Category Archives: U.S. Open

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2017 U.S. Open Preview

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Photos: www.erinhills.com

Like Chambers Bay in 2015, Erin Hills is a first-time U.S. Open venue and a relative unknown to the pros as it has little tournament history. It hosted a U.S. Amateur in 2011 as a preparation for the Open.

The heavily bunkered, tree-less course, which opened in 2006, by description sounds comparable to Oakmont, last year’s U.S. Open venue, where Dustin Johnson’s length and short-game prowess powered him to a break through major championship.

That win catapulted Johnson to the most dominant stretch of his career and the world No. 1 ranking. That momentum was stalled at the Masters after a freak fall caused him to withdraw with a back injury. Can he return to form on a course that will play to his strengths – namely length? Or will another big bomber raise the trophy?

On Thurs., we start to find out. Here’s a look at the leading storylines heading into the first U.S. Open ever in the state of Wisconsin.

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The Unknown – The knowns are these: the rough is thick and the course in long, because that’s what a traditional U.S. Open set up is. But practically everything else about the longest course in U.S. Open history (7,741 yards) remains a mystery.

The pros will be using their practice rounds to get used to the new layout and particularly its treacherous bunkers, of which there are three types, the nuances of its rolling terrain and the sight lines for a number of blind semi-blind approaches.

The course is such an unknown that ESPN golf analyst Andy North, a Wisconsin native, gave a 30-shot range for predicting the winning score.

“We really don’t know if it’s going to be closer to 15-over or 15-under,” he said.

Of note: the last major played in Wisconsin, the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, saw Jason Day post a major championship scoring record of 20-under.

Will someone solve Erin Hills and go on a similar birdie binge or will it be a week that sees a barrage of bogeys? We seem to have a true wildcard course on our hands, but there’s no such mystery about the favorite: It’s Dustin Johnson.

A Double For D.J.? – There hasn’t been repeat champion at the U.S Open since Curtis Strange defended in 1989. Will the 117th Open see Johnson snap that streak?

The fairways are reportedly twice as wide as the ones Johnson dominated at Oakmont a year, so the set-up is friendly to his prodigious length, but it’s his improved wedge and short game that has really been the game changer for his 2017 dominance.

Johnson, however, hasn’t seemed to have quite the same sharpness since returning to competition after the Masters. He missed the cut at his last event (the Memorial), but some analysts viewed that as a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to get a head start on his Open preparation.

We’ll soon see if that extra preparation pays off and Johnson can reclaim the dominating form he had going into the Masters, before which he had reeled off three straight victories.

If D.J. is right, are you betting against him? His putting has improved as well this year and he’s part of a Tour trend.

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Photo: Golf Digest

How They Roll – Rory McIlroy is the latest to add a mallet putter to his bag in a last-minute equipment change this week. The mallet is becoming the preferred style on Tour. Putting is always key, but a hot putter could really get on a roll this week due to the impeccable course conditions.

Erin Hills has been closed since October to ensure premium conditions for the Open, especially on the greens, which, unlike Chambers Bay, are yielding compliments from the pros. The pros who figures out the greens the fastest could gain an early edge. Martin Kaymer solved Pinehurst once by putting from off the greens.

Who will wield the magic wand this week that will lead to victory this week? Will it be a past major winner or a championship newcomer like it has been in the previous six majors?

Break On Through, Take 7? – Sergio Garcia’s win at the Masters pushed the streak of first-time major winners to six. Can another first-timer get hot and continue the streak? Rickie Fowler? John Rahm? Justin Thomas?

Understandably, the Tour’s top bombers dominate the list of favorites. Will one of them prevail if D.J. can’t recapture his A game? If bogeys abound, it could turn into a real scramble (think British Open) and the bounces could favor another first-timer. But if U.S. Open experience prevails …

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Can recent history repeat? – Before D.J., the previous three U.S. Open winners were Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose. Rory McIlroy is also a past champion and the holder of the Open scoring record, 16-under in 2011.

Rose is on something akin to a major hot streak of his own. He finished runner-up to Garcia at Augusta and previously won the gold medal in the Rio Olympics playing under course conditions that sound a bit similar to what he’ll be facing this week at Erin Hills. GolfWeek actually has Rose listed as its No. 2 pick behind D.J. and ahead of Jason Day to raise the trophy this week (that’s a TaylorMade trio, by the way) and then rounds out its top five with Spieth and McIlroy.

Will one of the favorites prevail or will we major-victory rookies resume their rise at the majors? We’ll start to get some clues when the major fun begins on Thurs.

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Southland: Golf Artist Lee Wybranski Paints Major Masterpieces

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Golf artist Lee Wybranski has created a unique niche for himself: He paints for the majors. You saw his work at Torrey fo the U.S. Open in 2008 and you’ll see it again when the Open returns in 2021. Also of local interest, he’s working on a project for Goat Hill Park in Oceanside. You can read my Southland Golf interview with Lee here: http://www.southlandgolf.com/articles/grinding-617-powers-leg.html

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Maderas: PGA Championship Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

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A truly historic season for the PGA Tour hits the home stretch by returning to Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship – and Rory McIlroy’s surprise return from injury to defend his title and his No. 1 ranking only adds to the intrigue.

Here are four storylines teed high for the PGA, including Rory’s risky decision, followed by Chris Mayson’s picks to end what’s been an MVP prediction season (including the Farmers, he’s three for four picking the winners). He’s got a Masters champion pegged for the PGA (Hint: Not Tiger). It’s a doubly special week for Chris because he has a student, Brendan Steele, in the field.

Why Is Rory Risking It? – I’m going to cede the floor early to Mr. Mayson to address the week’s hot topic: Why would Rory McIroy return from the Achilles injury that cost him a spot in the British Open to play such a tough golf course and risk re-injury? Is it simply the ego of being world’s No. 1 and the PGA defending champ?

Chris: “I am not sure why Rory McIlroy is playing and risking his health. The only reason behind his quick recovery and entry into this week is surely because he covets majors more than the Fed Ex Cup.

“It would have made much more sense to take another two weeks off and comeback for the playoffs, but I can only assume that he wants another major that badly and it is worth the risk. It would be great to see a McIlroy and Spieth duel this week, but I think he is going to be way too rusty to compete at that level.”
And this is the same player who once WD’d over a toothache. Obviously, Rory has found a new pain tolerance, but the gain may only negligible or worse.

No Grand Slam But A Historic Hat Trick? – The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee wasted no time predicting a third major for Jordan Spieth this week after his near-miss at the British Open. While he’s running away with Player of the Year, will he tote home a trophy for his mantel to go along with The Masters and U.S. Open?
It would surprise no one if he did to cap The Summer Spieth, and it would certainly send a message to the Tour that it might be more of the same in 2016.

Spieth and McIlroy are paired on Thursday and Friday. Two men enter, one man makes the weekend? If it’s two, we might get a preview of 2016 earlier than any of us expected. It would be a fitting finish to the year of Jordan, Rory and Rickie.

Or Spieth could find himself in a familiar scenario …

A Familiar Foe – And A Haunted One Here – We’re, of course, talking about Dustin Johnson here, whose name was first synonymous with “bunker ruling” at Whistling Straits before “three-putt” at Chambers Bay.

Will poetic justice arrive at a place where DJ has all the usual DJ advantages, or will he be felled again by his familiar fails in majors?

But you can be sure DJ will check his rulebook once and twice to determine which bunkers are naughty (traps) and which ones are nice (waste areas) for grounding your club.

Will the rulebook blindside anyone else this week, or did DJ teach an eternal lesson?

Straits or Straights? – The early feedback from the practice rounds has been about how tough the rough is, particularly off the tee. Finding fairways will be especially critical this week in a PGA that sounds like the traditional U.S. Open instead of what we got at Chamber Bay this year.

Chamblee on tee shots: “Big misses here have big consequences.”

He was, naturally, talking about Tiger, whose resurgence is in debate but there’s no debate that he has a tame track record here. In 2010, he’d just switched swing coaches and spent the week tinkering. Is he still tinkering again in 2015 or he has finally tamed his new swing?

Chris Mayson has another Masters champ in mind this week, and he’s about to tell you why.

The final major of the year is upon us and it seems that golf season has only just begun. The first two majors were won by the best player in the world this year, Jordan Spieth. St. Andrews was too much of a weather pot luck to produce the best player, but Spieth’s run at three consecutive major victories was extremely admirable. You would have to assume that he will be in contention again this week.

My pick this week is one of the longest players on the PGA Tour, Bubba Watson. I always go by the belief that if you want to know who is going to win this week, look no further than who finished second last week – and that was Bubba at Bridgestone. He is clearly playing well and he loves to shape the ball, which you have to do on all Pete Dye golf courses, and his prodigious length will allow him to cut off some of the dog legs.

My other sleeper pick is my own student, Brendan Steele. Brendan hits is very long and straight, can move the ball both ways and is coming off a strong seventh-place finish last week on the PGA Tour. I know I am biased, but I think Whistling Straights is going to be a great course for him.

No matter the contenders, I’m sure that Whistling Straights will produce some drama, the same way it did last time.

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Go to www.maderasgolf.com.

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Making The Case For A Tiger Woods Comeback

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Photo courtesy of www.cbssports.com

The week Comic-Con arrived in San Diego, a friend and follower of my work asked me if I was going to blog about it.

I told him it hadn’t occurred to me.

“Well, it’s travel, right?” he stated, to which I replied, “Yes.”

“And doesn’t golf have a super hero?” he asked, to which I, after a contemplative pause, responded, “We used to.”

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The headline hit my email inbox the Friday of the British Open, a day before Tiger Woods would officially miss the cut, but that conclusion was already foregone.

The Golf Digest headline popped up: “Tiger Woods Officially Finished”.

I copied it and popped it into a text to a few golf friends and contacts.

One replied immediately: “No, he isn’t.”

The dissenting voice was my former instructor, and golf swing mentor, at the Golf Academy of America, Michael Flanagan.

He followed with a text briefly backing up his belief. I offered to take up the matter with him in a future blog post. He agreed. And here we are.

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One day in school in 2012 that I’ll never forget is the first time we were shown how to use V1, a video analysis program to teach the golf swing.

Among the many things you can do on V1 is take professional swings and break them down through sequencing and slow motion. You can also draw on the screen, which is done primarily to reinforce how well the pros maintain their posture.

The first swing we were shown to demonstrate the system was Tiger in his prime at the Masters. When you study a swing, the first thing you do is draw two lines – one along the spine and a vertical behind their behind. Then you draw a circle around the head. This tells you how well a player holds their form.

The instructor did this with Tiger’s swing … and pushed play.

Tiger tore into the golf ball and the video stopped just past impact. He hadn’t moved a micron within the circle or off his lines.

The instructor turned to the class and asked, “So what was there to fix?”

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Being an instructor and a student of the game, Michael Flanagan studies golf swings the way Ron Jaworski studies quarterbacks. He has studied players past and present and can tell you exactly what makes a player’s swing his swing … in great detail. For instance, he can tell you, and show you, the 15 things that define Ernie El’s golf swing.

He’s analyzed swings for decades now – Hogan to Weiskopf to Woods – and is something of a swing Yoda. When he tells you something about a swing, it’s the truth. Whether you chose to believe or not is up to you. When he’s teaching you, his bluntness comes at you like a crowbar, but a bruised ego is a necessary part of the process when you’re trying to find the elusive greatness in your golf swing.

So what does Flanagan see when he looks at Tiger? A fundamentally flawed player who used to be the avatar of swing perfection.

“From a technical standpoint, the biggest issue he has is in his backswing. He lowers his head, which we call bobbing. When he swings, he’s got to pop up to clear. If he could just stay level, he’d be fine.”

And that’s it?

“Yes. He’s just got to stay level in the backswing, no matter what pattern he’s using.”

Wow. He could make that fix in the morning and win a major in the afternoon.

“Then he needs to just get out of his own way and let it happen. I’m telling you, he’s close.”

Unbeknownst to Mike, while he was teaching class, Tiger had reeled off his first four-birdie binge in nearly two years at the Quicken Loans National in Washington, D.C.

“See?”

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When you’re trying to figure out the state of Tiger’s game by listening to him talking, it gets confusing. But it turns out, it isn’t so much about reading between the lines with Tiger as it is speaking Tiger-ese. Not surprisingly, Mike speaks Tiger.

Here’s a Tiger term: Patterns. Explain.

“What he really means is technique. Great athletes, like Tiger, feel they can adapt to any swing technique, which he calls patterns. He’s got his patterns mixed up. And you can’t mix and match. You’ve got to be committed to one belief.”

Then Mike begins to deconstruct Tiger through his coaches and you see what he means. In basics, the philosophies of his four professional coaches are the four swings he’s tried on tour, three of which he’s won with, two of which had him on pace to be the greatest player of all time.

Those swing “patterns” conflict. It’s like speaking English, French, Chinese and Arabic. Trying to speak them all at once would be communication chaos. Even two at would make tongue-tied, or swing-tied in Tiger’s case.

“And I think Sean Foley (Tiger’s third teacher) was really trying to get him to swing around his limitation (his knee),” Flanagan says. “But there are a lot different ways to swing the golf club. The method employed is of no significance as long as it’s repetitive.”

So Tiger is having trouble scrubbing his swing hard drive? His formula for success is just rinse, swing, repeat?

He’s that close?

“Yes.”

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After a recent round where he spent another day moonwalking the leaderboard instead of charging up it, Tiger mentioned that he needed to check his “spin rate.”

This had the heads of the largely golf ignorant mainstream media spinning.

“His what?!?!?!?” was the outcry.

Those who know the teaching side of the game recognize this as TrackMan talk. TrackMan is the revolutionary swing tracking system that has literally changed the game in the last five years by being able to detect things imperceivable to the human eye, such as face angle at impact. (My favorite TrackMan term is Smash Factor – a number that quantifies centerdness of contact and velocity.)

Tiger is talking about a stat that, among other things, tells you how far your shot is offline. High spin means low fairways hit. Get it?

Which brings us to our next Tiger topic, which is him saying he can’t take his game from the range, where he’s rumored to strike it beautifully, to the course.

Mike has seen this before. It’s the difference between range mentality and game mentality.

“He’s not letting it happen on the course. He’s trying to make it happen. On the course, he’s thinking about mechanics, not his target, which is the course. He’s ball-bound.”

So does Tiger need to play more or practice more to get it back?

“I think you should practice as much as you play and play as much as you practice. But he needs to play more and get back in the heat of the competition. “

Oh, and lose his coach.

“Tiger knows enough now that he doesn’t need a coach. He knows more about the golf swing than most instructors do because he’s won at all levels, no matter what swing technique he’s used.”

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Speaking of winning, Tiger now hasn’t won a major since the U.S. Open at Torrey in 2008, where he famously won a playoff with Rocco Mediate while playing on a broken leg.

So the last time Tiger played truly healthy is more than seven years ago. We might just be seeing it again now.

“Health is important to a golfer. You’ve got to be physically strong to play this game. Look how much they walk. They’re on their feet all day playing and practicing.”

If Tiger’s truly health, Mike still trusts the talent.

“How many guys have won on a broken leg?”

In fact, Mike was a believer for the British. In case you didn’t hear, that didn’t go well.

But maybe there’s hope for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in two weeks?

“Most people will think he has no shot. But he’s striking the ball well and just needs to see results. If he gets that driver under control …

“You’ve got to be able to drive it, wedge it and putt it. Tiger has always been able to do those three. But without any one of those three, it makes it difficult to play the game … for any player.”

Mike is keeping the faith Tiger will find his driver. Yes, he’s predicting a comeback.

“He will be back because of his work ethic. He’s dedicated to the game. He stills loves it and stills wants to excel. And he still wants to win majors.”

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Tiger’s decline has denied the sports world – not just golf – the greatest sports storyline of our lives – Tiger surpassing Jack’s 18 majors. As we all know, he’s been stuck on 14 since Torrey. Mike doesn’t believe he’ll stay stuck.

“He can still win golf tournaments, including majors.”

What stands against him, even if he returns to his peak, is his age and the field … and time.

“He’s 39, and he’s past his prime. But with is experience, which is worth a lot, he can still get it done. Hey, Jack won at 46. That’s 24 majors away for Tiger.

“He’s still got all the tools in the toolbox. But he’s got to use them all to accomplish it because of all the talent that’s out there on the PGA Tour today. There was nobody close to him when he won the Tiger Slam.”

Now there’s Rory, Rickie, Dustin and, of course, Jordan.

“He inspired those guys and now he’s got to compete against them. But I think he can.

“Golf is the power game, the short game, the putting game, mental game and the course management game. He’s got to use them all.”

And if he does …

“He can win a major and even more than one.”

While Tiger’s victories have gone away, his galleries have not. Mike finds this fascinating … and telling.

“Everybody’s waiting for him to show up. They want to see it one more time because it was so unbelievable when he was doing it.”

So there’s a chance Tiger could be standing on the tee with history on deck at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2021?

“Wouldn’t it be great for the game of golf?”

Southland: Meet Century Club CEO/President Peter Ripa

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The Century Club of San Diego, the nonprofit promotion arm for the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines, derives its name from the original donation amount asked of members.

When the club formed in 1961, members were asked to give $100, a gesture of support for their commitment to help raise funds for the fledgling tournament then known as the San Diego Open.

Just as the cost of membership has gone up – it’s now $1,250 – so has the significance, influence and impact of The Century Club.

In May, The Century Club announced that the tournament generated $3.1 donation to local charities. Century Club CEO and President Peter Ripa says awarding those donations is among the most meaningful parts of his job.

“We work with a lot of medium to smaller-sized charities,” Ripa says. “The numbers we are able to provide to them are meaningful, more so than they might be for some of the larger charities. For some of them, they’re able to do an entire summer program for kids that they otherwise couldn’t have done.”

For its overall contributions to the community, the San Diego Hall of Champions honored The Century Club with its 2015 Humanitarian Award in February. Ripa says the award had dual significance.

“The award is named after Ernie Wright, who started Pro Kids First Tee San Diego, which is one of our primary beneficiaries,” he says. “So it was ironic and special all at the same time.”

In his fourth year as CEO, the tournament has enjoyed the type of success Ripa envisioned when he took the job after serving in a similarity capacity for The Colonial, the PGA Tour’s stop in Fort Worth.

“I saw the opportunity of what this event represented. San Diego. Torrey Pines. Late January. I felt like I could sell that,” Ripa says with a wry smile.

Ripa coordinates the efforts of a group of 60 club members, the ones sporting the navy jackets at the tournament, and says the expectation of members is set from the outset.

“Our first-year members are provisional members,” he says. “Their duty is to provide warm introductions into relationships in the community, those businesses that value promoting San Diego, and let us help drive their business.”

Planning, promoting and especially improving the tournament experience are all year-round duties of The Century Club.

Ripa travels to industry events and at least six tour stops a year to glean ideas and foster relationships and partnerships. His overall emphasis has been to improve the fan experience, a primary example being the relocation of the entrance gate to near the Gliderport last year to improve efficiency of security and ticket checks.

“People were waiting 30 minutes to get in. They only way to improve that was to move the entrance. There wasn’t the opportunity in the old footprint,” he says. “We’re all fans. No one wants a 30-minute wait.
“We’ve now got the capacity, as more of our guests come through, to handle up to a 25 percent increase per year.”

Surveys showed the impact. Ticketholders and guests reported a 97 percent satisfaction rate, up from 96 the year before.

“It shows the incremental improvements from the investments. We’re working toward 100.”

Part of improving the fan experience is expanding it, Ripa says, through attention to concessions, the social experience, etc.

“What we’ve worked hard in promoting is that there’s more to experience than just the golf,” he says. “We’ve worked hard on the social areas to allow people to gather with friends and family and have a sandwich or a beer and enjoy a great day outdoors. We want them to realize the beauty of Torrey Pines and San Diego. It’s a world-class golf course.”

And as another world-class golf event – the 2021 U.S. Open – creeps closer, the Farmers, Torrey and San Diego will all benefit from the anticipation and exposure but will also be challenged to continue to provide a world-class experience.

One area getting lot of attention, Ripa says, is the rapidly expanding world of television, apps and online media and projecting what that will look like in 2021.

“The exposure for golf is growing, which will only benefit San Diego,” Ripa says. “In the end, it’s great for the players, the sponsors and the Tour as a whole, but it’s something you have to be prepared for. We want people from around the world to have access, and we’ll be ready.”

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F As In Fox: Things An Epically Failed U.S Open Broadcast Could’ve Tried

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In the days following the 115th U.S. Open, the criticism of Chambers Bay has largely died down, but the throttling of Fox has not, and with good reason.

While there’s no guarantee of another major at Chambers, Fox is contractually capable of sabotaging these things for another 11 years (Tiger will be 51 and probably still stuck on 14 majors).

Fox is a football network clearly out of its depth covering golf. They produced a clueless, lifeless broadcast that did a complete disservice to a major that gave them only everything you could ever want in a golf tournament.

We won’t waste space repeating the rightly deserved criticisms here, but the whole thing got the blog thinking about the state of golf TV broadcasts in general and here’s why:

Fox promised to break the golf broadcast mold and instead took it to the kiln and had it re-fired. How much of that was dictated by the USGA, I don’t know, but that’s of no concern here. The lack of imagination and innovation, and let’s break it down further – effort – was where a lot of the ire should be directed, but it also speaks to a larger point: There’s a stultifying lack of creativity around the game right now and in particular in golf broadcasts, which have changed how much again this century?

Maybe the networks became lazy over the past 15 years from simply having to point a camera at Tiger and pray that he made the weekend, but golf broadcasts on the whole have progressed about as far as newspapers in that time, meaning they haven’t.

Fox’s playbook seemed to be to hire Holly Sanders, point a camera at her, and the course, and pray. We see how well that worked.

As followers of the blog know, we don’t take this tone often, but we come not to denigrate but rather to be the Golf TV Think Thank Fox had two years to visit and didn’t. (Oh wait, they shaded the greens; my bad.)

What follows is a list of a few things Fox could’ve tried if it actually cared about progressing the golf broadcast model. What’s odd is that some of these come straight from the football broadcasts Fox knows well. Such as …

Mike up a player – How has this not happened? Well, we know why it didn’t happen when a certain would-be-sailor was world No. 1, but then don’t stream them live. You revisit snippets like they do with the NFL players. Is there a reason we can’t get a wire on Jordan Spieth, who is an extraordinarily and unusually verbally expressive player on the course? He talks through an entire shot process out loud with his caddie. Don’t catch random bits. Give him a mike and capture the whole thing and thereby let fans into the game, just like it does in the NFL. And if you can’t mike a player for some reason, how about a caddie?

Seriously, how has this not been done, especially in a sport perceived as mostly having generic humanoids as players? Someone with a personality and media saavy, like Pat Perez, for instance, should jump at the chance to do this.

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Player profiles –
For the broadcast, this is two-fold, seeing as they eschewed any attempt to profile profiles (because Jordan Spieth is a household name already, right?) and introduce them to the uninitiated, but I more mean capturing them in a graphic box like they would with an NFL QB. Example:

Tim Tebow, Philadelphia Eagles
Strengths

Running

Weaknesses

Everything else, particularly if it involves throwing anything with laces

OK, that one is a bit exaggerated in jest, but you could easily do this in golf and give some feel for a player who’s known or unknown to you. If you don’t know the player, as a golfer you can identify to the player type. An attempt:

Jordan Spieth
Strengths

Clutch putter – the best on Tour and perhaps one of the best ever.

Unshakable on-course composure

A knack for rising to the challenge in big moments (see: 2015 Masters)

Weaknesses

A 21-year-old body doesn’t deliver some of the power of his peers – yet

A Tip To Try

Looks at the hole – not the ball – on short putts

You could capture quirks about players, especially unconventional ones like Bubba Watson, and make them known to average golfers who don’t necessarily have the acumen to catch some of this stuff.

Build a replica green complex and teach a little – Chambers Bay has the on-course footprint of a small nation state. They could’ve easily found room, and you know they had the budget, to build a 19th hole for TV purposes only that could’ve served as a place to teach. Recreate some of those crazy lies and show how they were, or could’ve been, played. On the whole, golf broadcasts teach very little in relation to what they could be doing.

You don’t want it to break up the flow of the action, but when the tournament field is in neutral – as it was for long stretches at Chambers – you’d have time to do this instead of show a parade of bogey putts.

The more golf I play the more I’m reminded how much the general public doesn’t know about the game. TV is the best vehicle for it, but they have to be committed to it. Instead, Fox committed to nothing.

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Document the building of Chambers Bay – The appeal of the tourney was largely the new venue, something we rarely see in a major, much less in such a break from tradition as Chambers Bay was with the U.S. Open’s traditional style of play. Having famed architect Gil Hanse on to do some course commentary was a nice thought, but not nearly enough. Something closer to the exemplary document the Golf Channel did could’ve been produced and parsed into something akin to ESPN’s 30 for 30 shorts and doled out over lulls in the action. That the course turned into such a story, which was totally predictable, only makes this even more of an oversight.

Send Joe Buck to the bench and go to the pen – Monotone Joe would’ve been great for a chess match or a bingo tournament, but not the U.S. Open. His lack of emotion, enthusiasm and any ability to set up his golf comrades, who were a JV team themselves, was a killer. (To that end, Jay Delsing? Jay Delsing? Does Jay Delsing even want to listen to Jay Delsing cover the U.S. Open?)

When you turn on ESPN for the British, you get a certain golf giddiness in the voices of Mike Tirico or say Scott Van Pelt, because they’re genuinely excited to be there. Golfers connect to that passion and are just the same turned off by a lack thereof. Buck should’ve been allowed to stay home and re-laminate his St. Louis Cardinals baseball card collection if he couldn’t get up for the big game.

Not going to speculate on replacements, but Fox has a year to figure it out. Make this priority No. 1.

Social media, anyone? – On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of Twitter/TV trend (sorry, Twitter), but I’d make an exception for golf broadcasts, which currently do none of this. I mostly don’t like that Twitter is used as a vehicle for easy sensationalism in a lot of other sports, but golf has many thought contributors who add much to the discussion and context while watching tournaments. I know because I follow these people.

It would’ve been only too easy to turn on Twitter during the Tiger-tastrophe, but I’d rather see it used to highlight great play and contribute to greater understanding of the game, but a little snark might not be a bad thing for comic relief in a sport that can always use a little. Speaking of which …

Anyone have Will Ferrell’s number? – I’m not trying to bring the Dennis Miller/MNF disaster to golf, but the game could use a lighter side along the lines of what David Feherty provides. Ferrell cut some legitimately funny short clips for Pinehurst last year (Will Ferrell predicts the British Open: “The French.”), showing a passion and interest in the game.

If you’re truly getting outside the box, why would you not try something like this? For example, Will Ferrell riffing on fescue. You wouldn’t have watched that? Really? You don’t want to make a mockery, but a laugh track certainly beats dead air or a broadcast that’s simply flat as Fox’s was.

Clearly handing Fox a 10-year deal for the Open was a major mistake. They’ve got a chance in 2016 at Oakmont to prove it wasn’t. I suggest they get busy – now.

Six Observations About Chambers Bay and the U.S. Open

train

1. “Old” School Is Cool – When I walked onto Chambers Bay for the first time, I immediately felt transported back to my couch in past Augusts at 5 a.m. when the TV greeting of “We’re coming to you live from Royal Birkdale/Troon/Portrush, etc.” would send a giddy chill down my golf spine.

I’ve never been to a British, but it has to feel a lot like this, or at least that’s the impression you get as you start to walk and discover this tree-free (OK, one) and bunkered beautiful behemoth.

It’s an 8-year-old course with the feeling of something much older and ancient because of the aged look of the course and its link to links golf, the birth of the game. Chambers feels like it’s always been here, yet its history is being made in real time. How rare and incredibly cool for golf.

For sports comparison, let’s just say, the first football to fly at Jerry World was probably cool … but not this cool.

tree

2. Background … Check – Chambers is really two experiences in one. There’s the course and then there’s the setting, which is breathtaking. The Puget Sound background would be awesome all but itself, but the touches of the tree and the train are not only stunning scenery but also incredibly smart visual branding of the course (more on this in a second).

On TV, Chambers is doing for the Pacific Northwest what the Farmers does for San Diego: It’s the best TV commercial it could ask for. Someone on local sports radio said as much yesterday … and that was by noon.

Experiencing Seattle for the first time, I can tell you the representation is spot on. The awesome just kind of keeps on going here. The only way it could be better at Chambers is if they could reposition Mt. Rainier behind a par 3 or put it on a floating barge for the week.

A scenic aside: I saw a sunset here on Wed. that blew me away. The mountains not only reflected pink, but a pink shaft of light seemed to connect the mountains to the clouds. As a sunset connoisseur … wow. My only regret is that I was massively out of position for a camera phone photo.

train

3. Three Words: Trains Are Awesome – I’d been on the course for five minutes when the first train came by. I just happened to be on No. 16 and captured the photo at top. How incredibly cool, and what an awesome way to incorporate the culture of the area into the course design.

The use of the train in the framing of the holes is an absolute masterstroke of course design. It evokes the same appreciation I have for California course designers in the way they use the ocean and mountains. There’s a serious art to this, and it’s my favorite thing about the game from a creative perspective.

Moreover, what the train does is give added identity to holes in a way you don’t see on the British courses. Aside from a few holes on St. Andrews (The Road Hole & No. 18), I can’t conjure exact visual reference of many specific holes in the British Open rotation. No disrespect, but I just see a bunch of heavily bunkered and flat generic holes, which is purely my TV perspective.

By the time Sunday is over, I think golfers will have a lot of visual reference of Chambers, partly due to the train. I realized this as soon as I sent the above photo to a golf friend, who texted back, “What hole is this? I can’t wait to watch it on TV.”

The use of the train as added backdrop for greens and tees is equally brilliant. And my guess is if/when the Open comes back here, someone will have bought a branded locomotive. In the old days, that would’ve been a total TaylorMade move.

1318 Chambers

4. Nos. 13-18, What A Finish – Watching the holes in progression for the first time yesterday, I was struck by how visually strong this course becomes from 13 (the tough par 4) on. During the practice round near this stretch, I was highly curious how it would translate on TV. The answer: It could scarcely be better.

What I really like is that the visual intimidation factor of the course comes across akin to how it does at TPC Sawgrass. This is made-for-TV golf that totally works and will only become more dramatic and effective as the tournament pressure and circumstances ramp up.

Dear Golf Gods: Can you please send us a Sunday horserace?

barge

5. TV, Take Two – Aside from greens that aren’t well, green, (I had people asking me what was wrong with them), there’s another problem: The ball and hole aren’t always easy to track here, partly due to the lack of white-green contrast you normally get in golf. “Where’s the ball?” was a common refrain in our viewing session. Golf shouldn’t be like trying to track the puck in hockey, but that’s a bit of what we’ve got here. (Switch to orange balls, anyone?)

As for the hole issue, Fox actually highlighted one with a lime green circle late in the round. That didn’t seem to be the answer, but it was good to know someone had at least identified the problem and was trying.

Otherwise, the reverse angles of the course from Fox Island (and a barge perhaps; can I sign up to run Barge Cam?) are added awesome to an overall visual production full of it.

sculpture

6. The Spectator Experience, The Other Shoe – Following this tournament on the ground is a combination of brutal and impossible, more so than just your usual difficulty at a PGA Tour event. This course is walkable in the same way the Himalayas are … it really isn’t. By comparison, Torrey Pines, for example, is a literal and figurative walk in the park.

On the ground, Chambers Bay is a steep, dirty sand box to negotiate with very few places for foot soldiers to get a great glimpse of the action. (That said, I didn’t get to 15, 16, 17, where it undoubtedly has to better than in the higher elevations.)

In what few view areas they are, fans are herded there like wildebeests meaning hardly anyone sees anything. I “heard” Phil and Bubba hit tee shots yesterday but in reality saw nothing. It’s just not very possible here.

I’m not going to drag this section out as to not detract from an overall fantastic experience. From the hospitality suite (the Trophy Room) overlooking the course on Wed., I had a blast, and that’s the way to play Chambers Bay from a fan’s perspective. You pay a little more, but you enjoy it more, are a lot less frustrated and have a perspective on golf unlike anyone other. It’s a lot like what you see on TV, which is what this place is really all about it. That’s not a criticism, just reality.

I’ve seen it before and am happy to enjoy it that way until the day I actually come here and play, which I suspect millions will want to do after seeing the broadcast this week.

Maderas: 2015 U.S. Open Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

The venue alone already guarantees the 115th U.S. Open will be like no other. Built specifically for the purpose of hosting an Open, Chambers Bay is the first course to bring major championship golf to the Pacific Northwest.

If you’ve caught a glimpse of the course on ESPN or the Golf Channel, the Puget Sound backdrop all but guarantees this will be the most scenic venue ever for an Open. Whether it makes for great golf remains to be seen as no PGA event has ever been contested here. Chambers, the University of Washington’s college course, is a mere eight years old.

The uniqueness of the venue is the lead story, but the place holds the potential of an epic Open due to the game’s elite players playing their best right now. The tour could’ve scarcely scheduled the winners any better thus far to make the case for golf’s next generation.

What follows is our Open overview with predictions to follow from Maderas Director of Instruction Chris Mayson, who’s turning into something of a savant at this. He’s 2 for 2 in 2015 (Farmers, Masters) at picking the winner. Can he go 3 for 3? You’ll see in a few minutes.

On to the preview …

paper

1. Hello, Chambers Bay – Built on ground that used to be a gravel quarry, one that helped pave many Seattle streets and roads, Chambers is links-like. It only has one tree, thus making for a venue you’re used to seeing over the pond. But the elevation changes are what keeps it from being a true links. The course is truly a roller coaster right down to its complex greens, which make Maderas’ look downright flat. You get the impression Chambers will look like golf in a pinball machine. Will it drive the best golfers in the world to tilt?

2. U.S. Open or British Open? – Like Pinehurst a year ago, Chambers is a departure from the U.S. Open norm of deep rough beating the field into submission. You may recall that Martin Kaymer putted his way to victory at Pinehurst, choosing the flat stick repeatedly in green-side scenarios. A similar game plan could be one of the keys to victory at Chambers.

The course is one of the longest in Open history, but advance reports suggest that length might be mitigated by dry conditions that are allowing the ball to roll. Two weeks of pristine, and unseasonably dry, Seattle weather have made for a fast course.

Predicting a score at with no professional track record is tricky, but ESPN’s Andy North suggests the pros have already caught a break with calm winds in the forecast. With its teeth in, North suggested, even par or worse might win.

3. Spieth-Mode – The last time Jordan Spieth was seen in a major, he was at the Masters doing a Marshawn Lynch impersonation – unstoppable.

It’s continued to be his year on Tour and he’s a favorite again at Chambers for two reasons: His caddie knows the place and Spieth is one of the few to have played Chamber in competition (the 2010 U.S. Amateur).

Given the way his year is going, it’s nearly unfathomable to envision Spieth not in contention and if it comes down to putting, who would you take over him right now? Anybody? Some are suggesting he’s knocking on the door of being the best putter in Tour history.

4. The Case for Rory – On his way to becoming world No. 1 – Spieth is 2 – Rory shredded Muirfield a year ago to win the British. So clearly this style of golf suits him.

Is Rory ready to re-capture his major momentum in what’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for him? There’s no question he’s got the length. But can he find the consistency to put together four steady rounds during what might become, as many are suggesting, a war of attrition and supreme test of patience?

5. Creativity Counts – Many golfers, including Tiger, have talked about how many ways there are to play the holes at Chambers Bay. Andy North suggested it’d take “25 to 30” rounds to truly learn the place.

There’s an emphasis on creativity and there’s no more creative player on Tour than Phil Mickelson. Could Mickelson at his crafty best pull it off this week to complete the career Grand Slam?

Mickelson went T-2 at the Masters showing he can still get up for the majors. He’s a dark horse this week, but an under-the-radar Phil could be dangerous.

Now on to our expert … Chris Mayson.

Chris: From what I have heard from the PGA Tour players, it sounds like Chambers Bay is pretty long and open but will throw up some tricky tests around the green. I have a feeling that this will produce a random winner from outside the top 40 in the world. Maybe a European who is used to playing links golf?!

My safe pick is Rory McIlory. Very boring choice, but he grew up on links golf, he hits it long and straight and is clearly the best player in the world.

SD Tourism: Four Great Golf Finishing Holes in San Diego



Editor’s note: This post is part of an occasional series for the San Diego Tourism Authority – www.sandiego.org – promoting golf in San Diego. http://blog.sandiego.org/2015/07/great-finishing-golf-holes/

Like the ending to a great book or movie, the 18th hole of a golf course should offer an experience that’s both satisfying and memorable.

Few things in golf beat a walk-off birdie, so consider this a short bucket list of places you’d like be lucky to score one in San Diego. The following is a list of some of the best finishing holes San Diego golf courses have to offer:

RBI 18

1. Rancho Bernardo Inn –
William Bell, the designer of Torrey Pines and many other public courses in San Diego, did some of his best work on No. 18 at Rancho Bernardo Inn, a hole that’s as scenic as it is strategic.

This closing par 5 begins with a decision off the tee: Do you try to drive the culvert crossing the fairway at around 250 yards or do you lay up? From there, it’s all about positioning to this uphill hole protected by ponds and a stream. That’s a lot of watery waters for things to go wrong trying to reach this narrow, triple-tiered green. But whether you make birdie or bogey, the setting, which includes two fountains, makes the hole and experience unforgettable.

Aviara Golf Club

2. Aviara Golf Club – Possibly the most beautiful finishing hole in San Diego is also its most difficult. This dogleg right par 4 wraps around a lake with a magnificent waterfall and offers a gorgeous view of Batiquitos Lagoon on the left. The lake is a popular destination for tee shots – and second shots, as finding the fairway is no guarantee of anything. The second shot, while played to a sizeable green, is deceivingly difficult. The approach is played into a Pacific Ocean breeze that can push your ball right into the water or out of bounds left. Par feels like a birdie here. The pros on the LPGA Tour are even tested by this one.

new Maderas 18

3. Maderas Golf Club –
This straight away par 5 starts with an elevated tee shot over a ravine to a fairway where a majestic giant oak marks the right side. Aim for the oak and then pour all you’ve got into your second shot on this long finishing hole. The green is situated in front of the Maderas clubhouse, which has the look of an Italian villa. You can putt out and then retire to the patio and enjoy a great view of the hole you just played.

18 torrey

4. Torrey Pines (South Course)
– Design-wise, this flat, straightaway closing par 5 may seem fairly ordinary, but what’s happened here makes it extraordinary. As the finishing hole for the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, it gets the most TV time of any hole in San Diego. But the lore of No. 18 really ties back to 2008 and the iconic U.S. Open. This is where Tiger Woods trickled in a tricky 12-foot birdie to force the playoff with Rocco Mediate that made that Open legendary and turned Torrey into hallowed ground in golf. Here’s your chance to recreate history.

Honorable mentions: Golf Club of California, Balboa Park Golf Course, La Costa, The Vineyard, Coronado Municipal Golf Course

SD Tourism Infographic: 15 Reasons To Tee Off in San Diego

torrey art

This is a first for the blog: We were part of compiling an infographic overview of San Diego golf for the San Diego Tourism Authority. Thanks to Casual Fridays for the creative partnership.

Follow the link to find out about San Diego golf by the numbers.

blog.sandiego.org/2015/05/golf-infographic/?sf9016470=1