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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.

The Long and Short of My Long-Putter Days

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Photo courtesy of onlyagame.wbur.org 

         We’re nearly nine months out now from the day the ruling bodies of golf decreed the ban of the anchored putting stroke, which currently takes effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

I bring this up because I recently completed some reporting on a piece you’ll see in the coming weeks about what’s transpired in equipment and teaching since then.

Among other things, Dave Pelz has a video circulating online that proposes four or five legal uses of the long putter, including anchoring it inside your forearm and using it croquet-style, which is legal because his method doesn’t straddle the line.

If I recall correctly, Pelz claims that current long putter poster boy Adam Scott is experimenting with the forearm method to attempt to keep the long putter in his bag as long as he can. Can you blame him?

Anyway, there’s more of an equipment take in my story that I’ll leave alone for now, but when I was working on the story, I recalled me own – brief – experience using the long putter. I thought I’d share it since everyone I tell on the golf course seems curious, especially those who use the long putter and love it and will be most affected by the ban.

A couple months after starting classes at the Golf Academy, we had a putting guru from Chicago named Todd Sones in to look at our putting strokes and have us properly fitted for putters (yes, there’s a process to do that).

When my stroke was evaluated, I was identified as a long-putter candidate. My speed control was good, but my path and overall club control needed work. Thus, it was deemed that having something to stabilize my stroke, namely anchoring, would allow me to focus on path and a proper takeaway.

I tossed a long putter in my bag and practiced with it off and one for a few weeks, in particular doing drills along the edge of a mat, which would let me know if I was taking the club inside again.

While cumbersome to get used to, I wasn’t entirely dissatisfied with it and actually pretty pleased with it from close range. The shorter stroke I used did seem to be quite effective for short putts. The farther out I got, however, the worse I got, especially on long putts, where I had to pick up the putter head on the take away.

The on-course putting strategy I devised was to use my long putter on short putts – say 10 feet and in – and my standard putter on the rest.

Well, besides sacrificing a club for an extra putter in my bag, my plan proved fairly flawed, partly because the weight difference between the two clubs left me without touch in either.

I’d baby the long ones and crush the short ones. I had lip outs galore with the long putter and soon after my putting was a total shambles.

I tried a few rounds exclusively with the long putter and mostly just got to endure ribbing from my foresome and another parade of missed putts.

Mostly I dropped it because I never got used to the weight. It’s a lot of golf club; too much for my liking.

I use a conventional putter now, a used Cleveland I pulled out of a bargain bin, and I’m the best putter I’ve ever been. I wouldn’t dream of changing.

The combination of the right club and a few sound lessons that have stayed with me have made me a very competent, and  sometimes streaky-good, putter.

I won’t get into my personal feelings about whether the club, or the stroke rather, should or shouldn’t be in the game, but this whole issue doesn’t bother me the way it seems to many other people.

I’m for anything that makes the game easier and more accessible for people (seriously, isn’t it hard enough for us non-pros?), and the long putter is keeping some of these people in the game.

I don’t scream “cheater!” and get up in arms over the anchored stroke because I don’t play the game competitively other than with myself and the course.

I don’t relish the little side bets or games that many seem to, nor do I currently play in a league. I’m a competitive person at many things, but not golf. I view it as more social and cheer anyone’s success, knowing, like running and many other sports, it’s all hard-earned if done by the rules.

Yet, I will still watch with interest as to how this all plays out, because I’m sensing the long-putter crowd is retrenching and not going quietly on this.

But for me, personally, my long-putter journey has long been over. I’ll be anchored to my conventional putter for many, many years to come.