Runways to Fairways: Eat well, play better in San Francisco

By Matt GinellaApril 3, 2013, 3:24 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Although I grew up an hour north of “the city,” it’s hard to call San Francisco home. It’s more like the old blanket that sits at the end of my sofa – a loyal and consistent source of warmth for my soul.

I went to a lot more 49ers’ games than Giants’ games. I’ve only been to Alcatraz once. In college, I tended bar at Capp's Corner, an Italian restaurant in North Beach. But it wasn’t until I recently started spending quality time using the city as a base that I began to appreciate it for how small it is – “you can get anywhere in the city in 20 minutes” – and how much it has to offer.

As a kid, I tried to hold my breath from tower to tower on the Golden Gate Bridge (depending on the traffic, I’d have to cheat to beat my four older siblings). Now I appreciate those two red arches, and their ongoing battle with the fog, for being the most beautiful bridge in the world.

Memphis

In my college years, if I wasn’t squirreling away soup and garlic bread from Capp’s, I’d maximize my profits by buying frozen burritos. Now I don’t take for granted the wide range of culinary options. As you’ll see in my latest installment of “Runways to Fairways,” I sampled Memphis Minnie’s (pictured above), Original Joe’s and the sushi bar at Hotel Nikko.


SF Coit

I also took in sites, such as the Coit Tower (pictured above) and Alcatraz, and I hit a putt down Lombard Street (below): 

SF Lombard


Not to mention, navigating the doglegs of some of my favorite public golf in the country: 


Sandy Tatum, 93, played for Stanford during two national championships (1941 and ’42), served on the USGA’s executive committee and is a member of San Francisco’s Hall of Fame. Tatum gets a lot of credit for the leadership and some of the fund raising that helped restore what is now TPC Harding Park, which is across Lake Merced from The Olympic Club. Some criticize Tatum for exhausting the city’s golf fund. And then some. And then some more. 

But where and how the money was spent, as well as the relationship Tatum forged with the PGA Tour, it’s clear TPC Harding Park’s 27 holes, First Tee program, the 18 new greens in December, as well as playing host to significant PGA Tour and Champions Tour events, has made Harding Park relevant again. Not to mention, it’s a good business model. Had the city continued to split limited funds among Harding, Lincoln and Sharp parks, one could argue, they’d all still be below average. Having Harding be the lead sled dog, pulling in more players, tournaments and profit, will now begin to benefit Harding, Lincoln, Sharp and the local golfer in a way that might never have happened otherwise.

SF Harding

TPC Harding Park (pictured above) has a three-tiered structure to green fees, which I love. City residents pay $52 during the week; $66 on weekends. Residents of Bay Area counties pay $90 during the week; $100 on weekends. Everyone else pays $155 during the week; $175 on weekends.


SF Lincoln

And like I said in the video, on a clear day, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Lincoln Park’s 17th tee (pictured above) is worth the $41 green fee. The rest of the course is a bonus.


Pasatiempo

I didn’t have the time on this trip to Northern California, but I usually build at least a round at Pasatiempo into my itinerary, my fifth favorite public course in the country. It’s $250 all week; $110 replay rate.

I’ve also played Presidio Golf Club on previous trips to San Francisco. Featuring tight fairways, 14 elevated greens and the heavy air of Northern California, it’s best to move up a set of tees. Presidio also has a three-tiered structure to the green fees: City residents pay $62 during the week, $72 on Fridays and $77 on weekends. Bay Area residents pay $79, $89 and $99. Non-residents pay $125 during the week and $145 on weekends.


On this trip to Presidio, I had the pleasure of meeting current long-drive champ, Ryan Winther. As you heard and saw on the video, Winther’s ball goes up, and never seems to come down. The sound of the ball leaving his clubface is a violent attack on the ears.

Winther

Winther, who used to be a baseball player, took up golf and working at Presidio as an assistant pro six years ago. He went from picking the range to showering the trees behind the range with 400-yard drives that make Dustin Johnson look like Zach Johnson. Winther has clubhead speed of 157 mph, ball speed of 226.7 mph, and the longest carry ever recorded under 1,000-meter elevation, 430 yards, which is an official Guinness World Record.

Coming off dream seasons in baseball, football and golf, and not to mention hosting America’s Cup at the end of the summer, I’m not the only one finding a new appreciation for San Francisco, and all that it has to offer.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


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.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.