by Jeff Skinner
Like many golfers, professional and amateurs alike, I am always searching for that tip to make my game better. I am willing to try any lesson, technique or suggestion that has a chance at lowering my score. Unfortunately, most of my efforts with the Big Dawg go wasted but when it comes to the short game I can incorporate changes successfully.
Maybe it is because I don’t take that violent rip at the ball with a wedge as I do a driver but chipping and putting tips always seem easier to try and execute.
And of course as we all know the way for us hackers to improve is to take less strokes around the green. How many times do you chip twice and then go and three putt? Those are wasted strokes that kill a scorecard.
But there is hope for all of us to knock off a few strokes with our short clubs and that comes in the form of Dave Stockton. Stockton won two PGA Championships and eleven PGA tournaments during his career but has become better known to this generation of golfers as a “short game guru.” And the title is not misplaced.
Stockton’s first book Unconscious Putting concentrated on putting and his tips and techniques worked wonders with millions including Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. His latest book Unconscious Scoring attacks our wedge game.
The brilliance of Stockton is in his simplicity. He breaks the short game, where you hit most of your shots, into two type of shots: high and low. He recommends using one club for both and uses setup and subtle swing thoughts to play the different shots. The low shot is more left hand at the hole, high shot the right hand dominates the shot. It’s simple.
He covers trouble shots, bunkers shots and of course the most essential, mental game. And as important as all his swing techniques are he says “I believe my mechanics are secondary to what you think and see.”
That’s Stockton, simple is better and it reflects in the short, concise chapters that make up this brief but enlightening book. That’s one of the differences between Stockton and Dave Pelz. Pelz, another short game guru, drowns you in stats and numbers that make your head spin. Pelz’s books are 600 pages. Stockton’s Unconscious Scoring clocks in at 126 pages. That’s the beauty of Stockton: you get the message in clear, understandable terms and can implement the tips right away.
Both Stockton’s books are must reading for anyone trying to improve their short game. I read Unconscious Scoring with the book in one hand and my wedge in the other. I can already see those wedge shots rolling to kick in range and maybe a few dropping in.
by Jeff Skinner
Super Sunday didn’t disappoint this year as Phil Mickelson started the day with his win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Joe Flacco’s Ravens and the 49ers followed up with an exciting and somewhat bizarre Super Bowl.
Bizarre may be an understatement considering we saw a 108 yard kickoff return, Beyonce shaking it all over the field, the Brothers Harbaugh somewhat awkward post game handshake (no hugs at all) a game that went down to the final seconds and let’s not forget the infamous blackout.
I’ll say this, it was a memorable Super Bowl Sunday and that got me to thinking: what are my best Super Bowl memories? To tell you the truth I have a difficult time recalling scores and teams and all those stats the talking heads love to throw around. Of course the recent winners are fresh and plenty of the big plays but unlike my “Rain Man” son I can’t recall the teams, score and Roman Numerals of every Super Bowl.
But anyone who knows me has no problem naming my favorite Super Bowl memory. As a lifelong and hopeless Jets fan (yes they are indeed hopeless) Super Bowl III is my lone big game moment of pride. Joe Willie Namath and his crew took it to the Colts of Baltimore back then and changed the face of football in America.
As a twelve year old junior high student I took fifty cents off my English teacher who lost his shirt when the Jets rocked the football world. I have had to live with that single moment of joy for over forty years.
But I do have another wonderful Super Sunday memory but it had little to do with what happened on the field. It was January 25, 1981 when the Oakland Raiders were set to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Superdome.
I wasn’t home for the pre-game hoopla but back then it was probably was just a few hours instead the requisite all day non-stop blabbering that marks today’s big game Sunday.
You see that day was the day that the 52 American hostages returned from their 444 day ordeal at the hands of Iranian captors. Unlike the six Americans that were snuck out of Iran by the CIA and brought back to life in Ben Affleck’s Argo, these Americans were held hostage in the American embassy after it was seized by militants protesting the fact that the United States had allowed the Shah of Iran to seek medical treatment in New York City.
The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s political and religious leader refused to release 52 Americans and they were held for the next 14 months. Soon after their capture Americans started displaying yellow ribbons as a sign of remembrance and hope for the hostages return.
It was at this time that ABC news started a program each evening to update America on news of the hostage crisis. The show later grew into Nightline with Ted Koppel .
It was a tough time in America but when Iran finally released the hostages on January 20th the nation breathed a sigh of relief. It took a few days of travel and debriefing but the 52 Americans made it onto home soil on Super Sunday, January 25th with a plan to have the hostages meet their families at West Point.
And with that knowledge thousands of Americans that live near Stewart Air Force Base, where their plane was landing, and West Point decided they would spend their Super Sunday somewhere else instead of in front of the television.
I was one of those Americans who lined the route that their buses were to travel. Along with many of my family, I stood on the street outside the gates of West Point in a show of support for the American 52.
Young and old, men and women, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, hippie and redneck we all were one that day. All we hoped to do was to show those unfortunate people that no one ever forgot them and they were in our thoughts and prayers.
So we waited in the cold and waited some more but spirits were high and the mood was joyful. Our group was made up of old and young alike. Parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, husbands and wives all constituted a band of cold but happy citizens honoring the hostages.
The photo here shows the sentiments of the day. That young girl holding the sign is my niece Stacy, and that’s my sister, her mom, right in front of her. Her father is to her right and he can take credit for the sign but not for the correct spelling of America. You see he mistakenly spelled America wrong: Americia was his first attempt but after we all got a look at it we soon made a change, with a borrowed lipstick believe it or not, to the correct spelling. The fact that the sign’s author was an elementary school teacher makes retelling the story more hysterical every year. So we all stood there waiting and the national press mingled among us and this photo appeared in the New York Times the next day, Stacy’s fifteen minutes of fame I guess.
As the day grew longer and the temperature chilled us the buses started to roll in. We stood there cheering and waving as the buses drove by with faces pressed against the windows. We waved and they waved back. And flags fluttered in the breeze and tears flowed down chilled cheeks. And we cheered and clapped and smiled and waved and we just hoped that they got our message, our message of welcome home.
As it turns out we all made it back in time for the kickoff to watch the Raiders eventually defeat the Eagles. And that day, even though I knew it was special then, I didn’t truly appreciate it until years later. Now, I do, we all do. And every year around Super Bowl weekend I think of that day and how absolutely amazing it was.
by Jeff Skinner
As we up north put away our clubs the boys down under are just kicking off their summer golf season with the Australian Masters. Plenty of Aussies and some world class golfers will make their way around one of the best courses in the world.
Golf Magazine rates the Kingston Heath course as the 27th best in the world. Watch the videos below and be treated to a course tour and a little history.
Hat tip to The Aussie Golfer for the links.
by Jeff Skinner
There have been some great pictures of the Ryder Cup floating around the web. Here is a link to the Daily Mail which has a compilation of pictures of the European team as they celebrate their monumental comeback. It’s worth a look and catches the spirit, and spirits, of Ollie and his victorious team.
by Jeff Skinner
With the American Team still reeling from the Massacre at Medinah and the victorious European Team nursing a magnum sized hangover we get to reflect on their performances (or lack of) at the 2012 Ryder Cup. While many players gave us truly unforgettable memories there are some players that would love to be able to forget their week at Medinah.
Keegan Bradley (3-1) A- : The rookie burst on to the Ryder Cup scene with a contagious enthusiasm that brought Phil Mickelson back to life. He was undefeated in team play but failed on Sunday in a key match against a “late” Rory McIlroy.
Jason Dufner (3-1) A : Another rookie that carried the team and his singles win kept the fading hopes of the American Team alive.
Jim Furyk (1-2) D- : Furyk did not validate being a captain’s pick. He continued his Ryder Cup struggles and pissed away a one up lead against Garcia on Sunday with a bogey, bogey finish to hand the point to Europe.
Dustin Johnson (3-0) A : Played well when Love put him out and did everything Love asked of him including a Sunday win against a hot Colsaerts.
Zach Johnson (3-1) A- : He paired well with Dufner and he beat 2010 hero, Graeme McDowell on Sunday but it was he and Dufner that were victim to Ian Poulter’s five birdie string on Saturday afternoon which set the tone for the European Team on Sunday.
Matt Kuchar (2-1) B- : Undefeated in team play but lost to a balky Lee Westwood in singles who was only able to card a single birdie all day.
Phil Mickelson (3-1) B- : Lefty and Bradley were the poster boys for the team on Friday and Saturday but as Mickelson applauded his singles opponent, Justin Rose, the European stole the match from him. Phil was one up going into seventeen and Rose’s consecutive birds took the match started the American’s Sunday collapse.
Webb Simpson (2-2) C- : Simpson paired well with Bubba but his Sunday performance was a tale of two nines. He went to an early 2 up lead over Ian Poulter but slipped to all square on the back and lost both the 17th and 18th to the heart of the European Team.
Brandt Snedeker (1-2) D : The best putter on tour showed that even the steadiest hands tremble during the Ryder Cup. A Sunday waxing by Paul Lawrie in the fifth match out fed the fire of the European comeback.
Steve Stricker (0-4) F : The nicest guy on the team has to bear the greatest of burdens. Love’s captain’s pick truly disappointed all week whether it was his pairings with Tiger or his clinching singles loss to Kaymer, Stricker will be hurting for a long time after this one.
Bubba Watson (2-2) C : Bubba gets credit for teaming with Webb as a good team and for changing the nature of the game on the first tee. But Love put him out first on Sunday to get the crowd into it and earn a big point for the U.S. But short hitting Luke Donald beat the miles longer Watson and was the spark that lit the European fire.
Tiger Woods (0-3-1) F : Tiger and team play just don’t mix and when you’re Tiger Woods your team needs more than a meaningless half point. When Woods should have smoked Molinari he let him hang around on Sunday. The team and the fans got nothing from Woods.
Davis Love III B : Love put out the lineup that on Saturday afternoon gave the Americans a 10-4 lead. It finished on Saturday at 10-6, a healthy margin any captain would relish. He frontloaded on Sunday to counter Europe’s big guns. But his players could only muster a paltry 3.5 points in the final. If Love made mistakes they were sitting Phil and Bradley (but Phil was adamant it was his own call) or Dustin Johnson only playing in two team matches. But at 10-6 did anyone really think Love had erred? If anything is to be questioned it was his captain’s picks: Stricker, Furyk and Snedeker combined for a 2-8 record. But his on course strategy had worked for the Americans.
by Jeff Skinner
Royal Lytham & St. Annes is primed to test the best golfers in the world this week. With the wind, rain, rough and ubiquitous bunkers whoever is crowned Champion Golfer of the Year will have certainly earned his title.
Lytham has had an amazing list of champions with each of them carving out significant and interesting careers. With all the focus on The Open this week we get to revisit some of those grand champions whose lives were changed, some for the better, some for the worse, along the links at Lancashire.
You could argue that no single golfer was as affected by his win at Lytham more than David Duval. He was at the top of the world of golf in 2001 when he spent 15 weeks as world number one. His Open Championship should have signaled a true rivalry to his buddy Tiger Woods but instead it marked the beginning of the end for Duval.
Duval’s game disintegrated after the win as he asked himself “Is this all there is?” “I thought it would feel better than this.” Duval later called it “my existentialist moment”. James Corrigan profiles Duval in the Telegraph. To Duval’s credit he has handled all his golfing troubles with class. He has fashioned a new life with a family that is now his main focus. Golf is fun for him now and not the end all that it had been in years past.
No one cast a bigger shadow over Royal Lytham & St. Annes than Seve Ballesteros. The 1979 and 1988 Open Champion is perhaps the most extraordinary European golfer in history. His swashbuckling play and fiery demeanor made him both a hero and a target in the world of golf.
It was here that Seve won his first major and became the face of European golf. Memories of Seve at Lytham are everywhere, none more than his recovery from the “car park” next to the sixteenth hole where he made birdie on his way to victory in 1979.
His good friend, protégé and countryman, Jose Maria Olazabal tried to qualify for this Open but missed out but that doesn’t stop him from feeling Seve’s presence.
Martin Dempster has a piece on Seve and Jose Maria and his memories of his golfing brother. “It is emotional. Whenever you play the Open Championship, Seve is always in my mind. I won’t do anything special to remember him this week. I will be watching on TV at home and Seve will be there in my mind.”
“Whenever they show certain holes, you can still see Seve out there playing some of his shots, hitting the ball from a certain spot. It will bring back memories.”
When he won in 1969 Tony Jacklin became the first British winner in eighteen years at The Open Championship and he immediately was the hero of the day. Forty three years later the Brits are still waiting for the next homegrown champion.
Jacklin spoke to Tom English about the pressure he felt that final morning and the fact that he played that week with an off the rack sand wedge that he brought at the pro shop. It all worked out for the affable and brutally honest Englishman. At the champions ceremony he still couldn’t believe he had won, “I said to Jack Nicklaus later that I didn’t think I could be that nervous and still play controlled golf. He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘I know. Isn’t it great!”
No one got more out of his game than the legend and Hall of Famer Gary Player, just ask him. The diminutive South African made a career out of out working his opponents on the practice range and in the gym.
Gary pens his own article about his memories of that 1974 championship and of course there is nothing but positives. That’s pure Player. “When I think about my Open win there in 1974, I remember holding a six-shot lead with only two holes to go. I turned to my caddie and asked: “What do we need to do here?” He told me: “Laddie, Ray Charles could win from here. You could go seven-seven and still win The Open.” What a position that was to be in; normally when you win an Open it is by a single shot.”
“What I love about Lytham is the emphasis on strong driving. The best drivers will be rewarded from a course that has heavy rough and firm greens as its best protection. It goes without saying that you must putt well, but Lytham is a course where reward arrives just for keeping the ball on narrow fairways.”
by Jeff Skinner
Sometimes golfers don’t think straight on the course. How many times have you done something you regret like slamming a club after a bad shot or playing way too fast after you just shanked a chip only to repeat that very same shank?
Well, this is about as dumb a story as I have heard in a long time. It seems that Jose Manuel Lara and his caddie unknowingly started round one of the European Tour’s BMW International Open with an extra club in the bag. Supposedly Lara didn’t know he had the extra club but when his caddie realized the infraction he must of went brain dead.
On the second hole the caddie saw the extra club and then tried to hide it in the woods so Lara could finish the round with the infraction undetected. From the Guardian, “The European Tour chief referee John Paramor said: “His caddie noticed that he had a 15th club and on the second hole he attempted to lose it in a thick bush. He was seen entering the bush with the bag of clubs by his playing partners [Ireland's Damien McGrane and Swede Peter Hedblom], who thought it was a little bit suspicious.
“They went and asked the chap ‘What are you doing?’ and he sort of fumbled out an answer saying ‘I’ve got this wrong – I’ve done something bad. I wish it hadn’t happened, etc etc’.
“It was clear the club was out of the bag and in the bush at the time. He admitted it straight away and regretted his action.”
At that point a rules official assessed Lara, who supposedly had no part in the attempted cover-up, four penalty strokes, two for each hole the first and two for the second. But after his round Paramour and the referee’s panel determined it was such a serious violation that they disqualified Lara and his caddie. The European Tour then also banned the caddie from the tour.
I’ll give Lara the benefit of the doubt that he was unaware of his caddies plan only because how stupid can you be? The caddie heads to the woods while his player’s ball isn’t in that direction. What were the rest of the players and caddies supposed to think? That he’s on a nature hike?
If he had called a rules official straight away his player would have been penalized and allowed to continue. But he panicked. Had they admitted the mistake it would have been seen as just that, a mistake. But when he tried to jettison the extra club it became a true violation of the honor code that all golfers play under. He went from making a mistake to being a cheater and for that he lost his job.
At the same time he may have cast a dark shadow on Lara. Lara may have to work a bit if he expects to regain a reputation as an honest player. A stupid, avoidable situation may have cost two men much more than a few strokes on the card.
by Jeff Skinner
Only Tiger Woods can shake up the golf world with a simple press release. Woods has announced that he’ll be playing in the Honda classic for the first time since 1993 when he was an amateur. “I heard great things about The Honda Classic,” Woods said in a release. “Now that I live here I want to play whenever possible. (Jack Nicklaus’) involvement in the tournament and the benefits to the local community are also important.”
He’s never played the Honda as a professional and in playing there he will be playing in three straight events and four out of five. Woods never like to play three in a row and has always been very selective where he tees it up.
Give Woods some credit here, he is supporting his local community here and he has said he plans to add a new tournament to his schedule and this accomplishes both. He also needs “more reps” and he’ll get them there on a difficult course against a very good field.
Tournament Director Ken Kennerly was thrilled by the addition of Tiger and acknowledges that his playing is a boon to both Tiger and the community, “This is Tiger doing something for the community as much as it is him doing something for Tiger.”
Whatever the reason behind Tiger’s decision it is great for the tour, the community and for golf. The fact remains that Tiger is the most watched golfer in history and golf is always more interesting when he is in the field.