Past ramblings

Guys Who Play Golf For A Living

This category contains 38 posts

Back From Vacation

Well, I don’t know whether I deserved it or not, but I got some time off and had a thoroughly enjoyable vacation. Birthday party, baseball game, golf, lake time. It’s all good. Looking forward to getting back to the golf blog. Here are a few things I’m going to write about coming up:

  • The WGC Firestone – One of the most entertaining Saturdays of golf in a long time. It was very close, with a bunch of very talented golfers performing at the very highest level.
  • The WGC Firestone 2 – Is it just me, or is this one of the most boring courses the pros play on all year?
  • Putting Mat – I’ve been using it, and it’s helped a lot. Will contain a noteworthy Larry Legend reference.
  • Course Review of The Golf Club Of Kansas – Nice, tough course laid out in an old quarry.
  • Book Review of Golf In The Kingdom – One of my more anticipated reads.
  • Seven Days In Utopia – New golf movie. What do we know about it?
  • Best golf books ever – There are two that stand alone above the rest for me.
  • My latest swing move – Tiger and Faldo are in agreement.
  • PGA Championship – I’m done trying to predict who’s going to play well.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Surely Tiger’s Skipping The Open

Let’s do some quick math here:

  • Tiger says he won’t return to play until he’s 100% healthy.
  • He also says he hasn’t yet recovered to the point where he has been able to hit golf shots.
  • The Open is two weeks away.

Surely this adds up to him missing this event, and quite possibly the PGA as well.

(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Now the question is, why isn’t he just announcing this, so whomever is the first alternate to get his spot has ample time to prepare?

Rumor Central – Tiger’s Joining The European Tour

While he is yet to confirm or deny it, the suspicion lingers that Tiger Woods is about to join the European Golf Tour.

(AP)

In preparation for his move he has already started growing out the full beard that’s en vogue on the continent. He’s allegedly working with his swing coach on adapting his swing to wearing a popped collar on his polo shirt. A careful business observer noticed that Nike last week was buying stock in makers of pastel dyes, specifically purple and pink.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Who the heck is Jim Renner?

I watch a fair amount of pro golf, and I read about it both on line and in the printed press, but there still comes times when I run across a name I just don’t know anything at all about. I like to learn, so I google’em, and since you might like to learn as well I thought I’d share a few tidbits about Jim Renner (who just happens to be leading the Travelers Championship after round one).

  • Born October 31, 1983 in Boston.
  • Qualified for the PGA Tour by finishing T-22 in the 2010 Q-School.
  • Won the 2005 NAIA Golf Championship representing Johnson and Wales University.
  • Also attended the University of Oklahoma alongside Anthony Kim.
  • Favorite golf course he’s played is Oakmont.
  • Has made six cuts in eleven tournaments this year.
  • 213 on the Fedex Cup coming into this week.
  • 29:th in Driving Distance with 296 yards.
  • Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jimrennergolf

Keep’em in the short stuff.

PS:  As I was writing this he double-bogeyed his third hole for the day.  My blogs are turning into the opposite of the “Colbert Bump”.  Sorry about that, Jim.

14 is Greater Than 18

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time, but I have struggled with how to document it or how to test it. My theory is that the PGA Tour is deeper in talent now than ever before, and for that reason it’s much more difficult to win tournaments and majors now than it was 30 years ago or more.

There’s a group of people who claim that Jack and Tom and Lee and Gary won so many majors and so many tournaments just because they were that much better than their competition, and that today’s pros are complacent and happy to Lukedonald it. It’s the classic “Things were better in the past” dogma. I don’t necessarily disagree with at least parts of this assessment, but after some statistical analysis I’ve determined that the tour indeed is much deeper today, with a lot more players in position to win tournaments than ever.

For this reason, I feel like Tiger’s 14 majors in the past 14 years is a significantly greater achievement than Jack’s 18 between 1962 and 1986, and in my mind this confirms that Tiger Woods is a greater golfer than Jack Nicklaus.

Before I go any further I need to enter a couple of disclaimers: I’m a huge Jack fan, and I love the old champions as much as the next guy. This is in no way intended to be a slight on them in any way. Everybody knows the tour is a completely different place now than it was in days of yore, and I’m just going to pull out some numbers which I feel will demonstrate that.

Also, in no way am I insinuating that Tiger himself thinks this way. He is all about beating 18.

WHAT DID I MEASURE?

First I had to consider what it takes for a golfer to win a golf tournament. In my mind there are three aspects to this: One, you have to be a very good golfer. Two, you have to play particularly well that particular week. And three, you have to have those little things go right to separate yourself from all the other very good golfer who are playing well that week.

Now, unfortunately two of these three aspects are rather random. Even elite golfers don’t really know how they’re going to play from day to day. The same golfer with the same equipment and preparation on the same course can shoot 65 one day and a 75 the next day. This phenomenon has been around as long as there has been golf, and is best documented in Arnold Haultain’s gem “The Mystery Of Golf” from 1908.

So I had to focus on the general quality of the golfers on tour, assuming that if there are more golfers who are playing at the very highest level then there are more candidates for whom the random elements may “hit”, making them a contender that week.

But how would one measure the “general quality of golfers”? You can’t look at wins, because of the random elements that drive it. You can’t look at average scores from one decade to the next, because changes in training, equipment, and course preparation make this an unreliable variable.

I decided to look at how closely the players were grouped based on their scoring average over the whole year. I figured that any given year the players used the same equipment and played the same courses, and they all played enough tournaments to make the Scoring Average a reliable metric for the “general quality of golfers”. I focused specifically on how many of them are close to the top to measure the depth of the tour.

But even then it’s a bit more complicated. Tiger’s scoring average in 2000 was 68.17, and if I compared the masses to that my numbers would be skewed. I decided to ignore the very best averages every year, and use the 10:th best scoring average for a year as my baseline.

Then I decided to use the measurement “Within one stroke” as a means to measure the depth of the tour. Not that one stroke is that significant, but it’s a way to compare different periods of time to each other.

WHERE DID I GET MY DATA?

PGATOUR.com. They have extensive individual player statistics, as well as overall tour statistics. It’s unfortunate that their data only goes back to 1980, but as I will discuss in my “WHY WOULD THIS BE?” section below this should be far enough back to make my point.

WHAT DID I FIND?

I looked at the numbers every five years starting in 1980 and ending in 2010, and the trend is obvious. In 1980 there were 47 players within one stroke of the 10:th best scoring average, and in 2010 there were 116 players within a stroke of tenth place. I then went back to check the years between the five year intervals, and the trend most definitely holds up.

This would indicate to me that the tour is more than twice as deep now as it was 30 years ago, and for this reason there are more than twice as many possible contenders for any tournament win, including majors.

WHY WOULD THIS BE?

I think there are several reasons for this trend.

One major change took place in 1983, when the PGA Tour became an “All-Exempt” tour. Prior to 1983 only 60 players were guaranteed a place on tour from one year to the next. Now it’s 150 players. More players being exempt means more players who are able to work on their game all year without having to worry about the next Monday qualifier. I’m sure it’s coincidental, but the rate of players within a stroke of 10th place in 2010 over the same number in 1980 (116 / 47) corresponds almost exactly to rate of current exempt players to the exempt count in 1980 (150 / 60).

Money is another obvious factor, both directly and indirectly. More money in the sport means more players are comfortable enough financially to be able to work on their game and be competitive. In 1980 the number 100 player on the money list made $34,000. By today’s monetary standards this is $93,000, which in my mind would be far from comfortable given the costs involved in being on tour. In fact, 13 players on the Nationwide tour made more than $93K in 2010, and that was in only ten tournaments.

As a point of comparison, the number 100 player on the money list in 2010 made $950,000.

The increase in money in golf also contributes indirectly, as it makes the sport a lot more appealing to talented golfers, so more of them are having a go at it.

Time is a third factor in this equation. The longer a sport is in existence and the longer it continues to develop and improve, the finer the margins become at the top. This shows itself all over the place, in a variety of sports from the history of world records in Track and Field to the parity that exists in sports like today’s NFL.

CONCLUSION

It’s tougher to win these days than it was 30 years ago, and the numbers prove it out. This is a large part of the reason why we have so many different players win tournaments every year, including the majors. It’s not that today’s players are weaker, or don’t have the same passion for winning as our heroes from the past. It’s just a lot tighter, the margins are a lot smaller, and there’s a lot more competition.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Let’s Not Get Carried Away Here

Rory’s play was fantastic this week, and I’m ecstatic he got this first major win this early, and that he put the Augusta demons behind him. It was clearly a record setting week, and he played great.

(Photo by Getty Images)

But even as great as this performance was, it’s not even close to what Tiger did at Pebble Beach in 2000.

This week the conditions were as favorable as one can imagine, especially for a US Open. A lot of players shot good scores; Rory just shot four good scores and won by a landslide. Rookie Kevin Chappell actually played better than Rory over the last three rounds, playing them in -9 after an opening round 76. Steve Stricker had three rounds under par, and still finished T19.

At Pebble the conditions were absolutely brutal, and Tiger was the only one who appeared to have any control whatsoever over his game. It looked like the rest of the field were playing with gutta percha balls and hickory shafts. Vijay had an 80 on Saturday, and still finished T8. Ernie and Jimenez failed to break par in three of their four rounds, and they tied for second place.

So, major props to Rory. Great tournament.

But it doesn’t compare to Tiger in 2000.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Glorious Rory

Every ten or fifteen years or so the game of golf blesses us with a tournament and a performance that’s so absolutely perfect and magnificent that it glitters above even all the other gems we get to enjoy on a week to week and year to year basis. It was Jack in ’86. Then it was Tiger in 2000. Now we get to add Rory in 2011 to the list.

(Picture by Andrew Reddington/Getty Images)

It’s been since Tiger at Pebble Beach in 2000 that a runaway victory was this spellbinding. I for one watched every minute of it. The talk on the radio and on the web started after his round on Thursday. “Can he hold on?” “McIlchoke”, they called him. Then he did it again on Friday, and it became even more interesting as his lead grew.

Towards the end of his Friday round I made a bet with a friend of mine. I took Rory, and she took the field. The wager was food and drinks at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Rory immediately went out and double-bogeyed 18, and I had a momentary sinking feeling. It’s that feeling you get when for once you don’t wear your favorite team jersey to watch a game, and they go out and start disastrous.

But the rest is history. He played a gutsy, sharp, and rock solid 36 holes of golf and never once looked frazzled. His iron play in particular was tremendous, but there’s no doubt his game is complete.

Congrats to Rory and his family on a great victory. It’s been a long time since we had a first time major champion that was this popular.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Rory’s Laser Irons

A lot will be written about this year’s US Open, regardless of whether Rory goes on to win by 12, whether he barely hangs on, or if he somehow manages to lose this lead. I’m sure I’ll put my two cents into it as well.

But before that I need to touch on a string of holes that Rory played today that was particularly impressive. He bogied 10, and with eight more holes to play this was the time that he needed to come back to the field if it was going to happen today.

Instead, he proceeded to hit four of the purest, straightest iron shots one can imagine on 11 through 14, to settle his round and launch him into Sunday with an eight shot lead. He played these four holes in two under, and I swear every one of his approach shots were no more than a foot off the line of the flag. Now, we don’t know where he was aiming, of course. Some of it may have been a bit of luck. But to absolutely cover the flagstick again and again like that, in a critical and difficult stretch of golf, says a lot about his swing, his confidence, and his mental state.

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s round. Regardless of what’s going to happen, I will be riveted to the screen.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

They Call Him “Eyebrow-Boy”

I was catching Rory’s interview after his round yesterday, when I had to do a double-take.  It had nothing to do with Rory himself, it pertained to the crowd behind him.

There’s this guy behind him who looks like a cross between Richie Cunningham and Ron Weasley.  Halfway through the interview he proceeds to … well … might as well look for yourself.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

RBC To The Heritage Rescue

Word just came down that the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has agreed to sponsor the Heritage Classic tournament for the next five years.  I’m very happy to hear that, as this is one of my favorite tournaments in any golf year. The Harbor Town course is unique and quirky, the Hilton Head vistas are second to none, and the list of champions is impressive.

Going forward the tournament is going to be called the RBC-Heritage Classic.

More plaid !!!

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Luke’s Not Feeling the Force Today

Everybody talks about how wide open the competition for the US Open is this year, but when asked to pick one favorite the name that seemed to pop up the most was Luke Donald. And it’s not a bad pick, his consistency has been amazing.

I know it’s early on Thursday, but Luke’s already +4 after nine holes. He started well enough, with birdies on 10 and 11, but then played holes 13 through 18 in six over par. And it was spread out, too, with four bogeys and one double-bogey.

Sergio gets an 11 on the third hole in Memphis

Sometimes ShotTracker will hiccup and show a bunch of shots that didn’t happen, and sometimes it will skip a shot and it will look as if someone hit the ball 500 yards. Unfortunately, I don’t think Sergio Garcia can blame technology for his score of 11 on the third hole at the TPC Southwind course.

It’s a 554 yard par 5 with water along the right edge of the narrow fairway and right up to the green. After a drive in the rough he hit into the water with his second shot (from 196 yards out), his fourth shot (from the 107 yard drop area), and his sixth shot (again from the drop area).

“Tin Cup” McAvoy would be proud.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Time For The Annual Blog About What’s Wrong With Anthony Kim

I started thinking about a piece about Anthony Kim and his poor play of late, so I did some googling. It quickly became apparent that this has become an annual rite as consistent as Azaleas at Augusta in April and the world’s best golfers complaining about the setup of this year’s US Open course.

The background is fairly well known by now. After four Top 10 finishes in 2007 he broke through with two wins and eight Top 10s in 2008. I remember watching him at the AT&T. He was absolutely brilliant. He dominated the course and the competition with an aggressive attitude, brash confidence, and talented shot making. I remember thinking about whether we were seeing the beginning of the career of golf’s next superstar. He clearly had everything, both on and off the course, necessary to become really really big. His great play and exuberant team spirit was one of the highlights of the US victory at the Ryder Cup to cap the year. The way he took Sergio apart in the final single was particularly memorable.

And the expectations for 2009 couldn’t have gotten ramped up more than when he took 2:nd at Kapalua. Then, the rollercoaster started. For the year he only had three Top 10 finishes and five missed cuts. The talk started about his lifestyle, with claims he was more prone to late nights and partying than time on the range. He’d have a good round or two, and invariably he would talk about how hard he’s been working, but he failed to perform at the highest level with any sort of consistency.

2010 started quietly, but it quickly became obvious that he was back and better than ever. From The Honda to the Wells Fargo he ran off five tournaments with finishes of 2, T22, 1, 3, and T7; winning the Houston Open and blitzing Augusta. But he was hurt. His thumb was going to require surgery at some point. The Ryder Cup was on the horizon again, and Anthony badly wanted to play, so he decided to go under the knife in the middle of the season. His recovery was slow, and he probably rushed back too soon. A T76, a T46 and four missed cuts ensued, and he failed to get onto the Ryder Cup team.

His play picked up at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, with five straight tournaments where he finished in the Top 25. At the beginning of the year I picked him to play really well and win the Masters, but now it seems the bottom has fallen out again. Starting with Phoenix he has Five MCs, one WD, and finishes of T13, T33, T56, T68, and T82. He’s on the course in Memphis right now, and he’s five over after twelve holes. That’s another acronym you don’t want to be associated with: DFL.

Now I have to say, I really like this guy. He’s great in interviews, he’s excited and honest about the game of golf, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Heck, he’s even a fan of the Sooners and the Lakers like myself. Nobody would be more thrilled than me to see him ride his talents to the very top of the game.

But clearly something’s wrong with him at this time. Maybe it’s the thumb, or some other injury. Maybe his “lifestyle” is again getting in the way of the hard work that even a remarkable talent like AK needs to put in. A quick look at his stats don’t reveal any one particular aspect of his game as being the culprit, as he’s 170th in driving, 140th in greens hit, and 67th in putting. After a peak at number 12 in 2008 he’s fallen to number 60 in the world ranking, and he’s in 89th place in the Fedex Cup.

I hope we one day get to find out just how good Anthony Kim can be, because I think that would be an incredibly exciting thing to see. It would be a shame if we sit around the blogosphere in 20 years and talk about what could have been. He’s only 26 years old, so he has a lot of time to get things together. Here’s to hoping.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Good News for Richie Ramsay (for a change)

By now I’m sure everybody knows the story of Richie Ramsay’s US Open qualification snafu. He left the qualifying event early trying to attend a wedding reception. As it turns out he missed the flight to the reception, but was too far away from the course to make it back for the playoff he surprisingly qualified for. Really a double bummer day for the Scot.

Well, he was still the first alternate in England, and when the USGA gave out two extra qualifying spots to England and Japan this week it turns out Richie will be at Congressional after all.

Richie handled the initial disappointment bravely, and it’s good to see golf karma coming back his way this quickly.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

Muirfield Looks Like A Beast

I spent a fair amount of time in front of the telly this weekend, as afternoon temperatures close to a hundred made it difficult to do much of anything outside during the day. The Memorial has always been one of my favorite events of the season.

I’ve always enjoyed watching this course, and this weekend was no different as the course appeared to be in absolute pristine condition, but I was struck this weekend at how difficult it appears to be. Huge sand traps, sneaky creeks that wander in and out of the fairway, and deep ravines between sections of fairway on the longer holes. I know the pros didn’t exactly struggle this weekend, with many scores in the double digits under par, but I think they got really lucky with the conditions.

I just felt like if I was to play here and didn’t have my game completely in order I would score very badly and I would lose a lot of balls in the process. It feels like, well, a US Open course, and I would have to imagine it’s a great tune-up to our championship in a few weeks, including ridiculously fast but very true greens.

Keep’em in the short stuff.