Art class: Learning to make golf fun again

By Phil Blackmar, Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2017, 2:37 am

People continually ask me how much I play golf and my answer has been “very little” for a long time.

After quitting the regular tour in 2000, unless I had to participate at an outing, I didn’t play at all for about five years. Then in 2006, out of work and needing to make a living, I embarked on the PGA Tour Champions which lasted about five years until I quit again. Instead of being fun, the game had turned into a means to an end, an end which was quickly looking more and more like the Bellevue psych ward.

Growing up, through college, mini tour years and into the beginning of my tour career, golf had been a game. Sure, to be honest, I probably enjoyed the competitive side of playing for money the most, but I still approached it as a game. Then, sometime early in my 16 year PGA Tour career, the game became drudgery.

I had attributed that metamorphosis to the stress of providing for my family with a long game I felt was inferior to most of those I played against. For me, at 6 foot 7 inches, I had the ability to hit the occasional spectacular shot, but I lacked the talent to replicate shots that seemed so easy for others.

It wasn’t until recently playing a one club match with Craig Perks, Todd Green and Gary Christian on a windy Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville, Fla., that I realized what I had done to take the fun out of the game that I used to love to play.

One club in hand, we scampered around 20-something holes at a municipal course that was closed due to heavy morning rains. There were no putters, no wedges and we played from approximately 6,500 yards while giving each other grief at every opportunity. I had a blast taking a 4-iron and trying to shape iron shots, bunker shots, chips, putts and all. It was a test to find a way to manipulate a 4-iron to do what it wasn’t designed to do. Todd won the cash with an in your face in the dark birdie on the last hole.

That night, reflecting on how much fun the day had been, it dawned on me why I now hate playing golf so much. In my pursuit to get better on tour, I had sought the advice of several highly regarded instructors to see if they could help. That’s when I became more conscious of my swing, the result and less of the game itself. While I already knew that, it dawned on me that golf used to be a game that I “played," not one that I solved. At its most basic level, back when it was fun, for me the shot created the swing.

What does that mean?

It means de-lofting the face at impact and not getting too steep into the ball so the flight is flat and penetrates the wind.

It means taking speed off to keep from hitting a flier from the fairway in damp conditions.

It means opening the face a little to take a few yards off a short iron to hit it the right distance.

It means flighting down a wedge.

It means learning to control the flight of a wedge that doesn’t have perfect new grooves.

It means moving the ball up in the stance to hit a long iron high enough in the air to try and get it to stop.

It means curving the ball intentionally one way so that it doesn’t curve the other way.

It means manipulating something one way or another to solve the riddle that the shot presents.

A stock swing born in a laboratory taken to the course to which the player commits regardless the situation illustrates the swing creating the shot.

But when some part of the swing or part of address changes to fit the pictured shot, the shot is contributing to – and to some extent creating – the swing. That night I realized, that while I still made adjustments occasionally on the course, my primary concern had become making a swing and I had quit playing a game.

And while I knew this already, I realized I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of what had been slapping me in the face all these years. Where there is satisfaction in engineering a solution, there is joy in artistry. More than that, satisfaction in engineering only takes place with a good result, but there can be fun in a “watch this” sort of attitude that is willing to try to play a shot a certain way even though it’s not pulled off. To create a couple of shots in a round with an artistic mind set can bring you back again and again and again. Maybe this is part of the reason for Top Golf’s success.

I will save the obvious continuation of this topic regarding today’s game for another blog, but realize this; I went home the next day and took 10 wooden headed drivers and three woods to the range to see which pair felt the best. I then asked my friend Doug Desive, the pro at my course, which ball might fit hitting a wooden driver and he gave me an option.

While it makes no sound when its hit, I found a ball that flies just fine with the wooden-headed woods and still feels decent with a wedge. Not only that, I can curve the ball both ways now where playing a draw with the new drivers has been nearly impossible for me.

Next, I have an old set of blades that were made for me back in the 1980s which have never been shafted. They look so tiny, like the woods, and shafts are on the way, even for a 1-iron. The 60 is out as are the hybrids.

Why the change in equipment? The tiny sweet spots require me to think about solid contact and not just making a swing. The long irons require manipulating to get them into the air. The old small grooves will hit fliers from lies today’s clubs do not. The ball will curve more than the top wonder balls allowing for more options. Taking out the 60 means I will have to be more creative with a 56.

I realize I’m not going to play as well as I could with today’s equipment, but my approach is going to be to paint pictures rather than assemble nuts and bolts. I’m moving up a tee and playing at a length that fits being an artist and doesn’t require me to “max out” my speed.

From now on, I’m going to play a game.


For more from Phil Blackmar's blog, click here.

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.