as part of their crowns and probably were no bigger than a very small hybrid by today’s standards, as well as a 3-iron, 5-iron, 7-iron, and 9-iron (because a kid with a 45-mph swing speed needs a 3-iron, right?). Once I had gotten into my teens, my father actually sold that set–much to my chagrin, as now I have a small child and would love to have been able to pass along the memories to him.

As I embark on my next 20 years of golf, it amazes me how much things have changed in the game. When I started, golf was a hobby taken up by generally upper-middle class white men–and that was basically it. I was one of the lucky few who, although not upper-class, was guided by a few well-meaning individuals in my life to start this beautiful game. None of them could play worth a spit, but that didn’t matter–they enjoyed the time. My Dad had the good sense not to try to teach me a golf swing; instead, he brought home magazines from work that I would spend hours reading and trying out all the “tips” within. Back then, irons were either blades or PINGs (or “clones”). Woods were actually made of wood. If you used the word “hybrid” on the golf course someone would’ve thought you were from outer space. Everyone had an Odyssey Rossie with the black face insert, and we were just finding out about this guy named Scotty Cameron.

Twenty years later, everything is different. Clubs are commodities to be replaced and resold year after year. People actually get financially invested in golf clubs–particularly putters–to the tune of multiple thousands of dollars. Where before the “long” hitters could bang it out there 275 yards, nowadays you’re a short knocker if you’re under 300. Most of the people I play with have never even heard the word “balata,” and if I talk about a spoon they’ll think it’s utensil to go with breakfast. The diversity of the game has changed too. We’ve seen an influx of all types of people who want to learn this game, and, to some degree, an outflow of those who either thought it wasn’t worth the time or wasn’t worth the money for the interest level–both of which are good for the game.

Through it all, what hasn’t changed is the meaning of the game. Twenty years after I got “my first set,” I still look forward to what a day on the course means. It’s a reprieve from what else life has going on. It’s a chance to get to know someone and see how that person deals with both success and adversity–as you will without a doubt see both in any round of golf. It’s a chance to test your own competitive skills while finding out if you can maintain your composure under fire. It’s a chance to do something you’ve never done before.

I still look forward to my rounds with the same people I had twenty years ago. Four hours on the course with Dad is still four hours well spent, no matter how many balls he deposits into the abyss of trees and water hazards. Four hours listening to Uncle Jimmy talk about what’s going on in each of his grandchildren’s lives is still a priceless experience. Even playing a scramble here and then, I still think back to the 2-day scramble tournament my father and I would drive 9-hours to get to–and the year I was FINALLY allowed to play in it and, as the B-player, became the team’s anchor (over the A-player) by the 5th hole.

For all the time, money, energy, effort, and soul I’ve given to the game, it’s given me so much more than I’ve put in. Not only has it given me two jobs–one perhaps my dream job–it has given me a sense of how the world operates, an ability to interact and connect with others, and a lifetime of memories. There was any of the 5 aces that I’ve hit (will be covered in a later topic on this series), the magic 4-iron, the 8-iron through the window in the sky, or the 385-yard drive. There was Pebble Beach, Glen Abbey, Wolf Creek (and again, again, and again until I FINALLY broke 80!), Torrey, and Lake Chabot. There was Meadow Lane and Indiana Country Club with Unk and Nay. The was Atlanta International, Southland, and how Korean Air destroyed them. There was a best friend who broke two hosels in the same round, and another best friend who dared a bit too much during a range session. There was a broken ankle, a broken collar bone, and a scratched thumb. There was even a full-on threat to “beat you into the ground” from a muscular Jamaican wielding a 3-iron over his head.

For all the places life has taken me, golf has been there. I’m thankful for the time it’s given me and the joy I’ve received. I can’t wait to show my kids what the game is about.

It was said by the great Ben Hogan that “there’s golf, and then there’s tournament golf.” Amateur and pro alike have experienced the phenomenon. You can play any course on earth and, given the day, shoot within a few shots of your handicap. Play it 10 times and you might have one bad round, maybe 7 or 8 shots over your handicap. You’ll also have a few good ones, maybe 2 shots better than your handicap.

But play it in a tournament, and the world ends. Stuff happens that NEVER happens on a golf course. You see problems on the course that you’ve never noticed before. Fairways that were once wide and inviting now feel narrow and impossible to strike. You try to play a fade and it turns into a slice. You hit a provisional, try to hit the same shot, and it hooks.

Basically, Ben Hogan was right.

I played this week in the USGA’s United States Mid-Amateur qualifying tournament. Although my handicap still reads 1.2, I’m probably not better than about a 4 handicap on any given day. Still, I wanted to play even though I didn’t think I’d have much chance of competing. +1 was the final qualifying score.

I shot……87.

As a 1.2 handicap, this is an abysmal score.

Not only that, I really wasn’t that upset with it!

The first part of it is that I hadn’t played golf in awhile. This was my first round in over a month, so the rust was definitely there. I hit 6 GIR on the day and made two birdies, which is not bad. But the poor swings came out in odd spots, and the chipping just was nonexistent.

But a few things about my round got me thinking, which is the source of this post. During my round at the Mid-Am, a player declared a ball lost, taking the penalty, only to find it again later on the day….twice. On the first, we looked for 5 minutes then found the ball while walking to the provisional; the second time, the ball was STUCK IN A TREE and actually fell out of the tree when we came back around playing the adjacent hole. Neither of these happened to me.

It also got me thinking about my personal record in tournament golf, which is….not so good. In fact, it’s quite bad. But what is odd is the way that it’s bad.

You see, I’m a great starter, can be a good player in the middle, but am a lowsy finisher.

Over the course of the last 3 years (2011-2013), I have played in 17 amateur-level competitions. Taking the first hole from each tournament, I am -3 over 17 “first” holes–and that includes a triple-bogey. However, over each round, I’m an AVERAGE of +12.6, and a collective +214. Here are the tournaments (please bear with the formatting, as WordPress doesn’t handle it well).

 

Date------||Hole1||Score||Result|| Course || Tournament
05/09/2011 || -1 || +12 || DNQ || Dunwoody CC || US Open Qual
06/06/2011 || +3 || +05 || Qual || The Frog || Atlanta Open Qual
06/13/2011 || +1 || +21 || DNQ || Atlanta National || Georgia Am Qual
07/11/2011 || EE || +04 || DNQ || Cartersville CC || Georgia Open Qual
07/19/2011 || -1 || +10 || DNQ || Capital City Crabapple || US Am Qual
08/29/2011 || EE || +15 || DNQ || Brickyard at Riverside || US Mid Am Qual
10/06/2011 || EE || +13 || DNQ || Rivermont || Atlanta Am
04/09/2012 || EE || +29 || DNQ || Berkeley Hills CC || Georgia Mid Am Qual
06/11/2012 || EE || +08 || DNQ || Mystery Valley || US Am Pub Links Qual
06/11/2012 || EE || +07 || DNQ || Mystery Valley || US Am Pub Links Qual
07/24/2012 || -1 || +11 || DNQ || Piedmont Driving Club || US Am qual
08/06/2012 || EE || +08 || DNQ || St. Ives CC || US Mid Am Qual
10/04/2012 || EE || +18 || DNQ || Rivermont || Atlanta Am
04/08/2013 || EE || +08 || Qual || Berkeley Hills CC || Georgia Mid Am Qual
05/13/2013 || -2 || +17 || DNQ || Marietta Coutnry Club || US Open Qual
05/17/2013 || -1 || +13 || Championship || Savannah Golf Club || Georgia Mid Am
08/21/2013 || -1 || +15 || DNQ || La Costa Resort || US Mid Am Qual

ARE YOU SEEING THIS PF FANS? Amazingly, what was perhaps my best round (+5) started with a 4-PUTT triple bogey, but led to 5 birdies and a qualification for a local PGA event.

What is it about tournament golf? Take the first hole and put it together. Over 17 holes I’ve managed to shoot a good enough score to put myself in contention in basically any tournament at -3. But it breaks down.

I think part of this is the riddle of golf that we all need to understand and figure out. The challenge of competitive golf is that it gives a player a new facet to a game with so many great angles as it is. For those who have mastered or nearly mastered the game, tournament play is a new challenge to excite.

As you can see, I’m still learning how to be truly competitive, but I am loving the challenge. If anyone out there wants to help me understand it, please, go ahead in the comments below.

Updated with actual 8/11/2013

1 — -10 — Jason Dufner
2 — -8 — Jim Furyk
3 — -7 — Henrik Stenson
4 — -6 — Jonas Blixt
T5 — -5 — Scott Piercy
T5 — -5 — Adam Scott
7 — -4 — David Toms
T8 — -3 — Jason Day
T8 — -3 — Zach Johnson
T8 — -3 — Dustin Johnson
T8 — -3 — Rory McIlroy
T12 — -2 — Graeme McDowell
T12 — -2 — Boo Weekley
T12 — -2 — Marc Leishman
T12 — -2 — Roberto Castro
T12 — -2 — Marc Warren
T12 — -2 — Kevin Streelman
T12 — -2 — Steve Stricker

Yep, that’s right. Tiger’s return to the winner’s circle. JK takes the title for the Open Championship, but let’s see him top these picks. Here they are, folks:

LG:
Winner: Tiger Woods -Nope, DUFNER!
Winning Score: -10, Dead on! 
Runner Up: Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, close though! 
Low PGA Professional: Bob Sowards, nope, but none of them made the cut, and my guy beat JK’s by a shot, so I’m calling it a win.
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Jason Kokrak, nope.  Only person that would have qualified would be Jonas Blixt
Last Year’s Winner (Rory) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Make the Cut, correct, but also Top 10.
The Master’s Winner (Scott) Will: Make the Cut, correct, but also Top 5.
The US Open Winner (Rose) Will: Top 10, incorrect – T33
The Open Champion (Philly) Will: Make Cut, Correct – T72
How many prior winners will be in the Top 10: 2, Correct!  David Toms and Rory
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it? Tiger dominates. Possible 63 watch. 1/2 right, 63 watch was correct, and Dufner definitely won it.
What will be the biggest story of the tournament? Duh.. , #dufnering
Tiger Woods will: Win. wrong – Duf!
Zach Johnson will: Top 10, Correct! T8
Steve Stricker will: Miss Cut, sadly., incorrect – T12
Dustin Johnson will: Make Cut, correct, but also T8
Woody Austin will: Miss Cut, correct – 4 strokes for having 15 clubs didn’t help much either…
Gary Woodland will: Make Cut, CORRECT, Taking down solo 74th.
Shaun Micheel (last PGA winner at Oak Hill) will: [[LG to supply answer before tournament starts]] I didn’t see this one earlier, but definitely would have said MC.
Who is most likely to “Jason Dufner” it on the 17th hole on Sunday? Jason Dufner, well we’re going to have to redefine this term, but Dufner was the only person who had a chance to blow it today.  Well done, Jason.

JK:
Winner: Hunter Mahan, Incorrect – T57
Winning Score: -6, Incorrect – -10.
Runner Up: Tiger Woods, Incorrect – Furyk.
Low PGA Professional: Rod Perry, see above.  LG takes down the W here.
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Rod Perry (a la Mark Brooks, maybe?), Definitely not.  
Last Year’s Winner (Rory) Will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Miss the cut, Incorrect – T8.
The Master’s Winner (Scott) Will: Top 10, Correct! 
The US Open Winner (Rose) Will: Make the Cut, Correct! 
The Open Champion (Philly) Will: Make the Cut, Correct! 
How many prior winners will be in the Top 10: 4, Incorrect – 2.
Will someone win it, or will everyone else lose it? Mahan plays solid while everyone else falls away, Definitely not. 
What will be the biggest story of the tournament? Mahan gave away victory for his baby–he wins the big one, Definitely not. 
Tiger Woods will: T-2, Incorrect.
Zach Johnson will: Miss cut, Incorrect – T10.
Steve Stricker will: Miss Cut, Incorrect – T12.
Dustin Johnson will: Top 15, I’m not sure this is a valid category, but correct! 
Woody Austin will: Miss Cut, Correct! 
Gary Woodland will: Make Cut, Correct! 
Shaun Micheel (last PGA winner at Oak Hill) will: Not even sniff the cut., Correct! 
Who is most likely to “Jason Dufner” it on the 17th hole on Sunday? Jason Dufner, See above.

From the PowerFade team, Congrats, Jason.  Though your winning reaction was not as great as your grabbing your wife’s rear end after the win, we’re still amazed by the ball-striking display you put on.  

 

 

Tiger’s Greatness

August 5, 2013

As we turn the page on another Tiger Woods march to victory, I find it increasingly important to examine what we have witnessed. Greatness at a game that demands perfection is simply inspiring. So let’s start by taking a moment to soak in what we just witness. Tiger Woods just put one of the most important tournaments of the year (Firestone) on ice by shooting 61 on Friday, scaring 59 and breaking the course record, rendering the final two days a mere victory lap.

Lost in the shuffle of Tiger’s recent major drought is that his greatness had seemingly waned, so much so that, when I passed a TV on Friday and saw his round in progress, I assumed it was a flashback to a prior year. “The Tiger we have now doesn’t dominate tournaments anymore,” I thought. “Sure he wins Bay Hill and Memorial every year, but he needs outrageous flop shots and heroic putts to win.”

We’ve lost sight.

Tiger has won more than 1/4 tournaments in which he has played. He’s won five times this year. But we all think he’s not what he once was because he’s finished second and third in majors more times than most of his peers have made the cut.

It’s time to take a step back and admire what we’re seeing. The night before Phil Mickelson choked away the US Open for the sixth time, I sent LG a text reminding him that, no matter what you think of Phil, he is one of the all timers.

We’ve lost sight of what these players have given us. Let’s take a moment to appreciate it all.