Take This 3-Iron and Give Me That Pencil
The Dodgers will move back to Brooklyn before that happens. And most other sports playing fields are subject to stringent size regulations, so athletes dont feel called upon to design their venues.
Except in golf.
In their own version of, Well, acting is great, but what I really want to do is direct, famous golfers over the years have tried their hand at golf course design. They have taken advantage of one of the sports primary charms, the uniqueness of its playing fields. As we all know by now, no two courses are alike, and thats one of the delights that kindles and rekindles our eternal interest.
There are architects who play and there are player-architects. Fans of the former group, which includes Donald Ross, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast and others, often look down their noses and over the rims of their Merlot glasses at the latter. Still others snort, as did one writer I played with some years ago in Chicago, This isnt rocket surgery. Anyone could do this. Those million-dollar guys are ripping off the whole golf world.
Neither set of doubters gives player-architects their due. And guess what, it is rocket surg ' er, science. Damn-the-torpedoes guys such as Charles Blair MacDonald, designer of the National Golf Links on Long Island and Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill., may have been able to work their visions by force of will. But my guess is the turf and drainage conundrums were left to some poor superintendent who never had a chance to be encumbered by fame.
Modern player-architects, on the other hand, have become students, out of pride and necessity. Jack Nicklaus, the most successful of all the player-architects, knew he had better learn the business well or the business well would run dry. Mark McCumber and his brother Jim took a childhood full of golf course exposure and turf knowledge and built it into a going concern.
Still, some fans grimace and mutter, Where does he get off? when they see, for instance, that Sergio Garcia will be getting into the design business soon. (Hell be using the design support services of Nicklaus company, just as Ernie Els decided to do about a year ago.) What is this kid, 22 or something? All I was designing at that age was a way to party more and work less.
But who better than a player, whatever his age, to shape the contours of the most interesting playing fields in sport? Down at the grass roots, literally, they have learned every permutation of the behavior of a golf ball meeting land. They have a keen sense of fair and un-, of engaging and enraging, of sublime and mundane.
The only risk ' and a moderate one at that ' is the unavoidable overlay of the architects playing style on his design style. So-called golf cognoscenti sometimes avoid Nicklaus courses if said cognoscenti neither have nor like the high fade approach shots said to be called for on so many of Jacks 250 designs. And if you dont like right-to-left, stay away from Greg Norman designs, is the by-now old saw.
But thats like blaming Van Gogh for that irritating brushstroke thing. Ross, Tillie, Raynor and the others surely imprinted their games onto their works (go ahead, run it low on a Ross course) ' its just that we never watched them climb a leaderboard, so we never felt imprisoned by their playing style.
On the contrary, if you really want to test your game and you fly it left to right, then a Norman course is the track you want. Beat your handicap on that, brag in the grill room, and frame the card.
There are so-called player-architects out there who do no more than lend their names to the work of the golf course equivalent of a ghost writer. But the majority gets down in the dirt and helps sculpt the shapes; some even climb the bulldozer and start shoving and shaving. They know their credibility depends on it.
As a golfer, Im always interested in the player-designers vision. Its something you cant get in any other sport. (Charles Mechem, the revered former LPGA commissioner, once said about regulation courts and the tennis tour, Why do they bother to travel?) I like to wonder how the analytical competitive mind becomes the analytical landscape architects mind, or why someone as bright and talented as Ben Hogan chose to make equipment instead of golf courses.
And I hope that before my playing days are over, I see as many top women players designing courses as men.
So I say play ' and design ' away.
Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.
Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.
Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.
Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.
Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.
Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.
Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.
Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.
Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.
Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.