Tag Archives: Augusta National

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2017 Masters Preview

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Photo: www.techagesite.com

The golf world entered last year’s Masters buzzing about the looming rise of a youthful Big Four. A year later, there’s mostly only talk of an emerging Big One – and it isn’t that guy.

DJ, not TW, is turning into the Tour Goliath that his tremendous talent suggested possible but hadn’t been realized. His breakthrough win at the 2016 U.S. Open appears to have changed all that.

After being named Player of the Year in 2016, DJ has only built on that momentum by rising to world No. 1 and flattening the field on the way to three straight victories coming into Augusta.

Will DJ continue his Tour dominance with a win at Augusta National, a place where he doesn’t have a great track record? Or will players with a better history and feel for the place (Spieth, Mickelson, etc.) stem the tide and deny him the green jacket?

The question: Can DJ’s greatly improved short game and putting stand up to the staunch test at Augusta?

We ponder that and four other storylines coming into what many regard as the best week in golf. Here’s a look at our top five.

Will DJ continue to dominate? – His nearly unrivaled length has always made him a fearsome force on the Tour, but it’s his newfound touch on and around the greens that has changed his game and has him lifting more trophies.

DJ finished a very quiet T-4 last year, which is best finish at Augusta and followed a T-6 in 2016. If he’s stealthily been stalking the jacket, then the new DJ might be ready.

The Golf Channel shared a story about all the work Johnson has put in honing his game inside the scoring zone (125 yards and in) in the past year, and his second major and a fourth straight victory will likely be riding on it. But most critical, will his recently steady putting touch stand up to the test of the slick Augusta greens?

Will Jordan rebound? – We would likely be talking about a two-time defending champion going for a third straight green jacket had Jordan Spieth not gotten two consecutive tee shots wet on the par-3 12th a year ago. That turned what looked to be a runaway into an open door for underdog Danny Willett to sneak in and claim the championship.

Spieth claims not to be haunted by No. 12, having returned to Augusta last Dec. and played the hole without issue. Still, you can be sure the replays of his meltdown will roll when Jordan steps to the 12 tee on Thursday.

Spieth seemed to burn out a bit a year ago after playing a hectic schedule. He’s dialed that back this year and seems to have rediscovered much of the form that had him chasing the Grand Slam two years ago.

We know Spieth can putt the notorious greens of Augusta, but will his ball striking hold up under what are expected to be challenging conditions on Thurs. and Fri.? But if Spieth gets into the weekend around the lead, it’ll be hard not like his chances. With a T2, 1, T2 history at Augusta, would you bet against him?

He’ll certainly be seeking redemption on No. 12 and savoring another chance to win back the green jacket.

Is Rory ready to go Grand? – The Masters is the only gap in Rory’s major resume. Is this the year he completes the career Grand Slam? He seems to have found his form again after being briefly sidelined with a rib injury.

As one of the few on Tour who can challenge DJ off the tee, that’d be a power pairing if it happened on the weekend. Is Rory ready to end his major drought? It’d certainly put some juice into the Augusta gallery if he’s contending going into Sunday.

Can Lefty be right one more time? – Though he’s played some of the most consistent golf of his career and been around the lead often (see the British last year), Phil hasn’t won since he won the British in 2013. Can he pull out one more major surprise with that famous Augusta-friendly short game?

If he’s steady off the tee, the decider for Phil will likely be that claw putting grip he remains committed to. Can he roll it for four rounds again like he did at the British last year? If so, look out for Lefty.

Will it be a favorite or will it be someone like Willett? – More than the course, the weather may be the wildcard to answering this question.

With windy and possible wet weather on tap for the first two days, it could open the door for some underdogs to secure some previous landscape near the top of the weekend leaderboard.

The forecasted cool conditions are being likened to 2007, when Zach Johnson used some clutch and calculated wedge play to surgically conquer Augusta National and the field. Will a similar approach prevail this year?

The Tour saw four first-timers last year claim all the majors a year ago. Will that trend continue or will a favorite emerge victorious? We’ll soon find out during one of the best weeks in golf.

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Four Observations About The Playing Experience At The Palms GC

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When you’re a golf writer in Southern California and you haven’t played in the desert, that’s what they call a gap in your resume.

Fortunately, an invitation from The Palms Golf Club in La Quinta earlier this year allowed me to finally have the experience – and what an experience it was.

The Palms is a private club in La Quinta where some 50 PGA and LPGA [pros are members, including Fred Couples, who designed the course. So you’re playing at one of the homes of the pros. They winter here.

The collective achievement of the club’s professionals are celebrated in a huge display case in the clubhouse and on place mats in the dining room that give you an overview of the titles won by its professional and amateur members as well as other accolades. A too brief overview: six Masters victories; 19 Ryder Cup appearances; four members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and 131 PGA Tour wins.

Their impressive professional membership roster is part of the reason the Palms has the lowest club handicap in the desert and the nation. Yes, they take their golf seriously here, thus there being a most impressive short-game practice area and no pool.

Palms Director of Golf J.D. Ebersberger hosted me for a practice round and tour. Ebersberger has been with the club since it was being built and gave me insight into the inspirations of the designers. This was a treat for me, because I love course design, and there’s plenty to admire here on a course that has more palm trees than any I can recall. The Palms is indeed aptly named.

When you go online to read about the Palms at its web site, www.thepalmsgc.org, you find something under “pace of play” that causes you to do a double take. It says the average round here takes just over three hours, which brings us to our first observation …

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1. The Fastest Golf in the West – The pace promise was one of the first things I asked Ebersberger about and he assured me our round would hold to it. “Unless we get done sooner,” he said. “We play fast here.”

The course also doesn’t have tee times. It’s the ultimate ready golf.

Having slogged through my share of pokey public rounds, you forget golf can be played this way. The best part is that the pace just happens organically. There’s no one pushing you. The players just play the right way and with a group commitment to keeping it moving.

The pace certainly helps your game, but it isn’t so fast that you feel rushed, which is great because there’s much to see and appreciate here. And speaking of fast …

2. The Fastest Greens in the West? – The greens at The Palms are immaculate, but they’re also undulating and challenging with several false fronts. And the day I played they were faster than a BWM on the I-10 in LA. It took me five holes before I stopped blowing my putts a mile past the cup.

After my first putt raced past the hole and back down into the fairway, Ebersberger informed me: “They were rolling 13.5 yesterday. We dialed them back.”

Had I played the day before, four-putts would’ve been a real possibility. As it was, I probably set a career record for three-putts and putts into the fairway. It happened again on a downhiller on the back nine.

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3. Inspired By The Classics – The course has elements of three of Couples’ favorite courses – Augusta National and Riviera as well as Oakmont in Ebersberger’s home state of Pennsylvania.

The Augusta holes present them on the front. There’s a hole with a meandering creek that reminds you of Rae’s and then you play a long par 4 to green guarded by a lake, which is by far the biggest water feature on the course.

The creek crossings on this hole are stone bridges that resemble those at Augusta. They’re even brown. Ebersberger painted them. They also match the course’s mountain surroundings. This attention to detail stirs your golf soul when you’re standing on the tee.

The only thing missing to really put you amongst the pine trees at Augusta is the white sand bunkers. There’s a reason for that.

“Yeah, I did a test bunker,” Ebersberger says, explaining that Masters sand contains crystals. “I got in there in mid-July and it was 140 degrees, and I couldn’t see.”

For the record, the day we played in February, it could’ve have been more pleasant. But we all know what it can be like in the summer. Ebersberger says Palms members play there mostly eight months out of the year and then seek cooler-climate courses during the high heat.

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4. Palms Aplenty – Besides having more palm trees than any course I can recall, The Palms also has the most unique collection of them.

They grow every which we way here and there a couple where you wonder how they’re standing. Others are just unique in ways that just have to be seen to be truly appreciated. The course was built on what used to be a date farm so it inherited those trees and the club bought more.

When choosing the trees, Ebersberger accepted some trees that were deemed less-than-perfect palms by the nursery. Those trees now add a great deal of character to the course.

And Ebersberger protected some trees the construction crew wanted to remove, such as one behind the green on No. 10. Members call it “the snake tree,” because that’s exactly what it looks like. It’s a palm that grew downward, then turned up, like a snake raising its head.

“They wanted to push the green back farther to lengthen the hole. I told them to leave it and put the green in front of it.”

I gained the added appreciation of having to chip over it.

There are other places in the course where the trees are growing in such clusters that you’re not sure how many there actually are in the bunch. And there’s a small citrus orchard on the back nine, adding another cool character quirk.

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As we walked off No. 18, Ebersberger asked me, “How did we do?” He wasn’t asking about the scorecard. He wanted me to check the time.

Sure enough: three hours flat.

Great golf played quickly in a destination where discovery awaits you on every hole, just as golf should be. In that way, The Palms is its own piece of paradise in a place that has a lot of it.

For information about membership, you can contact Ebersberger at jd@thepalmsgc.org.

Maderas: Masters Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

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Photo courtesy of www.thegolfchannel.com

For the majority of the country who knows what it’s like to take a mandatory climatological break from the game, the Masters represents the annual rebirth of golf.

On the coast, where clubs never stopped swinging and multiple professional tournaments have passed through, the Masters doesn’t have quite the same significance, but it’s no less meaningful. This is the tournament that makes you fall in love with the game all over again, no matter what you shot in your last round.

For us golfers, this is the best week in sports, when the true competitive juices of the game at the professional level flow again. The scenery, the history, the pageantry (the Par 3 contest, honorary starters, etc.) – we watch for all of it.

And, as usual, there’s no lack of storylines at the Masters in 2015 and “major” history is in play, although likely not of the Tiger Woods variety. Making a run right now for Tiger is considered making the cut. And another blow-up round like what we saw in Phoenix might have people talking retirement.

But Tiger does make the cut for our top storylines going into Augusta.

1. Rory’s Run at History –
Golf history is teed high for Rory McIroy, but will be able to take advantage in a year where his game has yet to quite come together?

Besides giving him a third straight major win, a victory would earn McIlroy the rare and coveted career Grand Slam by age 25. He’s the favorite though he’s never won here. He’s most remembered at Augusta for squandering a four-shot lead on Sunday in 2011.

But McIlroy has come a long way since then and masters major moments now far more than shrinks from them. His game at its best is the best in the game, but will he be at his best at Augusta?

History is waiting to find out.

2. Bubba Has Mastered Augusta National – Having won two of the last three Masters, Bubba Watson’s game clearly sets up well for the course. It seems he should be in contention every year here as long as his putter shows up, and after the way he dominated last year, would it really surprise anybody if he eventually won four or five green jackets? Since the course changes, the layout is increasingly friendly to lefties, which brings us to …

3. Paging Mr. Mickelson – After his quietest year ever on Tour, some are pulling for Phil Mickelson’s game to come out of hibernation at Augusta, where the premium will always be on the short game, his forte. Mickelson’s game showed signs of life last week at the Houston Open, where he led early before settling into a 17th-place finish. Can Phil muster enough Masters’ magic for a fourth victory here? His putting, which has dogged him all year, will likely have something to say about it.

4. Has Tiger Tamed His Game? – Everyone will be watching when Tiger plays his first competitive round in nine weeks on Thursday to see he’s still fighting the short-game demons that have dragged his game to a career low. Even the most optimistic outlook has Tiger being more subplot than plot at Augusta. Him just making the cut is being touted as a major achievement. By the way, Tiger now hasn’t won here since 2005. The only history he’s guaranteed is his 20th Masters start.

5. Major Momentum – After a year when three of the four majors were runaways (only the PGA Championship was close), the Tour could use something akin to the Watson/Oosthuizen dual of three years ago to get the major season off to a competitive start and stir TV interest. TV rankings for most of the majors slumped a year ago.

Rory in contention would certainly turn on television sets as might a breakthrough win by someone such as Jordan Spieth. A Tiger scenario seems far-fetched, but Mickelson making another run isn’t out of the question. The tournament hasn’t truly had an outlier champion since Charl Schwartzl in 2011. In a Tour era where seemingly everyone can win, little truly surprises you anymore.

Chris Mayson prediction:

1. Jason Day: I picked him for the Farmers (he won) and I’m sticking with him. Day has always liked Augusta and played well there. He has prodigious length and hits the ball extremely high, which is very beneficial on the hard and fast greens. With the fairways playing soft after this week’s rain, his high ball flight and long carry should suit him even better. He already won at Torrey Pines this year, another very long and difficult course, and he has to be one of the favorites for this year.

2. Jordan Spieth: There is a saying on tour that if you want to find the winner of this week’s event, look no further than the top five of the previous week. Spieth finished second in Houston and also second last year at The Masters and has been playing very well all year. With a point to prove from last year, he won’t be far off the lead come the back nine on Sunday.

3. Dustin Johnson

JC Golf: Drive, Chip and Putt at Encinitas Ranch Q & A

 

 

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   A year ago, the PGA instituted its answer to the NFL’s long-standing “Punt, Pass and Kick” youth skills competition with “Drive, Chip & Putt.”

          The competition culminated in the finals being held at Augusta National the week of the Masters, which got the attention of youth golfers everywhere – and their parents.

          Seeing the finalists on television at the Masters, including 11-year-old Lucy Li, who played in last week’s LPGA U.S. Open, has already sparked a rise in this year’s turnout. To handle the anticipated increase, the Southern California PGA has expanded the number of Southern California local qualifiers from 10 to 14, including one for the first time at Encinitas Ranch on July 7th.

          Finalists in the four age divisions for boys and girls at Encinitas Ranch will advance to a sub-regional on Aug. 18th at La Costa Resort and Spa and then on to Torrey Pines on Sept. 13th to compete for the trip to Augusta.

          Matt Gilson, Player Development Manager at the Southern California PGA, took a few minutes recently to answer some questions about this year’s competition.

Q. Southern California had two winners at last year’s inaugural competition at Augusta. What was their experience like?

A. Everybody had a blast. They got to meet (past champion) Adam Scott and (current champion) Bubba Watson. Going to the Master is every golfer’s dream come true. And they got everything covered for them and one parent, including tickets to the practice round on Monday. The whole package was really good.”

Q. How much has seeing all that one TV stirred interest this time around?

Sign-ups were a little slow because we were competing with school, but they’re starting to pick up. We’re definitely seeing an increase in participation. And I’ve seen kids who’ve never picked up a club before now going to the range the week before. There’s definitely motivation there with kids realizing they could end up on TV.

Q. Besides the increased number of qualifiers, how has the competition changed in year two? And what are the age categories?

Last year, we maxed out our qualifiers at 120 participants and this year it’s 200. The age ranges are 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 with both boys and girls division. And those ages are determined by how old they would be on April 5th, 2015, which is the date of the national championship, so the youngest age to enter would be 6 if they would but 7 on or by April 5th, 2015.

Q. How does the competition work?

It’s a nine-shot competition that starts with putting. There’s a 6-foot putt, a 15 foot and a 30 foot. The hole is surrounded by scoring rings that provide points for how close they get. The max is 25 points for a holed putt.

They then have three chip shots, from about 12-15 yards, to a hole with scoring rings out to 10 feet and a make, again, is worth 25 points.

Then they have three swings on a 40-by-300-yard grid on a driving range. Beyond 300 yards is 25 points.

The highest total score wins and the top three in each age division advances from that age group’s qualifier to the next round. The top two in the sub-regional advance to Torrey Pines and the boy and girl winner in each division advances to the championship at Augusta.

Q. How do players or parents register, and how much does it cost?

Registration is free, and players sign up at www.drivechipandputt.com.

Q. What’s the atmosphere like at these events?

It’s competitive, but we still want kids to have fun. That’s the most important thing.