No reasonable golfer would ever choose to live in an area that for half the year is ungolfable.  After spending the majority of one winter in Detroit, I am only further entrenched this view, but with maybe one small caveat.  Below is photographic evidence of this craziness in real life.

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If it wasn’t obnoxious, I’d repost the same image again just for emphasis.

Rather than move to a place with real sunshine and grass, someone decided this was a better idea.  The above image comes from the heated tees at a golf shop in Bloomfield Hills, MI.  This Sunday was the warmest day of the winter thus far, registering a balmy 37 F on the comically large thermometer next to the range.  I wasn’t the only hacker who decided to take advantage of the “sunshine.”  Indeed, I waited for patiently for 35 minutes to get one of 40 or so mats that were all teeming with eager beavers shanking away.  It was one of the few times I can say I was actually happy waiting in line because it was the first time I’d even heard a golf ball being hit in over a month.  All of this being said, the conditions on the heated tees were actually very nice.  Despite the tundra in front of me, It got so warm under the heaters that I had to take off my jacket and sweater!  I was never worried about my hands being cold, but the range balls were a different story.

Range balls have their own inherent issues – limited ball flight, low compression, but in these conditions the balls and air are so cold that distances and, indeed, ball flight become all but irrelevant.  Sure, the direction still tells you something about your swing path, but spin (peak height), compression (ballspeed), and general body temperature all become somewhat fluid and not meaningfully measurable in these conditions.  There was a kind of serene obliviousness to hitting balls this way.  Who cares where it lands?  I’m not going to see it anyway.  The targets are basically meaningless.  Honestly, I’m more concerned with just making sure the balls I’m hitting are not so frozen that they’re going to crack the hosels on my SLDR irons.

100 balls in, I find the bottom of my swing.  I’ll blame that on the conditions too.  But after the next 100, I feel as though I’ve had one of the best range sessions I’ve had in the last 6 months.  Why, you ask?

The conditions forced me to detach from my (totally unreasonable) expectations of my golf game.  Once I realized that I wasn’t going to see the ball land, that my 7 iron wasn’t going to go 165 yards, that my driver wasn’t going to rise beautifully to 2.5x the height of the net at the back of the range, and that generally any expectations I have of those things happening with any regularity were probably just as ill conceived, it became much easier to focus on the one thing that I actually could control and measure – contact.  Focusing purely on the quality of the contact I was producing for 100 balls did wonders for my confidence and allowed me to test various setup positions and tweaks to see how I could adjust this one facet of my game.

Focusing on a single measurable and focusing on improving that one element of my game was far more satisfying and likely helpful to my game than worrying about a host of interrelated issues and results.  The snow helped me realize a truth about practice I hear all the time, but rarely act upon in my own game: focus on one measurable at a time.  I hope the lesson sticks, but who ever heard of digging their game out of the snow?

-LG

Bonus:

If you’re a true PF-er, you might understand why this photo makes JK and myself crack up every time we see it:

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Conversation: US Open Venues

February 12, 2015

The US Open. Golf’s hardest test. Every year, the USGA sets out to create a venue that is so difficult that it tests the minds and patience of the greatest players in the game. According to the USGA, the goal “isn’t to embarrass the best players in the world.”

“It’s to identify them.”

Now, many golfers and golf fans have differing definitions of what’s the “best.” Everyone’s definition of what’s “best” is subjective. But “best,” at least in the context of America’s National Championship of Golf, can at least partially be quantified by how difficult the golf course is. So we here at the PF got thinking–what is the “best” (read, “hardest”) venue for the US Open?

Since the 1940s, the US Open’s winner shot +7 four times. But three of those events were in the 1950s, and the last one (the massacre of 1974) led the USGA to the conclusion that the course really was just too hard. (see http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/usopen06/news/story?id=2475245). Because of this, we use 1974 as the cut line for “modern” golf, as it represents a place where the focus of the USGA shifted just a bit, but enough to matter.

Importantly, the venues that hosted these high-numbered events (Merion, Oakland Hills, Olympic Club, and Winged Foot) have all seen US Opens since (Oakland Hills and Merion actually saw higher numbers in 1924 (+9, Oakland Hills) and 1934 (+13, Merion), but those were considered by the PF to be too old to include).

Since Hale Irwin’s win in the 1974 US Open at Winged Foot, there have been six US Opens where the winner had a score greater than even par. Those were
1975 – Medinah (Lou Graham, +3)
1978 – Cherry Hills (Andy North, +1)
2006 – Winged Foot (Goeff Ogilvy, +5)
2007 – Oakmont (Angel Cabrera, +5)
2012 – Olympic Club (Webb Simpson, +1)
2013 – Merion (Justin Rose, +1)

There have also been five instances where the winner’s score was E
1979 – Inverness (Hale Irwin)
1995 – Shinnecock Hills (Corey Pavin)
1998 – Olympic Club (Lee Janzen)
2005 – Pinehurst (Michael Campbell)
2010 – Pebble Beach (Graeme McDowell)

When reviewing the list of courses, several obvious ones jump out. Oakmont, being consistently known as a punishing layout, and Merion, recent site of the 2013 US Open that tested some of the best that showcased how a “short” (by TOUR standards) course could still be incredibly punishing. But it also bears mentioning that Olympic Club made both lists.

So, we looked back at some of these courses to see their history.

Medinah hosted twice since 1974 (just once before)
1990 – Hale Irwin, -8
1975 – Lou Graham, +3

Cherry Hills had only the one US Open in 1978 (twice before 1974)
1978 – Andy North, +1

Winged Foot hosted the 1974 massacre, and then once since, but notably has also hosted the PGA Championship (e.g., when DL III won his only major)
1984 – Fuzzy Zoeller, -4

Oakmont hosted the US Open 3 times since 1974 (and four times prior).
2007 – Angel Cabrera, +5
1994 – Ernie Els, -5
1983 – Larry Nelson, -4

Olympic Club has hosted 3 US Opens since 1974 (and twice before)
2012 – Webb Simpson, +1
1998 – Lee Janzen, E
1987 – Scott Simpson, -3

Merion hosted just two events since 1974 (although one of the three prior Merion US Opens included Ben Hogan’s famous 1-iron shot from the 18th fairway, which secured him a victory at +7)
2013 – Justin Rose, +1
1981 – David Graham, -7

of the “E” courses……
Inverness just had the one

Shinnecock has had 3
2004 – Retief Goosen, -4
1995 – Corey Paven, E
1986 – Raymond Floyd, -1

Olympic has already been covered

Pinehurst has hosted three times, but under grandly different course circumstances for each of the three, with MAJOR redesigns between all of them.
2014 – Martin Kaymer, -9
2005 – Michael Campbell, E

Pebble Beach
2010 – Graeme McDowell, E
2000 – Tiger Woods, -12
1992 – Tom Kite, -3
1982 – Tom Watson, -6

So, based on scoring alone…..there’s really no winner. All of the courses mentioned have had hard Opens and relatively easier Opens.

But winning score really can’t be used as a measure of how difficult the course was. For example, when Martin Kaymer won at Pinehurst, the only two other players under par were both at -1, and the next best player was at +1. In another example, Tiger Woods shot -12 at the US Open in 2000, but no other player was better than +3. And, it would be rather unfair to judge the 2000 US Open by Tiger’s (at the time) scoring record-breaking performance–literally the best golfer in the game playing the best golf of his career at the best time of his career.

Instead of looking at winning scores (which seem to be all over the board), let’s look at scoring average, as this more closely matches what would be an appropriate measure of difficulty.

Shockingly, the scoring average for US Opens is not an easily achievable statistic. For what we were able to find, the list is included below:

and, for the sake of preserving the data, it’s included in quote below

Year | Name | Course | Location | Average | Par | +/-
2014 | Martin Kaymer | Pinehurst Resort, Course No. 2 | Pinehurst, North Carolina | 73.23 | 70 | 3.23
2013 | Justin Rose | Merion Golf Club, East Course | Ardmore, Pennsylvania | 74.31 | 70 | 4.31
2012 | Webb Simpson | Olympic Club, Lake Course | San Francisco, California | 73.85 | 70 | 3.847
2011 | Rory McIlroy | Congressional Country Club, Blue Course | Bethesda, Maryland | 73.00 | 71 | 2.002
2010 | Graeme McDowell | Pebble Beach Golf Links | Pebble Beach, California | 74.98 | 71 | 3.979
2009 | Lucas Glover | Bethpage State Park, Black Course | Farmingdale, New York[N 1] | 72.93 | 70 | 2.9286
2008 | Tiger Woods (3) | Torrey Pines Golf Course, South Course | La Jolla, California[N 2] | 74.73 | 71 | 3.725
2007 | Ángel Cabrera | Oakmont Country Club | Oakmont, Pennsylvania | 75.72 | 70 | 5.72
2006 | Geoff Ogilvy | Winged Foot Golf Club, West Course | Mamaroneck, New York | 75.98 1st round | 76.933 2nd day | |

When we examine the data available (and, I’ll admit, there isn’t much), Oakmont is far and away the most difficult course of the last 8 years. 2006 would be a great one to compare to 2007, but we don’t have enough data. Merion would be next at +4.31, and (as that round is in pretty recent memory) the players indicated as such during the tournament, with many complaining that it was “unfair.” By the numbers, Pebble Beach was harder in 2010 than Olympic Club in 2012–and, even with Tiger’s incredible performance in 2000, my guess would be that the numbers would support the 2000 US Open as being harder than the 2010 US Open.

However, just on gut, I personally have always believed that Oakmont is the quintessential US Open venue. It’s insanely long even by TOUR standards, has punishingly difficult hills, has insanely undulating and fast greens, and insanely long rough. And–according to the data–the numbers bear it out.

Any thoughts from our readers? LG?

January 12, 2011.

That’s when ThePowerFade posted this article debating a topic that was much talked about at the time. The topic, like so often is the case with the world of golf, revolved around Tiger Woods. At the time, Tiger was just a few years removed from the man-on-a-mission-and-a-bum-knee victory at the 2008 US Open. He had had temporary setbacks, but nothing indicated long-term that Tiger would face the kind of recurring injury and failure to “put it together” that he’s seen over the last four years. At the time, Tiger–just four shy of Jack–was in position still to catch Jack–at least, that’s what LG and I argued.

But four years did pass. In those four years, Tiger has had some tremendous runs. He first ditched Haney, went with Sean Foley, then ditched Foley. He had 5 wins in 2013, two of which were WGC championships, was #1 on the money list, and regained the world #1 ranking. To be sure, he still has the ability to beat the best.

Which is what makes this topic all too frustrating. Tiger’s measure of his own success has been and always will be how he stacks up in majors. Sure, he is proud of having won 79 of his 316 TOUR starts (That’s winning 25%, or one out of every four tournaments he’s entered). But the injuries that took him out of most of 2014 and are now creeping back up in 2015–plus his seeming inability to turn it on when he needs to in major championships–has us revisiting this question: will Tiger catch Jack?

And, at this point, I think the answer has changed to “no” for the same reason that it was a “yes” in 2011. Math.

Tiger Woods is now 39 years old. If he stays in good shape, he has 7-8 more good years of competitive golf left (look at Mickelson, who still competes at 44). But that assumes he won’t be hurt, and, as I type this, Tiger has just pulled out of the Farmer’s Open at Torrey Pines (one of his favorite venues–and, ironically, site of that 2008 US Open where it all started). However, even if Tiger Woods were to have a full 8 years on the Tour, he’d only have 32 major opportunities left in which to achieve 4 major victories (to tie) or 5 major victories (to overtake). That means Tiger has to win 1/8 (once every two years) to tie, and has to do better to overtake. Now, in 2011, I said “if he just wins twice in three years, he’ll overtake Jack by 2016.” Well, it’s the start of 2015, and Tiger has hardly sniffed a major championship since I wrote that in 2011 (two T4s in The Masters (2011/2013) and a T3 and T6 at The British Open (2012/2013), but he wasn’t really in contention in either). The other caveat is that, when making those projections in 2011, that was a “likely case” scenario, with potential other scenarios in which Tiger could overtake Jack. With this analysis, this is the ONLY way Tiger could do it.

And, frankly, the talent out there with Tiger is better these days. Rory McIlroy seems to just find grooves sometimes where he’s an unstoppable force (and, other grooves where he can’t find the face of the club, but let’s not focus on that now). Aside from him, unfocused Dustin Johnson has enough talent to win a major without trying. Bubba Watson is a double Masters champion in just a few years, and seems like he’s figured out something about Augusta that no one else has. Martin Kaymer can obliterate a field of the best of the world when his game is buttoned up. And, then there’s Mickelson, who just never seems to go away. Throw in all the other players who have a ton of potential and are just waiting in the wings to pick up their first majors (e.g., Rickie Fowler, Jordan Speith, Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Sergio Garcia, et. al) and the guys who have won majors and could easily threaten for another (e.g., Justin Rose, Oosthuizen, Dufner, Charl Schwartzel, etc.), and Tiger’s competition just seems to get better and better.

At this point, I certainly hope I’m wrong. Golf needs Tiger to come back and dominate. But, I really don’t think I am. In early 2015, it’s time to call a spade a spade. Tiger will not break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major wins.