Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle has been covering golf for the magazine and SI's weekly Golf Plus section since 1996.
A fine golfer who once advanced to the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying, Van Sickle was the only non-Ohioan to play in the Ohio Golf Association's Champions Tournament. He joins us to share a few thoughts on the uniform-ball event played last week.
I eventually found out the name came from humans. It came from Al Kaskel, who built the resort, and his wife, Doris. I guess Al Kaskel could have called it Aldor, but putting his wife's name first obviously made it sound better, and may have even prevented an argument at home. DAN JENKINS as Bobby Joe Grooves talking about Doral
Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle has been covering golf for the magazine and SI's weekly Golf Plus section since 1996.
GVanSickle: no problem. it was great being had!
The September 4 issue of SI opens with the traditional "Scorecard" piece, this time with Alan Shipnuck writing about the emergence of golf as a "power game." He then lays out the
perks headaches coming with the power shift.
Golf is a power game, a point driven home by a recent confluence of events in Ohio that rocked a sport that has always been resistant to change. In Springfield on Aug. 22, the Ohio Golf Association held a tournament in which competitors were compelled to use identical balls that had been engineered to fly roughly 10% shorter than the average rock. (dead-ball golf is what headline writers at The Columbus Dispatch called the attempt to put the toothpaste back into the tube.) Then, in Akron last week, Tiger Woods took time out from winning his fourth straight tournament, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, to stump for the implementation of performance-enhancing drug testing in professional golf. It was a public rebuke to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who has staked out a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil position on steroids.And after considering the recent events and Tiger's feelings on the matter, Shipnuck reminds us that Woods pushed for a pro-active stance on driver testing. And of course not mentioned here but equally as important to the topic at hand, Woods has advocated changing the spin rate of balls.
On the OGA event, Shipnuck writes:
It was an open-minded band of volunteers that showed up when the OGA staged its one-ball tournament, bringing to life an idea that for years has been kicked around by everyone from Jack Nicklaus to recently retired Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, who grew weary of annually having to tear up his golf course to keep pace with advances in equipment. (Augusta National has grown more than 500 yards, to 7,445, since Woods's overpowering victory in 1997.) OGA president Hugh E. Wall III said that maintaining the relevance of older, shorter courses in his jurisdiction was the primary motivation for testing the restricted-flight ball. "[We have] great courses, but many don't have the resources or the real estate to expand to 7,400 yards," Wall told GolfWorld. "[We want] our member clubs to see there may be another option ... other than bulldozers."
Thus every competitor at Windy Knoll Golf Club received a dozen balls with an OGA logo and a side stamp of CHAMPIONS 08222306 (the name of the tournament and its dates). All other details about the ball were supposed to be top secret, but by tournament's end word had leaked that it was manufactured by Volvik, an obscure Korean company. (A U.S. manufacturer examined the OGA ball for SI and reports that it was a three-piece, dual-core construction with a Surlyn cover and 446 dimples.) These instant collector's items left most players pining for their regular ball. Derek Carney of Dublin, Ohio, typified the conflicted attitude: He agreed that something has to be done to protect older courses but said that he didn't like the OGA ball "because it doesn't benefit me."
Oddly, such a selfish attitude in other sports would be laughed, but in golf, such an attitude is seen differently. Shipnuck explains:
Such grumbling merely previews the howls of protest that would accompany any efforts to roll back the ball on the PGA Tour, where players have spent years using launch monitors and computers to find optimal combinations of balls, shafts and clubheads. The irony of the OGA event is that it is PGA Tour pros who threaten to make a mockery of classic courses. Yet bifurcation is a dirty word in golf. Differing rules for pros and amateurs would destroy the business model of the $4 billion equipment industry, which is built on stars like Woods being paid handsomely to peddle their gear to weekend hackers.
Golf is still grappling with the ramifications of the boom-boom ethos that has redefined the game, but the almighty buck remains the sport's most influential force. When it comes to reigning in the power game, steroid testing will be an easier sell than dead-ball golf. Especially when Woods is the salesman.
Thanks to JPB for the heads up on Golfweek's Beth Ann Baldry report of the latest LPGA debacle. This time the Tour os losing
6-year 8-year sponsor Wendy's because, get this, Wendy's didn't like that their existing date was given to another tournament.
So selfish of them! How dare they not understand the dynamics and metrics of making a schedule?
Mick Elliott reports in the Tampa Tribune
that the Tour's decision to make Doral a WGC event is looking worse by the day that the Tampa Chrysler event played this fall (and then appearing again next March), has no sponsor for '07. And apparently, isn't very close to getting one.
"We're working hard trying to find a title sponsor and feel we're making progress," tournament director Gerald Goodman said. "But I haven't been holding back any announcements, I'll tell you that."
"It's a combination of factors, and frankly I think one of them is it's hard to convey to prospects how good the golf tournament can be in March," said Tim Crosby, PGA Tour director of business affairs. "It's a great sports and golf market in the right time of year. It's a golf course that players rank in their top five.
"We know how good it can be, but to somebody who has not been there before, it's hard to completely get that message across."
Though Crosby insists he believes differently, the feeling in some circles is that playing at Innisbrook, with no elevators, aging decor and design, and an absence of a central public party location, would be like giving the Bucs one of football's best playing fields but leaving it inside old Tampa Stadium.
Potential title sponsors are being courted for a financial commitment between $6 million and $7 million for each of a three- to six-year contract. Putting a company's name on a golf tournament typically turns the week into a time for entertaining major clients. It also can become the face of a company's advertising.
For such a financial commitment, companies may be looking for bells and whistles that more modern five-star facilities may provide for invited clients.
I'd say they are within their rights to want a hotel with elevators!
"I can't say I disagree," Crosby said, "But you can fix those things with a little makeup, because the foundation is strong. What's so compelling is the golf course.
"I see the point, but I think once we get people there, it's a non-factor. But getting people there to experience it instead of just looking at pictures is very important."
In the meantime, this year's final Chrysler Championship draws closer to its Oct. 26-29 date, and 19 weeks later it will be time for tournament organizers to do it all over again.
Although Crosby and Goodman agree it is not mandatory to have next year's title sponsor in place before Chrysler bows out, both are hoping for a signed contract as quickly as possible.
"If you ever wanted a PGA Tour event that has averaged very good ratings in its time slot, attracts a great field and will be played in Florida sunshine while it's still snowing in the Northeast, we have got a deal for you," Goodman said.
Gee, they don't sound desperate. And Elliott quietly slips this in toward the end:
In theory, the lack of a title sponsor could cost Tampa Bay the date it worked so hard to obtain. With a number of established tour events relegated to the less-glamorous fall schedule, at least one current sponsor would be willing to write the check for a better place on the schedule. However, Crosby said,, at least for now, Tampa is not in a danger zone.
"We have not sat down and said if we do not get a sponsor by such-and-such date, we're going to have to cut them loose," he said. "I don't know if we are going to get to that point. At this point, no, it's not in jeopardy."
-- On the chance of future tour players relying on a homemade swing, as he did: "There won't be any more homemade golf swings, because power is everything. My swing was powerless; that's one of the reasons I hit the ball so straight."
-- On technology's impact on golf: "The golf ball has ruined the game. It doesn't bend as much as it used to. The USGA has dropped the ball on the golf ball -- they won't admit it, but they know."
Thanks to reader Scott for noticing that Worldgolf.com features a story/press release on the Volvik
"Prospect" PROsPECT golf balls attracting interest following the Ohio Golf Association Champions event.
Company President Chuck Womer:
"The phone hasn't stopped ringing since the news came out at the end of the competition in Ohio. Golfers are calling asking where they can find the ball. Retailers are calling asking how soon they can get more of the ball. We're also very happy to have been able to help the OGA to make history again.
And this is beautiful...
This is our second tournament win as the PROsPECT ball won the Gate City Classic earlier this year in the hands of Keith Reeves on the National Golf Tour Piedmont Series. Keith continues to play the PROsPECT and is at the top of his series and national points list."
Uh, of course you got a win at the OGA event. It was the only ball they played!
The release also includes contact and ordering information.
I couldn't help noticing in this excellent Mike Stachura Golf World story on the OGA tournament ball, a pair money quotes:
"This ball could be pretty frustrating," said Matt Ries, who tied for seventh. "Iron shots seemed to roll out more. I think if we could get something that flew 10 to 20 percent less, but checked around the greens like balata, that might be a better test. It's definitely an equalizer, though."
The winner agreed. "The hardest part was adjusting to the release," said [Tournament winner Blake] Sattler. "It brought more strategy into the game."
Included with the story is a sidebar reporting on a preliminary USGA report on spin.
On August 11, the USGA sent an "interim report" to manufacturers on its research completed to date on spin generation--specifically, spin generated with irons.
Although the report states "no final conclusions have been reached and no proposals for rule changes are included," the results appear to indicate that U-shaped grooves may be in the USGA's crosshairs.
Now, the OGA ball situation may not have been perfect (it's hard to be comfortable with a ball that on discriminates against certain clubhead speeds).
However, a ball can be made that spins a little less, therefore promoting accuracy, thought and possibly restoring strategic value to a course.
Yet the USGA is looking to change the grooves on irons instead?
Which is more costly for golfers to replace. Balls or sets of irons?
Thanks to reader Scott for the head's up on this Ari Cohn story in the East Valley Tribune revealing that the TPC Scottsdale Desert Course will undergo a modernization to keep up with the times.
The City Council voted unanimously on Monday to pay the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale about $568,000 to design renovations to the 18-hole course and clubhouse, which was built in the 1980s on about 200 acres on the southeast corner of Hayden and Bell roads.
The council also approved a resolution to float up to $10 million in bonds to pay for the construction costs.
Construction is expected to close the course between February and September.
City senior project manager Annette Grove said the renovations will alter the layout of the fairways, greens and obstacles, replace turf, install better irrigation and drainage systems to conserve water, and make the course more accessible to the disabled.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how they configure this to make it a more challenging course,” Grove said.
A theme is developing in columns and stories critiquing the PGA Tour's stance on drug testing: Tim Finchem is losing credibility. What makes that unusual is his uncanny ability in the past to cut off such stories from festering (and therefore giving the Tour a black eye).
But this time his stance has made drug testing a story.
The Detroit Free Press's Carlos Monarrez writes:
There's a serious problem on the PGA Tour. Most players and officials want to ignore it. Maybe it will go away quietly. But the problem threatens to destroy the PGA Tour as we know it.
The problem is PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
And Jeff Shain in the Miami Herald takes a similar stance in this piece.
Meanwhile, Lorne Rubenstein talks to Greg Norman who was in Canada constructing a new course, and Finchem's good buddy added to his comments from last week.
"I just don't understand why they wouldn't want to implement a policy," Norman said after drawing the shape of the 14th green and its surrounding area in the sand on the site where he and his team are turning a sand and gravel pit into what promises to be an intriguing course. "They're saying we don't know [if it's necessary], but you have to think 25 years down the line. You have to be proactive, 100-per-cent proactive."
But PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem wasn't talking of being proactive last week when asked about the subject during the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
"We believe we are paying close attention [to the matter], and we believe that we will be positioned if we ever believe it necessary to take additional actions beyond just telling players what the rules are," Finchem said.
And this gets to the heart of the matter, something that speaks volumes about the role equipment plays in golf. Oh yeah, and agronomy, don't forget!
"If I was a kid coming out now, I'd ask, what do I need to do to compete?" he said. "It's a power game now, not a finesse game."
Norman's point is valid. Young golfers hear about athletes in other sports who have taken drugs in the belief they'll improve. Steroids not only help somebody bulk up, they also help with joint and soft-tissue recovery. Golfers wear themselves out pounding balls. Human growth hormone, meanwhile, can also promote healing and even sharpen one's mental game.
Woods is aware of what could happen. He said last Thursday that the PGA Tour should "have a program in place" before players are taking drugs.
Rubenstein pulls out this from the files, which, if nothing else, gives Finchem a chance to blame his predecessors if he runs out of reasons to postpone testing.
The issue of drug testing is gaining traction. Yet the debate's been around for years.
Here's what David Eger, a PGA Tour official at the time and now a Champions Tour player, said in September of 1988, when asked what might happen if a player used a beta blocker to calm his nerves:
"We have no policy related to beta blockers," Eger said. "I guess there would be a fine line. I'd have to call the commissioner on it."
Deane Beman, the commissioner at the time, didn't institute a drug testing policy.
Eighteen years later, the PGA Tour still has no drug testing policy, nor does it have a list of drugs that might enhance golf performance.
The PGA Tour needs to get its head out of the sand and begin random drug testing.
"Tomorrow would be just fine with me," Woods said.
Tomorrow's come and gone. But Norman and Woods aren't likely to let the subject pass. Nor should they. Their heads aren't in the sand. Their eyes are open, and they see possibilities they don't like.
I guess this probably rules Venezuela out for a WGC World Cup event...
The mayor of Venezuela's capital Caracas says he plans to expropriate two exclusive golf courses and use the land for homes for the city's poor.
Mayor Juan Barreto has said playing golf on lavish courses within sight of the city's slums is "shameful".
Mr Barreto, an ally of President Hugo Chavez, has been trying to address a dramatic housing shortage in Caracas.
But critics say property rights are being eroded in Venezuela, where farms and ranches have also been seized.
Three years ago Mr Chavez's left-wing government started redistributing agricultural land that it said was underused to help landless peasants.
Thanks to reader Kevin for this story.
How in the world does a player jack a ball onto the roof of the clubhouse and not incur a penalty? Tiger's sweetheart ruling at Firestone was the most ridiculous thing I've seen on a golf course since -- who else? -- Woods got a dozen of his buddies to roll a boulder, er, loose impediment out of his way in Phoenix in '99.
More importantly, I think we've found the bridge to bring these two talented golf writers together for the future We just can't have them feuding. No, no.
From Stan Awtrey's AJC story on the demise of the LPGA event in Atlanta:
LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens was traveling and could not be reached. In a prepared statement she said, "While we regret the cancellation of the event, one of the stops on the LPGA Tour hosted by the revered Hall of Fame athlete, Nancy Lopez, on behalf of the entire LPGA organization, let me thank the tournament staff, volunteers and the Atlanta community for their hard work and support throughout the years. The LPGA will look forward to returning to the Atlanta market in the future."
I know this is getting pretty picky, but why can't she just say we're looking forward to returning to Atlanta soon? Why does it have to be the "Atlanta market?" That impresses no one and only reminds the people of Atlanta that they're viewed as a market instead of golf fans.
The Houston Chronicle's Steve Campbell on the PGA Tour's drug policy complacency:
Psst: When you're lagging behind an organization with "ancient" in the title, you're definitely behind the curve.
"I know some people say, 'Tim is naive on this; he's got his head in the sand,' " Finchem said.
If not in the sand, then some really dark, dreary place. How did the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil-until-Jose-Canseco-decided-to-turn-into-an-author approach work out for Major League Baseball? The hands of baseball commissioner Bud Selig were tied by an obstinate baseball player's union. The tour has one major — and we do mean major — force working in the favor of setting up a credible drug policy and a system of enforcement.
It sounds suspiciously like the commissioner is more interested in spin control than ensuring the honor of his tour.
We should expect more — so much more — out of a sport that sets itself above the rest. A commissioner presiding over a gentleman's game should feel honor-bound to do the right thing, not the expedient thing.
And add Ryan Ballangee to the list of those advocating that the Tour deal with drug testing.
From the PGA Tour:
Rookie J.B. Holmes set a new one-tournament record for Driving Distance at last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a 350-yard average off the tee. The old mark was 347.3 by Scott Hend at the 2005 Bank of America Colonial. His eight measured drives were 307-405-338-413-321-364-272 and 380 yards. Holmes finished in a T50.
Imagine what would happen if he actually worked out!
A few fun stories were filed on the U.S. Ryder Cup team's appearance at K Club. First, James Corrigan in the Independent:
Woods certainly looked motivated as he braved a downpour of Noah proportions to finish off the 18th, together with Jim Furyk and JJ Henry as Lehman interestingly put them out in three-balls. "It was fun," he said, his smile daring one to think otherwise. But then, Woods had triumphed the previous night in Ohio in a rain-sodden shoot-out over his team-mate Stewart Cink, and golf tends to be rather enjoyable when you have just won four on the bounce. "We're here to bond," he said, singing from the Americans' well- rehearsed hymn sheet.And the always entertaining Martin Johnson in the Telegraph:
Woods, though, cleared his diary to join the rest of the US team on a specially chartered jumbo 747 on Sunday night, at estimated cost to the PGA of America of £250,000. It was, as you might expect, slightly less painful than it was for those taking a scheduled flight across the Atlantic.
Not only were the players not required to divest themselves of their shoes and trouser belts, they were all offered a pair of complimentary pyjamas before entering a cabin remodelled to resemble a five-star hotel executive floor.
Woods has been trying to live down his perceived insouciance for an event in which America's declining fortunes have largely been put down - hence Lehman's idea for this visit - to a lack of cameraderie.
In particular, his pairing with Mickelson in the last Ryder Cup produced the kind of chemistry more reminiscent of Dr Jekyll's experiment with test tubes than an irresistible blend of the world's No 1 and No 2 golfers, and Woods himself has only won fives times in 16 outings with a partner.
Listening to a succession of American golfers talking on auto-pilot about how good their team spirit was, and how happy they all were to be here, was certainly illuminating, but only if you'd just had a long audience with the Speaking Clock. Woods himself said that in his experience, every Ryder Cup boiled down to "who makes the most putts, and who wins the 18th hole".And Lawrence Donegan in The Guardian...
As competition for the most riveting insight into this year's Ryder Cup, it lagged far behind the news that there will be 40,000 square metres of tent, 300 car park attendants, and the allocation of 9600 toilet rolls to supply one hundred 1,100 litre portable lavatories. Maybe more if it's a tight finish.
What began with a card school at the back of a chartered flight across the Atlantic ended last night with a barbecue and a little fishing on the Liffey as the US Ryder Cup team completed day one of the most enthusiastic team-bonding exercise since Baden Powell was in short trousers.
Indeed if singing in unison was all it takes to win the most famous team event in the sport then Ian Woosnam's European squad might as well stay at home for next month's extravaganza at the K Club.
One can only hope this expression of team spirit was genuine because on this evidence the overnight trip seemed a very long way to come for a glorified group hug. The public was banned from the K Club and journalists' access heavily restricted, but as the US team set off in their buggies very little in the way of serious work appeared to be taking place. Woods, for one, admitted he had hardly bothered to hit any putts - "the greens were soft and they won't be like that at the Ryder Cup" - while Mickelson appeared more interested in taking copious notes.
Instead of playing the game, we're consumed by the math, and unless diagnosed and attended to, the syndrome is murder. I've seen it kill off more good rounds -- including too many of my own, some before my spikes were even laced -- than any flub, foozle, yank, shank, top, yip or worm burner, all of which feed off its toxins.
Bob Rotella, author of "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect" and an expanding shelf of companion volumes focusing on the delicate balance of the golfing psyche, advocates simply hitting good golf shots -- the rest will take care of itself. "Too many golfers get so bound by results," he says, "that they forget about the reason they're supposedly out there: to enjoy themselves."
Of the myriad choices that confront us whenever we head for the links, none is more important than the one energizing all the others: Why we opt to enter into this self-flagellating venture in the first place. For Tiger, say, the answer is simple -- it's business. Keeping score is like keeping the books. It's concrete.
For the rest of us, the answer may not be as cut and dried. Yet, like Picasso's art, certain enterprises are meant to be appreciated in the abstract, and golf, thrillingly, turns out to be one of them.
When we can get beyond the little boxes on our scorecards, we begin to pick up on golf's bigger picture: the landscapes, the camaraderies, the lovely arc of a well-struck shot. We can still note the numbers, chart progress by marking fairways hit and greens in regulation, tally the skins, collect on the Nassaus, grind through tournaments, maintain handicaps, and hope to improve on them. But is that all we want to take from the game? What about the satisfaction of going out to play golf for no reason other than, well, to go out and play golf? With passion and abandon. Like when we were kids. Getting the lead out of our golfing systems now and then may serve up no tangible proof to bring home of how we're playing; instead, it reminds us why we're playing, and even encourages us to play better.
Golfweek's Alistair Tait points out that Richie Ramsay's U.S. Amateur win would not have happened had the USGA not changed it's rules on funding expenses.
In the past, players have had to pay U.S. Amateur expenses out of their own pocket. Hence the reason so few British Isles players competed.
Do the math. Ramsay is university student who often caddies at his home club of Royal Aberdeen for extra money. It would take a lot of bag dragging to afford the expenses of a transatlantic trip in peak holiday season for British travelers.
The new funding rules mean that the British Golf Unions can finance groups of players to compete in the U.S. Am. Had the old rules been in place, Ramsay would have been in Italy for the European Amateur Championship. He'd have been joined there by fellow Scot Lloyd Saltman, and English Walker Cup teammates Oliver Fisher and Robert Dinwiddie. They also took advantage of the new funding rules to compete in Minnesota.