The Open Championship

July 17, 2012

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Francesco Molinari

Johnny’s longshot to win the Open Championship.

It is one of the best weeks of the year. By that I mean it the Open Championship. It is not the British Open as we Americans tend to call it. This is THE OPEN. Sorry Ohio State, this is the only event that deserves to use the word THE before itself.

Why such strong feelings about this glorious golf tournament? The Open has been around the longest. It all started in Scotland in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club. The first playing of the tournament was restricted to professionals, (mainly who were caddies, greens keepers, club makers or ball makers by trade) and attracted a field of eight who played three rounds of Prestwick’s twelve-hole course in a single day. The winning score of 174, was shot by Willie Park Sr. who beat Old Tom Morris by two strokes. The following year the tournament was opened to amateurs; eight of them joined ten professionals in the field to make a huge field of 18, and the Open Championship was on its way. Before this time golf had been played and some club tournaments had taken place, but more often than not Match Play was the rule and Money Matches between top professionals from various clubs were often played before and after the actual Open Championship itself.

LYTHAM ST ANNES, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 23:  P...

Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club

This year we go to the great course Royal Lytham & St Anne’s.  The Open was last played here when David Duval won it and was still a force to be reckoned with on the PGA tour. Royal Lytham & St. Annes is not your typical seaside links golf course that is the norm for most Open Championships. This is the only course in the current Open rotation which begins with a par 3 golf hole. (this is unusual for any golf course actually, but it is something more frequently seen on the elder courses in Scotland, Ireland and the British Isles). Another unusual quirk is that the golf course has 3 par 3’s on the front 9, and just one on the back.

A lot of spectators can even get a front row seat for this one….from their houses! This is another rarity in Open golf courses in that there are residences on three sides of the golf course.

The venue has not hosted too many Open Championships when compared to places such as St Andrews, but the former champion list is quite impressive. Bobby Jones, Bobby Locke, Peter Thompson, Bob Charles, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player, Severino Ballesteros, Tom Lehman and David Duval. Of this list, only Lehman and Duval are not members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

155 players tee it up this weekend. Many of those golfers in the field are people that even devout golf aficionados have any knowledge of. There are some European and Asian Tour players that will test your meddle in name pronunciation.

Tongue twisters such as Pryad Marksaeng, Joost Luiten, Mardan Marmat, Thongchai Jaidee, and Rafa Echenique will keep Ivor Robson on his toes while he announces the players to the first tee.

The set up seems fair, but unlike some Open sites, there is an extra premium on driving the golf ball. The rough, off of the fairways is exceptionally tall and thick this year on the heels of what is even by British standards, extra rainy conditions.

Attending the tournament in person is still one of the best deals in golf. Last I checked you could get a week long pass to watch all of the action for basically the equivalent of $250- $300 USD. Try getting in for that for the entire week at the Masters!

As always set your alarm early and get up to watch the quirky holes, bad bounces, lucky bounces, horrible lies, strong winds, maybe even rain, and weather that can change faster than it takes Kevin Na to play one golf hole.

The Open is golf at its finest. Golf as it was meant to be played – over sand dunes, humps and hollows -not on overwatered and perfectly manicured greens, fairways, bunkers and tee boxes.

My pick this week – Tiger Woods. He needs to get off the snide and win another major. He seems to play pretty well when under the gun. He will be under a lot of scrutiny with unsubtle British media – especially if he is in the hunt…I think he will respond well this time.

Looking for some random candidates? Here is a short list for your fantasy golf pools – Sam Walker – Barry Lane – Greg Owen and Paul Broadhorst.

Longshot to win it? Francesco Molinari – he played well last week at the Scottish Open, might be his time to break out and win something big.

Until Next Time, Stay Classy North Berwick, Scotland

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U.S. Open Preview

June 13, 2012

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This week the United States Open Golf Championship will be held at the Olympic Club at San Francisco.  There is a lot of anticipation for the event this year as well as a number of stories.

The USGA has released the pairings for the Thursday and Friday rounds, and there are some very attractive made for a Hollywood movie type of three-somes.

First and foremost will be the matinee headliner of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Masters Champion, Bubba Watson.  Be glad you are at home watching these three because if you were at the tournament I can assure you the gallery size for this triumvirate would parallel the crowd at a Rose Bowl game.

Tiger is the early 5 ½ to 1 favorite with the Vegas odds makers.  This is likely due to his win two weeks ago at Jack’s place – The Memorial. 

Of course we have seen this before this year. Tiger wins at Bay Hill and the world announces “He is Back” then he falters badly and appears not to be able to handle the pressure of a major while playing in the Masters.  Then he looks like the Tiger of old on the weekend at the Memorial. The question remains, will he contend this week.

Buggy anyone?

In Scotland, they are called buggies, but here in the good ol’ USA we call them Golf carts, or even sometimes affectionately – chariots.

Next week during the U.S. Open a name of court cases of a bygone era – Casey Martin again will be riding a cart for the his rounds after, qualifying for tournament.  Martin, who is the Oregon Golf Coach, retired from competitive professional golf six years ago.      

Casey Martin is most known amongst the golf aficionados as the man  who successfully sued the U.S. PGA Tour in 2001 for the right to ride a cart.  Martin suffers from a  because of a degenerative circulatory disorder and has had difficulty walking due to this condition since his teenage years.

I am quite confident NBC will give this significant play again, although it has been more than a decade since this was major news on the golfing front.

Martin did take a cart during local and sectional qualifying and will be allowed the use of a cart during the tournament this week.  His playing companions will not be able to hitch a ride with him between holes. 

Who will win?

Normally a fluke does not with the U.S. Open. It is a tournament with the most severe conditions in terms of deep and thick rough, dry fairways, hard and fast greens, and demonic pin placements.

The person who wins typically is hitting a lot of fairways, is able to control their ball flight, and is playing outstanding around the greens.

This one is on the West Coast, and not many have won more on the left coast than the left hander, I am taking Phil Mickelson.  Plus with the nickname in  GCSSA circles, Flopsy McChokenstien due to a few of his near misses in majors, I am hoping Phil can get the 5 second place monkey off of his back and magically find it this week by the bay. 

Until Next Time, Stay Classy Thermopolis, Wyoming.

Why Does Golf Only Have Four Major Championships?

February 28, 2012

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Harry Vardon, the golfing great from Jersey wh...

Harry Vardon won The Open Championship six times between 1896 and 1914.

This is a question I ponder all of the time, being a golf historian. First one has to remember that coverage of golf tournaments in the infancy stages of golf was done strictly by word of mouth, or an occasional coverage of a big tournament by a local newspaper.

Golf was also a game of few players that were considered Professional golfers in its early days, and many of the top players in the game were truly amateur players. Because of this, the majors consisted of the Open Championship, the United States Open Championship, the United States Amateur and also the British Amateur Championship.

Or should I say…these were considered the major golf championships if you were an Amateur golfer.

Robert Tyre Jones Jr, won all four of these tournaments in 1930. It was deemed the impregnable quadrilateral. Aka….the Grand Slam.

This gave meteoric rise to the term “Major” when referring to golf tournaments. It was basically accepted that these were the four Majors for amateur golfers in that day and age.

This past week if you are a golf fan you likely tuned into some of the coverage of the WCG Accenture World Match Play Championship. This tournament is a match play format, where competitors play head to head against one other golfer over 18 holes. Low score does not win in match play format, but the person winning the most holes wins.

In our “modern era” of golf, there are four recognized Major Championships. They are:

  • The Open Championship
  • The United States Open
  • The PGA Championship
  • The Masters

 Let’s look at each of these and why they are currently considered a Major:

The Open Championship

Notice it is called The Open Championship, only Americans have added the word “British” to the title.

The Open Championship is considered the first true major. Why? Mainly as it has been around the longest and at the time first played (1860 at Prestwick in western Scotland) it undoubtedly brought in the strongest field in a golf tournament being organized anywhere in the world. This tournament more than any other tournament is one of the reasons if not THE reason that golf really expanded and took off and became more of an accepted sport, and not just something done by the upper middle class people in their spare time.

Early players and winners in this tournament were most often club makers, ball makers, caddies, greens keepers people schooled in a combination of all of these professions. Also due to lack of people’s ability to travel, it almost exclusively featured players of primarily from England and Scotland in its first 30 years in existence. The first winner from outside of Scotland or England was France’s Arnaud Massy in 1907. This one gets in to the realm of major championship as it was the first to the dance.

The United States Open

The United States Open was first played in 1895 in Rhode Island. Immigrants had brought the game of golf from Scotland to the Northeast portion of the United States and it was a game catching on quickly among the upper classes in society. In the early days of the tournament, most of the winners had come across to the United States and were funded to do so with the sole purpose of claiming this title, and then returning back to England or Scotland, or in some cases the professional set themselves up nicely for a full time job as a club professional after adding this trophy to their fireplace mantle.

The first American to win the title was John McDermott in 1911, (previously all were won by players native to England or Scotland) but it was really the combination of the tours of Harry Vardon, culminating with Francis Ouimet’s upset win of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913 at Brookline that really propelled this tournament – and golf for that matter – into the sports limelight in the United States. This paved the way for the popularity of Hagen and Jones in the 20’s in the golden era of sports.

The PGA Championship

The Professional Golf Association Championship – or commonly referred to as the PGA Championship – was first played in 1916, after the formal creation of the Professional Golfers Association of America (pretty hard to have a PGA championship without the PGA,isn’t it). From its inception in 1916 up until 1958, this tournament was played as a match play and not a stroke play tournament.

Due to the strength of golf in the United States, and the initial origins of it being a more grueling match play format instead of stroke play, this tournament has really been considered one of the more important tournaments throughout its entire existence.

The Masters

We are all familiar with the Masters, but it is the new kid on the block. Originally called the Augusta Invitational Tournament by founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. Gene Sarazen hit the “shot heard ’round the world” in 1935, holing a shot from the fairway on the par 15th for a double eagle. This put Sarazen in a 36 hole Playoff against Craig Wood which he eventually won. Sarazen was one of the more popular players of this era and this shot, coupled with the fact that it was Jones’s tournament gave this event all the steam it needed.

While Jones always intended this to be a get together for his golfing buddies, the tournament really became considered a major during the early 1960’s for two main reasons – Sportswriters became more enamored with “counting” major championships and television started covering golf with the rivalry developing between the golf fans of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in particular.

The Forgotten Majors

 Back when the amateur tournaments were considered more along the lines of majors for the amateur golfers, there were other tournaments that were considered “Major’s” of the time for those who were golf professionals. I will mention three of them that were at least under consideration of being majors in their time.

The Western Open

In the United States, the Western Open was definitely considered a major. It began play in 1899 and just like the United States Open, the formative years of this tournament were usually won by players travelling to the US from England and Scotland. Many sources you will see will indicate that this tournament was not considered an “official” major at that time, but I would argue that back in the pre- World War II era of golf, nothing was really considered a Major outside of the four tournaments mentioned previously.

When you look at former Champions it is an impressive roll call, especially from its inception up until the 1950’s when this tournament started to go to the wayside and things at Augusta started to pick up.

The British PGA Match-Play Championship

This tournament was every bit as important to the European golf scene as the PGA Championship was to the American golf scene. The British Match Play started in 1903 and was played up until 1979. The event was sponsored by a newspaper – The News of the World, and in many cases when referencing the tournament it is called by this name and not the British Match Play.

This was the top prize money tournament in the British Golf genre, even more than the Open Championship. In the early days of the tournament, particularly pre-World War I, this tournament was assuredly considered a major by its participants and the players were without question the finest group of players on the planet year in and year out.

The World Championships of Golf

This was a tournament that did not have a long storied history as it was only played from 1946-1957. During that time however, it boasted one of the largest pay days on tour for the winner, and from 1952-1957 the winner of this tournament won the money title for the year…and by a lot.

The event provided one of the few showcases of its time for leading international players to compete against the best U.S. professionals, who rarely travelled outside of their country to play. The tournament got into a dispute with the PGA in 1958 and that essentially ended a short run for this high pay day affair for the professionals.

At the very least, the Western Open and the British Match play should be considered Major Tournaments for part of their existence. I won’t go into my personal feelings here in this article, but due to the strength of the fields in those tournaments and the perception and status those tournaments held – once upon a time at least – many of those wins should be counted for those players as major championships.

Today’s 5th Major?

In recent years, two tournaments have gained some momentum as being considered a 5th major on the professional tour.

The Players Championship

The one with the most following to make this happen is surely The Players Championship. Originally known as the Tournament Players Championship, this event started in 1974, moved to Colonial the following year, and then relocated to Ponte Vedra Beach Florida starting in 1977. It has been played at the TPC Sawgrass course since 1982 which is most known for its island green 17th that forces players to hit a short iron shot to a green surrounded by nothing other than water.

The field for this event is a bit more limited and includes almost with certainty all of the top 50 players in the world, under difficult conditions. The prize pool is enormous by any standard and this event yields a total prize purse of 9.5 million dollars as of 2011. It is also the tournament that seems to have the most tour players promoting it as a 5th major.

The Memorial Tournament

This tournament would likely fall just under the realm of the Players Championship, but is given a lot of credence on the PGA tour for a couple of reasons. First, it was founded and is still ran by Jack Nicklaus, who many consider the greatest golfer of all time. Second, the tournament is always played at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, which is considered an outstanding, beautiful and difficult golf club, and third it is one of only five tournaments on the PGA tour that are considered “invitation only” tournaments.

The course is usually set up unusually difficult, and the fact that Nicklaus has attempted to turn this into an Augusta like atmosphere adds to the psyche of the tournament. The main feature of this tournament which has been held since 1976, is that the tournament honors a past golfers who is forever enshrined in the annals of the tournament and a plaque featuring their inductions is permanently kept on the course grounds near the clubhouse.

What about the World Golf Championships?

The World Golf Events started in 1999 as three events, expanded to four events in 2000, and this year will be expanding to five events with the addition of the Tournament of Hope held in South Africa.

Let’s look at each of these individually:

The WGC Accenture Match Play Championship

In my mind this is a no brainer to be considered a major. It is the top 64 players in the world rankings playing head to head, and you have to win 6 matches to claim the title. This harkens back to the beginnings of golf when it was match play, this is arguably the toughest of any title to win in professional tournament golf.

The WGC Cadillac Championship

Has been previously under different title sponsors including WGC-American Express Championship and also WGC-CA Championship. This basically replaced the “old” tournament on the PGA tour that was held at Doral each year, so not sure that this one is elevated to the level of being considered a major in anyone’s book.

The WGC Bridgestone Invitational

Another one that used to be something else on the regular tour – basically the tournament stop at Firestone. Once upon a time this was called the World Series of Golf tournament, and while big, was never under the mention of being considered a major.

WGC-HSBC Champions

This tournament was added to the World Golf Championships in 2009, it has been played in China, so it often times get skipped by many of the US players due to travel distance.

Call it what it is!

I for one would argue that the World Golf Championships should have the World Match Play tournament recognized as a Major Championships. Why? The strength of the field is second to none, the prize money is larger than pretty much anything on tour, and the tournament is recognized around the globe, regardless of tour as a big event. You have the top 64 in the World Golf rankings so there are truly no fluke winners. This is the best of the best and a truly international field.

Time for us to put away outdated views of sportswriters from the 1960’s and earlier. Golf needs to do the right thing here and consider that the number of Major tournaments does not have to be limited to just 4, but instead awarding that distinction of those events that were or are considered to be the biggest and best tournament of the era in which they are played.

Until next time, Stay Classy Cruden Bay, Scotland!
 

 

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Spanning The Globe

February 22, 2011

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Nothing big in the world of sports for me to devote an entire article to this week, so I will touch on a number of topics as we “span the globe”

Nascar
I am not a racing fan. Never have been, never will be. But when a rookie driver wins in just his 2nd Cup start and it is not just any win but a Daytona 500 win, that is pretty special. Almost as speical as his reaction to his crew on the radio as he crossed the finish line. “Are you serious?” Yes, we are serious and now you have seriously altered your career and future in the sport. Congratulations Trevor Bayne.

Basketball
Carmelo Anthony gets marquee billing as he is traded to the Knicks. Horrible trade for the Knicks. While Melo is a go to guy, he is playing with Amare Stoudamaire who requires a point guard to get him the ball, (well I guess they did also get Chauncey Billups in the deal). Carmelo is a full time shooter, mid range jumper take it to the rack occasionally type of guy … sounds a lot like Amare. I guess the Nuggets are the real winner here as they would have lost him to Free Agency and now they at least get something to show for it.

Golf
Yani Tseng wins her third straight tournament on the LPGA tour and has firmly grabbed the #1 spot in the LPGA world golf rankings. She is young, playing well and appears to be poised to dominate in 2011 on the women’s tour.

The Accenture match play starts this week for the guys on the PGA tour. With no one playing dominant and the ever crafty guise of match play it is a wide open – anyone can win event. I filled out a GolfWeek entry pool, and my pick was Paul Casey, which coincidentally appears to be the pick of the golf writers for the USA Today.

Who is #1?
What a crazy week in College Basketball, Kansas, Texas, Ohio State and Pittsburgh all have a shot at being ranked #1 and all promptly go out and lose. Duke claims the top spot with exactly 2 wins over teams ranked in the top 25 on the year. This is called a paper tiger folks … Duke is over-rated and hopefully will see an early exit from the Tourney this year, but the lofty ranking will likely get them a #1 seed and the easiest road much as last year.

NBA All Star Game Weekend
This all star event has officially jumped the shark, or in this case a Kia Optima. The slam dunk competition needs to go “old school” and get rid of all the props and added features. How about just dunking…what a novel concept.

The game itself is almost as big of a joke as the NFL All Pro game. When is the last time a home town player did NOT win the MVP award? Seems like it happens every year. I bet Vegas had the Black Mamba at 2/5 to win the MVP before the game was played.

Until next week, stay classy Austin Texas … and pass that bill that is going to allow anyone on a college campus to carry a concealed handgun. Remember folks, it is not a state … it is a Republic!

Should Golf Allow Snitches to Affect Tournaments?

January 25, 2011

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Johnny Goodman is out today, so I’ll be covering the sports beat.  In a move that is sure to shock Johnny, I’ll turn the focus to his favorite sport – golf.

Fan of golf have a unique power that is uncommon in the world of sports fans – they can actually affect the outcome of events.  Viewers of televised golf tournaments can actually call or email to notify the governing body of violations that occurred during the tournament.  The officials can then review footage to determine if a violation occurred.  There is a good reason why viewers can catch things that the tournament officials don’t –  unlike most sports where the action is concentrated at one physical location, golf has action occurring on every spots of the course.  Although officials are present, it’s not like an NFL game where they can huddle together to make a call.

The real issue isn’t really that a viewer can cause a player to be penalized a stroke or two – it’s that the infraction can cause the player to be disqualified.  If a player signs an incorrect scorecard, they are disqualified – even if they thought the scorecard was accurate.

Let’s take a look at a recent occurrence.  At the Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday, Padraig Harrington replaced his ball on the green and then inadvertently touch his ball when he removed his marker.  He thought that the ball not not move from the spot where he placed it.  However, a TV viewer emailed to indicate that it had moved.  The viewer was correct – the ball ended up in a different spot … but the width of 1-2 dimples.  Harrington should have penalized himself two stroke.  Since he did not, and since he signed a scorecard that did not include the penalty, he was disqualified from the tournament.  Prior to the infraction, he was one spot behind the leader.

I’m admittedly not much of a golf fan.  I do understand that golfers take the rulebook very seriously.  However, if you need to use slow-mo to find the violation (as officials needed to do), did the player really gain an advantage?  Another PGA golfer made an astute observation – the top players are more likely to have this happen to them, simply because they are on television more often.  That’s certainly a concern for me – I’d definitely want a level playing field.

What’s the answer?  Give the officials some flexibility in enforcing penalties.  Obviously, care would need to be taken to avoid having players push the envelope, but surely there is a way to do this.  In the case of Harrington, penalize him two strokes and perhaps an additional stroke for not having caught the violation himself.  But don’t throw him out of the tournament for an unintentional violation.  This would be akin to having a baseball team forfeit a game because the pitcher commits a balk.  Make the punishment fit the crime.

The PGA Championship at Whistling Straits

August 10, 2010

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The PGA Championship starts this Thursday at Whistling Straits at Kohler, Wisconsin. This is the second time this great course has hosted a PGA Championship, the last one seeing the Big Fijian, Vijay Singh victorious in a playoff over Chris Dimarco and Justin Leonard.

Whistling Straits is an interesting course, it is a little bit of links style golf in the always links golf thought of state of Wisconsin. Premium is placed on putting your ball in play off the tee, so the winner this week will likely be among the leaders in the field in driving accuracy.

Tiger Woods has no chance to win this week. None, zip, zero, nada. The soon to be former world number one player is … in the words of Joe Willie Namath … struggaaaaliiiing …. Tiger cannot keep it on the golf course, frankly looked completely disinterested last week and now goes into a course that requires you to hit shots to certain spots on each hole. This sounds like appetite to miss the cut if you ask me.

Phil Mickelson, aka Flopsy McChokenstein, showed again last week why we love to get our fill of Phil. Just when it looks like he is poised to make a move, win a big tourney and take over the #1 spot, he goes out and fires a smooth 78 hitting it all over the park and looks completely lost. As only Phil can do in a presser, he indicates he really is close and expects big things this week. Links style courses have not be Phil’s forte, so we shall see what transpires.

Here are Goodman’s Picks for the week in no particular order

  • Justin Leonard, has had success here before, played well last week, good driver of the ball. I like this combination
  • Jeff Overton , about as consistent as they come over the last few weeks, has been a top 10 machine, so why not again
  • Ernie Els, Mr. “What about me” Ernie has fallen out of contention for a few years but has played great this year and leads in Fed Ex Cup points
  • Retief Goosen, only a triple bogey to start his third round sidetracked him last week, he finished 3 back, and if the putter gets going on tricky greens…..we have seen it before
  • Rory McIlroy, the kid is about due to throw out another great performance, why not this week.

As always I hope the wind blows thirty five, the rough is six feet tall and the ground hard as a runway. I love watching the best have a tough time of it.

St. Andrews On A Budget

June 22, 2010

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Being the golf fan that I am, I just returned from my second trip across the pond. I organized a golf trip for a group of my buddies to the Home Of Golf. St. Andrews Scotland.

St. Andrews is the friendliest place I have ever visited, and I have been to quite a few places. The people are great, the town just breathes history, and if you are a golf fan, it is a trip that must be taken at least once.

But today, I am going to tell you how you can go twice for less than you would typically spend if you book a trip through one of the over-priced tour operators that make a living taking your money and socking it to you.

Yes, just like last time, I planned the entire trip for the group using nothing other than the internet and email.

If you are going to play the Old Course, the best way to get a tee time is to get up at O dark thirty the first Wednesday in September and send a completed ballot form via email to the St. Andrews Links Trust requesting a tee time. You have to also request times on two other courses. My preferences are the New Course (which was designed by Tom Morris in 1890’s) and the Castle Course, which is a David McKlay Kidd design (of Bandon Dunes in Oregon fame). The Castle Course is on the other side of St Andrews and has some spectacular views and spectacular holes.

We continued our golf by going to Cruden Bay, which is up the Northeast coast about 2 and a half hours from St Andrews. We also played North Berwick and Crail, two more classic seaside courses. Crail was established in 1786, funny to think they were playing golf on a course a year before our constitution was officially ratified!

You can contact all of the other courses directly and get your tee times once you have the St Andrews times locked in. You will receive your St Andrews times via the mail typically the first week of October.

Then it is time to line up a place to stay. Avoid the hotels, stay in one or two spots! There are a ton of Bed and Breakfast Operations as well as what we use, self letting. Basically we rent an apartment or you could also rent a house for a week. The advantage is the cost goes down substantially per person, it feels more like home with the amenities, and truth be told you are not going to be in your room much anyway … unless you stay where we do.

I almost hate to divulge my secret but we stay in a second floor apartment overlooking the 18th green on the Old Course. It is the very last building on the right side of the 18th fairway when you are watching the Open Championship coverage next month. Cost per person for the week … about $300. Cost to stay one night at the Old Course Hotel with a view of the course? The same amount.

The other smart decision is to hire a van service to drive you around. They will do airport transfers, take you from your door to the golf course and back (and usually stop off at some nice sightseeing or local pubs along the way back home after golf) and it avoids a lot of hassle – driving on the other side of the road, getting lost – plus you can have a pint on board and enjoy the views. The cost is about the same as if you had to rent vans yourself and then you would have the pain of driving still. We use a Rowan Travel. They are a small but five star outfit. Our driver Tom is the best, I would recommend them to anyone.

Cost for the trip with airfare, all golf, place to stay, van service, money for food and drink ran about $3500 a person, and in our case airfare from the Midwest was just over $1500 of that this time. Of course if you are going to load up on souvenirs, bring more money. The SAME itinerary through one of the travel sites, the only difference being you are staying in a high dollar hotel … hope you are sitting down … $8700.

So after watching the Open this year, if you get the itch, drop Johnny G a line, I would love to help out if you are planning your own trip to the Home of Golf!

Ishikawa shoots 58, McIlroy Shoots 62, Ochoa Retires

May 4, 2010

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This was a great week on the golf circuit.  On the Japanese tour, 18 year old Phenom Ryo Ishikawa shot an amazing 12 under 58 to win a tournament.  58’s are not shot everyday at any level of golf.  (Well maybe for a lot of you readers for 9 holes) but to shoot that low you have to: A- Hit it close a lot and B: make just about every putt you look at.

On the PGA tour, young European Tour Star Rory McIlroy shot an amazing 10 under par 62 on a very hard golf course at Quail Hollow to win the tournament going away by 4 strokes over Phil Mickelson.  McIlroy is just 20 years old and is a player full of a lot of promise to perhaps contend shortly for major championships.  McIlroy shot a smooth 30 on the back 9 including making birdies on two of the final three holes (considered the toughest stretch on the course) to leave no doubt about who the victor would be.

The funniest part of his victory is my wife – who has been on a big reading kick lately – takes a short look at the TV and deadpans “that guy looks like Spaulding from Caddyshack, with just a little longer hair in back”  This lead to a full afternoon of repeating a multitude of familiar lines such as…”I want a Hamburger, no a Cheeseburger, I want a hot dog…You’ll get nothing and like it!”

And other classics involving Spaulding such as “fifty bucks says he eats it”

I haven’t laughed that hard in months.

On the LPGA tour, Lorena Ochoa played her last tournament before hanging it up as she has announced her retirement to work more with her philanthropic efforts and most likely to start a family.  Ochoa would be a lock to be a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame as she has enough Majors and tournament victories to automatically make it in under the LPGA’s qualifying criteria…the one thing she does not have is enough years played on tour to make it.  The minimum requirement is ten years and she has just played eight.  It would be a shame if the LPGA sticks to their guns and does not make an exception to reward her with this honor should she decide to completely stay away from the game.  She has been one of the best players of the last 25 years without any question and has dominated the game over the last three to four years like Annika Sorenstam did before her.

Five and a half weeks til Johnny will be making his second pilgrimage to  Scotland for a Golf Trip.  I will be sure to keep you all posted on that as well as the United States Open in future articles here on the Casual Observer.

Until next week…hit em straight!

The Champion

April 23, 2010

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The tattered banner fluttered in the breeze.  It was faded by years of exposure to the sun, but still trumpeted its message to the world: CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP TODAY.

You could have cut the tension with a spork.  The 72 hole competition was going to come down to the very final hole.

Three time defending club champion Prescott Morris had played a flawless tournament, carding birdie after birdie.  In contrast, upstart Roger Blass had experienced an eventful tournament.  Blass’ card featured an impressive array of eagles along with a large number of bogeys.  Nary a hole went by that didn’t involve Blass blasting out of a hazard or draining an absurdly long putt.  Sometimes, he combined both in the same hole.

Morris was beginning to feel the pressure.  He had a one stroke lead on the final hole.  He had a lengthy conversation with his caddy before finally selecting his club.  His trusty Ping putter would be used for this shot – perhaps the most important shot in the history of Hillside Country Club.

Morris adjusted his purple and green plaid pants.  He tugged on his cap nervously.  Morris walked off the distance to the hole once again.  He studied the slope of the green.  At last, Prescott Morris felt that he had a good read for the shot.

Morris gave the ball a firm, measured tap.  The white sphere spurted toward the hole.  As it approached the hole, it appeared that Morris had hit the ball too hard.  The ball hit the back edge of the cup and popped up into the air.  The crowd held its collective breath.  The ball dropped harmlessly into the hole.  The pro-Morris faction of the crowd clapped politely.  Morris’ putt allowed him to save par on the hole, and retain his one stroke lead.

As Blass stepped into the tee box, his fans broke into frenzied shouting.  Blass was the underdog, a champion of those who clawed for everything they got in life.  Roger Blass had begun his career as a night watchman at the local bean factory.  Decades later, he owned not only the bean factory, but seven other plants.  He was the perfect example of the self-made man.

Blass basked in the glow for a moment before acknowledging the crowd with a nod.  Blass knew that his golf game was inferior to that of Prescott Morris.  He had compensated by adopting a feast or famine approach to the tournament.  The strategy was high risk, high reward.  Blass knew that he had been blessed with more than his fair share of good luck during the tournament.  He needed to take advantage and close out the 18th hole strong.  He needed an unlikely eagle to win or a birdie to tie and force a playoff.  Par simply wouldn’t be good enough.

Blass had found himself in the shadow of the billionaire oil baron for far too many years.  Morris drove a Rolls Royce while Blass had to settle for a Lexus.  Morris lived in a sprawling estate at the top of the hill while Blass had to settle for a 9500 square foot home with a somewhat smaller pool.  He finally had the chance to knock Morris off his high horse.

Blass  took a moment to gauge the wind.  He carefully selected a club and readied himself for the shot.  He took a moment to steady his nerves, then swung the club.  As Blass followed through, a drunk fan yelled “GET IN THE HOLE!”.  As the ball approached the green, it slid between the paddles of the windmill and dropped into the hole for an eagle.  Roger Blass had toppled the establishment and was the newest club champion.

Update From the First Week of Baseball

April 13, 2010

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Kosmo is filling in for Johnny Goodman on the sports beat this week.

The Masters

To call me a golf fan would be an absurd exaggeration. In general, I check to see home local boy Zach Johnson is doing and see who wins. This week – even with the return of Tiger Woods – it was the same drill here. Tiger fell a bit short and Phil Mickelson picked up another green jacket. I can’t help but cheer for Mickelson, who faced the dual adversity of his wife and his mother being diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

Country Joe Sings the Wrong Tune

Baseball umpire Joe West – also a country music singer – ruffled some feathers on both sides of the Yankees – Red Sox rivalry by saying the two teams were pathetic because of the length of the games they played.

This annoyed me for a couple of reasons. First of all, the umpire is supposed to be an impartial observer. When he made these comments, West crossed a line. If these sorts of statements are to be made, they should come from the commissioner’s office (which later did make a comment about the length of games).

Even more annoying, though, is the continued emphasis on the length of games. One of the beauties of baseball is the fact that it is untimed. You can typically estimate the length of football of basketball games. Baseball is an entirely different beast. You can get a two hour game if the pitchers are working quickly and the batters are swinging at everything. On the flip side, you can have a four hour game if the pitchers are working slowly and the batters are patient.

In baseball, a team is never eliminated until the last out is made. This isn’t the case in other sports. You can’t make up a twenty eight point deficit in fifteen seconds in football. It’s a technical impossibility – you wouldn’t have enough time to execute the necessary players. In baseball, though, you can rally from a 10-0 deficit with two outs in the ninth. As long as you keep getting hits, the game will continues.

Have you ever been to a great rock concert and later, complained about the length? Of course not. If the experience is of poor quality, this is a problem. If it’s merely excess quantity, this really isn’t a problem.

The Resin Bag

Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg and Reds farmhand Aroldis Chapman both began their minor league careers with strong performances. Don’t expect either of these guys to stay down very long. Once the teams are assured of having their free agency (and possibly arbitration) delayed, these guys will pop up to the majors.

Meanwhile, Mike Leake jumped into the Reds rotation without any minor league experience. If Chappy is indeed being kept down for financial reasons, then why did the Reds keep Leake with the big club to start the season? They could have delayed Leake’s free agency in a similar fashion. Any chance that the Reds will demote Leake when Chappy is promoted – for just enough time to delay his free agency?

CC Sabathia put up a strong performance on Saturday night, taking a no-hit big into the eighth inning. I love the anticipation of a no-hitter in progress and always pull for the pitcher.

On the Rockies beat, Jorge de la Rosa started off his 2010 campaign strong, tossing seven innings of one hit ball. Keep an eye on George of the Rose. He started last year 0-6 with a 5.43 ERA before rallying to finish 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA. For those of you keeping score at home, that means he went 16-3 with a 3.94 ERA from June 5th through the end of the season. The ERA might not seem dominant … but bear in mind that his home park is Coors Field.

Matt Holliday of the Cardinals is off to a hot start, with three homers in seven games (he is, of course, playing second fiddle to Albert Pujols, who has five).  I have always contended that Holliday’s bat would play anywhere.  Clearly Coors Field boosted his numbers … but not by as much as the raw home/road splits would make you think.  If you compare Holliday’s differential to those of other Rockies, you’d quickly noticed that his differential dwarfed those of the teammates.  Either the park was exceptionally well suited for him … or he’s simply the sort of player who thrives in front of a home crowd.  Hey, guess what – his home OPS was 150 points high than his road OPS last year … despite being in Oakland (bad hitter’s park) at the beginning of the year.  As a point of comparison, across baseball, the typical player has an OPS 30 points higher at home.  I’m expecting a strong season from Happy this year as well.

I made a rookie goof in fantasy baseball and neglected to pay attention to my starting lineup.  As a result, I had a sub-standard lineup in place for week 1.  My Yura Peeins fell to Johnny Goodman’s team 6-4.  I lost two pitching categories and four of the five hitting categories – nabbing the only win in steals.  Honestly, though, even with my A lineup, I would probably have lost by the same score.

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