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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.

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Haas nearly shoots age in taking Champions playoff opener lead

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 10:05 pm

RICHMOND, Va.  -- Jay Haas shot a 7-under 65 - missing his age by a stroke - to take a two-shot lead Saturday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Trying to become the oldest winner in tour history, the 64-year-old Haas birdied the par-5 16th and 18th holes to get to 11-under 133 on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''I've been out here too long to know that I can learn to expect anything,'' Haas said. ''While I'm hopeful every day and I've been playing OK, the last couple weeks have not been very good, but this week has been much better. I love this golf course and it looks good to my eye. Most of the holes look like I'm going to hit a good shot, so I enjoy playing here.''

Mike Fetchick set the age record of 63 years to the day in the 1985 Hilton Head event. Haas is second on the list, taking the 2016 Toshiba Classic at 62 years, 10 months, 7 days for his 18th senior title.

''That's a good way to say I'm old, 'experience,''' Haas said. ''I think I'm very nervous most of the time when I play and today was no exception, but I continued to hit good shots and, hopefully, I can put one foot in front of the other, one shot at a time, do what I tell my son to do every time, you know? See if I can put some of those adages to work tomorrow.''


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


Stephen Ames and Scott Dunlap were tied for second after the round that started in light rain. Ames had a 67, and Dunlap shot 68.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer had a 66 to join Billy Mayfair (67) and Woody Austin (68) at 9 under. Langer won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the season points lead. The 61-year-old German star has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, was tied for 23rd at 4 under after a 71.

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Sergio leads by 4 entering final round at Valderrama

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 9:26 pm

Sergio Garcia closed with three straight birdies to shoot a 7-under 64 on Saturday, taking a four-shot lead into the third and final round of the Andalusia Valderrama Masters.

The tournament, which Garcia has won  twice (2017, 2011), was reduced to 54 holes because of numerous weather-related delays.

With his bogey-free round, Garcia moved to 10 under, four shots clear of Englishman Ashley Chesters, who shot a 1-under 70.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


"Hopefully we'll be able to play well tomorrow and get another win at Valderrama," Garcia said. "Hopefully I can finish it in style."

Chesters, however, is conceding nothing. "There's always a chance," he said. "There's not a lot of pressure on me."

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''


Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai


Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.


Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."