Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Curmudgeon

The Curmudgeon is not one of my golf buddies, but he is my "Yoda", the wise master of the Force and teacher of Jedi. He also is affectionately known as the "Dalai Lama of Dirt". The Curmudgeon is a corner office partner, meaning that he is all-knowing and all-powerful and is able to make his other partners and associates cringe with a withering look of disapproval. The Curmudgeon knows more useful and useless information than anyone that I have ever met. The Curmudgeon is one of the leading planned community and private golf club attorneys in the country, which if he played golf could be one of the coolest jobs around. His clients use golf architect superstars like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio to build gorgeous private golf courses in Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Scotland, etc. The Curmudgeon used to play golf reasonably well, but as he has gotten older and more, let us say, well-rounded and infirmed, his golf game deteriorated to the point where he is one step above Charles Barkley. It has gotten so bad that the Curmudgeon now enjoys watching tennis! The Curmudgeon is surreptitiously reading my blog and fact checking and pointing out each grammatical and typographical error, but I have actually caught him smiling and chuckling one or two times. The Curmudgeon will be a recurring character in this blog and you will come to love him over time.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery

This is an excerpt from my assistant Karin's blog:

... To make matters worse, I'm forced to spend the only hour I have to myself during the day reading my boss' latest blog that references characters who sound like they're straight out of a Martin Scorsese movie.

I wonder if this book [The Amateur by John Niven] was written about them?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

World Of XXVI - Day 1

This year was "World Of XXVI" and we went to Biloxi, Mississippi. Surprisingly, there are some excellent golf courses in Biloxi, as well as gambling, and it is reasonably close to Baton Rouge, the home of the LSU Tigers, the Vanderbilt Commodores' opponent that weekend.

I began watching the weather report for Biloxi on Monday. The weather report called for rain, thunderstorms and possible lightning for the foreseeable future and did not waver all week. I kept thinking whose great idea was it to go to Mississippi during hurricane season! On Tuesday, I went to the PGA Tour Superstore (again!) to buy a rain suit and golf gloves for the rain (one for each hand, in black). On Friday, I left Phoenix at 5:15 a.m. and arrived at the Preserve Golf Club at 1 p.m. for a 2 p.m. tee time. It was overcast but had not started raining. Our first foursome had arrived earlier and was already out on the course. Turtle, The Mouth and the Big Dog arrived shortly after me and we hit some balls and rushed out onto the course before the torrential rains and lightning started. We were the only two foursomes on the course. The Ranger hung with us on the practice range and seemed to show up every two or three holes. The beverage cart lady followed us the entire round. Later we congratulated Smooth for a "World Of" first, our own private golf course! The two-man teams were the Big Dog and me versus the Alabama boys, Turtle and the Mouth. I played pretty well for the first 6 holes and was about 4 over (net 2 under) and carried the Big Dog on my back. From time to time we would see our other foursome and whoof at each other. Then the steady drizzle started and I started the pull/push off of the tees and the slices from the fairways. Over the next 6 holes I lost at least 5 balls and the Big Dog played the Alabama Boys single-handedly. I came back from that dark place in my mind and showed some tenaciousness and we ham and egged it pretty well over the last 6 holes. We won the two-man game starting me on my winning ways for the weekend.

That evening we ate at Mary Mahoney's Old French House Restaurant, which was previously voted the best restaurant on any "World Of" golf trip. The seafood was incredible! If you go to Mary Mahoney's you have to eat the crab claws (fried or broiled) and shrimp and crab au gratin as appetizers and the Sisters of the Sea au Gratin, one of the famous signature dishes, for your entree. You will thank me, although your arteries may not. There are pictures of all of the dignitaries that have eaten at Mary Mahoney's on the wall, but the picture that I liked most was of a 30 something Archie Manning with young Peyton and Eli (and the unknown third son). On a more sobering note, there is a water mark line in the restaurant that is neck high showing the high water mark from Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lesson No. 2 - The Divot

I arrived at the PGA Golf Superstore for my second lesson about 15 minutes early so that I could warm up in the state-of-the-art hitting bays. I hit a few 7 irons to warm up and then pulled out my Ping G10 driver flexing and expecting to have gained at least 10 yards from the previous week because I was now loading and releasing the club properly. To my chagrin, each drive was still about 235 to 240 yards, including roll. When Bob videotaped my swing, there was no difference to the naked eye from the previous week (but to Bob's well-trained eye he thought that I was making improvement and I took him at his word). I was still not loading the club correctly and I was coming over the top and releasing the club way too early and pulling through with my right elbow. After watching the videotape, I was happy that I was able to hit my driver 240! Bob gave me a couple of drills, including the one where you beat the club against the ground from your knees and the David Leadbetter three-finger load and swing (page 14 of Leadbetter's bible).

After this disappointment, we spent the rest of the lesson working on my irons and trying to drive down into the ball and compress the ball against the clubhead instead of picking the ball off of the turf. When I "picked" my 7 iron, I was hitting it about 140 yards, including roll, but when I started driving through the ball, I hit the 7 iron 150 to 155 yards. Bob gave me two exercises that really seemed to help. First, he put a ball marker a few inches ahead of the ball and told me to make sure that I hit the ball marker, simulating a divot in front of the ball. I immediately got the sensation of driving the club into the back of the ball and compressing the ball on the clubface. Second, Bob had me stop or hesitate at the top of my swing to set and allow my body to start moving forward before my hands and the clubhead. Once I got the hang of this movement, I started driving (instead of picking) my irons and hitting them further (and reasonably straight). Bob is a genius!

Yum, Those Words Taste Good

I have to eat half of my words! After giving away 6 strokes on 3 holes on Thursday, Phil Mickelson storms back with 67, 66 and 65 to win the Tour Championship going away. Phil putted like he did at ASU and in his first couple of years on Tour when he was fearless. Every putt looked like it was going in, he chipped one in on No. 16 and almost jarred his second shot on No. 8 (I do not know how it stayed out of the cup!). Somehow Tiger grinded and came in second to win the FEDEX Cup and the $10 Million. Even as Tiger struggled on Sunday to find the putting line, the thing that I noticed was Tiger's distance control on his putts. Every putt went past the hole or banged into the back of the hole. I cannot tell you how many times my second, and sometimes third putt, comes up short.

When I got into the office this morning, I had an e-mail for Phil Mickelson's DVD, "Secrets of the Short Game" for $49.95. You have to give credit to the marketing people for that one. I almost bought it, but instead I looked for a putting instructional from Dave Stockton.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

World Of

Every year my law school buddies go on a 4 day guys' golf trip lovingly called "World Of [insert number of years in roman numerals]". Every year I promise myself that I am going to take lessons and work on my game before the trip! Every year I arrive having maybe played once in the previous month and physically unprepared for the rigors of so much golf. We used to play 36 holes for 3 days and 18 holes on the get-away day, plus as much additional golf as we can get in before it is pitch black. As we hit the half century mark we have added gambling and Vandy football and cut back a little bit on the golf.

The core group of "World Of" golfers are Smooth, the Mouth, High Right, the Natural, Shifty, the Big Man, Turtle, Arnie, Crimson Tide and me (18). Most of these are not our real nicknames because we generally just refer to each other by our last names or nicknames that are not for public consumption (and the use of pseudonyms was part of the negotiations with Turtle to include "World Of" stories in the blog). In addition to the core group, there are other law school classmates that join us from time to time, notably the Big Dog and Cameo. We sometimes have friends of the core group that join us, but they usually do not come back for a second year (and probably never speak to the core group friend again!). You could not ask for a better group of guys to enjoy a golf trip. I am "Johnny come lately" to the core group. I have been a pretty consistent attendee since my divorce in 1995.

Smooth is our scratch golfer and the person that we generally rely upon to make the annual arrangements for our golf trip. He is a consummate gentleman and a beautiful golfer to watch from tee to green. He is always patient with me and finds something nice to say about my golf game.

The Mouth is, as you would expect, a litigator. He barely stops talking even when he is hitting the ball. He must be a tenacious litigator because he is a tenacious golfer. He is a former college basketball player and his knees are shot. No matter how he is playing he always gets around the course in the mid-80s or better.

High Right is smooth. He must be a great client generator. However, he and I have the same problem on the golf course. We are either pull hooking the ball off the tee or hitting the big slice off of the tee. But High Right is really good from the fairways and generally scores in the mid to high 80s. Although you would not know it by looking at him, High Right is usually the leader of the after-golf activities.

The Natural is probably the best athlete among the group. He played college baseball and helped coach the Vandy baseball team when he was in law school. I think the Natural plays a lot of golf, but it does not seem to help. He and I generally play about even, around 90. The Natural knows everyone and always has great stories to tell and has no problem making himself the butt of his own jokes.

Shifty is our worst golfer (but for the grace of Shifty goes me!). He is also the one that you want on your team for the best ball bets. He used to get 36 shots! Shifty lives in the Far East and we are always glad when he is able to make it to the "World Of".

The Big Man is just that! He is 6' 8" tall and weighs, let's just say, a lot (most of which is muscle!). He is the guy that you want covering your back in a hostile environment. The Big Man has a pretty draw swing and hits the ball a ton, and also a pretty good touch around the greens. He shoots in the low 80s.

Turtle is our leader, and he will tell you so. Whatever Turtle decides, we do, even if the Mouth yaps a bit. Until recently, the Turtle was playing with persimmon woods and 1970s iron. He recently upgraded his technology. Turtle shoots in the high 70s to low 80s, but if you ever need someone to make a putt (and Tiger is not available), he is your man! Turtle has taken me under his wing and works with me on my golf game, to little or no avail. I was saddened to see this year that Turtle was putting cross-handed and seemed to have developed a case of the pulls.

Arnie is another former college baseball player. He has a balky back, but when he is able to play he hits nice low draw shots and steps through with his back foot, charging like Arnold Palmer. He also plays in the high 70s to low 80s, but always seems to play well at the "World Of" (and no one would ever question the accuracy of his handicap, unlike some of the other World Of participants!).

Crimson Tide is the one member of our core group that is not a Vandy law school graduate. He attended the University of Bear Bryant. Crimson Tide is generally my roommate because we are the two worst snorers. However, I lost a bunch of weight and no longer snore (or so I am told) and Crimson Tide is wearing one of those sleep apnea contraptions and sleeps like a baby without making a sound. When Crimson Tide's back is not bothering him, he shoots in the high 70s to low 80s.

The Big Dog is 140 lbs. soaking wet, but he has as pretty of a golf swing as you would ever want to see. He draws the ball and hits it really long! The Big Dog probably plays golf two or three times a year, comes out to the World Of for a few days without practicing and shoots in the low to mid 70s and then disappears maybe to be seen the following year or the year after that.

Cameo rivals the Mouth. He mysteriously appears on the afternoon of the third day of the World Of with his loafers on, pulls his bag out of the trunk of his car, plays one round in the low to mid 70s, talking the entire time, packs his bag and is gone until he mysteriously appears at another World Of. Cameo is the best pure putter that I have ever seen.

More to come on this year's "World Of" golf weekend soon.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Snowman

I went home last night to watch the first round of the Tour Championship that I taped. The only thing that I really wanted to see was Phil Mickelson imploding on No. 14. It is like NASCAR; you watch to see the crashes (and the fights in the pits after the crashes)! I did not see the first two shots, but Phil drove the ball into the fairway and his second shot from about 125 yards plugged in the bunker next to the green. He blasted out of the bunker and over the green. He skulled the chip across the green and back into the same bunker. He left his 5th shot in the bunker and then quickly hit another sand shot that barely made it out of the bunker and trickled to about 8' from the hole. He two-putted for an 8! While Phil needs to take the blame for his bone-headed play (which he always does!), where was his long-time caddy, "Bones" McKay? Isn't one of the caddy's jobs to keep his player calm and help avoid meltdowns that take his guy out of the tournament?

The other thing that was amazing was the condition of the course! After 11" of rain in the past week and 4" on Monday, the fairways looked fine (no casual water) and the greens were reasonably firm and fast for a Thursday round. East Lake has a subair drainage system under the greens. The only possible problem was the bunkers. In addition to Phil's problems in the bunker on No. 14, Dustin Johnson had to take an unplayable lie in a bunker on No. 16 because the ball plugged under the grass lip of the bunker. He hit his sand shot to kick-in distance and made his bogey and moved on. I don't know whether either problem was due to the weather or just bad luck or both, but in Phil's case he sometimes makes his own bad luck!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FEDEX Championship

Tiger started out slowly today and made the turn at even par but was 3 under for the day, tied for second place. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the tournament is over. The only time the field seems to have a chance against Tiger is when he is bored on Thursday and lets the field get too far out in front. Tiger and I both have the same problem, a balky driver. He only hit 6 of 14 fairways, but he hit 13 of 18 greens. Phil Mickelson, the pride of Arizona State University, imploded on No. 14 with a snowman! Phil has as much talent as, and more creativity than, any other player (including Tiger), but he is constantly shooting himself in the foot.

Before the Tour Championship, the pundits were talking about the PGA Tour's player of the year award and there was some discussion that the player that wins the FEDEX Cup should be the player of the year. I would agree with that so long as Tiger wins the FEDEX Cup! Tiger has already won 6 PGA tour events in 2009 in only 16 starts after coming back from major knee surgery. The only other multiple winners so far this year are Steve Stricker (2),Y.E. Yang (2, including the PGA comeback to beat Tiger), Zach Johnson (2), Geoff Ogilvy (2, including the Accenture Match Play Championship and the Mercedes Benz Championship), Kenny Perry (2), Brian Gay (2) and Phil Mickelson (2). Tiger did not win a major this year. The major winners were Masters - Angel Cabrero; U.S. Open - Lucas Glover; The Open Championship - Stewart Cink; and the PGA Championship - Y.E. Yang. Tiger's stroke average is more than 1 stroke lower than his closest competitor and he is a shoe-in to win the Vardon Trophy. I don't know if the PGA Tour has a comeback player of the year award, but if it does Tiger should win that as well! For anyone other than Tiger, this would be a career year, or possibly even a career. For example, Stewart Cink is a pretty good player. He has 6 career victories in 353 events! The only PGA Tour player that would not vote for Tiger Woods as PGA Tour Player of the Year is Tiger himself because he did not meet his own expectations.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

East Lake Golf Club

I can't wait for the Tour Championship to start tomorrow at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Hopefully, the course is not underwater with all of the rain in the southeast. I was lucky enough to play a round at East Lake about 5 years ago with my law school buddies. It was one of the few times that I have walked a golf course with a caddie. I don't know if it was because of the caddie reading the greens or telling me where to hit the ball or because I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the caddie, but I shot a legitimate 88!

East Lake was Bobby Jones' home course and it is the oldest golf course in Atlanta. The golf course is located in what used to be one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta. In the early 1990s, the golf club's founding sponsor members, including Coca Cola and King and Spalding, decided to engage renowned golf architect Rees Jones to restore the original Donald Ross golf course layout.

Due in large part to the restoration of the East Lake Golf Club, there has been a resurgence in the surrounding community and this area has become a fashionable area to live, work and shop in Atlanta. The golf club has supported the neighborhood with a junior caddy and other junior golf programs as well as contributions by its sponsor members of more than $18 million to the East Lake Foundation.

Wishful Thinking

Holy Cow! Bob, my golf instructor, is a genius! I went to the lighted driving range with the mats last night with the swing thought of lagging the golf club and pulling my hands through the ball first. I was sure that I would be shanking and pulling the ball all over the place. To my great surprise the ball was flying off of my club on a fairly straight trajectory. I checked my clubface and the ball markings were consistently on the sweet spot of the clubface. Although it is hard to tell under the lights, and the wind was swirling, it felt like I was hitting the ball at least 10 yards further than before my lesson! I can't wait to play this weekend!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PGA Superstore

I love the PGA Tour Superstore! I generally go to the store in Scottsdale. It is the Costco of golf stores. There are 8 hitting bays with state-of-the-art analysis, a putting green and a chipping and sand area, in addition to rows and rows of golf clubs, clothing and other merchandise. You can go into the hitting bays and try the demonstration clubs for a reasonable period of time without being pestered by salespersons. The store offered a specialty package of 6-45-minute lessons with an "instructor" for $200! I had my first lesson on Sunday.

Before my lesson, I went to the local driving range and hit balls to "groove" my swing and so that I did not make a fool of myself in front of the instructor and any interested bystanders. Bob, the instructor, and I talked about my goals and aspirations (it was like talking with a shrink) and we decided to initially work with the driver. My initial goal is to hit my driver about 250 yards and keep it in the fairway (or at least in the rough and playable!). I also told him that I have an extremely quick backswing swing and did not think that I could change that part of my game. Bob said that the speed of your backswing is a function of your personality (I like this guy already!).

I confidently stepped into the hitting bay and started hitting balls. I consistently hit the driver 240 yards and between 5 yards right of center and 15 - 18 yards left of center. Assuming that the average fairway is 30 yards wide I was pretty pleased with my accuracy. I decided that going to a golf pro is a lot like going to a mechanic. Invariably, when you are with the mechanic (golf pro) the car (swing) works fine and there are no problems. As soon as you leave the mechanic (golf pro), the car (swing) falls apart!

The state-of-the-art computer measures ball spin, ball speed (but not clubhead speed), distance (in the air and on the ground) and distance off-center, all objective criteria, and then the kicker, the computer describes the ball flight, which seems very subjective! The computer consistently referred to my ball flight as a "pull" or "hook" or worse yet a "pull hook". I would have described it as a "draw"! Bob also put one of those stickers over the clubface and I consistently hit the ball one-quarter inch or so toward the heel of the club.

Bob was very nice and told me that he liked my grip, alignment, posture, swing plane, etc., but the one thing keeping me off the PGA tour was that my clubhead was not lagging my hands, i.e., my wrists were unhinging well before the point of impact so that I was losing all of the power in my swing; thus the pitiful distance on my driver (Bob did not say that, but I know that was what he was thinking!). He showed me two drills. In the first he gave me a very short club and had me swing it with my right hand only to feel the shoulder and elbow coming through the ball before the wrist and hands. In the second drill, which he demonstrated, he got on his knees with my club in his right hand above his head and slammed it on the ground, to demonstrate the shoulder and elbow moving first with the wrist and club following. But all I could think about was that he was slamming my Ping G5 iron against the ground and probably bending it!

The lesson flew by and I thought that Bob could help me so I booked my second lesson for the following weekend. I went home and checked my golf club and it looks fine (but it gives me an excuse if I have trouble hitting that club straight).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Don Quixote

I am 51 years old and one of the items on the top of my bucket list is to play the Old Course at St. Andrews (reasonably well). I love golf! In my dreams I am teeing it up from the tips on No. 17 (the Road Hole) and hitting my drive about 275 yards over the hotel with a slight draw into the middle of the fairway. In reality, I am about an 18 handicap (although I do not have a USGA handicap and I do not strictly adhere to the Rules of Golf as dictated by the USGA or R&A; more about that later).

I am planning a golf vacation to Scotland next summer and my goal is to have a legitimate single digit USGA handicap. Until yesterday, I had never taken a formal lesson although I have received a lot of advice from friends and playing partners over the years (including advice to give up the game!). Generally, I play "client golf" and get out once a month or so. I love going to the driving range and just banging balls and hitting those Top-Flite rocks. I just continue to tinker with my swing and perfect all of my bad habits.

Over the next year I am going to blog about the improvement (hopefully!) in my golf game; the plethora of golf training equipment that I am going to use (I am hoping that someone will actually read this blog and send me free training equipment to critique); all of the magazine articles to boggle my mind and confound my swing; planning the golf trip to Scotland; and all of the characters that I know or meet playing golf. I hope that you enjoy this Journey to St. Andrews with me. I have no trouble laughing at myself (with my swing what choice do I have) so feel free to post any comments.