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Because it involves the reduction of activity to some dead mathematical formula, the giving of handicaps has always been a difficult problem to solve. In golf this difficulty has been further accentuated in the failure to perceive that a round of golf is not a continuous performance such as a race, but is divided into 18 separate parts. MAX BEHR



Multiple Choices At Torrey South

gwar01_080606usga.jpgMy Golf World preview story on Mike Davis' plan to mix things up is now posted.

John Huggan tackled a similar subject in his Sunday column, with a review of the tiered rough's impact after two years, along with this quote from Davis about the tee placement variety concept:

"Before I took over, there was a long-standing policy that, as soon as the location of the tee was established that was where you played from," says Davis. "I want to get away from that. I want us to start mixing up tee markers. I think that offers more of challenge. One day you are at 470-yards, the next day the hole plays 410-yards. Suddenly, the drive zone has changed and the player has to think about it differently.


Golf Club Radio Show Appearance

header.jpgIf you have 30 minutes to kill, I spoke with Danielle Tucker for her Golf Club Radio Show on Saturday. Topics include Torrey Pines, slow play, and the other usual suspects.

“I wish the (PGA) tour had the (guts) to do it more.”

Tod Leonard talks to Phil about The Pairing and Torrey Pines, which he has yet to play this week (!?).
“I think it's awesome,” Mickelson said in an interview yesterday with The Union-Tribune. “I wish the (PGA) tour had the (guts) to do it more.”

Leonard's San Diego Union Tribune counterpart Tim Sullivan is not a fan of The Pairing and says you are better off watching on television, though in the USGA's defense he shares some pretty impressive numbers about the proportion of fans and grandstand seats.


Jim McKay R.I.P.

07mckay1_190.jpgThe sound of Jim McKay's voice accompanied by the Love Unlimited Orchestra's "Love Theme." Nirvana for golf fans (my generation, anyway).

Here's the New York Times obit.


Brand Lady Strikes Back With Series Of Bruising Rhetorical Questions

Smarting from that new 3-year contract extension, LPGA Commish Carolyn Bivens announced a de-branding of the LPGA Championship and a likely move to a summer date in the Northeast U.S. Naturally, she was quite humble in announcing the move, as reported by Ron Sirak.

"The LPGA has been surviving for 58 years," Bivens told Golf World. "Now is the time to move into the world of major sports." She said that while the tournament will have no title sponsor (other than the LPGA), it will seek presenting sponsors to help with the cost of running the event -- and hope to be part of a television package that will generate revenue.
And she seems to have really mastered the rhetorical question.
"Could the proceeds from the LPGA Championship be the beginning of a real retirement fund?" Bivens asked rhetorically. "Could it grow into an LPGA version of the Masters? Could it contribute two, three, four, five million dollars a year to the pension fund? The business plan we have for 2010 can take this tour to a new level of financial stability."



U.S. Open Contest Finishes Before Sundown As JT Breaks 100; Shark and Butch Battle To Get On Camera

gwar01_080606romoatkinsonjt.jpgLarry Dorman reports for the NY Times (including a fun Matt Lauer anecdote) while John Strege spills the beans for
The damage report: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (whose handicap index is 2.2) shot a 13-over par 84; pop star Justin Timberlake (a 6.0) shot 98; Today Show host Matt Lauer (a 6.2) shot 100; and John Atkinson (an 8.1), who was chosen from a pool of 56,000 contest entrants nationwide, shot 114.

"They're inhuman, how well they stripe it," Timberlake said of the professionals who -- albeit better armed on the talent front -- will face the same challenge next week. "We're just proud to be a part of actually showing it."

Not a single birdie was made, and the longest putt holed was a 20-footer Lauer made for par at the last hole. Atkinson failed to make a single par, yet he was the winner by anyone's measure. A year ago, Atkinson was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

His own personal gallery included an estimated 60 people, family and friends from his hometown of Omaha, who spent the six hours, 15 minutes it took the foursome to complete the round loudly encouraging his every swing. So did the the celebrities in his group and their caddies, who included Greg Norman (looping for Lauer) and Butch Harmon (working for Timberlake).

"I had a great time," Atkinson said. "I had a certain score that I wanted to hit, but that wasn't going to happen. But I feel it's like life -- you've just got to keep going."

Berman: ESPN Would Be Doing Public A Disservice By Asking Him To Shelve "Ground Control To David Toms" And Other Not-Funny Knicknames

Jay Posner bravely talks to Chris Berman about the ESPN legend's uncanny ability to make 6 hours of U.S. Open telecast seems like 60 hours in a Guantanamo detention cell.

We talked about his passion for the Open – which he has been covering since 1986, including the last five years as the play-by-play voice on Thursday and Friday – but also the criticism and why he believes it's unjust.

“First of all,” he said, “it's unfair because if you're on the air for six hours and heaven forbid I say, 'Ground control to David Toms,' you're writing it like I said it 500 times. Not the case.”

One Ground control to David Toms was one time too many.

Perhaps the biggest criticism I hear about Berman is that he puts himself above the event he's broadcasting. When Maxim recently named him No. 1 on its list of the 10 worst broadcasters in sports, author Will Leitch – who founded – wrote that Berman “never fails to shoehorn his trademark nonsense into a game.”

Said Berman: “It's unfair if people say I'm trying to make it my show. Then you haven't paid attention. Then you haven't done me fair. 'Cause I'm not. But I'm trying to be me and have a good time with it as someone who's an avid follower of the game; someone who's like most of the audience who are watching, a 16-handicap give or take, not a 3 (handicap) or a scratch.

“I would think that's someone loaded for bear before I even come out of the woods, and I can't help that.

Loaded with dread was more how I think of it.

“It's the only way I know how to do it. There's a lot of ways to announce it; I'm just being me. I'm not trying to overdo it at all. If anyone thinks I come in to overdo it, you're not being fair and you're not listening.”

No, I believe you. Just wish we would get more stuff like this.

John Skipper, ESPN executive VP of content and a supporter of Berman's, said Berman “is aware of a balance about being himself and the event. But part of what you want on the event is Chris Berman.”

Because it's just the little old U.S. Open, it needs that extra push!

“The U.S. Open guys love him on it,” Skipper said (a USGA spokesman confirmed that). “They position themselves as the people's golf tournament and Chris is the personification of that. . . . He's knowledgeable and passionate. For us it's a no-brainer (to use him).”

Really, there's nothing I can add to those sentences.


Monty: Will You Still Rank Me When I'm 52?

Lewine Mair talks to the great Scot on the U.S. Open eve and he offers an unprecedented admission. Sort of. First...

"I feel as if I'm still a top-25 player," protested this competitive soul. "The only thing is that the rankings don't lie."
Here's the kinda mea culpa. Here's the background from Alistair Tait if you don't recall his brilliant decision to fire his caddy and go with a local last year.
Ideally, Montgomerie wants to get cracking now. Only two years ago he came within a whisker of winning the US Open. Last year, on the other hand, was a write-off, not least because of relations between him and his local caddie, 'Oakmont Bill'.

The two all but came to blows at the long fourth on their second and last day. Bill asked the Scot if he planned to go for the green or if he was going to lay up. "I'm going to go for it," Montgomerie said. He tried and failed - and then he rounded on the caddie for putting negative ideas in his head.

Montgomerie was also at odds with his putter, with as many as nine stone-cold implements tumbling from his locker when he was leaving for home.

"The local caddie was a bad idea and changing putters was a worse one," he admits. "In the case of the putter, I'm afraid nothing was more applicable than that old saying about the bad workman - it wasn't the putter, it was the puttee. I've still got to force myself to follow through, to accelerate more through the ball."

Montgomerie is always looking for positives and a couple have just landed in his lap. Miguel Angel Jimenez, who won at Wentworth, is the same age as he is, while American Kenny Perry, who won the Memorial Tournament last week, is older.

He will be 45 this month but, as he points out, he is exempt on the European Tour for the next seven years.

"And do you know what?" he volunteers. "I'll still be telling you than that I should be in the world's top 25 when I'm 52."

Never shy in the self-important department!


Just In Time For Father's Day, Vol. 2

Thanks to the reader who passed along the Talking Points Memo item on John McCain's fundraiser/father's day gift idea, with "Golf Gear" featured prominently at the top of his web site next to categories titled, Decision Center, General Election and Obama & Iraq.

Judging by the images, it's just what dad has always wanted. A cute little pursey kind of shoe bag, some balls, tees, towel and ball mark fixer, all for just $50.

It's not the UroClub, but what is?


Greetings From San Diego: The Day We've All Been Waiting For Has Arrived Edition

maar01_usopencelebs.jpgYou've been marking the days off your calendars, you've set your ical alarms for June 6th and in general, you're tracking the wires for word on whether Justin, Tony, Matt or John break 100.

Yes, Friday is the day they tackle Torrey Pines and it absolutely pains me to admit that this one-off USGA pandering to celebrity-it's-all-about-me-culture will...ugh...God this a huge hit. 

San Diego (well, south of Leisure World) is abuzz over Justin Timberlake's whereabouts. I hate to break the news to the radio station trying to figure where he's been: it's not that sexy unless you really like golf. 230136-1625141-thumbnail.jpg
Ogilvy chats with Harmon and Timberlake on No. 3 tee (click to enlarge)

"JT" has been slapping it around Torrey talking to Butch Harmon about his swing plane and being a nice guy to anyone he comes in contact with. (Yep, you wanted him to be an arrogant snot, but he seems like a genuinely great guy infatuated with golf. He even watches it on that's devotion). 

Even more astonishing thing about this Golf Digest-NBC run event would be the names expected to attend the made-for-TV event (airing before the final round at Torrey): Greg Norman as Lauer's looper, Butch Harmon as Justin's pro jock and Adam Scott as a friend lending moral support.

The Trophy Wives Club Is Ready To Go (click to enlarge)
Here's why I think it'll be a hit: someone is going to break 100 and it'll make for great TV (especially since they'll edit the 6 hour debacle into a one-hour package). Now, Geoff Ogilvy contends a sub-100 score might happen because Rees Jones's computer-generated green complexes will not exact as huge a toll as say, Oakmont's might have.

I like that theory, plus I'm going with a visceral thing that these guys are pretty good golfers. Sure, Justin could vomit all over himself with the cameras rolling, but whenever I saw him playing his game looked very solid. John Atkinson, the contest winner, looked good though a bit overburdened with everyone offering swing thoughts. That's why he's got Bob Rotella on the bag. And Romo is just a good stick. 230136-1625156-thumbnail.jpg
T-shirts were the highlight of the merchandise tent (click to enlarge)

The fountain is off, Torrey's transformation into a U.S. Open venue is complete (click to enlarge)
As for my day walking with Ogilvy and his pals Steve and Greg, or Geoff's chat with Mike Davis and Jim Hyler about the course setup, or the USGA's quick reaction to an emerging course setup hot spot, or all of the other fun stuff I saw, you'll have to check in to Monday morning. Don't worry, you have the Stanford St. Jude Championship to help bide the time.


World Ranking Pairing Reaction

I was at Torrey Pines all day and so it was fun to read your reactions to the Tiger-Phil pairing news and that now-so-obvious &%$#@ pairing.

On site, volunteers were allowed to tackle the Merchandise Pavilion, so while I was also making my contribution for the good of the game ($250 thank you), I quizzed some of the shoppers who offered a mix of opinions similar to the variety displayed by some of the writers.

Personally, I'm torn between loving the excitement it adds while cringing at the logistical nightmare that will unfold on a course where nearly half the holes do not allow for fans to line both fairway sides (3, 4, 6, 7, 13, 14, 16, 17 for those counting at home) .

But enough about me, here's a sampling of early media reaction:

Cameron Morfit loved the USGA's decision to pair Tiger and Phil while wondering why the world ranking pairing system isn't used all of the time.

His colleague Farrell Evans thinks it's a bad idea because it re-enforces "the idea that they are the only two truly marketable players in the game. Let them earn the right to play together in the final round on Sunday. Let them scuffle and hack their way through the deep rough to play together."

Steve Elling
wishes fans attending the Open good luck if they were actually hoping to see Tiger and Phil hitting shots.

Thomas Bonk raises a point that Geoff Ogilvy made today, and Geoff should know since he was played with Tiger and Phil at Medinah: "chances are that Lee Janzen, Steve Flesch and Rich Beem aren't going to be quite so jolly. They're the group behind Woods, virtually guaranteeing them less than a serene day at the golf course."

Bonk also gets NBC's reaction:

"It's great for TV and for the viewers," NBC spokesman Brian Walker said. "We'd be showing as much of their round as possible, so in some ways, it makes it easier to cover."

Ed Sherman gives it a big thumb's up but wonders how it will affect Lefty.

And Doug Ferguson, who broke the story and sounded skeptical in his initial reporting, still sounds a bit conflicted:

Applaud the USGA for trying what no one else — the PGA Tour, especially — has dared, even if there might be so many spectators that half of them won't be able to see anything at all.

And the USGA decided to go along with a gimmick that takes place Friday at Torrey Pines, when three celebrities and one lucky (or unlucky) amateur will play the course in U.S. Open conditions to see if they can break 100.

The last thing it needs is more accusations of trying to become more than it was meant to be — a circus, not a championship.

Even so, it's worth a shot.

"What's wrong with putting 1 and 2 together, given their background at Torrey Pines?"

Doug Ferguson fleshes out his exclusive on the unique pairings structure for this year's U.S. Open.
Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition for the USGA, said the top 12 players will be grouped together and spread over the four various time slots — starting on the first tee or 10th tee in the morning, and first tee or 10th tee in the afternoon.

The biggest stars usually are dispersed among the morning and afternoon times, largely at the behest of television. Davis said the USGA has been thinking about a major change over the past few months and decided to give it a try.

"Why not put them in the same wave?" Davis said in a telephone interview from San Diego. "The heck with what TV wants. Let's do what we want for the championship."
You can do these things when they are signed through 2014 or whatever it is.
The original thought was to keep Woods and Mickelson near the same time, but as Davis spoke to USGA executive director David Fay and other executives, they decided to go a step further.

"What's wrong with putting 1 and 2 together, given their background at Torrey Pines?" Davis said.

From there, they decided to involve the top 12. That means Ernie Els, Ogilvy and Justin Rose would be in the same group, while Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and K.J. Choi would comprise another, and Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Stewart Cink would be the other.

The U.S. Open traditionally groups the defending champion, the British Open champion and the U.S. Amateur champion. That would not be affected with Angel Cabrera at No. 22 in the ranking, Padraig Harrington at No. 14 and U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost not in the field because he turned pro.

"If there was a right year to do it, this was it," Davis said, alluding to Woods' and Mickelson's history at Torrey Pines.

Tiger-Phil-Adam Pairing To Kick Off Open

A wire service story (Doug Ferguson I presume) is up on the 2008 U.S. Open pairings, which Mike Davis was working on today here at Torrey. He said he thought he had some nice groups lined up. Seems he was being his typical modest self!

The story does not have the full pairings, but instead just mentions some of the glamour groups.


Greetings From San Diego, The Week Before The Open Edition

sandiegogreetingsfrom.jpgJune gloom? Try June gusher.

Who said a U.S. Open in southern California meant no rain?  Here's the best part. As soon as I left Torrey Pines and drove down Highway 1 after strolling around in the wet stuff for three hours, the drizzle stopped. And driving back from a dinner downtown, where was the only place it was coming down as I drove back up the 5? Yep, La Jolla. Giving credence to that Torrey Pines "micro-climate" nonsense Strege has been talking about. I hate it when he's right.

All bitching aside, it was worth it to tour Torrey and see the incredible course conditioning progress that's been made since last month. Huge kudos to director of maintenance and soon-to-be-GCSAA head man Mark Woodward, USGA agonomist Pat Gross, Torrey super Candace Combs and the hard-working crews here. (Special thanks to Patrick, who, seeing me without raingear drenched as the hardest wave of "drizzle" came down, noted that "he didn't think the heavy stuff would come down for a while." Thanks for the chuckle.)

Not only is the South Course immaculate, it's much, much more firm than last month when it was pretty swampy, particularly on the bermuda approaches and greens. (I hear credit in part goes to SpotWater Management's Andy Slack, who was hired to help the team out with the tricky irrigation system.)230136-1621957-thumbnail.jpg
Yes, rain made that cart path shiny. (Click to enlarge)

I'd get into the particulars of the setup, but I'll save those for my first post next Monday at, where I'll be blogging each day from Torrey Pines on all things golf course related. But boy are there going to be some fun things to talk about.

080604tigerattorrey.jpgI overheard a few things about Tiger's round earlier in the day where he carted it around the South. (Tod Leonard has the story here.) All witnesses said there was no hint of a limp and that he was in great spirits, talking up the USGA's Mike Davis and super Combs among others.

He apparently raved about the speed of the greens, and that's saying something since he's a tough critic of poa putting surfaces. And he should rave. They are firm and shockingly fast, so much so that a serious hot spot has emerged (again, more on that Monday).230136-1621966-thumbnail.jpg
The epic setting at 18. No, they haven't shut the fountain off yet. Everything else looks superb. (Click to enlarge)

There were also a few other people playing the course, but I was told I'd be killed if I wrote about it so I'll just cut this off in the interest of actually seeing who wins the 2008 U.S. Open.

I can't wait.


"It's almost beyond belief"

Thomas Bonk talks to Mike Davis about the weird development of the Torrey Pines rough, which has more kikuyu thanks to our warm, sunny spring.

The problem is with the 15-foot width of primary rough, which is troublesome even though it has been cut to only 2 1/4 inches. The rough is a combination of Kikuyu, over-seeded rye and poa annua, and that's what is concerning the USGA right now.

"It's almost beyond belief," said Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competitions who is in charge of setting up the course.

Davis walked the course late Monday afternoon and said he dropped about 250 balls in the rough to check the conditions.

Some of the balls sank deep in the grass, some went halfway and some sat right on top of the grass like they were placed on a tee.

"We've never had rough this short, but we've never had Kikuyu in the mix," Davis said today. "My gosh, you could drop two balls only three inches from each other, and one disappears and the other stays right up on top. It's hard to believe. Is this the U.S. Open or the World Junior Championship?"

I'm going to see it firsthand the next two days and will post some thoughts. But those balls sitting way up in kikuyu can be deceptively difficult.  I know from hitting countless sky balls and assorted other whiff-like shots from what looked so simple!


"That's a touch of style."

From Ron Green Jr.'s weekly golf notes:

Sophie Gustafson's final-round meltdown Sunday at the Ginn Tribute hosted by Annika near Charleston couldn't have been fun. But after shooting a final-round 79 to waste a six-shot lead, Gustafson -- according to witnesses -- took the time to sign autographs for the crowd waiting for her.That's a touch of style.



Memorial Overnights

The Tiger effect, vol. 34,501, courtesy of Thomas Bonk:

Perry had a nice Sunday in Dublin, Ohio, but CBS didn't. The network's overnight ratings for the Memorial were down 31% from last year's 2.6 (when K.J. Choi won and Woods was playing) to a 1.8.


"It doesn't matter if it's hard or easy — it's the same for everybody. But is that what we want?"

Doug Ferguson tackles my favorite subject, the increasing difficulty of PGA Tour setups and gets some fresh perspectives from Joe Ogilvie and Davis Love as well as a PGA Tour mandate from the 90s.

The problem is whether the PGA Tour is getting enough variety.

For all the complaining at Memorial, there were birdies to be made. Mathew Goggin made 15 over the first two days, along with his share of bogeys. Even so, Davis Love III has noticed the winning score getting worse in recent years.

"Scores should be going down, not up," Love said. "That's a pretty good indication that it's getting harder. Nobody ever shoots 20 under anymore. And players are a heck of a lot better. The fields are deeper."

Love said the course setup was a major topic at the players' meeting last month in North Carolina. Why are courses so hard? What kind of show can they put on for the fans and a television audience when they're scrambling for par?

And who's idea was this, anyway?

"It's a four-letter word," Steve Flesch said at the Memorial. "And he runs this place."

The mandate actually came from the PGA Tour policy board nearly 20 years ago, with only a few instructions. Firm, closely mown grass on the tees, fairways and greens. Thick, evenly dispersed rough (when growing conditions allow).

The summation of that 1990 document was to have all courses play as difficult as possible while remaining fair. Exactly what that means, of course, is subject to interpretation.

Are course setups getting worse?

In 22 stroke-play events this year, 10 winning scores were higher, 10 were lower and two were the same.

"I don't want to sound like the guy who's 44 and not playing good," said Love, who turned 44 in April and is not playing particularly well. "But it's really hard. It doesn't matter if it's hard or easy — it's the same for everybody. But is that what we want?"

This follows a year in which average birdies were way down from previous years, along with TV ratings, and players began asking if fans might lose interest watching the best in the world hack it around every week.

"I think Phil had the right idea when he said technology has gone two ways," Joe Ogilvie said. "We have better balls, better drivers, better equipment. Johnny Miller talks about equipment almost as much as he talks about himself. But 15 years ago, they couldn't grow rough 10 inches. John Deere makes a hell of a tractor that cuts the greens lower and lower and lower.

"It gets to the point when golf — even for us — gets pretty boring."

Next week is the U.S. Open, where the winning score has been 5 over par the last two years.

Ogilvie believes PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, the USGA and other golf organizations want courses to be tougher than ever so fans won't think "these guys are good" simply because of the better equipment.

"But at least," Ogilvie said, "they're not saying 'these guys are good' because of HGH."

That last point is definitely a new one. Is Finchem that clever and the field staff really taking such a directive? I don't think so. I'm more inclined to think that it's a combination of host courses raising the bar with thicker, higher rough, the PGA Tour's philosophy that a great tournament is major like (thus, more rough, narrower fairways and high scores) and maybe a slight overreaction to technology.

What do you think?


"If Woods isn't quite the same at Torrey Pines, it will show."

Jaime Diaz chimes in on Tiger's knee situation with some interesting thoughts.

There's no indication Woods' injury is in the same gift-robbing category of knee victims such as Mickey Mantle, Bobby Orr, Gale Sayers or Elgin Baylor. Still, it could alter his ability to play in a dominating style. For all his mental abilities, it was Woods' clear physical superiority that stood out when he won the 1997 Masters. And while it has been presumed that a decade later that gap had been narrowed as players such as Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes drive it past him, it turns out Woods still plays with the highest clubhead speed -- 124 miles per hour -- of any player on the PGA Tour. If he didn't choose to play a high-spinning ball and launch his drives on a relatively low trajectory, he would probably still be the game's longest hitter.

But if the after effects of his repaired knee were to cause Woods to lose, say, five mph in clubhead speed, it would blunt some of his edge. It would be subtle, but perhaps he would no longer be able call up enough power to reach the longest par 5, or muscle up from the rough, or hit a sky-high long iron to a pin that no one else can get near, or drive a par 4. Power -- correctly applied -- is a major "separator" when the challenge is extreme length, extreme rough and extreme firmness, as it will be at next week's U.S. Open. If Woods isn't quite the same at Torrey Pines, it will show.

The supreme champions, however, tend to rise to physical challenges. Vardon won two British Opens after a long bout with tuberculosis. Hogan lost much of his amazing athleticism after his car accident but found a way to win six majors in the three years after his return. Even Jack Nicklaus, the most untouched by fate among the greats prior to Woods, had a troublesome hip problem as early as 1963 and sacrificed some of his power after losing weight in 1970. The best years of his career were the succeeding five.

"Whatever I lost, I made accommodations for," Nicklaus said at the Memorial. "If Tiger has to, I'm sure he will make accommodations. My guess is he won't have to."



Sectional Qualifying Mop-Up

Alex Miceli offers a nice summary of notables who made it while Greg Hardwig details the nine(!) hole playoff that was played this morning between Joey Lamielle and Julian Surl at Tequesta. And the USGA now has all scores posted on the official U.S. Open website.

Dan O'Neill uses the 17-player qualifier at Boone Valley to wonder if some consolidation is in order as players find little benefit in playing where so few others are showing up.