Tag Archives: Jack Nicklaus

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Four Observations About The Playing Experience At Pauma Valley

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There are some calls in Southern California golf that simply must be answered. You don’t turn down a tee time at Torrey Pines South, nor do you tell Sherwood Country Club, or a handful of elite others in the LA area, to hold. I’m guessing the same holds true for Pebble Beach, Pelican Hill, etc., but my caller ID hasn’t put me to that test yet (but line one is open).

Pauma Valley is one of those. You have to know SoCal golf on a certain level to know about Pauma Valley, kind of like that cool club in a tourist town only locals seem to know about it. Pauma maintains a low profile in its mountain surrounds but holds a high profile for, among others, golfers looking to retire with the game or live the lifestyle it offers.

Pauma Valley provides all of that from sun up to twilight and course to clubhouse. It’s a place where you can live the game and get lost in it in quiet isolation from the outside world if you so choose.

And for decades, host of Hollywood celebrities and others have done just that often via the club’s private landing strip, which still does steady traffic.

Intrigued yet? Here’s an overview of the Pauma Valley experience.

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A True Golf Oasis – Finding Pauma Valley is the first challenge. That’s more easily done in these days of GPS, but you’ll hardly be the first to drive the 76 and wonder if a course actually exists. Even more so than some of the covert country clubs in SoCal, Pauma Valley truly gives you no clue until the gates suddenly appear.

But when you arrive? Pure golf paradise. The stunning mountain backdrop and fountains spouting amongst the greens make an indelible first impression that speaks to any golfer no matter your level of connection to the game.
I don’t know how many courses you remember seeing for the first time … but this will be one of them.

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A Fair Test of Golf –
Pauma Valley was Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s first California course project and among his most prized anywhere (I’m told he only ranked Spyglass ahead of it). The word “fair” is a tenant of Jones’ design philosophy and it rings impeccably true at Pauma Valley. Good shots have good outcomes. The rest? Well, it’s best to learn where you can miss at Pauma Valley, but it’s rare that you’ll get a result you didn’t feel was deserved. And sometimes the course even helps you out. I had a shot stop short of a woodchip-base OB boundary that I still can’t believe held up, but it allowed me to salvage par from my best drive of the day.

And unlike some California courses that can have split-personality nines, Pauma is a consistent test, though the back is more elevated and thus the more scenic side of the two. The bunkers at Pauma visually challenge golfers repeatedly but aren’t overly penal compared to some of the other elite courses in SoCal (Torrey South, anyone?).
Also unlike Torrey South, the par 4s are of reasonable distance on a course that can be had with a hot round.

There’s no hole here that seems unconquerable (I nearly parred the No. 1-handicap hole on my first try) and you quickly learn mostly that position it as a premium for success, a true shot-makers golf course.

john wayneNo. 14

Left: The plot of the former John Wayne home. Right: No. 14.

The Legend and the Lore – The first time I played Pauma Valley, I had little insight into its rich history and its celebrity membership over the years. A passing “Oh, that’s John Wayne’s house” on No. 14 was the closest I got to a true history lesson – and that was a bit inaccurate (it’s the plot, yes, but not the house).

I got a more detailed introduction the second time … and even a book on the subject.

You can read tales about the days of Rev. Billy Graham’s time as a member as well as about when a program called “Challenge Golf,” produced by Arnold Palmer, recorded the likes of legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player competing at Pauma Valley shortly after it opened in 1961.

These days you’re more likely to hear about Huey Lewis shot in his latest round. But there are always tales to be told at Pauma Valley.

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No. 10

A Mountain Masterpiece of Design – If you truly appreciate course design, Pauma Valley must be seen – and, naturally, played. The way the mountain views unfold around you as the round evolves are the product of a master truly understanding his canvas. The course could not seem more naturally, or artfully, placed in its surroundings. No mountain course along the I-15 quite blends in its surroundings so serenely and pleasurably as Pauma Valley. You are truly at one with your golf environment in the most undisturbed way possible.

The back nine, in particular, starting with the uphill par-4 10th, gives you two courses to enjoy – the one looking forward and the one behind. A 360-view of the course is required to truly appreciate all its nuances and aesthetic touches.

If you’re prone to golf tunnel vision, do yourself a favor and pace yourself here – perhaps walk? – so you’re fully aware of the complete golf experience available to you. The pet peeves of public play – pace, etiquette, etc. – couldn’t be more removed here.

Yet if you really want to be alone with you game, this is a great place to do it and why such pros as Phil Mickelson have found their golf solace here.

A telling detail of the design comes when asking someone about the signature, or their favorite, hole. My host was legitimately stumped, as am I after playing it twice now. I have favorite stretches, but to choose a single hole over another is too much hair-splitting. It’s simply that close amongst a number of worthy candidates.

Wherever you made your last birdie is a likely tie-breaker, and here’s hoping you get that chance soon.

For information about membership at Pauma Valley, or holding a private event, you can contact Scott Shinner at sshinner@paumavalleycc.com or 760.742.3721, ext. 111.

Road Trip: Lanai in Photos

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As the smallest and least populated of Hawaii’s major islands, Lanai has existed a bit in the shadow of its island neighbors from a tourism perspective, but Larry Ellison’s billions may soon be changing that.

After buying the island earlier this year, the Oracle CEO has begun implementing his grand plan to transform the island. You can read all about Ellison’s vision at www.lovelanai.com.

You’ll be reading more about this in future posts, but for the moment, I just wanted to give you a visual sample of this island paradise. I spent four days at the coastal Four Seasons Resort and played two rounds on its resort course at Manele Bay, the course formerly known as The Challenge. In keeping with a rebranding effort for the entire island, the course will now be known as Lanai Golf Manele.

The course is a breathtaking visual experience and a joy to play. This Jack Nicklaus design offers ocean views from every hole and features three holes directly on the ocean. Different from Kapalua, Manele is an island golf treat all its own.

The following is overview of the resort and golf experience as well as other amenities of this island paradise.

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The course is a great 18-hole test but the back nine gets most of the attention because of its proximity to the ocean. The layout is terraced in a way that allows for such awesome views as this of two greens within a short-iron shot of the ocean. Lanai’s dramatic rocky coastline makes for some mesmerizing views.

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See what I mean? This is the view after you play the signature 12th, which I wrote about in my previous post but …

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… we’ll show it again, because can you really get tired of looking at this hole? The 12th and par-4 17th, which begins with another carry off the tee, are the co-signature holes. Both are beautiful and score-able, just as you’d want from a vacation resort course. The real challenge at Manele, like The Crossings in Carlsbad, are the carries off the tee. If you can’t drive it 120-150, it’s going to be a long day. This is NOT a course for beginners.

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Not matter the state of your game or your handicap, you’re guaranteed at least these birdies. The island is rife with wild turkeys.

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I could easily fill this post with beautiful golf course pics, but we’ll conclude with this – the view from the 18th green. This hole is a score-able par 4 that ends with a view of hole’s infinity green and a look at the island’s signature rock – Sweetheart Rock – in the bay. The greens in particular at Manele are framed extremely well.

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And here’s the all-important view from the 19th hole, the patio at Views sports bar. True to its name, the views at views don’t disappoint – include a green look back at the 18th green – and neither do the fish tacos.

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Enough cameos. Here’s the close up of Sweetheart Rock. It’s visible from much of the resort and course and is a short hike from the beach. It’s a stellar place to watch the sunrise.

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See?

phone cover

The rock is also the star of the coolest iPhone cover I’ve seen. This belongs to Menele Bay Head Pro Scott Ashworth.

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Sunset is a bit obscured at the resort, so we recommend sunrise, although I was able to nab a couple nice ones at twilight.

wall of shells

After sunset, you retire to a resort that features a real knack for décor detail.

room tv

And if you’re in one of the updated suites, you’re greeted by a room with all the latest technological bells and whistles. I’ll just say this: I so quickly became spoiled that it seemed like work to turn on a light with a switch when I returned home. There was even a smart toilet with a motion sensor that lifted the lid when you entered the room.

digital menus

The bells and whistles weren’t limited to the rooms, however. We were served digital menus at Kailani, one of the four resort restaurants.

room key

Speaking of tech, this may be your room key of the future. It’s a water-proof rubberized bane implanted with a chip that allows you into your room with a swipe.

dessert

After golf, this sweet treat greeted me in my room thanking me for my stay and play. Can you believe I three-putted this?!?

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

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Photo courtesy of 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 18 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 teacher or by 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 Johnny 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 life 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’s 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.


Highlight Hole: No. 18 at Dove Canyon CC

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I’m choosing one hole at Dove Canyon Golf Club partly because I’ve got a great photo of it and partly because of my unique experience there, but you really can’t go wrong selecting about any hole at this Jack Nicklaus Signature Design course in Trabuco Canyon.

Arriving at the tee at 18 brings about mixed emotions.

The high is that you’re about to discover the fabulous finishing hole you can see from the putting green of the clubhouse. The low is that an extraordinary golf experience is coming to the end.

Dove was one of my favorite Southern California golf discoveries last year for a host of reasons, which I’ll get into. I got to play there through my connection with Southland Golf Magazine.

I mention this because Southland Golf is presenting a unique opportunity for you to play Dove, a private club. Via something called the 2014 Southland Golf Series, you can play Dove on March 31st for $85, which includes a continental breakfast, a sleeve of balls, appetizers and raffle prizes. You can register at southlandgolfseries.com or by calling (714) 796.3620.

Besides a fantastic golf course surrounded by beautiful mountain surroundings, you also get access to one of the best practice facilities in the area. Hitting balls into a mountain backdrop at Dove is one of the best range experiences around, and it only gets better from there.

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The practice range at Dove  

Considering yourself warned: Dove is a tough course. I played reasonably well there partly due to being guided by the head pro for most of the round. On your own, expect to earn every par and birdie. In particular, Dove boasts the toughest par-5 I’ve played in California, the 557-yard 11th. Tight barely begins to describe this hole. The entire fairway feels like it’s being played in a four-lane bowling alley – with a tree in the middle.

Amongst the most memorable holes are two elevated par-3s – Nos. 10 and 17. No. 10 plays 198 yards (212 from the back tees) into the wind. I reached with possibly the best hybrid of my life.

No. 17 is a real showstopper and sets the stage perfectly for 18. The 17th plays 205 from the back tees and 162 from the blues, but doesn’t play nearly that long because you’re basically hitting it off the top of a five-story building to a green below with dramatic drop-offs on the front and back.

The view from the tee into the canyon makes you do a double take the first time you see it, and it’s a blast to play. I hit 8-iron to the back of the green, but should’ve gone with a 9 and maybe could’ve gotten there with a pitching wedge. The ball carries forever.

It included this hole in my list of the nine best par-3s I played last year.

You hopefully walk off with par or birdie on 17 to give you momentum going into 18, which is an aesthetically astounding finishing hole but hardly a bear to play.

Playing to 432 yards from the back tees and 389 from the blues, you simply want to avoid the tranquil pond on the right and give yourself a reasonable approach to a green backed by a gigantic waterfall.

My experience at this hole went to another level when I reached my second shot. There was a deer drinking from the pond. A look down the fairway revealed an entire herd, several of which were congregated on or behind the green.

The game at the point seemed to change from playing golf to not spooking the deer as members of our foursome took more shots with their camera phones than their clubs.

I have no idea what I scored on that hole, but I know I’ve got 20-some deer photos on my phone. It was an ending the likes of which I’ve never had on a golf course before and one I’ll always remember.

I, however, wouldn’t mind going back and going for birdie on a finishing hole that has rate with the best in the area. It rivals 18 at Sherwood for best setting for a finishing hole.

Mr. Nicklaus did a lot of great work at Dove, but 18 is truly a masterpiece. I hope you get a chance to experience it because I have a feeling you’ll walk away feeling the same way about it that I do.

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

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Shop The SLDR Driver – the #1 Driver in Golf + Free Shipping at TaylorMadeGolf.com!

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 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 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.


Highlight Holes: Nos. 14, 15, 16 at The Vineyard

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The green view of No. 15

Most courses have a stretch of holes that amount to gut-check time in your round. It can be a series of holes that play tough under certain course conditions, or as a tricky combination, or they could just be hard golf holes.

For instance, the PGA Tour has the Bear Trap, an infamously difficult stretch comprised of a mid-length par-3 over water, a tough par-4 and then another lengthy par-3 buffeted by water at PGA National’s Champions Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Combined, it’s 803 yards of heart-stopping golf to negotiate.

Course designer Jack Nicklaus, for whom the stretch is named, once told USA Today about the Bear Trap, “That stretch is about precision. That stretch is about guts.”

Like I said, you can find these stretches on many courses and often in threes. At The Vineyard in Escondido, I regard Nos. 14, 15 and 16 as the stretch where your round is made or gets away.

I look forward to the challenge here every time and while my failures thus far outnumber my successes, especially on the final hole of this group, I at least feel I’ve got a good handle on what it takes to be successful here.

The following is my breakdown on this group of holes, including a few playing tips.

 No. 14, par-4, 412 yards (blues), 381 (whites)

I forget to get a photo of this hole, but it sets up like this: the fairway bubbles out into a crescent-shaped water hazard on your left and the fairway drops off into an OB and trees on your right. If you’re right, you’ll be lucky if a cluster of saving bunkers actually save you. This is the most demanding tee shot on the course. You’re only way home is to hit it straight here into about a 75-yard strip of fairway.

The fairway bottle-necks about 130 yards from the hole, making driver a really risky play. A really big hitter may have carried all this once, but I’ve never seen it, much less done it.

The play is a hybrid or long iron that hopefully leaves you in play and with 150 yards or so to get home. You only take more club than that if you’re really striping it. Otherwise, you’ll be on way your way to the big number than many take here.

Hybrid has long been my play here, but I tried a 4-iron off the tee on Thursday. It hit it solidly down the right side, but I had an undesirable 188 left to get home. With wind at my back, I hit a flush 6-iron that ended up just short and found the front-right sand trip, which is a difficult out. There’s also a sneaky pot bunker lurking back left here.

The biggest bummer on No. 14 is to negotiate the tee shot and then give the hole away in a hazard, which is basically what happened to me Thursday. Normally if I’m at 150 yards or less, I’m looking at a nice number here.

As a sidenote, the homes (mansions) on this hole spectacular, as is the backdrop. This is the last hole played toward the mountain backdrop that gives the back nine a much different feel than the front, besides the back being nearly 400 yards longer and undoubtedly being the tougher of the two nines.

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No. 15, par-5, 551 (blues), 523 (whites)

From the tee, this hole doesn’t look like much. It’s just a straightaway par-5 with a cluster of bunkers on the right off the tee and then another cluster left near the green. The trouble can be what you don’t see: a sometimes stiff head-wind.

Nos. 15 and 16 are normally played into at least a breeze, making them play even longer than their hefty yardages. I’ve never played this course in the morning, but that’s mostly likely the best time to tackle this stretch.

There’s plenty of room off the tee on 15 as it extends into a hilly patch of land behind the 13th green. The trouble with going there, though, is the risk of tricky side-hill lie and possible trees. I find the bunkers on the right more desirable, so I’d favor the right side here and hope you find the middle.

Stringing two decent shots together here will put you in prime position for a birdie, and anything less than par here normally feels like a big letdown – especially since this is the only par-5 on the back and of only two on the course – but I’ve seen it done many times and many ways.

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No. 16, par-4, 453 (blues), 425 (whites)

When the GPS on your cart informs you that this is the No. 1 handicap hole, it does so with an exclamation point – and for good reason.

This is one of my nemesis holes, but I know that I’m hardly alone in that regard. Par is a rare score here and birdies are on the endangered species list.

What’s tough about No. 16? Ummm. Everything?

It starts with a demanding uphill tee shot, often into the wind. Because of the slope, you don’t get much roll-out here and when you hit the fairway, it seems you’re always about 15 to 20 yards short of where you’d like to be.

The second shot is daunting because of a huge sand trap in front and because you may have as much as long-iron or even hybrid in hand if you’re a short-hitter.

I’ve often doubled my fun (heavy sarcasm) here by pushing my tee shot right into a stand of trees and sometimes the 11 fairway. By doing this one day, however, I actually discovered a risky route home that you can actually executive intentionally.

If you go right, through the trees, you catch a sidehill. If you don’t end up tree-trapped, you can end up within about 140 yards of this green on the right side. It’s a much friendlier attack angle than what get in the fairway since you probably take the front trap out of play and you have a sizable green to work with.

I’ve nearly parred the hole this way. I’ve also nearly parred the hole playing straightway. But I’ve ALWAYS bogeyed this hole no matter what. Many people consider bogey victory here, but I’m determined to make par or better at No. 16 in 2014.

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The green view of No. 16

I’ve you had success at No. 16, please post details in the comments and let us take inspiration from your achievement.

I don’t always play it well, but I do really enjoy the back nine at Vineyard and think the downhill par-4 18th is a very cool closing hole. I always look forward to that, especially if I’ve taken my lumps on 14, 15, 16. That stretch seems to need a nickname. The Cellar, perhaps?

 

The Year in Par-3s, Part III

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Photo courtesy of www.sandiegogolf.com

I conclude my three look at 2013’s most memorable par-3s with three more holes that made indelible first impressions.

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No. 3 at Aviara Golf Club (Carlsbad)

As a group, the par-3s at Aviara are the best I’ve played in San Diego County.

They’re a sensational mix of distance, difficulty and beauty. The long uphill par-3 6th is the only one not played over water, and it’s undoubtedly the toughest of the bunch. How often do you say that about a course?

The answer I’m probably supposed to give in this space is No. 11, since it’s the signature hole and certainly botanically beautiful, as almost all of Aviara is.

But I’m going with No. 3, which is plenty gorgeous in its own right, because it was the more memorable hole from personal experience and from attending the LPGA’s Kia Classic.

As you can see from the photo, No. 3 is a short par-3 played to a green, by far one of the smaller ones on the course, with water looming left and right. It can also be water short and right depending on where they put the tee box. This holes has multiple tees that vary how the hole is played tremendously, which is one of the things I really love about it.

I remember walking up on this hole at the Kia and just marveling at it. It’s a short par-3 that is beautifully framed and accented, but this beauty is tougher than it looks.

At the Kia, I watched this hole be feast or feminine for the pros. It’s a terrific tournament hole to watch because you get such a great range of golf.

Personally, I found the water right (Splish!) and then right (Splash!) again the first two times I played it. The third time, my ball finally found the green on the right side, leaving me a devilish downhiller that I nearly sank for birdie.

Amongst my golf friends who play here, No. 3 is one those holes that becomes like soap in the shower: Birdie slips away time after time on this hole even when you think you’ve got it down and know every putt by heart.

Another cool thing about this hole, and the course itself, is that you can really appreciate the change of seasons here. It’s beautiful year round, but, as you can see at top, spectacular when the course is blooming.

You may not par all the par-3s at Aviara, but changes are you won’t have to think too hard to remember them.

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No. 16 at Barona Creek (Lakeview)

I might nickname this hole “The Speed Bump” because it kept from me shooting what should’ve been a pretty nice number on the back nine at Barona twice.

It’s not a long hole – just a shade under 140 yards – but I can’t seem to club it right, and, as you can see, save for leaving it way out left, there’s no good miss here. The myriad of deep bunkers short and long, not to mention the deep native grasses, have the pin here protected like Fort Knox.

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This hole and the one I posted from Wilshire CC have a lot in common, but this one’s tougher.

If I can solve No. 16, I’m confident I can break 40 on the back at Barona as long as the green speeds are reasonable.

I look forward to giving it a go on what certainly was one of my favorite courses this year. I have yet to find a golfer who’s played here who doesn’t speak longingly about going back.

There is a seductive quality about the course and a challenge that, intentionally, always seems just a round away from being met. I plan to meet it in 2014.

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No. 17 at Dove Canyon CC (Dove Canyon)

California is blessed with an abundance of elevated par-3s, so much so that people seem to take them a bit for granted, like par-3s are just born that way. Being from the Midwest, I can tell you they aren’t.

That said, I can’t imagine anyone taking 17 at Dove Canyon for granted.

When you come to the tee on 17, especially the back tees, you can’t help but do a double-take and then just laugh. It looks like you’ve discovered the Grand Canyon of golf. It’s a golf hole that seems a bit preposterous, yet totally great.

You’re so high up that the flagstick stick looks small, like you might be mistaking it for a landscaping stake or something.

It seriously feels like you’re hitting it off a 10-story building. And no matter where you tee it up, I deem it to be about a two-club drop.

From the blue tees, I hit an easy 8-iron that nearly flew the green. I surely could’ve gotten home jumping on a pitching wedge.

But the tee shot is only half the story here. The green has dramatic drop-offs on the front and back. My ball landed beyond that back tier. Figuring I’d have to muscle it up the five-foot rise to get it to the hole, I watched my putt clear the ridge and shoot right past the hole. A two-putt comebacker left me with a bogey.

This is really the kind of hole where you’d love to take a shag bag to the tee and just drop wedges and short irons to see if you could get lucky. It certainly rated as one of the most fun holes of the year.

I also recall that as I walked off the green, I spied a speck of white in the bushes. I plucked out a lost ball stamped “The Olympic Club” – you know, that little place where they played the U.S. Open two years ago?

One of my rules is that you can tell the quality of the course you’re playing by the lost balls you find. And this is the course were I saw the 20 deer.

Yes, Mr. Nicklaus has created quite an experience here. And hats off to you on No. 17.

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No. 18 at Sherwood CC: Well Done, Mr. Nicklaus

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What you see above is the view that greets you after you walk through the clubhouse at Sherwood Country Club. This is the green view of No. 18.

Seeing Torrey Pines for the first time and seeing Sherwood rank as my most memorable California golf course first impressions. At Sherwood, you can’t help but just stand there, take in the scene and then begin to contemplate what it’ll be like walking down that 18th fairway. And then when you do it, it completely delivers on the experience.

No. 18 could well decide the tournament on Sunday as Tiger takes a two-shot lead into the final day of the final World Challenge at Sherwood, where Woods will seek a sixth title.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this event on TV the past three days and found especially entertaining the travails the field had at the par-3 No. 15 on Saturday (11 balls in the hazard, making it the course’s toughest hole).

No. 18 doesn’t seem to trouble the pros too much, despite a tight tee shot. Tiger in particular has been content to fly a 3-wood to 160-170 yards or so and play from there.

But the second shot is what makes this hole so memorable. What golfer wouldn’t want to be looking at this for a second shot? Isn’t this the challenge we all live for?

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It’s about as pretty as it gets, but daunting as well. The day I played, my drive found the right rough of the fairway. I had a clear shot at the green, but I was very leery of the water. The last thing I wanted was to execute the drive and then rinse my approach. So I clubbed up and hit a fabulous 4-iron that carried to the back of the green. It was a club more than I needed, but I was dry.

That approach shot replays in my head every time I see the 18 green on TV. Yes, it was one of those shots.

From the replays, I expect the pin position to be in front today, as it was the day we played. That left me a super slick downhill that I mishit and then I lipped out my par putt. Oh, well. Being on in regulation was one satisfying feeling and rates among my better golf accomplishments for the year.

But enough about me. Let’s give credit here to the designer, Jack Nicklaus, and his fabulous creation. Check out sherwoodcountryclub.com’s hole description to gain a little more appreciation for No. 18.

Nicklaus calls the 444-yard par-4 eighteenth hole the finest finishing hole he has ever created. The tee shot is blind and must be played down the left side allowing the left-to-right slope to take the ball to the middle of the fairway. A mid-to-long iron approach awaits.

The second shot must be played to a multi-level green that presents an extremely visually intimidating shot. The green is protected in front with a rock-filled pond that flows into a waterfall on the right and is connected to another waterfall and stream on the left leaving very little room for error short of the green. There is also a bunker on the left that will catch balls that are missed slightly left. The back right portion of the green is protected by the waterfall, a deep pot-bunker, and a deep grass-bunker. Most shots left short of this green find the water, but balls over the green face a chip or pitch from the deep rough to a green sloping away from the player, taking the shot right back toward the bunker and water.

This is truly a classic finishing hole that ranks as one of the finest in the world.

I’ve hardly played everywhere in the golf world, but I don’t know of a finishing hole I’ve played that rates above it.

So take a minute to appreciate No. 18 today and lament that we might not see it on TV again.  It’s a masterpiece to play and a wonder to watch and a hole that can’t help but make you love this great game just a little more.     Image

The view as you walk off No. 18

Highlight Hole: No. 15 at Sherwood CC

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Tiger Woods’ World Challenge plays its final rounds at Sherwood Country Club this week, making this possibly the public’s last view for quite some time of a remarkable private golf venue.

Besides seeing how the pros play No. 18, a tight downhill par-4 to a heavily sloped green fronted by a pond, I’m curious to see how the sixth hole represents on TV.

No. 15 is an incredible par-3 and the course’s signature hole, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Before adding my two cents, here’s the description you get of No. 15  from Sherwood’s web site.

The 189-yard par-3 is the signature hole of Sherwood Country Club. You are greeted by a spectacular view over seven pools and 14 waterfalls with beautiful mountains set as the backdrop. The tee shot is all carry over the water to a green that is only 21 paces deep, so make sure you have the right club, or par will become unattainable.

It’s a stunning amphitheater for a golf hole, one you just want to bask in during your round.

The mountain backdrop is absolutely huge and is part of what makes this hole so awe-inspiring. And the water features are some of the most intricate I’ve been around.

Taken together, it should make for great TV, or a destination hole for you if you’re making the trek to Sherwood.

The day I played it, thanks to being probably clubbed by my caddie, I had no trouble hitting the green. The putt, however, was another matter. It was as touchy as any on the course. The green tilts back-to-front and has subtle undulations I underestimated the first time. Curious to see how the pros do.

You can find descriptions for the rest of the holes under the country club tab at www.sherwoodcountryclub.com. Looks like the weather should be better than last year for the weekend and will hopefully make for a memorable sendoff. If you tune in, look for No. 15 and enjoy a last televised glimpse at a truly great golf hole.

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