Happy Campers

By Adam BarrJune 24, 2006, 4:00 pm
PUEBLO, Colo. -- Occasionally, I get to cover the match play portions of some of the U.S. Golf Association championships. Its one of the most pleasant parts of my job. This week, its the U.S. Womens Amateur Publinx Championship at Walking Stick Golf Course here.
I like majors, but this is quite a switch from last weeks assignment at Winged Foot. Less crowds, less media, less hype, no badges, no parking shuttleyou get the idea. And some of the big-time colleagues I meet at the mens majors scoff when I say how much I like the lesser USGA championships. Senior Womens Open? Amateur Publinx? Dont they shoot, like, a hundred and play six-hour rounds?
Nope. They come to play. They get it done. They dont blame caddies, snarl at photographers, or slam clubs. Its solid, interesting match play golf.
But the main reason I like these events is the kids. I see them everywhere, often girls of 10 or 11 or 12, following matches, watching in the shade of a tree as the action goes by. Looking intently at form, function, strategy. Planning their golf careers and wishing.
A 13-year-old and two 14-year-olds made it to match play in this event. They had to start somewhere.
A golf camp, perhaps?
It seems we are a day-camp nation. Once the kids are out of school, we are in a mad rush to keep them occupied, and for that reason the day camp industry thrives. Science camp, volleyball camp, basketball, soccer, you name it ' three or four hours every morning for a week or two. Line up a few of those and you can help your kid avoid summer boredom without overscheduling the little tyke. You hope.
There are golf day camps too, and Little Tyke Barr (aka Joseph) was signed up for the one at our home course, Windermere Country Club, outside Orlando. By the time I dropped him off for the Wednesday session, he was a couple days into it and having a ball. That morning, there were at least 20 kids of various ages putting and chipping, and many said hello to him.
O.K., Kiddo, theres your clubs. Be sure to pay attention to Mr. Brad. Mommy will be here to pick you up.
Dad! Dont go yet! Let me show you how I can chip.
I smiled. My wife and I are a golf-crazy couple, and we have hoped for a long time that Joseph would make it a golf-nutso family. But we didnt want to push ' after all, he likes basketball and soccer too ' and perhaps we have erred on the side of underpromoting.
But apparently, it has worked. He chips pretty well, and his putting is coming along. Hell beat his Dad in, oha few months, right?
Main thing is, he was having a blast. Thats thanks largely to the work of Mr. Brad, Brad Latimer to us big folks. Hes the head pro at our club, and he runs the kids program every summer. Five-year-olds and up can come. And no matter how good a teacher you may be, as a parent you need to just back away sometimes.
Its good for the kids to relate to other kids in their age group and actually play golf with them, instead of just hitting balls, Latimer said. And its good for them to see older kids and how they have progressed. The 8-year-olds teach the five-year-olds where to stand, what club to use, and a lot more.
When choosing a golf camp, parents should look for on-course time, Latimer says.
Until somebody gets on the course and understands why you have to hit a particular shot, the shot just wont make sense, Latimer said. Thats true for adult beginners as well.
To manage that on-course time and deal with young attention spans, Latimer and his lieutenants keep the kids moving. Fifteen to 20 minutes of short game, perhaps a half hour on the range, then on to the next stop, with course time last in the three-hour daily curriculum. Plenty of water breaks, and drills punctuated with brief, impromptu hitting contests.
But isnt there a babysitting element to all this? How do you keep it fun while getting some learning in? How do you keep them coming back?
Keep reminding them of all the positive things theyre doing, Latimer says, with not a little emphasis. If they hit a bad shot, find something positive ' the finish, the stance, something they did right. And dont make it up.
Who wouldnt want to learn like that?
Of course, there is a safety element too. Latimer and his staff can get through a whole week without a kid catching a clubhead under the chin. Thats because there are rules: 10 to 12 feet away when swinging, and only at the designated times. If someone gets wild, Brad chalks a one-foot smiley-face circle onto the turf, and thats where that kid must stay to hit until he settles things down.
And if anyone backswings at the wrong time or place, I just take his club, Latimer says. We rarely have any problems after the first day.
Latimer seems to have the perfect personality for this job. Surely he must have had, what, 11 or 12 younger siblings, right?
Nah, he says. Im an only child. Its just that I like kids. Nothing they do seems to bother me.
What would bother him is a kid losing a chance to come to golf -- or come back to it. Coming back led to Brad to a life in the game.
'When I was a kid, I played in a tournament and ran out of balls, so I had to quit,' Brad said. 'I cried all the way in, and I really didn't play for a long time.
'But seven years later, when someone asked me to play, I had mostly fond memories of the game,' he said. 'I had been playing other sports, but when I came back to golf, I stayed.'
And now it's his career, and a fulfilling one. As for the children he teaches now, Brad is realistic about the many reasons people play the game.
'My goal is not to produce little Tigers, but to create an environment in which junior golfers can learn and have fun,' Brad says. 'But more than that, I want them to have the tools to become good golfers if they want to. I want them to be able to play together, to root for each other. So even if they go on to other sports -- as so many kids do -- when they get a chance to return to golf, they have the same kind of fond memories I did.'
Until Brads canonization, hell be continuing with his teaching at Windermere, both kids and adults. And the kids day camps, whether at private clubs like Windermere or at First Tee chapters or at muni courses all over North America, will continue to bring kids to the game, one at a time.
Because we all have to start somewhere.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

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Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.