Getty Images

The misguided pursuit of perfection

By Phil BlackmarOctober 28, 2017, 9:00 pm

Riding to the course at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, a very talented young player was asked about the tournament last week in Korea. Following several superlatives he shared that the fairways, because they were a little thin on top and soft underneath, made consistent contact and controlling wedges and short irons difficult. That made me think of the time I was in New York for the tournament at Westchester C.C. when Phil Mickelson complained about the hole location on the third green because it was cut too close to the ridge that separated the top half from the lower half of the green. Then the question popped into my head: What’s more important to a Tour player, a score or the scoreboard?

It seems a simple question, but is it? Tour players expect “proper” conditions each week, which has the net effect of making it easier to shoot a good score. While they may argue with that point, you cannot argue with better conditions making for better scoring. But with better conditions are players missing out on opportunities to separate from the rest of the field?

Mickelson’s concerns at Westchester were valid if the hole was cut so close to the edge of the drop-off that a reasonable putt from above the hole would roll to the front of the green. But, on the other hand, if you have one of the best short games on Tour and are known for an unworldly touch, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to have such hole locations? Wouldn’t this expose the weaknesses of other players relative to you therefore providing you an advantage? Is this an opportunity lost?

Similarly, if lies in the fairways are a little tough, a player who learns to control a wedge or short iron from that type of lie has an advantage over others who cannot. In fact, this used to be the case with the old stamped grooves. But, players on Tour demand the fairways be in great condition. Could this also be an opportunity lost?

How about the greens? Fast, rolled and perfectly conditioned greens are the norm on Tour. When is it easier to make a 4-foot putt, on a fast, smooth surface where you simply start the ball on line and it will go in or a slower surface that requires getting the ball on top of the grass with a good roll to hold a consistent line? There are not many things that drive a player nuts more than missing short putts. Good luck getting players to want slower greens to make short putts more difficult. Is this an opportunity lost?

Ask any of the field staff at a Tour event about bunkers and they will roll their eyes. Tour bunkers are tamped down to prevent plugged lies and have a very specific amount of sand because too much is too soft and too little exposes the bottom of the bunker. The sand also has to have been in place long enough to allow it to settle and it is expertly raked each morning. If bunker play was more difficult, the player who masters those conditions has an advantage. The same can be said of the good iron player who can play away from bunkers. Is this an opportunity lost?

The U.S. Open has experimented with the long par 3,  but you’re not likely to see any 250-plus-yard par 3's on Tour; the players don’t like them. Yet, look to Binghampton Country Club, designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1921, which includes a 240-yard par 3. What do you imagine the average driving distance on Tour was in the early 1900s? In 1980 it was 265. Such a hole today would need to play 300 yards to be equivalent. Would this be a hard par 3? Yes. If you are a straight driver of the ball or have a good short game would you have an advantage? Yes. Is this an opportunity lost?

Deep rough on Tour has been replaced by “flier” type rough on nearly all venues. You can bet your last dollar that if the rough were to reach a height that would require players to “wedge out,” there would be lots of screaming. The average rank for driving accuracy of the top 15 FedExCup point winners last year was 100th. Is this an opportunity lost for accurate drivers?

You can go on to include the replacement of skill sets by technology but I’m saving that for another blog. Players want to shoot good scores and they want to be rewarded for good shots. They also don’t want to be unfairly penalized for a poor shot, for which you can’t blame them. But, by demanding certain conditions of play are they missing out on opportunities to separate themselves from the pack of other players? What do you think?

Getty Images

Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

Getty Images

Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

Getty Images

Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

Getty Images

Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”