PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS
Ron Romanik 
Watching Women Swingers
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
By Ron Romanik

This has been a pretty good year for the ladies on the LPGA Tour. In 2012, the lady golfers have gotten to see a wide swath of the world (maybe even more than they might have wanted), they’ve expanded their sponsorships and tour stops and they’ve seen an enthusiastic rotation of players on hot streaks.

 

American Stacy Lewis, a spry lass of 27, just nailed down her fourth win of the year, and is now the No.2 player in the world. Unlike the other multiple winners this year, Lewis spread her wins across eight months. After the dominant Yani Tseng cooled off in late spring, the wealth has been spread around more equitably.

 

But this post is not about handicapping the top young U.S.A. talent, bemoaning the still-late-arriving-but-still-on-its-way-mega-greatness of Michelle Wie, analyzing skirt length trends or the sad state of LPGA Tour popularity. That’s because, for one, the Tour is not in so sad of a state. The LPGA is experiencing a resurgence in sponsorships and ratings (according to some sources). And a recent interview with tour Commissioner Mike Whan hinted at further expansion and new marketing initiatives for 2013.

 

The LPGA Tour expanded by five tournaments in 2012, to 29 events worldwide. Granted, 14 of those events are outside the mainland continental U.S. (Hawaii-1, South America-1, Mexico-1, France-1, UK-1, Austrailia-1, Canada-2, Asia-6). But Commissioner Whan has embraced the global character of the ladies game, boasting that other professional sports might be jealous of its international reach. Feel free to take that for what it’s worth.

 

But the real impetus of this post is that I feel it’s a shame that more male amateur golfers don't watch the LPGA Tour more frequently. Not just for the pretty faces that now grace the Tour, nor for Paula Creamer’s awesome pink wardrobe, but for the Tour’s instructional aspect.

 

This feeling came to me while I was glued to the epic playoff at the Kingsmill Championship (in Williamsburg, VA) between Paula and Jiyai Shin. Maybe it was the couch I was glued to for lack of motivation to clean the gutters, but I was glad to catch it anyway. Watching the ladies there (and at other tournaments this year) made me think about my own game and how I often play too aggressively, with poor risk/reward ratios.

 

The top tier of the LPGA Tour play at quite a consistently high level, especially tee to green. What struck me most then, and at other times I’ve watched the ladies this year, was how few mistakes the leaders make in managing themselves and the course. Creamer and Shin matched pars for the eight straight times they played the 18th hole in the playoff.

 

There they were, time after time, in the center of the fairway and the center of the green, time after time. (Paula did make one sand save that I saw.) The pin was tucked back left, behind a bunker and on a downslope. An aggressive line brought more danger than benefit, so it was dutifully avoided.

 

In addition, the ladies manage themselves well in a number of ways. When they get into trouble, they make sure to get out first and foremost. They do not take unnecessary risks and they never over-swing.

 

The men on the PGA Tour, on the other hand, must go for birdies pretty much all the time to keep up with the hot players of the week. Several factors contribute to this, including hole length, equipment advances and course setup. For example, the green complexes are often tiered, effectively creating four or five mini-greens that beg aggressive play and punish conservative play.

 

But the LPGA game more resembles the game you and I play, and our scores might see a few notches of improvement if we managed our games the way the ladies do regularly. Sure, Michelle Wie might be aggressive on par fives, but most LPGA players know that playing safe just in front of a par-five green, for instance, will pay long-term dividends on the scorecard. Greenside bunkers and long, tangled rough just off the green make for frequent bogeys. And if you’re in the center of most greens, two-putts are a cinch.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. Ron’s bio is here.

 

 


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Ron Romanik 
Lessons of concessions
Monday, October 15, 2012
By Ron Romanik

It’s one of the indelible images of golf: Jack Nicklaus picking up Tony Jacklin’s ball marker on the 18th green at Royal Birkdale Golf Club at the end of the 1969 Ryder Cup. Like many avid golf fans, I had seen the key clips from that Ryder Cup more than a few times and recognized "The Concession" as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, show of sportsmanship in the history of sport—at least since the lions gave Daniel a pass inside their own den. Well, maybe that wasn’t sport per se.

 

The barest of facts of the matter make "The Concession" a grand gesture. The U.S. held the Cup that year, so the U.S. only needed a tie to retain it. The match was completely tied with Jack and Tony’s singles match the only one left to be decided. Their match was tied going into the final hole. After three shots each, Jack had a four-and-a-half foot par putt and Tony had a two-foot part putt left. Jack made his putt and conceded Tony’s putt, thereby concluding the Cup in a tie, acknowledging that the U.S. had retained the Cup and sparing Tony any embarrassment if he missed the putt, thereby losing both the individual match and the team match. Nice guy, nice timing.

 

But as one digs deeper into the story, one uncovers subplots that have not always been covered in depth. There were many compounding circumstances that compelled Jack to make the gracious gesture, to make it decisively and to leverage his role as statesman of the game itself.

 

One circumstance, the mere facts of the matter, I’ve just covered. But just to reiterate: It wasn’t important

 won the Tony/Jack match, it was important who owned the Cup. That had already been decided when Jack made his putt. In that regard, Tony’s putt was meaningless. And in more practical terms, Tony’s ability to make the putt would not make him a hero, but missing it would have made him a fall guy, the one to blame for the loss.

 

I always thought one of the most amazing part of the concession was how Jack so quickly picked up the coin after he holed out his four-and-a-half footer. It was as if Jack was prepared for the moment well ahead (maybe even holes ahead), and that he didn't hesitate, which might have made the moment awkward or called extra attention to the gesture. He just executed the moment.

 

I discovered that this was not an accurate assumption on my part. In a recent history of the Ryder Cup, Jack admitted that it was a more spontaneous act. That doesn’t diminish Jack’s ability to be completely aware of what was going on around him and the import of his actions. He knew the exact score, the exact situation, the gravity of the moment. He was completely prepared to do what he did, and did it with a smile and quick handshake. We would all be better human beings if we were as prepared for moments in life with the singularity and thoroughness that Jack brought to the green that day.

 

Jack was always incredibly aware of everything going on around him. He probably even knew that it might not be popular with his teammates—but he didn’t care. At the time, though, Jack was as close as anyone could become to being the embodiment of the game of golf itself. The principles he had, one might say, where the principles of the game itself by default. He was, at the time, the moral and ethical personification of the game, and knew what was good for the game. If he did it, it was therefore the right thing to do, ipso facto.

 

In fact, the concession was not popular among all the other members of the U.S. team, nor its captain, Sam Snead. An outright win meant a great deal to these players. And there were legitimate reasons for the tension between the two teams that year—several loose-lipped comments on both sides had ruffled feathers on opposing teams.

 

This was Jack’s first Ryder Cup, due to a PGA eligibility rule that prevented him from participating earlier in the 1960s. Jack was 29 and Tony, 25. Tony Jacklin was at the height of his career, having won the Open Championship earlier that year, and before the rollercoaster emotional decade that followed.

 

But the acrimony between the teams makes the concession even more of an honorable gesture. It is just a game, after all, and Samuel Ryder founded the Cup matches with the express purpose of promoting good will between the U.S. and Great Britain, with no cash purse involved.

 

Another reason that the gesture was so grand was that Jack’s personal feelings might have gotten in the way. Tony was dominating golf that year, while Jack’s fortunes had temporarily faded. Tony had drubbed Jack in the morning singles match 4&3, and in a four-ball match the day before. So it would have been understandable if Jack had been out for satisfaction, if not revenge, to show he could beat the current hottest player fair and square. But Jack felt the moment was bigger than that.

 

Another point that may be up for debate is the feeling that if you didn’t win convincingly, you didn't really win. Maybe Jack felt that a half-point win was the same as a tie anyway, so what could be the big deal. And how would making Tony putt that two-footer promote "good will" anyway?

 

Tony was gracious to a fault, both at that moment and ever since. He never complained about being deprived of his opportunity to make that putt, because he appreciated the gesture for the simple goal it meant to achieve: promote good will.

 

What you may not know is that Jack and Tony designed a golf course together, a private club in Florida named The Concession. Here’s Tony Jacklin talking about working with Jack on The Concession Golf Course. In this interview, Tony reiterated his feeling about the moment that he had expressed many times before: "It was a wonderful sporting gesture. Something certainly I’ll never forget."

 

One Side Note about Match Play:

What many golfers who are not familiar with the rules of match play forget is that each player, or team, "controls" his opponent’s ball, or balls (in four-ball). The Seve Ballesteros/Tom Lehman episode on the 12th hole of the final day Ryder Cup singles match in 1995 at Oak Hill gives a good illustration of what can happen when players forget this fact.

 

Tom Lehman hit a putt to about two inches from the cup. Seve still had a lengthy putt to negotiate, and did not concede the two-inch putt of Lehman’s. Lehman looked at Seve for the concession several times, but getting no affirmation, proceeded to putt out. In essence, though, Lehman played out of turn.

 

Seve’s intention was misunderstood at that moment, both by Tom and the gallery. It turned out he only wanted to use Tom’s ball mark as a aiming point for his putt. He intended to concede Lehman’s putt after he putted out, but the situation was a bit unfortunate. Seve didn’t think anything of it while it was happening, because it was second nature that he had "control" of Tom’s ball in match play.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.


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Ron Romanik 
A tough way to lose the U.S. Amateur
Thursday, August 30, 2012
By Ron Romanik

The final day of the U.S. Amateur was an exciting tooth-and-nail battle that ended on the first extra (37th) hole. I couldn’t get how the match ended out of my mind, so I decided to revisit the ending to make a few points about this fickle game we love (and hate).

 

The most pivotal moment came when Michael Weaver, who was ahead most of the day over Steven Fox, had a five-foot par putt on the 18th hole to win the title 1-up. He missed the putt in excruciating fashion, with the ball "horseshoeing" the hole and coming back at him.

 

Visibly shocked and disappointed, Weaver could not compose himself on the first extra hole, which was the 18th again, and lost with a bogey in 37 holes. (He bogeyed it three times that day.) After shaking hands all around, Weaver walked off the green and proceeded to abuse his golf bag with his putter. How you feel about that display of emotion is a topic for another time.

 

Weaver was not immune to the pressure of the moment. He actually did to his opponent in the Round of 16 what Fox did to him—come back from 2 & 2 to win. He parred 18 that day to force extra holes, and won on the first extra hole (the 1st hole). On the flip side of that, Weaver won his round of 32 match with a bogey on 18.

 

But back to the putt that Weaver missed. It appeared that Weaver hit it exactly as he wanted, which was very firm, to take the break out of the putt and hammer it home for the win. The announcers, including Gary Koch, made a big deal that a little bump in the putt caused the putt to go a touch off line. While that’s true to a degree, any irregularity on the green in the line of the putt would have caused it to break left, because that was the direction of the break. If it had actually been a straight putt, the bump might not have had the dramatic, and unfortunate result.

 

The point here is that, to this viewer, the match was lost because of Weaver’s decision to hit it firm and try to eliminate the break. The decisions you make on a golf course are almost as important as the execution of the shot. Every choice of club and type of shot is a calculated risk/reward situation as to the likelihood that the shot will come off as intended.

 

The strategic aspect of golf extends onto the green, as illustrated here, and the heat of battle can cause poor decisions. Just because the risk of a three-putt is immaterial in this match play situation doesn’t mean that you have to take advantage of that fact.

 

Rarely, if ever, do you see tour pro hit a five-footer as hard as Weaver hit his, even in match play. They don't change their game in different situations. If they do, it's almost imperceptible, especially on the green. Of course, uphill putts are hit firmer than downhill putts for obvious reasons. But they will hit the same putt whether its for a double bogey on the 1st hole or for a birdie or par on the last to win a title.

The final point is simple—composure. Weaver let his mind drift to holding the winner’s trophy and felt the loss immediately after the lipped out five-footer. Viewers could sense that the match was over even before they teed off on the 37th hole.

 

I am certainly not casting aspersions here, as I cannot imagine the intense pressure and anticipation of the moment Weaver faced. All I’m suggesting is that there are a few things all players can learn here—maybe more accessible from the humanness of young amateurs than from the automatons of the PGA tour.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 

 


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Ron Romanik 
In defense of Steve Williams
Friday, August 10, 2012
By Ron Romanik

Somebody’s got to do it. Not that Steve needs my help; he’s doing all right by himself.

 

It’s been a full year since Steve helped Adam Scott win at Firestone CC in the 2011 WGC event there. Okay, so Steve overstepped his bounds there, and once or twice elsewhere, when his mouth got ahead of his brain. But he had a legitimate reason to be angry (more on that later).

 

I just find it funny that so many of the same people that admire the strong drive of competitors who reach the pinnacle of their profession turn so quickly on those same competitors when they reveal how truly competitive they are.

 

There are very few competitors that achieve dominance of a sport without a little arrogance. Even Jack Nicklaus was presumptuous enough to speak as the second-highest authority on golf (next to God or Bobby Jones, depending on your religious beliefs). And I couldn’t fault him for that.

 

The point is that you have to accept the bad with the good. Taking it further, one could argue that many competitors would not achieve as highly as they have without the belief that they’re better than everyone else. Especially in golf, where you have to believe you can pull off a shot before you can actually perform it. Sometimes, confidence is everything.

 

And stop yourself if you’re inclined to say, "Steve Williams is just a caddie." Some caddies on tour are just caddies, but Steve is about as highly involved in the decisions made with the pro he’s caddying for as any other caddie out there. And, at the PGA Tour level of competition, there’s such a fine line between a great shot and disaster that club selection and course management are critical. And finally, the caddie’s most important job may be making his pro stay focused and feel confident in the club and shot selection that has been decided on.

 

So, Steve Williams is the ideal caddie and as competitive as they come. He chose his profession at a young age (13-years-old) and never looked back. He’s also an accomplished racecar driver, a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and a charitable man to boot $1 million New Zealand dollars, or about  $807,000 U.S., to a youth golf program.).

 

When he says "I’m a good frontrunner," as he did after celebrating Adam Scott’s win in the WGC Bridgestone last year, he was merely expressing his competitiveness, as if he has part ownership of his pros’ wins and losses. I would think that would be a valuable trait.

 

How much did he contribute to Tiger’s wins in his prime? That’s immeasurable, as in not measurable. Just remember that Steve has had more wins without Tiger than with Tiger. There’s no way to know how many majors Tiger would have won without Steve. I surmise that, in my mind, this much is indisputable: fewer.

 

In defense of Steve being angry at Tiger after being "let go," a review of the tape might make you rethink your knee-jerk reaction to what was reported. If you follow Steve’s argument, he waited patiently after the Tiger scandal passed over and after recoveries from injuries. He was loyal. That loyalty was not returned. Not because he was sacked at all, but because of the timing. If Tiger had any inkling that he might let Steve go anywhere in that 18-month period, he suggests, he should have been courteous to Steve to let him go earlier so he could get on with his own life. A valid point, I grant.

 

Steve could be the best caddie ever, and he goes above and beyond the call of duty. He famously protects his players and fends off distractions, once grabbing a $7,000 camera and tossing it into a lake. I don’t know which would be harder, defending Tiger from dangerous, trigger-happy photographers or defending Adam from the dangerous, skirt-flirting gold-diggers that Adam seem to attract like vultures to road kill.

 

So, I don’t blame Steve Williams either for fleeing right after the 2012 British Open concluded, after Adam Scott’s epic collapse. Being a true competitor, he felt partly responsible for the loss—maybe even wholly responsible. Right or wrong, that’s how hyper-competitive individuals feel. The worst "decision" he was a part of was the club selection at 18, where Adam hit a 3-wood into a fairway bunker. But he probably felt more responsible for not getting Adam’s head in the right place for his approaches to 15, 16 and 17, which appeared hurried to many observers.

 

Talking to the media after that collapse would be a no-win situation. Well, pretty much any more contact between Steve and the media is a no-win situation. He’s damned if he takes any credit, and damned if he doesn’t.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.

 

 


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Ron Romanik 
Feherty just keeps getting better
Monday, July 2, 2012
By Ron Romanik

Golf Channel’s Feherty show just keeps getting better and better. If you can forgive David Feherty for putting himself too much into a show that’s supposed to be an interview format, there’s not too much to dislike. Well, the hokey "Yoo-Hoo" theme song might stick in your head into the next day, which can certainly be annoying.

 

Feherty is just one more argument in favor of the claim that the Irish make great storytellers. Aside from his commentary on TV golf broadcasts, he is also a writer. He has four bestselling books and has been a regular contributor to Golf Magazine for many years. He deftly walks the tight wire fine line between embellishment and truth. And he’s just plain funny. Whereas Gary McCord often tries too hard to create mini-controversies, Feherty’s observations are self-contained and pithy.

 

What makes Feherty especially endearing is that he competed at, or near, the highest professional level, so he knows of where he treads. He is also one of the most honest and forthright commentators on TV. For instance, some years ago, he shared one of the most telling assessments of Tiger’s greatness: "Of the ten best golf shots I ever witnessed, eight of them were Tiger’s."

 

It is a shame when Feherty crosses a line of tactfulness, as he did with Ernie Els recently during the introductions at the Tavistock Cup. However, his apology appeared in the same Golf Magazine article: "I gave everybody a hard time at the Tavistock Cup, and I did it in proportion to how much affection I have for the person. If that backfired with Ernie, I unreservedly apologize, because I love the guy."

 

Two typically revealing Feherty segments came in the recent Roger Maltbie episode. Maltbie recalls Jack Nicklaus’s philosophy about winning tournaments and majors as: "I only wanted to win by one." He tells a great anecdote about Nicklaus at the 1975 PGA Championship at Firestone CC (but gets one forgivable detail wrong).

 

After two rounds at Firestone, Bruce Crampton was 6-under and, Maltbie thought, capable of running away from the field. (Maltbie recalled erroneously that it was Philly native Ed Dougherty, who was actually only at 1-under.) Maltbie asks Jack if he is worried that, at 2-under, he might be letting the tournament slip away. Jack says: "It doesn’t matter, 5-under will win it." Jack finishes 4-under and wins by two over Crampton.

 

The other anecdote is by Feherty himself. He recalls the 1991 Ryder Cup "War at the Shore." In my humble opinion, this was the moment the Ryder Cup became too little about the golf and too much about rowdy fans. As Bernard Langer was lining up the now infamous five-foot putt to tie up the score and retain the trophy for Europe, Feherty conferred with longtime PGA photographer Lawrence Levy, who quipped: "The last German under this kind of pressure shot himself in a bunker."

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com). His full bio is here.

 


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Ron Romanik 
Fence sitting is easy; being a professional curmudgeon is hard
Friday, June 15, 2012
By Ron Romanik

However much I pretend to have strong opinions about everything that exists in this world, I’m actually on the fence about many controversial topics. Fence sitting can be both a privileged vantage point and a frustrating never-never land.

 

I know it’s not fashionable to write an evenhanded blog post that, by convention, is expected to be opinionated tomfoolery, but sometimes being a well-respected curmudgeon takes more effort, talent and practice than most of us have the time for. Curmudgeonry among family and friends can be fun, for sure, but I’m willing to admit that I’m not ready just yet to turn pro in that field.

 

So here’s a few things that I am resigned to just scratch my head over while I enjoy the view from my perch on the fence ...

 

Wide White Belts – If you gave up golf in 1983 and just turned on the TV this season, you’d be experiencing time warp whiplash. It’s just comforting to know the rest of the fashion world is not following close behind golf fashion "innovators." I just worry... Are Sansabelt slacks too far behind?

 

White Pants – They’re nice once in a while, but this trend may be reaching a saturation point. Of course, maybe everyone is trying to emulate Jack Nicklaus at the height of his fashion sense.

 

Tour Players Always Asking for Rulings During Play – One on hand, you want shout at the screen: "Read the Friggin’ Rules Book!" On the other, you understand the crazy amounts of money each stroke can represent at tournament’s close. What really might be at work is the fear of a player returning home to a nagging wife: "Why didn’t you get a ruling?" Which is frightening similar to: "Why didn’t you ask for directions?"

 

Westwood Will Never Win a Major – So what. Neither will 99.999999% of all golfers. He’s a fine player. Leave Lee alone!

 

Tiger Is Back – Yes and no. During every slump, short or long, when sports fans asked me if he’ll be back, I unequivocally responded: "He’ll be back. It’s folly to underestimate him." Will he ever dominate again like he did in 2000? That’s unlikely, but 6/1 to win this week seems about right. I’d take 2/1 for winning a major this year.

 

Rory Is a Choker – Well... maybe... sometimes... I guess.

 

Tee Markers Shaped Like Mini FedEx Trucks – On second thought, not on the fence with this one. That’s just plain tacky.

 

Golf in HD – Rapid zoom-ins and zoom-outs can give you vertigo and make you fall off the couch. But super-slow motion sequences of a seven-iron slicing through thick rough can be pretty cool. The question is: Is it worth the ability to see every blade of grass between the ball and the lip of the cup if you have to also tolerate seeing every follicle in Rickie Fowler’s disturbing mustache? Most of the time, yes.

 

Golfers as Athletes – Not all of them are, of course, but when you see Dustin Johnson perform an unassisted one-leg squat, it’s difficult not to be impressed.

 

Golf Channel Without the "The" – Ah, the good old days.

 

Trying to Make Golf on TV More Rock and Roll – This is especially annoying during the "Round Recaps," when an unidentifiable, repeating loop of a bass-heavy beat pounds your brain into quick-onset apoplexy. Of course, we all miss the smooth jazz of Barry White’s version of "Love’s Theme" that was the defining ABC golf leaderboard music for decades.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com). His full bio is here.


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Enough is enough: Another reason longer is not better
Monday, June 11, 2012
By Ron Romanik

There are many reasons why the still-increasing distance that the ball flies is a detriment to the game. Of course, it's a combination of technological advances in both clubs and balls, but it really must be stopped--and reversed.

 

I don't have space to list all the reasons here, but here's a few:

-- Longer ball flight encourages building of longer courses

-- Longer courses = longer time to play rounds

-- Longer time = more expensive golf and less golfers

-- Longer courses = unwalkable courses

-- Longer ball flight means longer time looking for lost balls = longer rounds

 

But I'm tired of stating the obvious. One thing that is less obvious for the health and growth of the game is the role of the spectator—namely, the TV spectator. The touring pros no longer play remotely the same game as the rest of us. And I think that hurts TV ratings. When did a 480-yard hole become a driver-short iron? And that's not just for the longest hitters.

 

I'm not totally ignorant. I know the face angle of the irons that pros play has been creeping steeper and steeper over the years. But still, there's a huge disconnect between how pro players play the game and the rest of us.

 

Part of the reason is that the technological advances made a bigger difference in length for higher swing speeds and club speeds. These guys can FLY it 350 yards.

 

And then there's a trick that the PGA Tour has been using more and more to rein in the distance problem. Many Tour courses water the landing area of drives so that they bite and have, often, almost no roll.

 

Recently, I saw Rory McIlroy get so annoyed at the soft landing area that he attempted a short cut over mammoth trees and a fairway bunker that was 310 to clear. It was the 16th  at the Quail Hollow Golf Club 16th hole, and he cleared the bunker by 20 yards, and it ran out to 380 yards, 103 yards to the hole, and a sand wedge. To illustrate my point, he proceeded to three-putt from 20 feet.

 

At Memorial, Tiger hit 9-iron every day at the 16th. The hole is a little downhill, yes, but it's still 180-190 yards.

 

As a contrast, professional tennis is an excellent TV spectator sport because of the character of the game, the limitations of TV, and the lack of measurable comparisons. For many amateur tennis players, the game looks and feels very similar on TV to the game they play with their friends at the club. (Truth be told, in person, the pros hit the ball at lightning speed.)

 

And finally, for the touring PGA pros, the crazy long distances balls are flying makes more older, classic courses obsolete each year. I can't imagine how tricked out Merion Golf Club is going to have to be for the 2013 U.S. Open to compensate for its lack of length. I wish there was a way I could bet on "Most Three-Putts in a Major, Ever." Get Vegas on the line.

 

Ron Romanik is principal of the brand and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com). His full bio is here.


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