My Masters Hangover

The logo for the Masters Tournament made of fl...

The logo for the Masters Tournament made of flowers, in front of the clubhouse of the Augusta National Golf Club. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2012 Masters had the possibly the biggest story lines leading up to a major in history and maybe in all of golf. It included the resurgence of Tiger Woods, Phil looking like he was ready to add to his green jacket collection, Rory’s desire to make up for his 2011 choke at Augusta National, and world number one Luke Donald proving everyone wrong about little guys and long courses.

But since Bubba amazed us all with what could be the greatest golf shot in Masters history, my interest has been a bit under the weather and the adrenaline rush from the finish numbed me a bit since it ended. Am I the only one who has been a bit underwhelmed this last couple of weeks?

For a guy who can’t get enough golf on TV, I have watched maybe 20 holes over the last few weeks and have been wondering why. Is it because of the quality of the fields after majors or was it the emotional release I experienced as a result of the Masters finish?

I think it’s a combination of both: In typical fashion, many of the top card holders will rest a week or two prior to and subsequent to the major championships. This practice, especially after the majors, spreads the field very thin in those events where there is a large number of conditional and sponsor’s exempt players competing, many of whom are seemingly older competitors, the middle of the pack PGA and well-known Nationwide members.

Many times these post Masters tournaments are won by the perennial top 20 players like Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott and the Zach Johnsons of the world. They have a better than normal chance to pick off a win where within a full field they may have finished 2nd or 3rd. For me not very compelling; a DVR fast forward fest.

I have to come clean; I didn’t think Bubba had a chance coming down the stretch. He continually amazes us with his impossible shot shapes incredible distance and deft touch around the greens. He is nearly impossible to dislike in that he isn’t afraid to show how he feels both anger and joy. His self admitted A.D.D. and sometimes lack of focus shows up in his consistency throughout a tournament. I don’t like to pick sides but Bubba is one of the guys I root for every week not only for his golf but for his character and faith.

So after nearly two useless weeks at work prior to the Masters taking in any and everything golf, followed by the entire week of the tournament, I was a balloon ready to explode with anticipation on Sunday with a couple of holes to go and one of my guys with a chance. I sat impatiently watching the drama unfold.

After he sank the winning putt, I replayed Bubba Watson’s hook shot on the playoff hole from the straw over and over again and expected a different outcome every time I watched it. I couldn’t believe he could bend a pitching wedge that much from that distance, 155 yards uphill and almost a 90 degree hook. He could be the only guy on tour capable of that shot with one exception in Phil Mickelson since he is also a lefty. Right handed golfers would have struggled to cut a ball with that high of a loft from that spot. Simply amazing!

Strangely, when he made the putt to win I realized I had been holding my breath and exhaled noticeably. I felt the release from 3 weeks of anticipation followed by absolute joy in my heart for Bubba. My only regret is that I wasn’t there to see it firsthand. What an amazing finish!

So after searching for the reason I have to admit I’m afraid I will be disappointed from here on out. When I woke up on Monday it was like I had a hangover. I felt a little empty for I knew no matter how many tournaments I watch from here till my last; I may never see a fairy tale ending quite like the 2012 Masters for it was truly a finish unlike any other!

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Nationwide event wrap Soboba Classic

Golf other than the Masters?

In case you were only watching golf this past week you wouldn’t have realized there was also Nationwide Tour event at the Country Club at Soboba Springs. Completely overshadowed by coverage of the Masters, this week’s event was won by the charismatic funny man Andres Gonzales.

On the Nationwide Tour that struggles to get attention where the majority of competitors are widely unknown, there are exceptions like the very recognizable Andres Gonzales. If you watched the PGA Tour in 2011 you would have noticed him. He is an imposing golfer at 6-foot 2-inches and nearly 230 pounds, who sports a rather uniquely grizzly fu Manchu mustache, a wildly unkempt mop of hair he is growing to donate to locks of love and is a quite the funny character. You may also remember him for his many attempts to contact Tiger Woods via Twitter that resulted in great humor but no response from the all silent one.

For those who don’t know much about him, he has competed on the Canadian tour, Nationwide Tour and the PGA Tour with three career professional wins and a best T16 on the PGA Tour at the 2011 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

Gonzales, 28, started his professional golf career in 2006. After a few years of developmental tours, he succeeded in Q-School to gain his card on the PGA Tour for 2011. Unfortunately for the rookie, he failed to make enough cash in 2011 to retain his status and dropped to the Nationwide Tour for 2012. It’s not all bad for Gonzales though because he now has a victory under his belt, a ton of confidence and a big fat paycheck that comes with the win. Other pros in their sophomore season have said the second trip to the PGA Tour can be less stressful and intimidating. “It feels like I’ve really paid my dues,” Gonzales said. And he is right on target to reap the rewards and regain his card.

This will be the last year that the top 25 Nationwide money earners automatically get their ticket punched to the PGA Tour since major changes are being made at the start of the 2014 season. Good news for Gonzales since the 25th spot to make it in 2011 earned just over $180,000. Gonzales, as of this win, shot to the top of the money list and is currently at $195,810 with a large portion of the season left, a virtual shoo in for the 2013 season on the PGA Tour.

In the Soboba Classic, Gonzales fired a final-round 71 to cross the finish line two shots ahead of hard charging Andrew Svboda who also shot a final-round 71. Svboda was briefly tied with Gonzales after a chip in eagle early in the round but late round bogeys and steady play by Gonzales tempered his advance.

Falling short in rookie season of earning a spot in the Masters, Gonzales competed in the Soboba Classic last year as well, where he ultimately lost in a playoff.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve won,” said Gonzales. So it must be bittersweet to have avenged his playoff loss and collect his first win on the Nationwide Tour the same week as that little tournament at Augusta National, an event he has long dreamt of playing.

You can follow him on Twitter @Andres_Gonzales.

You can follow me on Twitter @BrantBrice

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2012 Masters Predictions! Tiger, Rory, Phil or Luke?

With over an inch of rainfall on Wednesday, and the annual par three competition a partial washout, Thursday’s forecast wasn’t much better.

Although rain threatened to stall the opening round of the 2012 Masters, the entire field was able to complete Round 1 without delay with only mild sprinkles. Apparently even Mother Nature plays hooky to catch a few holes at picturesque Augusta National.

To be cliché, tournament cannot be won on day one but surely can be lost. On a windless sunny day where birdies would abound on any other course, Augusta National proved that its uneven fairways and near perfect lightening fast greens can end many challenger’s dreams right out of the gate.

All with rounds at five over par or worse, today’s victims included Trevor Immelman (+6), Johnson Wagner (+7) , player’s champion K.J. Choi (+5), and Chez Reavie (+7); surprisingly, long hitters Alvaro Quiros (+6) and Robert Garrigus (+5) failed to score in conditions that make Augusta National play far longer than course setup and typically favor the long ball.

The majority of the field finished somewhere between three-over and one-under including notables such as last week’s winner Hunter Mahan (E), Rickie Fowler (+1), Sergio Garcia (E), Steve Stricker (-1), Aaron Baddeley (-1) and Graeme McDowell (+3.)

World No. 1 Luke Donald finished at three-over with six bogeys against three birdies. The wet conditions are a beast for shorter hitters like Donald.

Former Masters champion and crowd favorite Fred Couples finished with a great “up and down” at No. 18 to end his day at even par.

With a lost-ball triple-bogey seven on the 10th hole, Phil Mickelson scrambled his way to a surprising two-over par. His drives found him in many of the most beautiful parts of the course not often seen by television coverage.

Tiger Woods, this year’s odds on favorite to win, finished at even par. When interviewed after his round, he said he got all he could get out of his round. He conceded he was still fighting his swing of old and had some work to do on the range.

Henrik Stenson had the best round of the day at five-under going into the finishing hole. Eight shots later found him in the clubhouse with a one-under 71.

Defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel completed his opening round defense at even par, still firmly in the hunt.

Rory McIlroy also finished with a birdie to complete his first round at one under par.

The round of the day belonged to the Lee Westwood, considered the best golfer without a major championship victory on his resume. He played an aggressive round of five-under 67 occurring on a day when two or three under should have taken the lead.

There are 12 golfers within three strokes of the lead including the likes of Bubba Watson (-3), Jason Dufner (-3), Louis Oosthuizen (-4), Jim Furyk (-2), Zack Johnson (-2) and golf boy Ben Crane (-3.)

All things considered, the big winner is once again Augusta National. It showed that well designed holes, uneven fairway lies and speedy greens strike fear in even the best of the best professional golfers.

The good news for everyone in the field is that they all have to play the same course tomorrow. It won’t get any easier nor will low scores be the norm. One good round could make up for two, even three mediocre loops around Augusta National.

Can young McIlroy currently in the clubhouse at one under 71 make up for his 2011 final round collapse? Will Tiger win his second tournament this year to win his 15th major and inch closer to Jack record 18 major championship wins? Can perennial top finisher Lee Westwood lose the title of best pro golfer without a major championship and finally win the big one? Will any of the big four be at the top after the back nine at Augusta on Sunday?

I for one will be “cough, cough” missing a few days of work and take it all in as the 2012 Masters plays out in typical dramatic style that is unlike no other!

It wouldn’t be appropriate to wrap of day one without mentioning the opening ceremonial drives. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were this year’s honorees.

What will stick in my mind won’t be the scowl of Jack after his drive or the incredibly youthful appearance of the 76-year-old Gary Player. It’s was the smile of Arnold Palmer after his drive. It was electrifying and reminds me why Mr. Palmer was and is so beloved. It’s impossible to quantify his contributions to the game of golf and to The Masters.

 

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Sunday at Bay Hill

Bay Hill #17

Bay Hill #17 (Photo credit: StonehouseGolf)

I am miserable. I am sitting at work with no television just in agony not being able to watch. I could check the golf website but it would spoil the outcome.

Then I will have to drive home later, 35 miles away without sports radio on so I don’t get the spoiler alert as they are so apt to do. I hope the outcome is worth my misery.

Go Tiger or Graham!

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PGA Tour says Q-School is old school!

PGA Tour logo

PGA Tour logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The PGA Tour will be making two major changes on tour starting in 2013. First, the PGA Tour will be adopting a new calendar year starting three months earlier in Oct. known as the Fall Series and ending in Sept. with the FedEx Cup series followed by the Tour Championship. Second, there will be a new system for awarding the 50 available tour cards each year to those who weren’t able to stay in the top 125 or those looking to advance from the Nationwide Tour.

In essence, these two changes will attempt to make the flailing fall series more dramatic for Tour fans as well as make the Nationwide Tour, a developmental stepping stone, more visible and attractive for sponsorship.

The PGA Tour in 2011 seemingly never ended. Spoiled is the word for the golf enthusiast who never wanted for golf on the television. But the current system needed a finish line and a break to reset and to create the itch for the start of the next season.

There are currently 4 majors, the Tournament of Champions, 36 regular season events, 4 FedEx playoff series events, 4 fall series events and finally 3 World Golf Championship events for a whopping total of 51 events.

This doesn’t include the Asian swing or European tour events. These fields include many Top PGA Tour members due to global popularity, enormous purse sizes and appearance fees paid to top tier players. Golf really is a yearlong sport with a growing global audience.

With all this golf and no real feel for a “season”, Tim Finchem, the leadership of the PGA Tour and the policy board is attempting to make all parts of the season dramatic, meaningful and distinct.

The beginning of the season beginning in Oct. will now feature the fall series as a fight for tour eligibility. This will include the bottom 75 players on the PGA Tour who didn’t make the FedEx Cup Playoffs against the top 75 finishers from the Nationwide Tour in a seeded format, three tournament series. The top 50 golfers based on performance will be awarded PGA Tour eligibility eliminating Q-school as a pathway for Tour Access as well as making the PGA developmental tour far more important; something vital for sponsorship!

Q-School will still occur, but only for qualification into the Nationwide Tour. The PGA has determined that the most productive and accurate predictor of tour ready talent is through the developmental tour. There are exceptions; Ricky Fowler, Kyle Stanley, Gary Woodland, Sang-moon Bae, John Huh and others.

Statistically, the majority of rookies who earn their card through tour qualifying school will fail to retain their card for the following year, while Nationwide graduates have substantially higher success in card retention.

The PGA will also be looking for a new sponsor of the Nationwide Tour since the current sponsorship will end after the 2012 season.

Ostensibly, Tournament of Champions will be the first tournament followed by the new year and full field tournaments. The 36 PGA Tour sanctioned tournaments, three WGC events and the four majors will make up what will be the middle or regular season and will determine the rankings for the finale of the PGA Tour season, the FedEx Cup Series.

Using the current system, the top 125 from the regular season will compete in the FedEx Cup Series starting at the Barclays where 25 players are cut. The Deutsche Bank fields the top 100 players; the BMW top 70 players; The Tour Championship top 30 players where a champion is crowned and presumably a money list winner as well since this will be the end of the PGA Tour season.

This is a great step forward; something the tour has needed for years. Next challenge: unscramble the system for the FedEx Cup point system and make the Player’s Championship the fifth major!

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That Guy!

English: Man smoking a cigar.

Image via Wikipedia

Why is it that every club has one or two members that ruin membership for the rest of us? Someone please tell me it’s just me!

You know him, he’s the duffer who shows up five minutes before his tee time and thinks he has time for a bag of balls. He doesn’t warm up so he feels he deserves two off the first tee.

He won’t allow the starter to pair him with women or old people even though we know both groups stay in the fairway and typically play quicker than him.

Many golfers enjoy a nice cigar out on the course but he’s the one who lights up right beside the pro shop entrance so everybody gets a good lung-full of stink. He also smokes those foul-smelling stogies on the range or putting green on the rare occasions he does practice.

This member is a bogey golfer at best with a “self taught” swing and thinks lessons would just mess him up. When he does practice, he chips and pitches on the putting green and putts on the chipping green.

During rounds he never repairs divots or ball marks but complains about brown spots on the green and bumpy fairways. He always has his own golf cart because he won’t ride shotgun and doesn’t let anyone ride with him since he relies on his trusty foot wedge and somehow never loses a ball even though it may have sliced or hooked it fifty yards sideways into the woods, a lake, a back yard, or quick sand. He also thinks every five foot putt of his is a gimmie.

He is always on his cell phone during the round and of course wears the hands free ear boom to show how important he is but still doesn’t realize he doesn’t have to scream for people on the other end to hear him.

You know him; he drives his golf cart right up to the green and has his radio on during the entire round never asking if you mind. He also has a twelve pack tucked under his seat he brought from home so he doesn’t have to pay the course $20 for a sixer or tip the cart gal.

This is the same guy who never reports good rounds so he can sandbag for club championships, member guest tournaments or the weekly stableford. Don’t worry, it won’t matter cause he is far worse than his current handicap anyway; see foot wedge and lost ball comment above.

Nobody can stand the guy nor do we want him on our course. If you are this guy, I feel sorry for your wife and kids. The rules of golf and course etiquette are not that hard to follow.

We as golfers should be appreciative of what we have and privileged to be involved in this sport. For some, however, the word privilege means something entirely different.

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Can Golf Survive Without Tigers in the Jungle?

English: in 2007 Esperanto: en la jaro 2007

Image via Wikipedia

There is a fragile balance at work in every life cycle. Every segment of the system is interdependent. If a segment fails or is altered, the entire system goes through a major evolution, it becomes endangered or it could ultimately become extinct. The world of professional golf recently went on the endangered list. This nearly happened to professional hockey and baseball.

So how is golf’s fragile ecosystem performing since “the 9 iron,” “the Foley project” or no new dominant player on Tour? Many experts say the sport completely depends on Tiger Woods’ return. The truth: The sport is better than ever!

Why? Because of the major golf media publications and television using a time honored method of influencing and branding called marketing!

Here’s what happened: Over the last decade the game grew in spite of itself because of Tiger Woods. When Tiger’s injury and his off the green ordeal took him away from the sport, the global game of golf and its sponsors realized they might have forever lost their collective pitchman. What ensued was a little bit of panic. The media had to find new viewers, tournaments have had to find new sponsors and the PGA was looking for new ways to survive. So what happens when a part of an ecosystem goes away? Other parts emerge, meet marketing.

For the uninitiated, golf can be the most boring sport ever invented. In of itself the game has no heart. It’s black and white and seems like it would be incredibly mind numbing, repetitive and simple. Hit a ball with a stick from one point to another into a cup.

No thanks I’d rather eat paper.

Thinking back, can you remember watching golf regularly before you took up the sport? The answer is probably no. Watching golf without ever having played requires a very special person. Fortunately or otherwise, depending on how you look at it, once you solidly hit the first ball with that unmistakable buttery thwack, where the sensation resonates throughout your entire being, you forever become a slave to playing and often watching this seemingly boring black and white game.

The new target audience of golf may or may not ever have picked up a club. Everybody recognizes the cute guy on the tube who wears the $1000 electric orange jumpsuit with matching shoes and hat. Can you name the pro who wears am immaculately tailored all plaid pant suit with matching golf bag and of course the $300 sunglasses that are never worn on the front of his head? Yes you can and all because of brilliant branding that appeals to kids and adults, women and men.

Secretly, I want one of the orange hats; it’s the UT Vol in me.

The big question: Would the sport rather have more people playing golf or watching it on TV? The answer is “both.” We want more people playing and watching the sport. Chicken or egg, we don’t care.

With old views about the game and perceived cost, how do we get memberships up and butts in carts? The average consumer Joe public could care less about the PGA Tour if they have never been introduced to the game. You may never have played due to the stereotype consensus that club golfers and pro golfers are just a bunch of fat, rich upper crust blowhards hobnobbing in restrictive golf club communities. The reality is that most of the PGA Tour guys are in pretty good shape! But times they are a changing.

With the recession, many private golf clubs have seen their once preferential and exclusive membership dwindle to points far below operating cost. The private club pro who had free time, was paid well and gave lessons suddenly became general manager of operations and doing the job of three or four people.

The once lush and yearlong emerald green fairways are now brown in the winter and the greens suffer from minimal amounts of water; about time right? Many have become “semi-public,” whatever that means.

The new online tee time booking services may have single handedly saved many of these courses from extinction and is allowing the average guy to play courses he wasn’t allowed to play without membership and couldn’t play because it was cost prohibitive.

Like Hotels.com and Priceline.com they take unused tee times and advertise them for a small fee to the general public. They also have a few tee times throughout the day that are the special deal at a substantial discount. If you are not using one of these services you’re really missing out.

Do you remember booking a tee time pre-internet? You would get the phone book, pick your favorite three or four courses and have that Ground Hogs Day conversation about what tee times were available, then have the same conversation again and again just to get the right time and price.

Uggghhhhhh! It’s ironic how the non-member hacker public has saved many of these private courses through a dot.com.

The four P’s as taught in Marketing 101 are: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. The websites made it quicker and easier to book a tee time at many more courses (place) and at a more economical (price.) These two diverse media outlets accomplished growing a brand and getting more golfers on the course at an economical level without Tiger and without help from the PGA Tour, USGA or R & A who run the sport (product.)

The most important and final piece was good solid salesmanship (promotion.) In a sport that used to be a very grey in its brand including the equipment, teaching and coverage, we now have amazingly colorful announcers like Nick Faldo and the polarizing Jonnie Miller. We have new teachers with personality like Michael Breed and Martin Hall on a cable channel completely dedicated to golf. There are four or five major publications that employ fantastic writers and PGA professionals who cover every aspect of golf.

These industry magazines show us the equipment and clothing that become the high gloss pin-up blondes of the sport. The PGA Merchandise Show or golf festivals are the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders or Victoria’s Secret supermodels live in person wanting to get to know you!

The magazines show off and flaunt the OEMs beautiful supermodel creations. Then the festivals give you the ability to actually touch and demo the goods. There are funny trick shot acts, equipment demos, instructional professionals, celebrities and the main attraction, the equipment. It’s a far better trial than at a high pressure brick and mortar store where you are hitting into a vinyl screen with computers telling you what that shot might have looked like.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these equipment events or demo days, do it and really try the new offerings. You’ll learn the marketing can be far more vivid than reality, especially after trying the equipment.

You will find is that the golf OEMs have begun to design clubs and clothing that have form and function to appeal to an ever aging and growing younger sect of the golf industry.  The club manufacturers design visually stimulating works of art packed with technology that appeal to our consumer desires and golfing weaknesses.

We hang pictures of clubs, our “pin-up,” on our dream boards. We buy day glow yellow shirts and hats to look like our favorite players. We are now spending more than ever on golf equipment and clothing because we love the game, not just one single player’s dominance. Marketing has collectively saved golf. In recessed economy golf sponsorships are not only being renewed but many companies are desperate to cash in on the recent popularity.

We owe a tremendous debt to Tiger for bringing the game to where it is. He broke through on many levels shattering race barriers, dominating entire fields with enormous drives and precision iron play, delicate wedge work and marksman like putting. The game survived and flourished in spite of an underwhelming infrastructure.

Who cares if Ricky Fowler, Bubba Watson or Ian Poulter ever ascends to the level of Jack or Tiger. The game has evolved to support every limb of the sprawling golf tree from the ground up. The game has become the star where it should be and not dependant on one guy.

Tiger is always welcome and is due a magnificent debt. He will undoubtedly continue to get paid extravagantly for his services and will certainly regain some semblance of Tiger 1.0 and 2.0. So the question remains, do we have to have the Tiger in the jungle?

Not anymore. It’s beneficial but there are any number of Pumas, Byrds and Rors walking through the manicured grass jungle waiting to take their turn on the high gloss front page of your favorite golf publication.

And speaking of jungles, you know the difference between a jungle and a rainforest? Marketing!

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