Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Masters and Players- my two favorite events

With the conclusion of  my two favorite golf events, The Masters and The Players, I have probably seen more exciting golf than I will for the rest of the year. Granted there are still three Majors left to be played this summer, but I know I will not be watching every shot the way I do for these two tournaments every year.

What makes these two events stand out above everything else? First, I believe it is because the venue is the same each year and both have similar designs. Why would you want to change sites every year when you have two of the most thrilling finishing nines in golf to entertain fans? Where else can you see such big swings in the standing than at Augusta and Sawgrass?

This year at The Players, Nick Watney was up by two strokes going into the 14tth hole and by the time he walked off the 16th he was five off the lead. David Toms makes a one bad swing on #16 and loses to Choi in a playoff. G-Mac looks like he has it under control until he takes a double at #18 and quickly drops out of contention. At one time I counted almost a dozen players within striking distance of the championship.

There was also a herd of players all playing great coming down the stretch at The Masters, producing one great shot after another. Charl Schwartzel birdies the last four holes on Sunday to win by two strokes. What drama!! I love to see birdies and eagles over players struggling to hit out of thick rough to make par on every hole. I don't think we will ever again see anyone win more than two majors in a year let alone the Grand Slam, and certainly Tiger now will be a long shot to break Jack's major record. Too many great players worldwide today that excel under different conditions for anyone to ever dominate like players did in the past.

These courses are both set up to produce birdies and eagles on about 6 to 8 holes, especially on their back nines. The reachable par 5's, on both back nines, are high risk reward with water coming into play and can produce big scoring swings with eagles. To quote Bobby Jones, "I think a par five should always be of the kind that can be played as a great par four if the player is man enough to do so." The par 3's are all again played over water hazards and can produce some really big numbers on #12 at Augusta and #17. To quote Jones again, "the difference between a bunker and a water hazard is the difference between a car crash and a plane crash. You can recover from the former but not from the latter." Just think how boring these back nines would be without any water hazards. Both have strong finishing holes and a couple of demanding long par 4's. I don't want to go as far as saying Pete Dye copied Augusta National, but I believe he was strongly influenced by the great layout that Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie created. Even though the terrain is very different you still get the same flow on each back nine. The excitement produced to the viewers, by the players being rewarded for taking risk, is what makes these two events so much fun to watch. I feel that Dye (Modern) and MacKenzie (Classic) are the two greatest architects of their eras.

I was fortunate to be able to attend both of these events this year. For the first time in three years there were no cold, freezing spells in Florida this winter. Finally, The Stadium course was in excellent condition to rival that of Augusta National. Both of these courses are set up with generous landing areas off the tee and minimal rough to allow the players a chance to have a go at most greens. Miss the greens and you will have no easy time of making a par.

Personally, I prefer going to the practice rounds and watching the Championships on HD from my living room. I thought both telecasts did a wonderful job of showing non-stop action with limited commercials, which sets them apart from the other majors. At The Players the golfers are available after every hole to sign and interact with the fans, unlike The Masters practice rounds. Due to most of the Florida snowbirds having gone north, the crowds at The Players are sparse compared to The Masters. Tickets are very reasonable priced at The Players, $20 or less for a practice round pass versus $50 or much more if you have to buy them from a scalper at The Masters. I am already making plans for next years Masters and Players.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Golf Joke of the Month

A little old lady was walking down the street dragging two large plastic garbage bags behind her.

One of the bags was ripped and every once in a while a $20 fell out onto the sidewalk.

Noticing this, a policeman stopped her, and said, "Ma'am, there are $20 bills falling out of that bag."

"Oh really? Darn it!" said the little old lady. "I'd better go back and see if I can find them.. Thanks for telling me officer."

Well, now, not so fast," said the cop. Where did you get all that money? You didn't steal it, did you?"

"Oh, no, no", said the old lady. "You see, my back yard is right next to the Golf course.

On Golf days, a lot of Golfers come and pee through a knot hole in the fence, right into my flower garden.
It used to really tick me off. Kills the flowers, you know. Then I thought, 'why not make the best of it?

So, now, I stand behind the fence by the knot hole, real quiet, with my hedge clippers. Every time some guy sticks his thing through my fence, I surprise him, grab hold of it and say, 'O.K., buddy! Give me $20, or off it comes.'

"Well, that seems only fair," said the cop, laughing. "OK. Good luck! Oh, by the way, what's in the other bag?"

"Well, you know", said the little old lady, "not everybody pays."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Players- 2011

Photo's from Tuesday's practice round.

For more extensive photo's of the Stadium Course, please go to Slideshows and click on TPC Sawgrass.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

TPC Sawgrass #11

Opened in 1980, TPC Sawgrass was the first of many PGA Tour courses made for ideal fan viewing. I first played the Stadium Course in 2004 and have played it a half dozen times since. It is one of the most penal courses I have ever experienced for your approach shots. There just aren't too many places that you can miss on these shots that give you an easy up and down. The view off some of the tees are confusing, as are many of Pete Dye's other holes in the world. At Sawgrass, it appears that some tees have been cut out and slide over to one side about 30 yards. It creates angles that make you feel uncomfortable off the tee.

I always play the course as far back as allowed, which is usually only around 6700 yds with a slope of 146. No matter how well I think I am playing when I arrive it seems I always walk off the course with my tail between my legs. I can count on one hand the birdies but must admit I have made at least double bogey or worse on every hole. Total cumulative worst score on each hole = 114!! I once shot 38 on the back with an 83, my best score to date.

In 2007, the old FLW style clubhouse was torn down and replaced with what reminds me of a Middle Eastern palace. Now 77,000 square feet with a roof that costs more than most homes do, it is a very impressive sight. At the same time the course was also renovated bringing it back to the fast and firm conditions it was meant to be played for the 2008 event.

Hole #11 is a split fairway reachable Par 5 for big hitters with numerous options on how to play it. Off the tee, you have a large landing area to the right fairway with the only danger being the waste area on the left. Once you get to your drive, the first decision is to go for it or lay up. Personally, the chances of me being able to hold the green with a 3 wood on these firm greens are pretty low. You have water and a larger bunker that wraps around the right and back of the green. So my best case is ending up in the sand with a long bunker shot left.

If the pin is in the back of the green, I will lay up at around 120 yards out to the right fairway; aim at the big tree on the right side with a draw. This gives you a wedge into the green. When the pin is front, I want to hit my approach to the left fairway which is a more difficult shot than laying up to the right fairway. It allows you to hit straight into the pin and eliminates the swale to the left front side of the green. You would need to hit a very precise shot to stay away from it if you are coming in from the right. Get on the green in regulation and you are probably going to make par or better, but miss and you have one of many difficult up and downs. You will be looking at bogey or worse. I was lucky to make one of my few birdies here. If you like holes with many options and different lines of play, #11 will be a real treat for you.

Other notable short holes: #4, #6, #8, #12, #13.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

TPC Sawgrass #16-18 - Golf's most exciting finish!

Where else could you shoot anywhere from 8 to over 20 on a three hole finishing stretch? I will never forget the excitement of watching Craig Perks (2002) playing the last three holes eagle, birdie, par with chip ins on #16 and #18 to win. Or seeing the replay of Bob Tway taking a 12 on #17. Whether you are a pro or an average golfer you have a chance at making an eagle on #16 or snowman on any of the final three holes at TPC Sawgrass.

Hole #16 is a very reachable Par 5, if you can find the fairway with your drive. Ideally, a slight draw will get you within 3 wood range or less. Push it right off the tee and you will have a bad angle or you may find the bunker. Left is more than likely jail, unless you are DL3. If, you don't have the kahunas to go for it or have hit a poor drive, make sure your lay up is at least 100 yards out. If you look at the above pictures you will notice a huge tree guarding the left side and anything from 50 to 80 yards out will need to be hugging the right side of the fairway to have a clear shot into the green. To me this is an easy par, as long as you keep your approach out of the water. The risk of going for the green trying for eagle makes this a very exciting hole. Hit your approach shot short and you will catch the front bunker; long left and you will find yourself in a small pot like bunker. **Make sure to check out the pin position on #17 when you are walking up the 16th fairway.**

The Island green on the 17th has probably been on your mind on and off since you arrived at the course. The range can be a good indicator of what to expect with the wind when you make it to the 17th tee. Once you get on the tee you will not feel the full effect of the wind and it would be wise to have made some mental notes while warming up on the range. The range and the 17th are 180 degrees opposite direction of each other. The last time I played TPC the wind was coming out of the NW at about 30 mph. Usually, I would be playing a 9I into the green which is around 130 yds to the center. This time I thought I needed a 6I and ended up finding the water long and left. My re tee I used a 7I and found the center of the green. The other time I found the water it was to a back middle pin and I thought I had hit the perfect shot, only to see my ball bounce twice and disappear. If I had only checked the pin while on 16 fairway I would have noticed how little room there was between the pin and back edge. My tip for your first try at the 17th is to play to the middle of the green, no matter where the pin is located. If you don't make it on the first try keep on hitting until you put one on. It is better to have taken a big number and made it on then to have to live with not making it on at all. Whatever you do don't go to the drop zone, unless you are wearing a skirt. If you can't hit one on off a tee, you will probably chunk or skull the next one off the turf. Don't feel rushed, the groups waiting for their chance will understand. I once stood and watched a foursome rinse at least three dozen balls before they moved on. You may play other Island holes but none will be more exciting or make you sweat as the 17th at the Stadium course. This the one that all others are compared to.

The 18th hole is the number one handicap hole at the Stadium course, as are 25% of all the 18th holes played on the PGA tour. Nothing is more satisfying than to "earn" a par or birdie to finish off your round. One of the worlds architectural guru's, once said, "A finishing hole should be the climax of the round and pose a strong risk." With water guarding the whole left side of this long dogleg there is plenty of risk. The first time I played this hole I hit what I thought was going to be a nice tee shot. I watched a little draw run out and slowly trickle left until it nearly came to rest on the wood piling and drop into the lake. Since that time I have been playing more right and coming in at a distinctly inferior angle. As all great architects do, they give you the best angle only by luring you into the highest risk shot. I am now left with a long iron or hybrid into a deep tiered green that is protected short right by grass moguls and a bunker; long by a deep bunker and left by water. As most holes are at Sawgrass, there just isn't a great place to miss a shot. Pete Dye has done a wonderful job at the Stadium course of defending par at the green complexes.

Only once have I have shot in the 30's on a nine here, 38. It was only when I was able to par these last three holes and make no double bogeys on all of the others. What a great feeling it was to think that I had finally got the best of this string of finishing holes for once. It is so hard to play nine, let alone a round at TPC Sawgrass, without making a double bogey or worse. Just watch the final day of play at The Players Championship and see how many players fold up like cheap tents on #16-#18.

Other notable long holes: #2, #5, #7, #9, #14.