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 GolfChannel.com 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 www.golftec.com 877-4-GOLFTEC
 
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
 
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
 
Related Links:
  • The Gratitude Project
  • Greenway Golf
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    Watch: Furyk throws out first pitch at Yankees-Mets

    By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 12:59 pm

    As part of a a New York media tour to promote the Ryder Cup, U.S. captain Jim Furyk threw out the first pitch at Monday evening's game between the Yankees and Mets at Yankee Stadium.


    Here's a look at some more photos from Captain Furyk's Ryder Cup Trophy tour.




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    Randall's Rant: Woods' message to young rivals: Bring it on!

    By Randall MellAugust 13, 2018, 11:24 pm

    Bring it on!

    OK, I’m not fluent in body language, and maybe that’s not exactly what Tiger Woods was communicating with his exuberant fist pump after closing out a 64 Sunday at the PGA Championship, but there was so much hope in the excitement he let loose with his closing birdie.

    Hope beyond what was still going on behind him at Bellerive.

    Hope in what lies ahead.

    Bring it on!

    You know Woods wanted Brooks Koepka to hear his legion roar, to let Koepka know he better not stumble back there behind him. You know he also wanted Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and all today’s stars to hear all those roars, to let them know he’s finally fit for a fight again.

    Bring it on!

    Yes, Koepka refused to flinch, and Woods ultimately finished second, but that rollicking last fist pump told you what Sunday’s finish meant to Woods.

    He’s going to win again.

    That’s the confidence won closing the way he did, celebrating at the 72nd hole in a way we’ve only ever seen him do on his way to hoisting a trophy.

    Because that’s where he is headed again.

    He can and will win again.

    Bring it on!

    That’s the thrilling promise Sunday brought to all of golf.

    Koepka wasn’t about to get out of Woods’ way, in the fashion the players of another era seemed to do when weekend roars preceded a Woods stampede. Koepka did today’s players a favor sending his own message. He was a rock. He didn’t flinch and didn’t fold in the wake of all those deafening Tiger roars.


    PGA Championship: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


    If Koepka flinches Sunday, it sends the wrong message to all these other young guys. It gives them all pause. It makes them all wonder if Tiger’s aura really does come with some unfair advantage, with a one- or two-shot advantage in his ability to ride the noisy chaos to heights they can’t. We heard more than one young star complain this spring about the boisterous crowds that followed Woods.

    These young guys don’t need that in their heads.

    So Koepka didn’t back down, and Johnson, Thomas, McIlroy, Spieth, Day, Fowler and Rahm aren’t likely to, either.

    That’s the great fun Woods’ comeback brings. The battles all these young guys say they want with the legend are real possibilities now, with all those Tiger birdies and Tiger roars confirming Sunday that he is ready to begin giving them what they want.

    “I’ve always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger,” Jordan Spieth said during The Open last month. “Who hasn’t? It’s kind of a dream come true, just to have the opportunity.”

    The wonder in Sunday’s finish is that Woods was so good spraying his driver all over the place early in the round. Back in the day, he would have said he shot that 64 with his “B” game. You won’t hear him say things like that now, but the beauty in the round was knowing how he may have turned a 70 into a 64. It was in knowing how much better he still might get on these old legs.

    It’s a shame we have to wait eight months for the Masters to see if his run of T-6 at The Open and 2nd at the PGA Championship continues on a majestic trajectory, because the message I heard in his last fist pump is still ringing in my ears.

    Bring it on!

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    Eight Men, Four Women Advance to "Tennessee Big Shots," Airing Monday, Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. ET Live on Golf Channel

    By Golf Channel Public RelationsAugust 13, 2018, 7:25 pm

    Airing Live on Golf Channel, Fourth Televised Event of 2018 is Final Tour Stop Prior to Season-Culminating Volvik World Long Drive Championship

    Field Boasts Six of Top-10 in World Led by No. 1 Justin James, Three-Time 2018 Winner Will Hogue; & Two-time World Champion Phillis Meti

    The World Long Drive Association (WLDA) season continues tonight with the Tennessee Big Shots benefiting Niswonger Children’s Hospital, airing live at 6 p.m. ET on Golf Channel. The live telecast will showcase the eight men and four women having advanced from preliminary rounds where they’ll compete in single-elimination matches until respective champions are crowned. The Open (Men’s) Division field will feature six of the top-nine competitors in the World Long Drive rankings, including No. 1 Justin James (Jacksonville, Fla.) along with Will Hogue (Memphis, Tenn.), who has accumulated three wins to-date in 2018. The Women’s Division will feature two-time world champion Phillis Meti (Auckland, New Zealand) and Alexis Belton (Ruston, La.,) who won the Clash in the Canyon earlier this year. Chloe Garner (Johnson City, Tenn.,) also is returning from injury in her first competition of 2018 in what will be a de-facto “home game,” while LPGA Tour player Emily Tubert (Burbank, Calif.) is the fourth semifinalist, competing in her first-ever WLDA competition.

    “We’ve finally reached the home stretch of the season,” said Jonathan Coachman, play-by-play host for World Long Drive Association events on Golf Channel. “With the World Championship only weeks away, the competitors understand the need to be on their game. I’ve always said that champions show up anytime, anywhere, for anything. They better have that mind-set, beginning with tonight’s Tennessee Big Shots.

     

    OPEN DIVISION QUARTERFINAL MATCHES (Seeded by world ranking):

    (1) Justin James (Jacksonville, Fla.) vs. (25) Wes Patterson (St Louis, Mo.)

    (5) Ryan Steenberg (Rochester, N.Y.) vs. (8) Paul Howell (Wilson, N.C.)

    (4) Ryan Reisbeck (Layton, Utah) vs. (9) Kyle Berkshire (Orlando, Fla.)

    (2) Will Hogue (Memphis, Tenn.) vs. (24) Stephen Kois (Wheaton, Ill.)

     

    WOMEN’S DIVISION SEMIFINAL MATCHES:

    Alexis Belton (Ruston, La.) vs. Phillis Meti (Auckland, New Zealand)

    Chloe Garner (Johnson City, Tenn.) vs. Emily Tubert (Burbank, Calif.)

     

    Being staged from Cattails at Meadowview Golf Course in Kingsport, Tenn., the inaugural event – in partnership with Ballad Health’s Niswonger Children’s Hospital – is the fourth WLDA event of 2018 scheduled to air live on Golf Channel. Tennessee Big Shots is being contested in association with the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Classic. The eventalso marks the penultimate WLDA competition of the year, with the season-culminating Volvik World Long Drive Championship taking place Aug. 30-Sept. 5.

    COVERAGE: Live coverage of the Tennessee Big Shots will air on Golf Channel from 6-8 p.m. ET on Monday, Aug. 13, with Golf Central previewing the event from 5-6 p.m. ET. Encore showings of the competition are scheduled to air on Golf Channel following the live telecast, from 10 p.m.-Midnight ET and 12:30-2:30 a.m. ET.

    The production centering around live coverage of the competition will utilize six dedicated cameras, capturing all angles from the hitting platform and the landing grid, including a SuperMo camera as well as two craned-positioned cameras that will track the ball in flight once it leaves the competitor’s clubface. An overlaid graphic line on the grid, the “DXL Big Drive to Beat,” (similar to the “1st & 10 line” made popular in football) will display the longest drive during a given match to signify the driving distance an opposing competitor will need to surpass to take the lead. The telecast also will feature a custom graphics package suited to the anomalous swing data typically generated by Long Drive competitors, tracking club speed, ball speed and apex in real-time via Trackman. Trackman technology also will provide viewers with a sense of ball flight, tracing the arc of each drive from the moment of impact.

    BROADCAST TEAM: Veteran sports broadcaster Jonathan Coachman will conduct play-by-play alongside Art Sellinger, World Long Drive pioneer and two-time world champion (1986, ’91). Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz will offer reports from the teeing platform and conduct interviews with competitors in the field.

    DIGITAL & SOCIAL MEDIA COVERAGE: Fans can stay up-to-date on all of the action surrounding the Tennessee Big Shots by following @GolfChannel and @WorldLongDrive on social media. Golf Channel social media host Alexandra O’Laughlin will be on-site contributing to the social conversation as the event unfolds, and, the telecast will integrate social media-generated content during live coverage using the hashtag, #WorldLongDrive.

    Golf Channel Digital also will feature content from the Tennessee Big Shots leading up to and immediately following the live telecast.

     

    2018 WORLD LONG DRIVE ASSOCIATION SCHEDULE:

    DATE

    EVENT

    LOCATION

    WINNER(S) / DEFENDING CHAMP

    March 15-17

    East Coast Classic

    West Columbia, S.C.

    Justin Moose

    April 21-24

    Clash in the Canyon (*Golf Channel*)

    Mesquite, Nev.

    Alexis Belton, Will Hogue

    May 11-15

    Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun (*Golf Channel*)

    Maricopa, Ariz.

    Phillis Meti, Will Hogue

    June 4-5

    Atlantic City Boardwalk Bash (*Golf Channel*)

    Atlantic City, N.J.

    Sandra Carlborg, Mark Costello

    June 21-23

    Bluff City Shootout

    Memphis, Tenn.

    Will Hogue

    July 6-8

    Bash For Cash

    Port Rowan, Ont., Canada

    Ryan Steenberg

    August 2-4

    WinStar Midwest Slam

    Thackerville, Okla.

    Kyle Berkshire

    August 12-13

    Tennessee Big Shots benefitting Niswonger Children’s Hospital (*Golf Channel*)

    Kingsport, Tenn.

    (New Event)

    September 1-5

    Volvik World Long Drive Championship (*Golf Channel*)

    Thackerville, Okla.

    Sandra Carlborg, Justin James

    Showcasing the truly global nature of World Long Drive, several events throughout 2018 are staged through officially sanctioned WLDA international partners, including stops in Germany, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom, along with an all-encompassing international qualifier for the Open Division of the Volvik World Long Drive Championship in September.

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    Making Ryder Cup picks: Furyk begins his toughest task

    By Rex HoggardAugust 13, 2018, 6:41 pm

    ST. LOUIS – By the time Brooks Koepka teed off for the final round of the PGA Championship, Jim Furyk was already back at his rental house and settled in to watch what would be an eventful final round.

    Furyk's day was just getting started.

    Although he’d been up since dawn and had already put in a full day at Bellerive with a 7:56 a.m. tee time, Sunday began a process the U.S. Ryder Cup captain has prepared for and anticipated for two years.

    “I didn’t get a lot of sleep this week,” Furyk conceded on Sunday following a closing 71 at Bellerive. “At times I found myself with my mind wandering. The afternoon tee times I’m sitting around in the morning and my mind starts wandering and I start looking at stats and start thinking about the Ryder Cup. There’s a million things going on.”

    The American captain is officially on the clock. The final round of the year’s final major was the deadline to qualify for this year’s Ryder Cup team, and Furyk now begins the process of narrowing the list of potential captain’s picks.

    Davis Love III, who took two turns in the captain’s chair, will tell you this is the toughest part of the gig. Forget about pairings and course setup and vice captains - getting the picks right is what separates a good captain from a great one.

    “I saw him around this week kind of frazzled like I was; they are pulling him everywhere,” Love said. “Now it’s a tough couple of weeks. At dinner the other night we were talking about what we were going to do [regarding picks] and I was like, ‘Well, you have to wait for [Sunday] and you’ll get a better idea.”

    On that front, the wait is over. The top eight players on the U.S. point list are now locked in and Furyk and his vice captains – Love, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods – can begin the artful process of creating a list of possible picks based on a wide variety of criteria.


    PGA Championship: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


    The automatic qualifiers are Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson, who held on to the final spot thanks to his tie for 19th at the PGA.

    “For some guys we’re going to look at the body of work for a year, for some players we’re going to look at a hot player right now, some guys we’re going to look at pairings and how they fit into the team we have right now,” Furyk said.

    Furyk will make three of his captain’s picks on Sept. 3 following the Dell Technologies Championship and his final selection a week later after the BMW Championship.

    The short list of possible picks would include Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Woods, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner and Tony Finau, Nos. 9 through 15, respectively, on the final point list.

    Schauffele and Finau had something of a playing interview at Bellerive when they were paired with Furyk for Rounds 1 and 2.

    “Tony made a pile of birdies, he’s explosive as far as firepower and how far he hits it but I was impressed with his putting, to be honest with you. I knew he could hit it far and kind of knew how he played, but he really played well,” said Furyk, who also played with Finau on Saturday at the PGA.

    Mickelson will be a particularly interesting option for Furyk. For the first time in his Ryder Cup career, which began in 1995, Lefty failed to qualify for the U.S. side and the de facto team room front man would be tough to pass over.

    “His game has been in a good position all year, he’s putted great, I think Jason Day is the only player with better putting stats this year,” said Furyk, who met with Mickelson after he missed the cut in St. Louis. “He’s working on a couple of things in his game right now that we talked about.”

    Woods also creates some interesting scenarios. His runner-up finish at the PGA vaulted him from 20th to 11th on the final point list and essentially assured what many believed to be a foregone conclusion. Woods will be among Furyk’s captain’s picks, the only real question when it comes to the 14-time major champion is whether he can play and drive a vice captain’s cart.

    “He’s on that list we’ve talked about and I think we still need to hash that out,” Furyk said. “Is it possible [to do both jobs]? Sure, we just need to decide if that’s best for the team.”

    If Woods and Mickelson have already been penciled in as picks, which many believe they have, that essentially leaves a half dozen players vying for the final two spots.

    An 11th-hour charge over the next three weeks could certainly sway Furyk, and he’s made it clear that Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches outside of Paris, favors a certain type of game, think a fairways-and-greens type like Kisner or even Brian Harman, who finished 17th on the point list.

    “I’ve taken a look at the golf course and what I think will really work,” Furyk said.

    There’s also an undercurrent of interest in Furyk going young with his picks to give a player like DeChambeau or Schauffele a chance to experience the unique pressures of a Ryder Cup “road game,” but Furyk didn’t seem as interested in developing future talent as he is in winning.

    “Our goals for long term are important and young blood is a good thing, but I would never sacrifice this team or 2018 for 2022,” he said. “The goal is still to go to Europe and try to retain the cup. That said, having a mix of veteran and young players is a good thing.”

    If Furyk sounds a little vague when it comes to his potential picks it should be no real surprise. Getting the picks right is the most demanding part of any captain’s job and he’s just getting started.