Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tiger: When he's bad he's better

Fred Couples said it: “When I’m 100 years old and I tell somebody that I captained two of these, and that Tiger Woods won both cups for me, they’ll look at me and go, ‘Wow.’”

Woods won his singles match for the Presidents Cup-clinching point, which was more a matter of timing than making a clutch putt in the moment.

But he played well, almost Tiger-like, the last two days, and we realized what we miss when we miss him: the “wow.”

He seemed to be having fun, some of the time, so is he the kinder, gentler Tiger? God, I hope not.

The best Tiger is the bad Tiger. He’s not a nice guy, we’ve learned that.

This week, I thought I saw some steel in his eyes, the thousand-yard stare, the glare, the dare.

 World golf wants – needs – that guy in contention on Sundays in major events.

That’s the guy I want to see.

First things last: The Internationals won the Presidents Cup. The black-on-black ensemble on Day Four, with the slash of gold on the right shoulder, capped two strong closing days for the world team, and the Americans had no answer.

Let’s be fair: The Americans’ designer, Peter Millar, was handicapped by the apparent need to stay within a red, white and blue motif. Save for the first day, when the dark navy shirt was complemented by a dash of red, Millar never fired a shot, much less set off bombs bursting in air. He didn’t dare to be daring.

Sun Mountain did the Americans’ outerwear, and the Yanks looked best when it rained, ‘cause it meant they got to wear their windshirts.

The Internationals were dressed from the Greg Norman Collection, and you had to wonder after the first two days whether their captain was pulling from the remainders rack. The blue, white and yellow polo on day two was distressing.

But Norman got bold on Day Three, and went dark on Day Four, and the Internationals emerged the clear winners.

And Norman's still the coolest guy on Golf Planet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Of argyles and micro-stripes: Presidents Cup too close to call

Let’s talk fashion. Really, except for the odd bunker blast this year and the endlessly fascinating Royal Melbourne torture track, it’s more interesting than the golf.

The Presidents Cup is a bi-yearly late-season curio on the world golf calendar, and it ain’t the Ryder Cup. It could be said the Americans, in both events, are the targeted ones and don’t quite comprehend where all the passion comes from.

In recent years, the Yanks have responded with emotion nearly the equal of the Europeans in the Ryder Cup, partly, maybe, out of annoyance at getting their asses kicked with regularity.

And worse, last year, they lost the fashion competition. It was close, but the bold and edgy Euros got the nod.

Mickelson: The Day Two look
This year, in Melbourne, the Americans are winning, but it’s a tepid performance on both sides.

On Day One, I liked the Americans’ dark navy polos with red at the plackets – very sharp. But the white pants – and yes, I get the patriotic theme – were ghastly, and didn’t hang right on anybody. When you have no ass (Mickelson) and short legs (Toms), you don’t wear white pants. You just don’t.

The Internationals went with sky blue polos, striped across the chest, and gray-blue pants on the first day, the sole virtue of which it was easy to tell them from their opponents. Advantage (slight): USA.

Day Two: I would have preferred a solid deep-red polo to the horizontal white-on-red stripes the Americans trotted out, but at least they got the pants right: navy, which does a better job of draping the least athletic physiques among the team members.

On Day Two, the Internationals got better on the golf course but did not seize the sartorial moment … they went pastel again, this time adding a yellow sash effect to the light-blue-over-white shirts, with gray trousers. Advantage: USA.

Today, when you might have expected the Internationals to step forward with power and primary colors, they did, least in their outerwear: argyle sweaters and vests in green, charcoal and white, the boldest statement of the week by either side. Black slacks were the ideal complement.

The Americans, with all the momentum on their side, came out in curiously uninspiring micro-striped white-on-blue polos that looked better under the white-with-navy-piping  v-neck sweaters than on their own. Advantage: Internationals.

This competition is too close to call. A strong final-day performance could propel the Internationals to the title, as happened with the Europeans last year at the Ryder Cup. The Euros’ dashing white-on-black argyle-check sweaters earned a razor-thin edge over the Americans, who were nearly as debonair with their retro cardigans in lavender.

You might not have known the Blogolfosphere is the official fashion arbiter of the Presidents Cup.

Further, you might ask, why aren’t you writing about the golf?

Well, hell, I’m not qualified to write about golf.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Captains' Cup: Watch it for Norman and Couples

MELBOURNE – Two of the most charismatic people in the world of golf claim the title of “captain” this week, which is just about enough to rescue the Presidents Cup, which will always  be the other and lesser “U.S. versus … “ event, at least to American eyes.

And Tiger is here. That puts butts in the seats, in a manner of speaking.

Norman and Couples
Woods didn't play well on Day One, which layers doubt on the apparent momentum gained by a promising performance at the Australia Open last week. Still, his presence here adds a twist of spice to a week of match-play golf that slides under the radar of the typical U.S. sports fan every two years ...

I mean, if they lose here, it won’t hurt half as much for the Yanks as losing the Ryder Cup.

Greg Norman said it: “It’s early days.”

The Internationals' captain was putting the best face on the Americans' 4-2 advantage after the first day of alternate-shot matches, and he couldn't have liked it when two American duos came back to halve the matches against twosomes who seemed to be in command.

Norman wants to win. Badly, along with the five Aussies on his team.

Fred Couples said it: “This is a ball-striker’s course, and we have some guys who can really hit it.”

With Couples, we usually think we know what we suspect he might mean when he opens his mouth. Every new interview is an adventure. The American captain gets his syntax twisted now and then, but his quote above is straightforward, and true, as far as it goes.

But he couldn't have been more wrong on Day One.

While ball-striking can get you in trouble in the roughs and abundant bunkers, the place where the ball gains speed rather than stopping close ... falls off rather than falls in ... runs and skips and circles back around on itself ... is the green, and there isn't one of the 18 at Royal Melbourne that isn't a royal bitch.

And what separates the winners from the losers, on those greens, is putting. The guys that made their putts, in the clutch, won their matches on the first day.

Tiger Woods said it: “We missed a few putts."

No shit.

The guy who, at his best, is a dead ruthless putter, made nothing of consequence. His partner, Steve Stricker, at the top of the list of the best putters in the game, might have found some confidence if a couple early lip-outs had dropped.

One of their opponents, K.J. Choi, putted once with his back to the hole. He executed the U-turn nearly perfectly, through he didn't make the putt. He didn't need to, nor did partner Adam Scott need any clutch rolls, because they made enough early to win, 7 and 6, the most lopsided defeat Tiger has ever suffered.

Dottie Pepper said it: "He's probably the most decisive putter in the game." The Golf Channel commentator was talking about Aaron Baddeley, just before he sank a crisp 20-footer with barely a look at the hole. Baddeley made everything he saw .... until he missed, late, and it helped Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar halve the match.

Steve Williams said it: Who gives a shit what he said? You almost have to admire the guy, if for no other reason than he doesn’t seem to care that he just might be a thorough jerk.

So that’s your cast of characters, playing golf in interesting formats on a golf course that demands a lead role on the playbill. So who cares who wins? The Americans don’t seem to, which is one reason they just might.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The journeyman does what journeymen do

It's the major tournament for journeymen, so it seemed only right that the journeyman's journeyman was doing nothing but hitting greens and making putts.

Jason Dufner, he of the quiet mien and distinctive waggle, was also leading the PGA Championship on Sunday by four strokes after a kid named Keegan Bradley tripled No. 15.

So Dufner, the guy with no career tour wins, the guy who'd missed the cut in his previous four tour events, bogies three straight holes, while Bradley, a bona fide gee-whiz kid, birdies 16, 17 and 18 to force a playoff.

As so often happens, the guy who should have won in regulation has no heart for the playoff. Dufner didn't get close to a birdie putt on 16, the first playoff hole, and Bradley made birder from closer range. There were two playoff holes to go, but it felt like it was over.

Dufner bogied 17, and it was over. Dufner managed a nice birdie putt on 18, but Bradley needed only a two-putt par to win. He got it with a two-footer, and fell into a group hug with his wife, baby and caddie.

The better known young guns were nowhere to be seen at the end ... Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler. McIlroy had a story, all right, but it didn't involve contending at the end.

The 40-somethings represented ... Jim Furyk hung around and hung around, then hit one in the water. Steve Stricker, who had a beautiful 63 in Round One, was steady as ever until he wasn't. He now holds the mantle of "best American never to have won a major." And he might be running out of time.

Keegan Bradley, with one major and counting, has got nothing but time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

News flash: Pro golfers repeat their biomechanically sound swings more consistently than amateurs

In an issue that included studies headlined “Differences in Geriatric Anthropometric Data Between DXA-Based Subject-Specific Estimates and Non-Age-Specific Traditional Regression Models,” and  other titles similarly impenetrable, the latest Journal of Applied Biomechanics found room for this one:

“Rotational Biomechanics of the Elite Golf Swing: Benchmarks for Amateurs.”

The study looked at 10 professional golfers and five amateurs. To make a short story long, I quote:

“Upper-torso rotation, pelvic rotation, X-factor (relative hip-shoulder rotation), O-factor (pelvic obliquity), S-factor (shoulder obliquity), and normalized free moment were assessed in relation to clubhead speed at impact (CSI).

“Among professional golfers, results revealed that peak free moment per kilogram, peak X-factor, and peak S-factor were highly consistent, with coefficients of variation of 6.8 percent, 7.4 percent, and 8.4 percent, respectively.

“For amateurs, the number of factors that fell outside 1–2 standard deviations of professional means increased with handicap.”

Translated into English, it says, I’m pretty sure, that pros are more consistent.

They make better swings more often. And they hit the ball farther.

Holy shit.

Now, I would never be the guy to judge any study’s findings to be thunderingly inane.

And I would never say scientists are overpaid. But any money made by the people who did this study might as well go to me. I could have reached the same conclusion (and tarted up the language some, for free) … outside the laboratory!

I could have watched Rory McIlroy on TV. I could have looked at my own swing in the mirror. I could have watched the guys I regularly play with – whose swings don’t bear much study – and told you McIlroy’s swing is smoother, faster,  more powerful – in all ways, and at all points through its arc, better.

More often.

A more valuable study would look at why an excellent college player – whose swing might be microscopically similar to a Top 10 PGA pro – never makes it on the Tour. Or why a mini-tour stud never gets through PGA Q-school.

That study would have nothing to do with biomechanics, or if it did, it would be in how the mental game trumps the physical.

I’d be interested in a biomechanical study that looks at why humans without classic pretty swings – Palmer and Trevino, say – nevertheless, at their peaks, were powerful, consistent ballstrikers.

In an indirect way, the Journal study did answer that question. It found that at key checkpoints of the swing, the positions of the hands and torsos and hips were remarkably similar among the elite players tested.

Which is to say there are only so many ways to swing a golf club, cosmetic irregularities aside, such that you generate superior clubhead speed and get the sweet spot square to the target damn near every time.

So that you hit it straighter. And farther. More often.

The study did look at how better mechanics can help prevent injuries among average Joes. That’s useful, and would have been worthy of a study by itself. But it was secondary, when published, to the revelatory finding that pros have better swings, more often, than amateurs.

The Journal’s study looked only at male golfers. If these esteemed scientists ever do study women, my hypothesis, and yeah, it’s radical, posits that women professionals will strike the ball better than women amateurs.

Furthermore, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that a female pro will make better swings more often than the average Jane.

Please tell me the check’s in the mail.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

These guys are good: Favorites move on at U.S. Junior Amateur

Past champion Jordan Spieth (right) gets playful with Blake Toolan’s caddie on the seventh hole. Spieth beat Toolan, his fellow competitor during stroke-play qualifying, 4 and 3. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

(USGA news service)

BREMERTON, Wash. – High seeds continued to shine in the high grass of the Olympic Course Thursday as stroke-play medalist Beau Hossler and 2009 champion Jordan Spieth each won two matches Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

It didn't go so well for the defending champion.

Earlier in the day, Jim Liu’s hopes of becoming the second repeat Junior Amateur champion in history were dashed by Chelso Barrett in the second round. Back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th holes gave Barrett, 16, of Keene, N.H., a 2-up victory over the 15-year-old Liu, of Smithtown, N.Y.

After a difficult second-round match Thursday morning, Hossler, 16, of Mission Viejo, Calif., was determined to get off to a better start in the third round against Connor Black, 15, of Katy, Texas, at the par-72, 7,111-yard Olympic Course here at Gold Mountain Golf Club. And that’s exactly what he did, winning the second and third holes with birdies.

Hossler, who played in the U.S. Open last month and is playing in his first Junior Amateur, never trailed en route to a 5-and-4 victory.

“It’s the first match where I’ve had a good start,” said Hossler, who is trying to become the first stroke-play medalist to claim the title since Spieth two years ago. “The first few holes out here have given me some problems, so I knew if I got through those holes even or even beating my opponent that I’d have a really good chance.”

Hossler’s quarterfinal opponent will be Adam Ball, 17, of Richmond, Va., who came back from 3 down with six to play in his third-round match against 15-year-old Juan Yumar of Venezuela. Ball eagled No. 14 and made four consecutive birdies starting at the 15th hole to earn a 2-up victory.

“I’ve had really good stretches in my life, but considering the circumstances and winning this tournament has been my dream for the longest time, I really didn’t want to see it crushed right there,” said Ball, who is playing in his third Junior Amateur. “I just kept my head up and finished the best I could.”

Spieth, 17, of Dallas, Texas, kept his hopes for another national championship alive with a 2-and-1 victory over Wilson Bateman, 17, of Canada. Spieth, the only player in the field competing in his fourth Junior Amateur, was keenly aware of the difficulty of playing the second and third rounds.

“Today is the hardest day to get by,” said Spieth. “Three years ago it was the hardest day. Two years ago I beat a kid in 19 holes in the first match and like 2 and 1 in the second match and that kind of propelled me to winning it that year. I don’t even know why [it’s the hardest day]. Maybe it’s just me. You just have so many players that can spark at any time in the afternoon. And there’s not as much as pressure whereas a semifinal would be a lot more pressure for a lot of people.

“I was very, very happy to get by today. I was a little nervous going into the round. Especially after he bombed it by me on one. That was an eye-opener. I thought I was a long one out here. I’ve got to hit the gym to catch up to him.”

While Spieth was happy to get by the second and third rounds, he believes he can play better.

“I’m waiting for everything to fire at the same time,” said Spieth, who has made the cut at the 2010 and 2011 PGA Tour Byron Nelson Championship. “I’m waiting for a really low round. I potentially  had it the second round of stroke play and let it go on the back nine (outward nine). But hey, you don’t want to be playing your best golf until Saturday.”

Againtst defending champion Liu, Barrett hit a 7-iron from 165 yards to 6 feet on No. 17 and made the birdie putt to take the lead. Needing to win No. 18 to extend the match, Liu opted to drive the par-4 hole with his 3-wood. But his tee shot found the hazard right of the hole.

“He’d been striping that 3-wood all day, so I thought he’d just hit it right in the middle of the green,” said Barrett. “I figured I’d take my odds getting up and down from 100 yards, as opposed to me hitting it in the water or something.”

When Liu was unable to get up and down from the hazard, he conceded Barrett’s birdie putt and the match.

“Chelso just beat me,” said Liu, trying to join Tiger Woods, who won three consecutive titles from 1991 to 1993, as the only player to repeat. “We both played decent golf, but I was just outplayed. That’s golf sometimes. You can’t always play your best every time. But he played really great and he just beat me today.”

Barrett went on to earn a 2-and-1 victory over William Zalatoris, 14, of Plano, Texas to advance to the quarterfinals. Barrett, Hossler, Ball and Spieth will be joined in the quarterfinals by Ryan Benton, 17, of Dothan, Ala.; Nicolas Echavarria, 16, of Colombia; William Starke, 17, of Chapin, S.C.; and Andrew Whalen, 17, of Ephrata, Wash.

Junior Am survivors continue with the quarterfinal and semifinal matches Friday. The 36-hole championship final will be played Saturday.

The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted by the United States Golf Association each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Story written by Beth Murrison, USGA Manager of Championship Communications. For questions or comments, contact her at

Friday Quarterfinals
Upper Bracket
8 a.m.                    Beau Hossler, Mission Viejo, Calif. (135) vs. Adam Ball, Richmond, Va. (144)
8:10 a.m.              Jordan Spieth, Dallas, Texas (140) vs. Andrew Whalen, Ephrata, Wash. (147)
Lower Bracket
8:20 a.m.              William Starke, Chapin, S.C. (139) vs. Chelso Barrett, Keene, N.H. (143)
8:30 a.m.              Nicolas Echavarria, Colombia (149) vs. Ryan Benton, Dothan, Ala. (150)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

U.S. Junior Am: Californian Hossler earns No. 1 seed to match play

Beau Hossler

BREMERTON, Wash. –  Beau Hossler, a 16-year-old from Mission Viejo, Calif,, played well on Monday, and played better today, and it earned him the No. 1 seed as the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship heads Wednesday into four days of match play.

Hossler still isn’t thrilled with how he’s driving the ball – but he's happy with his scores.

“I’ve got to work on my driving,” said Hossler, who followed up his first-round 68 with a 5-under 67 in today's second day of stroke-play qualifying at the par-72, 7,111-yard Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club. The 36-hole total of 135 gave Hossler medalist honors by four strokes.

only bogey in stroke play came on his first hole Monday.

“Not because I’m hitting bad shots," he said, "but because the confidence just isn’t there. I’ve gotten away with a lot of iffy tee shots, but my irons and consistency overall has been really good, and that’s helped me to keep away the bogeys.”

Hossler played in last month’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., but is playing in his first U.S. Junior Amateur. He admits to being somewhat of a novice when it comes to match play – he’s played in one match-play event and lost in the first round – but his approach for the format is simple.

“You go out there and try to make the most birdies you can,” said Hossler. “I feel like maybe the best thing I have going for me in match play is my short game right now, because I’m not making a lot of bogeys and I’m assuming the guy I’m playing against is going to make a few bogeys at least.

"So if I can keep the bogeys away and start firing at some pins and make some birdies, I definitely like my chances to get far in this tournament.”

Hossler tees off at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday against Miller Capps of Denver, N.C., who emerged as the No. 64 seed after 12 golfers played off for the final 10 of 64 slots in match play.

Will Starke, 17, of Chapin, S.C., who shared the first-round lead with Hossler, shot a second-round 1-under 71 for a 139 total. Starke, playing in his first USGA championship, also has limited match-play experience but will employ a similarly simple strategy.

“I’m not going to try to do anything different,” said Starke, who meets Brian Bullington of Frankfort, Ill., at 10:54 a.m. (PDT). “I’m just going to try to play my game and play the course. You can’t control what your opponent does.”

Reigning champion Jim Liu, 15, of Smithtown, N.Y., rebounded from his first-round 78 with a 2-under 70 to easily advance to match play.

“I hit more fairways and I definitely hit more greens,” said Liu, who last year surpassed Tiger Woods as the youngest winner in the championship’s 64-year history. “It was a lot easier for me.”

Liu is trying to become just the second repeat winner in the championship’s 64-year history. The only golfer to win more than one Junior Amateur was Woods, who claimed three consecutive titles from 1991-93. Liu knows it will be difficult.

“It’s a stretch,” said Liu, who takes on Nicolo Galletti of Clayton, Calif., at 11:39 a.m. “What (Woods) did was just amazing – three years in a row. And then winning three Amateurs in a row. So that’s going to be really hard to match. I’m not really expecting myself to match that. So we’ll see what happens.”

Also trying to earn a second title is 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Jordan Spieth, 17, of Dallas, Texas, who followed up his first-round 72 with five birdies and one bogey Tuesday for a 4-under 68. Spieth faces Blake Toolan of Phoenix at 9:42 a.m.

“It was just more consistent today,” said Spieth. “I hit more fairways and that was kind of the key. Given every hole where I missed the fairway, I made birdie. It was a very unconventional day, but I got the ball in the hole early.”

Yi Keun Chang, 17, of Walnut, Calif., shot a second consecutive 2-under 70 to match Spieth’s 36-hole total of 140. Chang meets Matthew Lowe of Farmingdale, N.Y.,at 12:06 p.m.

The Junior Amateur continues with the first round of match play Wednesday. The second and third rounds will be played Thursday, the quarterfinal and semifinal matches will be played Friday, and the 36-hole championship final will be played Saturday.

The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted by the USGA each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Young guns at Gold Mountain: U.S. Junior Amateur takes the stage

After a beautiful Open Championship in Sandwich, England, the golf world now turns back the clock – in time zones and age – to the U.S. Junior Amateur in Bremerton, Wash.

From the Royal and Ancient's top event, which crowned a 42-year-old,  golf turns to the United States Golf Association's top showcase for 17-and-under boys, which last year was won by a 14-year-old, the youngest in the history of the event.

Yesterday, Beau Hossler, 16, of Mission Viejo, Calif., and Will Starke, 17, of Chapin, S.C., are both playing in their first Junior Am. Each shot 4-under 68 Monday to share the lead after the first round of stroke play.

After a second day of stroke play Tuesday, the U.S. Junior Amateur field will be reduced to 64 players for match play. The first round of match play is scheduled for Wednesday, the second and third rounds will be played Thursday, the quarterfinal and semifinal matches will be played Friday, and the 36-hole championship final will be played Saturday.

Hossler arrived at Gold Mountain Golf Club with a bit of a reputation, as the only person in the field to have played in a U.S. Open, which he did last month at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., where he missed the cut. Starke arrived under the radar – he is not only playing in his first U.S. Junior Amateur, but his first USGA championship.

Each took different paths to record the low score of the day. Starke credited solid driving, while Hossler struggled off the tee.

“I hit it terrible all day,” said Hossler, who bogeyed his first hole, the par 4, 378-yard 10th at the par-72, 7,111-yard Olympic Course at Gold Mountain. “I mean, I hit good shots, obviously, to make some birdies, but I was just scrapping it. It was pretty grotesque to watch, but I definitely had some really, really good shots to make up for it, so that was good.”

Despite the shakiness off the tee, Hossler was pleased with his round, which included several long putts. He made an 8-footer for par on his first hole, a 12-footer for par on No. 13 and a 13-footer for par at the 14th. He converted a 15-footer for birdie at No. 14, his first of five birdies in the round.

“From there, the confidence just grew,” said Hossler, who only played nine holes in a practice round Sunday because his clubs didn’t arrive early enough to play 18 holes. “Knowing that I’m even par through five holes and that I haven’t hit a good shot yet is a good feeling.”

While Hossler was playing in the Open and other high-level amateur events, Starke took a few weeks off leading into the Junior Amateur.

“It was nice to have a few weeks off so I was able to relax and get my game ready,” said Starke, who has committed to play at the University of South Carolina in the fall of 2012.

In addition to steadiness off the tee, Starke credited putting for his low round. On the first hole he made a 15-footer for par and another 10-footer for par on No. 3.

“Every time I was in trouble, my putter got me out of it,” said Starke, whose 68 was the only bogey-free round of the day. “That was really the key all day. Every green I missed, I made a 15-footer for par and kept the momentum going.”

Starke wasn’t fazed by the pressure of playing in his first national championship, .

“I was surprisingly kind of relaxed,” he said. “I warmed up next to my buddy (Matthew Nesmith from North Augusta, S.C.) and talked to him on the putting green and (to) see him tee off before me; that helped I guess.”

One stroke off Hossler and Starke’s pace were Taylor Moore, 17, of Edmond, Okla., and Chelso Barrett, 16, of Keene, N.H. Nine players finished the first round under par.

Reigning champion Jim Liu, 15, of Smithtown, N.Y., got off to a rough start in his title defense, with a quadruple bogey and a triple bogey en route to a 6-over 78.

“I actually started off all right,” said Liu, who is trying to join Tiger Woods as the only repeat winner in the championship’s 64-year history. “I had a lot of pars and I was playing all right. But a couple of errant shots cost me two big numbers. I didn’t strike the ball well today, but I made a comeback halfway through the back nine and hopefully I can take that momentum into tomorrow. “

For Liu, who recorded three birdies and was two under on the other 16 holes, the news wasn’t all bad.

“I didn’t play poorly so that’s a good thing, but I just have to eliminate those really poor shots.”

The other past champion in the field – 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur winner Jordan Spieth, 17, of Dallas, Texas, opened with an even-par 72, with four birdies and four bogeys. Spieth, who is the only player in the field to be competing in his fourth Junior Amateur, is playing in his final junior event – he turns 18 the week after the championship.

The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the USGA each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clarke: Champion of the moment, Champion of the Year

10:25 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (6:25 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time)

At 42, life is good for Darren Clarke. He's soon to marry a beauty queen, he enjoys enormous popularity with the public and his fellow players, and – though he might say it's OK either way – being Champion Golfer of the Year doesn't hurt much at all.

After a dramatic eagle on No. 7 seized momentum back from Phil Mickelson, Clarke made pars and let first Mickelson, then Dustin Johnson, self-destruct in the pursuit. A bogey on 17 did nothing to tarnish the day or dent the revered Claret Jug, which will have Clarke's name on it in his 20th try at the championship.

Mickelson couldn't hit a putt today, and he can look back at a half dozen makeable putts through the tournament that stayed outside the hole. Johnson was moving up, keeping the heat on Clarke, when he inexplicably pushed his second shot out of bounds on the par-5 14th. Game over.

Mickelson hit one into the seats on 18, not the five-run home run he was looking for ... but he made it his moment, tossing golf balls into the stands to the people he might have hit. Earlier, he made it a tournament for a cluster of holes. Clarke, unfazed then, was steady to the end.

His world has been rocked by tragedy, and his two sons helped him through it. Today, for Darren Clarke, life is beautiful.

8 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (4 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time)

All through the tournament, Phil Mickelson has hung around, hung around and hung around, right there near level par. He's charging now, playing five under through his first seven holes. An eagle on No. 7 brought him into a tie for the lead. It was brief.

Leader Darren Clarke, playing two groups behind Mickelson, had a defiant answer on that same No. 7, dropping his own eagle to reclaim the lead by two strokes.

Great golf, ripping TV.

In a season where his game has wandered, Mickelson came into the Open Championship as a mystery.  This tournament has been his least productive of the majors through the years, with just one Top 10. He had 30 on the front this morning, and if nothing else, it's a lot more fun with Mickelson in the mix and playing well.

Clarke is having fun. Dustin Johnson has been nondescript so far, but he could surge at any time.

What is not winning, so far, is the wind, blow as it might. The game is on.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Of land and weather and pink-on-white jackets

4:33 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (12:33 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time)

" ... the game is always about the land."

I'll be up tomorrow at 3 a.m. (my time) to watch the whole damn thing, because it's Sunday at the Open Championship. Today, I let the DVR do the early shift, and I'm glad I did, because I never get tired of the telecast's opening segment, when the English guy (who? I keep wishing they'd say) gives voice to Royal St George's.

" ... I seized Nicklaus ... tormented Bjorn ... buried Woods ... proving the game is always about the land."

On a thorny links course like St. George's, it will be, yes, about the land, but today it was more about the roilings in the upper atmosphere that brought the weather down on the heads and umbrellas of player and spectator. Tomorrow looks like more of the same in Sandwich ... and bring it on.

  • Tom Watson plays links courses as well as anyone, and he knows better than anyone that Open weather can be bad, worse even than today, and his game is sturdy against it. But today he looked, on 18, like an old guy who was very ready to get out of the piss and go get warm. I predict he'll show up for his tee time tomorrow.

  • The rain was unrelenting, and what it told me was that all the players have lots better rain gear than me. You had to like Ricky Fowler, rockin' the white jacket and pants with pink dot patterns. And how did his chip on No. 10 not go in? Half the ball was over the lip of the cup.

  • Rory McIlroy was the story, and properly so, before the tournament. His part in the narrative heading into the final day is a footnote ... but wait 'til it's over, and allow a couple days to tell the winner's story, and then the pundits will be back with the questions. Can the kid handle the pressure? I think yes, and maybe in 10 years or so, he'll be lucky enough to avoid all fire hyrdrants while backing out of his driveway on Thanksgiving night.

  • Darren Clarke: Good guy, nice game, due. Dustin Johnson: Good guy, nice game, cute girlfriend, bad luck, overdue.
" ... Imperial, but imperfect ... My beauty marks are your burdens ... I can be challenged, but will not be ruled ... You golf ... I govern."

Who is that guy?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's all about Young Tom Lewis in the English evening

12:57 p.m. PDT (8:57 p.m. GMT)

The factoid seemed too rich to be real ... it had to be concocted for TV. But there it was: the 20-year-old Englishman, paired with a certified golf legend and icon of this tournament ... and word comes that Young Tom Lewis is named after Old Tom Watson. Nah ... isn't it enough that Lewis shot 65, the lowest score for an amateur in a major tournament since 1976, to tie for the lead after one round?

Young Tom confirmed, in a post-round interview, that he is in fact the namesake of Old Tom.

"He's a wonderful guy, and a great player," Lewis said of Watson, and a beaming Watson (who shot 72) seemed delighted to direct the spotlight at Lewis.

Unmanufactured, and great TV. ESPN's lead announcer Mike Tirico intoned, as Lewis stood over a short birdie putt at No. 18, "Can the 20-year-old Lewis make the putt, share the lead after 18 holes, and take over the back page of every newspaper in the UK?"

Yes, yes, and soon, yes indeed.

Lewis said, as he met the world press, that his father, a former European Tour player, named him after his own hero, Watson. Another son is named Jack, Tom Lewis said.

On a day that mostly belonged to Europeans, the low Americans were Webb Simpson and Lucas Glover, whose 66s tied them with Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez a stroke behind Lewis and early leader Thomas Bjorn.

Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, playing in his 20th Open, was in a large group at 68 that included countryman Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion.

Earlier, a Northern Irelander by the name of McIlroy – U.S. Open champion Rory, the pre-tournament favorite – ground out a 71 in the tougher weather conditions that faced the morning starters.

7:26 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (3:26 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time)

He played so well in his white Callaway hat that I never noticed he was balding.

Thomas Bjorn, a 40-year-old Dane with a history at Royal St George's, doffed his cap at the end of a crisp first round at the Open Championship today. He signed for a 65, the leader in the clubhouse at 5 under par, but with a raft of players yet to come at him.

The coolest 47-year-old Spaniard on the planet, Miguel Angel Jimenez, made a scrambling par on 18 to get in at 66, a shot behind Bjorn. He had fun out there, and he'll have fun tonight, and he'll have fun again tomorrow.

Likable players, with big games, and they shined the early light on a morning of changeable wind, off-and-on rain, and not much thunder from the game's current darling, Rory McIlroy. Phil Mickelson has struggled early, doing nothing to answer the eternal mystery of just where his head and game might be.

Bjorn, at least for a day, expunged the memory of a disastrous No. 16 in 2003 at this same golf course, where it took him three to get out of a wicked greenside bunker – and cost him the Open Championship.

Today, he knocked it to six feet on the 159-yard par-3, and his birdie moved him temporarily to 6-under. He would bogey No. 18, but he called his round "solid" after several weeks in a funk after the death of his father in May.

"He would have been proud of the way I played today," said Bjorn, who was not even assured of a spot in the field until Monday, when several players pulling out moved him up the alternate list.

On that same No. 16, Dustin Johnson punctuated a ragged round by ramming in a hole-in-one.

The best American early was Ryan Moore, in with a 1-under 69. He credited his pre-Open work on a stateside links course, Chambers Bay in his native Washington state, for his improved preparation for Royal St George's.

"Links golf is not pretty golf," Moore said. "You gotta get it around. You hit the shots you need to hit at the time."

Amid all the talking and over-thinking among the experts and pundits, today and the rest of the tournament, it's hard to imagine our favorite Euro, Jimenez, doing much analysis at all. It's easier to imagine him relaxing with a cigar, perhaps with an amber beverage, and then doing it all over again tomorrow. He'll have fun, and so, then, will we.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Missing a friend, in the time of the Tour

I think about my friend on the “official” days of his life, the dates and anniversaries that we mark in the absence of the man himself.

I think of him at odd times, too, and one of them is now.

The guy was into the Tour. He knew the courses, the athletes, the equipment they used. He could talk about the strategies, the gamesmanship, the rivalries.

He had opinions – definite and well-spoken – about the bullshit, the finger-pointing, the backbiting, the ass-covering that we seem to know more about now than ever.

But finally, it always came down to the race, the individual battles and the greater war, the grinding and the graceful and the long-distant goal.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suppose I was writing in the paragraphs above about golf and the people who play it at its highest level, the PGA Tour, over the course of a long season.

Pat Purcell knew little and cared less about golf.

The Tour he cared about is going on right now, across the Atlantic, and today was Stage 7.

If average U.S. sports fans know anything about the Tour de France, they know it’s being contested this year by a bunch of foreign guys not named Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong is as conspicuous by his absence as T. Woods will be at next week’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s.

Armstrong didn’t win the Tour last year, his final year in the race before re-retiring to return full-time to defending his reputation (see the fourth paragraph above, re: ass, covering of).

Name the guy who did win last year. Yeah. Me, neither.

Pat could have, and he would have offered a thorough accounting of the how and why plus a thoughtful analysis of the state of cycling post-Lance.

He might or might not have noticed my eyes glazing over.

He played golf, to be companionable. He wasn’t good at it, and didn’t care if he was. His equipment was terrible … some of it, nonetheless, lives now in my golf bag.

This time of year, spring and early summer, I wouldn’t have been able to get him on a golf course anyway. He would have been too busy training for another cycling event that happens right about now – the STP, the 200-mile Seattle-to- Portland Classic – which this year starts tomorrow.

Pat rode at least a dozen STPs before he learned, in 2005, that he had a brain tumor. He died in January 2009.

I’m not a guy who’ll ever say my friend is looking on from some ethereal vantage point, keeping track of the Tour de France. I just notice, this time of year, that he’s gone. Conspicuously so.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The golf clubs that followed him home – Part 2

Among the equipment-obsessed, it's easy to get fuzzy on the details of golf clubs’ comings and goings in and out of your life. And there was a lot to keep up with.

In Part 2 of this post, we’re still in 2009, when Steve Valandra turned his attention to upgrading his fairway woods.

He paid next to nothing to a private party for a couple Adams woods, six or seven years old, but worlds better than what he had. Never loved ‘em. He had a Cobra 3-wood in his bag, which he liked, but it was 10 years old.

They rest now in a bin in his home, where all his once and former weapons live.

Eventually, his club-lust fixated on a TaylorMade Burner 3-wood.

Maybe, he thought, with store credit from GolfUSA (for trading in a used club) ... and the cash from selling the Adams noise-bomb ... he could find room in his budget for the Burner.

He glommed the Burner in late 2009. He loves it.

As he got better as a player (lately, he’s clicking with a new teacher, Kris Swanson of Olympia), he brought with him a clearer understanding of his own game, and the best clubs for it, when he haunted the retail stores and online auctions.

But you didn't for a moment think he was settled on a driver, did you? He sold the MacGregor last summer, then tried to hit a Srixon for a while, only to realize for himself what had been suggested privately: too much club, not enough player (yet).

Last year, he got a guy at Capitol City to buy the noisy Adams.

"He bought me lunch, too," Valandra said this week.

The current driver of choice is also an Adams, a Speedline Fast 10 model. It might be "the one." 

He never rested easy with the MacGregor NVG irons mentioned in the previous post. After much research (patient, in his new golf maturity), last year he purchased a set of Adams OS irons, which included 3-, 4- and 5-hybrids.

He likes them, a lot. So, finally, the quest, at least to an outside eye, would seem to have lost its urgency.

"The clubs suit me," said Valandra, whose handicap has dropped from 28 to 20. "With (Swanson's) instruction, I can see improvement.

"I want to break 90 on a regular basis. It's not gonna happen this summer."

Craig Foster, an Olympia golf club technician, has seen worse cases of the golf disease than Valandra’s – much, much worse. And he’s seen plenty of golfers who never come to realize, as Valandra has, that it’s really more the shooter than the gun.

“A lot of it comes from a lack of understanding of golf clubs, the alignment of them and how they work,” Foster said. “They think there’s a magic club. They think that’s the first suspect, the club. It’s really the golfer.”

Oddly, through all of this he never talked about changing putters (though he quietly acquired a Cleveland Bronze putter last winter, which "I kinda like, but something about it bugs me.") 

Until this week ...

The equipment-geek symptoms, subdued since he bought his irons, resurfaced out of nowhere. He can’t really say why he found himself with a new driving iron in his bag.

He hits his driver all right, most of the time, and on the days he doesn’t, he can take out one of his confidence clubs – a Nickent 2-hybrid – and use that on the teebox.

So the driving iron wasn’t a case of need … maybe simple curiosity. He said it looked cool. What he did know for sure, very quickly, was he couldn’t hit it worth a damn.

So he took the driving iron back where he got it – good advice for any average player  – and traded it straight across for a putter.

End of story. For now.

Special guest commentary, by Craig Foster, golf club guru (from a 7-1-11 email):

“Steve started like many people do, with ill-suited equipment. Last time he was in, his bag was filled with decent clubs.  Driver is the first club that beginners want to smash, but it is typically the hardest to control. I always tell new golfers to hit 3-wood off the tee because it goes almost as far as driver and is easier to control.

"I could tell from his responses to my questions that Steve was getting better. He knows there is a long way to go but at least he is getting some payback from the game.”

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The golf clubs that followed him home – Part 1

This is a tale of an orphan 9-iron and the vagabond golf clubs that came after. And a driver that was just too loud.

Before all that, there was a simple question: “You play much golf, Steve?”

He said, “Nah, I’m (terrible).” Or something like it. Valandra is nothing if not profane.

“Wanna play sometime?”

“Yeah, OK. But I’m (terrible).”

So he played, and then he played again, and then he was playing a lot. And he was (terrible).

He knew, even then, in 2008, it wasn’t just his equipment. He knew he had to get help with his swing. But in fact, his clubs were (terrible).

So our guy, Steve Valandra, mid-50s, by day the communications director for a Washington state agency, set about building a set.

Realize, by this time he was full-on buggy about golf. Unhinged. He was then on the first of the three instructors he would work with in a year’s time.

With the focus of a newborn zealot, he got acquisitive. First he bought a driver, from The Golf Club Co. in Olympia, where a lot of people around here get their first made-to-order clubs.

His irons were the (worst) of all – old, off-brand, not very good even when they were new.

The set didn’t include a 9-iron, so he picked one up on eBay – MacGregor NVG, a couple model years old, which in the breathless world of golf marketing means it was hopelessly obsolete.

He hit it for the first time on the par-3 15th over the water at Gold Mountain Olympic. Stuck it on the green and made par. He kept on hitting it and kept on liking it.

By this time, he’d made the acquaintance of Craig Foster of Craig’s Custom Clubs in Olympia. Valandra asked him why he was hitting the 9-iron so well.

Foster, who’s seen equipment madness in many forms and many degrees in his business repairing, adjusting and customizing golf clubs, told him it was because it was a lot better club than any other iron in his bag.

So Valandra went looking for the matching full set of NVGs and found it, on the Golfsmith Web site.

Around in here, he acquired a MacGregor MacTec driver. New on eBay, around $40.

 He didn’t warm to the MacGregor, and he wasn’t driving the ball well that summer, at all, so he wasn’t using it or any of his various drivers. He gave the Golf Club Co. driver to a friend and put the MacGregor aside.

But he was going to Portugal, and taking his sticks, so he needed a driver. Before he left town, he picked up an Adams RPM driver online from Dick’s Sporting Goods – 460cc head, 10.5 degrees of loft, and loud.

When he got back, he played the Adams on the front nine of his first home-turf round. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was hitting it well (which he wasn’t) because he was hating the way it sounded, the grating peeng at impact.

On the back nine, he switched to the MacGregor, which he hadn’t swung in months.

“It’s got that oval shape (head),” he said. “I liked the way it looked.”

He liked the way it sounded, too, and suddenly he was hitting it fine.

He used the MacGregor in an October 2009 round at Tumwater Valley, drove it well all day, and shot the best score of his life.

“I’m sticking with it after that one,” he said. “I don’t think it’s so much the club, it’s the instruction. But it doesn’t make that stupid sound.”

By this time, he wasn’t even such a (shitty) player.

But was he done? Had he found a big stick to stick with? Was he down with his irons? Maybe … for a minute.

All that churn in his golf bag, all this restlessness in his golfer soul, only takes our story to late 2009.

Next: Part 2, in which our man finds inner peace, solves the world monetary crisis and gets a new putter.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gold Mountain Olympic: Just your everyday championship golf course

BREMERTON, Wash. – The roughs are long and sticky and will only get longer.
The greens are fast, and might get faster.

And while members and visiting players battle through – and maybe curse – the challenging setup at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course, it’s all in the game plan as Gold Mountain and the United States Golf Association zero in on the U.S. Junior Amateur here July 18-23.

It is exactly this dynamic tension between common player and championship-caliber golf course that makes the Olympic Course a Pacific Northwest mecca for affordable, accessible public golf that gives up nothing in quality and challenge for elite players.

Good young amateur players will be in abundance for the Jr. Amateur’s six days of match-play competition, including current phenom Jordan Spieth and defending champion Jim Liu, the youngest  ever (at 14) to win this tournament.

The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain

The bountifully scenic course that will test them was designed by John Harbottle III and opened by the City of Bremerton in 1996.

“When we hired John, we said we really want a championship golf course, for sure, but not at the expense of the bread and butter for us, which is the everyday customer,” Gold Mountain director of golf Scott Alexander said this week.

“The course exceeded my expectations. He really gave us exactly what we wanted.”

Harbottle had for his canvas a broad swath of ruggedly wooded foothills, in the southern reaches of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, when he set out to design Gold Mountain’s second course alongside the existing Cascade Course.

He was able to skirt the fine line between playable and fun and a course for shotmakers only.

What Alexander calls Harbottle’s “little bumps,” for instance around the No.3 green, don’t unduly penalize a slightly errant shot, but truly reward an outstanding shot.

“It’s not unplayable,” Alexander said. “He’s just shaped it in such a way that he really does identify an OK shot from a really, really good shot.

“Around the greens you have to have some touch to score well. The greens really separate the golf course.”

When media members at a kickoff news conference played the Olympic course earlier this month, the heavy stuff off the fairway measured roughly three inches. By the Jr. Amateur’s opening day, expect the rough to have grown out to a thick and stingy four inches.

Putting greens that day rolled out at between 11 and 12 feet on the Stimp meter, Alexander said. He expects they’ll play at 12, where they roll best, by tournament time.

USGA officials will arrive in Bremerton a week ahead of time for a final assessment of the golf course and to verify the parameters they set a year ago for Gold Mountain superintendent Ed Faulk.

“When they come in a week in advance it should be as they requested,” Faulk said. “If they need certain tweaks here and there, we can do that for them.”

Faulk has the advantage of recent experience in meeting the logistical challenges of a USGA national championship. The Olympic Course was the site of the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Faulk and two crew members went back to Lebanon, Ohio, for the 2005 Publinx at Shaker Run Golf Club. They watched the tournament for several days and talked to the superintendent there.

“That was very helpful,” he said, “instead of going in completely blind.”

Faulk said Gold Mountain pro shop employees keep the public forewarned about the dense roughs in the run-up to the Jr. Am. Playing the Olympic, he said, is simple.

“If they keep it in the fairway they don’t have a problem,” he said. “That’s why we cut those fairways nice and short for ‘em.”

Gold Mountain Golf Club: (360) 415-5432;
U.S. Junior Amateur

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Get your short game on for Washington Par 3 Championship

Look at it this way: You have a good chance of scoring in the 60s (or better) for 18 holes.

You won't wake up Saturday a scratch-plus golfer (unless you already are one). But you can wake up Saturday, make your way to Tacoma's Highlands Golf Course, and compete for a prize on every hole in the first Washington State Par 3 Championship.

The event, a production of the Seattle Golf and Travel Show, features a 9:30 a.m. shotgun start for 36 players at the Highlands short course, 1400 Highlands Parkway N., Tacoma, Wash. Remaining players in the field will tee off beginning at 1 p.m., with the low 16 players from Saturday play progressing to the finals on Sunday.

As of Thursday night, there were still spots open for the tournament. Visit or call (253) 759- 3622 to get signed up.

Highlands is a par-28 nine-hole course in Tacoma’s north and west ends, near the Narrows Bridge. There are eight bunkers and three water hazards on the course, and distinct sets of tees for the front and back. The one par-4 hole measures 255 yards and the par-3s range from 100 to 187 yards.

Hole-in-one prizes on holes 1, 4, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16 and 18 include golf vacations in Atlantic City and Sun Mountain Lodge, golf equipment, and at 18 – a 125-yard teaser – the grand prize for an ace is a new Buick Lacrosse.

All other holes feature prizes for closest to the pin (or drawings for anybody whose ball stays on the green), including golf for two at Chambers Bay, a Las Vegas golf package, Mariner tickets, dining gift certificates, and golf equipment.

Go low, get it done in a couple hours, and win a prize ... you're the man.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Golf goes on without Tiger ... let me count the ways

There have always been young guns in golf, celebrating the perks of extreme youth and outlandish talent. 
It’s not hard to imagine the young Arnold Palmer and Champagne Tony Lema and Lee Trevino and Ernie Els (in a ragged chronology) partying well and hard and storming the gates of The Willard, a stone’s throw from the White House.

But did Red Smith and Herbert Warren Wind tell the tales? Dan Jenkins did, some, and it’s easy to imagine him right in among them.

 I can attest that Jenkins, born in 1929, tweets now … and who could have dreamed such a sentence would exist?

But it was a little different then.

There were newspapers, and magazines, hard copies that you could spread out on the table and turn pages by hand. In 1964, when the first U.S. Open was played at Congressional in Bethesda, Md., in suburban D.C., sportswriters worked on manual typewriters.

And it was journalism, real journalism, but what a guy wrote about (and they were all guys then) was all between the ropes.

In ’64, a personal computer existed maybe in science fiction. Cell phones? Beam me up, Scotty. Laptops, USB ports, digital cameras, digital anything … not part of the culture.

Three TV networks, only one of which covered golf at a time … no ESPN, no Golf Channel.

By 1997, when Els won the Open at Congressional, the phrase “social network” had not entered the language. The word “blog” had not been invented. Twitter? Uh, what? “Facebook” was just another word for a yearbook that lined up mug shots in rows.

This is NOT a lament for the old days. I tweet, I blog, I “friend,” and I push my work on the people in my social network.

Come on. How cool is this?

I can go online and see a video of Ben Crane, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan cavorting in ways another generation would not have been able to fathom (find it under "Oh Oh Oh" on YouTube; I'm using the technology -- I didn't say I'd mastered it).
Tour rookie Andres Gonzales, playing in his first U.S. Open this week, has a sizable band of followers based more on his native wit than his golf game. Gonzo's Amigos, his fan club, is a brand new Twitter account.

The kids aren’t cooler these days … wouldn’t you have killed to have hit the streets with a young Arnie when he’d had a few pops? There are just more ways to see them, to hear them, to know them, and they are embracing it all in unprecedented ways.

The down side, for a player, is there’s no hiding. Ask Tiger Woods. Did serial adultery not exist on the Tour in 1964? Of course it did. Red Smith wasn’t interested, or didn’t write like it.

Never in golf history has the absence of a player from the U.S. Open been squinted at quite so thoroughly as the missing Tiger.

It’s all right. The kids are all right. The game’s all right.

And we have so many ways to confirm it for ourselves.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The book on Bill Tindall: Great golfer, better person

Former Junior Amateur champion comes back as honorary chairman

BREMERTON, Wash. -- He was as reluctant to leave the golf course as a kid called home when there's still late-evening light in the late-summer sky.

There was still a whole back nine to play. But Bill Tindall, no kid anymore, had to go see about one of his own: a grandson, in this case, and a playoff baseball game.

Bill Tindall addresses a
U.S. Junior Amateur
news conference June 8
at Gold Mountain.
He even tried to work it so he could get in a couple-three more holes and end up close to the clubhouse, but Gold Mountain Olympic doesn't lend itself to that kind of cross-country improvisation.

So he left, with sincere regrets, and in fact the regrets were ours, the other members of yesterday's foursome. Pretty simple: he's a great guy to play golf with.

Tindall at 68 still has the smooth game that made him one of the Northwest's finest playing pros. His ability to look at a swing and help a struggling player begin to fix it has earned him a reputation as one of the region's best teachers of the game.

But it is his unforced people skills that make him a natural as the honorary chairman for the U.S. Junior Amateur, July 18-23, at the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain.

And there's this: Tindall is a former U.S. Junior Amateur Champion himself. In 1960, he overcame a precarious first-match position -- one hole down on No. 18 -- to win in extra holes, then won his next six matches to claim the trophy.

He won an Oregon Open, played on 20 Hudson Cup teams (18-1-1 match record), won a Pacific Northwest Section Senior PGA championship, and was inducted into the section's Hall of Fame.

Tindall worked 22 years as head professional at Seattle's esteemed Broadmoor Golf Club, and later worked at The Members Club at Aldarra in Sammamish, Wash., and The Tumble Creek Club at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Wash.

His first club pro job was at the Longview Country Club in Longview, Wash., my hometown, from 1969 to 1977. I didn't play any golf in those days, but I read about Tindall in the local sports pages.

It wasn't until yesterday that I met the man, in a round of golf that was about half as long as it should have been.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Olympia native Andres Gonzales will take his road show to the U.S. Open

Andres Gonzales is no wide-eyed innocent -- check his Twitter tweaks of Tiger Woods -- but there's nothing like your first.

Your first U.S. Open.

Gonzales, 28, a PGA Tour rookie from Olympia, Wash., played his way into the Open Monday with a 36-hole total of 133 (67-66) to tie for third in a sectional qualifying tournament at Tunica National in Tunica, Miss.

Gonzales' buddy, Pat Putnam, of Lakewood, Wash., also qualified with a 133 at the same sectional.

In his first year with full PGA status, Gonzales has missed more cuts than he's made, but it hasn't been all about the golf. For instance: He's a Twitter legend. He's become the favorite player of a host of fans and press types and fellow pros -- it's true, read the tweets (@Andres_Gonzales) -- who appreciate his refusal to be stone serious about himself or the game or the Tour.

Gonzales shouts tweets out to Woods, wondering why Tiger won't reply ("Why u big-leaguing me?").

One of his classic tweets: "@TigerWoods did you know that Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation? I learned something new today."

He's got Twittertown all aflutter about whether Tiger will offer him an exemption to play in his tournament, the AT&T National, starting June 30 at Aronomink in Newtown Square, Pa.

As for the golf, it hasn't been a smooth ride. He's been out of character -- more frustrated than normal.

"That's not how I like to play," he said last week. "I'm starting to go out and play and have fun, and it's making golf fun again."

Gonzales is in the field this week for the Fedex St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis, and he's got an Open date on his calendar -- July 16-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

Gonzales has acknowledged an invitation to be a guest blogger right here, where he can let his freak flag fly without the constraints of 140 characters. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Raley in town to read from his book about the old hometown ball team

That stuff up there under the Blogolfosphere heading is all about the blog being all about golf. Except for days like today, when it’s about Raley, who isn’t much about golf at all these days.

Dan Raley, lately of Atlanta, Ga., is plenty busy with other things.

In another venue a couple years ago, I wrote about Raley’s 30 years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

He covered lots of golf on assignment, but was a weekly golf columnist for only a relatively short time before the fall.

He got to know the historic figures of the game, including Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson. He argued with Greg Norman.

“Jack Nicklaus walked me through Snoqualmie Ridge with his arm around my shoulder,” he says.

His work appeared in Golf Magazine, Golfweek and the Wall Street Journal.

He wrote a piece in the P-I about the seedy side of Augusta, Ga., site of the pristine Augusta National and The Masters. It’s not “the slice of Southern heaven” the ruling fathers of the Masters would have us believe, he says, and when he wrote it that way it raised eyebrows and won a national award from the Golf Writers Association of America.

Raley is now a story editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It pays the bills, and was not a bad place to land after the P-I imploded in 2009.

But he hates the weather. And misses his family. The Seattle native has kept his house in east King County, with an eye toward getting back home someday.

All the while, he’s an author.

His first book, the well-received “Tideflats to Tomorrow,” about Seattle’s Sodo district, came out last year.

His third book, about a star NBA player with Seattle ties, has fallen through with one publisher, but can’t yet be called dead. A fourth book, which he’s chipped away at for years, is about 90 percent done and, he believes, sellable.

But it’s book No. 2 that brings Raley to Seattle today. He’ll be at Elliott Bay Books, 1521 10th Ave., at 5 p.m. for a reading and signing of his “Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers.”

Reviews have been warm: Bruce Baskin in wrote, “I’d recommend “Pitchers of Beer” highly to anyone who wants a well-written, well-documented history of what still stands for many as the true Golden Age of Seattle Baseball.”

And this from “In baseballese, Raley not only jacked his story of the Seattle Rainiers out of the park, it’s a four-run, tape-measure, walk-off shot. Rarely does a book fuse history, humor and storytelling as well as this one.”

It ain’t golf, but that’s OK. Raley notes the irony that he lives in golf country – a couple hours from Augusta National – and doesn’t play.

“I do have my clubs,” he said this week.