Slam Success

The Orlando Sentinel's Steve Elling published this list of the best players in all four majors.

Here’s one race that Tiger Woods can’t win. For the third consecutive year, the Sentinel has crunched the numbers at golf’s major championships and come up with the collective king of the court for 2006, and since only players who made the cut in all Grand Slam events are eligible, Woods didn’t make the grade. Among the other highly ranked stars who missed the cut in at least one major this year were Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and David Howell. Phil Mickelson and Woods won the cumulative titles in 2004 and 2005, respectively, both at 26 under. In our three years of compiling the list, the two Americans to make the chart marks by far the lowest total, down from seven in 2004 and five last year. (Note: Woods was added purely for the purpose of comparison since he didn’t play on the weekend at the U.S. Open, his first missed cut at a major 10 years as a pro).

Player            Masters    U.S. Open    British        PGA    Total
Phil Mickelson        -7        +6                 -5                -6    -12
Geoff Ogilvy           +1        +5                 -6                -9    -9
Jim Furyk               +3        +6                -12               -3    -6
Adam Scott             +4        +12               -9              -12    -5
Mike Weir                -1        +8                 +1              -11    -3
Ernie Els                +4        +13               -13              -6     -2
Robert Allenby        +3        +11               -6               -5    +3    
Luke Donald           +8        +9                  -2             -12    +3
Jose Maria Olazabal -4      +12               +1              +4   +13
Miguel A. Jimenez    -1        +11              -1               +8   +17
Tiger Woods             -4        +12 (MC)     -18              -18    NA


Bisher: Hootie Responsible For Tiger's Rise, Jack's Tears and Still Has Time To Make Pimento Cheese Sandwiches By Hand

Furman Bisher weighs in on Hootie Johnson's depature a tad late because he was "on a golfing mission to Ireland and only recently returned. I didn't want to miss out on my turn at bat."

And I know you were anxiously awaiting his verdict.

However, for someone who quoted Hootie as saying he would be stepping aside at this years Masters and chose not to write about it, he probably could have done better than drawing this conclusion:

Surely Johnson's reign should be marked by a good deal more this hassle over female membership.

What about the rise of Tiger Woods? What about the emotional exits of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer? What about the $25 million that Augusta National has funneled into charities? What about the extended presence the "handmade" pimiento cheese sandwiches --- and how do you make sandwiches if not by hand? And more pertinent to the game itself, was it not the hand of Hootie that brought the golf course into the 21st Century, critical as many of us were at times?

Wow, what didn't the man do? And here I thought Tiger Woods was responsible for his own rise! 

The War Of The Members?

A trusted Augusta insider offered this on the abrupt departure of Hootie Johnson and subsequent Billy Payne appointment:

There is a political power struggle, with two distinct factions. Hootie is on your side about equipment and Billy Payne is as well.  There is a younger more corporate group that has a different view of things. The membership knew there was a new Chairman coming but no one was sure who it would be. Hootie stepped aside so that the dwindling majority could put Billy in while they still had the power, and as you and others have picked up on, Billy is just 58 years old. He's going to be there for a while.

Hootie has tried to put pressure on the USGA to do something about the ball, and is frustrated nothing has happened, but feels he can't effect change on this issue. Billy is not in favor of today's equipment and specifically the golf ball. Augusta has been holding back in bringing out their own golf ball or their own ball spec in order to not embarrass the USGA.  But Augusta has given the USGA long enough to correct the golf ball situation to no avail. Billy will not hesitate to move ahead with their own golf ball spec, and maybe very soon. Also, it makes it easier for Billy to bring out the ball rollback without piling more criticism onto Hootie, who has dealt with a mountain of criticism already.

So if true, which side are USGAers Fred Ridley, Walter Driver and Jim Reinhardt on in this power struggle?

If the "Distance Myths" memo is our guide, perhaps they aren't on Hootie's side.

Teleconference With Billy Payne

This Billy Payne thing is basically a column writer's worst nightmare. Okay, I won't complain anymore...this paragraph.

His opening remarks:

If I may, I'd like to talk first about our golf course.   There will be some changes to the course for the 2007 Masters that Mr. Johnson has already initiated, but certainly, I think you'll agree, not as significant as in the past.   They will include adding five to seven yards in front of the tees on hole Nos. 11 and 15.   The length of the tees on our other par 4s and 5s average about 20 yards.   On those two holes, it's only about 13 yards.   So these changes will make these tees consistent with the other tees on our course, and will provide us with more flexibility if the holes are playing into a substantial head wind or if the fairway conditions are soft.

Wow, flexibility. I wonder if someone had to explain it to Fazio?

Also, we will be adjusting the mow line at hole No. 11 about three to five yards on the golfer's right.   This, we believe, will provide the medium-length player a wider fairway, especially at the 280- to 300-yard mark.

Also, on the 11th hole, and on the right, we will be removing the grass from under the pine trees and replacing it with pine straw.   This, too, is consistent with other parts of our course.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very excited about today and look forward to your questions.

Here's what Billy's really thinking after sitting through plenty of press conferences: let the predictable questions begin.

Q.   Sounds like your first order of business is to make the course shorter somehow.

BILLY PAYNE:   Well, I think it gives us the flexibility, Doug, that we want, depending on the course conditions and weather conditions.

Q.   I wanted to ask you, one issue that has arisen during Hootie's tenure was the lack of female members.   Can you see that changing?

BILLY PAYNE:   Doug, I think I would answer that by saying as we've said and as you've heard many times in the past, on membership matters, all of them will be decided by our members, and we have no specific timetable to address that issue.

Well, that took all of 20 seconds.

Q.   I'm wondering if this teleconference is any indication that under your tenure as Chairman, there will be other media availabilities other than Wednesday the week of the Tournament.

BILLY PAYNE:   Well, I think I answer that specifically by saying that I certainly intend to come down there more than just Wednesday as I'm quite accustomed to the media center, made a lot of friends and feel a significant responsibility that the media continues to have all of the needs and services in order to do their job properly.

So I think you're going to see a lot more of me, and certainly have an opportunity to continue those relationships.

Q.   But does that include possible situations such as a teleconference other than the week of the Tournament?

BILLY PAYNE:   You know, I don't know.   I haven't yet taken over officially, so I haven't really thought about that.

Well, now that we got that vital topic of non-tournament week teleconferences out of the way...

Q.   Mr. Johnson mentioned the possibility in the future of adding PGA TOUR winners back to the exemption ranks.   Are there any other changes that you're going to be looking at right away?

BILLY PAYNE:   You're accurate.   We're looking at the issue of adding back PGA TOUR winners.   We're studying the issue.   We don't expect to do that by 2007.   In fact, it would actually be unfair to do so because there are golfers out there playing right now under the existing qualification standards.

So while you won't see it next year, I think it's a probability that you will see it sometime soon in the future.

Ah, the first Hootie mess he'll be mopping up.

Q.   Just wondered, you've only had a few days to think about it, but what do you regard as your greatest immediate challenge?

BILLY PAYNE:   I think I have -- I think it's safe to say that I will need to watch, to observe, I will need to learn a lot, get familiar with significantly greater detail about the operation of the Club and the Tournament than I now possess, and I've always felt that the best learning experience initially is certainly to listen and not talk.   So that's what I plan to do in the coming months.

Okay, this nonsense is just not going to fly.  How am I, as a column writer, supposed to work with humility?

Q.   A few of my questions have already been taken,

Oh you mean, like all of the predictable ones? Sorry, continue...

but can you tell me a little bit more, carrying on plans with some of the property acquisition around the golf course and plans for the practice facility and those types of things?

BILLY PAYNE:   Yes, sir, I can tell you a little bit, which will be the full extent of my knowledge at this point in time.   I am, of course, as are all of you aware, that in order to accommodate the growing support and parking needs of the Tournament, including a state-of-the-art practice facility, we have had this effort underway now for a couple of years.   It is ongoing.   We hope to have some renderings to be able to share with y'all sometime next year, so you can see for yourself what precisely the plan is.   And we continue to look for a completion date and utilization date in the 2010-2011 time frame.

We hope to have some renderings to share with y'all? No, no Billy, you need to be combative, petulant, arrogant, smug. I can't work with this!

You realize that if he keeps this stuff up, the focus will be on the Masters and the players, and not the Chairman?

That's just so wrong on so many levels, and so disrespectful to Chairman Johnson.

Q.   The idea of a Tournament ball has been floated the last couple years, Billy, what's your position on that?

BILLY PAYNE:   Well, I guess first I'll start off, Doug, by saying that I'm very encouraged that there's an ongoing dialogue among the governing bodies, USGA, the R&A, with input and participation by the PGA TOUR to look at limitation on advances in both the equipment and the ball technology.   And I remain very hopeful and encouraged that while a difficult issue, some equitable resolution will be made, which will have the effect of slowing down the distances or the gains and distances as we have observed over the last several years.

So many of our great golf courses are at risk of becoming obsolete.   And while I and we would hope that resolution would come as quickly as possible through that normal process of the governing bodies, we would not take that option off the table in the context of what lengths to which we would go to protect our own course in the future.

I don't know about you, but there just seems to be a different feel to his comments on this subject compared to his predecessor. Maybe it's wishful thinking, or maybe Payne has grown tired of listening to Walter and Fred's lame excuses?

Q.   Everything has pretty much been asked, but a couple of things, are we pretty much maxed out on the golf course as far as the major changes?   Are we pretty much going to see what we're going to get for a while here?

BILLY PAYNE:   Yes, sir, I think we have it just about right now.   Remaining hopeful as I do that some limitations will be placed on equipment which will diminish the game in distance.   I think we've got the golf course pretty much like we like it right now.

Okay, so we need to chip in and buy him a chainsaw and maybe he'll get the hint. But isn't it interesting how he keeps hoping for limits to be placed?
Q.   Sorry if this has been asked, but have you thought about what it's going to be like to be part of that Champion's Dinner next year?

BILLY PAYNE:   I've thought about it a lot and I've been told that I'm an invited guest and I'll have a great time.   My job is just to listen and have fun, and boy, I'm really looking forward to it.

Good lord, you actually get the feeling he respects the players and feels privileged to be in their prescense.

This has to stop!

Remembering Hootie

img5880509.jpgFurman Bisher talks to Billy Payne and offers several tidbits on how this all came about, including a quote attributed to Johnson at this year's Masters saying this would be it. I don't remember reading that anywhere, so it must have been said to Bisher. Odd time to share it!

Damon Hack talks to Martha Burk for the NY Times and has this:

In all matters pertaining to the club, Johnson's voice was the loudest.

"You think of all the great companies and corporations in the world, it seems like they're run that way," said Jim Furyk, who is playing in the Wachovia Championship here this weekend. He added: I don't think anyone is going to argue he's made that golf tournament or the club worse off."

That's right, just check out another over-the-top effort by Bob Spear in Hootie's home-state newspaper.
Although he never said so publicly, criticism from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer about course changes before the 2006 tournament surely stung. His intention was to ensure today’s players hit the same clubs that the Nicklauses and Palmers hit in their prime.

But Johnson found an ally in another early critic, Gary Player.

“I’m using exactly the same clubs, other than (on) No. 4,” the three-time champion said after a practice round.

I guess it never occured to Spear that 70-year-old Gary Player hitting the same clubs into holes now as his prime might not actually raise a few eyebrows? Well, he does do a lot of sit-ups!

Scott Michaux isn't nearly as breathless in praising Johnson's tenure, while also touching on the slip-ups.

Thomas Bonk in the L.A. Times:

But Payne isn't expected to come on board and start the bulldozers.

"Nothing significant, maybe only something minor," said one source who knows Payne from Atlanta.

Another source, who also did not want to be identified, said it would probably be a stretch to assume Payne would oversee substantial changes, especially during the early portion of his tenure.

AP's Paul Newberry writes:

The Masters was played last year on a 7,445-yard layout - the second-longest in major championship history and 460 yards longer than it was when Johnson took over.

"It's kind of like being president," said Davis Love III from Charlotte, N.C., where he was playing in the Wachovia Championship. "No matter what you do, half the people are going to think you did it wrong."

Former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young believes Johnson might have gone along with allowing female members at Augusta National if not for Burk's public campaign.

"Mr. Johnson was very much an old-school Southerner. He was ready to grow, he was ready to change, but he wasn't going to be pushed," Young said. "Let's give him credit for all the good he did, and not try to blame him because he wasn't able to see into the 21st century. That's up to Billy to do."

First Payne-ful Read

Melanie Hauser massages new Augusta chair Billy Payne's ego, though it sounds like he doesn't have a head on him like the previous Chairman. And I can tell you right now: I don't like this guy. He is a column writer's worst nightmare! Even keeled, boring, thinks things through, etc... ugh.

Please Hootie, come back. All is forgiven! We need you. I need you!

Desperate Seeking Your Return For Columns,


"That's The History of Golf"

Thanks to reader Brian for the heads up on this Bob Gillespie story in The State. In it, Tom Fazio pats himself on the back for taking advantage of the elasticity that Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast left behind, and apparently they knew the governing bodies would sell the game out and change golf courses instead of regulating equipment:

So what’s next at Augusta National? Fazio defers to his boss — “Obviously, Mr. Johnson has control of that situation; he’s the guy to talk to” — but says there is room, and precedent, to add more length to the 7,445-yard course.

“If you look at the history of Augusta National, it would lead you to believe they’ll continue to do exactly what they’ve done in the past,” he said. “Mackenzie said in his book, which he wrote in the late 1920s and early 1930s, how golf holes should be laid out so when you walk off the green, you walk forward to the next tee. So there was that space available so you can add more length.

“Mackenzie had that in his mind when he laid (the course) out, and I assume he and Bob Jones talked about that. It’s a natural, obvious progression.”

Fitter, stronger players and technological improvements in equipment have shrunk many classic courses, and while the solution is not always length, that’s part of the equation, Fazio said. His work at New York’s Winged Foot Country Club, site of June’s U.S. Open, also involved lengthening the course.

“People say, ‘Where’d you get that length? We thought (the course) was out of land,’ ” he said. “But there was space. There’s always some space. That’s the history of golf.”

Yep, nothing a little dynamiting can't fix to uphold the one of the great traditions of the game: stampeding all over classic designs!

Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 9

masterslogo2.gifPeter Kostis, yes that's right, Peter Kostis chimes in with a lukewarm review of the new-look Augusta. Now we know why he never joined in during David Feherty "living, breathing organism" speech:
Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed Augusta National in the early 1930s, inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews, which is exceptionally open and encourages a lot of creativity. Like Augusta, it’s no accident that the Old Course has always been a bombers' paradise. But with the changes, Augusta now dictates more forcefully what shots the pros must to play. Because of recently added trees and rough, you can’t drive the ball to some places that would give the best angle of attack. I don’t particularly like those strategic qualities being taken away, and because they couldn’t get the proper angle to attack certain hole locations, a lot of players in the 2006 Masters had to bail out and leave themselves long approach putts—or even intentionally aim for bunkers or chipping areas instead of trying to get the ball close. Consequently, the pros in this year’s tournament saw putts no one has had to make in years. And on Augusta’s greens, if you are on the wrong part of the green, you might as well be in a hazard, because the penalty will be at least one extra stoke with the putter.

Will there be more changes to Augusta National? If the tournament committee feels that they need to adjust the course to keep up with technology and maintain the shot values they feel Jones and MacKenzie had in mind, we may not have seen the last of the tweaks to some of the most hallowed ground in golf.

Course Changes Verdict Watch Vol. 8

masterslogo2.gifBecause I admire his work and know that he's respected down in Augusta, I was dreading Jaime Diaz's Golf World story after reading the headline and subtitle: "On Second Thought, Masters officials knew precisely what they were doing when they executed the most recent changes to Augusta National."

But as with other headlines that celebrate Hootie Johnson as the architectural second coming of Tillinghast, the stories themselves paint a much different picture.

After Diaz lays out all of the worst case scenarios that didn't pan out (you know, because Tim Clark finished second), he then raises plenty of questions about the renovation and the way Augusta now plays.

Ben Crenshaw, in one of the apparently complimentary quotes, is really not very kind if you read between the lines:

"It's a hard golf course now," said Crenshaw, whose two Masters victories (1984 and 1995) came on a shorter, more wide-open track that allowed a kind of swashbuckling style that would be too low-percentage to fit the more stolid demands of the current 7,445-yard beast. "Every part of the game gets examined, and it used not to be like that," explained Crenshaw, who also happens to be a first-rate course architect. "You had times in the past where you had a green light, and it was so exciting to just let it go. Now, every hole is difficult. It's hard for a guy to really get on a run. You're trying to avoid danger. You've got to really watch it."

Sure, some will see hard and test in there and get excited (because it takes such genius to create a difficult golf course).

Then there was this from Geoff Ogilvy:

"I don't know if it's my place to say," said the 28-year-old Australian, who finished T-16 in his first Masters, "but I've been dreaming about playing here for 20 years, and I think what they've done is borderline tragic, to be honest with you. I don't have a problem with the lengthening, because it is ridiculous where we hit it. But the answer isn't to narrow the fairways, because that just takes away the freedom of expression that always made Augusta special. They should keep the length, but take out the new trees and cut the rough. Then they'd be back to having the best golf course in the world."

And Scott Verplank:

"Sure, they lost a little of the character of the golf course," said Verplank. "But the game has changed so much. If somebody would fix the equipment issue, Augusta wouldn't have to do this."

Another, anti-golf ball technology, Hollywood elite, media member. Oh wait, he's a player. Oops!

Also with the Diaz story is a sidebar on Johnny Miller's triumphant return to Augusta to kiss up to Peter Dawson as part of NBC's bid to get the British Open after a 12 year hiatus, he proves just how stunningly how out of touch he is by not only revealing he was unaware that major winners could play in the Wednesday par-3 contest, and then offered up this brilliance:

Though he considers Augusta National's latest course revisions to make good sense, Miller said he is not in favor of a rollback in the modern golf ball or other substantial equipment reform. "The professional game is in good shape," he insisted. "A good way to cut some distance would be to cut the fairway grass a little longer, the same length we played on in the 1970s. It would stop drives from rolling 50 yards."

Oh what a great idea. You know, because it's really all in how much the ball is rolling Johnny. 

Note to Dick Ebersol: hire Faldo, and hire him fast.  

Offended By Big Hitters?

I received a complaint from someone who said my recent column on Hootie was unfair. Why? Because this well-meaning soul said that Hootie shares the same feeling about the distance issue as folks like myself.

But actually there is a big difference. Well, several. First, most of us who like classic golf courses wouldn't hire Tom Fazio to mow them, much less alter them based on his track record.

But the primary point relates to something Olin Browne touched on in Rex Hoggard's column:

"The powers that be have become offended by the big hitters."

This view came through loud and clear in Hootie's press conference ("If Hogan were hitting a damn pitching wedge.."). His anger over the situation is directed at the players, almost as if this were baseball and he was having to deal with juiced players.

But as comedian Robert Wuhl pointed out a few weeks ago, in golf the equipment is juiced, not the players.

Hootie and those trying to offset eye-opening driving distances need to direct their frustration toward the governing bodies, not the players or even course designers.

The "big hitters" and manufacturers are simply doing what they are allowed under the rules.

The rulemakers--many of them members at Augusta National--are the ones who have let the game down.

Hoggard On Masters Ball, Other Stuff

Golfweek's Rex Hoggard ties up a few loose Masters ends. First, there is this quote from Joe Ogilvie, reminiscent of Tom Weiskopf's cadaver line from a April, 2000.

"It's like if you have a really good looking woman, but after her 20th or 30th 'plastic surgery,' she really doesn't look as good," Joe Ogilvie said.

On the Masters ball concept, Hoggard seems to think the idea is still floating around:

A winning score south of double digits and an eclectic leaderboard may keep Hootie and the bulldozers at bay for at least a year or two. But it seems Augusta National officials remain interested in the idea of a "Masters" golf ball to combat the distance gains of modern orbs.

"What are they going to call it?" asked Nick Price at the Players Championship. "The dogwood ball? What do you do, turn around and tell the manufacturers we're going to play the dogwood ball this week."

The green jackets may be closer to creating a "dogwood" ball than some would think. Sources said last week officials were measuring not only the length of players' drivers, but which particular brand and model of ball went where.

And on the David Toms rant from earlier this week, Hoggard made this point:

During Toms' tenure on the PGA Tour's four-player Policy Board, it didn't seem as if he spent a lot of time rocking the boat. But since being freed of his elected duties, Toms has been pulling fewer punches than CNN lightning rod Lou Dobbs.

Earlier this week, Toms rifled a few well-aimed – and well thought out – 5-iron shots directly at Augusta National Golf Club.

"It's still a place where the players walk around on eggshells," Toms said. "It's like, the only place all year where the players don't feel like they are the most important thing there."

Although there are no shortage of prima donnas on the PGA Tour, Toms is not one of them, and his observations likely resonate among his Tour card carrying brethren.

Toms' Critical Comments?

This AP notes column reports on David Toms' critical comments this week, and this caught my eye:

 Toms had no problem with the golf course, even though he missed the cut after shooting two rounds of 76. Augusta National was longer than ever, and though Toms said he played poorly, he said he could compete when conditions were firm and fast.

"I think they're on the right track," he said.

That's quite a contrast to how he actually sounded early in the week.


Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 7

The boys SI heaped plenty of praise on Hootie Johnson for his course changes.  It occurs to me that in all of the post event praise (and from the Golf World headline on Jaime Diaz's story, the cheerleading buzz is contagious), no one is considering the ramifications of Augusta's narrowing efforts both for the home of the Masters, or for the game in general.

The overall theme seems to be, "see, it's okay to change the courses to deal with distance increases and some people's determination to not let the players actually progress in the scoring department." 

Anyway, Gary Van Sickle, who will be forgiven for this transgression because he caused a wonderful stir at the Golf Writer's meeting and normally is spot on, writes:

The par-4 7th, 410 yards before the alterations, used to give players a breather. They could lay up off the tee and hit a wedge in. Now it runs 450 yards with trees on both sides of the fairway, so the players are forced to hit driver and hit it straight. Seven's a terrific hole now.

Super...loved the photo in SI. Can't wait to see it when the trees grow up and there is actually no fairway! Oh, and what's wrong with a breather hole after 4, 5 and 6?

Well, he gets bonus points for mentioning this:

Only at the storied 11th was there a questionable change. While the 11th remains the National's hardest-won par -- one player jokingly called the 505-yard par-4 the easiest par-5 on the course -- the more than 50 pines planted to the right of the fairway also make it Augusta's most unsightly hole. Were that many trees really necessary? "Instead of having U.S. Open rough, you have a forest," says Phil Mickelson. "You don't have the ability to hit a shot from there. You can only try to get the ball back in play."

A handful of smartly planted trees, instead of the forest, might have accomplished the same goal and tempted players into trying heroic -- and dangerous -- recoveries. The sideways chip-out, the least exciting shot in golf, has never been a Masters staple, but it's now an everyday play at 11.

"Put that on your soapbox, Mr. Nicklaus"

John Hawkins says the long ball talk going into the Masters turned out to be overrated because, among other things, Tim Clark finished second.

"Put that on your soapbox, Mr. Nicklaus," Hawkins blogs, though wouldn't it be fun to see him say that to Nicklaus's face!

"The course is a better test than ever, modernized to premium effect and willing to reward players of all shapes and sizes."

No mention of the narrowness possibly stripping the course of its identity (and unique place in the Grand Slam concept of differing tests), nor consideration of the overall effort to put players on the defensive to counteract a game out of whack.

I know, picky, picky.