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Archive for February, 2013

Jack’s “Bear Trap” Has a Big Bite

February 28th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

The very deep field at the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic boasts Rory and Tiger and plenty of the best golfers in the world.  The draw is partly the course as the Champions Course at PGA National fits the bill with professionals that “want to beat the best on the best courses.”

Also, dozens of PGA Tour pros make their home in and around the Palm Beach area.  The original Palm Beach Professional, Jack Nicklaus has spent most of his professional life there and his community involvement and reworking of The Champions Course all contribute to the very elite status of the Honda Classic.

Plenty of talk surrounds the water laden stretch called the Bear Trap.  Holes fifteen, sixteen and seventeen prove to be one of the toughest stretches on the PGA Tour.  But it’s just two par threes sandwiched around a par four.  How bad can it be?

Well according to Jack the trap loses its bite without the wind.  “If you take those three holes without wind, they are not really particularly difficult holes.  It didn’t turn out at all what I intended it to. I thought it would be nice little speedy holes and it turned out to be a Bear Trap.”

Listen to Jack describe these “benign” holes and you would think that the pros have nothing to worry about when they enter the Bear Trap.  But history shows that’s not the case as this stretch always takes a toll on the players.

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Munoz Leads at LPGA’s HSBC Women’s Champions

February 28th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

The LPGA’s Azahara Munoz started the day in the first group at the HSBC Women’s Champions and finished the day at the top of the leaderboard.  Munoz carded a 7 under, bogey free 65 for a two stroke lead over a star studded leaderboard.azahara_munoz

Munuz was happy with her round, “I played pretty good. I hit a lot of fairways.  When I didn’t, I still hit the greens.  I feel the key today, I hit a lot of really good second shots so I gave myself a lot of opportunities, and then obviously I converted a lot of them.”

Five players are tied for second two strokes behind Munoz including major winners Stacey Lewis and Sun Young Yoo.  Paula Creamer who shook off the effects of her recent car accident is three strokes off the lead at 4 under as is world number one Yani Tseng .  Tseng looks to have started the new season close to being on form.  She is looking to rebound from a disappointing end to 2012 when after three early season victories she failed to win on tour for the next seven months.

Mike Whan and his charges at the LPGA Tour have just released the LPGA 2013 Player Guide.  It’s full of stats and facts on all the tour players.  It’s fun and easy to navigate through the magazine form guide.  Click here and give it a try.

The Golf Channel will have taped first round coverage at 12:30pm EST.

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Frank Hannigan Spanks Finchem, Tour Players & USGA

February 27th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Tim Finchem’s Sunday matinee at the Match Play has resulted in the anchoring debate becoming the number one topic in golf.  That may be just what the Commish wanted but he has now put himself and the PGA Tour right in the crosshairs of the argument.

Geoff Shackelford publishes a letter from former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan who spares no one with his sharp tongued commentary.  Finchem is called out for his public rebuke of the USGA.  The PGA Tour Players are spoiled and selfish and his former comrades at the USGA are inept and a victim of their own antiquated bylaws.

It’s a damming indictment of all the involved parties and coming from such a seasoned voice as Hannigan it should carry some weight.

This situation is quickly becoming a public fiasco that will do no one, the PGA Tour, the USGA, the average player and most importantly the game itself any good at all.

Letter from Saugerties                                                                                    February 27,2013

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem gets away with murder.

During his endless interviews throwing the USGA under the bus last weekend on the anchoring issue, nobody asked him the right question: when did you first know that the USGA was moving in the direction of a ban on anchoring and what did you say in reaction?

The PGA Tour is represented at USGA Rules of Golf committee meetings by an employee named Tyler Dennis. It is surely his job to tell Finchem where the USGA is heading. My point is this: Finchem last year, long before the USGA made known its position on anchoring, could have stopped the movement cold by telling the USGA and/or the R&A at the British Open that he did not know how his members would react to a ban on anchoring.

The USGA exists to offer a set of rules that it believes make sense, accompanied by an argument that the game is best served if those rules are broadly accepted. Nobody has to buy that argument but virtually everybody does.  As former USGA Executive Director David Fay once said, “We govern by all the power not vested in us.”

Albeit unhappily, the USGA recognizes that the influence of the PGA Tour is enormous because golfers think what they see on television is the genuine article. This has been so since the 1960s when the Tour was first invited to participate in the rules making process.  The consequence has been worldwide uniformity, a most unlikely achievement given the money and egos of modern golf.

The USGA would never have moved to ban anchoring had it known the Tour would diverge. The average male golfer has about a 17 handicap and struggles to break 100.  Do you think the USGA cares what method he uses to putt?  Hypothesize that anchoring had somehow caught on in everyday golf but was used by no Tour players. There is no chance the rules would have been changed.

Finchem evidently misread his members - who are his employers. That can happen. He’s dealing with 300 relatively young people who have a lot of money and very insular views of the world. Few of them have ever done a lick of work other than hit golf balls. It’s a pure recipe for fickleness.

Meanwhile, the USGA is hardly blameless. Given their policy of rules uniformity as the Holy Grail, they should never have gone where they did without an iron-clad agreement from the Tour. Instead, they end up with golf’s version of sequestration.

Since the ban was not to take effect until 2016, along with a 90-day period inviting comments, I figure the USGA was racked with internal dissension. Finchem could have made it easier for them to back off by voicing the opposition of the players quietly – even last week. Instead, he opted to go as public as possible, accompanied with wild specious arguments such as claiming 20% of amateur golfers are anchorers. Evidently he got that number from his new best friends at the PGA of America. Why he chose to play it as he did, whereby there must be a winner and a loser, is beyond my comprehension.

I see much of the USGA clumsiness as a consequence of systemic foolishness. All power is granted to a volunteer executive committee of 15.  Some are golf sophisticates. Some are golf ignorant. The USGA by laws say that the president of the executive committee, who lives nowhere near headquarters and already has a full time job, is the CEO. The same by laws refer to the USGA staff as “clerks.”  The executive director of the staff of some 300 has no job description.

But let’s suppose that the president happens to be a gem, a genuine prize. (As USGA Executive Director I was lucky enough to have three).  USGA presidents serve two years and then depart. (The USGA has had only one one-year president. That was Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of US presidents, in 1935.  I have no idea why he bailed out early.)

Has anyone ever heard of a viable institution that has a bona fide winner as CEO and then dumps him after two years? Even college presidents hang around for four or five years as their agents search for higher paying jobs.

Thanks to Geoff Shackelford.com for Hannigan’s letter.

 

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LPGA Tour at the HSBC Womens’s Champions

February 27th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

The LPGA Tour continues its Asian swing at the HSBC Women’s Champions this week. Angela Stanford is defending her 2012 title against a solid field.  But the HSBC took a hit today as world number nine Ai Miyazato withdrew due to whiplash.

Miyazato suffered the injury in a five car pileup last week that involved a caravan of cars carrying LPGA players.  Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen were also involved and Creamer has withdrawn from the Pro-Am but is hoping to be able to tee it up.

Even with some withdrawals the field at The HSBC still includes 15 of the top 20 players in the world and Yani Tseng (1), Na Yeon Choi (2) and Stacy Lewis (3) will all be looking to earn their first victory of the LPGA season.

Tseng seems to have found her old form with top finishes in her last two outings.  Tseng placed second in Australia and her Sunday charge in Thailand last week earned her a second place finish.

The HSBC is visiting a new course this year and the Serapong Course at the Sentosa Golf Club offers a new set of challenges to the players.  Stacy Lewis said, “It’s just tricky. It makes you think a lot.  It’s going to pull out the best ball-strikers and the best caddies.  I think the caddies are going to get a workout this week trying to figure out the right numbers to hit off the tee.  You don’t hit driver a lot.  You really just have to kind of think your way around and be really patient.”Wie 2013 HSBC

Michelle Wie is looking for a new start this year but unfortunately she is still following her form of last season.  After graduating from Stanford she was set to be a full time, focused member of the tour.  She played poorly last year and her slump has continued into 2013.  With a missed cut and a T45 Wie is still searching for answers.  This week she’s said she will try a new putting stance that mimics some of her shorter friends.  The six foot tall golfer has taken to bending over drastically on the greens.  “I was looking at like Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato and they all putt really well, and the common factor there is they are all 5-feet tall,” Wie said. “So I’m like, maybe I’ll just try and act like I’m five feet tall, get a little lower to the ground (giggling).  It’s been working fine for them. It’s something I’ve been working on and it’s been feeling comfortable and we’ll see.”

The Golf Channel will have delayed coverage of The HSBC starting at 12:30pm on Thursday.

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Memorable Moments: Honda Classic

February 27th, 2013 No comments

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Arnie Says “Swing Your Swing”

February 26th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Dick’s Sporting is the largest sports retailer in America and they move more golf equipment than any store in the nation. Their advertisements are everywhere.
Recently, their television commercials have taken a more understated tone than in the past. “The Glove” is about as good a commercial as can be made. Check it out here.
Now, Dick’s has recruited “The King” Arnold Palmer in their most recent ad, “Swing Your Swing.” And as you would expect, Arnie tells us to swing our swing and only our swing. And just like The King himself it’s pretty darn good.

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PGA Tour vs USGA…Round 1

February 26th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

When Tim Finchem used the WGC Match Play as a forum for his “anti-ban” announcement he accomplished two things.  He stole the spotlight away from champion Matt Kuchar and he ignited a firestorm they could have used on Wednesday to melt the snow that covered Dove Mountain.

Finchem has thrown gasoline on a fire that was only smoldering but has now exploded into a fireball.

Golf Week’s Alex Miceli called Finchem’s remarks “The biggest volley yet in the anchoring debate”  and says “What started as a proposed rule change has intensified into a showdown between golf heavyweights: the USGA in one corner versus the PGA Tour and PGA of America in the other.”

Bob Harig of ESPN says the USGA and the R&A were “body slammed” by Finchem.  “What once appeared to be a gimme putt change has turned into a rallying cry against the United States Golf Association and the R&A, the game’s two rules-making bodies that were slammed to golf’s hallowed turf on Sunday when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said that he and his circuit are against the proposed ban.”

Mike Purkey of Global Golf Post thinks, “If the Tour refuses to accept the anchored putting ban, a different kind of bifurcation could exist-a wide gulf between the best players in the world and everyone else.”

The crew at Golf.com/SI have varied takes on Finchem’s missive but all are sure this is going to get stickyMichael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The USGA has the game’s soul in mind here. The PGA Tour, understandably, cares about fairness to those who are using it and matters of the wallet, too.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The tour is protecting its property, that is, its star players who use anchored putting. This opposition, plus the PGA of America’s anti-ban position, will have to make the USGA and R&A reconsider whether the ban is doable.

 Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It’s a sad day. The blue coats have made mistakes but their motivation has always been to protect the game. All Finchem cares about is protecting the Porsche money of a couple dozen yippy journeymen. This is a troubling precedent and, much like the Citizens United court decision, its ugly impact will only become more obvious over time.

The European PGA Tour has said it will support the ban and that may just make this more nasty.  James Corrigan of The Telegraph says the Americans have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.  The American players are spoiling for a fight and, unless the governing bodies back down over the forthcoming weeks before the law is ratified, they will seriously consider ignoring the new rule if and when it is introduced in 2016. How Europe reacts could be critical in the debate.”

Even Colin Montgomerie says “this has opened up a whole new can of worms.”

Indeed it does Monty, indeed it does.

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Finchem & PGA Tour Oppose USGA’s Anchoring Ban

February 25th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

On Sunday PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem took some time to address the assembled press at The Match Play Championship on the Tour’s stance on the anchoring ban.

The Commish says it’s the PGA Tour’s stance that a ban on anchoring would be bad for the game and more specifically for the PGA Tour.

The USGA and the R&A notified us several months ago about their intention to put forward a proposal to change    essentially change the rule as it relates to what a stroke is by further finchem match playdefining it as something where you can’t ground your club and anchor your club.  In addition to the historical limitations on what a stroke is of scraping the ball or scooping the ball or pushing the ball.

We then undertook to go through a process to determine our position on that because they had a commentary that ends next week.  We brought that to a conclusion last week.  You’re all aware of that because of the comments that have been made by folks who were involved in that process.  Our Player Advisory Council looked at it twice.  We had the USGA come in and make a presentation to a player meeting in San Diego, USGA made a presentation to our Board.

We researched and looked at it and articulated our position at the end of last week to the USGA and shared that thinking also with the R&A.

Essentially where the PGA TOUR came down was that they did not think that banning anchoring was in the best interest of golf or the PGA TOUR.  I would note that the PGA of America came to the same conclusion after consultation with their membership.  Golf Course Owners Association came to the same conclusion, as well.

I think there are a number of factors here, a number of details, a number of issues, but I think the essential thread that went through the thinking of the players and our board of directors and others that looked at this was that in the absence of data or any basis to conclude that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by using anchoring, and given the amount of time that anchoring has been in the game, that there was no overriding reason to go down that road.

Recognizing a couple of things:  One, that an awful lot of amateurs today use anchoring; and two, that a number of players on the PGA TOUR who have grown up with a focus on perfecting the anchoring method, if you will, did so after the USGA on multiple occasions approved the method years ago, and that for us to join in supporting a ban we think as a direction is unfair to both groups of individuals.  So those were the overriding reasons.

bradley putterFinchem is careful to say that the PGA Tour doesn’t want to get into the rule making business but it is clear that the players, 13 of 15 on the Players Advisory Council anyway, are against banning the stroke.

Here is where it gets interesting.  It appears that the USGA and the R&A are all set to put the ban on the books.  They were careful to only place a ban on anchoring to the body and not ban any particular club.  But if enacted the rule change will essentially ban long and belly putters from the game.

So if Finchem and the PGA Tour Players want to ignore the rule change would they actually allow an anchored stroke and disregard the rules of golf?  I can’t imagine that the Tour could play a game different from what the USGA and the R&A dictate.

That would put any player with a long putter in the unfortunate position of being labeled a “cheater.”  There have been instances of fans heckling tour players already and that situation would be unbearable for the tour players, the fans and the game.

I will say this, Finchem says 20% of amateur golfers use a long or belly putter.  I must play with only the other 80%.  I probably played with 30-40 different golfers last season, all amateurs, none of them carried a long putter.

So where does this all leave us?  The Tour, The PGA of America, The Golf Course Owners of America, and the equipment manufacturers are all against the ban.  Plenty of high profile players, past and present have come down on both sides so there is no real consensus.

The USGA has said it will act on the proposed ban in the spring and that may be when the real fireworks start.  If the PGA Tour elects to go their own way and ignore the rules of the game it won’t be pretty and it will launch the most controversial era in the history of the game.

Click here for the entire transcript.

Click here for the PGA Tour video.

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10 Things I Think…& More

February 25th, 2013 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

1.  Sunday at the Accenture Match Play Championship had the players bundled up against 40 degree temps, and 30 mph winds.  With snow delays, frost delays and biting cold it looked more like the Iditarod than it did a golf tournament.  How they pull this tournament off each year is pure luck.

2.  Matt Kuchar just outlasted everyone.  He kept it in the fairway, minimized his mistakes and played it smart on the complicated greens at Dove Mountain.  On Sunday he was only behind for two holes early against Jason Day before dispatching him 4 & 3.  Winning three straight holes on the front nine in the championship match proved enough cushion even with a few slips down the stretch against Hunter Mahan.

3. Even all the number one seeds gone by the weekend, Saturday and Sunday was simply great golf.  Ian Poulter stole the show Saturday and there were plenty of compelling matches to keep all of us interested.

4.  No Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy after day one must have sent the folks at Nike into cardiac arrest.  That’s a big truckload of endorsement money that went for naught on the weekend.

5.  We got to see plenty of Tim Finchem yesterday as Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller chatted with him about the PGA Tour’s announcement that they are against the proposed anchor stroke ban by the USGA.  Finchem was quick to say that he respects the USGA and no determination as to whether the PGA Tour will ignore the rule has been discussed.

6.  The Honda LPGA Thailand was the scene of the heartbreak moment of the weekend.  17 year old, Thailand native, Ariya Jutanugarn had a two stroke lead as she teed off on eighteen.  A wayward approach left her stymied in a bunker, she took a penalty, dropped in the bunker and then flew the green.  A missed third putt gave her an eight and a second place finish to Inbee Park.

7.  The good news for Jutanugarn is that she carded an ace on the twelfth hole, pocketed $140,000 for her finish and she’s only seventeen.  She’s got plenty of time to shake this off and may have just learned a valuable lesson very early in her career.

8.  Park continues her form of last season: in her last 12 starts she has 3 wins and 5 runner-up finishes.

9.  Yani Tseng is back on form and made a charge with a final round 63 to finish T3.  Stacy Lewis was low American and she blew a chance at her first win of the season with a disaster on Saturday when she ballooned to a 76.

10.  Speaking of teenagers, Lydia Ko continues to make her mark on the LPGA with a T14 finish.

11.  For all of us hackers out here, desert golf presents some scary problems.  Miss the fairway and you could be ricocheting off boulders, buried in brush and hitting off rocks.  Not to mention those cacti that eat up golf balls and jump at you.  I would need body armor and a bushel of balls.

12.  I know it’s difficult for PGA Tour sponsors and the networks to have more match play tournaments.  The nature of match play doesn’t blend well with the standard format of a typical PGA Tour event.  So we’ll have to live with the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and the Match Play for awhile.  But match play truly rocks.

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Matt Kuchar: 2013 Accenture Match Play Champion

February 24th, 2013 No comments

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