Poulter channels Seve at Medinah

Ian Poulter by Keith Allison, on Flickr
 Photo by  Keith Allison 
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There have been times at the 2012 Ryder Cup when things have looked bleak for the European side. There was the morning session on Friday where Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley made pretty quick work of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia. Friday afternoon was bad too, as the Americans won three of a possible four points against Europe, when Jose Maria Olazabal’s matchup selections came into question. Saturday morning was even worse than Friday afternoon, with another Mickelson/Bradley trouncing, this time dominating Donald and Lee Westwood in a fashion that has only been seen twice in Ryder Cup history, as the two former world number ones went down 7 & 6.
By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, the U.S. were getting in a rhythm, up 8-4 with only 14.5 points needed to win the Ryder Cup on home soil. In the afternoon session, the only points that looked to be coming the way of Europe were thanks to Donald and Garcia, who were taking it to Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Even if they held onto that lead, the U.S. would go into Sunday’s singles session with an 11-5 advantage, a near insurmountable gap to overcome. That’s when Ian Poulter took matters into his own hands. Poulter, who had already picked up two of his team’s four points despite sitting out Friday afternoon, put on an absolute clinical display of golf, from his ball striking to his red-hot putter. More impressive though was his demeanor.
Poulter is known for being brash and arrogant. He’s good and he knows it. The Ryder Cup is his venue, as his now 11-3 career record would suggest, and in case you didn’t know that already, he’ll be the first to tell you. This guy is different, he’s not wired the way most golfers are, or at least the way most golfers are perceived to be. Bubba Watson made waves yesterday encouraging the fans to make noise behind them during his opening tee shot. Poulter, never to be outdone when it comes to outlandish and ridiculous theatrics, asked the fans to do the same for him this morning when he teed off against Bubba. Through the cheers of “USA!!!, USA!!!”, Poulter teed off without batting an eye.

Then, when all the chips were down, he came through. First, it started with a birdie by playing partner Rory McIlroy on 13 to cut the deficit to only 1-down. Poulter sank a tough birdie putt on 14 to halve the hole, and after missing the drivable par-4 15th and landing in a bunker, Poulter hit a gorgeous shot to a couple of feet where the birdie was conceded. After a miss by competitor Jason Dufner, the score was back to level pegging for the first time since that opening tee shot. Another clutch birdie putt on 16 by Poulter after McIlroy missed his short par putt gave Europe the lead for the first time in the match, but the show was just beginning.
The par-3 17th is 193 yards long, over a massive body of water, and bunkers everywhere. Poulter steps up first and hits a great shot to the left of the flag and kicks right, and while McIlroy and Dufner missed the green to the left, Dufner’s partner Zach Johnson managed to get inside Poulter. No matter for the Englishman though, as he stepped up and drained the birdie putt, keeping the 1-up advantage. To the 18th, and with Dufner already in with a birdie, Poulter took his time analyzing the putt ahead. He stepped up and hit a confident stroke, knocking it in the center of the cup, as he had been doing all day. No matter what Dufner and Johnson threw at him, Poulter gave it right back and then some. With each quality shot and every sunk putt, Poulter’s reactions, with his body shaking and his eyes bugging out of his head, made even Keegan Bradley look normal. You could see on the faces of the other European players, McIlroy included, that not only was Poulter playing outstanding golf, he was giving them a much needed boost. I don’t usually believe in all of that stuff, but the mood and momentum definitely changed with Europe when Poulter went on his run, even if some of the players weren’t even on the course at the time.

Ian Poulter loses it at the Ryder Cup

GIF credit to Shane Bacon from CBS. Follow Shane on Twitter: @shanebacon

Poulter has the ability to rub people the wrong way, and I get it, but at the tournament that made Seve Ballesteros even more famous to a North American audience, it’s fitting that this may do the same for Poulter. Seve’s famous likeness is stamped on the bags of all the European players this week, and when I was watching Poulter today, I couldn’t help but think of Seve and all that he’s meant to not only the Ryder Cup or Europe, but the game of golf in general. For all of Seve’s short game wizardry, he was just as well known because of his compete level and gamesmanship. That compete level and gamesmanship was on display on Saturday afternoon in a way that I haven’t seen on a golf course in a long time, and it came from Poulter. As I pointed out in my posts earlier this week, Poulter lives for this stuff. He’s a very good tournament player, without question, but the idea of going directly head-to-head with another player brings out the best in him. There’s a competitive edge there that you just don’t see on a weekly basis. Even if you take away the Ryder Cup aspect of the tournament, and just talk about straight match play, Poulter is a machine. His attitude and mannerisms, along with his completely unrelenting passion for the game can intimidate players, and even in situations where it doesn’t intimidate them, he’s good enough to flat outperform them as well. Look at today’s match. Johnson and Dufner did not back down one iota, and outside of one questionable decision by Johnson to attempt driving the par-4 15th, they didn’t really make any mistakes, nor did they seem flustered by what was going on around them.  Poulter, and to a lesser extent, McIlroy, just beat them, and along with Garcia and Donald, gave a little bit of air to a sagging European side.
Tomorrow, Europe goes into battle down 10-6, the same score that the United States faced in 1999 when they staged the most famous comeback in golf history, stunning the Europeans at Brookline. Seve may not be here to guide them at Medinah, but Poulter gave them unexpected life and a chance at victory on Saturday. At the Ryder Cup, as both Poulter and Seve would tell you, all you need is a chance.

Analysis of Friday’s Ryder Cup foursomes

Approaching the Green by Mike F., on Flickr
Photo by  Mike F. 
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The pairings for the morning session of the 2012 Ryder Cup were just announced, and boy, Europe looks like they will have the advantage heading into Friday afternoon. Full matchups with my thoughts are listed below. Note that these are the foursome matches, where players will alternate shots on each hole.
MATCH ONE: Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell vs. Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker
European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal didn’t waste any time with throwing out the big guns, sending out McIlroy and McDowell, while American leader Davis Love counters with two of his captain’s picks in Furyk and Snedeker. AP writer Doug Ferguson notes that it’s the first time since 1995 that one of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson wasn’t in the opening pairing. Snedeker is currently leading the PGA Tour this season in Strokes Gained Putting, while Furyk is a respectable 24th in that category. Interesting that Love went with this as a pairing considering how similar the two players are, but both guys are in good form recently, Snedeker especially. With that said, no one is hotter than McIlroy right now, and even though McDowell hasn’t had the kind of year he wanted to, we know how capable he is. The talent gap here just seems to heavily favour Europe, so I’m giving them the opening point.
MATCH TWO: Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia vs. Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson
As far as overall intrigue, this is the matchup I’m anticipating the most. Both Bradley and Mickelson made it clear early on that they wanted to play together, so they’re going to get their wish. Unfortunately for them, they’re paired against a buzzsaw grouping of Donald and Garcia. As I mentioned yesterday, both Donald and Garcia have phenomenal records in the Ryder Cup, in fact, they are undefeated in foursomes play, going a combined 14-0-1, including a 4-0 mark as teammates. Garcia’s been pretty good since getting cut at the PGA Championship, with a win and a T-3, and while Donald has been struggling a little in recent weeks, he did pick up a typical quite Luke Donald T-3 last week at East Lake. For the U.S. as of late, Mickelson has been better recently, but Bradley hasn’t been on point since winning the Bridgestone and finishing T-3 at the PGA Championship at the beginning of August. Even though he’s a Ryder Cup rookie, I wouldn’t be concerned about Bradley’s nerves, but as we’ve seen in the past, this event has a different type of pressure and atmosphere attached to it. Mickelson’s shoddy record in the Ryder Cup would also have me a little concerned, but the good news for both guys is that they are really comfortable with each other. I’m betting on Europe picking up their second point of the morning, and going up 2-0.
MATCH THREE: Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari vs. Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson
Definitely the least exciting of the morning pairings, it’s tough to really see a clear advantage for either side here. Many will be talking about how steady the pairing of Dufner and Johnson is, but Westwood and Molinari are two of the more steady on the European squad as well. Westwood has been going through some rough times, firing his coach and caddie in recent weeks, and finishing last at the Tour Championship a few days ago. His 7-2-4 record in foursomes is pretty remarkable, which could come in handy when compared to Molinari’s limited experience in match play events. Interestingly, Molinari’s stats are down across the board with the exception of his Greens in Regulation percentage, yet it hasn’t hurt his overall performance, with seven top-10’s this season. Dufner is one of the most consistent players out there, and Johnson’s accuracy off the tee and lights out putting will make them tough to beat. The wildcard here is Westwood. If he’s playing well, Europe looks very formidable. If he continues his recent form, they could be in some trouble. I’ll give this match a split, with Europe taking a 2.5-0.5 lead.
MATCH FOUR: Ian Poulter and Justin Rose vs. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker
The most obvious pairing of the week sees Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker take on Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Stricker and Rose could really end up being the background noise to Poulter and Woods, especially if either side gets out to a hot start. For all the talk about wanting to see Woods and McIlroy paired up in singles play on Sunday, I’d actually prefer to see Woods and Poulter go at it, as Poulter is one of the few players who will not back down when playing Woods, and in actuality, would probably go on the offensive. There is a little bit of history here, as Stricker and Woods defeated Poulter in 2010 at Celtic Manor when Poulter was paired with Ross Fisher, but Rose is a more dangerous player than Fisher. Much like Garcia, Poulter seems to elevate his game when he’s playing directly against other players, instead of just trying to climb a leaderboard. His 8-3 record at the Ryder Cup is why he was made a captain’s pick, and even though it’s a smaller sample size, Rose’s 3-1 record is a nice thing for Olazabal to look at. With all of that said, Woods and Stricker do have the overall talent edge here, and their styles compliment each other perfectly. Stricker’s consistency of the tee and incredible putting make up for all of Woods’ deficiencies, while Tiger’s length off the tee and iron play still show signs of his dominance from a few years ago. I’m leaning towards another draw here in the fourth match, giving the Europeans a 3-1 lead after the morning session.

  1. Four players sitting out for Team Europe: Nicolas Colsaerts, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and Paul Lawrie.
  2. Four players sitting out for Team USA: Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson.
  3. The first matchup is expected to get underway at 8:20 AM ET.
  4. The TV broadcast starts at 8:00 AM ET on ESPN in the United States, and TSN in Canada.

Ryder Cup Preview: Inside The Numbers

Ryder Cup Flag by camflan, on Flickr
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Yesterday I posted a quick entry about the players in the Ryder Cup this week and their history at Medinah. In this post, I’ve listed each player in the event with their career Ryder Cup records, broken up by format. I’ve also included President’s Cup and WGC-Accenture Match Play records in a separate table. Note that there is another major match play event on the European Tour each year, the Volvo World Match Play Championship, but it’s almost impossible to find complete records on that event, at least the way I wanted to display them. So, I’ll talk a little about that after the below tables.

U.S. Ryder Cup Records

Five stray thoughts about the U.S. data:

  1. The Americans take four Ryder Cup rookies into Medinah in Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker.
  2. Of the eight Americans who have played in the Ryder Cup previously, none have an overall winning record. The records of Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk are flat out awful. Furyk’s record of 1-8-1 in fourball play is terrible, with that one win came playing with Tiger Woods in 2006 against Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie. He’s played with just about every type of player imaginable in fourball too: Tom Lehman, Mickelson, Scott Hoch, Chad Campbell, David Toms, Kenny Perry and Dustin Johnson. I’m not sure what to make of Furyk’s record to be honest.
  3. Lastly on Furyk: Of all the captain’s picks that Davis Love III made this year, Furyk was the one that didn’t make any sense to me. His record in the event is brutal as we know from the above table, but his play this year has been less than inspiring on the big stage, choking away wins at the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone. People were criticizing Love for the Snedeker pick, but the Furyk selection could be the one to bite him.
  4. If my calculations are correct, Tiger is 46-12-1 in match play singles events between the Ryder Cup, President’s Cup and WGC-Accenture. Interestingly, the list of people who have beaten him isn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row of talent: Constantino Rocca, Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke, Peter O’Malley, Nick O’Hern (twice), Retief Goosen, Chad Campbell, Mike Weir, Tim Clark, Thomas Bjorn and Nick Watney. Good players for sure, but outside of Goosen, Watney and Weir (at the time), you wouldn’t have given any of them a chance at beating Tiger. There’s always been a thought that Tiger plays down to his competition at times, and the above list lends a little credence to that logic.
  5. The gamebreakers for the U.S.? Tiger and Phil are the obvious ones, but Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson are the types of players that make or break a Ryder Cup. If they’re on their games, they are two of the most dangerous players in golf, but when they’re off, they are borderline unplayable. The European team has a ton of steady players, so a pair of good performances from these two could seal the deal for the U.S.

European Ryder Cup Records

As I mentioned above, the European Tour doesn’t keep great records on the Volvo. In addition to the numbers above, Nicolas Colsaerts won the Volvo this year, while Ian Poulter took it home in 2011. Runner ups in those years? Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald.
Five stray thoughts about the above data:

  1. Nicolas Colsaerts is the only rookie on the European side this year.
  2. The reputation that Sergio Garcia has as a great Ryder Cup player is founded essentially only in the team portions, with a 13-2-3 record. His singles record of 1-4 is a little worse than I thought it was. Lee Westwood on the other hand has always been thought of as a weak match play performer, and the stats bear that out as well. His overall record isn’t bad, but certainly doesn’t live up to the quality of player that he is.
  3. The worst kept secret in golf over the past few months was that there was no way Jose Maria Olazabal would leave Poulter off the team if he didn’t qualify. His match play record is ridiculously good, and it brings me back to something I heard on the Golf Channel on Monday night. Watching their “Top 10” program, they said Sergio and Colin Montgomerie always seemed to make shots and putts at the Ryder Cup that they didn’t make in majors. Of course, neither man has won a major to date, and I think you could Poulter in that same class. I think Poulter will win at least one major, but he just seems to be built for this event.
  4. There was a thought that the European side would have been better off if Martin Kaymer had slipped out of the rankings, and as it stands right now, he definitely looks like the weak link. He was T-5 in Italy a couple weeks ago, but that was his first top-10 finish since playing in Malaysia back in April. He does have a decent match play record, but in his current form, I can’t imagine that Olazabal is expecting much out of him.
  5. The focus of the European team will likely be on Rory McIlroy, Donald and the other well known players on the squad, but the underrated key to the team could be Peter Hanson. He’s coming off a very successful year, with seven top-10 finishes, including a win in his last start at the KLM Open in the Netherlands. He says that he’s finally focused on golf after dealing with his son’s major health scare from a few weeks ago, which made the win at the KLM even more impressive. He almost withdrew after the second round when he found out about the respiratory problem, but his wife convinced him to finish the event. Hanson’s ranked 25th in the world, and I’m pretty sure there are tons of people who wouldn’t have thought he was that high up. He’s not the best ball striker or the best iron player, but he’s a world class putter.

The Ryder Cup gets underway tomorrow morning, and I’ll be live blogging the morning session for ScoreMobile.

Ryder Cup Preview: Player History at Medinah

Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois by danperry.com, on Flickr
Photo by  danperry.com 
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With the 2012 Ryder Cup starting in a couple of days, I thought I’d take a look at how each player has performed at Medinah throughout the years. I’ll have some more data up specifically relating to the Ryder Cup and other match play events later today.
The Medinah Country Club has played host to many events since the course opened in 1924, starting with the Medinah Open in 1930. For the guys playing in the Ryder Cup this year, there are three events of importance: The 1990 U.S. Open and the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships.
Only Phil Mickelson played in the 1990 U.S. Open, doing so as an amateur. Interestingly, half of the players competing in the Ryder Cup this year have never played a professional round at Medinah, with seven first-time Americans, and five from the European squad.  Naturally, the course has changed significantly over the years, and it has been lengthened once again for the Ryder Cup this year:

  • 1990 U.S. Open: Par 72, 7,195 yards
  • 1999 PGA Championship: Par 72, 7,401 yards
  • 2006 PGA Championship: Par 72, 7,561 yards
  • 2012 Ryder Cup: Par 72, 7,658 yards

Below is a table of how each player on the American side has fared in these three events, with their final placing on the leaderboard, final score and their individual round totals.

  • Seven players (Bradley, Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Kuchar, Simpson, Snedeker and Watson) have never played a professional round at Medinah.
  • Of the ten events played by the US team at Medinah, there have been four top-10 finishes. One each by Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, and two by Tiger Woods, who won both the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships.
  • The ten events played have given the US team a total score of -46.
  • Total rounds under 70: 12
  • Total rounds of 70+: 24

And now, the table for the European side:

  • Five players (Colsaerts, Hanson, Kaymer, McIlroy, and Molinari) have never played a professional round at Medinah.
  • Of the nine events played by the European team at Medinah, there have been four top-10 finishes. Two by Sergio Garcia, and one each by Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.
  • The nine events played have given the European players a total score of -38.
  • Total rounds under 70: 11
  • Total rounds of 70+: 21

Stray thoughts about the above data:

  1. It’s going to be interesting to see how the captains pair the players up with so many players who haven’t played the course before. You’d think that Love and Olazabal would try and put an experienced player with an inexperienced one, but you never know.
  2. The longevity of a golfer is always amazing to me. Mickelson played at Medinah 22 years ago, and while you never really consider Westwood or Lawrie older players, it says something that they played in the PGA Championship 13 years ago.
  3. I remember that 2006 PGA Championship as one of Tiger’s more impressive performances, completely dominating Luke Donald in their final round pairing.
  4. Of course, any mention of Medinah usually brings back memories of Sergio Garcia’s battle with Tiger in 1999. The video of his amazing shot next to the tree is embedded below.

The unsinkable power of sports and the NFL

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 29 by Ed Yourdon, on Flickr
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It’s hard to put into words, eloquent words anyway, what happened last night in Seattle in the Monday nighter between the Packers and Seahawks. I don’t usually like to inject my personal allegiances into my professional work, lest others think that I’m letting my feelings get in the way of an objective and measured piece. Also, in most cases, I don’t think it’s overly relevant. In this one instance though, it’s important to note that I am a Packers fan, which makes it even more difficult to try and explain the craziness from last night, but I’m going to give it a go. If you need to catch up, here are the highlights from NFL.com.
What happened last night could lift the Seahawks into the playoffs. What happened last night could prevent the Packers from getting in. What happened last night could have been prevented by having the real referees in Seattle instead of the replacement ones.
The three things above are unknown. We won’t know the playoff picture for either the Seahawks or the Packers for several weeks, and the unbelievable display of officiating may have happened with the real referees as well.  There are also three things that we do know. First, the Packers and presumably the rest of the NFC West are pissed. The NFC North on the other hand couldn’t possibly be any happier. Second, the NFL knows how bad this looks. They may have had their head in the sand for the three weeks that the replacement refs have been here, but a debacle in prime time that cost a Super Bowl contender a win will surely get the NFL to at least raise their heads from the dirt. Lastly, as outraged as you or I may be, Packers fan or otherwise, we will be back.
Sports, as we all know, is a drug. The NFL is the perfect drug out there, 100% legal and it comes to you on the regular. You get a small taste every Thursday, nearly overdose three days later on Sunday and get one more hit on Monday before getting ready to start the process all over again in three days. It’s a never ending cycle of gluttony, orgasmic highs and cataclysmic lows.
Last night, casual NFL fans and supporters from other teams were in a state of utter disbelief with what they saw. I know this thanks to the power of Twitter, which is usually about as divided as Fox News and logic. After the game was over, there was one clear thought: the Packers were jobbed by the officials. That thought was later replaced with the notion that in the year 2012 with replay capability and all of the available technology at the feet of the NFL, that they needed to do something and give the win to the Packers. Obviously that’s pie in the sky thinking. The NFL, especially in a labour dispute with their real officials, would never undermine the work of any of their staff.
For those watching the game last night that weren’t Packers fans, it was a joke. As a Packers fan, I was gutted and to be completely honest, it wasn’t rage induced, nor was my frustration directed at the officials. In Week One, the Packers were hosting the 49ers, and Green Bay was pretty much as awful as I’ve seen them in a long time. With about ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter, I tweeted the following:

It figures that it would come back and bite Green Bay, but it really could have happened to any team. The frustration or anger that fans have really should be directed at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners for allowing their league to decompose to this level. As disgusted as I was with the result last night, and still am almost nine hours later, no result is going to keep me from watching the games. In actuality, this might be what disgusts me the most. I’m going to watch Browns/Ravens on Thursday. I’m going to watch the full slate on Sunday, and the Monday nighter in six days. Then I’ll get ready to start the process again. One of my colleagues tweeted this early this morning:

In some ways, he’s right. I can’t help but think though that if another major organization had spit in my face for three weeks, that I’d keep coming back for more. The power that sports has over us, the NFL in particular, is fascinating. The pull they have comes in the sixteen game schedule. For sixteen games, a period of roughly 50 total hours, you live and die with your team. That’s something that the other North American leagues, with seasons ranging from 82 to 162 games, simply can’t match.
It’s going to take Packers fans and the team itself a long time to get over this one. I know I didn’t sleep much last night, and judging by the Packers players on Twitter, many of them didn’t either. They might want to try though, as the Saints come into Green Bay in six days. Once again, it’s time to start the process.

Fred Couples and the endless debate of Hall of Fame candidacy

Fred Couples on 1st Tee by Bill Spruce, on Flickr
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Fred Couples was announced on Wednesday as the first inductee for the World Golf Hall of Fame’s class of 2013, and when I heard the news, my gut reaction was that it made sense. Then, I sat and watched as my Twitter timeline filled up with golf pundits declaring that Couples didn’t deserve to get in, at least not yet.
Presumably, these guys all have a vote in the process. The WGHOF doesn’t release the names of those who do, so it’s not 100% clear to me who is and isn’t doing the voting. Now, there are three requirements that all golfers must meet before getting considered for induction on the PGA Tour side. They are as follows:

  1. They must be at least 40 years old.
  2. Must be a member of the PGA Tour for ten years.
  3. Ten career wins or two majors or two Players Championships.

Couples qualifies for all three, with fifteen wins in his career, including one major (1992 Masters) and two Players Championships in 1984 and 1996, so there’s no issue with his qualifications. So, what’s the problem?
According to several articles I’ve read over the past few days, the issue is more with the process than the final result. For induction into the Hall, you’re supposed to receive 65% of the vote, but if no one gets to that benchmark, the committee can enshrine anyone who got to at least 50%. From the reports, Couples got to 51%. Now, you can definitely argue that the process is broken. 65% is lower than most Hall of Fames, as you can see from the table below, and the idea that you can still get in without getting to that number is ridiculous. I’m assuming the only reason why Couples is getting in now is because the WGHOF didn’t want to go a year without inducting someone with PGA Tour credentials, but that’s hardly an endorsement of Couples or the Hall itself. It would have been very difficult for the WGHOF to exceed last year’s event, headlined by Phil Mickelson, Dan Jenkins and Peter Alliss, and it seems like the attempt to do something over nothing has ruffled a few feathers.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame 75%
Baseball Hall of Fame 75%
Basketball Hall of Fame 75% of the honors committee
World Golf Hall of Fame 65%

Some argued that there are other players who are more deserving of the honour than Couples, such as Davis Love III, Ken Venturi or Mark O’Meara. I’m not going to argue against any of those three men, who all have substantial career resumes, but what I’ve been trying to figure out is why those with the vote are so angry with the result. Certainly the Hall of Fame debate is more rampant in other sports, baseball and hockey in particular, and I get it to some degree. It’s fun for the fans to debate the merits of all kinds of players, and the Hall of Fame gives people the opportunity to compare and contrast players across eras, which they couldn’t do while the players were playing at their peaks.
At his peak, you could make the argument that there were few in the game better than Couples, and if it weren’t for a series of nearly career ending back problems, “Boom Boom” would have an even more esteemed record than what he currently holds. Even now at 52 years old Couples can contend with the younger guys on the PGA Tour, which is something few players have ever been able to do at his age. Throughout his career, Couples has always been thought of as one of the best in the world, with the smoothest swing on the planet and a personality that made him instantly liked by anyone he came across. The game of golf has been undeniably better with Couples’ presence in it, and his resume speaks for itself. So, again, what’s the problem?
As has been the case in the past with other sports, it seems like the golf writers think that they have been entrusted with some kind of supernatural power. Their vote is so sacred and important, that they owe it to to not only the fans of the game, but to the greats already enshrined in the Hall to keep the riffraff out. Fred Couples is not riffraff, far from it actually. People have said, “Well, we’ve let Fred in, where do we draw the line?” My response to that: Who cares? Stop talking like it’s your duty to protect the sanctity of the game and the hallowed walls of the Hall. We’ve come to take every Hall of Fame far too seriously. At the induction ceremony, Couples will get on the stage, say a few words, get a plaque at the end of the night, and the next time we’ll see him is when he’s on the course. His induction means little in the long run. It’s a nice thing to see at the bottom at his list of accomplishments, but it isn’t something that’s going to fundamentally change the way we look at him as a player or person. It’s interesting how the complaints seemingly started with the process, but now Couples has been attacked as a result. He didn’t ask anyone to nominate him, and frankly, with his demeanor and attitude, I’m not even sure that he would even care if he got in or not.
Couples himself admitted that he may have gotten in based on his popularity, and that while he was never a great player, he was always a good one. For a sport that is too often exclusionary and uptight, Couples has always been cool. Even to this day, he seems to carry around that old cliche of having the “it factor”, the trait that is impossible to define, but immediately recognizable when you see it. The resumes of guys like O’Meara and Love are better, and they will both likely get in to the Hall at some point, but neither have had the cultural impact of Couples. In a time when we throw around the word icon far too often, Couples is one of the few in the game of golf that is deserving of the title. That’s why he’s going into the Hall of Fame next May.

Tiger Woods: “The losses aren’t what they used to be”

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“It hasn’t changed me in that regard, but I think it’s put a different perspective on things. Losing a parent and having the birth of two kids put things in better perspective for me. The wins are fantastic, but the losses aren’t what they used to be, because I get to talk to my kids at night. It makes things– it puts things in a proper perspective, for sure.”
That quote is from Tiger Woods’ press conference on Wednesday afternoon, a day before he tees it up at Crooked Stick for the BMW Championship. I’ve always thought Tiger’s reputation as being a non-feeling robot was a little overblown, but it’s no secret that he’s never been an open book. Tiger’s been in the national spotlight for over 30 years, and even though we feel like we know him, we really don’t. The scandal he went through publicly a few years ago is the biggest proof of that. I remember reading the reports of Tiger’s alleged infidelities, and thinking there was no way that the rumors were true. However, there are two things that we’ve always known about Tiger. He has an unrelenting drive and determination to win tournaments, and he hates losing. These two traits, along with his staggering level of talent, have made him the player and generational icon that he is, which is what makes the above quote so interesting.
He was asked if all of the stuff he’s gone through over the last couple of years, including the birth of his two children, had changed his desire to win tournaments and majors. I have no doubt that his appetite for success is still as voracious as ever. There’s no player in the sport who lives and dies in the moment, with every shot, every bit of leaderboard movement and every break, good or bad, like Tiger Woods. But there is something different about Tiger.
I’m not talking about the lack of majors this year, or his “poor” season as its been put by several members of the media, despite his three victories, which is more than anyone save for world number one Rory McIlroy, who has also won three times in 2012.
Tiger’s demeanor on the course has changed. When was the last time you saw Tiger converse with his playing partner throughout an entire round, or congratulate them on good shots? Both have happened in the last two weeks. He’s become good friends with McIlroy, the consensus best player in the world. When was the last time Tiger was friends with any of the guys who would seriously threaten his major title pursuits? The media is desperately trying and failing to turn the two men into rivals, feeling the need to compare and contrast them at every turn in a transparent attempt to bring page views and ratings. This isn’t Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh, both of whom have had serious tension with Tiger in the past. These guys legitimately like each other, and the only battles they’re going to have are going to be for tournament wins.
Let’s take a look back at this past Monday and the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Tiger is on the seventh hole, coming off of two birdies in three holes, cutting the lead of Louis Oosthuizen to four shots. Tiger drives his ball into the middle of the fairway, and when NBC cuts back to him, Tiger is talking to the group’s standard bearer, a young boy of no more than 14 years old. Tiger Woods, in contention in a final round, knowing he needs to post a number to catch two of the best in the world, and he’s talking to a volunteer? Never in a million years would I have expected to see that on my TV, but the weird thing is that he looked comfortable, almost like it was a practice round with no cameras. Tiger would go on to birdie the hole, moving closer to Oosthuizen and McIlroy.
Tiger is turning 37 years old this December. He’s seen more highs and lows than any of us likely ever will, and all of it has taken place out in the open for the whole world to see. He will win more tournaments, more majors. He will still be golf’s biggest drawing card. But, for the first time in his professional career, he has admitted publicly that winning a golf tournament isn’t the most important thing in his life. For a man who’s entire life has revolved around golf, it’s a stunning change in attitude.  Who knows if this is going to have a positive or negative impact on his game, but keep in mind that Tiger is in the midst of his best year since 2009. The one thing I do know is that as always with Tiger, it’s going to be fun to watch.

RacketBoy Writing: Best Nintendo 64 Racing Titles

My latest piece for RacketBoy was published this morning, and it’s a pretty long read. When you have a chance, check it out:


Is John Daly finding his way back?

John Daly by Keith Allison, on Flickr

Over the winter, a colleague of mine suggested that we start a different kind of golf fantasy game. The idea was simple enough: Get six people together, and do a draft. Trading and dropping players would be allowed, with total money at the end of the year determining the winner. Admittedly, my team has struggled this year, led by my first round pick, Jason Day. This week the stop on the PGA Tour is the last major of the year, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s famed Ocean Course, and I made a pair of pickups. First, I scooped Alexander Noren, who’s having a tremendous year on the European Tour, and I also grabbed former PGA Championship winner John Daly, who won the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate when Nick Price withdrew.
Now, it’s likely a commentary on the current state of my roster that I resorted to picking up Daly this week, but he’s very quietly put together his best season in years. With his T-5 last week at the Reno-Tahoe Open, Daly picked up his fifth T-20 worldwide this season. From 2006-2011, Daly finished in the top-20 a total of four times. Making things even better for Daly is that if he can put together a couple of solid finishes in the next few weeks, he could find himself inside the top-125 of the PGA Tour Money List, which would give him his tour card for next season. He currently sits about $150,000 behind Rod Pampling for the 125th spot, which would be easily made up with a good finish at Kiawah. Compare his season to this time last year, and Daly has jumped 396 spots in the World Rankings to his current spot of 219. Considering Daly hasn’t had his card since 2006, he definitely has more to play for than the average golfer this week.
Daly is one of the most polarizing figures in sports. Loved by fans and sponsors, he’s one of the biggest draws the PGA Tour has. There are few golfers who move the needle like Daly, but his behaviour on and off the course over the years has been troubling at best and destructive at its worst. The issues with alcohol, gambling, drugs and petulant on-course conduct are well documented, but none of these things have hurt him in the popularity department. It’s this popularity that has allowed Daly to receive more second chances than just about anyone in sports. Unfortunately for him and his fans, his awful play over the last few years has meant that Daly hasn’t been seen often, which seems inconceivable with his level of talent. His combination of prolific driving distance and silky smooth short game has rarely been seen in professional golf, and even now, Daly can do those things as well as almost anyone.
It’s no secret that the PGA Tour has never been the most flexible when it comes to rules infractions. Golf in general has always been about etiquette, and that’s certainly not going to change any time soon, but when Daly was winning and playing well, the PGA Tour had to put up with his transgressions. Outside of his incident at the Australian Open last year, Daly has been on his best behavior recently, and at age 46, he probably realizes he doesn’t have a ton of time left in his golf career to win tournaments. Watching Daly in Reno last week, he did something that we haven’t seen in quite a while. He made an eagle in the third round on Saturday, and as it was dropping in the cup, Daly pumped his fist and had a look of confidence on his face that he used to have when he was golf’s most exciting player. With Kiawah set up at over 7600 yards and the soft conditions due to the rain expected in the area, the course should favor a player of Daly’s skill set. It’s amazing that we’ve gotten to the point with Daly that a win this week would be just as unlikely as his win at Crooked Stick 21 years ago. Back then, no one would have predicted the type of fall that Daly has had, but golf is an unforgiving game, a fact that Daly is well aware of.
Here we are in 2012 at Glory’s Last Shot, the PGA Championship. For everyone, Daly included, it’s their last shot at winning a major this season. But Daly has way more riding on this then anyone in the field. Twenty-one years after his biggest victory as a professional, it’s not just his last shot at winning a major this year, it could be his last shot at redemption, and as Daly is wont to do, he’s going to give that shot all he has.

The ongoing struggles of Mike Weir

Mike Weir, 2003 Masters Champion by rottinam, on Flickr
Photo  by  rottinam 
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That’s the current world ranking of 2003 Masters Champion Mike Weir. Of all 34 ranked Canadians, Weir sits 34th. It’s been a stunning fall from grace for the Brights Grove native who climbed golf’s highest mountain in April of 2003. Golf is known for one-hit wonders; guys who have a good week or two, win a big tournament and are never heard from again, but Weir was different. His five PGA Tour wins prior to putting on the green jacket, and the two victories after suggest that Weir was not supposed to disappear into the ether.

Weir spent 106 weeks in the top-10 of the World Rankings, peaking at number three for five weeks in 2003, behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Even now, despite not winning a tournament in nearly five years, Weir remains in 18th place in all-time career earnings at nearly $27 million. His lingering injury concerns, most notably a torn ligament in his right elbow that prematurely ended his 2010 season, have been a major driving force behind his struggles. He started the 2011 season on a major medical exemption, but didn’t earn enough money to retain his PGA Tour card. At this point, he’s relying mostly on sponsor invites to get into events. He’ll always be able to play in the Masters by virtue of his 2003 victory, and you’d have to think that he will always be invited to the Canadian Open, but outside of those tournaments, Weir’s going to have to earn his starts.

This week, Weir is playing in the Reno-Tahoe Open, one of the Tour’s “B” events. Most of the game’s biggest stars are of course in Akron for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a tournament Weir hasn’t been eligible to play in since 2010. Two years ago, Weir had fallen considerably in the World Rankings to 90th. Fast forward to the present day and in that two year time frame, Weir has dropped a staggering 1353 spots further. Since last playing in the WGC-Bridgestone in 2010, Weir has played 29 events. He’s made three cuts, with his best finish a T52 in Spain earlier this year. The other events? Twenty-four missed cuts and two withdrawals.

At 42 years of age, it was only natural that Weir would begin to slow down, but some of the stats paint an ugly picture for Canada’s most famous golfer. These stats are updated through the Canadian Open last week, compared to his 2003 season.

  • Zero rounds shot under 70 through eleven events this season compared to 23 rounds under 70 in 2003.
  • On measured holes, he’s lost 30 yards of distance off the tee.
  • 38% FIR vs. 63% in 2003.
  • 43% GIR vs 65% in 2003.
  • Par 3 Birdie or Better: 9.6% vs. 17.2%
  • Par 4 Birdie or Better: 10.1% vs. 17.9%
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better: 24% vs. 46.5%
  • Scoring Average: 75.96 vs. 69.89
  • Scrambling: (48%) vs. (62%)
  • Avg. Distance after going for it: 85yds vs. 25yds

Weir was never a big hitter, but the loss of thirty yards off the tee, combined with the par-5 birdie or better average are probably the most alarming stats. Most pros make their move up the leaderboard because of par-5’s, and Weir clearly has lost the ability to do that. His trademark accuracy has also left him, as he’s dropped 25% and 22% in fairways and greens hit.

In his pre-tournament presser at the Canadian Open, Weir mentioned that he’s really looking towards next year and that any quality golf played before that would just be a bonus. Is he still hurt? He claims he isn’t, and that it’s just a matter of getting more reps on the course. The track record for most golfers after the age of 40 is not good, so Weir is already fighting an uphill battle even if he has a clean bill of health. Since winning the Frys.com Open in 2007, Weir has only finished in the top-10 fifteen times, and hasn’t had one of those top-10’s since the Humana in early 2010.

It’s not impossible that Weir finds it at some point, but the chances are getting slimmer by the day. I mentioned earlier that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and I do believe that. However, golf also has tons of stories of incredible highs and dizzying lows over an extended period of time. David Duval, Steve Stricker, John Daly, and potentially Paul Casey are just four examples of recent golfers who have succeeded and struggled with consistency.

Currently, Weir doesn’t have any tournaments listed on his site past the Reno-Tahoe Open. He may think he’s close to regaining his form, but without the tournaments, we may never find out.