Round 1 of 2008: High Pointe Golf Club

I played my first round of the year at High Pointe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Michigan last Thursday. If you’re not familiar with High Pointe, it is one of Northern Lower Michigan’s best courses. As its homepage reads, “Two unique nines, one great course.” The greens are spectacular, too. Huge undulations and contours that reward precise approach shots and penalize poor ones.

Having not hit a golf ball on real grass since last October, I had no idea what to expect of my game. The relaxed expectations resulted in a decent score of 78, which could have been lower. The fairways on the front nine were forgiving enough to allow me to spray a few drives and still have an approach shot. We played through a slow group and as a result I rushed my tee shot on the par four twelfth hole and ended up with a triple bogey. In an otherwise error-free round, that was my lone mistake.

What needs work?

  • Short game — misjudged pitches and chips cost me a few strokes.
  • Irons — distance control with mid and short irons.

THE PLAYERS Playoff Was Lacking

The 17th hole at the TPC of Sawgrass is the worst golf hole in the world on which to start a sudden death playoff.

It’s not just that there is no room for error. It’s that there is no room for uncontrollable externalities such as wind, rub of the green, or timing.

Paul Goydos hit his ball in the water because a gust of wind caused it to upshoot. On almost any other golf hole in the world, he would have had a chip. Or, if the hole had an area to bail-out, then he could have planned the miss. But, he had no control over this shot.

What if either players ball had ricocheted off pin at 17 and into the water? That’s rub of the green, and there would be nothing they could do about it.

What if some unruly fan – a tipsy man or tired young boy – had screamed during that one critical second of Sergio or Paul’s backswings and ultimately caused via ball-in-water the loss of $600,000 in winnings and a prestigious title?

The 17th at the TPC of Sawgrass offers no solution to these unpredictable and more importantly uncontrollable outcomes. The “sudden” in sudden death playoff means it ends abruptly when one player scores lower than another on a hole. The “death” should come at the hands of the other player’s superior play, not a gust of wind or one of many other externalities.

The 17th hole is too extreme for a sudden death playoff. Imagine if the sudden death playoff were to start on the 18th hole, which was basically playing as a par five late Sunday afternoon. There would be a premium on driving it in the fairway, but should one of the players hook the ball into the water, they would still have a chance to make a five with the slight expectation that the other player would have to do well, even from the center for the fairway, to make a par four.

Better yet would be a multiple-hole playoff like we see at the British Open or the PGA Championship. Although this would be a burden for the Tour to adopt on a weekly basis, it would not be asking too much of THE PLAYERS, an almost-major. Three of the four majors have multiple-hole playoffs. Only the Masters is sudden death.

But, really. Even if THE PLAYERS sticks with the sudden death playoff, they need to start on any hole but 17. It’s just not fair to the players, the fans who have to trek back out there, and the television broadcast that has the air of excitement sucked out of it the second player one dunks his ball in the water.

Will there be a change for next year?

Yearning to Compete: Setting a Goal

Golf has always been competitive for me. While I learned to play by hitting balls at the Hack Shack golf range, I learned to score – to golf my ball – to post a number by playing junior golf tournaments. At the time, I was not aware of the lasting effect playing in the eight or ten tournaments a year would have on my approach to golf. The experience has had it’s positive and negative influences.

The negative is that simply enjoying a nice day while playing golf is difficult. There is a constant desire to hit the best shots that I can hit, and when I fail at this frustration sets in. Learning to deal with this frustration by accepting the poor shots during leisure rounds is something I still work at to this day.

Playing competitive golf starting at ten years old has had several positive effects as well. I credit competitive golf for some of the development of my honesty and trustworthiness. Golf is a gentleman’s game because it requires a great deal from its competitors. It’s rare that a player playing any sport but golf calls a penalty on himself or disqualifies himself. In golf, you see this every week.

Competing and playing well makes for a healthy ego. So long as the ego is kept in check, it is a great source of inspiration and confidence.

Playing in tournaments is fun and a great way to meet other driven individuals. Whether you compete on a high level or in the high-handicap league at your club, the back-and-forth of a friendly match is often a very rewarding and memorable afternoon. I’ll never forget some of the highs and lows and laughs I experienced while playing in junior golf, high school, and amateur golf tournaments.

With this said, I haven’t played a competitive round of golf in over three years. The last round I played that “counted” was probably for the Traverse City Country Club Championship. It has been tough to play consistently in the past couple years because of working, moving, going back to school and traveling or working during the summers. But I’m declaring now that my goal is to play in at least two golf tournaments during the summer and fall of 2008.

Watch out, World! Ha ha.

Youthful Surge

Take a look at the age of some of this year’s youngest PGA Tour winners:
PLAYER AGE TOURNAMENT WON Sean O’Hair 26 PODS Championship Andres Romero 27 Zurich Classic Trevor Immelman 29 The Masters Adam Scott 28 Byron Nelson Championship Anthony Kim 22 Wachovia Championship Sergio Garcia 28 THE PLAYERS Championship

The website lists Trevor, Kim and Garcia as recent youthful winners and then asks who is next. Once Tiger Woods returns, I think we’ll see a solid second half of the season from him. Tiger isn’t the young-gun on tour anymore. At 32 years old, he’s coming into what is typically considered the prime golfing years. We may be seeing a trend towards younger dominance on the PGA Tour. A player’s mid-20s may be the new mid-30s.

Next Young-Gun to Win?

Hunter Mahan, 26 years old, played well last year, winning once and having a successful showing at the Presidents Cup in Canada. He has made nine of fourteen cuts and finished in the top-ten twice this season. He almost seems too low-key to be a serious contender every week he plays. I’m not sure what to think really.

Colt Knost rocked the Amateur circuit last summer and just got his first win on the Nationwide Tour in last week’s Fort Knox Classic in Arkansas. I think we’ll see him soon on the PGA Tour.

I could always pick myself, but my 20s are flying by. At nearly-27, I’ve only got three full years remaining to get my game in shape for the PGA Tour, qualify, and get that elusive first win.

Oh, one can dream!

THE PLAYERS Champion: Sergio Garcia

Sergio Garcia won THE PLAYERS Championship by paring the first playoff hole against Paul Goydos. Sergio won by playing accurate golf from tee to green and putting better than he has in three years. Confidence is a fickle attribute to acquire, retain, and, if lost, reacquire. This afternoon, Sergio took a major step towards recapturing the confidence of youth we saw when he almost caught Tiger Woods during the 1999 PGA Championship.

After shamelessly plugging his TaylorMade golf ball and driver during his champion’s speech, Sergio graciously thanked Tiger for not playing this year’s THE PLAYERS. (Tiger is out until the Memorial or later because of knee surgery.)

It was unfortunate that Paul Goydos tanked his tee shot on the first hole of the playoff. He played well all week and validated the commentary regarding the fairness of the new TPC of Sawgrass setup. It is truly winnable by all types of playing styles. Goydos was gracious in defeat as well, complimenting Garcia (and Jeff Quinney) on their under-par rounds.

With this title will come added pressure for Sergio. Although he fought off the media scrutiny of his putting and lack of wins with today’s victory, the pressure will be greater in weeks to come. If he can keep his long game in shape and continues to putt well, he definitely has a chance to win a Major. Payback for last years British Open debacle? We’ll see in July.

Kim Wins the Wachovia

With Lorena Ochoa’s streak of four tournament wins being snapped by Paula Creamer this past weekend, we were left with Anthony Kim’s first ever PGA Tour win at the Wachovia Championship. He won in style, finishing Sunday five shots ahead of former British Open champion Ben Curtis. And all at the young age of 22 years, 10 months and 15 days. (List of youngest winners since 1970) Some have said Kim’s performance is Tiger-esque.

More Tiger-esque is his off-course preparation. From what I’ve read, the environment in which he grew up was well balanced. He’s been the subject of tutoring by veteran players that has given him a mature perspective on the intricacies of the PGA Tour. As Brandel Chamblee states, there are pitfalls on the PGA Tour. With success comes money. And with money can come complacency. Tiger Woods has avoided the success-induced slump for many years. It will be interesting to see if Anthony Kim can seize the “next-best” label and run with it.

Interesting to note is that Kim has had the same coach since he was ten-years old. Adam Schriber, Kim’s coach, teaches at Crystal Mountain in Michigan near my home town of Traverse City.

So, Kim, let’s see some more wins and continued success!

Early Morning Rounds

I haven’t had the opportunity to play an early morning round of golf in a long time, but boy do I miss it. There is just something about the chill in the air, the uninterrupted dew on the fairways and greens, and the empty course waiting to be played that makes for a peaceful morning. Dodging the mowers can be tricky, but fun.

My penchant for early morning rounds likely developed during my junior golfing days. At the young age of ten or eleven I started competing in nine-hole tournaments at local golf courses. The courses donated (I presume) early morning course time to the Traverse City Junior Golf Association for us to compete. And compete we did, once a week through the summer. There were usually about eight or ten tournaments, which worked out to one per week. Just enough to establish a competitive season without being too great a burden on our parents, who got us to the course at obscenely early hours.

Later, high school golf tryouts started at 6am and ran all week. Needless to say, it was a very tiring week. High school tournaments were usually played early, too. And there were always too many pranks to be played and fun to be had to get to bed early.

So, through all of this nostalgic wandering is the reason I like playing early in the morning. It gives me a reason to think back on my childhood when I had trouble falling asleep because I was so exciting and nervous about the next mornings nine-hole tournament. That feeling never went away, and to this day, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I tee up my Titleist on the first tee and take those stiff practice swings.