WGC Day Two Wrapup

Deja Vu:  Rory, Rickie, and Sergio will be in final two groups tomorrow.

Phil-Tiger-Padraig: Padraig Kissinger?

Shafted: Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker were in the hunt all afternoon, but scarcely seen.  I personally never say Hunter.

Blimp shots: Great clear, quiet day in Akron, the result being some of the best blimp shots we’ve had all year.

Fan Friendly:  Speaking of blimp shots, did you notice the one of Rory walking between the 15th green and 16th tee?  See him fist bump the little kid?

Early start:  Don’t forget there is an early start tomorrow.  Golf Channel will have live early action.  Not certain what happens at the switchover.  I sure hope CBS moves up their coverage if necessary.  I really don’t know the weather situation, whether it is a problem all day, or if they are expecting it to arrive later in the day.  We need live coverage, though.  With the Internet, tape delay just doesn’t get the job done.

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D. J. Doper; Phil-Tiger grouped together at PGA!; Rory, Bubba, Kaymer together

DJ dopes….    PGA Championship tee times out.

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Friday, WGC Day Two (running post)

8:00 am Update

Firestone, Shackelford book, etc.:  In Part One of my review of Geoff Shackelford’s book The Future of Golf, I wrote that Shackelford thought little of Firestone South, and that I wished that I knew his views on Torrey Pines.  Well, last night, as I was finishing up the book, I found my answer, in a parenthetical comment after a discussion of USGA conflict avoidance with equipment manufacturers:

(Translation: Get used to venues like Torrey Pines, where having plenty of corporate tent space takes priority over course quality.)

Bingo!

Woods shoots 68 after “long layoff”:  This is Woods’s second event in two weeks, same as 95 percent of the rest of the field, but a Morning Drive analyst just said his 68 was amazing “after such a long layoff.”  Huh?

Brag Time:  July was the busiest month in Lanny H Golf’s history.  After setting new highs in March and April, July beat those twin peaks by 38 percent.  This website is drawing an astonishing amount of traffic for something that was started as a complete lark.  (And remains a complete lark.)  Consider this: If a “real” golf website told the truth about Tiger Woods, they’d steal all my traffic.  Odds of that happening?  Oh, about a million to one.  You see, the truth seems to be incompatible with shilling for the corporate golf industry.

Morning Woods:  I turned on Morning Drive to hear about day one of the WGC.  Ten minutes in and all they’ve talked about is five-shots-behind-the-leader Tiger Woods.  Pathetic.  Williams ends segment with, “Much more to come, certainly, on Tiger.”

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Thursday Thoughts (running post)

7:00 pm Update

A few comments to wrap up the day…  Tiger Woods’s pull-hook on No. 2 was so horrendous, Rory McIlroy said, “And people thought my tee shot on No. 10 at Augusta was bad!”…  Speaking of Rory, he put on the worst short game clinic I’ve ever seen on his 17th hole.  Blasted a routine bunker shot off the far side of the green, then bladed a chip back to the other side of the green.  Birdied his final hole to post  1-under.  Was chipper in the post-round interview.  He’s right there.   DJ taking a break must remind you of when he had the mysterious “back injury” a couple of years ago and was out for a month or two.  The talk then was that he was serving a suspension for recreational drugs…  What I wrote about in my recent book review regarding Firestone sure came into play.  Woods pull-hooked a drive so badly, it went to the far side of the adjoining fairway.  He put it on the green from there and was putting for eagle.  At most courses, you hit one that bad, you tee up another ball and hit three…  Rickie Fowler played at roughly the same time as Tiger Woods, and Fowler shot one stroke better.  Rickie’s last outing was when he played in the final group at the British Open and finished second.  Additionally, Rickie is one of the players chosen by the PGA Tour for maximum hype.  So why was he so rarely seen on television this afternoon?…   Same question could be asked for Justin Rose, who finished one shot out of the lead, and World #1 Adam Scott, who finished only one shot worse than Woods…  Woods hit a poor shot on a par-3 and cursed profanely.  An announcer apologized, then said, “That’s the language of golf,” as if Jack Nicklaus screamed “Fuck!” every time he mishit a shot.

10:00 am Update

Just a reminder that Live@ is doing an online stream.  Covering holes No. 2 and No. 15 and No. 18.  Players are going off both tees, so be aware of that and keep and eye on the clock, and you can catch your favorites play a couple of holes before Golf Channel live coverage begins.

9:00 am Update

Another great article from Karen Crouse at the New York Times:

Nicklaus did not set out with any target total. He said: “I never worried about how many I had won. That was not important to me. What was important to me was that I played the game well and played the game in the right way, and that I left a legacy that I was proud of. So all of a sudden, when Tiger comes along and he starts winning major championships, all of a sudden that becomes a focus, and all of a sudden my 18 number became a focus of different proportions.”

“Played the game in the right way.”  No cursing, no club throwing, no club kicking.  He’s right about the 18 majors.  It wasn’t anything anyone obsessed over until the media started with their Tiger Woods crap.  What’s funny is Jack says he could have won more if he’d wanted:

“If I had set out when I was a kid, say in my mid-20s or early 30s, and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to win as many majors as I can possibly win,’ if I would have said that, I probably could have won more,” Nicklaus said.

Tiger Woods Press Conference Yesterday:  It occurs to me…  The media felt it was important to ask Woods to give his thoughts on NBA player Lebron James, but NOT to ask why he hid nine visits from Dr. Galea from both Hank Haney and the media as detailed in Blood Sport.  That’s how the golf media operates.  Ignore, ignore, ignore, and hope it goes away.  But the facts are the facts, and it’s almost certain at this point that Tiger Woods juiced throughout much of his career.

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Wednesday Thoughts (NYT on Rory, Woods Presser)

I didn’t want to post anything today for risk of crowding out my feature article on Geoff Shackelford’s book. (That piece, Installment 1, is more of a WGC Bridgestone preview than a book review, so I urge you to  read it before the tournament starts.)  However, I just read Continue reading

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Geoff Shackelford’s “The Future of Golf” — Book Review, Installment 1 (or, Tiger vs. Firestone)

Reviewing this book the week of the WGC at Firestone is well-timed, as Shackelford has a thought-provoking section on the Firestone Country Club South Course — site of this week’s tournament — which is well worth discussion.

In fact, Firestone South is far and away the main topic of this installment of the book review. (I’ll review the book more generally in Installment 2.)

First a brag: This is the first book I have ever read that was written by one of my Twitter followers. As I have only seven Twitter followers, the odds of that happening are pretty staggering. Why, you ask, would Mr. Shackelford follow me on Twitter? Suffice it to say it was recent and surely had to do with Blood Sport, Hank Haney, and Golf Digest.

I take particular pride in the fact that Mr. Shackelford followed me one week to the day after I wrote a piece (“Reality Vs. Wishful Thinking: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson“) wherein I called him a liar. (“When I saw Geoff Shackelford was the author, I wanted to vomit.  Shackelford is one of the few golf writers I respect.  But this?  It isn’t just a case of deception and misdirection, it is outright lying.“)  A little embarrassing now, but, hey, what can I say?  I call them as I see them. For the record, I am a tremendous fan of Shackelford — this book was ordered well before the Twitter follow — and that disparaging comment may be the only negative thing I’ve ever written about him.

Getting your hands on a copy of this book isn’t easy. Well, I guess it’s easy enough, but it isn’t cheap. The cover price is $21.95, but the book is currently out of print; a used copy at Amazon will set you back $35-$40 including shipping. Even at that, it is well worth the price. (If you insist, you can get a new copy for a mere $240.) This book was published ten years ago, so the high prices are a compliment to its quality and continuing relevance.

Okay, after that novella-length intro, let’s get to Firestone.

Shackelford starts the section on Firestone (“Succumbing to Dumbing”) with a Tiger Woods comment made after the first round of the 2003 version of WGC-Bridgestone (the event being played this week). Woods praised Firestone South for being so open, with everything laid out right in front of you.

Before proceeding, I should point out that Shackelford is an expert on golf course design and an admirer of classic courses, and he thinks the USGA has been negligent (to put it mildly) in regulating equipment. Their negligence has allowed distance balls and clubs to distort the game, obsoleting many classic courses and forcing gimmicky setups. I should also point out that Shackelford is something of a Tiger Woods fanboy, or at least he was at the time he wrote this book. (I do not know if he remains so today.)

So, let’s go back ten years. Shackelford thinks Woods walks on water, and then Tiger Woods goes and praises Firestone, a course Shackelford thinks is the very definition of a crappy golf course. Shackelford calls Firestone “bland, surprise-free, intelligence-free architecture” and expresses great disappointment in Woods’s comment. Shackelford makes the point that such courses hurt Woods, because they allow less-skilled golfers to compete with him in a way they could not on high-quality courses.

“Tiger has somehow forgotten that his advantage was on a golf course that didn’t tell the player exactly what to do — a design that required intelligence, creativity, and a little curiosity.”

Knowing of Woods’s great success at Firestone, I researched his results to establish historical context for Shackelford’s remarks. Woods had won there in 1999, 2000, and 2001, but not 2002 (nor would he would he win in 2003 or 2004). That’s a pretty stellar record (even for a limited-field event), so it’s no surprise Woods would praise the course.

What is surprising is that Shackelford would choose Firestone to make his point, as Woods had had so much success there. And we now know Woods was just getting started; he would go on to win five more times at Firestone in the next ten years.

Knowing now that Woods has won at Firestone eight times, if we accept the two Shackelford premises — (1) that Woods is an elite player who would be expected to excel, especially, on a quality golf course, and (2) that Firestone is a inferior course which would remove the elite Woods’s advantage — there is more than a little cognitive dissonance.

Shackelford’s underlying theory may well be valid in regards to an elite player having an inherent advantage on a quality course but not on an inferior course (such as Firestone South). If that is indeed valid, perhaps we should reexamine the conventional wisdom regarding Tiger Woods. We can’t help but question if Woods is really the elite player he was made out to be. Consider that while Woods has won some 80 tournaments, 23 of them have come on just three courses.  Shackelford sees Firestone as a crap course (my term, not his, and I’ll explain why I agree in a moment); I do not know his views on Torrey Pines or Bay Hill, but certainly they would be interesting.

At a minimum, Woods’s results at Firestone suggest another factor, an overriding factor, is at work. For now, I’ll put aside the big picture implications and describe the Woods-Firestone phenomenon as I see it. In my opinion, it is not complex.

At Firestone, a player can be crazy wild off the tee with very little downside. Almost all the holes run parallel to each other, with only a thin boundary of trees separating the fairways. Hit a bad drive and you will be among a few not particularly big trees. Unless you are stymied, there is almost no penalty for an errant drive. Hit a really bad drive, and you wind up in an adjoining fairway where you can play over the trees.

Look at these images or take this slideshow tour to see what I’m talking about.

firestone(1)Firestone-CC18 imagesd  images

It’s well-known that Woods suffers a lack of control with his driver. He hits it a long way, but he is liable to hit it just about anywhere. Firestone is not a course that penalizes wild driving, which is Woods’s greatest weakness. As a result, Woods can hit tee shots all-out rather than steer the ball down the fairway like he does at most other courses.

My conclusion on this matter — with the benefit of ten years of observation Shackelford did not have in 2005 — is that Woods has dominated on this course despite his tee shots being not elite. So, in that regard, Woods can be lumped in with the non-elites who gain advantage from this crappy course. Basically, Firestone is a paradise for long-hitters who can’t control their tee shots.

That wraps up Installment 1 of this book review. I’ll write and post the rest before too much longer.  I realize today’s installment was largely comprised of an analysis of one section of the book, so let me quickly state that the book is primarily about how advanced ball and club technology is ruining the game.  Shackelford has been battling this trend courageously, if futilely, for many, many years.

Before I end, let me provide one small quote from the book:

In 2002, Els averaged 281.4 yards a drive in the United States.  After changing to the Titleist driver and Pro V1x ball, his average rose to 303.3 yards in 2003 PGA Tour events.

It’s interesting to note how so many golf writers like to attribute today’s increased distance not just to equipment, but to the “fitter, stronger, more athletic players” on the Tour today.  It’s not just the gear, you see.  Ernie spent the Christmas holiday doing pushups, don’t you know?

I encounter that fitness/distance meme constantly.  Here’s one from just a couple of days ago, in a John Hawkins article [Hawkins, a Golf Channel employee, couldn't possibly have a vested interest in protecting the golf equipment industry, could he?]  What’s especially funny about this example is that Hawkins praises a course Shackelford considers the epitome of a crap course:

I’ve always chuckled when the South Course is referred to as “boring.” Having played it eight or 10 times in my day, I’m not at all surprised the South has proven immune to advances in equipment technology or the increased fitness factor that seemingly has everyone driving the ball 300-plus yards.

“Bland” is pretty close to “boring,” no?  Immune to advances in equipment technology?  Geoff, you need to set Hawkins straight.

Anyway, in his book, Shackelford covers the topic of modern gear technology in great, fascinating detail.  I’ll write more about that in the next installment.

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Rory’s WGC Press Conference

Rory’s press conference at WGC today.  The description of his expectations/targets post-US Open 2011 was the highlight for me, but there are a lot of highlights.  It’s 25 minutes long but seems like five.  You won’t be able to keep a grin off your face.  There are some very substantive questions which he answers directly.  This may be the best press conference/interview I’ve ever seen of Rory.

HELP! Golf Channel Headline: “Rory McIlroy admits he’s allowed himself to think about Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major record.”  Can someone tell me exactly where in the press conference Rory “admits” this?  In fact, he said several times he did not think about it, that it would be unhealthy psychologically (my term, not his).  I believe it’s a total lie by Golf Channel.  Why in the hell would GC lie about something like that?

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