Answers in the Dirt

By Michael FechterMay 31, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
There are two kinds of golfers ' those who embrace the latest technology, convinced that it gives them an edge, and those who view technology as a plot to turn the relatively simple task of hitting a little white ball into frustration. I firmly identify with the latter. Or the former -- whichever one means that technology and I flat don't get along.
I like to think of myself as a golf purist, a throwback to the days of the feathery ball, mashie, niblick and spoon. My home could have been the Scottish links, toting wood-shafted beauties on pot-bunkered, un-manicured fairways.
The simple truth is that I'm a techno-phobe. It's a major accomplishment to answer my cell phone without electrocuting the neighbor's cat, but the summer before I won the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational, I worked my ass off and embraced technology in buying a set of Browning irons, which were the pinnacle of golf equipment design in the months before Reagan took office. Those clubs were low, thick, perimeter-weighted, the first hybrids and designed on something new to me called a computer.
But, none of that mattered. What mattered was that those Browning 440s felt great whenever I hit the ball. Which back then was every day.
My father and Ben Hogan agreed that the way to learn golf was by practice, because even if you read every book of golf instruction, when it really came down to it the answers are in the dirt. Get dirty in the field, on the range and on the course and you will learn to play.
Plenty of dirt time had quickly taken my game from the mid to high 80s to the mid to low 70's (at least on courses under 6100 yards).
But as they say, life was different then. Now, between what seems like an endless string of custody hearings for my 13-year-old son and my bi-coastal job as Ambassador of Fun for Greenway Golf, my time in the dirt has become precious little, indeed.
Determined to get back to the form I had when I won The Al almost 30 years ago, I thought a swing coach was the answer -- until I took a 45-minute lesson and saw my scores jump a dozen strokes in the wrong direction.
My time in the dirt to work out these changes amounted to half a bucket of range balls before I got frustrated and packed it in for the day. Clearly, that's no way to make progress.
So, when I stumbled into a high-tech golf swing analysis place, GolfTEC, in a suburban strip mall, miles away from a fairway or even a Putt-Putt course, I took it as fate. Here was technology staring me in the face, offering me a chance to see if some computer and video analysis might give me some answers, or at least direction.
Keep in mind that I am a person ill at ease with all machines. Literally, a person whose ink jet printer has laid motionless for months because I can't figure out how to delete documents trapped in the print queue. Me: a guy more comfortable walking around town because I find a bicycle too complicated. Now I was looking at technology to be my savior. Suddenly the whole atheists and foxholes thing makes sense.
Upon entering this electronic wonderland of GolfTEC, I introduced myself to Sean Petrone, Charleston, South Carolina's GolfTEC franchisee. I explained my goal of reliving my teenage days of winning the Al Esposito Junior Invitational, and how an intense case study documented right here on would, undoubtedly, be a tremendous boon for his business. I decided not to explain how my custody battle was sucking the life out of me and my bank account. And when Sean offered me a 30-minute session to fill the gap between paying customers, I happily accepted. Ah, the power of the press and poverty.
Sean explained how the specialized GolfTEC equipment engages a magnetic field that detects the motion sensors placed strategically around my body. From there, the data is compiled in a computer and a frame-by-frame analysis of my golf swing is compared to the ideal golf swing. With all his computer and technological knowledge, I wanted to ask Sean if he knew how to delete documents from a print queue. I resisted. Figuring Sean already had a pretty big job finding out why I can't make a golf ball fly as I desire.
Sean watched me warm up hitting a few balls into the net and said 'Pretty good swing.' To which I thought, 'Damn right! Winning the Al Esposito is no accident. Work that magic, computer boy, and I'll be shooting 75 in two weeks.'
I'm glad I didn't actually say this, because when Sean played my first swing in super slow motion, it was like watching the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. So horrific, so horrible, in each and every frame.
Finally, I could see what Brian Ferguson, a long-time friend and short-time swing coach tried to pound into my head: My swing had no extension at all. I completely collapsed at the top, with my left arm almost bending into a V. No lag at impact, resulting in no power.
The only thing missing as we replayed the tape time and time again was Kevin Costner telling a jury full of sweaty New Orleans jurors, 'No power...because his head goes down and to the left. You can see it! Down and to the left. Down and to the left.'
I thought of fleeing the building, Sean stayed patient. 'We're finding what to work on, he said. We analyze four different areas: address; top of the swing; impact and finish. We'll get you right.'
The thing that Sean quickly got to is that I need to 'widen my arc -- something that Brian has also said. However, seeing it on film was brutal. It felt like going to a doctor, complaining about a small pain in the side and having the doctor reply 'What you have is a conjoined twin. Haven't you noticed that extra person growing out of your spleen? It should have been obvious.'
For awhile, Sean had me work with some metal contraption that gave me the feel of a shorter backswing and forced my right bicep into a slot on the machine while causing my shoulders to turn. Like some device Madonna would have used on stage in her days of cone bras and coffee table sex books.
Sean gave me so much to work on. It was like the first day of college when you come home with 200 pounds of textbooks and wonder Where do I start?
I desperately need to keep golf simple so when Sean suggested that I practice as if I am hitting nothing but punch shots as a way to stop my Harry Vardon wooden shaft collapse at the top, I had the thought I needed to go practice.
My 30 minutes with Sean and GolfTEC was quite possibly the most informative short period of my golfing life. The only way I could have learned more would have been in 30 minutes alone in a closet with Madonna. And it's so hard to arrange with her in England, with so many assistants, publicists, agents, managers, photographers, adoption experts, gurus, stone healers, mystics and nannies to go through.
So, I left Sean and went to a range to practice.
I swear: I can feel it coming back.
Mr. Hogan and my dad were right. The answers are out in the dirt. But, apparently, there are some pretty big clues on Seans computer and camera. If you're not afraid to look.
NOTE: There are over 100 GolfTEC Improvement Centers Nationwide, many at Golfsmith GolfCenters 877-4-GOLFTEC
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
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    Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

    Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

    “If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

    Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

    It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

    It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

    “I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

    It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

    Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

    That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

    That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

    A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

    Horschel told last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

    “I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

    “Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

    Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

    “I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

    Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

    With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

    Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

    Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

    Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

    “We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

    “We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

    Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

    “But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

    McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

    “They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

    The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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    Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

    It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

    At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

    And now?

    Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

    A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

    “Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

    That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

    On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

    It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

    Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

    There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

    And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

    That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

    “Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

    Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

    He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

    “I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

    Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

    For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

    The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

    Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

    “That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

    If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

    “It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

    It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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    Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

    By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

    U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

    Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

    The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

    This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

    "This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

    Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

    "I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

    The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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    Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

    By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

    The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

    But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

    "Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

    Hard to argue with the result.