Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Prelude to the "World Of"

In preparation for "World Of" XXVII, I played golf this weekend with Chad Feldheimer. Usually, Chad waits until I hit my drive on the 18th hole to point out that I have been misaligned the entire round, or my ball is too far back in my stance or that my posture is bad! Today, I actually received a "sort of" playing lesson from Chad in exchange for all of the free legal advice I have been providing to him. Chad is buying a new house. Normally, in Arizona attorneys do not get involved in residential purchases and the seller and buyer just sign the broker's standard form purchase agreement, which is sacrosanct and any changes to the form are looked upon with much disdain. Of course, Chad is using his own purchase agreement and has been in negotiations with the seller for over a month. He was recently wringing his hands as to whether a communication by e-mail was enforceable because the purchase agreement requires fax notices. It is a sign of how bad the Phoenix real estate market is doing that the seller is willing to put up with Chad!

We played at Papago Golf Course. It is one of most well-known courses in Phoenix and I have been raving about the renovation to Chad since I played a few weeks ago. Chad had never played the course and I think he was impressed with the layout. Overseeding season is coming up in Phoenix and the course superintendent at Papago has begun the process by reducing water on the fairways so they were a little browner than a few weeks ago. The course was still in good shape and the layout is really great. The greens need a lot of work and are slow and bumpy. According to the bag boy, the USGA is planning on having some qualifying tournaments at Papago. The course will have to address the green issue before then. Chad was hitting the ball from tee to green as well as I have ever seen him play, but he was really frustrated with the greens. He shot a 78 with a few three-putts in the mix.

After my last few outings, I was not happy with my game. Once again, I tinkered a little bit with my grip and swing plane to try to increase my distance and hit the ball more solidly. I strengthened my grip and held my hands lower at address. Oh, as Chad pointed out, I also used my "big boy" tees which are higher than the old standard tees. My ball flight was much straighter with even a hint of a draw and the ball seemed to bore through the air rather than fly lazily and drop straight down. Even Chad grudgingly complimented me on my ball flight.

I started off par-par and had one double-bogey and one more par on the front 9 for a 43. I was really happy with the way I played, but this was a familiar routine and I have been falling apart on the back 9 recently. I started the back 9 par-par-bogey-par-bogey and was 3 under bogey through the first 5 holes and dreaming about a mid-80s score before the "World Of". I limped home in 6 over bogey for the last 4 holes for a 44 and an 87 total. I was happy with my round, but of course I should have done better! I think that I am ready for my annual golf trip.

On Monday morning, the first weather reports from Panama City, Florida for the "World Of" began to circulate. There had been a lot of rain in the southeast over the weekend, but the weather report was clearing skies during the week and by the following Saturday clear skies with almost no chance of rain and high temperatures in the high-70s and lows in the 60s. We will be recording the Ryder Cup matches for the evening entertainment and the Alabama-Florida football game has been moved to Saturday night for national television so the stars are aligning!

Monday, September 20, 2010


"World Of" XXVII (27 for those of you that do not use Roman numerals in your everyday life) is coming up in two weeks and my game is still in shambles. My handicap leaped up from 11.9 to 12.1 last week and it could be getting worse! Every time I go to the course or the driving range I am tinkering with my grip, stance, ball position, swing or something else. This weekend I shelved my graphite-shafted Ping G10 irons and went back to my steel-shafted Ping G5 irons. I have so many swing thoughts going through my head, sometimes I am not sure I can pull the trigger and swing the club. One of these days I am just going to freeze over the ball and my playing partner will have to cart me off of the course like a statue.

I played on Sunday with the Gardener and my game was wearing off (or on) him too. Temperatures in Phoenix this weekend broke the record highs of 109 degrees. We played early and, surprisingly, it did not seem too bad. We played at Vistal Golf Club, which is one of my new favorite courses. It is located in South Phoenix and has beautiful views of South Mountain and downtown Phoenix, as well as a lot of elevation changes as you play into the foothills. From the blue tees it is a 7,013 yard par-71 layout with a course rating of 72.9 and a slope rating of 129. The course is in good condition, but the greens are slow and bumpy.

When I got to the course and announced myself the golf shop attendant looked perplexed. It seemed that the person that was playing with us was also named Kramer, which was an interesting coincidence. When we met our third player on the first tee, he introduced himself as "Kramer". I told him that was my last name also and asked his first name. It turned out that "Kramer" was his first name. His mother had a difficult birth with him and, in the throes of child birth, she promised the doctor that she would name her child after the doctor. Instead of using the doctor's first name (which must have really been bad), she used the doctor's last name, "Kramer". As far as he and I know, he is the only person with the given name "Kramer". It was easy and kind of fun calling him "Kramer" throughout the round. I felt like my daughter-in-law calling her husband (my son) by his last name. See her website Crepes of Wrath.

As usual I was hitting it pure on the driving range. The first hole is a 526 yard par-5. I hit my drive right down the middle and then laced a 1-hybrid to about 80 yards from the green. I then tried to hit my sand wedge too fine and left the ball in the greenside bunker turning a par into a double bogey. One the second and third holes I was on the green in regulation and 3-putted so after 3 holes I should have been even par and I was 4 over par! I drove the ball straight and short on the front 9 and I finished with a 44 that could have been a 40. Then disaster struck.

The back 9 at Vistal is a bear. It is over 3,600 yards with only one par-5. Five of the 6 par-4 holes are over 440 yards and the par-5 is almost 600 yards long. I made only one par on the back 9 and double-bogeyed a bunch of holes even though I was generally hitting my second shot from the middle of the fairway, albeit far from the green. I ended up with a 50 on the back 9 for a 94 total.

Sunday afternoon, notwithstanding the record heat, I went to the driving range and found that new magic swing where I was hitting the ball 20 yards longer and straight as an arrow. I am trying to remember what modifications I made to my grip, set-up, ball position, etc. that worked so well! Maybe it was just a dream.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grand Old Dame

I played Papago Golf Course on Labor Day. Papago is one of the great municipal courses in the United States. It was designed by William Francis (Billy) Bell, who also designed Torrey Pines in San Diego. Papago Golf Course opened in 1963. It hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 1971 and a number of Phoenix Open qualifying events. In its prime, more than 100,000 rounds were played annually. Players would get to the course at 4 a.m. or earlier to get a coveted weekend tee time. When I first moved to Phoenix in 1984 we used to play Papago frequently, but I had not played the course in 15 years. By the mid-2000s the grand old dame had lost her luster and was in a state of disrepair.

In 2008, the City of Phoenix hired the Arizona Golf Association to restore the golf course and the AGA engaged Billy Fuller for the job. Fuller was golf course superintendent at Augusta National and a member of the Cupp-Fuller Design team before forming his own golf course design company. As part of a $5.8 million restoration project, a new irrigation system was installed and the greens, fairways, bunkers and tee boxes were all re-done. Overgrown trees were removed or thinned, but the original layout was not drastically changed, except that the course was lengthened from 7,068 yards to 7,333 yards from the championship tees. The course still has beautiful views of the McDowell Buttes and downtown Phoenix. The renovated course plays to a course rating of 75.0 and a slope rating of 130 from the black (championship) tees. We played from the blue tees, which are 6,771 yards with a course rating of 72.0 and a slope rating of 125.

I played with the Gardener (he is permitted to play every other week). The staff was very gracious and the starter provided all kinds of information regarding the course. He also explained something about the golf cart beeping, stopping and going in reverse if you got too close to the greens, desert or hazards. I kind of spaced out on this part of the discussion thinking that I know how to drive a golf cart around a green. After my debacle Saturday, I was nervous about my game, but I played really well on the front 9. I had 4 pars and one double bogey and shot a 43. The Gardener also shot a 43 on the front 9. Since it was our first time playing the course in a long time, we did not remember the layout of the holes. The course is really designed for walking and it has very few paved cart paths, which is nice if you are walking, but makes it difficult if you do not know the course layout. Also, if you got within 30 feet of the desert area or any water hazard the cart started beeping and then stopped completely (interestingly, I think that you could drive over the tee box without repercussions) . The only way to then maneuver the cart was to go backward. It reminded me of the shopping carts at the grocery store where the wheels lock if someone tries to take it off the property. I am not sure why you were not able to drive in the desert areas. Most of those areas were simply dirt with a little brush. It was nice because you could generally find and hit your ball out of the desert, but if those areas were vegetated, the course could be even prettier, especially when the desert is in bloom.

When we made the turn, I had double-bogeyed No. 10 but I was one under bogey through 4 holes. I fell apart on the last 5 holes, which included a 232 yard par-3 and 416 yard and 441 yard par-4s, and shot a 48 for a score of 91! The Gardener was playing beautifully. He was driving the ball straight and hitting his irons like lasers onto the greens. He shot a 39 on the back 9 for an 82. I had two holes where I hit good drives and the ball was on the edge of the fairway blocked by a big tree. On one hole, I tried to draw a 1-hybrid around the tree and I hit it really well, but the ball clipped a different tree and bounded into the desert. On the par-3, 232 yard 17th hole my tee shot was pin high and to the left of the green. I tried to hit a flop shot over the greenside bunker and left it short in the bunker with a downhill lie and made a triple bogey.

By the middle of the back 9 I was frustrated with my golf game and really frustrated with the b[l]eeping golf cart. I had just hit a poor shot and was driving the cart toward the green and following the directional signs to the left toward the water hazard when the cart started beeping again. I was now stuck between the green on the right and the water hazard on the left and the cart was not moving at all. I was ready to drive the cart into the water but it would not go forward so I left the cart sitting there as I went to find my ball. I would have walked the final few holes but the Gardener was able to maneuver the golf cart like a rat through a maze to the next tee box. This is a case of municipal golf overkill. Instead of simple signs saying do not drive in the desert or into the water hazard (you dummy), the golf cart manufacturer designs a Machiavellian device to drive the rational and sane golfer (that may be an oxymoron) crazy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mr. Big Shot

My golf game is in the toilet so I need to find something different to blog about. I played golf with my friend Fred Flintstone on Saturday at my home course, Stonecreek Golf Club. I was expecting to tear the place up and give Fred a run for his money. Alas, it was a disaster. I could not hit my driver at all. I duck hooked it, topped it and pushed it right all day. It got so bad that I finally put the driver in my bag and teed it up with my 1-hybrid. I have never done that before. I shot a stinky 98. Fred was using his slap shot drive and hitting it long and straight. He ended up shooting his normal easy 85 even though he had not played for about 6 months.

When you play golf as a twosome you are oftentimes paired with one or two other players. The conversation is generally about golf and other sports, and maybe your jobs, but not much else. Generally, golfers are good guys but every once in a while you get a clunker. Saturday was one of those days. We were teamed with Mr. Big Shot. Mr. Big Shot was a recent college graduate with an engineering degree. He had just been hired by one of the large aeronautical engineering firms that build helicopters or fighter jets for the military and, according to Mr. Big Shot, was making a lot of money. Fred and I both congratulated Mr. Big Shot on his graduation and success and told him how lucky he was to get such a good job in this market. Mr. Big Shot also told us that his wife was due to have their first child in about two weeks, his mother-in-law was with his wife and they had told him to get out of the house and go play golf all weekend (this should have been our first clue)!

By the third hole, Mr. Big Shot was 5 over par and told us that he had been a state wrestling champion and while pinning his opponent in the state finals he hurt his back and had surgery. His back was very stiff, hence the 5 over par, because he did not have adequate time to warm up before the round. By the 5th hole, Mr. Big Shot told us that just played Superstition Springs Golf Club and shot 78 and that he was playing TPC at Scottsdale on Sunday. He triple-bogeyed the 5th hole and as we walked off the green he said disgustedly that this would probably be a round in the low 80s for him. Even Fred snickered at that comment.

Mr. Big Shot had a 49 at the turn so he needed to shoot a 2 under par 34 on the back 9 for an 83. On the 10th hole we learned that Mr. Big Shot's wife was a registered nurse at a private prison hospital and makes a lot of money. She supported him through college and between them they were making enough money to own a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom house. He double-bogeyed No. 10 and bogeyed 11 and 12. When we got to the 548-yard par-5 13th hole, Mr. Big Shot told us that his wife and mother-in-law were heading to the hospital to have the baby and he hurried off in his cart. Fred and I looked at one another amazed and simultaneously said that he shot in the low 80s, just like he said!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bad Things Happen in Threes

Remember that I said bad things come in threes. Well, I am scared. But the good news first. My USGA Handicap Index is 11.9 because of the 87 I shot at Southern Dunes! I am afraid that I may have some work to do to keep it this low for awhile. The USGA Handicap Index is based on the best 10 of your last 20 scores, modified for course difficulty. Four of the next five rounds that burn off of my handicap were included in my 10 best scores.

This past weekend Chad Feldheimer honored me with his presence on the golf course. The temperature was supposed to be below 100 degrees so, after much whining and complaining, he "manned up" and decided to play. We played the Stadium Course at the TPC Scottsdale, the home of the "greatest show on grass", the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This is the PGA tournament that brought you one of the most controversial rules decisions in golf history. See link and go to "Windows Media Player". The tournament is best known for the short par-5 15th hole with the island green, the par-3 16th hole, the rowdiest hole in golf (who can forget Tiger Woods's hole-in-one!), and the drivable par-4 17th hole. It is a birdie fest for the pros and they can shoot 5 under par for that 3-hole stretch. Chad had only played the TPC Scottsdale on his Tiger Woods golf video game so he was excited to play the real thing. The greens fee to play the TPC Scottsdale was about $50 (it is about $250 in season), which is on the high end for me. The fairways were not in great condition and the rough was pretty heavy, but the greens were immaculate. They were fast and rolled true and if you hit your approach shot high, it would hold the green.

The golf course plays to a par-71 over 7,200 for the pros with a course rating of 74.6 and a slope rating of 138. We played from the Championship Tees, which are 6,525 yards with a course rating of 71.1 and a slope rating of 129. That was plenty for me. I shot a 91 and was only one over par on the four par-3 holes, but 5 over par on the 3 par-5 holes. Chad started off with five straight bogeys and if we were closer to the clubhouse I think he would have quit. Then he righted the ship and was one over par for the last 13 holes for a 77. On the short par-5 15th hole with the island green, Chad decided to move back one tee box and play from about 500 yards. I stayed at the 468 yard tee box. Our tee shot were both right down the middle but I outdrove him by about one foot (give or take the 30 yard head start) and we were both 200 yards from the flagstick and 170 yards from the front of the green. I stubbed my 3-hybrid and rolled it short of the water and Chad hit a 6-iron that did not draw and landed in the water. He made his up-and-down for a par, but I chunked my next shot into the bunker and made a 7! On the par-3 16th hole with the stadium crowd going wild (not really) we both hit the green and made our pars and walked off glad that the crowd could not jeer us. Chad drove past the green on No. 17 with some help from the cart path, chipped onto the green and made a birdie 3.

But getting back to the real story, bad things happen in threes. On the par-4 11th hole, Chad and I both hit good drives. One of our playing partners duffed his drive. Because we were playing "ready golf" I drove the cart out to our ball and moved far into the right rough area waiting for the person behind us to hit. Chad was in the cart texting (or sexting) and I was standing beside the cart not watching the shot (my bad). All of a sudden we hear "fore" and I cover my head with my arms and our playing partner's golf ball screams by my head and hits the plastic on the edge of the top of the cart and bounces backwards 25+ yards. There is no question in my mind that if that ball hit me in the head I was a dead man! I have now had two close calls and bad things happen in threes. I am scared!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The PGA Finally Got it Right!

They say that bad things come in threes. The last couple of weeks the PGA Tour, the USGA and the LPGA had three rules violations that were public relations nightmares. First, Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a fairway bunker (and I use that term very loosely) incurring a two stroke penalty on the 18th hole in the last round of the PGA Championship. See link at 2:35 and 3:10. He missed the playoff by two strokes and came within inches of making a putt on the 18th hole that would have given him the outright victory, but for the two stroke penalty. It could have been worse for the PGA and USGA if Dustin made the putt on the 18th hole and thought he won the PGA Championship only to then be told that he incurred a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker. There is plenty of blame to go around on this fiasco. The players and caddies were repeatedly warned that all sand areas were considered bunkers and not waste areas, but the USGA allowed spectators to trample and walk in the so-called bunkers. When you watch the video, tell me whether the area looks like a "prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like," which is the definition of a "bunker" in the Rules of Golf. As an aside, how crazy are those spectators in the line of fire. Johnson just hit his drive about 100 yards off-line and people are lined up to his left giving him about 5 yards of space to blast a shot off of the sand. You must be out of your mind!

Then, Julie Inkster, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, was disqualified for taking a practice swing with a weighted doughnut on her club during a 30-minute wait between the 9th and 10th holes at the LPGA Safeway Classic. Inkster had just been interviewed by the Golf Channel and a television viewer noticed the infraction and contacted tournament officials. Decision 14-3/10 interpreting Rule 14-3 prohibits a player from using any artificial device, such as a weighted head cover or club with a weighted "doughnut" on it for any stroke or practice swing during a competitive round. Violation of the Rule creates an automatic disqualification and according to the LPGA it had no wiggle room as to enforcement of the Rule. In fact, the LPGA tournament officials checked with the USGA (the last bastion of reasonableness and common sense) before issuing the disqualification. Of course, Inkster could have taken two or three clubs out of her bag and swung them together with the same effect and not been disqualified. The "Rule of Reason" from English common law seems to have evaded the USGA (and the venerable R&A).

Finally, Jim Furyk, No. 3 in the FedEx points standings last week, was disqualified from The Barclays, the first event of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup, before it even began. Furyk overslept and missed his tee time for the Pro-Am on the Wednesday before the tournament. Under PGA Rules, this automatically disqualifies the player from the golf tournament. The reason for the rule is clear. The PGA Tour relies upon its sponsors and the Pro-Am is very important to the sponsors. Given a choice, many of the golfers would rather not participate in Pro-Am tournaments so it is important that the penalty for non-participation be severe. However, this is a clear case of "cutting off your nose to spite your face." First of all, Jim Furyk has a reputation for being one of the best ambassadors of the game and one of the professionals that does not shirk his responsibilities to the fans and sponsors. Second, by disqualifying Furyk, the PGA compounded the sponsor problem by taking one of the best golfers and fan favorites out of the competition. To his credit, Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour Commissioner, recognized the irony of the rule and immediately implemented an interim rule for the remainder of the season so that a golfer that is late for a Pro-Am will be disciplined for "conduct detrimental to the game" but unless he misses the entire round, he will not be disqualified from the tournament. Finchem asked the Players Advisory Council and PGA Tour Policy Board to evaluate the pro-am policy for the following PGA season. Of course, none of this helps Jim Furyk and hopefully he will not lose the FEDEX Cup by a few points that he could have won by playing the Barclays, but the Commissioner's proactive response is a pleasant surprise. At least Finchem has not completely drank his USGA/R&A Kool Aid.