Snow on Ground Balls in Air

By Adam BarrFebruary 17, 2007, 5:00 pm
OAKMONT, Pa. -- In just four months, somewhere under the six inches of snow and ice that surround my ankles, the greatest players in the world will be figuring out something much more slippery.
That would be the ninth green at Oakmont Country Club, the storied course that will play host to its eighth U.S. Open in June. I dont know whose position is more precarious ' mine, as I try to stay upright in the face of the north wind in single-digit temperatures, or the pros, who will try to keep their putts per green at a single digit under four.
Oakmont Country Club
Oakmont CC on a less snowy day. (Wire Images)
For me, any time is a good time to be at Oakmont, regardless of temperature. Its just outside my home town of Pittsburgh. The club, atop a great hill reached by Hulton Road, overlooks the Pennsylvania Turnpike on one side and the village of Oakmont and the Allegheny River on the other. Historically, it stands at a similar summit, shoulder to shoulder with peers such as Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Medinah, Carnoustie, Muirfield and others that have endured as timeless championship tests.
Ben Hogan won famously here in the 1953 U.S. Open; so did Jack Nicklaus in 1962 (in a playoff against local favorite son Arnold Palmer). Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA Championship here. John Mahaffey won the 1978 PGA, edging out a red-hot Tom Watson in the latters best chance at the one under-50 major that eluded him. Much of the western world first saw Ernie Els sweet, powerful smoothness in the 1994 U.S. Open here, which was as much an endurance test in terms of heat as in golf. (To this day, people still talk about that Open as being scary hot, much like the 1964 event at Congressional that nearly felled the great Ken Venturi.)
The list ' and the history lesson ' goes on and on. No question, this is a great golf course.
But it is also a great golf club. This becomes crystal clear the minute you meet some of its staff and members. Begin with the head golf professional, Bob Ford, one of the few left in his business who can hold top club jobs and still qualify for competition at the highest level. Ford has played well enough in PGA of America Club Pro Championships and other events to qualify numerous times for the PGA Championship, to name just one major where he has been a perennial starter. (You may recall a story we did on Bob at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol.) And I said top club jobs, plural. Bob works Oakmont in the warm months, and Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., in the winter. If theres a better job in golf, Id like to hear about it. If theres a more deserving guy, Id like to meet him.
One of the reasons Bob does so well in his business is his relationship with the members. I met two of these, Ben and Adrienne Lear, on this trip. The Lears, both financial advisors, live a hard 5-iron from the first tee at Oakmont. They graciously agreed to participate in a Whats In The Bag? show were doing on getting ready for the new golf season. (Hence the February trip north. We needed a snowy locale. Boy, did we ever get one. The show, by the way, premieres Monday, April 9. Check your local listings for the time.)
The Lears are so pleasantly golf crazy that it takes much more than snow and cold to deter them. They greeted us at the door, accompanied by their extremely polite Golden Retrievers, Abby and Emmy. The Girls, as the dogs are known, led us down to the Lears golf workout room in the basement. It is equipped with a treadmill, dumbbells, a medicine ball, and workout tapes (to my knowledge, no one has yet invented Sweatin To The Short Game.).
What Bob and I have worked on, Ben explained, taking up the medicine ball, is moving into the usual positions and getting a good stretch. He showed me a slow swing move, with a four-pound ball, up to the top, through impact, and up to a finish. And your forearms turn over naturally, see? It just helps you stay ready through the off-season.
Adrienne, who is active in womens golf committees at the club, is transitioning to hybrids. She explained that her 3-wood has not been pulling its weight. A new hybrid, though, recently earned a spot in the bag after a trial run in Arizona.
I feel much better about this club than the 3-wood, she said. Our greens are so fast. I need something that lands a little softer, that gets up higher. Ill be looking for more of these.
Ben looks much younger than his age, which iswell, he likely just started getting unsolicited mail from the American Association for Retired Persons; lets put it that way. Adrienne is obviously in good shape. Theyre career walkers on the course.
At our club, you really have to have a medical excuse to be able to ride, Ben said. Thats the way it should be.
The Lears have an album of scorecards from courses they have played around the world, the same way other people have albums of vacation photos. Ben even apologized for not having updated it.
Our WITB crew had known these people for, what, ten minutes before they were treating us like family. Thats golf for you. And something else about our sport thats encouraging: we probably have a better hot stove league than baseball. In our minds, there is clearly no off-season, no matter what the weather says. A special house at Oakmont CC features garage-type doors that open onto the range, allowing members to hit balls under hanging space heaters. I had never hit six-irons in 7-degree weather before. That was a kick. Ben and Adrienne showed us what they had been working on with Bob Ford and Dave Pagett, his assistant and our host at the winter range.
The Lears do it because theyre having fun and they love the game. And we can all take something from that. Without overdoing it, those in cold-weather climates could start now with the stretching, the strengthening, the re-gripping, the dreaming ' and come spring, watch the strokes fall away and the fun sail as high as a 6-iron in the crisp winter sunshine.
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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.