There’s really no question that the biggest issue
in today’s golf industry is slow play. It just takes too much time out of any
day. Even sneaking out for nine holes often feels like a chore.
And the most frustrating part about the current
situation is that it is caused to a good degree by player attitudes that are
just plain wrong. One such attitude is that taking more time over a shot will
lead to a better result. In fact, the opposite is more likely true.
The more time you spend thinking about or standing
over a shot, the more likely you'll hit a bad shot. And it’s not even
"paralysis from analysis." It’s more a matter of tension in the muscles.
Keeping muscles moving and keeping your mind distracted prevent unnecessary
tensions in full swings as well as putts.
Exacerbating this behavior is the obsession
with score. In Great Britain and Ireland, there’s less of this obsession, and
play moves nicely along. A common match format is four ball, or better ball of
partners, where no one complains when they have to pick up because they’re "out
of the hole."
Sadly, outside of private clubs, in the U.S.
these player attitudes are unlikely to change for a long time. And it has a lot
to do with what they see Tour players do on TV. In writing this piece, I realized
that one of the reasons I like playing with honors, or first off the tee, is
that I jump up to the tee box ready to hit, stick the peg in the ground and
just go. It may also be why "ready golf" is so appealing to me—enough
that it’s a frequent first hole agreement, even in tournaments.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Lee
Trevino tried everything possible to keep tensions from constricting his golf
swing. He fidgeted, he talked, he waggled—whatever it took to stay loose.
In the prime of his career, he would even be replanting his feet moments before
And the bigger the moment, the quicker he
played. He recounted his walk to the 18th tee on Sunday at Muirfield
in the dual with Jack for the 1972 Open Championship. He told his caddy to give
him the driver as fast as possible so he could load and fire before any doubts
could creep into his head.
So it is up against monumental inertial forces
that the USGA is trying to make a dent in round durations with several
concurrent campaigns trying to guilt players into speeding up play. It’s
impossible to say whether the "While We’re Young" commercials, while amusing,
will have any effect long-term. People are amazingly un-self-aware when it
comes to these things. Many slow players will watch those ads and think they’re
talking about someone else they know who is worse.
The USGA announced it will hold a symposium focusing solely on slow play this week. Some key figures in the industry will meet to discuss
new strategies and campaigns to cut down typical round times. Whatever you
think of the speed of USGA policy making, at least there’s some movement in the
right direction. If you’re bored, go to the USGA website to sign a pledge to be part of the solution,
not the problem. Nearly 175,000 have signed to date, including yours truly.
As reported by Golf Channel, Tiger heard about the symposium and commented that it’s a big problem during tournament play for threesomes and
for average golfers slogging around public courses. His practice rounds at Isleworth are a different story altogether. I imagine his souped up cart can top out close to 50 mph, because he claimed
he frequently gets in 36 holes in less than three hours, and sometimes finishes
18 in under one hour.
Faster than fast
Taking faster play to another level is Speedgolf. A
couple of weeks ago at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Irishman Rob Hogan shot two
sub-80 rounds in about 40 minutes each to win the Speedgolf
World Championship. Combining golf with competitive distance running is
certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is entertaining to watch nonetheless.
Earlier this year, I caught a special about the
2012 World Championship that was aired Masters weekend. That event was won by recent
Notre Dame grad Chris Walker, who has aspirations for a professional career.
This year, he finished 4th with rounds of 74 and 73, but both times were over
The interesting part about scoring well under
the demanding conditions of Speedgolf is that you
have to do your best with four to six clubs. There’s no club limit per se in
the Speedgolf, but the weight of more clubs would cut
significantly into the top speed running down the fairway.
Other rules modifications to speed things along
include the option of leaving the flagstick in when putting and a lost ball
rule that would drive rules purists mad. When a ball is lost, the player has
the option, after a one-stroke penalty, of dropping anywhere along the line of
flight of the previous shot.
But there is a nice purity in the scoring
system. A player’s SGS (Speedgolf score) is simply a
total of strokes plus minutes. The current world record in Speedgolf
was established in October 2005 when Christopher Smith shot a five under par 65
in 44:06 for a Speedgolf score (SGS) of 109:06 at a
tournament in the Chicago Speedgolf Classic at
Jackson Park Golf Course.
Golf Channel did a great service to golf this
year in its Greatest Rounds series. One of the best was the Trevino/Nicklaus
dual at Merion for the 1971 U.S. Open. The broadcast was fascinating on many
levels, and I hope to finish a future blog about all the annotations I made.
One surprising part of the broadcast was the
amazing tediously slow play of one Jack Nicklaus. He was known as a slow
player, for sure, but it seemed he was attempting new personal bests (or
worsts) at Merion. In retrospect, I have to wonder if it wasn’t gamesmanship
aimed specifically at Trevino during the playoff round.
Trevino, to his credit, never pointed it out.
But there were some telling inset TV camera clips of Trevino watching Jack putt
from greenside. Fidgety as always, Lee looked perturbed and frustrated. And for
good reason, because I timed Jack. Several times, Jack would take 30 seconds after address before hitting a putt.
During that time, Jack would glance at the hole eight or nine times, maddeningly
lengthening the time between each successive glance, like Chinese water torture.
That rant aside, I’ll finish on a positive
note, observing that Lee Buck Trevino was also a pioneer in Speedgolf.
In preparing for Muirfield in 1972, Lee wanted to get
fit and trim and also hone his instinctual game. Good friend Orville Moody
found an out-of-the-way course in Texas where he could do this.
Camp Killeen opened at first light. The superintendent's daughter
drove Trevino's cart, and although she was deaf, she could read lips, and they
worked out a routine. Trevino would hit his shot, hand her the club, and sprint
to the ball, where she would be waiting with his clubs. Run. Point. Shoot.
Repeat. "She could understand me," Trevino says. "She became a
friend of the family, a friend of the kids—beautiful girl. I'd break into
a dead run between shots. I wouldn't jog. I'd run. That's where I got my exercise."
In a few years I can compete in the 50+
division of the Speedgolf Championship. This year’s
winner was David Harding of Oregon who carded a 89 in 54:11. That’s something
to shoot for.
Ron Romanik is
principal of the brand narrative, package design intelligence and PR consultancy
Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com), located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
You know the THE BOOK. To
many, Hogan’s Five Lessons is the one
indispensible golf instruction book in existence—still. Fifty-six years
after its publication.
If you recheck your copy, I’d
bet many of you would find passages you underlined, notes you scribbled in the
margins, and question marks next to sections you intended to revisit later with
a clearer mind.
Ben Hogan’s seminal book
ushered in a whole new era of "position" swing theory and instruction. The
chapter on the grip may be the best and most thorough ever written on the
topic, but you may wonder how the waggle could warrant 4½ dedicated pages.
One of my contentions has
long been that parts of the book might not be entirely applicable for the
taller golfer. After all, the "wee ice mon" was only 5’6", with the compact
frame of a welterweight boxer and a flatter swing plane than most.
That point aside, many concepts
in the book resonate with readers for years and decades, while others leave even
teaching pros scratching their heads. If you’re anything like me, one of the
nagging contentions you might have with THE BOOK is its preoccupation with the
left side of the body at the exclusion, nearly, of the right side.
In Hogan’s lessons, the left
hand dominates the grip, the waggle sets the left wrist, the left arm pushes
the club away on the backswing, the left side keeps the club on plane, the left
hip starts the downswing, and the left wrist pronates, supinates... and
equivocates, for all I know.
Seeing is Believing
Admittedly, it’s pretty easy
to get sucked into the vortex of prognosticating swing-analysis videos on the
YouTube, and much of it is spurious. My own ADHD tendencies aside, I have
noticed a minor trend in the last few years. Many instructors are rediscovering
the wisdom of talking about the right side of the body, especially at the
beginning of the downswing.
Even Hogan himself, in a clip from 1963, unintentionally
hints at the how the right side falls into place at the beginning of the downswing,
albeit still only in relation to how the lower part of the body should ideally
move to initiate the downswing.
If you really want to go
down the rabbit hole of swing analysis, check out the bio-kinetic theories of Dariusz J.'s YT BioChannel on
YouTube. He seems to be a nice, obsessive fellow from Poland with an avocation
of theorizing about the mysterious forces behind Hogan’s magical swing. He also
has deep respect for many other great ball-strikers of days gone by, which he
chronicles in a series he calls Forgotten Great Theorists, both on
YouTube and on his own blog site.
Dariusz has a very
interesting interpretation and analysis of Hogan’s swing where he applies his Sagittal Plane Compression concept. That
video explains the optimal biometrics of a person swinging a golf club in a "macroscale."
Also not to be missed is a compilation video of the game’s greats starting the
downswing with the right side in optimal position, or what he calls the Early Elbow Plane position. This
position "...is a logical result of benefitting from one of the golden rules of
(bio)physics concerning the perpendicularity of the distal parts motion to the
More Right Side Love
Teaching pro Kip Puterbaugh,
at the Aviara Golf Academy in Sunny Carlsbad, CA, makes his case for paying
attention to the right side of the body during the downswing, especially the right elbow.
Of course, if you want to
learn Hogan’s Five Lessons with a more attractive teacher, there’s always Kendra Vallone’s super smooth motion.
Blond, statuesque and certainly easy on the eyes, Kendra is nonetheless a
diligent, lifelong student of Hogan’s little book. She revisits Hogan’s
fundamentals with reverence, and her right-side positions at the start of the
downswing are a thing of beauty all their own.
My favorite passage in THE
BOOK still has to be the following, which must be as maddening for beginners
today as it was for me as a 15-year-old:
"Actually, the hands
start the clubhead back a split second before the arms start back. And the arms
begin their movement a split second before the shoulders begin to turn. As a
golfer acquires feel and rhythm through practice, the hands arms and shoulders
will instinctively tie in on this split-second schedule."
As crazy as this sounds, and
as difficult as it would be to copy as a beginner, I invite you to www.pgatour.com, where they have dozens of
the top touring pros captured in super-slow-motion video of driver swings. Look
closely at Tiger’s
Scott’s swings, and tell me Hogan hasn’t been right all along about the
split-second hands/arms/shoulders takeaway sequence.
If you’ve been living under
a rock this summer, you’ve missed the emergence of an amazing talent out of
Pennsylvania. Brandon Matthews, a sophomore at Temple University, has had an
incredible run. Watch this tournament
roundup to witness the blur of his powerful swing—at :33 and 1:20.
If you still haven’t had
enough of Hogan, here’s one opinion
of how Hogan and Moe Norman might have shared a "move" at the start of the
downswing. And I couldn’t leave you without sharing the beautiful right side motion
of Jack Nicklaus at age 15.
Hope your Fall is full of good viewing, good swinging and good scores!
Ron Romanik is principal of
the brand narrative, packaging intelligence and PR consultancy Romanik
Communications (www.romanik.com), located
in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
A small piece of advice:
Choose your words carefully, Adam Scott.
From the media rumblings
about Scott this past week, I had thought we had another Stephen Ames incident
on our hands.
There have been more than a
few times in Tiger’s career when some pretender spoke out of line about Tiger’s
abilities, then quickly paid the consequence. Most dramatically was when
Stephen Ames suggested Tiger’s erratic driver was making him vulnerable in
Match Play. The venue was 2006 World Match Play Championship at La Costa. The
day before Tiger and Ames squared off in the first day of matches, Ames
casually said: "Anything can happen, especially where [Tiger's] hitting the
ball." The next day, Tiger dismissed Ames 9 and 8. (A virtual shutout, as the
only more lopsided score possible is 10 and 8.)
Tiger even admitted that
Ames’ comment motivated him, with a smile and nod, though his only comment
about it was: "Nine and eight."
So, before The Barclays,
Adam Scott was asked: "Would you rather have your season or Tiger's, and do you
think Tiger would rather have his or yours?" Adam replied with a smile: "I'd
rather have mine, that's for sure. I really don't know. He may want mine."
Did he know he was lighting
a fire under El Tigre? Did he dare have the arrogance to compare himself to
The truth of the matter is a
lot less dramatic if you look at the rest of the
interview transcript. As most golf fans know, Adam is a mostly humble man.
Earlier in the same interview, he was asked: "Who would you say has had the
best year on the Tour so far?"
Adam replied flatly: "Tiger.
Five wins? Has he won five times? Tiger's had the best year." And, to another
question about the criteria for Player of the Year, Adam said: "I don't think
one major makes up for five tournaments."
Adam’s comment about Tiger
wanting Adam’s year was specifically about Tiger’s top priority of winning 19
majors, and Adam’s season would have given Tiger No. 15, and he’d be one step
Either way, Adam’s comment
couldn’t have been better for setting up a little rivalry going into the FedEx
Playoffs, especially how the Barclay’s finished up Sunday, with Woods fighting
to the last putt.
The media will over-hype the
rivalry, as it always does, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you should
discount the fiery motivation that Tiger will use to shrug off another
pretender to the throne. If his back doesn’t literally fall out of his body, I
think Tiger’s a safe bet to take the FedEx Cup and Player of the Year.
Which brings us to another
topic: Tiger’s perennial health problems. I remember announcers like Johnny
Miller and Curtis Strange doing the slow motion analysis of Tiger’s swing in
his prime and just being dumbfounded at how fast his hips turned ahead of his
shoulders. The speed and the timing that the speed required were otherworldly
to them. The announcers wondered over and over: "How long can his body could
take that torque?"
Well, as it turns out, not
so long after all. Because Tiger often disappears from media view when dealing with
a medical problem, it’s easy to forget how many different issues he has dealt
with in his career. Again, courtesy of Golf.com, we have a
litany of his injuries/surgeries over the years. It’s getting pretty long.
And if Tiger’s current
troubles were really triggered by a hotel mattress, as he claims, those old
rumors of Tiger installing his own furniture in every house he rented during
tournaments will be coming back.
is principal of the brand narrative, packaging intelligence and PR consultancy Romanik Communications (www.romanik.com),
located in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
You have to admire a man who wears a hat with another hat on it
Lee Trevinio is my new hero
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 By Ron Romanik
Lee Trevino is my new hero
Where is the Lee Trevino of today? There may
never be another like him. He faced a hardscrabble life taken one day at a
time, with positive thoughts and energy all the way.
Lee Buck Trevino is my new hero for a number of
reasons. Off the course, it’s easy to admire his humility, enthusiasm, and
class. On the course, of course, are his unusual swing, fast play, mental
fortitude, pure love of the game, and inimitable personality.
Many of these qualities were on display at
Merion in 1971. If Golf Channel ever plays its "Greatest Rounds" Merion U.S.
Open episode again, don’t miss it. The tournament went to a Monday playoff, but
the 72nd hole was most dramatic. While watching Jack try to make a putt to win
it outright on Sunday, an interviewer caught up with Trevino out of earshot.
When Trevino played 18 just a few moments
earlier, he was obviously thrown off when a sound made him back off his par
putt, which he missed. As it turned out, one of the 19,000 fans fell from a
spectating perch on the scoreboard. Trevino shrugged it off.
"These people are so wonderful out here," he
said. "I don’t want to use any excuses. I probably would have missed the putt
anyway. The putter felt like it weighed 50 pounds...I didn’t hit a good drive...I
deserved a bogey."
Earlier in the round, Jack’s tediously slow
play was pushing the limits of Lee’s patience, though. As Jack would take 30
seconds after address before hitting a putt, Lee would be off the green
fidgeting and fidgeting, unable to keep still.
His demeanor is always one of gratitude, as if
he’s just happy to be there. Which you believe he is. Even when he says he
wasn’t fearful of Jack before the Open Championship at Muirfield
in 1972, as Trevino wrote Wednesday in Today’s
Golfer, it doesn’t sound arrogant in the least. Or, he goes on, "In those
days, I expected to chip in every time." Well, he did have four chip-ins that
Subconscious vs. conscious
This year has been a sort of delayed victory
lap for Trevino, with Merion and Muirfield falling in
the same year. Much has been written about his game and personality, and how he
suppressed his conscious mind to let his subconscious mind golf, as is
summarized pretty well by
Cameron Morfit of Golf
Of the four chip-ins that week, the 16th on
Saturday was the biggest "gift from the gods" as Lee put it in Today’s Golfer. From an impossible lie
in a greenside bunker, not even hoping to get it close, he flew his shot right
in the hole.
Of course, the 17th hole on Sunday was the chip
in everyone remembers, even though Lee was still mad after making it, because
he thought the hole ruined his chances. But that chip is an illustration of the
subconscious golfer being more proficient than any over-analytical conscious
mind might be. If you watch the tape, he kind of stabs at the ball in resigned
desperation, not conscious at all. Nevertheless, I’m sure, he expected to make
Being a highly analytical person, I have
difficulty letting my subconscious mind take over on the course. And falling on
the reserved scale of personality, I don’t automatically treat everyone as a
good friend. However, I’m asking myself more and more: "What would Lee do?"
I’m even trying to copy his swing. I’ve decided
to stop fighting my "bad" tendencies, and instead work them into my swing. I
always preferred an open stance and fade as a youth, why should I fight against
my instinct? Though I can’t match his cupped wrist at the top, I’m working a
strong right-side-under move like Lee’s that lets me get through the ball
straight down the line more consistently.
Someday, I’ll be able to suppress my analytical
conscious mind enough to play a freer form of golf. Until that day, I want to
build a swing that, like Trevino used to say, gets better the more pressure is
put on it. And though I’ve never tried to talk during my own swing, as Lee
sometimes did, now I think: Why not?
Ron Romanik is
principal of the brand, packaging and PR consultancy Romanik
Communications (www.romanik.com), located
in Elverson, PA. His full bio is here.
After the Open champion was
crowned, Colin Montgomerie on Golf Channel had the
audacity to compare Justin Rose’s 18th hole finish with Ben Hogan’s in 1950
finish. Was that so outrageous? I say no.
Justin’s two shots were
perfectly and confidently struck, knowing that par was likely necessary to win
the tourney. And he gave himself an excellent chance for birdie, which he
nearly converted. Just a reminder here, no
one birdied 18 on Sunday, and there were only 11 birdies all week. Regardless, Justin was a
half-ball-roll from jarring it for an exclamation point on his victory. An
exclamation point, though, is not necessary if you still get the job done with
utmost efficiency, as Justin did on Sunday.
Of course, one could argue
that he came up short on his eagle attempt,
as the 18th hole was essentially a par-five for the week, averaging 4.7 strokes
for competitors. Maybe scoring average would be a better way to determine the
par for a hole. If, for example, you applied this concept comparably from
Merion to Augusta National, The Masters would be a par-68, as none of the
par-fives in 2013 had scoring averages over 4.7. So, conversely, applying the
same criterion retroactively from Augusta to Merion would make the East Course a
par 72, and the winner was actually seven under par.
All that aside, kudos to the
USGA for a fine job orchestrating the event. And thanks to all the neighbors
who gave up their front lawns for the event, as I’m sure the grass won’t completely
recover from the abuse until next year.
I also feel for Jason Dufner, and I’m glad that his triple-bogey on 15 did not
lose him the tournament, per se. A par on that hole would have still left him
one shot back. Needless to say, six birdies on the East Course, in contention,
in U.S. Open conditions, was incredible. Justin, for the record, made five
birdies on the day for the trophy.
Maybe the best part of this
Open was how so many players spent time near or on top of the leaderboard on
the weekend, and how bunched up they were. Players with hot hands would claim
the lead and then lose it just as quickly, sometimes more than once or twice.
And having Phil in the mix is always adds an extra element of excitement.
My dark horse pick
As 18 was essentially a
par-five all week, so was the par-four fifth hole, which also averaged 4.7
strokes for the week. The hole was played 456 times last week, and birdied only
12 times. Amazingly, there was one fellow who birdied it twice, in the second
and third rounds. That would be my dark
horse pick for the week, Edward Loar, who
followed up a 4-iron to 15 feet on Friday with a 3-iron to four feet on
"Yeah! How about that!" Loar enthused, amused at his own good fortune on No. 5.
"Playing that hole in one-under-par for the week is pretty good!"
I picked Loar
because he appears to be one of the few players that is actually enjoying
playing the game at this level, even after a 76 on a "brutally difficult
course," as was the consensus. "What a great week, what a blast to play in the
Open," Loar mused on an upbeat note.
"Obviously, I’m going to
take a lot of positives," he continued. "I played really good most of the time.
What I’m probably going to take mostly for me is how comfortable I was with
everything. Even when I got on the leaderboard Saturday...I didn’t get nervous."
Loar finished a respectable T32 at +13, in decent company
with Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, and defending champion Webb Simpson. He now
heads back to the Web.com Tour, where he is second on the money list and in a safe
position to regain his PGA Tour card for 2014.
However, as most players
echoed late Sunday afternoon, Loar admitted the Open
can just plain wear you out. "To be honest with you, I’m kind of glad I’m
done," he chuckled.
Phil’s several nemeses
The Driver: Reintroduce
yourself, Phil. The fifth and the eighteenth holes required a driver to have
decent chances at birdie or par.
Himself: Self-delusion is
not a long-term strategy, and blind confidence is not a prudent U.S. Open
strategy. When the confidence is producing incredible shots, I admit, it’s
certainly fun to watch. But the other side of the spectrum is painful to watch.
The 16th green: On both Saturday
and Sunday, Phil had very makeable 15-foot birdie putts that fooled him just
enough to slide by the edge.
Wait a minute...
Do these Golf Channel guys
know more than everyone else?
Rich Lerner: "...Merion, back
in the U.S. Open rotation..."
"...If you’re looking down the road...I think it’s safe to say that we will be back
at Merion Golf Club."
I understand the logistical
and player considerations for not letting spectators behind the 16th green and
17th tee. The disruption to the flow of the round would have exacerbated the
slowness of the rounds and the chaotic atmosphere would have been difficult for
the players to tolerate.
I was lucky enough to get
access to a spot behind the 17th tee late in the day on Saturday. As cool as it
is to watch players shape drivers off of the par-fives this week, it was quite
an eye-opener to watch the variety of shots that these golfers tried to get it
close on 17.
Some of the variety came
from the fact that each golfer has his own natural ball flight, but a good deal
of variety was also caused by the particular demands of that hole. Of the 20
shots I witnessed, none were the same shape.
The pin position was back
and to the right, below a slight ridge both in front and from the left. All the
players knew the pin was going to be there, as during practice rounds many were
gauging the speed they needed to negotiate the ridges. From the left side of
the green, for instance, putts had to delicately and slowly cross the crest of
the ridge to settle down near the pin. Any extra oomph, and the comebacker
could be five feet.
To generalize, the biggest
hitters tried to high fades that landed just short of the ridge, in hopes that
it would release over the ridge and settle near the pin. Two of the best were by
Rory McIlroy and Nicolas Colsaerts, which started perfectly at the left side of
the green, landed center, and wound up nicely near the hole. Colsaerts’ was higher, probably the highest of the day.
What was also similar about these two shots was the club. Both hit it with
old-school, 3- or 2-iron forged blades.
By contrast, Padraig
Harrington hit a low, frozen rope three-wood, I believe, trying to skip it
through the false front. One of the most inventive shots came from Tiger, with
a choked down 3-wood. He set up facing the left grandstand and hit the kind of
controlled slice that only Tiger attempts regularly in competition. The ball
started left of the left bunkers curved about 30 yards and landed softly
left-center of the green, settling less than 20 feet from the pin.
As he has sometimes done
before with shorter clubs, Tiger this time was trying to roll the most makeable
putt—from the tee 254 yards away! If the ball had landed only 10 feet
deeper into the green, he probably would have been inside Rory.
Mickelson’s shot, which he
called his best of the day, was a nicely rounded draw that achieved a similar
result to McIlroy’s and Colsaerts’.
If you get a chance on
Sunday, stand behind a Billy Horschel drive or
long-iron. His trajectory is so consistently high and straight, it’s no wonder
he expects to hit every green in regulation.
Earlier in the day, it was
nice to see a player not take himself too seriously on the 17th. After an
adventurous romp through hill and dale, Welshman Jamie Donaldson holed out for
a six, turned to the crowd, and raised his hands for a victorious double
fist-pump. The grandstand crowd ate it up.
Putting it out there
If you’re watching on TV,
it’s impossible to appreciate the difficulty of putting Merion’s greens. There
are so many small contours that only show up when a player misses a six-footer
Watching players negotiate
the seemingly benign sixteenth green pin position, I was able to formulate a
new way to explain players’ struggles on these tricky greens. Because they are
so fast and slopey, the strategic analysis of each is
different that normal, even for these guys.
Normally, you pick a line
you think will get you too the hole, then you pick a speed to match that line.
If the two don’t match up in your imagination or by closer inspection of the
green or slope, you adjust.
On these greens, and at many
major championship and A-level tour events, players must pick the speed first,
then figure out if there’s a line that can get them to the hole. Actually,
"pick" the speed is not always accurate, especially on downhill putts. There’s often
only one option—it’s the speed the putt necessitates. And, many times,
there might not be a line, at that speed, that they can hit it on to stop it
near the hole.
For instance, if there’s a crest,
even a subtle one, running between the ball and the hole at a diagonal on a
downhill putt, there may simply not be a line where you can aim far enough down
the ridge and not risk a long putt coming back. Either from running it by or
from getting on the wrong side of the ridge. That’s why you see the ball settle
a few inches to the low side of the hole so many times. And the farther you are
from the hole, the more often this happens on these greens.
To put it bluntly, there are
some downhill 20-foot putts that are, for all intents and purposes, impossible
to make under tournament conditions. That’s because the players won’t risk the
high probability of a three-putt by taking a line that only has a slight chance
of success anyway.
This is the last time I’m
saying it: Bring binoculars!!
There were actually two smiling lefties keeping
it together on the course on Friday. One you may know--he shot an uneven 72 to
maintain a tie for the overnight lead. The other smiling lefty, Edward Loar,
bested that score by one with a tactically proficient, sometimes inspired, four-birdie
71. He stands only five back at 144.
On Wednesday, I picked
Loar as one of my two dark horses for the week, along with Dustin Johnson. I’ll
take partial credit for making a good pick in Dustin, as his separated-at-birth
Belgian twin, Nicolas Colsaerts, is still in the hunt.
The main reason I looked at Loar goes back to
"Golf’s Longest Day"—the Open’s day of Sectional Qualifiers. After
watching countless earnest college kids joylessly grind out the final stretch,
I was stuck by the contrast of the big Texan with a toothy grin actually
seeming to enjoy the moment. Of course, he did finish eagle-birdie-birdie to
secure his spot. That would put a smile on anyone’s face.
I thought to myself: "That’s refreshing to see.
That’s a guy I’d like to have a beer with." This, in fact, appears to be the
type of pro many fans are pining for these days, and the distinction is
literally tearing the golfing world apart (exaggeration for effect). Tiger, in
many fans’ estimation, does not fit this definition, as some fans keep making
up new excuses not to like the guy.
I would argue that this definition of fan
affiliation is, ironically, why there is so much Bubba love out here on the
East Course. I guess there doesn’t have to be a jarring disconnect in wanting
to share a beer with a guy that doesn’t drink. Nevertheless, golf certainly
could use a few more "regular" guys that fans can identify with.
But back to my man Loar, who is currently
sporting a five-day, unmanicured, regular-guy beard. While many golfers suffered
through Friday’s round with dour faces, hoping for an easy hole that never
came, Loar took it one shot at a time. Through tough stretches of the course,
he took what the course gave him and bided his time, waiting for opportunity,
and enjoying himself.
I caught up with Loar after the round, and
asked if perception was reality, and that he was gladly rolling with punches,
even on a torture test like Merion. "Yeah, it’s golf!" he grinned through his
light Texas drawl. "You know, I’m lucky to get to play golf for a living, and I
try to enjoy it every time. Granted, this a really difficult challenge, but it
Loar, at 35, is not a complete unknown, as he
has won twice on the Web.com tour. Between spying on other groups in
contention, I was lucky enough to catch the three birdies on Loar’s last nine
holes of the day. Though he didn’t reach No. 2 in with a utility club on his
second shot, the ball ended up in an ideal spot just short of the green.
One of the best shots I saw all day was Loar’s
perfectly carved approach to the impossible fifth hole. If you don’t know
already, the fifth green pitches severely right to left. Loar’s approach was
drawing against the slope when it landed, softly, just 15 feet from the cup. At
nine he had a great look at birdie from above the hole, but couldn’t convert. And
on 10, he took an aggressive line with the driver to the collar for a two-putt
birdie from 90 feet.
An impressive 71 on a course set up for pain,
and only a 11 players of the 154 still playing shot a better score for the
second round. When his round hit a few bumps, he was mentally prepared: "You’re
going to have, obviously, some struggles. It’s the U.S. Open, and it’s a hard golf course. But I was able to hang
in there. Like I’ve been telling people all week, you’re going to see a lot of
birdies, but you’re going to see a lot of train wrecks."
And he was able to enjoy the moment, outside of
himself, and persevere through his minor train wrecks. His honest assessment of
the birdie on No. 5 that righted his ship: "That was awesome! I really needed
it. I was off to a real good start, then I had a double bogey and a bogey. I
hit a great 4-iron in there from 221. Probably the best shot I hit all day." Keep
an eye on this guy, regular or not, when he moves back up to the "regular" Tour
next year, as he seems poised to do, and maybe more "regular" guys will join
But is it golf?
Par is just a number. The leaders are actually
tied at 5-under, or 7-under, 9-under, depending on whether you think the East
Course is a par 72, 73, or 74. There are valid arguments for each belief. There
are two par-fours that play like par-fives, and two par-threes that play like
Several pros, including Tiger and Jim Furyk,
couldn’t help themselves but point out the obvious. The pin positions were
brutal, just brutal.
Yes, it is golf. The USGA’s goal is to force
players to play as many different shots under trying conditions. Around Merion,
every facet of a golfer’s game will be tested.
Just remember when watching on TV that
photography flattens contour and slope, so what you see is not reality. In
truth, there are almost no "easy" chips, and even some three-footers will break
a hole or more.
Bring Binoculars!! The course is so wide open
that you can watch action across several holes with relative ease. For
instance, behind the 17th green, you can watch, the approach shots to the
picturesque 18th. I watched the ninth tee and green from the second fairway!