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Sunday
Feb072010

2010 Northern Trust Random Thoughts

2010 NTO winner Steve Stricker approaches No. 18 (click to enlarge)The 2010 Northern Trust Open will not be remembered for the dessert-free lunches in this week's media center, but instead, for Steve Stricker's workmanlike performance and rise to No. 2 in the official world golf ranking. It was also the most uneventful final round since Kirk Triplett spellbindingly outlasted Jesper Parnevik, Robin Freeman and Russ Cochran in that epic 2000 showdown.

J.B. Holmes approaches the 15th green (click to enlarge)Stricker's sense of on-course urgency and his inevitable emotions upon winning would have proven more memorable if not for J.B. Holmes' pathetic pace of play along with the combination of Nationwide Tour-light attendance and the odd propensity of name players to post some unusually high weekend scores, leaving us with Luke Donald and Holmes as contenders who looked more than content to secure a top-5. And while those two played nicely, neither seemed as anxious to add his name to the list of accomplished Riviera champions as Stricker.

Stricker in the interview room after winning (click to enlarge)Easily the highlight of the week proved to be Stricker's press conferences. They couldn't be more different than just about any press gatherings I've sat in, all thanks to Stricker's engaging, genuine character and desire to treat every question as if it's the last one he'll ever be asked in his life.

That said, a few miscellaneous thoughts from the week:

  • Stricker putts on the final hole to a sparse gallery (click to enlarge) Tournament officials estimated attendance at 30,000 for the week. At its high-water mark in 2007, 151,417 attended, just edging 1999's 151,281. On the low end, 44,147 attended the 36-hole rain-shortened 2005 edition.

  • As expected, the $20 increase in at-the-gate ticket prices and a Super Bowl Sunday free of promotional incentives from PGA Tour Championship Managment created an awkward situation as record-low galleries stayed home. No wonder some fans think the Commissioner of the PGA Tour is Tim Pinch'em.
  • Even with little in the way to impede your view, the importance of scoreboard placement and visibility to the fan experience was on display due to the dearth of boards and dreadful placement. From the 11th to the 17th a player or fan has to work hard to get a good clean glimpse of a leaderboard.A poorly placed scoreboard on 17 (click to enlarge)
  • A noticeable improvement in the electronic boards: much less nonsense like FedEx Cup standings, player bio information and credits for the host pro, tournament manager and other useless bits. Instead, there appears to be much more use of ShotLink stats and far more listings of the main leaderboard page. When you can see the boards.
  • I know you've heard it before, but honestly Riviera has never looked better...agronomically. The fairways had a summertime kikuyu thickness and the greens were immaculate, a far cry from the days of thin lies and bumpy poa.
  • Architecturally the revamped 8th stood out to such an extreme that players only offered off-the-record or unprintable assessments for fear of offending the host club. One on-the-record analysis from a very famous player ought to be shared here, but as you know, this is a family values website.Luke Donald played beautifully en route to a second place finish. He even looks mellow through impact. (click to enlarge)
  • Broken-record stuff dept: but the 10th hole continues to reveal just how few PGA Tour players can resist temptation and calmly attack an ingeniously designed 311-yard hole. Even the tournament champion couldn't stick to his game plan Sunday.

Q. On 10, was that your intended line where you laid up, or was that a mistake?
STEVE STRICKER: No, I played --

Q. That's where you play it for that hole location?

STEVE STRICKER: I would have rather have been a little further to the left where Luke was over there. The mistake was, and I did it in I think it was the pro-am round, too, they had the same pin location and I flew it past the pin there and it rolled down in that chipping area and I did the same thing today. I told myself not to do it, and I did it again.Shotlink Scatter chart for all rounds on No. 10 (click to enlarge)

  • For what it's worth, in a year that No. 10 should have been vulnerable to low scoring due to softer ground conditions and impeccable agronomy, it averaged 3.932. Perhaps the groove rule change made an impact? Dumber and dumber players?
  • Recent year scoring averages on No. 10:
  • 2009  3.915
    2008  3.865
    2007  3.847
    2006  3.786
    2005: 3.671
  • High ranking PGA Tour officials who aspire to the Commissionership should not be on the cell phones during Sunday play of a tour event when the leaders are 50 feet away? I'm just saying...

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Reader Comments (51)

What were the sushi eating brains thinking when they decided on the $50 price tag ? Just another example how out of touch they are with regular folk.....they got what they deserved.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterOld Hornet
So how do we reconcile 30,000 for the week with "advance sales were up 50%"?!?

What a load of utter bullshit.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterBassMaster
I agree. The CEO of NT was interviewed and went on and on about how ticket sales were up (I thougt I heard 30% over last year) and that Jerry West had done a great job getting the business leaders involved with corporate sales which were up ( I don't remember what # was tossed out). What are these guys drinking? ...or smoking?
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterPapa Bing
Not to change the subject from the pathetic attendance, Geoff, but thanks for commenting on J.B. Holmes' "pathetic pace of play", for that is exactly what it was yesterday and what it is every time he tees it up in an event. I'll never forget him defending himself a few years ago by saying something like, "If people don't like it, too bad. We're playing for a a million dollars out here every week."

Well, J.B., if yo want to continue playing for a million bucks a week you might want to think about the fans and the sponsors in everything you do and say.

Slow play is the most selfish thing a golfer can do on a golf course. I'd rather play with a guy who swears and throws a club after every shot. At least he's entertaining.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon in Montana
If NT goes away does this event go away as well? No support is no good. I can't imagine NT stays on for much longer? It even sounds like the Tour brass is too busy on the phone to press the necessary amount of palms. I know Tiger doesn't care too much about the event either but come on its his freakin hometown. Never understood Tiger not playing in front of the hometown crowds even if they supposedly didn't make him feel at home in their clubhouses when he was a kid or he couldn't win on Riviera, but hey at least they let him play as a kid! And I thought the whole point of the game was to take on challenges not run away from them like a kid.

How many clubs like Riviera currently host an event? How many clubs like Riviera have left the year after year drain of the PGA Tour?
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterAA
I am gobsmacked by the photograph of Steve Stricker hitting his second shot at 18. I have seen larger crowds at invitational college tournaments.

Geoff, see if you can find a similar picture(s) from an LA Open from years past and let us compare. My ragged memory seems to believe that the amphitheater seats between the green and the clubhouse used to be absolutely packed for Sat-Sun, which is all we could watch back in the day.
You know, Ky, speaking of the lack of fans, I too remember that hillside being filled with spectators at least on the final day for the final groups. The price tag has to be at least part of the problem. I certainly wouldn't pay $50 for a day pass (Is that right? Fifty bucks for ONE day??)

I lived in Phoenix for six years and never missed the Phoenix Open. I believe it still has the most attendance of any non-major golf tournament on the Tour, and it was twenty bucks for a day pass.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon in Montana
Ky, My thoughts exactly. Looks like the 18th green at The Brickyard Collegiate. I guess the combo of ticket prices, rain, Super Bowl Sunday and the perceived lack of drama because of Stricker's big lead provided a perfect storm for low attendance. But even with all of those excuses/reasons, it was still hard to fathom. I know LA has its own particular culture, but it's still a golf town. Wow.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterRM
Hey, I know that the economy sucks and a lot of people are out of work, but seriously folks, are we really saying that a $20 increase is the proximate cause of only 30,000 people showing up all week? That's an amazing statement if it's true. Maybe there are just too many other things to do in LA. Maybe the game itself is suffering because of the Tiger drama (and yes, I know that he hadn't played in a while and may not have played this year). I do think it's a cause for concern. If I were Rick Waddell (NT CEO), I'd be chatting with Jerry West about how to beef up daily attendance, because the scarcity of fans was almost as visually jarring as those ridiculous Skeletor sycamore trees.

As for Steve Stricker, I liked Geoff's comment about him answering every question as if it is the last he'd ever have to answer. That, in a nutshell is Steve Stricker. He is direct. He is responsive. He's normal. He's emotional. And he's doing his job, both on the course and in the media tent. And I'm sure he's a great guy in a pro-am, unlike a lot of the monosyllabic robots on Tour. Kudos to Strick for another terrific week. He's looking like a fixture in the upper echelon. No Comeback Player of the Year this year.

Finally, the Riv looked splendiferous, to use a goofy word. It looked like the magical Riviera of old and it was just a shame that there weren't more footprints out there this week.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Tlavin,

If I was Rick Waddell I'd run over Jerry West to get to Finchem and tell him to get ready for a contract re-negotiation or a contract breach because even he should understand that NT ain't gettin its ROI with only 30k in attendance. I don't care how many corp tents they sold. Good thing for TGC because other than a few events like Phoenix and the return to Philly at Aronimink me thinks the Tour is in for a really long year.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterAA
Yes, Riviera looked gorgeous and I would have watched even if the field consisted of a bunch of JB Holmes clones just so I could see that wonderful, classic course (the eighth hole notwithstanding).

I do hope that the tournament organizers can restore this event to premier status.

Steve Stricker is a worthy champion and he truly earned the victory with a final round that looked like hard work from beginning to end. Roger Maltby ought to start carrying a towel to his post-round interviews with Stricker. But kidding aside, it's cool to see that kind of genuine emotion from a Tour player.

Does anyone else think that Dustin Johnson spit the bit? He looked like a young player learning to deal with pressure when he followed his OB-induced double with a bogie.

Looking forward to seeing MPCC next week. Not looking forward to the inane pandering to celebs at PB.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike T.
Especially if it's those B-list celebs.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterTXQ
I was watching Sportscenter this morning in the gym and noticed that a story about Stricker winning the tournament was coming up in the list of segments that is on the left side of the screen. Then they went to commercial, and the Stricker segment was gone from the listing...replaced by some college basketball thing. Says a lot about interest in the PGA Tour, I mean TOUR, right now.

PS to NBC...ok, Dustin Johnson can dunk a basketball....enough with the "great athlete" stuff...on and on we heard about him being able to dunk.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin
As others have said, that was a disgrace to see the sparse gallery there.
Until they got to 18 you would have thought NBC was showing a friendly Monday round with the last threesome at a secluded private club. This would never happen if Tim Finchem were still alive.
Maybe they can do a "California" solution next year and charge 80$ to make up for the shortfall.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commenterjjshaka
Kevin, Good call on Dustin dunking abilities. If you're any good at all, even in high school ball, you should be able to dunk at his height. It's not like he is the only player who excelled at other sports. If they said Justin Leonard could dunk, then I might be surprised. It's also how they say it "And he can dunk a basketball". Now if they said "he can take it strong to the rack and throw down on your ass" that might lend a little more cred to the distinction.

TLavin, Good post, but what's your issue with "the ridiculous Skeletor sycamore trees"? They look cool and mystical both in person and on TV to me.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterRM
If this event goes away then Nantz's call to "buy golf" is the wrong side of the trade.

Ky, never been gobsmacked before but after taking your cue and looking at that pic of the hill on 18, I am now. Truly stunning. The one time I attended this event there was no way to get a seat on that hill near then end of any day, much less a beautiful Sunday.

As for drawing a line between the $50 and the 30,000...damn right you can. First of all, I highly doubt 30,000 actually attended -- I suspect they counted up all the tix sold, assumed said tix/badges were used every day, and grossed up 20% from there. Had they cut the price to $20 from $50, and promoted the hell out of it, I bet the bottom line would look better than the actual tally that will hit Jerry's desk in a week or two.

What a freaking disaster...mismanagement in its starkest form.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterBassMaster
I'm as cheesed off as the next guy about the ticket prices, but let's not forget the weather was awful Friday and Saturday and you had the Super Bowl on Sunday.

I usually go out to Riviera for one day each year, and planned to take my five-year-old son on Saturday (kids free this year), but decided against slogging through the mud and the chill.

I'd like to see Tiger come back -- I walked with him a few years ago at Riviera and it was pretty cool, except the part where Stevie mugged a college kid who was carrying a video camera. Stevie is one of the bigger thugs in sport, no doubt.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterSqueaky
Is this the first time the LA Open finished on Superbowl Sunday? I imagine the rain kept people off the course earlier in the week.

Of course, Phoenix used to pack 'em in on Superbowl Sunday.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterClaude
"I'd be chatting with Jerry West about how to beef up daily attendance, because the scarcity of fans was almost as visually jarring as those ridiculous Skeletor sycamore trees."

tlavin,
This statement is pure "Little Brain" mentality, mostly seen by snowbound people of the mid-west (usually from Chicago)

You simply have no idea how beautiful and how majestic the California Sycamore really is. Ridiculous? Skeletor? You should stick to watching cartoons. Those trees have been there much longer then the combined age of everyone that has posted today on geoffshackelford.com. They are simply one of the most beautiful and definitive trees in the Southland if not the world. Also, most SoCal'ers hate the rain. HATE IT. Combine that with the ticket prices and that is why they stayed away this weekend. Most of you don't know how hard it rained here. They had a frigging avalanche of water & mud come down the hills in La Canada-Flintridge. "Lets go to the Golf Tournament and get rained on!" was the last thing on people's minds.

Hopefully next year the weather won't be as harsh and maybe you can do a little research on the wonderful sycamore and its place in Native California.
RM:

My beef is a fairly petty one:I think the trees look more ghastly than ghostly and some of them, to my recollection are encroaching on play. Several are also propped up by iron bars that are painted, camo-style, so it's hard to recognize that they aren't tree branches. In my judgment, if a tree needs to be propped up on a golf course, it's time to call in the chanisaws. I will acknowledge that there is some sort of a spectral appearance to the trees, but sycamores, like eucalyptus (the other major species at the Riv) are a messy nuisance of a tree, with bark peeling off all the time and junk falling to the ground. The only place that I like seeing sycamores is in Europe, where they're called plane trees. You'll see them all over plazas and piazzas and public spaces in Spain, Italy and France.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Leave my bigscreen? Ha! They'd have to pay me to attend a golf tournament.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrank
Hey Pepper Rogers, easy with the ad hominem attack! Sorry if you can't take a snark remark about a tree, but it is a golf course, not an arboretum. The reverence for the sycamores that you express is similar to what I hear for oak trees here in the Little Brain Midwest (where, by the way, we also have sycamore trees, thank you very much), but I will hold firm to my personal pecadillo statement that if you have to prop it, you may as well chop it!
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Agreed re JB, Geoff. But we gotta think of a stronger word than "pathetic."

There's no pace like Holmes'.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterTXQ
RM--Thank you--beat me to it. I stood on the 16th green/6th tee/17th tee yesterday and marveled at the beauty and frankly magical sycamores there--a favorite spot on this grand course. At this end of the course, most of them have been there for 150 years or more and withstood fire, flood, etc.
tlavin--What's up with the smackdown of the "ridiculous Skeletor sycamore trees"? How could Riviera look splendiferous without them? or L.A. C.C., Bel Air C.C., Ojai Valley, The Valley Club (good luck getting them removed there!), etc. Thank God they are a protected species in the state of California along with our native oaks or I guess you'd have them all removed because they are visually jarring to you back there in Chicago.
My guess is your sycamore hating karma will preclude your ever being a member at one of these beautiful places.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterK.R.
Really. It's not the trees' fault that they know it's the middle of winter, even in Southern California.

As for Southern California and rain, what Pepper says. My first time in San Diego it rained and the local TV weather dweebs had a collective nervous breakdown. Only there was barely enough rain to wet the sidewalks, much less soak them. In the rest of the country, including Death Valley, no one would have noticed. And last February a friend and I showed up at Rustic Canyon to play. It had been raining earlier that day and the day before. The bunkers were wet but there was practically no standing water to be seen anywhere except in the parking lot. The course was closed. On a Saturday. Lame. Especially since we played the next day and the course was in great hard-and-fast condition despite the previous Noachian flood.

RM, if you have been to the Brickyard, we need to get out one day and play.
Geoff, TXQ, do yourselves a favor and give up on it, spare your stomach the acid ;-) The PGA Tour has proven that they absolutely postively without a doubt will not do anything meaningful about slow play -- period, end of story.

Langer, All Day, Harrington, Crane, Holmes, etc...

The tour simply does not give a shit and as long as Pinch'em is CEO this will not change.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterBassMaster
Great post California Pepper Rodgers! You must be a Bruin
Note to tlavin--I hope that when you need to be propped up someday, someone brings out the chainsaw (only I spelled it correctly)
K.R.--couldn't agree more!! except you forgot Holmby Park--a venerable course loaded with those ridiculous trees. tlavin could play there--you don't need to be a member and it's a stone's throw from L.A.C.C.--the closest he's going to get.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterProthro.
Largely overlooked in this discussion:

There were nowhere near 30,000 bodies out there this week. Not even close. That was just a PGA Tour "estimate" designed to save some element of face.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterPete Pino
Prothro:

Nice spot on the typo, you must be a wannabe editor. But I must say that you California types are all too edgy this morning. I said I didn't like some trees, for Chrissakes. Go ahead and tie yourself to them if you want. If I was on the committee, I'd get outvoted but I'd vote to cut down anything that needs to be propped up. And, btw, nice shot about the public course, but I don't need any introductions from you to play Riv or LACC or Wilshire or Bel-Air, or anywhere else in LA, but thanks for thinking of my potential plight.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
tlavin,
Much of the natural character of Riviera is those trees you are calling "Skeletor." While I will agree that clean-up of the Eucalyptus trees is sometimes tiresome, the trees at Rivera aren't the problem; they aren't the nuisance. Especially a Sycamore or California (hurrumph, hurrumph!) Pepper or Oak. You want to complain about trees on golf courses, complain about pine trees that aren't native, as well as oleanders and shrubberies; ivy, etc.

Prothro is right. God help you when someone has to prop you up and threatens to cut you down!

Pete Pino,
Good to see you kid!
Pepper and Prothro:

"God help you when someone has to prop you up..."

We're talking about trees. Trees. And they're trees on a golf course. You tree huggers really crack me up. Are you a member of PETT (People for the Ethical Treatment of Trees)?

Your other point about pine trees and other non-native species is spot-on. The blue spruce, Austrian Pine and any other imaginable conifer is a bit of a problem hereabouts, but they look just fine at Sahalee or Pinehurst.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
tlavin,
Below is a link. I suggest you click on it--a picture of Riviera #6 in its early days close to opening. If you look over in the distance, you'll see those sycamores "propped-up." with the same steel poles/stanchions that keeping them up today. THE SAME EXACT ONES..... Also, you should know that the Sycamore, as a tree, grow fast and then more or less stunt their growth as they get older, bigger; more beautiful. They are a water tolerant tree once they mature, especially when they are located near the ocean. This means they take less water and produce high amounts of nutrients for the soil, which in turn makes Riviera the exquisitely evolved course that it is today. Just like a fine wine.

What this means is that Captain Thomas intended those Sycamore trees to remain as an integral part of the experience, if not the design of Riviera Country Club. You should read Thomas' book on Golf Architecture. You might surprise yourself, learn a thing or two and find that you too can be a "treehugger" in a good way.

Here is the photo which to link:
http://tinyurl.com/yco63rx
Pepper:

Thanks for the link to the photo. I think I can see something holding up a couple of those trees, but I'm not sure. In my judgment, it just indicates that the Captain and some of his well-meaning followers were misguided in their efforts to keep these falling specimens alive. A couple minor points. I have been intimately involved in two major tree management projects at two Top 100 private golf courses and have morphed from a golf course tree lover to a golf course lover that understands the place that a tree program has in the overall maintenance of a golf course. When I first started playing golf, I was enamored of the huge oaks, sugar maples, elms and other hardwoods that lined the fairways of the best and oldest golf courses in my area. I also observed a bunch of scraggly silver maples, eastern red cedars and numerous conifers. I thought they looked pretty and that the golf course was like a nature preserve.

But then I got educated and learned that some of these species were not native and that some were planted in areas that detrimentally affected play and/or the health of turfgrass. Once I was sufficiently advised by arborists, golf course superintendants and other experts in the field, i took a different view and started looking at the trees that didn't belong on certain golf holes. This knowldedge occurred in conjunction with extensive restoration of these two magnificent old (both over 90 years old) golf courses.

When the work on each course was complete, we were left with courses that still looked like traditional, treelined parkland golf courses. There were fewer trees, but the ones that belonged there were now more prominent and more beautiful and they didn't negatively impact play or turf condition. To me, an old golf course that gets a thoughtful tree removal plan in place is a much more beautiful environment in which to play the game.

I recognize that others disagree and some get so passionate about tree removal that they are led to inflammatory statements. That's fine. I recognize the rights of "tree huggers" to wax eloquently about the majesty of an indigenous sycamore, oak or even a pine tree in the right area. My only point is that when you get to the stage that a tree has to be propped up to stay alive or to stay off a fairway, it ought to be cut down. Sometimes, the hugging of trees creates some pretty silly situations, IMHO. For example, the last time I played Pebble Beach, I was in a left fairway bunker and just in front of the bunker, in direct line to the green was a sad, old tree that completely blocked my approach to the putting surface.. Bad enough, to be sure, but the darned thing was propped up with an angled wooden brace. To me, that's doubly silly.

As for Riviera and LACC, I've played each a handful of times and I think they are both great. LACC has a huge number of trees that should be cut down when the renovation/restoration is done. I hope Shack is sympathetic to ths point of view. As for The Riv, in my mind it is a bit of a golf course architecture shrine. But to me, the propped up sycamores distract from and do not enhance the beauty and majesty of the golf course. If they ever cut down the small number of falling but crutched trees, all you'll see is the remaining sycamores which point proudly to the sky.

It'll still look like heaven.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
At the 2008 Masters, my wife and I stood on the fourth tee and watched JB Holmes take just under 5 minutes (I timed it) to play his tee shot after he had already been waiting on the teebox for ten minutes for the green to clear. In fact, he didn't even begin the process of club and shot selection with his caddie until AFTER THE GREEN HAD CLEARED. All in all, the threesome took 8 minutes to hit three tee shots.

My wife, who likes golf but is not a golfer, watched as the threesome walked past us on the way to the green and then asked, "What the *&^% is wrong with that guy?"
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterFo Shiz
Fo Shiz,

He wasn't waiting for a tree to fall, was he?
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
tlavin--I didn't say "play", I said be a member. Anyone can "play" at one of these courses.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterK.R.
Even beyond the grave, I and my misguided followers are soooo grateful for your wisdom.
What a boatload of hot air and know it all crap you have posted!!! Go back to your "just wait until my Tiger gets back and kicks butt" thread!!
02.8.2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Captain
Thanks, Cap'n. I'm sure you'll have your acolytes out there at LACC making sure that nothing gets cut down.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
K.R.

BTW, I wasn't addressing my comment to you; I was responding to prothro's suggestion that I should play: "Holmby Park--a venerable course loaded with those ridiculous trees. tlavin could play there--you don't need to be a member and it's a stone's throw from L.A.C.C.--the closest he's going to get" Are you on the Board at LACC or Riviera? I suppose I could check on something like that if I knew your name, but you choose to post under initials. Maybe you, prothro and Pepper can meet and compare notes on how to best insult somebody that you don't know. Insult somebody over a comment ABOUT TREES, for Chrissakes.
02.8.2010 | Unregistered Commentertlavin

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