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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  • Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes