South African Tour Pros Update

2 Sep
Quite a few people have asked me where Ernie Els now stands after finishing 159th on the money list on the All-Exempt Top 125, and essentially ‘losing his card’.

So, I did a bit of digging around and here’s where I believe he now finds himself.

His 2012 Open Championship win gets him:
• The Open Championship until he’s 60 years old. Ernie is currently 45 (46 on the 17th Oct) so he’s in The Open at least until 2030.
• 5 years at The Masters, the US Open, and the PGA Champs, all running out in 2017.
• 5 years exemption on the PGA Tour, which will also run out in 2017.
• After all of these run out, and assuming he’s no longer finishing in the Top 125, a once-off 1 year exemption for being in the Top 50 Career Earnings, on which Ernie is now 5th with US$48 million. Ahead of him, Tiger leads on 110, Phil’s next on 77, Vijay 69 and Jim Furyk on 65. BTW, Jack is 249th on 5,7!!!

• On top of all of that, there will be also long-term exemptions for tournaments that he has won before, so there will always be a few extra events here and there that he could get into without having to suffer the 4 tournament series that has replaced the old Tour School.

• The above categories should see him staying relatively competitive on the main Tour until just about the time when he turns 50 and can graduate onto the Champions Tour, although the guys getting to that stage now all say they’d rather play the flat-bellies Tour rather than the grey hair Tour, but then they all end up there anyway.

And speaking of our SA golfers, how’s this year been for Branden Grace?

The Rise and Rise of Jason Day

2 Sep

Jason Day has become simply “unstoppable”.

After a 1-shot near miss in the Open Championship, he then went on a run by winning the very next week at the Canadian Open, followed by a 12th place finish at the WGC Bridgestone, and then grabbing his 1st Major at the PGA, and now starting off the Fedex Cup playoffs with a runaway win at the Barclays event.

That’s 3 wins in 4 starts, stamping him as currently the best player in the world.

But it was the nature of his win in the Barclays that underpinned his talent and ability. After suffering from back issues earlier in the week, which necessitated him not playing in the Wednesday Pro-Am (and which must have pissed off tournament officials and sponsors no end) Day fought through discomfort to open with a pair of 2-under 68’s, but then he cut loose with 15-under on the weekend, closing with rounds of 63 and 62 to totally embarrass Sang Moon Bae and Henrik Stenson, and the rest of the field, by 6 strokes!

What has been so impressive about Day of late has been his ball-striking, but the last round rout at The Barclays was all about his putting. On superfast slick surfaces, he holed some monsters, and some shorter putts, and kept his foot on the gas as he destroyed everyone else.

So, what next?

He’s so in form at the moment that looking beyond him for the Fedex Cup $10 large cash grab would be a bit foolish, but then this raises yet another big question, and one that always starts to get raised at this time in the golfing season:

Has Jason Day done enough to top Jordan Spieth for the Player of the Year honours?

Does a near miss at the Open, a PGA Major win, and probable/possible Fedex Cup victory top Spieth’s 2 Major season, and a season which teased us all with a possible calendar Grand Slam?

IMHO, JS’s two Majors beat out JD’s one, but all the credit to Day for even adding his name to the equation.

The US PGA Championships

18 Aug

Things We Learnt From The 2015 US PGA Champs

I’m not going to bore you with all the facts and records from the event, save to tell you that it was one heluva spectacle on TV, and one of the better Majors to come around in a long time.

If you were in a cave on the weekend and missed all the action, then you missed a great one.

But, there were some great things that can be read into from the happenings at Whistling Straits.

  1. Jason Day has arrived!! Not that we ever doubted his abilities, but now that he’s finally crossed the line, we can really start to expect even more from him. When he started contending in Majors 3 or 4 years ago, we weren’t sure if he’d be headed down the same frustrating road as Monty, Sergio, Luke, Lee and DJ, plus quite a few others who were written up in lights, but just never delivered. Ricky Fowler also now finds himself in that group desperately needing to produce.
  2. The rivalry between Jordan, Rory, Jason (and maybe Justin) is set to take the game to the next level in the post-Tiger era, with DJ and Ricky and hopefully a few others like South African’s Branden Grace and George Coetzee also knocking on that door to be let in. These guys are all showing prolonged runs of good form, plus the ability to contend in the heat of the fiercest battles.
  3. Is DJ sub-consciously backing away from the heat on Major weekends to avoid last-hole failure? I’m sure there’s a term for it in psychology, but it’s not new that it happens to many sportsmen. Lots of performers freeze at the very thought of making acceptance speeches, but can DJ almost accidentally snag a Major, or get so far ahead that weekend collapses still allow him breathing space to close a deal? His round on Sunday, after starting with a quad on the 1st, was nothing short of brilliant, and his presence in the Big 5 or 6 going forward will ensure exciting golf nearly every single week.
  4. Branden and George are poised to take South African golf into the next generation. Charl is still there, and Louis had a pretty decent year in the Majors, but these 2 youngsters are here to take over. We’re still awaiting the even-younger Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous.
  5. Whistling Straits is a massive venue for a big golf tournament. The Ryder Cup venue in 2020 and then another PGA there not long after, will cement its place in golf as one of America’s greatest public courses and Pro golf showcases. It looked unbelievable on TV, it threw up a mix of record scores and high numbers, showing that there was something in the course for everyone, and properly rewarded great shots. It’s definitely on my bucket list!
  6. Tiger! He did something last week that I’ve never heard of before from him. In the pre tournament presser, when asked about his chances for the event, he spoke about the need to improve going forward and that there was a bigger picture to his play for the week. Now Tiger always used to say that he only entered tournaments if he had a chance to win, so yet again, here’s another example that the current Tiger is a pretty useless imposter of the artist known formerly by the same name. I still say that finally entering the par 3 event at The Masters after years of not playing in it, with his ex and his kids in tow, was another example of the new and open Tiger compared to the original version who always played things very close to his chest and never relaxed or let his guard down. The 4-hole Champions Challenge at St Andrews was another such example. He’s playing this week in the Wyndham event, and unless he wins or finishes high , his season is over, and he can start planning for next year.

Practise What You Preach

29 Jul
I have finally listened to my own teachings!

I went for a long overdue golf-specific fitness assessment last week, and there was good news and bad news.

The good news was that I actually went, and that I found out that with my (alleged) working knowledge of the body-swing connection that I had pretty much worked out what my physical limitations were and which body parts and muscle groups weren’t performing and needed some serious work, and that I was just about on the right track with what I was currently doing in gym, but just that I needed to ‘up the ante’ so to speak, and maybe add a few more of this and a few more of that into my routine that would further target the big issues.

The bad news was that my golf fitness handicap – according to the Titleist Performance Institute (the leading authority in the world on golf fitness) – was a high 25.5!!!

I was shocked!

I knew it wasn’t good, but not that bad.

The average PGA Tour pro runs in the single figures, not that I have any aspirations about going back on (any) Tour again.

So I have made a new resolution.

I’m going get my handicap down!

Armed with a more exact programme, I already hit the gym the very next morning (no “I’ll start next Monday” crap for me) and got down to business. 

Here’s some detail, which might just sound familiar to some of you, not only for what you might see in me, but also what you might recognise in yourself. 
Because of a slight kyphosis (rounded back, with neck forward and chin out) and sometime tendency to sit for too long, my posture is a little too crouched over.

A hunched upper body leads to a very tight thoracic spine (T-spine it’s often called) and the mid-back area around the scapulae (shoulder blades) gets tight and reduces the range of rotation of the upper back, neck and shoulders. This is the area where you get that nagging pain in your upper back & neck when you drive for a long period.

Now when these parts of the torso are tight and weak, you can imagine what effect it would have on one’s backswing, and rhythm and timing suffer similar collateral damage. Also, at the top of the swing, the left arm starts to bend too much to compensate for the lack of rotation, leaving the width of the arc short and too narrow. I wanna be like the Tour Pros who get their arc wide and their hands high at the top of the backswing.
So, soon you’re going to see me around the club, standing an inch or two taller, with my shoulders back and my neck and spine somewhat straighter.

I’m determined not to end up like Quasimodo!

Watch this space.

And as I’ve said often before, if you are a gymmer (don’t know if there is such a word) and a golfer, and you’re not working on an individualised golf-specific training programme, then you’re doing yourself an injustice.

The Greatest Arena in Golf

21 Jul

Wow, what a finish, and what a wonderful Open Championship the 144th version of the world’s oldest tournament turned out to be.

Zach Johnson kind of came in under the radar with his final round 66, but as one of the best putters in the world, and already with a Major under his belt, the former Masters champion showed his class down the stretch, especially with a scrapping bogey at the Road Hole in the playoff, that probably was the turning point there for him and Louis Oosthuizen, who again comes up short in a Major playoff.

Jordan Spieth’s run at Grand Slam history fell agonizingly short, also coming to grief with a short-putt miss for a bogey on the notorious 17th hole. How he must be ruing his earlier 4-putt!!

And Jason Day continues to get close, but not quite close enough, and his big day must surely be imminent.

And who could have seen Dustin Johnson’s weekend collapse coming? He had the event totally under control at the halfway stage, showing all that he had shrugged off his US Open heartbreak, but then he somehow contrived to shoot 75-75 in the last 2 rounds and slip back quietly into 49th place, raising once again the question as to whether he’s ’got it’, or not?

Charl Schwartzel’s final round 79 was also totally against the run of play.

And even though Louis lost out again in another Major heartbreak for himself – and for all of his South African golf fans – the long week was nothing short of action-packed golf from the best players in the world.

It had everything, from Tom Watson’s farewell in the dark on Friday, to a day of very little golf due to the high winds on Saturday, plus quite a few amateurs who excelled, and all these happenings turned this Open into an event for the ages.

But most of all, it had South African interest, for the 2nd Major in a row, and after a longish Major drought for us SA golfing fans, we’ve now got our guys playing well again, and there’s lots to look forward to in the US PGA Champs at Whistling Straits in 3 weeks time.

For me, the only lowlight of the event was the BBC’s TV coverage of the event. They focused way too much on Faldo hacking his way around the course on Thursday, and missed plenty of great golf from leading contenders during that time. They spend way too much time on players walking, on their entire pre-shot routines (which to me are mind-numbing in the extreme) and don’t show enough golf, frequently missing big shots from those at the top, or close to the top, of the leaderboard. And then on Monday during the showers and squalls that punctuated the final round, they kept showing shots through rain-soaked camera lenses.

I always follow TV golf with a live leaderboard on hand on my iPad so that I can keep up with what others are doing in the field, and very often during this Open did I find a player’s score changing at least 5 minutes before it was shown on TV.

Together with Fox’s awful coverage of the US Open, I can’t help thinking that the 2 leading amateur bodies in the world are missing the boat when it comes to choosing their preferred broadcast providers. Surely the regular golf channels should be given their chance at their slick operations which they do so well week in and week out on the PGA and European Tours!

So what could we take away from St Andrews 2015?

  1. Spieth’s arrival on the Major stage – and Grand Slam chase this year – has opened up great things for Pro golf going forward. Jordan and Rory and Ricky – and a few others hopefully including a few SA golfers – will take the game forward into a new era.
  2. The world #1 was barely missed!! Sorry Rory, but apart from the odd mention about your injury, your absence didn’t take anything away from a grand event.
  3. Phil was Phil. He thrilled in the last round to get it to 6 under standing on the Road Hole tee, then promptly hooked one right into the Old Course Hotel (just as I called it) as the TV broadcast began. He never ceases to amaze…. and then to disappoint, and chances for him to add to his 5 Major-tally are starting to dry up slowly but surely.
  4. Ernie? Unfortunately, Adam Scott gave him his final blast at Royal Lytham in 2012, and I no longer see anything more Major-wise on his horizon.
  5. The former world #1, Tiger, looked totally lost. How things have changed for this once great golfer. To come from his almost invincible perch down to the depths where he finds himself now is quite unfathomable – lurking around with rank and file journeymen that he once wouldn’t even waste a glance at – and it’s painful to watch, even I’m sure for his haters. He has zero confidence in his golf game, and he is trying everything within his once great superhuman powers to instill some tiny amount of belief in at least only one small part of his game, but it’s just not happening, is it? I think he’s now made one swing-change too many, and even though it looks technically better, there’s no mind power behind it. Also, what I noticed has changed is that he’s much more open to other things going on around him. He played the par 3 event at The Masters this year, dragging his kids and (ex) girlfriend around with him as well. And the (wonderful to watch and listen to) Champions Challenge at St Andrews that he played in on Wednesday afternoon was another example. Years ago, Tiger’s prep for the big events excluded anything not remotely linked to his goal, and fun run-arounds like these honouring the legends and the traditions of the game were definitely not a part of his agenda. Tiger has basically one more event to play in this year at the PGA Champs, as he doesn’t get into the WGC Bridgestone event, and won’t make the Fedex Cup playoffs, so I think he’s going to shut it down, call it a year and head back home to try and find some answers, and to try and make up with his ex-wife, a rumour I heard going around just the other day.
  6. Another former World #1 who actually made the cut and then lit up St Andrews for a short while in Sunday’s 3rd round was David Duval, and I happened upon a wonderful interview with him from the Golf Channel. If you have a few minutes, have a look at what someone who’s been right at the top of world golf, and then plummeted down to the absolute depths, has to say over this great and humbling game.
  7. Should the R&A not have cut the greens with the forecast for big winds looming large? The Euro Tour did it this year at The Irish Open, and they warned the players in advance, so why couldn’t the ‘main men’ get it right? Apparently, golf carried on all over Scotland on Saturday, and the course is wide enough and fair enough to play on, so was it our obsession with speedy greens that led to play being cancelled? I think they ruined for us what could have been a lesson from the best in wind play.
  8. And while I’m ranting, how about the Rules? Once a ball has come to rest on a green, and then blows away, shouldn’t I be able to replace it? I mean, if another ball hits my ball already at rest on the green, I must replace it, so why not the same with the wind?
  9. Lastly, I’m already looking forward to next year’s Open Championships at Royal Troon. I played the course with my son during our trip to the Senior Open 3 years ago, and having some idea of the course, I can’t wait to see how the Pros handle it. One of the most well-known par 3’s in golf, the Postage Stamp, awaits! The 123 yard 8th hole is a true short hole in every sense of the word, and that will have the Pros weak at the knees contemplating how to play it, even in a small cross wind.

The Open Championships

13 Jul

The Course

There are 2 courses in golf that stir the emotions like none other, and that appear on more people’s bucket lists, than Augusta and the Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the much revered ‘home of golf’. We see Augusta every year in The Masters, but the Open Championship at St Andrews only comes at us sporadically, in fact every 5 years at present, and must be the most sought-after of all Open Championship venues, both for players and spectators.

And you can’t count yourself as a true golf nut unless you’re already starting to make arrangements this weekend Jackaround the TV golf schedule.

For us South Africans, the times are way more user-friendly than when the recent US Open only teed off for us around midnight. Supersport will be live from 10am to 9pm on Thursday and Friday, 11am to 8:30pm on Saturday, and from 12 to 8pm for Sunday’s final round.

Jack, Seve, Sir Nick and Tiger have all won Opens there, yet strangely enough one of the greatest Open Champions ever, Tom Watson, somehow never managed a win at St Andrews in his 5 titles. Watson bows out of Major golf this week in what I’m sure will be a very emotional farewell, as will Faldo. I see that Ernie is paired with Old Tom for the 1st 2 rounds, and that they should be finishing on the 18th hole around 7pm SA time on Friday).
The course for this 29th edition of the event to be held on these hallowed links is going to be unlike most others in that after heavy rains in the area over the last few weeks, the course is going to play long, but soft, which will make it play more like target golf than good old-fashioned bump ‘n run stuff. In other words, we’re going to have this event play more like a regular PGA Tour stop, when the recent US Open played more like a links course event.

There are some changes to the Old Course since our own Louis Oosthuizen last won The Open there in 2010. The R&A, under their soon-to-retire head, Peter Dawson, have added in some bunkers to be more in the range of these big-hitting Tour Pros than ever before, as well as some extra humps and bumps on the sides of some of the greens where they’ve noticed stray shots getting too lenient a treatment in previous events there.

The 2 main hazards on the course are the huge undulating greens (including 7 double greens serving two holes each) that make hitting greens in regulation relatively easy, but then leave lots of work to do just to get down in 2 putts, plus of course the biggest hazard of them all, the 112 bunkers that litter the course, some of them large and deep, and others small and round, but still deep enough to wreck any hope of salvaging par on any particular hole. And all the bunkers have names – like the 10 foot deep Hell Bunker on the par 5 14th hole, and of course, the infamous Road Bunker on the 17th hole – and the bunkers all have tales of woe throughout the years of Open Championship golf attached to them.

The course runs anticlockwise, outward from the 1st, with OB all the way down the right, then a few holes that go back and forth around the halfway mark, and then back home down the last 8 holes or so, and again with OB on the right. So the inside of the entire course is the safe side, always to the left. But that’s where most of the small almost-invisible fairway bunkers are, so driving to the right side of the fairway and closer to the OB, is generally better.

Amongst many other traditions at Open Championships to look out for is the starter on the 1st tee, Ivor Robson, who is expected to ‘hang up his mike’ after this Open. Robson will start his 41st consecutive Open, where he stands on the tee from 6:32am until 4:13pm, with no real break for meals, and is alleged to lose a good few kilos during the 4 days of the Championship.

The Contenders

  1. Can anyone beat Jordan Spieth? Is he chasing the unchasable, the ultimate golf dream of winning all 4 Majors in 1 calendar year? As he gets closer to tee-off on Thursday, the incredible pressure on his young 21-year-old shoulders will be at an all-time high, with his every move being closely scrutinised, and the golfing world will be hanging on every word he says, and watching every swing that he makes, and every putt that he strokes. Another huge week at last week’s John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour will add even more pressure, as not many players can continue winning week after week, especially with all the extra things that will be going on in Scotland. Personally, I think the heat will get too much for him, and his odd tendency to leak a few shots right might be a problem, especially in wind and crosswinds, especially a left-to-right breeze over his left shoulder. Although he’s putting better than anyone else in history, that little chicken wing just after impact is going to become a problem somewhere along the way. Make no mistake, I’d dearly love to see him complete ‘The Slam’.
  2. Can Dustin Johnson bounce back after another Major heartbreak? This question I’ll answer for you in a few days time, but there’s no doubt of his unrivalled talent and ability, save for his toughness under the gun. He’s in form, so should be around the 1st page of the leaderboard come the end of the week.
  3. I like the South African connection at St Andrews. Our youngsters – Louis (playing with Tiger again, as they did together at Chambers Bay, so I can only hope that they both start a whole lot better than they did that day) Branden and Charl – are all in good form, all know the Old Course very well as they play Johann Rupert’s Dunhill event there every year (Branden actually won it a few years ago) and our oldies, Ernie and Retief both have great memories of previous events there, as well as lots of local knowledge. There’s also George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken and Jaco Van Zyl.
  4. Adam Scott had a good backdoor top 10 at Chambers Bay, and with Steve Williams back on the bag, must be in the mix. The not-so-slick greens usually found in Scotland might also be much more to his liking as his putting stroke can get a bit testy at times.
  5. Has Jason Day recovered from his vertigo? If so, he’ll be there or thereabouts come Sunday pm.
  6. Fast-finishing new Scottish Open champ, Ricky Fowler, will be hoping to emulate Phil’s performance 2 years ago by winning the Scottish and British Opens in consecutive weeks.
  7. Phil and Matt Kooch both finished well at Gullane in the Scottish Open, so you can never count them out.
  8. And Tiger? Well, who knows anymore? He seemed better at The Greenbrier, but what will happen under the intense heat of Major battle?

I hope you have a great week watching.

Sand Practice

30 Jun

Read here to see what Mark O’Meara had to say about his great friend Tiger Woods?

“If he were to call me tomorrow and asked for help, I would take him to a fairway bunker and I’d have him hit 5-irons and 7-irons from a level lie. He’d have to stay way more level and he wouldn’t be able to load like he’s doing now. When he’s hitting balls on the range he’s not doing that. He stays level. He gets under the gun and loads up and the golf ball is going here (points right). And then after you hit eight over there to the right you back off and hit one to the left.
“I can only push the envelope so far [in reaching out]. You can’t help somebody unless they ask,” O’Meara added. “I love the kid. I love him and respect him, and he’s made a big difference in my life. I might not have won those majors at 41 without him around. When you play against him, he elevates your game.
“So watching what has happened to his golf game, it’s hard. It’s very hard.”

I always advocate hitting balls from a fairway bunker as one of the best methods of practising, as your body movement has to be perfect and in the right direction in order to make decent contact. The soft nature of the sand will highlight any excess body movement and will make you maintain your height. But I’d rather you use a shorter iron – like a 9i – with its slightly steeper swing plane and angle of attack that will increase the chances of bad contact.