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.”