Whats on the Menu
What do you feel like tonight?
I dunno. Italian?
Could work. But we had it two nights ago. How about Thai?
Ooh, yeah. I love that cold beef salad. Great idea. Meet you there at 7.
Thinking along those lines, heres what Id like to overhear:
What do you feel like for Saturday?
I dunno. Sloping fairways and big greens?
Could work. But we did that two weeks ago. How about firm and fast?
Ooh, yeah. I love that bump-and-run. Great idea. Meet you there at 7 a.m.
Wouldnt golf be great if it were like choosing a restaurant? Just as there are many types of cuisine, all with something to recommend them, there are many kinds of golf, all with the elements of fun that brought us to the game in the first place. Golf course owners take note: make like the best local eateries. Pump the menu and follow up with the service.
Some of you have met me may conclude that Im writing this column because I like to eat. Guilty. But the main reason is what I see as a kind of broad-brush perception of golf courses in this country. Except for a small core group of course cognoscenti, potential recreational golfers seem to divide golf courses into two large groups: goat-track munis and upscale daily fee near-country-clubs. Thats like taking every one of the millions of restaurants in this country and shoving it into either the neglected truck stop or haute cuisine category. Such pigeonholing doesnt do justice to the special attributes of each place ' menu, atmosphere, friendliness of staff, etc.
Many people who would play more if they knew more about the experience seem to think they have to endure poor conditions on one hand, or pay too much on the other. If restaurants allowed their reputations to be manhandled that way, people would eat at home a lot more.
So what to do, if you own a course? Well, for one thing, re-do your yellow pages ad. Drop the word championship. Aint gonna happen, unless its the city four-ball. And even if it is, your ability to be host of a championship isnt going to draw people who are nervous about their golf ability or have a limited amount of time, or both.
Instead, take a ride around your course. Ask fundamental questions. What makes it fun? Relaxing? Invigorating? What would make people want to come back?
Thats the stuff you want to play up. If your conditions are often firm and fast, focus on the rollout on peoples drives. Fairway Acres, where everyone is a long hitter. Let the shorter hitters know that theyll only need their 160 club for 180-yard shots.
Are your greens undulating but true? Bring it. Take out an ad on the sports page. Its April, and our greens at Stimp Hills are running at 10 ' and theyre truer than your Mamas love. Dont forget food and beverage. Newcastle on draft at the lounge ' a great place to watch the other groups come in after your round of golf.
Is time an issue? Offer 6- and 9-hole rates, and make sure people know about it. And who is your customer anyway? Do you get a lot of parents and kids in the late afternoon? Go family! Restaurants do it all the time. Everyone in town knows where you can take a family of four for a nice meal without getting clipped. Conversely, if your course is a challenge that attracts the local sticks, advertise it as such. You could even go Jekyll & Hydetough guys in the morning, family golf in the p.m.
Of course, Ive never run a golf course. But I understand from people who have just how tough a business it can be. Time, expense and difficulty are the three main impediments to growing the game in the long run and filling the tee sheet in the short jog. And narrowing the marketing may make an owner feel as if he or she is shallowing the potential pool of customers. But seen from another angle, broad marketing might be hurting more than helping. If only a half or a third of the people you draw from a general pool actually enjoy the kind of golf course you are, then your return business percentage cant be that high. But if more of the people on todays sheet liked what they played, ate, drank, heard, and noticed ' theyll be back.
Hey, if the marinara is good, Ill be back for the red clam sauce. But if I came in expecting cold beef salad?
Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile
Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.
The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.
"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."
He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).
Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.
“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."
Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.
Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.
Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.
The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.