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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Knicks protest fizzles

Knick fans’ blue and orange blood ran in the streets tonight. The Knicks season is over before it starts, no matter who they draft. Team management is in disarray, the lunatics run the asylum, prices escalate, money is wasted and the fans come last.

Despite the support of ESPN and local New York City newspapers, the fan run protest of team mismanagement by owner James Dolan and team president Isiah Thomas fizzled. Barely thirty young fans gathered at a bar close to Madison Square Garden at a rally that was a basketball version of an Irish wake. Sure, they yelled and chanted and carried the odd sign, but more fans watched disinterested from the sidewalks than participated.

The most telling assessment came from the lone plainclothes policeman assigned to monitor the protest which began at Mercury Bar on 9th Avenue and 46th street.

“Sarge? It’s [name removed]. There’s only thirty of them here. Naw…I don’t need anybody. I got it.”

That was the death knell for the Knicks. One overweight middle-aged cop could control the anger of the fans. So much for grass roots change. Somewhere, Dolan is laughing.

Yes, the traveling three ring hardwood circus that is the NBA rolled guffawing into town, passing out their version bad LSD/stale coffee to any chump stupid enough to stick out his tongue. The entire shuck of an NBA Draft was a sad, expensive dog and pony show. All the while, the fans suffer and pay and pay and pay…for a brutal unwatchable product.

New York’s situation could happen anywhere. An inexperienced, immature and uneducated owner, star-struck with athletes runs the team with an iron fist, prizing every last cent form the fans and yet fielding a team full of lazy self-aggrandizing prima donnas.

“We need to initiate change. The fans are fed up with management” said Mr. Orange, the organizer of the protest and founder of www.selltheknicks.com. “Dolan is supposed to be a savvy businessman, so he should understand when he is selling and we are buying an inferior product. All we want is a team worthy of the ticket price and the stature of the league.”

“You have to do a better job in the biggest market and with the biggest payroll” said Ben Patterson, a lifelong fan from Staten Island. He spends all this money, ticket and concession prices are astronomical and we have a terrible, laughing stock product.”

“We need more fiscally responsible management. We are the most loyal fans, but management has been disloyal to us” said law student Dave Sorani, echoing the perception of many that Dolan sold out the fans to shoot baskets and talk shop with Hall of Famer Thomas. Indeed, some decisions by Dolan have been so asinine, the perception may be reality. “He got the team from daddy and he’s playing with it like a toy” continued Sorani. “There’s no checks and balances on Dolan’s decisions and he has let Thomas craft a team that is selfish, incohesive and dispassionate. If this were any fiscally responsible company, Thomas would have been gone long ago.”

Meanwhile other fans watch mildly disinterested. “I heard about it, but I’m not going” said one fan. While some honked car horns in support, and some clapped and egged demonstrators on in their protest chants of “Duck Folan” and “Fire Isiah,” the blasé, shoulder-shrugging “whatever” attitude is more akin to Morocco than the USA. “I’m too diehard a fan to join the protest” said another fan. “I’ll keep coming and paying my money even though they suck. Whoooooooooo! Go Knicks!” he shouted as he ran to his general admission floor seat for the draft.

The fate of the team’s fans is in the hands of kids in “I can be your private dancer” T-shirts and baggy overpriced jerseys. Call the coroner, the Knicks are DOA this year.

Even worse, security, NBA Entertainment execs and broadcast crew smile wanly as the small protest rolls by spewing obscenities about Dolan. Three official-looking NBA Entertainment chumps in suits too small for their oversized bodies are laughing long and hard at them while simultaneously inhaling shrimp cocktail. The food rotates grotesquely in their open mouths as they chew and laugh like donkeys. They spill sauce all over themselves laughing and slapping each other on the backs and making themselves and their laminated credentials obvious.

Meanwhile the rest of the NBA “in crowd” arrive like so many pseudo-glitterati in their ridiculously large diamond earrings and necklaces even though they have yet to contribute their obligatory 3.2 points, 1.2 rebounds and 4.1 arrests per year. “Step aside, make way, big bling comin’ through yo!” shouts one player in a wiiiiiiiiiiiiide pinstripe suit more apropos to a pimp than a professional anything. “I’m royalty and I’m about to be coronated.”

Good lord…”coronated?” It’s a good thing for us he’s not a doctor. “You’ll never have to work again in your life!” shouts a clapping, sycophantic TV broadcast crew member as he walks in to MSG. Was Shaquille O’Neal right when he referred to non-members of “The Association” as “earthlings?” Does this superclass of privilieged athletes hold us in that much disdain and contempt? Even their families roll through the crowds like hot knives through butter. “Move please” says one woman as she rudely elbows fans aside. “I’m [name deleted] god mother. " "I’m [name deleted] grandfather" says another.

But that’s today’s NBA. It’s just like a rock concert entourage – backstage everybody’s somebody – and usually full of inflated self-importance. Please! Somebody coronate these people and fast. Preferably right to the head: soon and often, use force if you have to!

Finally, at 7:35 a giant grinning bespectacled frog waddled to the podium to an enormous chorus of Bronx cheers. This is Madison Square Garden Theatre, yet nobody can hear him call Andrea Bargnani’s name. I guess if you wanna hear, you have to pay $300. That’s how much the Madonna tickets sold for at the Garden for the concert tonight.

Moreover, David Stern and any player look like a ridiculous version of Gandalf and Frodo standing next to each other - only Frodo is grinning with a manic, selfish glint in his eye. After all, the money wheel keeps turning and it can’t slow down. $6.50 for a Bud Light – but “Oh no, we have no imported beer tonight” says the merch wombat looking almost scandalized. “There’s lots of kids here tonight!”

What is this, Manhattan or Dubuque?

Meanwhile fans boo Bargnani for being Italian, chanting “USA! USA! and boo Adam Morrison for being Adam Morrison, when he’s selected by the Charlotte Bobcats.

Shouldn’t they be cheering that he was selected by the Bobcats? With Jordan running that team, he’ll never be seen or heard from again…

No, the way to beat a guy like Dolan is to hit him in the wallet, but that will never happen. For every fed up fan there are two more star struck, TV-anesthetized groupies desperate for vicarious satisfaction.

Just take a look at the other horror show playing the Garden tonight. Madonna, shameless, old-and-slow, money-grubing tramp that she is fleeces $300 per ticket from old blue haired dingbats who pay $50 per T-shirt - $75 for one with her gyrating around a stripper pole. All that is left is for Debbie Reynolds and Florence Henderson to sell tickets to a show where they french kiss each other. That’s the last sign of the apocalypse. At the Garden, can it be far?

Meanwhile a decal graces the Garden Ticketmaster window which reads “Fans First!” Outside blue and orange blood runs in the streets and few seem to care.

It makes no difference whether the Knicks draft anyone this year. They might as well trade to the New England Patriots for Diet Pepsi Machine. Basketball in NYC is dead, but precious few mourned its passing.

Yale G.C. - New Haven, CT

200 Conrad Drive
New Haven, CT

Architect: Seth Raynor!
Difficulty: 11/12
Excitement Factor: 10/12

The rest of the ratings are below this article. I am reprinting the thought of my golf architecture expert colleague, Jim Keever.

Jim is spot on. Boola Boola. ONe editorial note, some of the hole descriptions are excerpted by Jim from Bahto and Banks' book which descirbes Yale really well.

"Yale had to be epic in proportions and difficulty to battle against the technology of its time. Hence, given #1 & #2 above, these factors enabled Raynor & Macdonald to give us the wildest versions of their holes to date. 700 acres (With a potential 2nd course that was laid out) also helped them find these monsters. We can quibble about which redan, alps, cape, knoll, etc. hole are their best works, but Yale puts so many outstanding examples of their templates in front of the golfer, along with ideas rarely seen in their other courses:

#1 Green - Combo punchbowl/road green
#2 A skyline cape
#3 Double punchbowl in its original location
#4 Just for its routing/site
#5 My favorite hole and version of it with the green horseshoe will be the 1st hole on KeeverTown G.C. and Steakhouse after I hit the MegaMillions (Hit the green or start your round with a double bogey)
#8 Never has a slicer been more grateful
#9 Biarritz to the nth degree
#10 Shinnecock #9 on steroids with the carry tee shot
#11 Artistry in getting the fairway and greenside bunkers on the left tied in their rock walls to their backsides - a nice reminder of the site work that was done
#12 Alps with a two-tiered green on a blind 2nd shot
#13 Redan over water
#14 Knoll with a wedding cake top
#17 Double Plateau fronted with The Principal's Nose
#18 High Road and Low Road (Glad to see the hole not as choked on the tee and 2nd shots)

They also camoflaged alot of the landing areas look smaller than they really are." (that excerpt is from the Bahto/Banks book. The 21st century editorializations are Jim's.)

I hope that I am not restating or plagerizing your ideas from the book, but at Yale, "The Hits Just Keep on Coming".

Most of us have seen the holes before on other courses. Yale is all of the knowledge and technology vs. all of the player technology. Most first time players are awed by the boldness, the scale and the terrain. Along the way, they learn about fear from being in the wrong position of their own making, stamina due to the terrain and the intense punishments meted out to the less than well struck shot, and occasionally, elation from pulling off the right shot at the right time.

Perhaps they should have named the course "Maine", as in "You can't get there from here", based upon the physical location in finding the course the first time as well as where you will have to try to recover from once you are on its hallowed grounds. In the end though, The Course at Yale lives up to the university's motto: Lux et Veritas (Light AND Truth) because in spite of it's stern and foreboding nature, the crafty and guileful can manage their way around quite nicely, thank you.

Now, here are my scores:

Design: Six and 1/2 stars [all ratings out of seven]

Let's see, horizontal movement in the fairways? Check - great encyclopaedia of terrific golf holes and shapes. It poses excellent golf problems to solve and therefore is quite the academic and intellectual course totally worthy of Yale's rich academic heritage. The "post-graduate degree" of golf courses. Lunkhead bombers who like their golf neat and clean with no surprises and who insist on having everything framed for them are better off "chumping" somewhere else.

The half-star off is because I had to pretty much exclusively use wedge around the greens. There were few bump and run shots or putt from pff the green approaches. Just a little too few greenside options.

Vertical movement in the holes? Holy smokes BIG CHECK! Up and down all day with dramatic carries off the tee and on approaches. Excellent.

Interesting character filled greens? Another huge check. There is not a single throw away hole shape and there is not a single throw away green either. Each green is a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Numbers 9 and 17 (biarritzes) and 10 (think 16 at Black Mesa) stand out in a murderer's row of terrific greens. An all star line-up.

Natural Setting: Four and 1/2 stars. You're in the woods in CT. You're here for the golf. Views are immaterial.

Conditioning: Five and 1/2 stars. Really good. In fact clever in its intricacy. Take again, the wild contours of No. 10. In order to bring all that contour in play, they keep the stimp rating at 7.5-8. Slower greens = more interesting contours. What a concept.

Value: NA - Private

Overall: Six and 1/2 stars. This one's a gem.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

BMW motors into event sponsorship with PGA Tour

This was reported over the sports and intellectual property law wire just a few minutes ago:

German automotive giant BMW yesterday announced a six-year partnership agreement with the PGA Tour and the U.S. Western Golf Association (WGA) to create the BMW Championship.

The new BMW Championship will be third of four PGA Tour "play-off tournaments" forming the season ending "race for the cup" that culminates the new FedExCup competition that debuts in 2007.

Jan-Christiaan Koenders, director, BMW brand communications, said: “The partnership reinforces BMW's global three pillar sports marketing strategy. The strategy includes partnership agreements with the US America's Cup sailing team, BMW Oracle Racing, the BMW Sauber F1 Team and now the prestigious PGA Tour.”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Knicks vs. the fans of New York: The Natives Scream for Blood Sacrifice

Most Egyptologists agree the famous boy-king of Egypt, Tutankhamun was ruthlessly murdered. Some blame court intrigue saying Tut’s inexperience and tender years were a recipe for mis-management of the realm.

How many boy-kings in history have had the political acumen and intellectual prowess to protect both the kingdom and their necks? It would be easy – don’t you think – to merely whack young Tut and blame it on natural causes and then just take over.

It’s too bad mob justice cannot carry the day for the New York Knicks and their legion fans. The barbarian boy-kings he not at the gate, he rules the kingdom; and things have just spiraled down for the team at an exponential rate. But with the latest public relations debacle – suing fans for expressing dissent in the form of a free speech rally with T-shirts of the offending owner and president/coach - James Dolan and Isiah Thomas have got to go. Now.

There are bedrock rules in New York City – don’t burn the locals. Suing fans – The Knicks vs. the People of New York City - is just as odious as the Recording Industry suing kids for downloading music. The natives are rightfully angry and demand blood in repayment.


Larry Brown, the only coach to win both an NCAA Championship and NBA Championship, was run out of town unceremoniously by the Cassius and Brutus of New York City – James Dolan and Isiah Thomas. Thomas was recently named as the replacement for Brown as coach.

Thomas has sullied everything he touched as a manager – the CBA, the Toronto Raptors, The Indiana Pacers and now the once proud New York Knicks. Let’s be candid – had the NBA not swallowed the whistles in the late 80s in trying to corner certain demographic markets, the “Bad Boy” Pistons would never have beaten the Celtics or Lakers.

Fox Sports Broadcaster Steve Czaban offered this bit of wisdom back in April: "The only thing left is for Isiah to coach the team himself. That should be hilarious. Sort of like allowing th guy who set the building on fire to run out the back door and then jumpo on the fire engine and start working the hose."

Close - its really like the clowns coming out to hose everybody down with seltzer bottles.

Hanging out with athletes is a seductive, soul-selling groupie syndrome. Dolan has sold out the fans and the franchise to hang around and shoot hoops and talk sports with a marginal-at-best legend. Moreover, now that Dolan helped Isiah avoid responsibility for a sexual harassment suit that would have been a media circus a nd destroyed his carefully crafted image, Dolan is de facto coach of the team.

Neither Dolan, Thomas, nor the gimcrack assembly of overpriced slackers they imported to Camp Cablevision was worthy of working with a proven winner like Larry Brown. Sure, Brown may jump from job to job, but his record speaks for itself. Has ANY other coach in any other sports amassed such a perennial winning percentage? And don’t throw out Phil “Big Chief Triangle” Jackson because Jackson hasn’t had to work with the turkeys Brown has inherited. Brown takes proven losers and makes them overachievers. Here, in full, is his record:

1972-74 Carolina Cougars (ABA) 104-64
1974-79 Denver Nuggets 251-134
1979-81 UCLA 42-17
1981-83 New Jersey Nets 91-67
1983-88 Kansas University 135-44
1988-91 San Antonio Spurs 153-131
1991-93 L.A. Clippers 64-53
1993-97 Indiana Pacers 190-138
1997-2003 Phila. 76ers 255-205
2003-05 Detroit Pistons 108-56
2005-06 NY Knicks 23-59

Hey Dolan and Isiah: maybe its you. But don't take my word for it. Back in February, The Daily News' MIke Lupica wrote: "who else on this planet signs Jerome James for $30 million? Who else gives $50 million to Jamal Crawford and trades Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson, who can't jump and had a bad back before he got here? Who traded an unprotected lottery pick that might turn out to be the No. 1 pick in whole draft for Eddy Curry? There is no point guard in the house, there is no power forward, and guess what? We may have been a little premature sending Channing Frye to the Hall of Fame. The Knicks turned no corner last night. The Knicks just keep going around in circles. Now the smart-mouth television guys say they couldn't win the NCAA Tournament. The Knicks lead the league only in salary, and punch lines."

There is an enormous difference between playing ball and understanding complex business economics. The two types are mutually exclusive – deep thinking and playing basketball/football.

The fiscal future of professional sports organizations and teams should never be entrusted into the hands of professional athletes. Either well trained expert non-athletes control the sport or we create an athlete run police state where the fox is in charge of the henhouse.

Look at the list of “legands” that run a front office worse than they run their chamber pots – Isiah, Jordan, Matt Millen – failures all as general managers and team presidents.

No, Dolan and Matt Millen of the Detroit Lions are boy-kings who deserve Tut’s fate. By suing the fans, Dolan has made himself the most mindless thug in basketball and public enemy number one to everyday New Yorkers. After all – he could come after you next. Dolan and Millen stomp dissent under their jackboot, wrongfully using the law or their security thugs because they have the slush fund to support a frivolous lawsuit and ordinary New Yorkers do not.


Look at the grim, brutish reality that is the NBA. Players have recently:
revolted against coaches who make them practice;
refused to enter games when instructed by the coach;
refused to take open shots;
told the opposing team what play was coming;
engaged in any other form of insubordination they can justify; and
had more arrests than they have legitimate children (too many to list here.)

Yet they still have jobs and get paid. That’s the horrible bill that has come payable due to guaranteed contracts and poor labor negotiating. Players get paid no matter how little they produce and no matter how great the transgression they still get enough money to do nothing but play video games, hang out at strip clubs every night make a social nuisance of themselves.

$4 million a year for 3.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 4.1 arrests: that’s the line score of the American-born NBA “baller.” Foreign born players play harder simply because most of them had to float to this country from across an ocean on nothing but an American flag and a barrel. They know playing sports is not hard work. But our homegrown player is enabled, emboldened and protected by those who sell their integrity to live vicarioously through the game and athlete.

I know one shallow-thinking sycophant of a labor lawyer at a big Manhattan firm who fancies himself as having enough “managerial timber”to pipe dream himself into the Commissioner’s chair. He once tried to justify guaranteed contracts simply because “we can’t alienate the players” he didn’t have the "managerial timber" to come out and say they are a cancer and stand up for the sport and it’s integrity. He similarly thought the steroids hearings were pointless and that the players’ union was right to oppose stringent testing.

Like Dolan and Isiah, this guy is best off playing EA Sports Head Coach 2006 and leaving the policy discussions to the dedicated, courageous and incorruptible.

Instead, when the fans complain, they get sued. Meanwhile, Dolan, in conduct typical of a man who has never had any idea how to responsibly spend his time or his money, also pretends he’s a rock star, singing blues songs with a bunch of honky-tonk washouts in local dives.

When a banshee screams a soul is stolen, but when the natives scream for blood, they get nothing but higher ticket and concession prices. Moreover, Dolan’s suppression of free speech is downright un-American. Democracy is sports dead in NYC but sports fans can do little but mourn its passing. Sure, there will be a solid group of Knicks fans motivated by selltheknicks.com lining up outside The Merc Bar on 9th Avenue between 45gth and 46th at 5:15 Wednesday. All fans should come to march and protest the gross negligence inflicted on the franchise by the Boy-King and the Sideshow Phony. But nothing short of Congressional or criminal investigation will dislodge Dolan. The only hope is that the teams tanks again next year even worse. Then at least half the equation, Isiah, will be gone.

Meanwhile on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” this morning we were asked to weep for a hardened criminal teen who’s only hope – we are told by reporter Mark Schwartz – is a multi-million dollar contract from the NBA; a contract he can’t get until he turns 19. Until then, Schwartz paints it “unfair” that the kid has to “work in a candy store for $6.00 an hour.”

How dare an athletic prodigy that the media wants to anoint as a baby-Kobe have to work like the rest of us! What a great message to send the kids. What a great civic example to lionize for the fans who want to see teams made up of players of which they can be proud.

But of course, to the owners and the media who are star-struck praying at the holy church of the professional athlete, once these fans turn away, there will always be more chumps right behind them that just look a little different than the last bunch of suckers.

After all – being around athletes is mesmorizing. They are banking on that. The best way for evil to proliferate is for good men to do nothing. They are banking on that too.

For more information on the march to the Garden, contact Mr. Orange at www.selltheknicks.com or tune in to ESPN.com tomorrow for a live Iternet chat.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup redux (part 2)

Following up on my World Cup preview piece, let's take a look at the round of 16 matchups.

You can still review these brackets as "Groups" as they do in previous rounds, just single elimination (like our regional finals in the NCAA tourney) and each winner goes to the final four.

A. Brazil v. Ghana, Spain v. France - This is the Group of Death. Everyone is penciling in Brazil, but my sources inside Ghanaian football convinced me to write in my preview piece that Ghana's speed and depth were enough for me to pick them to win one game and knockout the team they beat.

We were both wrong. They won two games and knocked out both teams they beat. They beat numbers two and five in the FIFA rankings. They hung tight with Italy. They have speed, speed, speed.

There is no substitute for speed. It can't even be coached.

Ghana will give the Samba Kings all they can handle. The refs will give the Samba Kings the game. This is international "futbol," not the NFL. Do you think FIFA wants the world number one and its biggest draw out early? 1-1 Brazil wins on penalty kicks. But this game smells as fishy as the Pittsburgh Steeler-Indianapolis Colts playoff game from this January.

Spain v. France - Spain looked fantastic in the Group Stage and their reward is France and a date with Brazil or Ghana. Ouch. France has looked sluggish and uninspired. They beat Togo, but eleven guys out of a bar could beat Togo. Spain wins going away, proving 1998 was a gift from God. Surprise, Spain upsets Brazil to go to the semis.

B. The winner of that bracket faces the winner of England v. Ecuador, Portugal v. Netherlands.

England has no excuse not to win this Group. Ecuador is overmatched and should fall 3-1. If England loses to either Portugal or The Netherlands, it didn't deserve to win the Cup. If you are going to win the cup, you cannot succumb to inferior talent. Portugal is highly touted, but did not impress in the Group Stage and the pressure of their institutional imprint of losing on the biggest stage, they are ripe for a pressure-triggered upset. I think they edge the Netherlands in a squeaker, but lose to the Lions. If Netherlands beats Portugal, they know and match up well with England and should upset them. Winner: England

C. Italy v. Australia, Switzerland v. Ukraine - Oh sweet, SWEET justice! Finally, Italy gets a break. They overmatch the "Socceroos" in every phase and are playing because they know if they lose, they go home to criminal investigations. Win the Cup and all is forgotten. They are playing as though their lives depended on it, which essentially, they are. Further, Italy is playing at its level or higher, finally. Wanna win the World Cup? You have to beat the "Number 2s" and "Number 5s" of the World to earn your shot at Brazil. Italy looked good winning that murderous group. By the way, Italy gets "U.S., Czech Republic and Ghana" Spain gets "Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia." I'm just saying...

Italy stomps Australia like floppy grapes. By the way, "Socceroos" is the wackiest name since "Ominous Seapods."

Switzerland and Ukraine scare no one. If you want a stat, fine - Switzerland has not allowed a goal yet. Further, Ukraine looked awful in getting flattened and humiliated by Spain 4-0. They beat Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, which means they beat nobody who'll be missed. Switzerland wins, but loses to Italy 3-1.

Azzuri, if you fail to convert this "penalty kick" of a bracket, don't come home.

D. Germany beat Sweden 2-0 as we went to press, but don't tell me you didn't see that coming. There's one World Cup rule similar to the NBA, keep the home team in the game (and the tourney) as long as possible. They win the next game also and advance to the semis against Italy.

Argentina v. Mexico - everyone is "ooohing" and "aaahing" saying this is the sexy upset pick, but I'm not buying it. Yes, "Mexico has played them alot" and "Mexico knows them really well" "Mexico can hang with them" but Argentina is playing great and Mexico is playing average. The margin of error for Mexico is too small. Argentina will just wear them down by coming at them wave after wave after wave. One miscue and this one is out of reach. Argentina pulls it out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Memo from the Sports Desk: Be nice to the new guy

Good news. After discussions with the greasy-haired geeks with pimples I call accountants and the brute hulking gorilla eaters I call lawyers, and surveying our field-resources, we have decided to expand.

We have two new positions around here. First, after holding tryouts and reading pieces from some that were more thrilling than nil-nil draws in "futbol," we narrowed down the competition for the newly created position of "contributing writer" to two finalists. In a fierce head to head, teeth-on-leg, battle the winner was Jon Kulok of Arlington, VA, who narrowly defeated The Iguana.

Everybody got that? The new guy's name is JON KULOK, pronounced "KUL-ock" - that's Kul as in "cool," ok as in "clock." He's got a lovely family. In fact his wife and I were born on the same day, in the same hospital even though she was from Texas and I was from Syracuse. Freaky, huh? Within an hour of each other. Then we all met up at college. Good synergy.

Now, I like the cut of The Iguana's jib. He's got moxie (go look it up...). So we've decided to keep him around too. He's gonna work security around here. All crazies, fakirs, liars, cheats, thieves, chumps, lunkheads, dingbats and any other assorted complainers will be directed to a glass cubicle on the outside of the building, where The Iguana will drop you off a cliff. Complaints by phone will enter a new automated system with pre-recorded replies. All calls and messages will be returned by The Iguana between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 AM. In all other cases I have given The Iguana license to bite - hard and often. He moves like a cat and has the jaws of a yeast-infected pit bull, so don't get on his bad side. You wouldn't like The Iguana when he's mad.

So there it is. Expect to continue to be swamped by the same nightmare hellbroth of gibberish, swill and tomfoolery to which you've become accustomed, only better. There will be no relief until Christmas. It's about time we added some people with some sense around here. Who knows. If we find the right greasy-haired pimply nerd, we may even add one more.

Naturally, you must now address me as "Editor-in-Chief" or "Senior Writer" whichever is appropriate to the situation. If you have a name for The Iguana, shout it out.

And no that is NOT a picture of Kulok, that's The Iguana.

Rant over. As you were.

Post script. I love The Great Shark Hunt, don't you? Kevin Elling was thinking the same thing the other day.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Phil MIckelson has "lost his privilege" to go for it

Recently, I reconnected with an old college buddy. I invited him out for a drink. He replied that he had to refuse - he "lost his privilege."

That's an interesting choice of words - "lost his privilege." I lauded him for his will power. After reading John Daly's confession in Golf Magazine, my heart went out to him too. I may even give him a second chance.

Phil Mickelson is in the same situation when it comes to the siren that is temptation on the golf course. Has any player been burned more times going for the gusto than Phil? Have there been more high profile "lay-ups" - safe plays - that beat anybody in majors.

Geoff Shackelford turned my on to the wonder that is temptation. It's what makes Augusta so dramatic. Except for rare circumstances like this weekend, it's also erased from the U.S. Open usually in the severe set up.

The old Phil too often succumbed to the temptation...and lost. Then he watched as both David Toms and Payne Stewart STOLE majors from him laying up and rolling in 12-15 footers.

After Sunday's debacle, Phil has lost his privilege to be the river boat gambler at the majors. He knew not to do what he did and he did it anyway.

I know that to truly consider yourself a golfer, you must have a sportsman's soul - the soul of a lady or gentleman. But while the game demands that we tolerate and respect when golf becomes a morality play, but that doesn't mean we have to like it or enjoy it.

Notes: Matt Mulcahy and Leon Van Rensburg

Two quick notes before today's piece.

1. Congratulation to PGA Club Professional Leon Van Rensburg for scoring four eagles in one round. In doing so, Leon set a new course record of 29-33=62 at Reese Golf Club, a daily fee track five miles west of Lubbock, TX.

Is this some sort of record? I have some people looking, but you do the same and lets see. No matter what, it's an amazing feat. The course is 6600 yards, par 72 from the tips. The round was witnessed by PGA member Ronnie Rossen and amateur Steve Long.

Until recently, Leon was head pro at the Tom Doak designed Rawls Course in Lubbock. My review of the Rawls Course is here (and at Cybergolf.)

2. Welcome a new media friend to the fold - Matt Mulcahy. Matt is a news anchor for WSTM in Syracuse, New York and is married to Jamie Pomilio, the niece of an old friend of my own and my dad's, Judge Anthony Pomilio of Family Court in Oneida County. We reconnected at the Open on Sat and Sun.

Matt has a good blog called Matt's Memo, (click on Matt's Memo) about national news and local news in Syracuse. I rate him just as highly as the excellent blog by my dear friend and colleague Tom Kirkendall over at Houston's Clear Thinkers, so check him out.

Steve Czaban on Phil's Collapse - Don't Blame Bones Mackay

First, Steve Czaban - the pulse of the Great American Sportsman does a terrific job analyzing the "Good Angel/Bad Angel" discussion in Phil's head on 18. With Steve's persmission, I'm reprinting with a quick edit or two (sorry, but we're PG-13 here):

Good Angel: You’ve hit like 2 fairways all day. Put the big dog bag in the bag.”

Bad Angel: Yeah, but I’m PHIL! Do you hear these fans! I’ve gotta hit driver! Besides, I think I just figured something out. Baby Carve Slice. I got it...I got it!

DRIVE: Flare, fore left!

Good Angel: Nice going lunkhead. Ready to listen? This is a 9-iron into the fairway. YOU ARE THE BEST WEDGE PLAYER IN THE WORLD. Up and down for win, simple bogey for playoff. I’ve cleared my schedule for tomorrow, so let’s smarten up.

Bad Angel: But I’ve been pulling these shots off all DAY! And everybody is watching me! Come on, what’s the worst that could happen?

SHOT LOW AND LEFT: Smacks trees, kicks down and back.

Good Angel: That's it, Humpty dumpty, I’m outta here. Do whatever you want.

Bad Angel: Whatever. I’ve got this, over the trees, into the bunker, you KNOW I’ll get it up and down.

APPROACH SHOT: In the air, the Golf Gods intervene…

Golf Gods: “There’s no WAY we are letting him get up and down after all this. One fried egg, please...to go.

Now while we're in the subject of recovery shots, if I see Phil and Tiger say this (or do this) "Let's put this ball - from the worst conceivable place on the hole - into the gallery and suddently I get a free drop and an easy up and down, where as if the stands weren't there, they'd be screwed" I'm going to scream. Players are being allowed to hit a ball in the gallery (dangerous to begin with) and get an easy chip form far closer to the pin than they would have been.

The gallery is NOT a bail out option. Instead, it's become a seedy and unseemly crutch. In trouble up to your eye balls? Aim for this huge OTHER green-sized thing and get a nice drop for an easy par. That is not golf.

Finally, for everyone blaming Bones Mackay for not getting Phil to play safe, I just have three words.

STOP IT ALREADY. You are embarrassing yourself. Bones can make all the suggestions he wants or not, it's the player's decision. YOU do not have ANY idea of the rapport between player and caddie regarding what he/she can/cannot do. You think Vijay Singh would tolerate the CADDIE saying, "You know Vij, I know you've got a green jacket and two PGA's, but why don't you lay up?"

You'd be on Brett Wetterich's bag next week. Blaming Bones is for people who talk before they think.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open - Phalling Phlat in Phorty minutes

Winged Foot went from phestival to phuneral in phorty minutes.

We golf writers were all writing the leads. . At 6:24, it looked like the tournament was Mickelson’s.

Everyone in Mamaroneck – from the media, to the members on the terrace to the massive galleries around the golf course - thought the 2006 U.S. was over, the last few holes just a phormality for Phil Mickelson. It was supposed to be a victory lap.

But then the unthinkable happened. A meltdown of epic proportions. Here, in all their horror are the…


6:24 – Fresh off a birdie on 14, Mickelson calmly rolls in a short putt for par on 15 that gives him a two shot cushion over his nearest competitors.

6:26 – The gallery around 18 roars with delight as the scoreboard is changed to reflect Phil’s two shot lead with three to play. Cheers erupt from the terrace. Elderly gentlemen are high fiving. Women are actually weeping with joy and clapping as though rooting for the child of their loins. All New York City and Mamaroneck polite society are in joyful ecstacy. Sportswriters begin filing out of the media dining room to start to write their articles.

6:28 – Colin Montgomerie rolls in a twisting, double breaking seventy footer for birdie. He’s now just one shot off the lead. “Where was that two holes ago? A little late” observed one photographer clearly getting his gear ready for the Phil victory interview.

6:33 – Mickelson’s drive on 16 goes under a tree on the right side of the fairway.

6:34 – Montgomerie finds the dead center of the 18th fairway.

6:36 - Geoff Ogilvy improbably chips in from the rough for par. He stays at +5 for the tournament.

6:38 – Mickelson’s second shot is a punch that runs short of the green. He would eventually miss an eight foot putt and card a bogey, his lead is now one shot.

6:43 – Perhaps believing the roar behind him was Ogilve making birdie, not par, Montgomerie “sticks his iron in the fairway” (as he later put it) and plops his approach in the rough short of the right greenside bunker by 18 green. By now the gallery and media watching are muttering “what if” and “are we seeing this” to one another.

The shot of Monty's career and he hits it short and right - the ugliest shot in golf.

6:45 – In one of the only lunkhead moves by any fan all week, some chump fires off an airhorn as Montgomerie approaches his ball. He is quickly surrounded by New York State Police and removed.

6:46 – Montgomerie blades his shot from the rough and it finally stops forty feet left of the cup. Dismayed he shakes his head. The crowd gasps in horror absolutely shocked, not believing what they saw.

6:49 – After running his first putt nine feet by, Montgomerie missed the comebacker. His double bogey six leaves him at +6 for the tournament one behind Geoff Ogilvy who has found the fairway on 18 and two behind Mickelson.

6:51 – Ogilvy’s second shot lands just short of the green on 18.

6:52 – Despite hitting his Driver into a garbage can on 17 and still scrambling for par and needing only a par to win, Mickelson hits his driver so far left it bounces off the top of the hospitality tent. (THE HOSPITALITY TENT!) “I know I had not been hitting a lot of fairways, but I went with my bread and butter shot and just hit it left.” When asked why he did not club down to a four wood, he said “I thought about it, but did not feel comfortable hitting a much longer club into the green. It might not have made it as far into the corner of the dogleg as I would have liked.”

6:53 – Ogilvy chips to two feet.

6:57 – Ogilvy makes his par putt. While he is the leader in the clubhouse at +5, he retires to the locker room to watch and wait. His wife, soon to deliver their first child. Joins him in the locker room.

7:00 – With a huge elm directly between himself and the green, the clock strikes midnight for Mickelson for all intents and purposes as his attempt at a high shot comes out low and strikes the tree, shooting back towards him. The ball came to rest 25 yards form im and the tree is still in the way. The crowd gaps in horror, dumbfounded. Journalists, USGA officials, State Police and fans all exchange stunned looks. Mickelson’s face falls, his eyes widen and he gets a “deer in headlights expression that slowly steels over his face. He turns his head away for a moment. I knew right then and there, he blew the Open.

A sullen silence descends over Winged Foot. You could hear a pin drop.

7:03 – Mickelson’s third avoids the same tree, but ends up in a buried lie in the bunker. There is a sotf “Oh!” from a few people, but again, stunned looks were all the crowd could muster. Mickelson begins to shamble up the fairway.

7:05 – In a last gasp for air, a “Let’s Go Phil!” chant erupts from the crowd.

7:07 – Mickelson’s bunker shot runs twenty feet past the hole and just into the short rough. The crowd again gasps in horror. Then, the silent pall descended.

7:09 – The collapse is complete as Mickelson misses the chip. Outside no one talks or moves it seems. Completely stunned, filled with the same cathartic tragedy as the end of Romeo and Juliet, the crowd begins to file out. In the locker room, a shocked Ogilvy embraces his pregnant wife, family and team. Hugs and handshakes ensue.


Mickelson played Russian Roulette with his driver all day and on eighteen he finally hit the chamber with the bullet in it. Mickelson hit merely a staggering two fairways all day - two. Moreover, the same 64 degree wedge Mickelson claimd saved him “one or two shots each day” abandoned him. He was 0 for 5 in sand saves today.

Montgomerie and Phil both double bogeyed 18 or they would have won. Jim Furyk would have made the playoff had he parred.

Mickelson gambled and lost despite having the experience of seeing both Payne Stewart and David Toms steal majors from under his nose by laying up and sinking 15 foot putts for par.

In calling Toms a wuss, a sports broadcaster friend opined, “He got lucky, they don’t put plaques in the fairway to commemorate guys that laid up.”

Yeah, but they don’t give out trophies to guys that take their shot and miss either.


Let’s not take anything away from Geoff Ogilvy, but let’s also put the day’s events in a historical perspective. Phil’s collapse, combined with Montgomerie’s improbable double bogey joins a short list of major championship horror stories for the ages.

- Sam Snead triple bogeys the last hole of the 1939 U.S. Open to lose to eventual playoff winner Byron Nelson.

- In 1966 Arnold Palmer blows a seven shot lead to lose to Billy Casper at Olympic Club.

- Roberto De Vicenzo signs an incorrect scorecard, attesting that he shot one stroke worse than he actually did. He is "assessed" the phantom stroke and misses a playoff by one shot. In broken English he laments "What a stupid I am.".

- Jean Van de Velde has a three shot lead going into 18 at Carnoustie during the 1999 British Open. He narrowly misses Barry Burn twice only to find it on his third shot. He sheds his shoes and socks to the delight of the crowd before his caddie talks sense into him and he takes a drop. His next shot finds the green side bunker. He escapes disaster for the moment by sinking a twelve-footer for the triple bogey seven, but loses in a playoff to Scotsman Paul Laurie.

- Stewart Cink three putts from two and a half feet to miss a playoof by one shot at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills.

All in all one fact remains as inescapable today as it did before the champion ship:

No golf course in America has as much of a synergy of U.S. Open history and U.S. Open misery as Winged Foot.

Once again, as happens at every U.S. Open, the golf course won.


A distant relative of Sir Angus Ogilvy (part of Britain’s Royal Family) and an even more distant relative of Scotland’s King of Bannockburn fame, Robert the Bruce, Ogilvy is also related to eminent pro golfer and commentator Judy Rankin. Rankin was elated that Ogilvy, who married her daughter-in-law’s sister, won the tournament.

Phil Mickelson's strategy at the U.S. Open strengthens the argument for furrowed bunkers

Bunkers are supposed to be hazards. Old Tom Morris said they are meant to be places of punishment and repentance.

But today's player attck the pins and gleefully spin the ball close to the hole for scoring chances.

Phil Mickelson plays the 307 yard par-4 6th hole by trying to put the ball in the bunker to try to position himself for a birdie. He'd would have had to chip in to do it today, since the bunker shot went long, but he birdied it yesterday.

Many pundits think such strategy should not be rewarded. "Henry Fownes, the designer of Oakmont said 'a shot poorly struck, should be a shot irrevocably lost. He's the the guy who put furrows in the bunkers there'" opined MSNBC's veteran golf writer Mike Celizic.

Jack Nicklaus added furrows to the bunkers at Muirfield Village for the Memorial Tournament and while the pros cried like Nancy Kerrigan others praised the bold move. Another old-time golf writer, Kaye Kessler applauded Nicklaus' courage. "The furrows are a great idea. The bunkers have become too easy with all the new equipment. A hazard should be a hazard.

More than one writer echoed the sentiments of Charles Blair Macdonald, the designer of National Golf Links of America (among others), run a herd of elephants through the bunkers before the pros get there.

Phourteen, Phiphteen have Mickelson Phishing for U.S. Open title

Sometimes to find the story you need to read between the stats. This year’s U.S. Open is no exception.

Here’s an example. A friend and I went to a hockey game. I was rooting for a cellar team – they were in last place. He was cheering for the mighty juggernaught. My team won 3-1, although we were heavily outshot in the stats. My buddy couldn’t figure out how his team lost. Before we left the press box I checked the stats.

“What are you looking for?” he asked. I replied “we beat you 9-3 in quality shots.”

“What are quality shots?” he asked. “It’s a stat I made up. It’s breakaways plus one timers” I replied. “We scored all three of our goals that way. That’s how we won. We got more high quality shots.”

Reading between the stats is the key to really analyzing how the game was won.

Cut to the fourteenth and fifteenth holes at Winged Foot. They are not the hardest holes on the course, but they are the hardest holes to the leaders and other serious contenders. Except Phil Mickelson.

On Thursday, David Howell was -4 when he got to fifteen tee. He was three shots clear of the competition.

He bogeyed. It triggered a four shot bloodletting.

On Friday Kenny Ferrie rocketed to -3 in the blink of an eye. He was three shots clear of the field at that time.

He double bogeyed fourteen and fifteen.

Steve Stricker, who ended up sleeping on the lead Friday night also bogeyed fifteen. Contenders Colin Montgomerie, and Geoff Ogilvy also bogeyed fourteen.

Let’s take a look at today’s contenders. Geoff Ogilvy bogeyed fourteen. Steve Stricker double bogeyed fourteen. Ian Poulter bogeyed fourteen. Padraig Harrington bogeyed fifteen.

But Phil birdied fourteen and parred fifteen. That was a two shot swing over the rest of the phield…oops, I mean field. In fact, Phil has played those holes a cumulative -1 for the week.

I’ll bet you a Krispy Kreme donut that 14 and 15 snakebite the leaders today and end up being the final arbiter of the match.

Or a Tal bagel sandwich, if you prefer.


“I put in [my bag] a wedge that Roger Cleveland over at Calloway designed for me” Mickelson noted with a grateful grin. “I called him up from Winged Foot and said ‘Roger, I need you to design a 64 degree wedg. I need it with a certain amount of bounce, I’ve got hit a lot of high bunker shots out of the sand.’ Mickelson continued. “I have used that club extensively and it has saved me a ton of shots. I hit the shot on ten where it was a flop shot that went in the hole. Then I used it out of the bunker on sixteen out of the plugged lie that flew up and went in.”

Mickelson believes if he goes on to victory, his fourth in the last ten majors and his third in a row, it will be because of the new wedge. “The shot on ten I couldn’t have done with my L-Wedge, I had to use the 64. If I’m able to be successful tomorrow, I will give credit to that one particular club.

Friday, June 16, 2006

JIm Furyk should make extreme gargling a sport

Click here for my Cybergolf piece on Furyk's great start and crazy injury.

Here is a clip:

They teased him in the locker room, but phlegmatic Jim Furyk, out of commission at Westchester from a gargling injury (GARGLING INJURY!) had the last laugh.

After “throwing my head back awkwardly,” and wrenching his back and neck badly last week, Furyk is right in the thick of the hunt at the U.S. Open with just a few doses of Aleve.

With only “Reese’s” and “Exelon” gracing his full frontal button shirt, there might have to be one more product placement if he wins.

Furyk has the game and mindset to reprise his 2003 victory at Olympia Fields. Even though the two courses are light-years apart in difficulty, the straight, steady, grinder Furyk could be more like Hale Irwin than he admits.

“I only got an opportunity to play with Hale a couple times. I have a lot of admiration and respect for his game. If I win a couple more, then I’ll start to compare myself to him. It may be a stout comparison at the moment” he said, humbly, but also with a hungry, yearning gleam in his eye.

Furyk’s straight steady game almost broke the aggregate scoring record at a mild 2003 setup at Olympia Fields. Winged Foot, perhaps the hardest Open venue of all is at the other end of the spectrum, but with it requirements of accuracy off the tee and severe greens, Furyk may translate all the way to the winner’s circle.

An Open letter to David Duval (reprinted from 02-16-05)

This is a reprint of a letter I wrote on my website on February 16, 2005 after Duval had carded several i80s and missed numerous cuts.

David shot the best round of the day today.

68 at Winged Foot. Setup for The U.S. Open. With the scoring average for the field over 75.

The letter speaks for itself. Now excuse me for a minute while I go watch my DVD of the 2001 British Open.


A lot of ink has been spilt and bandwidth absorbed chronicling the recent on-course tribulations of David Duval. Sure he has certainly carded some cringe-inducing scores and shouldered some searing, withering criticism. Sure he is a long way from the form that made him immortal back in the summer of 2001.

Several folks (even golf writers) have joked about him “getting shots” when he plays and queried “Could you beat David Duval?” Some have even uttered the word – retire.

Think about this for a second. Amateurs - people who do not PLAY golf for a living and possibly play it particularly poorly, and are nevertheless only vicariously involved with the man on any level (if at all) are suggesting to a seasoned professional and former World Champion “Give up.” “Quit.” “You can’t do it any more.” “You’re washed up.”

As a long time fan of David - someone who watched with joy as he finally conquered golf’s Mount Everest and who followed his career for several years before that - I also find I have to throw out my unsolicited opinion.

I may not know much about shooting scratch golf, but I know something about carrying on in the face of insurmountable odds and continuing to fight when everybody else says your quest cannot be achieved and you should give up.

By God, I sure do know something about that.

So after deep and careful consideration, David, please take a moment, gentleman to gentleman, golfer to golfer, human being to human being, to take the brief advice I will presume to offer.

DON’T YOU DARE GIVE UP. Not for one second.

I have seen the things you have accomplished...and I believe that the unquenchable spirit and ceaseless dedication you possess will overcome this too.

Did you give up when sportswriters and radio show hosts joked about you being over weight? Not for one second. You hit the gym, changed your diet and became a paragon of fitness. Did you give up when you got unfairly blighted with the worst tag in all sports, “best player to never win a major?” I’ll pause for a moment while you pour yourself another glass of claret from that silver jug with your name on it that graces your mantle. (Oh, and Nicklaus’ name...and Hogan’s...and Palmer’s...and Woods’...and Bobby Jones’...)

Did you ever act like a prima donna in public or have any public meltdown or moment of shame? By my count, there has never been a snap, snipe, or sour note from the smiling southerner even now as the microscope probes far too close. Plus, you handled the “World Champion of Golf” title that goes with winning the British Open with respect and dignity. You knew that winning the British Open was not the end, but a whole new beginning; one that carried a heavy burden of responsibility and reverence - a burden you bore with grace, class and dignity.

Who would you rather cheer for, sports fans? Guys like Freddie Mitchell? Alex Rodriguez? Randy Moss? Ron Artest? Jason Giambi? Ray Lewis? Rae Carruth? Barry Bonds? Stop me anytime if you find someone with as much integrity and grit as David Duval. Let’s face it. When it comes to being an ambassador of the game, Duval shares the rarified air of superlative gentlemanliness with such stalwart company as Mickelson, Els and Crenshaw.

Let me briefly remind everyone else about some other seemingly impossible things. It was absolutely impossible back in 1776 for a ragtag, divided, motley bunch of colonists to fight it out with England, a country that had not lost a war in CENTURIES and had superior arms, mercenaries, resources, naval power, manpower and money. No chance. A sure rout. Game over. Tea and crumpets all around.

I’m sorry. I must be confused because the star spangled flag on my house says something different. Oops. It seems we underestimated some little motley bunch of colonists’ resolve and resourcefulness.

Recently, when a midwestern American gentleman was trapped by a fire in his house, it was impossible that the family dog could somehow go to the telephone, dial 911 (DIAL 911!) and bark incessantly to summon help in time to save his master. That could never happen. No way. Well, woof woof...look what Rover just did. His master is alive and well, if incredibly lucky.

Courage is the ability to be strong and brave and resolute in the face of adversity. But valor is the ability to be courageous, brave and resolute in the face of insurmountable odds and certain failure. David, if you think winning the British was the high point thus far, just think how much more legendary, indeed epic it would be for you to win again on tour. You have already shown your valor, fighting on in the face of insurmountable odds and continuing to chase the dream no matter how many people tell you “don’t,” “no,” “can’t,” “won’t,” and “stop.” Boy, there is nothing more satisfying than proving them wrong.

More than that, what an example you are setting now that people are missing. Your valor and grace are the gold standard that not only athletes, but citizens (in the true sense of the word) should strive to attain. And people criticize that effort? This is the country that takes “don’t,” and turns it to “been there, done that, what’s next?” This country’s greatness (yes, I am proud of what we accomplish and believe we are great) was built on taking “can’t” and saying “Oh, yeah? Guess again.” Instead of the knee-jerk, instant gratification, “write it first so they can read it here first” reactions, some of us recognize this is a marathon not a sprint and that the race goes not to the swift, but the dedicated, the unsinkable and the fearless. We all should be inspired to work as hard. We all should dare to dream as big to achieve such heights. We all should face our adversity with such grace and resolve.

Our society would be so much better for the effort.

I believe in you, David. Just like I believe in anyone who shows the great American virtues of rock-hard resolve and tireless effort. I’ll take a guy who dives into the stands for loose balls, who runs the court full speed whether winning by 20 or losing by 20, and who is the first in the gym and the last to leave even when he knows he won’t play in the game that night anytime. He’ll lap lazy, talented guys in the long run and in the clutch.

Don’t you dare quit, David. You will get by, you will survive. So let them say what they want. None of it matters to me. They will have to pry my belief in you from my cold, dead hand.

Jay Flemma

The 2006 U.S. Open - Day 1 is just "getting to know you"

Witness now the rise and fall of a Day 1, back nine love affair.

Day one of the U.S. Open is just “getting to know you.” It’s nothing more than a first date. It’s a giggle, a flirt, a flip of blond hair, a flash of a golden tanned leg, maybe even a torrid kiss or two and promises of more to come. But as David Howell found out, falling in love on the first date is for hopeless romantics.

No, there is no room for careless, flighty love or the milk of human kindness at the U.S. Open. Howell joins a along list of first day stars that rose quickly, then fell back again with a sudden jolt.

Ever heard of George Burns? No, not the cigar chomping comedian, the journeyman golfer who torched the front nine at Pebble Beach on Day 1 in 1982. He was -6 after seven holes and had everyone scrambling for the media guide p[layer bios. But he fell to earth with a crash a few holes later.

Spunky LPGA teen phenom Morgan Pressel was five under on her front nine at Cherry Hills during day one of last years Women’s Open. She finished even par, giving back just enough shots to lose the cushion that might otherwise have been enough to foil Birdie Kim’s miracle bunker shot.

At 3:30 yesterday with Bo Van Pelt at -1 and tied for the lead with Colin Montgomerie there were few people following Howell, Van Pelt and Geoff Ogilvy. Then the whole group got in the zone.

“They were picking each other up” said Carrie Van Pelt, Bo’s wife – who was walking the course despite looking as though she might give birth to Bo’s unborn son Crew at any moment. “They are scrambling and hitting good shots all together.”

Picking each other up is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes players play to the level of their competition. Both Michael Campbell and Tiger Woods struggled horribly against Winged Foot yesterday, combining for an aggregate of +12. But as Carrie and her mom watched, surrounded just by a few family and friends, the flirting blond that is day one at the Open started the tease.

Yes, this siren is alluring, exotic, the kind of woman a man meets – well – once or twice in a lifetime. If he meets her at all. She’s no artificial passing beauty – no Jessica Simpson, no Paris Hilton.

The Open doesn’t wear makeup, flip-flops or hoopskirts.

No, the Open’s beauty is timeless, ageless; deep bright sparkling blue blue eyes, a full bloom for her lips, long thin legs, demure cheeks, long fiery red hair.

She started teasing him just as he had her all to himself.

A drained thirty-footer here, a scrambling par there, two more long birdie putts there the next thing you know, the small crowd of well wisher was being elbowed out of the way by TV camera after TV camera, New Yorker after New Yorker.

Still the trio carried on. They played in a stony silence – even the three caddies let each man walk alone. The players didn’t even talk to each other as the back nine unfolded. It was more like watching the rest of the baseball team leave the no-hitter throwing pitcher to himself to concentrate.

Even as Howell made his back to back birdies, the crowd was tiny and quiet. The occasional golf clap sputtered from the small crowd. You could only muster one table full of their gallery members for a game of Texas Hold ‘em.

But then, just as things started to get interesting and the crowd swelled to play follow the leader. Then the girl turned her head away – even as her suitor was doing and saying everything right.

For goodness sake, he was -4. On track to a 66, he was poised to make love to her with his golf clubs.

Standing on the 15th tee at -4 with a two iron in his hands for what Howell later called “one of the easiest shots I had all day” he pushed it in the rough.

Still Howell played safe. Hey, if the girl is angry, some flowers and candy should do the trick. Instead of forcing the issue and risking sinking one in the creek, Davis asked for his wedge, laid up to 100 yards and tried so save par the smart way. He bogeyed, but that’s OK. It could have been worse. -3 is still one hot first date.

Howell smoked his Cleveland Hy-bore of the tee at the brutal 487 yard 17th. A perfect shot to the exact right third of the fairway. His 6-iron went ONE FOOT over the green, but lay in rough that was over the tops of his shoes.

Sooth the girl’s feelings, make her laugh, make her comfortable. Look in her eye and make her laugh again. He nestled his chip within two feet.

Then came another frustrating miss. The green was now ringed with well-wishers, but Howell flashed a pained expression and turned around looking back down the fairway for a microsecond.

That was the one place on the hole where when he looked away, there were no fans. He tried to compose himself, but missed two-footers aren’t good for making eye contact with the gallery.

Once had the girl all to himself. Now, only one shot clear of the field, more suitors were talking to his girl.

When the dust on 18 had cleared and Howell’s final double bogey had dropped him a shot behind Colin Montgomerie you could sense the frustration in his eyes and clipped speech. The girl had gone home with someone else. “With the last holes, I’m really frustrated and I’m fed up” he lamented. “If the greens get firmer, this course is just going to get harder and harder.”

He had the girl…all to himself. And now he didn’t have her at all.

Once again at the Open, the more experienced, phlegmatic player survived. “I think the expectation was lower this particular year or the last few years and it does make a difference because you are more relaxed.”

Jim Furyk echoed those sentiments. One stroke off the lead, along with crowd favorite Phil Mickelson, Furyk said “today is nothing more than a good start and something to build on.”

The U.S. Open is a tough first date, she is flighty, flirtatious and certainly not monogamous. It’s a long tortuous courtship – full of breathless love, fiery passion, bitter disappointment and other lovers waiting ruthlessly take her away. Men would gladly dash themselves upon the rocks for her. But the Open is the girl that has no qualms whatsoever about going home with someone else’s date.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Battle of Merion - she gets the 2013 U.S. Open

Go to cybergolf for the rest of this story:

MAMARONECK, NY - The forces of good that battle for the preservation and promotion of golf’s greatest classic, strategic courses won a great victory today. Merion Golf Club – once thought lost to the mists of time forever as too short for major competitions – will host the 2013 U.S. Open.

The return of Merion to the informal U.S. Open rota is a victory on three levels – first for the great golf history already written at the club (including Bobby Jones finishing the Grand Slam there in 1930), second for all short course members and supporters s who believe a great shot-shaper’s and thinker’s course can stand up to the game’s of the world’s greatest and third for the promotion of great golf course architecture.

Built in 1912 by Hugh Wilson, no other golf club has hosted more USGA Championships than Merion. If Augusta is golf’s Yankee stadium, then Merion is Fenway Park.

Bill Iredale, Merion’s Championship Committee Chairman said “The 2013 Open will be the 18th national championship in the club’s history.” Merion has hosted four U.S. Opens with Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino among the winners, but has not hosted a major since 1981 when David Graham won with -7 (273).

“Merion has always taught us that brute length does not necessarily make for great golf” said venerable golf writer Marino Parachenzo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s a pleasure to have such a course of charm and integrity.”

Indeed, some believe the success of the 2005 U.S. Amateur, won by Italian Edoardo Molinari who was -7 after 15 holes cemented the decision. “From the standpoint of length and difficulty, Merion certainly answered the question in the affirmative during the 2005 U.S. Amateur.

Molinari himself brightened when told of the news. “It was such a joy to play because it’s not just driver-five iron. You have to hit a lot of different shot shapes and there is a nice mix of short and long holes. I hope to go back. I have a lot of great memories. And we had a few great parties.”

Philadelphia Inquirer reported Joe Logan agreed the choice was monumental news. “It is a nod to a hallowed place. The USGA is doing a good job of being all things to all people. They have given a nod to public players with Bethpage, Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. There is a nod to great classic courses with Shinnecock and Winged Foot and Merion.”

The most serious competition came from The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., site of a phenomenal Ryder Cup in 1999 but it seemed to base its hopes on people being sentimental that 2013 would be the 100th anniversary of the victory of Francis Ouimette.

Come on people, it’s Francis Ouimette not Francis of Assisi. Taking the argument ad absurdum we should honor Orville Moody’s centennial anniversary with by going to Champions in Houston in 2069 and Steve Jones’ 100th anniversary by going to Oakland Hills in 2096. Rigid adherence to a scheduled golf calendar of anniversaries would lead to a chaotic checkerboard of venue selection and will disappoint somebody necessarily in case of conflict.

The impact on the future of technology and equipment is equally staggering. Does this mean we will have a tournament ball by 2013? A 10% ball solves a lot of problems regarding older, shorter courses. While the USGA downplays any link between choosing Merion and the reduced distance ball, six manufactures have submitted balls to the USGA for testing and balls are also being given to players to see how they perform.

Finally, Alistair Mackenzie once wrote “we must fight for the soul of golf course architecture as though British hegemony were at stake.” Nott only is Merion historic, but the course is one of the strongest designs architecturally – all the more amazing because it was Hugh Wilson’s first effort.

Even if we admit Merion is short and “easier” than Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Winged Foot, etc, Merion still requires superlative planning and execution. She tests all shot shapes. Besides, if Merion is where Tiger ties or breaks Jack’s major recordk – a not-so-remote possibility - will it really matter if –14 won? Either way, it is likely that the winner will likely approach the aggregate scoring record. David Graham missed the then record of 272 by one stroke in 1981, a fact that may have contributed to Merion’s long absence.

Merion has always been short, is short and will continue to be short but that is irrelevant. You don’t need length to defend par. The 10th at Riviera says more in its scant 310 yards than most par fours say on 460. It still plays over par to the field average at the Nissan Open.

Once more players will come from all points of the compass to walk her hallowed halls. She will no longer worry about joining the tombstones of major venues past. And once again, the ghosts of Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan do not sleep tonight; no peaceful slumber.

They’ll be out playing in the moonlight - celebrating. They may even invite Hugh Wilson.