Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Fifth Major?

Should the Tournament Players’ Championship be considered a major championship and thus raise the quantity of majors from four to five? This question arises every year and is debated everywhere in the golf world ad nauseam, ad infinitum, ad boredom. It’s no secret that Tim Finchem is trying his hardest, subtly or brazenly, to get the golf world to accept the TPC as a major. The answer to any golf traditionalist or purist is, of course, a resounding, “No!”

The most basic reason is that the math doesn’t work. The “Grand Slam” is based on the number four. It’s a baseball term with the number four at its core. A player hits one out of the park with the bases loaded and four runs score, he gets four RBI’s, he touches four bases and he makes four more million dollars. Everything is FOUR! If a fifth major comes about, no longer can we use the term “Grand Slam.” We have to use something with a connotation of five. Perhaps we could use “The Great Quinary.” Somehow that doesn’t seem to have the same quality as “Grand Slam.” Maybe we could borrow “The Mighty Quinn?” I think this would be good, then, if someone in his 50’s wins all five major championships, the media would have a linguistic Mardi Gras. The winner would be known as “The Mighty Quinquagenarian Quinn.” And further verbal possibilities are endless.

So you see how silly this whole idea is? In its elementary form it doesn’t work. In its corporate form it’s an avaricious, self-indulgent maneuver.

This year, in his continuing effort to force his will upon the golf world, Tim Finchem is employing that tried, tested and failed corporate strategy of “throw more money at it.” Before the ink dries on Stephen Ames’ check, bulldozers will be leveling the clubhouse and contouring the fairways. That’s right, a new clubhouse, better drainage in the fairways, and a pumped-in air duct system under the greens is all part of a plan to make the TPC more ornate and glamorous with perfect course conditions. All this for a cool $22-$28 million. If you can try to buy a game in the world of golf by spending an obscene amount of money on equipment, why not try to buy a major by spending an obscene amount of money on “upgrading” a golf facility that is already well-suited for the purpose. Why not cut back on a couple of new $500,000 columns on the clubhouse and employ that money to rebuild a few houses in the gulf coast states? That would be a major.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

These Guys Are Good?

Perhaps it may be time for the PGA Tour to alter its catch phrase just a touch. After watching the devastation over the weekend at the TPC, the new phrase could be, “This Guy Is Good.” Yes, I know the TPC is a most difficult golf course and it was set up to devour the world’s best golfers. Or we could take the more positive approach and say that it was set up to challenge the world’s best. In that case only one met the challenge – Stephen Ames. When the pressure was on playing a man-eating the gentlemen of the PGA Tour were hitting horrible golf shots and making poor course management decisions.

What a for instance? Let’s see, two-time champion Davis Love missed the cut by playing like the best golfer in the world on Thursday and then like the third member of your regular Saturday foursome on Friday capping it all of with a 9 on his final hole. I don’t care how you shake it, if you make a nine on a par-5, there’s some bad golf going on. Over the weekend 2004 champion Adam Scott shot 82-76. Had to be an ugly swing or two in there somewhere. On Sunday, Phil Mickelson is 200 yards from the hole on the par-5 16th. So, what’s that for Lefty, a 5-iron? You’d figure with that club in his hands it’s at least in the middle of the green with a 30-footer for eagle. Oh, no, it wound up some 40 yards left of the green and he struggled to make par.

You want more? Buy the tape from Tim Finchem. It’ll be called “These Guys Are (Ooops)!”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Safeway International

Walking around at the LPGA Safeway International last week, it became obvious why this tournament continues to grow in popularity and attendance year after year. In 2004 there were 90,000 fans through the gates; in 2005 it was 105,800; and based on the attendance the first two days of competition there’ll be a new record in 2006.

But this doesn’t come about with just a wave of a magic sand wedge. There is a reason all this happens and it forms a tight loop making this event so popular with players and fans. The field is always one of the best of the season due to the great organization of the tournament. (The fact that it’s a prelude to the first major of the year also contributes.) This year the top fifty money winners from 2005 are playing plus a number of the top rookies. Of course, a $1.4 million purse doesn’t hurt either. The venue is perfect: a great layout that is spectator-friendly and the magnificent scenery doesn’t hurt either. It’s comfortable to walk and most of the greens have an amphitheater effect making it effortless for crowds to view the action. The big bonus is that the front and back nines crisscross at a couple of key junctures making it simple for spectators to alter their direction. If fans pay attention to their pairing sheets, they can see the whole course and all the players in one day. All this entices fans to attend which makes the sponsors happy which makes the players show up.

And a couple of other thoughts on why this event does so well:

Phoenix in mid-March is the perfect time of year for this event. The weather is usually stellar (although this year the final round was delayed by a little cold and rain).

It’s snowbird time and this migratory fowl has yet to head north for the summer so the average age of the fans is probably in the neighborhood of 65.

And then…

Once the fans are in it’s most fascinating to observe which players they follow. The Canadian snowbird contingent dutifully encouraged Lori Kane. A large group of the gray-haired set took up their traveling residence with veterans like Juli Inkster (the eventual champion), Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, and Meg Mallon. And, of course, young Japanese star Ai Miyazato has a large delegation of press and fans trailing her around the course.

With all this in mind the best pairing of the first two rounds was Morgan Pressel, the 17-year old high school sensation, Ai Miyazato, the 20-year old Japanese golf goddess, and Sherri Turner, a mere 49 years old and a major championship winner. It was interesting to watch them interact for a couple of rounds.

It was also interesting to observe and chat with a few of the Japanese contingent following Miyazato. She has her own media entourage. Her every move is documented by television, radio, newspaper and magazine and a few other forms of communication which the Japanese are inventing or about to invent. The snag here is that this media has no sense of LPGA history and tradition. When asked by us concerning the identity and record of Sherri Turner, several of this deputation had no idea who she was never mind the fact that she is a major championship winner. For more on this issue request a copy of our monthly Eye On Golf newsletter.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Golfing Machine

We were able to observe just one shot from the “golfing machine” yesterday. Standing behind the green on the 18th hole, a slightly uphill par-5 with water along the entire left side, we noticed Annika and her four playing partners in the fairway about 230 yards from the green. Being the lady that she is and in deference to the scramble format they were playing, she allowed the four guys the first opportunity to hit the green in two. Is the outcome predictable? How rhetorical! How obvious! The guys go left into the lake, right into the practice range, left over the lake and into the desert and one other into parts unknown. Now the pressure’s really on Annika. There's no one anywhere near the green. She tosses up a few blades of grass, selects the club and rips, no, excuse me, smoothes a fairway wood straight at the flagstick that rolls right by and comes to rest on the back fringe about twenty feet from the hole. Ah, the “golfing machine.”

Monday, March 13, 2006

Round One - Annika

The LPGA season is, as predicted, off to a tremendous start: two tournaments in Hawaii with exciting finishes and more than respectable performances by the teenagers and rookies. Then it was off to Mexico and even Ms. Bivens could not have devised a better final round scenario: Annika vs. Creamer and a veteran and a couple of rookies. And the winner is...Annika, not by a KO or even a TKO. Rather it was more like a unanimous decision. Nevertheless, it was a win and A.S. made the meassage clear: You're all wonderful, you're all good but...

Now it's off the the Phoenix area for the Safeway International with Annika defending. We'll see you there.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

2006 - Off to the Future

This is an excerpt from the February 2006 Eye On Golf newsletter. (To receive a copy please leave a message.) This is being posted as groundwork for the future. No telling what might happen with the LPGA.

I just can’t wait for the 2006 professional golf season to begin. “What? Wait a minute! What did you say? It already has? The PGA Tour has already played three, no make that four, well, perhaps five tournaments already. Jeez, did I miss it? I hate it when that happens. Why didn’t anybody tell me? No one really gave a hoot? Gee, what a surprise!

Okay, let me rephrase that opening statement: I just can’t wait for the 2006 LPGA season to begin. Now people are starting to pay attention. Why? BECAUSE THERE’S ATTENTION-GRABBING STORIES ON THE LPGA TOUR! If the purses on the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour were determined by the “interest factor,” the money would need to be exchanged this year. What’s to watch on the PGA Tour this season? One thing: How many majors will Tiger win? So we’ll watch the four majors and maybe Finchem’s Fifth, The Players’ Championship – just to see how many balls get dunked on the 17th.

But the real excitement will happen on the LPGA Tour. It’s the best player on the planet taking on a bunch of cocky teenagers who almost won a couple of major before they could beg Dad for the family car. It’s not like a couple of years ago when the new “young guns” were supposed to take over the PGA Tour and make Tiger a fading memory. This is the real stuff and the right stuff.

Okay, so now you know. I am a big fan of the LPGA; have been ever since the great ladies of the game played near my childhood home in the 1960’s. Back then the LPGA Championship was conducted at Pleasant Valley CC in Sutton, MA. I became an even bigger fan in the 1980’s when covering golf for a local newspaper in Northern Virginia and they played the LPGA Championship at Bethesda CC in Bethesda, MD. And now I may be one of their biggest fans, a fan who looks to the 2006 season with the greatest anticipation. It is a watershed year. The LPGA has the chance to kick the butt of the PGA Tour. It will be the Year of the Kid. 2005 was merely the prologue. 2006 will be it. The golden goose is on the doorstep. The question is: Will Ms. Bivens let the goose in?

She’s already got a few of the golden eggs sitting in the basket. Let’s just look at that Fort Knox collection:
· Paula Creamer played like a veteran in her rookie year and then managed to stir the pot by confronting Annika on a ruling in the final event of the season. Now I know it wasn’t done as a publicity stunt, but…well, let’s just say it worked out well. So let’s pair Annika and Paula together in the first round of the season in 2006.
· Calendar girl Natalie Gulbis now has a new reality show and continues to be a big draw on the male side. Until recently it has almost been impossible to get a male golfer to go to an LPGA event. Amazing how all that is changing.
· The teenage invasion in on and the LPGA needs to grab the reins and go along for the ride. Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang have passed Q-School and are ready to conquer.

Ed Note: Ms. Bivens appears to be a genius. Seeing the golden golf goose, she granted Ms. Pressel LPGA membership status before he eighteenth birthday. There was a bit of corporate speak going on, something about each case had to be decided on its own merits but the bottom line Morgan will play and Ms. Bivens is beginning to show the Midas touch.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The High Cost of Golf

Once again the cost of golf has reared its ugly head and managed to – once again – incense the staff at Eye On Golf.

February 10, 2006, online with GOLFONLINE, we found this intro to a web page:
Traval: Road Trip to Pebble Beach. Since this cannot obviously be a misspelling, it must be a high-priced way to spell the other variation of the word “travel” especially if it’s associated with Pebble Beach.

So we decided to check out this little road trip (the article that is, not take the actual trip; you’ll see why in a minute.) Turns out a Senior Editor of Golf Magazine took a little trip and hit five public courses from Harding Park in San Francisco to Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. We assume he played each one to provide us with an honest and proper evaluation. We also assume that each of the courses provided gratis golf when they found out he was coming. I’m pretty sure of this because he begins his article by declaring, “America's greatest public-access golf course…” If that’s not an advertising proclamation, I’ve never seen one. Of course, there is an alternative: he did pay his own way meaning that GM pays its editors quite handsomely. You see these “public” courses are not for the average, public golfer. They range in price from $78 at Harding Park to a whopping $425 at Pebble Beach, not quite what the weekend golfer would like to pay for a round of golf with his son. And, at the conclusion, Mr. Editor states that it is worth the $425 to play just once.

(Side note: To put this in perspective consider that in 2005 the Eye On Golf staff spent the summer in Buffalo, Wyoming. With a population of 3900 Buffalo sustains a marvelous, scenic, well-maintained golf course. And the best part is the price – fair. For a yearly membership a couple pays $420. That’s golf anytime you want it. The cart, of course, is extra but that’s extraneous to the game of golf.

There are, of course, many different conclusions that you can draw from all of the jabberwocky. The one we would like to point out is that articles like this lead us to the conclusion that these major golf magazines focus on and cater to the affluent golfer. If you doubt this statement, look through a recent issue and direct all your attention to the advertisements. Notice what clubs they recommend, what courses they advocate and so on. I don’t think you’ll be surprised, but you might be.

Off and Running

By popular demand Eye On Golf (EOG) has finally advanced to the world of the Blogger. For those that are unaware EOG has been publishing a periodic newsletter on the world of golf for over three years. It has been transmitted solely by newsletter. This blog will be an additional means of communication to that newsletter. If you want to catch up on any of the EOG thoughts, just let us know and we'll make arrangements.