Editor’s Note: Why I Re-Posted “Revisiting ‘The Big Miss’”

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Photo courtesy of http://www.ibtimes.com.

          Well, we made more blog history this a.m. I just did a re-post for the first time this morning, the day after the blog broke its single-day traffic record.

Amongst the searches yesterday, and all week, has been a post I did after the Farmers Insurance Open this year about Hank Haney’s book, “The Big Miss,” published a few years ago. “The Big Miss” is Haney’s tell-all about his years coaching Tiger, and my post focused on Haney’s predictions about Tiger in majors and his pursuit of Jack’s record.

You can read the post to see how Haney’s predictions have fared, but you will notice at least one that’s quite timely. Based on Tiger’s inability to tame his driver, Haney predicted that if Tiger broke the record it would be via British Opens, the least driver-dependent major or the one that least penalized scattering the ball.

And, low and behold, Tiger had to pull driver yesterday and we all saw how that went. I turned on the Golf Channel last night and watched Tiger get completely dismantled, a day after, of course, some people had him winning the thing.  It was a veritable analyst feeding frenzy on Tiger and his game capped by analyst Steve Flesch saying, “Tiger’s a 25-handicap with his driver right now.” Ouch. Not sure Johnny M would’ve even gone there.

But Tiger puts himself on a tee, so to speak, when he does what he does and says he still expects victory despite only one competitive round since his back surgery. The criticism that he should’ve squeezed in another tourney before the British if he really expected to contend is entirely valid and also gets back to a Haney book bullet point – Tiger’s dedication.

You can love Hank or hate him, or certainly quibble with his ethics, but he’s been dead on as Tiger’s Nostradamus. (Ooops, I just gave way the ending of the re-post, but that zero in Tiger’s major record since Torrey in 2008 probably told you that.)

Personally, I wish Haney wouldn’t swing at every pitch when it comes to opportunities to criticize Tiger. Pick your spots. It’s becoming a bit much and seems a little unprofessional and piling on at this point.

Anyway, it isn’t Haney’s name that is coming up in the searches by the way. It’s Sean Foley, Tiger’s only swing coach sink Hank.  And the word “ruin” is being with “Foley” in searches.

So that’s my gauge for what people are talking about out and the blog aims to be timely and provide a place to have the debate.

Feel free to leave a comment. I appreciate the feedback and, like in this case, sometimes it can guide the content on the blog.

Enjoy the rest of the British. Rory has been something to behold. Feels like the door is slamming on the Tiger/Phil era this year and especially this week given what Phil did a year ago and how feeble he’s been in 2014. Just saying …

Revisiting “The Big Miss” and Hank Haney’s Predictions About Tiger and Majors

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I use the word “revisit” but that’s mostly in reference to myself as I have yet to meet someone in California who actually “visited” Hank Haney’s tell-all about coaching Tiger Woods when it was released prior to the 2012 Masters.

So, for almost all of you, the passages I’m about to quote from the closing chapter of “The Big Miss” will be entirely new.  For what I remember reading at the time, that chapter, titled “Adding It Up,” didn’t get any play in the press coverage of the book, which focused almost exclusively on injuries Tiger incurred while being fixated for a time on being a Navy SEAL and training toward that end.

That was the easy tabloid takeaway at the time from a book that actually gave quite a bit of insight into Tiger and his game, enough that you never watch him the same way again after reading it.

The title ends up having multiple meanings and applications in the book, but its literal meaning is “the big miss” the pros fear off the tee. In Tiger’s case, that’s a big duck hook that comes out under pressure and can ruin runs at titles, and, in the bigger picture Tiger is always measured in, majors.

Haney contends in the book that Woods has more or less become scared of his driver and controlling his otherworldly swing speed, thus the club he rode to greatness and domination becoming his nemesis as this point in his career.

That’s why Haney concludes that if Tiger is to break Jack’s record of 19 majors, he’ll have to do it via British Opens, where the courses are hard and fast and more conducive to iron play off the tee.

Eight majors have passed for Tiger since the book was published and so far the predictions in “The Big Miss” are 8-0. I thought about this after the Farmers, when Haney and Tiger got into a media tiff about how much his emphasis on weight training has hampered his swing.

Haney certainly seems to have plenty of appetite left for his issues with Tiger, who now has not won a major since his epic U.S. Open win at Torrey in 2008, leaving him stuck on 14 majors, five short of passing Jack.

As we all recall, Tiger bombed out of the Farmers this year, not even making it to Sunday on a week that many predicted would be just another victory lap at Torrey Pines for Tiger.

That wasn’t the way anyone expected Tiger to start up a new year that followed five wins and another Player of the Year honor in 2013. Momentum seemed to be building again for him and many looked at the Tiger-friendly majors line up and had already predicted, of all things, multiple major victories for him in 2014.

You haven’t heard much from those people since Torrey, but we have heard from Haney, whose book I recently tracked down and partially re-read. Since the Jack vs. Tiger debate is always just bubbling below the surface in golf when it’s not at a full boil, I thought I’d go back and quote a few portions of the book and see how it scores two years out.

I was going to wait to do this prior to the Masters, but Tiger and Hank’s media squabble prompted me to move it up.

So here’s some of what you missed in “The Big Miss” when you missed it the first time.

         “The most asked question about Tiger is whether he’ll break Jack’s record for major championships. … Certainly there are questions of health, physique and technique to consider, but to me the most important issue is desire.”

Here’s where Haney picks up his familiar theme of questioning Tiger’s practice habits and it echoes those of people who wondered how much Tiger prepped for Torrey.

         “I’ve never known a player who lost his hunger for practice to regain that same level of hunger. Nick Faldo, who in his prime was one of the most diligent and intense workers the game has ever known, said that after he won the 1996 Masters, he lost the drive to practice. … That drop-off marked the end of his career as a champion.”

But then Haney’s tone changes and he seems to forecast Tiger being an exception.

     “If Tiger can keep his work ethic strong, he’ll sort out his golf swing. Whatever theory he’s using, he’ll find a way – either in concert with Sean Foley or another teaching or be finding his own accommodation of their theories.”

        However …

        “However, I don’t think simply solidifying his technique alone will fix his problem with the driver. There is a mental issue there that needs to be addressed, and the odds are against it ever being completely resolved.”

And here’s what mean when I talk about this book changing how you watch Tiger. Remember the British Open last year when Tiger couldn’t keep up with co-leader Lee Westwood on Saturday? Westwood was hitting driver and blowing it by him, while Tiger was settling for 3-wood/5-wood/irons and finding traps and losing ground. According to an SB Nation column from the tourney, Woods didn’t hit his first driver until the 39th hole of the tourney. You can look up the column by Emily Kay that basically reads like it came right out of Haney’s book.

Which brings us to Haney’s British Open theory.

        “(The driver issue is) a weakness that tells the most in majors. It’s why, unless he finds some kind of late-career fix with the driver, Tiger’s best chances in majors will come on courses with firm, fast-running fairways that will allow him to him irons off the tee. Of the four majors, the British Open best fits this profile.”

After a strong start, Tiger finished tied for sixth, five shots behind winner Phil Mickelson. His week at Muirfield played into Tiger’s new trend of fading on the weekends of majors.

And it’s largely due to putting. Tiger seems to lose his touch and feel for the greens, which he was already struggling with when Haney wrote his book.

Here’s Hank on Tiger’s putting:

        “I’m not sure what to make of Tiger’s putting problems. Technically, he still looks good over the ball and has a textbook stroke. But putting is undone by the smallest and most mysterious of errors, and players rarely improve their putting after their mid-30s. … His putting, both his ability to lag long ones close and his solidness in holing from within six feet, was the foundation of Tiger’s ability to close out victories when he had the lead.”

And save for a few flurries of vintage Tiger putting in 2013, he largely didn’t look like the player we’ve known.

And if you can’t putt in the clutch, you can’t close, which is what leads Haney to doing a little math about how many majors Tiger will likely need to contend in to get five major victories. And this was Hank’s math going into 2012.

         “He’s not quite the same closer kind of closer, or not quite as fortunate as he’s been, (so) it could take 15 or more such opportunities. It seems like a tall order for the Tiger who enters 2012.”

And now for the Tiger who enters 2014 staring at basically the same equation, but now at age 38.

Hank closes by playing into an argument John Miller trumpets of how intense the media scrutiny will become if/once Tiger moves off 14 and gets his majors train moving again. And this is also where Haney sees the biggest difference from Nicklaus.

         “A final factor to consider it that, whereas Jack Nicklaus’s final few majors were won in a historical vacuum and were essentially padding to his record, Tiger will face ever mounting pressure and scrutiny the closer he gets to No. 19. Assuming the erosions of age, for Tiger, the soon he can get to 18, the better.”

Haney then predicts Tiger needed a major in 2012 to put a restrictor plate on the pressure he’ll feel to go faster to catch Jack as the battle with age and time sets in. Well, we know how that turned out.

Haney closes with a hopeful note on never counting out Tiger’s genius, but then gets back to a central theme of  how Tiger’s personal turmoil caused him to lose his mental edge – and caused his biggest miss, a shot at golf history.

         “Unlike the Tiger who in his 20s and early 30s was virtually indomitable, today’s Tiger has discovered that in like real disaster lurks. … That realization creates doubt, and in competitive golf doubt is a killer.

         “The big miss found its way into his life. If it’s ingrained, primed to emerge at moments of crisis, his march toward golf history is over.”

So there you have it. You can question Hank Haney’s motivations, and especially his ethics, for writing the book, but his observations to date are spot on.

Like I said, I found the book an insightful read, though a bit of a flat one, and it adds perspective to understanding of the greatest sports chase/storyline of our lifetimes and the debate that will never die until Tiger either breaks Jack record or hangs up his clubs.

We’ve got a lot of years left on this debate, but the score for “The Big Miss” going into year three post-publish is that it hasn’t missed yet.

Friday Photo Post: The PGA TOUR Grill In The San Diego Airport

You’ll be reading more about this on here down the road, but for those who haven’t discovered it, I wanted to share these photos of the PGA TOUR Grill that opened in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport in May.
The TOUR plans to open 20 to 25 of these in the next four to five years. The San Diego location was quickly followed by restaurants in the airports in Honolulu and Las Vegas. Boston is next.
Initially, the TOUR is targeting cities that are either PGA TOUR stops or golf hotspots for this. San Diego is obviously both.
The golf-centric restaurants offer healthy menu alternatives for travelers and each location is localized, which for San Diego means murals of Torrey Pines and memorabilia from the Farmers Insurance Open.
I hope to see the place for the first time next week. Photos for this post were provided by HMSHost, the PGA TOUR’s partner in the project.
If you visit, or have visited, the PGA TOUR Grill, please kindly drop a note in the comments.PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%203[1]PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%207[1]PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%205[1]

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JC Golf: British Open Preview and Picks By Our Pros

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Storylines abound as the Tour makes its annual trek across the pond for the third major of the year, the British Open, which begins Thursday at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake.

Just like the course, we don’t allow slow play on the blog, so let’s get right to the tournament preview followed by predictions from our pros.

Tiger And His Healed Back Are Back – After missing the Masters and the U.S. Open while recovering from back surgery, Tiger Woods returns to major championship competition at the site of one of his most revered major wins.

Woods famously rode his iron play to victory at Hoylake in 2006. Hitting just one driver, Woods negotiated a veritable minefield of bunkers without going into a single one to claim the Claret Jug.

Having played just one tournament since his return (he missed the cut), Woods will have to find his form quickly to have a chance to notch his first major victory since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008.

Regardless of how he plays, him merely teeing it up to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and the major victories record is sure to at least be worth a bump in the Open’s TV ratings.

With just the British and PGA Championship remaining, Woods is looking at another year of losing ground to history if he can’t get a win.

Can Phil Two-Peat? – A year ago, Mickelson book-ended a win at the Scottish Open with astellar Sunday charge to claim his first victory in the Open championship to get him to three-fourths of career Grand Slam.

Mickelson wasn’t even on the first page of the leaderboard when the day began, but he bolted past the field with a birdie binge to pull out a thrilling win, one of the best in recent major championship history.

Mickelson birdied four of the last six holes, including a legendary 3-wood into the par-5 17th to set up birdie. Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” McKay would later compare the shot to someone driving it through their garage door from nearly 300 yards out. Mickelson put it to 25 feet.

“Best round I’ve even him play,” McKay told Fox Sports.

A year later, Mickelson has just one top-10 finish and his year mostly consists of being the media darling in the run up to the U.S. Open, where Mickelson finished tied for 28th after battling his putter all week long.

Like everyone else, Mickelson spent the weekend chasing Martin Kaymer in futility as Kaymer dusted the field at Pinehurst, which brings us to …

What Can Kaymer Do For An Encore? – Kaymer’s methodical march to the title at Pinehurst after posting opening 65s was pure dominance.

Can Kaymer do it again? History, of course, says it’s unlikely. The last player to win repeat majors was Padraig Harrington in 2008 (the British and the PGA).

Then again, Kaymer only wins the biggies. His only three Tour wins are the PGA Championship and this year’s U.S. Open and the Players Championship.

Kaymer’s best British finish is T7 in 2010. He finish T32 last year.

By the way, according to Bleacher Report, the U.S. Open-British Open championship has been accomplished four times.

Favorite Son, Justin Rose – A year ago, it was Lee Westwood. This year, Justin Rose, coming off consecutive victories, including the Scottish Open, is the countryman of choice.

To do it, he’ll have to pull out a performance his championship resume doesn’t currently qualify him for. He’s missed five of the last six cuts, including the last two years.

But you never count out the hot guy, especially when he’s proven himself consistently to be among the best ball strikers in the world.

Is the Winning Strategy Tiger 2.0? – Can someone just do what Tiger did in 2006 and basically bag the driver?

Well, the course is reportedly only 54 yards longer than 2006 and actually has fewer bunkers, so it seems plausible.

Will Tiger try it again? Will anyone? Tune in very early tomm. a.m. and we’ll start to find out.

Happy British Open week.

Now the predictions from our pros …

 

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn – Rory McIroy is overdue to win his third major.

Troy Ferguson, Head Professional, Twin Oaks – Miguel Angel Cabrera

 

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Oaks North -I like Justin Rose . Maybe the hottest player in the world. He is from Europe and knows the style of golf.

My second choice is Martin Kaymer – pure golf swing and great putter.

Scott Butler, Tournament Sales Director at Twin Oaks – Adam Scott by six or eight shots – or Tiger in a close one.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn - It’s all about crisp irons and great putting in order to capture the Claret Jug.  Justin Rose is one of the best long iron players on the planet, while possessing an incredible short game

For such a talented player, though, he has had a poor track record at the Open since his breakthrough performance in 1998. I expect Justin to do what Phil Mickelson did last year; Go back to back, winning the Scottish Open and following it up by winning the Open Championship, bringing an end to the drought of Englishmen to win since Nick Faldo in 1992.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch – Rickie Fowler: Time for him to break through and win a big event. After his showing at the U.S Open, he could finally be ready.  Great ball striker with a lot of imagination around the greens.

Martin Kaymer – perfect ball flight for links course (as proven at the US open) and loves to putt around the greens.  At 20-1, he’s also a great value!

But, Erik adds, …

I would love to see Tiger win. It would be great for the sport.  With his deteriorating health over the last few years, we may not get to see much more of the brilliance that he has spoiled us with for over 16 years.

My Favorite Public Golf Hole in So. Cal: No. 5 at Journey at Pechanga

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If it’s possible to have love at first sight with a golf hole – and as  golfers, we all know that it is – I had it with No. 5 at Journey at Pechanga a year ago.

If you’ve played Journey, you know No. 5 is where the course starts to become something special.

I played it for the first time around this time a year ago, and I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I saw No. 5 for the first time.

You can’t clearly see the hole until you make the left turn on the cart path, and when you do, you discover a sight that just has to leave you in awe a little bit.

The hole is a par-4 played to a majestic mountain backdrop. The fairway is bisected by a rocky stream that drains into a lake that provides a drive-swallowing water hazard for many and divides a split fairway. At the hole, the stream, bubbling from a waterfall behind the green, wraps around the green to provide a serene setting for your putt – hopefully a birdie, but if it’s your first time, probably not.

I love this hole because it’s the perfect combination of beauty, strategy and serenity. And it epitomizes the playing experience at Journey. You can make it as tough as you want to, but the course ultimately rewards the smart play. Most holes there give you a variety of shot options, but possibly none more than No. 5.

Especially played from the white tees (298 yards), you can certainly go for the green and for the Holy Grail of an eagle. Moving back to the blacks (331 yards) makes this a less realistic play, but certainly not impossible for today’s longer hitters.

Two things to know if you’re seeking to do this: 1) make you miss right; 2) book an early tee time, but you’re probably not make this play after noon when a severe headwind is known to kick up.

In that regard, I have to play this hole with its true teeth in. Instead, I’ve been greeted by a still lake and a green light at the green. I found water the first time I tried, before deferring to safe 7-iron played out left for a short-iron approach.

This time, I pulled my SLDR Mini-Driver and found the fairway on the right despite aiming for the left (a lucky miss, to be sure). That 270-yard drive left me a simple pitch in, which I converted for a two-putt par.

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The approach from the right fairway

Under still conditions, driver/3-wood is the only way to reach the right fairway, but the left presents nearly every option in the bag, which is why I love this hole. Players of every ability level have available avenue to play this hole and succeed.

And the setting and design of the hole becomes more unique with every round I play in California. I’ve yet to play another hole like it.

I played Journey on Thursday last week and Torrey South on Friday (yes, I have a hard life). The answer I’m probably supposed to have in this space is No. 3 at Torrey, the iconic ocean-view par-3 played into the vista of La Jolla.

No. 3 at Torrey is undoubtedly the signature hole for all of Southern California and without question an incredible design and always fun to play. But it’s a par-3. There’s really only one way to play it, and the hole is short and not terribly difficult.

No. 5 at Journey is beautiful in its own right, but presents a much wider array of challenges and options.

What’s funny is that most people will read this and probably say No. 5 isn’t even their favorite hole at Journey, much less all of So. Cal. Journey has three holes played at serious elevation, mostly notably No. 6, the bomber’s delight with a view of all of downtown Temecula and beyond.

A great hole and a unique experience, to be sure, but there are only so many ways to play it. Save for the par-3 17th and the par-4 18th. Together, it’s hard to beat the finish at Journey.

But if I can only play one hole, for my money it’s No. 5. I’ve pondered a series of posts about my Dream 18 in So. Cal. I’ve not pondered the entire list yet, though it’s an exercise I look forward to, but you now know where the journey would begin – No. 5 at Journey.

 

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Behind the green

 

Friday Photo Post: Torrey Tournament-Ready and Hosting A Phenom

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      Just a quick photo today of Torrey Pines in tournament condition. Starting tomorrow, Torrey will host the Junior World Golf Championships. In the field is Tianlang Guan, who golf fans will recall was the youngest player ever to compete at the Masters two years ago at age 14. He’s still riding the celebrity of those two rounds as evidenced by the many photo opp. requests he received while playing his practice round today. And he graciously granted every one.

      The young man still seems to enjoy the spotlight and not be burned out by the attention. He happily complied with an interview request, the results of which you’ll see here at a later date.

       He also received his share of well wishes for the tournament and his future. The blog can second that. Look for his name in the local headlines in the coming weeks.

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A Cool Little Story About Former President Bush

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Over the holiday, I spent a little time in Bryan/College Station, Texas, on the way to a 4th of July get-together at a lake house in the area.

Besides being the site of Texas A & M University, College Station is also the proud home of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which was allowing free admission on the 4th.

To get the day off to a patriotic start, we took a tour and I discovered a little story about the first Mr. Bush in the White House that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard before and wanted to share.

First of all, I recommend a visit and tour of the Bush library to anyone. The grounds, the exhibits and the entire presentation of President Bush’s life, political career and time in the Oval Office are entirely impressive. You will not be disappointed.

I was told a great little story about the former President while I was discovering the replica of the Oval Office.

But first, a little backstory about my professional past. Before relocating to Southern California, I lived in Omaha, home of the College World Series.

While working for the local paper, I wrote my share of CWS stories, but one in particular was memorable. It was about a former Yale first baseman who went on to field the country’s highest office – yes, George Bush.

Bush played for the Yale teams that were part of the original CWS field in 1947 and again in 1948, back when the games were played in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Anyway, one year I was assigned the profile of George Bush the baseball player, I believe the year his son attended the series when he was in office.

I’m a sports history buff so I enjoyed reporting that piece tremendously and got to interview some of his former teammates, although not the former President himself.

Well, you can call it reporter’s remorse, but more than a decade later I came across a little tidbit I would love to have known at the time.

The museum part of the tour stages some of settings of Mr. Bush’s life, such as Camp David and the situation room for the Iraq war, but really, naturally, the pinnacle is the replica of the Oval Office.

When you enter the room, you’re encouraged to sit behind the presidential desk and have your photo taken – thus the camera you find yourself facing.

Anyway, after I had my photo taken, a library volunteer told me to open the desk drawers and look around. I found my story in the second draw from the top on the left.

There, beneath glass, is President Bush’s baseball glove from Yale. I was told he kept it in a drawer of every desk he ever had.

“He was very sentimental about his experience with those players,” the volunteer said.

As you can see, the glove is weathered and worn, as any good baseball glove should be, and quite small. Modern gloves are bushel baskets by comparison.

And fielding is what Bush was known for, not his bat. He was a career .240/.250 hitter, which was the crux of my piece all the those years ago.

Neither Yale team won the title, but, according to an Associated Press story you can search out, the surviving teammates have a bond to this day, according to Bush’s teammate, Norm Felske.

“When you go to the Yale Club, you go in the bar and you’ll see pictures of the 1947 and 1948 Yale baseball teams,” Felske told the AP. “With a few breaks, we probably would’ve won at least one of those years. But, when you think about it, our first baseman became president. Wow, how about that?”

 

Editor’s note: I’ve got one more post coming about my Texas trip and then we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.