Monday, August 8, 2011

Musings from Doyle

I asked each member of the "World Of" to provide a guest post about his favorite golf course or experience on the "Journey to St. Andrews". These are stream of consciousness musings from Doyle, formerly known as the Natural (see Editor's Note below on the change of pseudonym):

The joy in my friends' faces.

People ... George. the Scots, Sam the starter. Did I mention George?

Hitting the Postage Stamp. The Lighthouse. Making birdie for 79. Scoring 75. Low liners into the wind. 5 birds and an eagle in one round. The goat shot. 83 at Muirfield. Hitting the house. Missing the bus (barely). Salvaging a 50 on the front. Brothers in law. Longest putt in history.
USGA (You Suck Go Again).

Views. Appetizers. Vodka tonic, vodka soda. Playing gin. Bad pancakes, great mussels. Stout. The force field. Lost luggage. Bed and Brunch. Mexican food?

The sharing of successes. Children at Princeton, Harvard, Davidson, (even Furman). med school and law school and travelling the world. We went back in time and spent 9 days together just like old times.

Turtle having the strength to make it.

I am blessed.

Editor's Note: "Doyle" is a self-proclaimed moniker based on Doyle Brunson, one of the all-time great poker and gin rummy players. While riding the bus, Doyle gave us a blow-by-blow description of his gin rummy acumen as he whipped Alice into submission.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Journey Completed

At 7:00 a.m. on Friday, July 29, I stepped to the first tee on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf. My 4-ball partners were Smooth, Stinger (formerly High Right) and Arnie. The sky was a bit overcast and there was the slightest of breezes. The course looked immaculate and the first fairway (and the adjacent 18th fairway) are wider than two football fields (but who can forget Ian Baker-Finch's infamous snap-hook at the 1995 Open Championship). There were golfers and spectators milling all about and joggers and walkers crossing the 1st and 18th fairways on Granny Clark's Wynd. My caddy Phil handed me my driver and I striped my drive right down the middle of the fairway toward the Swilcan Burn and we were off.

About 3 1/2 hours later, we approached the famous 17th hole known as the "Road Hole". The Road Hole is a 436 yard, par-4 dogleg right with the Old Course Hotel on the right. The tee shot is blind and you have to hit over the railway sheds attached to the Old Course Hotel that have the inscription "Old Course Hotel" and a lion insignia (see link - this is not me). Phil handed me my driver and told me that we were going to take an aggressive line and draw the ball back into the fairway. I hit a low draw that barely cleared the sheds just over the word "Old" and perilously close to the hotel and my ball landed on the right hand side of the fairway near The Jigger Inn about 180 yards from the flagstick. From this location, I did not have to hit over the dreaded Road Hole bunker. I hit a nice 4-hybrid shot to the front right corner of the green, but I landed on the lower tier of the putting surface and the ball did not release over the mound in the green. The flagstick was in the middle to back of the green on the upper tier and I 3-putted for a bogey. While I was a little disappointed, I did avoid disaster in the Road Hole bunker and along the wall adjacent to the road (see link for Miguel Jimenez shot off of the Road Hole wall at the 2010 Open Championship).

The 18th hole shares a fairway with the 1st hole. It is a 361 yard, par-4 hole with little trouble until you reach the green. I aimed at Martyrs' Monument and drove the ball right down the heart of the fairway over Granny Clark's Wynd. We walked over the famous Swilcan Bridge and stopped for a picture (see above) where Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson all waved their farewells when they played their final Open Championships at St. Andrews. I only had about 100 yards to the flagstick, but the wind had picked up a wee bit and my caddie recommended that I hit my 9 iron. I struck it perfectly and ball drew toward the flagstick and landed pin high about 12 feet left. Phil and I surveyed the putt and agreed on the line. I struck the birdie putt just right and I knew it was in the hole from the moment it left my putter. The spectators above the 18th green politely applauded. The birdie on No. 18 gave me a 79 for the round and the Journey was completed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Final Leg of The Journey to St. Andrews

It has been over a month since my last post. Life has been extremely busy. We had a one-week family vacation in Montauk, which is on the tip of Long Island in New York. We rented a house on right on the Montauk Downs golf course. Montauk Downs is a New York public golf course that is one of the top 50 public courses in the United States. We were on the 13th fairway, which is a par-5. We had a few balls land in the pool and one or two hit on the rocks close to the patio, but we did sustain any injuries. The weather was unbelievably great. The high temperature ranged between 75 and 78 degrees the entire week and we hardly saw a cloud in the sky. The two weeks before we arrived were hot and rainy and since we left, New York and the rest of the East Coast is experiencing a very severe heat wave. It was over 100 degrees a couple of days ago.

I played two rounds at Montauk Downs. The first round I almost ran out of golf balls and quit after the 16th hole, which is in easy walking distance of the house. A lot of the lost golf balls would have fallen under the "lost in plain sight" rule, but I also lost quite a few in the woods and water. I played from the black tees, which are just under 7,000 yards with a course rating of 75.3 and a slope rating of 141. It was clearly too much golf course for me. The second round was much better. I moved up to the blue tees, which were about 6,600 yards with a course rating of 73.2 and a slope rating of 132. I did not keep my score because I hit some extra shots but I only lost one golf ball and I had two birdies! The guy I played with was a slower player than even me.

As soon as I got home, I started to get ready for Scotland. The "World Of" is traveling across the pond for 13 rounds of links golf in 9 days, including 4 Open Championship courses -- St. Andrews Old Course, Turnberry Ailsa, Royal Troon Old Course and Muirfield. We are also playing a lot of other great links courses, including, Western Gailes Links, Royal Troon Portland Course, Gullane Golf Club and 3 of the other courses in the St. Andrews Links Trust golf complex. In addition to the cold weather, rain and wind (all of which are part of the links golf experience), the biggest issue for me is footwear. We will be walking 18 or 36 holes each day. I am trying out my four pairs of golf shoes to determine which are the most comfortable. You have to take at least two pairs because of all the rain. I also read at least one memo that said playing some golf in sneakers is not a bad idea. So I am keeping that in mind. SO bought me so much paraphernalia for my feet that it will take me about an hour to get ready each morning -- socks with extra padding, spray-on blister protector, callous remover, callous protectors, refreshing peppermint foot cream, Dr. Scholl's gel inner soles, and on-and-on. Everything else is ready. Of course there will be no shorts on this trip and because I am such a weather wimp, I will be wearing my Under Armour ColdGear shirt, then my long-sleeve rugby shirt, then a sleeveless wind jacket and much of the time, my hopefully waterproof (not water resistant,Mrs. Pavin) rain gear.

I have delegated most of my work to Chad Feldheimer and I am hoping that I will still have clients when I return from Scotland. I am ready to go!

Monday, June 20, 2011

On the Reservation

It is starting to get hot in Phoenix. I had to cajole Chad Feldheimer into playing golf this weekend. He wanted to tee off at 5:30 in the morning, but I eventually talked him into playing late in the afternoon. We were joined by the Gardener for a 3:30 Saturday afternoon tee time at Talking Stick Golf Club - North Course. Talking Stick Golf Club is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and operated by Troon Golf. It is part of the Talking Stick Resort and Casino complex in Scottsdale on the Indian reservation.

The North Course is 7,133 yards from the black tees and plays to a par 70, which means there are only two par-5 holes, instead of the normal four par-5 holes. The course rating is 72.7, which is high in relation to par, but the slope rating is only 125, which is low given the length of the course. There are six par-4 holes over 445 yards and the par-5 holes are 552 and 582 yards. The fairways are wide open and there are not a lot of greenside bunkers, which partially explains the low slope rating. The course was in relatively good shape and the greens were very fast, although bumpy because it was so late in the day. Some of the greens were burnt out because there was a water main break and the greens were not watered for a couple of days in early June.

I started off with three pars and shot a 39 on the front 9 with one birdie on No. 8, 4 pars, 3 bogeys and one double-bogey when I lost my ball in the desert. I parred the first hole on the back 9. No. 11 was a 261-yard par 3! I hit my driver right of the green past pin high and the ball trickled into the desert for an unplayable lie. If the shot had been 3 yards shorter it would have ended up in the collection area and I may have been able to chip on the green and make par. Instead I made a double-bogey. I started to leak a little oil at that point and was not driving the ball well, but I was hitting my irons straight and long to save par or bogey. On the 194-yard par-3 16th hole I knocked the tee shot to about 2' and had a gimme birdie. The final two holes are the 582-yard par 5 and a 471-yard par 4. I bogeyed 17 and needed a par on No. 18 to shoot 79. I hit a good drive and a pudgy 3-hybrid and made a good bogey to shoot an even 80. It is really hard to complain about an 80 so I won't.

The Gardener has been kicking my butt the last few rounds. He had an off day and shot bogey golf, but it should not hurt his handicap index because you only count your best 10 scores from your last 20 scores. Chad Feldheimer was hot and cold and shot his normal 78. I think he was a little worried that I might beat him the way I was playing. Chad hit a couple of shots that embarrassed him, including rolling a 3-wood about 80 yards, chunking a wedge and pulling a 9-iron about 20 yards off-line, but he also made some great par saves along the way (and a few of those 8' rakes on the green).

Next week I am going on vacation to Montauk on Long Island with SO and all of my family that lives back in New York. We rented a house on the Montauk Downs public golf course that looks great so I am looking forward to playing some golf on vacation. St. Andrews is only a month away and my game is rounding into shape.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Stately Raven of the Saintly Days of Yore

After playing well on Saturday, I was excited about playing Sunday with the Gardener. We had a late afternoon tee time at the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain. The rate was $30 per person! The Raven was well-known in Phoenix for its desert flowers and landscaping and its unbelievable customer service, but it fell on some hard times during the recession and is now under new management. OB Sports took over management of the course a week ago. Although the fairways were very green and the putting surfaces were in good shape, the course suffered some frost damage this winter and was showing some signs of neglect and lack of funds. The course does not have any ball washers because it had ball washers on the golf carts. The temporary golf carts were very spartan and did not include GPS, ball washers or club washers. We did have a cooler with ice that I used to clean my golf balls and clubs. Hopefully, OB Sports will be able to bring the course back to the standards set previously.

The Gardener has been playing really good golf recently. His handicap index is down to 9.6! He is consistently shooting in the low 80s. He hits these soaring drives that seem to fly forever (and he is generally pretty accurate off the tees). We played from the tournament tees, which are 7,078 yards with a course rating of 72.8 and a slope rating of 130. On the front 9, we were both hitting our drivers really well. I was matching him drive for drive, although his tee shots were more majestic and my tee shots were low draws with a lot of run. However, the comparison ended after the drives. The Gardener was hitting laser approach shots and I was either missing the green or hitting it so far from the flagstick that I need a five iron instead of a putter to get the ball to the hole. I three-putted at least 3 holes on the front 9 and ended up with a 47! The Gardener shot a pretty steady 41. I thought I played better than a 47, but the scorecard does not lie.

Then lightning struck! On the back 9 I continued to drive the ball straight and long. While I will admit that the summer fairways in Arizona can be pretty hard, I was hitting my drives about 260-270 yards and had 2 or 3 300-yard drives! I was still not as accurate as I would have liked with my irons, but I was stroking my putts well and leaving myself with tap-in par putts. On the 179-yard par 3 14th hole into the wind, I hit a 4-hybrid with a baby draw that landed and stopped about 5 feet from the cup and I made the putt for birdie.

Nos. 16, 17 and 18 are a 453-yard par 4, followed by a 593-yard par 5 and a 428-yard par 4 finishing hole. I parred 16 and 17 and I was even par on the back 9 going into the 18th hole. I pushed my drive a little right on No. 18 and I was about 190 yards from the hole and partially blocked by some trees with water to the right of the green. I thought about trying to fade in my 3-hybrid and then decided (in a moment of golf maturity) just to hit the ball straight and left of the green taking the water out of play and hoping that I could chip up and make the putt for my par. I chipped to about 6 feet but choked on the putt and left it short for a bogey and a one-over 37 on the back 9 for your normal 47-37 score of 84. My playing partner continued his steady play and shot a 41 on the back 9 for an 82.

Leaving the course, I was thrilled and the Gardener pointed out that it was a good thing that I shot the 37 on the back 9. That was a really interesting point. If I shot the 37 on the front and followed that with the 47 I would have been kicking myself all of the way home. This way I saved my round and ended with a great back 9 that has me all excited and wanting to get back on the course as soon as I can.

Back on Course

As you can imagine, when I do not blog it is because I am not playing well. On May 15, my handicap index was an even 10 and I was dreaming about a single digit handicap index. My next three rounds were 93, 92 and 91 and my handicap index jumped to 10.6. Although my scores were not very good, I was hitting the ball much longer, but I was hooking the ball pretty badly. I think that my club face was open previously but I had learned to compensate and hit the ball straight, although the open club face caused me to lose distance. I have now "squared" the club face so I am hitting it longer, but I have to re-learn how to hit it straight with a square club face.

On Saturday, I played with Digger at Moon Valley Country Club. I have to come up with a new nickname for Digger because he is no longer taking pro-size divots and pissing off the course superintendent. Digger has also lost about 45 pounds, is exercising religiously and is looking very svelte. I am thinking that "Grinder" is a good nickname, not because of his golf game, but because of his day job. Grinder is one of those clients that can wear down the other side in a negotiation through sheer will power and stamina; when Grinder digs in on an issue, there is no changing his mind and ultimately the other side just folds.

Grinder and I both played really well, hitting fairways and greens. We walked the front 9, but Grinder developed a blister on his foot and we took the cart for the back 9 (good call because it was getting hot!). Grinder broke 90 for the first time in a long time (or maybe forever) and I shot an 83 with a consistent 41 on the front 9 and 42 on the back 9. Although the Moon Valley course is not in great shape, the greens were really fast and true. I was rolling my putts really well. I did not leave as many putts short of the hole and actually was rolling the ball a foot or two past the hole when I did not make the putt. I moved the ball back to the middle of my putting stance so that I am accelerating through the ball and hitting it more crisply. Before, I was playing the ball off of my front instep and by the time my putter got to the ball I was either decelerating or just plain "yipping". I still need to be careful to make sure that the putter head is aligned properly, but I see the square face better when the ball is aligned in the middle of my putting stance.

Every round is an adventure on the golf course and I am never sure which player will show up at the first tee on any given day, but at least today some of the adjustments I have been making were working. But tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chad Feldheimer

Ever since I scared the pants off of Chad Feldheimer shooting a 79 and tying his score, Chad has been on a tear. He has been striping the ball and shooting in the mid-70s and flirting with par golf. Chad's pseudonym is based on the stumbling, bumbling Brad Pitt character in the movie "Burn After Reading", but I promised Chad that if he shoots par I will change his moniker to a more suave and debonair secret agent.

For some unknown reason, Chad subjects himself to my golf game every two weeks or so. I think he just likes making fun of me. Given his taunts and barbs, he must know that I have no swag on partnership decisions at my law firm.

Chad claims he is 5' 6" tall and weighs exactly 151.5 pounds. I am not buying it. But he hits the ball a country mile and generally straight down the middle. He is also very good around the greens and putting, although he has taken to the Kramer "in the grip" rule based on the full length of a long putter and sometimes even stretches that a bit. I have recently shamed Chad into walking the course and carrying his golf bag -- the way golf is supposed to be played. He is almost 25 years younger than me and it was embarrassing to see him riding in a cart while I was walking.

This weekend Chad and I played at Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Arizona. The course was set up for U.S. Open conditions because it hosted a U.S. Open sectional qualifier 3 days earlier. I carried Chad around the golf course helping with club selection, distances, pin locations and wind (I might as well have hit the shots for him). He was one over par heading to the par-4, 435-yard 18th hole. He needed a birdie to shake the Chad Feldheimer nom de plume. I instructed him to "hit it straight" on the tee box. His drive was bombed down the middle of the fairway about 165 yards from the flagstick. The approach shot is to a green surrounded on two sides with water with the pin tucked into the corner. Chad had to shoot at the flagstick and make birdie. He pulled out a 6-iron. I tossed some grass in the air and noted that the wind had picked up ever so slightly. Chad then choked and pulled his approach shot left over the cart path into the desert area and made a double-bogey for a 75, thus keeping his ignominious title for another two weeks.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Unfinished Business

This weekend Chad Feldheimer, the Gardener and I headed back to our old standby, Stonecreek Golf Club. The course is in great shape and on Mother's day the internet special was $45 per person and included a sleeve of Titleist ProV golf balls and a drink ticket. The last time I played at Stonecreek I shot my career round of 79 finishing double-bogey, double-bogey and bogey so there was some unfinished business between me and the finishing holes.

Recently, I have been hitting a lot of shots off of the toe of the club. In my last round at Hilton Head, I moved a little closer to the ball and was hitting the ball better. I continued to tinker with my swing this week and I squared my clubface and was making great contact in the middle of the club. I thought my club was square before and now it looks to me like it is hooded in, but I think that is because I was used to the open clubhead. When I hit the ball it was making that nice sound and there was no vibration from off-center hits. My ball was flying at least 10 to 15 yards farther than before and the grass ball marks on my irons were dead center. I hit a number of balls on the very back of the green or over the green that would have come up short before, and on the par-5 13th hole I hit my 1-hybrid from 225 yards and it was 10 yards past the flagstick!

I started the round bogey-bogey-bogey with two 3-putt greens. I parred 3 of the last 6 holes on the front side for a 41 (the front is a par 35). I was never in danger of a double-bogey. Chad Feldheimer shot a 37 and the Gardener shot a 41. There was no one in front of us so it was easy to keep in rhythm. We did have two women golfers behind us who were pretty good players and kept us moving along at a good pace. On the back 9 I heated up and made 5 pars and 4 bogeys for a 40. I did not make any birdies but I was never in danger of a double-bogey. I played my nemesis, holes 15, 16, 17 and 18, in two-over par. It was a rather ho-hum 81, driving the ball in the fairway (or at least on the grass), hitting the greens or fairly close, and two-putting. One area of improvement could have been the par-5 holes. There are three par-5 holes and I bogeyed each of them. Overall, it is really difficult to complain about an 81. Chad shot a 75 with two birdies. He hit his tee shot on the par-3, 227 yard 15th hole into the water and double-bogeyed the hole. The Gardener played reasonably well and shot an 84 with 3 double-bogeys. He made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 9 and 10, dropping two long putts (right after bad-mouthing his long putter and threatening to go back to his short putter).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Jewish Mafia

A few months' ago, my cousin invited me to participate in his Boys' Golf Weekend at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in late April. For purposes of my blog, my cousin's pseudonym will be "Mensch", which roughly means in yiddish "a good person," but really means a person with the qualities one would hope for in a dear friend or trusted colleague. Mensch's baby brother's pseudonym could be "Baby Mensch", but instead will be "Jerusalem", which is kind of a play on words of his real first name with a Southern drawl. Mensch took care of all of the logistics for the golf trip. He booked a great house and all of the golf and, most importantly, was in charge of all social gambling, golf and cards. He was open to advice from all comers (and I am sure he received a lot of suggestions) and herded all of the cats from the house to the courses and back again. And he did it all with great humor and a smile on his face.

Mensch and Jerusalem's grandfather and my grandfather came over from Russia in the early 1900s and started a clothing (Schmatta in yiddish) business in New York City. The business was then passed down to our respective fathers. At some point, our fathers decided that someone needed to move down to Mississippi to be in charge of the garment factories and Mensch and Jerusalem's dad drew the short straw. Our families stayed in touch and we always knew what was going on with the other family, but we rarely saw each other while we were growing up. Maybe we would see each other at a wedding or bar mitzvah. Mensch and I went to summer school/camp together one year. But to us sophisticated New Yorkers, Mensch and Jerusalem and their two sisters were always those odd cousins from Mississippi that you could barely understand.

I took the red-eye on Thursday night and met the "Jewish Mafia" at the turn during the Friday morning golf round. There were eight of us, including me (how strange, the correct number for a boys' golf weekend). The group included Mensch's relatives (Jerusalem and me), fraternity brothers and other assorted close friends. The one common denominator was that everyone was Jewish. It was funny listening to good ole boys from Mississippi and Louisiana using yiddish words with a Southern accent (most of which I did not know).

Mensch is the best golfer in the group. He has a handicap index of 8 (although the way he played early in the trip he is closer to a 5!). The rest of the group ranged from a handicap of 12+/- to infinity (a sideways 8). We played 36 holes on Friday (I played 27), 36 holes on Saturday, 36 holes on Sunday and 18 holes on Monday. In the morning rounds we typically played our own ball and in the afternoon rounds we played some type of scramble format. I have no idea what I shot, but I did not play to my handicap. In Arizona, I am used to wide fairways with desert. If you hit into the desert you still may be able to advance the ball toward the green and save your par. These courses are all tree-lined and if you hit into the trees you are typically in "jail" and all you can do is punch the ball out into the fairway. I got pretty good at hitting the punch shot during this trip.

On Friday, we played two rounds at Hilton Head National, right outside of Hilton Head Island. National is a Gary Player-designed course that is very nicely manicured with generally wide open fairways and very playable. We played from the blue tees, which are only 6,160 yards with a course rating of 69.7 and a slope rating of 126. I drove the ball really well and was able to hit a lot of short irons into the greens because of the length of the course. The morning half-round was a warm-up and in the afternoon we played a two-man scramble and my partner and I ended up two-over par and won some of the betting games.

In the evenings we got home around 7:30, cooked dinner on the grill, played cards and watched playoff hockey. I tried to "fit in" and play cards on the first night and I bought my $20 of chips. The other guys knew they had a patsy and their eyes lit up when I asked them to explain the rules of each game we played. On the first hand, which was poker like you see on ESPN when nothing else is on television, I actually had some idea of the general rules. I lost $16! The next hand was complicated but half of the pot went to the person with the highest spade. I so happened to get the ace of spades and won back some of my money. The next game was something like 3/33 and I never did quite get all of the rules. Within another 30 minutes or so I lost all my money and went to watch the hockey game.

On Saturday, we played the Robert Cupp course at Palmetto Hall Plantation (as you can see the course goes all out on its website). The Cupp course is a great layout meandering through the wetlands with fairly generous fairways. If you hit a ball into the wetlands you risk your life trying to retrieve the ball because the alligators are lurking in the weeds (or come right up on the bank). We played from the blue tees in the morning, which are only 6,500 yards, but the course rating is 72.2 and the slope rating is 136 (it is 7.056 yards with a course rating/slope of 75.2/147 from the gold tees)! I shot a 90 in the morning with a couple of triple-bogey maximum holes and two birdies. I was very pleased with my score even though I played like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; half the time I hit the ball in the fairway and was dreaming of birdies and pars and half the time I drove the ball into the trees and was fighting to make bogeys and double-bogeys. In the afternoon, we played a 4-man scramble and I talked my team into playing from the gold tees. That was a big mistake! On the first tee we smelled something burning and it turned out to be one of our golfers burning the morning scorecard. The other foursome played from the blue tees and there were times that we were hitting from 100 yards behind the blue tees. It was a very long afternoon and we staggered home losing all bets.

On Sunday, we played the Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Hall Plantation (ditto for this course website). This course was also a very nice layout playing about 6,600 yards from the blue tees with a course rating of 72.7 and a slope rating of 139 (from the gold tees it is 6,900 yards with a course/slope rating of 74.2/145). The course was not in great condition supposedly due to some infestation, although someone said that the infestation may have been a lack of funds. I continued to falter with my balky driver and was feeling the effects of not enough sleep and not enough game. I went through at least 12 golf balls over the 36 holes. I was hitting everything off of the toe of the club. I lost track of my score in the morning and the afternoon was a disaster for our entire foursome in the best ball scramble. I hate to admit it, but it is the first time I have ever been over par in a 4-man scramble. Among the four of us we did not hit one par-3 green. By the 18th hole we were dragging so badly that we simply dropped a ball in the fairway and tried to played in and still may have bogeyed the hole if we did not take a 12-foot gimme. We lost the 2 nine hole nassaus, the 18 hole nassau and all four of the par-3 closest-to-the pin contests. I tried to shame the other team members into paying for dinner with their winnings without success.

On Monday, I felt refreshed and ready to go. We played Oyster Reef Golf Club. This course was substantially easier than the two Palmetto Hall Plantation courses. We played from the blue tees, which measure 6,440 yards with a course rating of 72.6 and a slope rating of 124. From the gold tees, the course measures 7,018 yards with a course rating of 74.7 and a slope rating of 137. I decided that simple physics dictated that if I move a tiny bit closer to the ball at address, I am more likely to hit the ball in the middle of the clubhead, rather than on the toe. This approach actually worked wonders, although there are always problems when you try to make a swing change on the fly. I hit a lot of really great shots and a few really poor shots. Many of the poor shots were with my sand wedge from tight lies in the fairway and the club bounced into the ball and I hit it thin over the green. I hit a lot of long, straight drives and hit some great approach shots. On the par-3, 168-yard signature hole, there was a 2 club wind and I hit a beautiful 3-hybrid that landed on the green and rolled into the fringe. I made a nice up-and-down for a par. On the 400-yard par-4 8th hole I hit a short drive that stayed in the fairway but the green was blocked by tree limbs. I decided to lay up with a 4-hybrid while our other group was on the green and I hit the hybrid on the screws with a nice draw about 210 yards landing on the green as our fellow Jewish Mafia group was putting. I felt terrible hitting into our other group, but I was psyched about the shot I hit! On the par-3, 165-yard 16th hole, I hit my 6-iron to about 12 feet and sunk the birdie putt. On 18, I hit a great 1-hybrid onto the green from about 210 yards out and made a ho-hum par. My scorecard was schizophrenic. I had two birdies and three exes that were generously scored as double-bogeys. I never did get my final score for the round. I was itching to play more golf, but we had planes to catch.

The trip home was long and tiring (I flew through Detroit!), but I had a great time and hope that Mensch, Jerusalem and the rest of the Jewish Mafia invite me back for next year's Boys' Golf Weekend.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Martin Hall Acolyte

After shooting a 79 last week, I decided it was time to retool my swing (good thinking!). My new golf guru is Martin Hall, the host of School of Golf Extra Credit on the Golf Channel. Hall was talking about making a better turn to increase your power and distance. He said that moving your back foot a little further away from the golf ball (a closed stance) would permit you to better turn your hips and increase your power and distance. I tried this and it worked on the practice range, but it caused me to pull the ball a little bit. But I decided to take this tip out to course with me.

Chad Feldheimer and I played Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale. I had never played the course previously, although I had heard good things about it for a long time. It is about 40 minutes from central Phoenix near Cave Creek/Carefree up in the foothills. At this time of year, it is a very pretty drive through the desert. The course is 6,845 yards from the black tees with a course rating of 71.8 and a slope rating of 138, which is one of the higher slope ratings that I have played. The course is pretty and very playable with wide fairways and a lot of room if you miss the elevated greens.

Using my new swing, I did drive the ball a little longer and kept it in the fairway or at least on the grass all day. However, by closing my stance with my hybrids and irons, I seemed to hit a lot of shots on the toe of the club, leaving the ball generally right of the green. Maybe I was overcompensating for the perceived pull I had on the driving range. I shot an 89 with only two double-bogeys and I thought I should have scored much better given the way I played. I had two sand shots. On the first one, I was in the back of the bunker with a downhill lie. My confidence level for this shot was below zero, but I got the ball out of the bunker and onto the green so I was really pleased. My second bunker shot was a long bunker shot that had to go over another bunker. I purposely aimed a little away from the hole and hit a nice soft bunker shot onto the green with a chance for a sandy. I hit a number of good pitch shots and I rolled my putts pretty well and scared the hole on a number of putts but none dropped.

The only bad shot I hit all day was a sand wedge on my third shot on the par-5 4th hole. The hole is 540 yards and I hit a good drive and a good 1-hybrid and I was about 60 yards from the hole. I had a downhill lie and I decided to try to pitch the ball up to the elevated green rather than hitting a low chip and running the ball up to the hole. I was having second thoughts as I stood over the shot (my guru Martin Hall says back away if you are unsure about your club or shot selection) and skulled the ball over the green and made a double-bogey 7. Before, I would have been happy with an 89, especially on a course rated as difficult as Legend Trail, but now I am trying to shoot in the low to mid-80s so I was a little disappointed. I still thought that my handicap index for the round would be pretty good because of the high slope rating, but I was surprised that my handicap index for the round was 14.1. I still do not understand how the handicap index is calculated!

This weekend I am going to Hilton Head Island to play golf with my cousins and some of their friends. I am leaving Thursday night on the red-eye and arriving at the golf course at about 10:30 Friday morning and hopefully joining my group at the turn or earlier. We are playing 36 holes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and 18 or 27 holes on Monday and then I am catching a plane back to Phoenix Monday night. I am looking forward to the trip and it should be a lot of fun. I will report back next week as soon as the blisters on my hands and feet heal and I am able to stand up straight.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


This weekend I played in a scramble golf tournament with Slim Whiskey and one of his clients. The golf tournament is sponsored by Macayo's Depot Cantina so you know that the food is going to be really good! The sponsor of the tournament has won the tournament the last 4 years (bad form) and Slim Whiskey decided that this year he was going to stack the deck. Our 4th player was our ringer, Benoit Bessier, a friend of Slim Whiskey's who plays on the Gateway Mini-Tour. "Wah", as he is known, was a golfer on the "Big Break" and is one of the subjects of "The Minors - The Road to the PGA Tour Isn't Always Easy". Although I only spent a few hours with him (it probably felt like weeks to him), the description of Wah in the March 1 post is spot-on.

Our team score was 59 and we left a number of shots out on the course. Not surprisingly, the host won the scramble with a 55. There were no minimum drive rules so we probably used Wah's drive on 14 of the 18 holes. Overall, including any sizable made putts for eagle or birdie, we probably used Wah's shot 70% of the time and the other 3 of us 30% of the time. But if Slim Whiskey or I had not hit our drives straight down the middle, Wah might have played more conservatively (yah, right). The course is really short with a lot of doglegs and Wah could drive most of the par-4 holes (or come awful close) and we had short irons on our second shots into all of the par-5 holes. The greens were so slow and bumpy that Wah was having trouble getting his putts on line and to the hole. I made a couple of 20 footers and Slim Whiskey commented that the bumps knocked my putts on line and into the hole. I was feeling pretty good about my putting until that comment.

Wah was hitting the white TaylorMade R11 driver. He is a former hockey player and his stance is very narrow and his swing is quick like a slap shot. He would tell us his intended line, especially on the doglegs, and his ball flew off his club on that line like it was on a string. He said that TaylorMade wants to get the R11 out in the public so it is basically giving the club away to get players to use it (I think he meant tour players at all levels, but I am going to call and ask anyway!). Interestingly, after playing with the weights on the club, Wah went to the neutral setting because it allows him to shape his shots with either a draw or a fade. He actually said that the new TaylorMade Burner 2.0 is much longer, but it is designed to play a fade and it is impossible to draw the ball.

It was really fun playing with a golfer of Wah's caliber. As golf legend Bobby Jones said when a young Jack Nicklaus won the 1965 Master's, he “was playing a game with which I am not familiar". But not only was he fun to watch, he was personable and friendly and was actually having fun playing golf with a couple of duffers. Wah would be a great addition to the PGA Tour and I will be rooting for him to make it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chopping Wood

Every once in a while it is refreshing to see the greatest players in the world have a brain freeze. You never want to see anything like Rory McIlroy's Sunday back 9 at the Masters while leading the tournament, but a disaster on Thursday at a run-of-the-mill PGA event can be fun, especially when the golfer laughs about it as well. On Thursday, Kevin Na, one of the young, exciting Americans had one of those brain freezes (see video).

Na was playing the Valero Texas Open at the TPC course in San Antonio, Texas. Na was even par through 8 holes when he came to the par-4 9th hole. He hit his first drive into the woods and had an unplayable lie so he went back to the tee and hit his third shot in almost exactly the same place. He decided to try to punch the ball out of the trees and his ball hit a tree and ricocheted back and hit him on the leg for a two-stroke penalty so he way now lying 6. He dropped his ball and hit a tree again. He then tried to punch the ball out of the woods left-handed and whiffed and then hit the ball twice more a couple of feet. It looked like he might be able to get out of the woods, but his next shot hit a tree and bounced further into the woods. Finally, after two more swings he was out of the woods and into the rough. His approach shot trickled onto the fringe of the green and his next putt singed the edge of the cup and he made the 5 footer for a 16!

Although Na was frustrated while tramping through the woods, when he finally made it out of the woods, he was able to smile and joke about trying to figure out his score. His caddie was much more stoic than Kevin. Unbelievably, Na was able to compartmentalize the 9th hole and he shot a 4 under par 32 on the back 9 for an 8 0ver par 80 (with 16 strokes on one par-4 hole!). And I am gloating about my 79 on a muni course.

By the way, talking about mental toughness, Rory McIlroy fired a 64 today and is leading the Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Masters

What a great finish to the Masters on Sunday! I was riveted to the television set as soon as I got home from playing golf. I missed Tiger's 4 under par front 9 to put him into contention and put some pressure on the young guns. I felt bad for Rory McIlroy. The drive he hit on the 10th hole was as far left as I have ever seen. When you saw him ask his caddy whether there was out-of-bounds on the left, you knew he was in big trouble. I did not even know there were cabins in the vicinity of the golf course. I have been watching the Masters for a lot of years and I had only seen the inside of the Butler Cabin, where the green jacket is awarded each year. Rory would have been the second youngest winner of the Masters at age 21. He showed amazing courage and poise after his disastrous round of 80 during the post-round interviews. There is no doubt in my mind that McIlroy will win his first major within the next year or two.

The Aussies put on quite a show. First, Geoff Ogilve starting hitting it stiff and tapping in for birdies to tie Tiger Woods in the clubhouse at 10 under par. Then the Aussie twosome of Jason Day and Adam Scott got hot with their putters each ending 12 under par and scuttling Tiger Woods' hopes of another green jacket (I think the USGA/R&A should outlaw the long putter, but that is a discussion for another day). But 26-year old Charl Schwartzel hung around making 10 straight pars and then birdied the last 4 holes to win the green jacket at 14 under par. Prior to Schwartzel, only Jack Nicklaus in 1986 played the last 4 holes on Sunday at Augusta in 4 under par to win the Masters. It was quite a display of shot-making by all of the young guns under the Sunday back 9 pressure of Augusta National.

My good friend and mentor (and jingoist), Fred Flintstone, was lamenting the lack of good young American golfers. Other than Tiger Woods, the only Americans in the top 10 at Augusta were Bo Van Pelt and Ryan Palmer. Among the American youth movement (under 30), you have Dustin Johnson (26), Nick Watney (29), Ryan Moore (28), Hunter Mahan (28), Ricky Fowler (22) and Anthony Kim (25). They have won a total of zero majors. Fred puts the blame squarely on video games for the dearth of young American talent. I think that golf (like everything else) has become global and players all over the world are receiving equivalent training, have access to the most-up-to-date technology, great training facilities and great courses, and the competition level is extremely high on all of the tours. One difference is that the great players from prior generations in countries like Spain, South Africa, Japan and Australia seem to take a more hands-on approach with the next generation than do the Americans. However, all of the young guns may have to wait a bit longer because Tiger is lurking and if he can figure out his putting woes, watch out!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I have been remiss keeping my followers up to speed on my golf game, but I have some exciting news today! First some background. A few weeks ago, I played Southern Dunes Golf Club with Chad Feldheimer. The wind blew the entire time at about 15-20 m.p.h. This was a precursor of Scotland and my game was not up to the challenge. If you did not hit the ball squarely in the middle of the club and had any side spin on the ball, the wind just took the ball and played havoc with it. I actually thought I hit the ball well and shot a 91.

The following day I played with the Deer Hunter and Gardener at the Cholla course at We-Ko-Pa. We-Ko-Pa is the Fort McDowell Indian Tribe resort, casino and golf course. The Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa opened in 2001 and was designed by Scott Miller. It is ranked as the no. 4 public course in Arizona. The other course, the Saguaro course, is rated the no. 1 public course in Arizona. I was playing really well and I came to No. 18 needing par for an 84. The 18th hole is a gorgeous 410-yard par-4 finishing hole (see layout). I hit my drive 260 yard straight down the middle (downhill) and the ball came to rest about 10 yards in front of the bunker guarding the lake. The flagstick was in the back of the green about 160 yards. I hit a 6-iron on the screws and fly the ball into the back bunker. My confidence in my sand game was zero. I had already left one bunker shot in the sand and tried to putt out of a second bunker because of my frustration. This time I had a downhill lie with the water staring at me from across the green. I left my first two shots in the sand, finally got the ball out and 2-putted for a 7! I was beyond frustrated.

The following weekend I took a one-hour lesson from Heath Morgan, one of the PGA professionals at Kierland Golf Course. I had heard good things about Heath. I wanted to focus on getting out of the bunker and putting, which are two areas of my game that are sorely lacking and you can get immediate results. We went out to one of the holes and I hit a few shots out of the bunker that I either hit fat and did not get out of the bunker or hit thin and slammed into the face of the bunker. Heath then had me hit some pitch shots from the grass that I hit reasonably well. We talked technique and he told me that most amateurs that try to hit 2" behind the ball actually hit 4" behind the ball. He told me to use my pitch stroke and try to hit to ball. Surprise! I hit an inch or two behind the ball and the ball flew out of the bunker on a bed of sand. The take-aways on the sand shots were: Take pitch shot practice swings outside of bunker; Soft hands; choke down on club; weight more on your front foot; and, most importantly, try to hit the ball, not 2" behind the ball.

We then went to the putting green and he watched me continually push my putts weak and to the right. He made a couple of fixes and my alignment was better and I was rolling the ball so much better. The fixes were: left hand more in the palm of the hand (rather than the fingers); and follow-through twice as long as backswing (do not decelerate).

Now, the exciting news! I shot a 79 at Stonecreek Golf Club. Everything was clicking. I was driving the ball straight and fairly long. I was hitting my hybrids and mid-irons well and I was hitting my short irons great! I made some 10'-20' putts (I also had a few 3-putts) and I got out of four bunkers and actually made two sandies! Stonecreek is a par-71 course, 6,871 yards from the green tees with a course rating of 72.8 and a slope rating of 131. No pushover. I shot a two-over par 37 on the front 9 with 3 bogeys and 1 birdie. I was one-over par through 6 holes on the back 9 and then I started leaking oil. I chunked my approach shots on 16 and 17 and missed 3-4' bogey putts on both holes for double bogeys. On 18, I partially righted the ship with a drive right down the middle of the fairway and a 3-hybrid from about 180 yards to the left fringe of the green, but it took me 3 putts for a bogey. I was 8 over par for the round and 5 over par on the last 3 holes. But I shot a 79! Oh my God!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Masters

This is Masters week at Augusta National Golf Club. The Masters is my favorite golf tournament. It is also the start of the best four months of professional golf with the four major championships, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open and the PGA, being contested within this short time period. Playing Augusta National Golf Club is on the top of my bucket list.

The Curmudgeon is attending the third and fourth rounds of the Masters this weekend. His brother arranged the trip as a birthday present. If you watch carefully, you may see a toe-headed Curmudgeon holding up a sign behind the 12th hole tee box inscribed "Jon 3:16" just before the Masters security force carries him off the hallowed grounds of the club.

Augusta National is the most beautiful golf course I have ever seen (on my 50" HD television set). It is amazing how the groundskeepers are able to get the azaleas to bloom at exactly the correct time for the tournament. I have seen the huge heaters that are used when it is unusually chilly in Augusta in early April. The back 9 at Augusta, including Amen Corner, on Sunday afternoon may be the best test of golf and nerves and risk and reward in all of golf lore. Some of the great moments at Augusta include Jack Nicklaus, at 46 years old, winning his 18th major and his 6th green jacket in 1986; Tiger Woods winning his first major at Augusta in 1997 by 12 strokes!; and Phil Mickelson winning his first major in 2004 with 5 birdies on the back 9 on Sunday.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

70 Years of Thunder

A few weeks ago, SO and I attended the Luke Air Force Base 70th anniversary Open House and Air Show. It was billed as "70 Years of Thunder" and it was all that. We (and many others) were invited by Brigadier General Jerry Harris, the Commander of the 56th Fighter Wing - Luke Air Force Base.

This is one of the perks of being a board member and general counsel of Valley Partnership. Valley Partnership is a non-profit organization with more than 500 member companies representing all segments of the commercial real estate development industry, including developers, attorneys, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors, and other professionals. Valley Partnership advocates responsible development by presenting a balanced, pro-development perspective and the Valley’s best industry education and networking opportunities.

Valley Partnership is very big supporter of Luke Air Force Base located in Glendale, Arizona. Luke is the largest air base in the world with more than 180 F-16 fighter jets housed at Luke. Luke Air Force Base trains 75% of all F-16 pilots in the world. There are more than 6,000 Airmen stationed at Luke Air Force Base with more than 600 deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world every year. Luke contributes more than 18,500 jobs and $1.4billion annually, directly and indirectly, to the Phoenix local economy. The military is the largest employer in Arizona, employing more than 83,000 active duty, reserve and civilians at military installations statewide.

Approximately 260,000 people attended the two-day open house and air show. There were 120,000 on Sunday when we attended. We were treated as DVs (distinguished visitors). We parked in a special parking lot inside the base and were then transported by bus or golf carts to the "Commander's Chalet" (actually a big tent) immediately adjacent to the landing strip and dead center. The air show started at about 10 a.m. and lasted to about 4 p.m. There was a very nice lunch spread inside the tent and chairs and temporary stands outside the tent to watch the air show. All of the military personnel were extremely polite and helpful. Some of them looked like they couldn't be more than 18 or 19 years old. There were aerial acrobatic propeller planes, helicopters and parachutists, but the coolest stuff was the fire power of the U.S. military. We saw the F-18 fighter jets, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately nicknamed the Warthog, a U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight formation with a modern fighter jet flying with World War II, Korean, and Vietnam era fighters, and finally the internationally acclaimed Thunderbirds flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon planes. A number of fighter planes and pilots from Luke had just left for Libya that day to take control of the air space over Libya. All of the action happened right in front of our location. Planes criss-crossed upside-down and side-by-side; they did dog fight maneuvers flying straight up, in chase formation and engaging in a dogfight; they flew in a number of different formations, including the diamond formation; some of the planes turned on their burners and flew at supersonic speeds with the emblematic supersonic boom; and my favorite, the warthog bombed a target on the ground and then strafed a swath of ground creating a wall of fire.

When the events were over, we were bussed back to our cars and zipped out of the base with military efficiency. SO asked one of the soldiers whether we could walk to our car and while he was polite it was clear he thought she must be crazy. In the area where we waited for the buses, there were signs that the area was patrolled by the military and they were authorized to use "lethal force" if unauthorized personnel were in sensitive locations on the base.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training Facility - Salt River Fields

Last weekend was a non-golf weekend. On Saturday, the Fennemore Craig Foundation sponsored a volunteer activity for the firm's employees, families and friends at the new Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training facility at Salt River Fields to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale. Employees, friends and family members, including me and SO, volunteered as ushers, ticket takers and customer service representatives at a spring training game.

We arrived at 10 a.m. for our team meeting and to don our black Diamondback shirts and straw hats (actually they were out of straw hats so we wore baseball caps instead) and then it was out to our stations. The information provided was a little thin and we were kind of on our own winging it. I worked the entry to the party decks putting on different color wristbands depending on each attendees' particular party group. Luckily for me, I worked with a very nice lady who volunteered frequently and was a pro at manning the party deck entrance. She was volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club because the organization was a major supporter of her event, "step N out" for pancreatic cancer research at TGen. The gates opened at 10:30 and there was a trickle of people until the hour before game time. I hate to admit it, but of the 5 questions I was asked by fans at the game (where are the bathrooms?; where is the ATM machine?; who hit that home run?, etc.), I got 4 of them wrong! I also fumbled putting on the wristbands and probably angered a lot of men with hairy arms.

SO was placed as an usher. Clearly, the volunteer coordinator did not know that litigators do not play well with others. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when an octogenarian fan asked SO for the fourth time, "Honey, where is my seat?". The game started at 1 p.m. and did not end until after 4 p.m. SO and I met for our 15minute lunch break at about 2 p.m. to get our free hot dog and drink. We waited in line for well over 30 minutes and gobbled our food in about 5 minutes.

Although we were not supposed to be watching the game, the Diamondbacks fell behind the Cincinnati Redstockings 10-0 after 4 innings, but stormed back to win the game 13-10 with 8 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning. Hopefully, that is a good omen for the baseball season.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Red-Headed Stepchild

I have not played at Camelback Golf Club since last summer when the Indian Bend Course was not in very good shape so we decided to check it out in high season. The Indian Bend Course is the red-headed stepchild at Camelback Country Club. The Padre Course is considered the premier course and is well-maintained.

I actually like the Indian Bend Course better because it is a little longer and less tricked-out. It plays over 7,000 yards, but the balls runs on the fairway so it seems to play shorter than its actual length. It is an old-fashioned Midwestern style course with generous fairways and trees bordering the fairways. If you miss the fairway by 5 or 10 yards, you oftentimes have tree trouble. If you miss the fairway by 25 to 30 yards you have a clear shot to the green. The Indian Bend Course encircles the Padre Course and is partially within the Indian Bend Wash. There are some long cart drives between greens and the next tee boxes. It seems like the architect could have built another 5 or 6 holes with all of the wasted land, but the design was probably impacted by the wash and the architect's ability to channel waters through the course. Because of the long distances between holes, you have to use a cart and cannot walk, which is a disadvantage.

The Gardener, Chad Feldheimer and I teed off in the mid-morning and the weather was gorgeous. Randall from the Panhandle in Florida was our fourth. Randy was a good guy and a good golfer. He is a medical salesperson and met his wife, an obstetrician/gynecologist, while he was selling gynecological medical equipment. That seems a little weird.

The first hole on the Indian Bend Course is the No. 1 handicap hole, a 432-yard, par-4. It is unusual to start off with the toughest hole on the course. I drove my ball into the right rough and had tree trouble. I pulled my second shot left of the green, hit a bad wedge and made double-bogey. Not the start I was hoping for! My front 9 included 4 double-bogeys, 3 pars and one birdie and one bogey for a 44. With my flatter swing plane I was making better contact with my driver and irons and hitting it longer than normal. However, my short game, including my putting, was terrible. On the back 9 I continued to hit my driver and irons well and improved my short game and putting. I only had one double-bogey to go with my 4 bogeys, 3 pars and 1 birdie for a 41. I had two other legitimate birdie putts from inside 10 feet, but missed both. Overall, I was very pleased with my 85, although with a course rating of only 122, my handicap index for the round was not as low as I hoped.

The Gardener shot a 44 on the front 9 and got hot on the back and was even par through 6 holes before he double bogeyed the 16th hole and finished with two pars for a 38 on the back 9 and a total score of 82. Chad Feldheimer shot an 80 and had some of the worst luck you can imagine on the course. As I mentioned earlier, if you missed the fairway by 20 or 25 yards, you had an open shot to the green. Chad was bombing his driver and hit it through the fairway on a number of occasions, generally putting himself right behind a tree. On one hole he hooked his drive down into the dry wash and had to hit from the wash over trees to the green. He hit a beautiful shot that clipped the branch at the very top of the tree and dropped straight down. On No. 14, a par-5, 570 yard hole, Chad drive the ball about 310 yards down the middle of the fairway and had 260 yards to the center of the green. He hit a screaming 3 wood that was rolling toward the green when it hit the sign in the middle of the fairway directing carts to the side. The ball ended up about 30 yards from the green. Rather than putting for eagle, Chad settled for a par. It was just one of those days for Chad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bondurant - Afternoon

When we got back from lunch we were chomping at the bit to get onto the race course. First, we did time trials through a road course in a large open lot marked with cones so we did not do any damage to the cars. The road course included straight-aways, hairpin turns, S-turns and two or three different types of curves. Once we got into third gear, we kept the car in third and did not downshift. The course took about 60 seconds to complete. We ran the course once or twice slowly to get a feel for the turns and then started the time trials. My three times were in the high 59 seconds, low 59 seconds and high 58 seconds, but each time I lost time either because I was too tentative, took a bad racing line, or was too fast through a turn and almost lost the back end of the car. SO started out with a first run of 68 seconds, but by the third run she was keeping up with the boys and was in the mid 59 second range.

Next, we went on the Firebird main oval track to practice finding the racing line and hitting the apex of the curve. Of course, the oval is not a perfect oval (see link above); on the east end of the oval you take a high line coming into the curve and smoothly turn through the center of the curve and hit the apex on the inside of the curve and accelerate when you are parallel to the apex. At the west end, you accelerate straight into the curve, brake hard (and you should downshift but we were novices), take a sharper angle into the curve and hit the apex and accelerate. Cones are set up and there are markings on the curves to show you the racing line but it is still hard to hit the apex on each turn. Also, my left shoulder was slamming into the side of the car on each turn so by the time I got out of the car my shoulder was killing me!

Finally, we got onto the Bondurant Road Course and tried to assimilate all of the information that we learned over the course of the day. Our instructor led the way and we tried to follow him maintaining the same racing line. Although we never got out of third gear, we were going well over 100 m.p.h. on the straight-aways and through the S-turns and over the blind hills. We were hitting all of our racing lines and accelerating out of the apex of the curves like professional race car drivers (sort of). It was really exhilarating! When we pulled into the pit area ending our driving school adventure, we were disappointed that the day went by so quickly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bondurant School of High Performance Driving - Morning

About a year ago, the Curmudgeon invited SO and me to attend the Liberty Wildlife Annual Charity Fundraiser, "Wishes for Wildlife". The Curmudgeon's wife is very involved in Liberty Wildlife. Liberty Wildlife rehabilitates Arizona native birds and similar wildlife that are injured or become ill and it provides educational training throughout the state to school children. Check out the video releasing a bald eagle into the wild on the "About Us" page.

I am not quite so eleemosynary, but I know a good deal when I see it. At the silent auction, we bid on a one-day Bondurant School of High Performance Driving program for two people and got it for a steal. SO and I decided to go to the school as my birthday present last week. At the school, each student drives his or her own 6 speed manual Chevrolet Corvette Z06. I had not driven a stick shift in 20 years and SO, suffice it to say admitted than even when she drove a stick shift, did not do so very well. We tried to rent a stick shift car the weekend before school to practice, but could not find any car rental company that still rents stick shift cars. We even tried U-Haul and it did not have any stick shifts for rent. I think you can rent high-end cars like Corvettes with manual transmissions but they are very expensive. So we just winged it!

The class runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a 90 minute break for lunch. The classroom is the Firebird International Raceway in Chandler. The first half hour or so is in the classroom talking about cars in general, downshifting, front wheel/rear wheel traction, geometry and the apex of a curve, trail braking and proper race lines and something about rolling back and forth between the brake and the throttle. SO and I were still trying to figure out whether the throttle was the brake, the accelerator or the clutch. And of course, we cannot forget the mandatory sales pitch by the photographer, which was pretty pricey, but what the heck, it was my birthday.

Then it is outside to pick your car. I chose the No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette (Mark Martin's number for all you NASCAR fans) and SO chose the No. 1 car (surprise!). There was only one other person in our group. We got into the cars and revved the engines and tried to figure out all of the electronics and headed out for our first training exercise of the day, manual shifting. The course was like barrel racing for all of you rodeo fans. We revved the engine, burned rubber and shifted from first to second to third gears on the straight-away, then we braked and downshifted into second gear as we were coming into the turn and when we reached the apex of the curve we accelerated from second gear into third gear and then did it again and again until we were comfortable using the clutch and shifting gears. SO did great and by the end she was shifting like a pro!

Next was accident avoidance training. We drove down the straight-away in second or third gear and there were three lanes ahead with a green light for each. About 80 feet before the road splits, the instructor would either leave one, two or all three lights green or turn all three lights red and you had to make a split-second decision into the correct lane. The red light signified an accident in front of you. We only had one death in our group where our third driver slammed into the back of the accident, although I do not think the instructor was overly impressed with our reaction time when all three lights were red. Interestingly, the hardest situation was when you had two green lights and could go in either direction. The moral of this exercise was that it is oftentimes better to maneuver to avoid an accident rather than stamping your brake and trying to stop before rear-ending the car in front of you. But if there is no way to avoid the accident and you need to stop quickly, stand on the brake and do not worry about stalling out the car or burning out the brakes.

Before lunch, we changed cars and all got into a car with training wheels for skid control training. You try to drive inside the larger circle and find the apex of the curve without going into the smaller circle in the middle and without losing the back-end of the car and spinning in circles. It is a lot like driving on ice or hydroplaning on water. Also, the instructor has a hydraulic lift that lifts the back-end of the car so you lose traction while turning. Each of us spun out the car and burned rubber at least once. It was like Kyle Busch after winning a NASCAR race. The lessons were: look where you want to go, not where you are going; do not jam the brakes because that shifts the weight of the car to the front wheels when you need more weight on the back wheels, and steer into the spin (i.e., toward your back-end) but do not over-steer or you will spin like a top.

Then it was off to lunch to talk about how much fun we were having!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Haney Project - Jay Kramer

I was going stir crazy the last couple of weeks! The last two weekends were miserable -- cold and overcast -- so I did not play any golf. This past week was beautiful so Chad Feldheimer and I snuck out of the office on Thursday afternoon to play some golf at Papago Golf Course. We shut off the blackberries and enjoyed the afternoon. We were paired with Cheryl and Bev from Calgary. Cheryl was buying a patio home at McCormick Ranch for the winter and her friend Bev came for the trip and to escape the Canadian winter. Luckily, Chad and I were walking and Cheryl and Bev rode a cart so they were generally able to keep up, especially given how long I stand over the ball.

I shot a 43 on the front 9 but tired on the back 9 and shot a 47 for a 90. I was unhappy about my golf game, but as they say (whoever "they" is) "the worst day on the golf course is better than the best day in the office." Holes 16 through 18 at Papago are similar to the the Bear Trap (Nos. 15-17) at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where this week's PGA Honda Classic was played. The 16th hole is a 416 yard uphill par 4, followed by a 232-yard par-3 and the 441-yard par-4 finishing hole. Chad Feldheimer played this stretch in one-over par and finished with a 78 after shooting a 40 on the front 9. I played the last 3 holes in 5 over par on my way to the back 9 score of 47.

Saturday afternoon I had an epiphany (another one) about my golf game. I was flipping channels and came to the final episode of the Hank Haney Project with Rush Limbaugh. I have not watched any of the prior episodes because I am not a Rush Limbaugh fan or a Hank Haney fan. I think a golf pro is a lot like a psychiatrist and should not talk about his clients or former clients. While Hank Haney was probably a well-known golf professional among professional golfers before Tiger Woods, he became a celebrity and has made a boat load of money due to his relationship with Tiger. When asked about Tiger, Haney should have the good sense to simply keep his mouth shut and invoke the golf teacher - student privilege. Rush is the epitome of talk radio. Loud and obnoxious. It does not matter whether the talking head is on the right or the left. In the half hour that I watched (with flashbacks), Rush was much more likeable than I thought. He truly loves golf and was a good student and hard worker (after blustering at first). But I digress. Back to my epiphany!

Even though I am not thrilled with Hank Haney's antics regarding Tiger Woods, he clearly knows his stuff. Rush is an 18 handicap golfer and his technical problems were that he was hitting a lot of balls on the toe of the club and hitting a lot of fat shots or thin shots because his swing plane was too upright. Haney worked with Rush to flatten his swing. It sounded like Hank Haney was talking directly to me because my problems are thin shots and toe shots. Upon hearing Haney's advice, I immediately headed to the Giant to work on my swing. I am not sure why flattening the swing plane solves the "toe problem", but I immediately starting hitting the ball closer to the middle of the club and one or two grooves higher on the club. My swing and swing thoughts seem to change weekly, but I think this is the one (again)!

Through we were able to reserve a tee time on Sunday afternoon at Moon Valley Country Club for $35! I called Digger to join the Gardener and me for the round. The sun is setting at about 6:30 at this time of year so we teed off at about 1:45 and finished at about 6:00 with some daylight to spare. Digger and his son played the first 9 holes with us. With all due respect to the original Cameo, I think that I am going to change Digger's moniker to Cameo West given his propensity for disappearing at the turn. Using my new swing, I played really well for the first 8 holes with 3 pars and 5 bogeys. Number 9 used to be one of my favorite holes at Moon Valley. It is only 383 yards, but there is water on the left that you can reach off the tee that goes all the way to the green and a stream that crosses right in front of the green. I overcompensated and pushed my drive way right. I tried to hit my second shot over the trees and hit some tree limbs and then pull-hooked my third shot into the water and made a 7 for a 44. On the back 9 I had another triple-bogey and a double-bogey but still shot a 44 for an 88. Although I had a few big hooks with my new swing plane, I was really happy with the way I played.

The Gardener was having a miserable front 9, but hit one of the great shots of all time. On the par-5 4th hole, the Gardener was in the greenside bunker in 3 shots. He skulled his explosion shot out of the bunker and the ball was heading right for the window of a house or possibly over the roof top when the ball hit a palm tree square on and bounced back onto the green about 15 feet from the pin. The Gardener made the putt for one of the great up-and-downs of all time (I made up that last part to embellish the story, but it was still an unbelievable shot!). The Gardener shot a 49 on the front 9 but somehow figured out his swing problems and played beautifully on the back 9, shooting a 39 for a total of 88.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Carpenter and His Tools

Phoenix got its last blast of Old Man Winter (hopefully) this weekend. It was cold (in the 50s and low 60s), rainy and overcast all weekend. So there was no hiking or golf this weekend. SO and I went shopping and in exchange for not whining and whimpering too much at Macy's, DSW and some other clothing stores, I got to spend an hour at the PGA Superstore in Chandler. The new Callaway RAZR Hawk Driver was released this week and I wanted to try it out. I have about $600 of PGA Superstore gift cards burning a hole in my pocket and I was a buyer today.

I took my 2008 TaylorMade Burner Driver into the store. One of the clerks marks your club with a piece of tape to indicate that it is your club and makes you leave the headcover at the front desk. Normally, this would not be a big deal, but the head cover was my new Jan Craig head cover so I was not thrilled (but I was too lazy to walk the 25 yards back to my car so I left it upfront).

The sales people at the PGA Superstore leave something to be desired. I went up to the hitting area and after waiting about a minute I interrupted a discussion between two of the sales people to see if I could get any help. One guy pointed me in the direction of the RAZR demo clubs and sent me to station 2. I hit balls for about 45 minutes in the simulator and not one sales person talked with me. I hit a number of drives with my TaylorMade Driver to determine my baseline. I hit my driver between 230 and 250 yards according to the simulator. I hit the Callaway RAZR Hawk, the Ping G15 and the TaylorMade R9 and R11 drivers. I hit all of them between 230 and 250 yards. It is possible that my "misses" were going further and straigher, but I did not notice a significant difference. By this time I am dripping with sweat and still no one has said a peep to me.

Two lessons I learned at the store (and that I am happy to impart to my followers): First, incentivizing sales people by paying commissions makes them hungrier. I was salivating to buy a new $400+ driver and no sales clerk gave me the time of day. There is a fine line between being a good salesperson and an over-aggressive boor, but I would have loved to have someone come over and talk with me about the different clubs and show me how to adjust the weights, etc. Of course, I could have tracked down a sales clerk, but why?

Second and more importantly, the old adage that "it is not the tools, but the carpenter that wields them" remains true. The difference in distance between my "ancient" 2008 TaylorMade Burner and the new 2011 drivers was negligible. The RAZR was developed in partnership with Lamborghini and it advertises that the clubface is made of forged composite and is lighter and stronger than titanium, the aerodynamic shape reduces drag by 43-percent over the FT-9 driver for more distance and the hyperbolic face technology precisely controls the face thickness, resulting in consistently higher ball speeds across the entire face. I would have gladly paid $400+ for an additional 10 yards off the tee and a little bit more accuracy, but I was not feeling it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Weekend

Since Valentine's Day is Monday, the big question this week is whether you can celebrate Valentine's Day on Saturday or Sunday when you can spend more time with your sweetheart or you should celebrate on Monday, which is the date that Hallmark chose for Valentine's Day. The restaurant owners (not the employees) love a Monday Valentine's Day because a lot of restaurants are normally closed on Monday or business is slow. Although I hate to generalize (and my followers know how politically correct I am), the Venetians (not Venice, Italy) are firm that Valentine's Day must be celebrated on February 14. The Martians, who are generally more flexible and right brain-oriented, believe that Valentine's Day can be celebrated anytime in the vicinity of February 14. One Curmudgeon Martian combines his Venetian's birthday and Valentine's Day (it is a wonder he is still married!). Because I always like to impart some pearl of wisdom to my followers, February 14 is also statehood day in Arizona. Arizona was admitted into the Union on February 14, 1912.

SO's plan was to kill me before Valentine's Day because I was being very difficult about a Valentine's Day gift (it looks like I am getting underwear again!). We hiked Camelback Mountain on the Cholla Trail. Cholla Trail is the less-crowded, "easier" route up the mountain. It is 3.5 miles roundtrip. The last half mile or so requires scrambling along the ridgeline. There were plenty of places where a misstep or a slight push in the back would send you tumbling off the side of the mountain. I got dissed by some hikers for climbing in my Skechers and not wearing my hiking boots. I hate to admit it, but they were right. The view from the top of Camelback Mountain is beautiful and well-worth the hike. After hiking, we went to the farmer's market at Vincent's Restaurant, in the heart of the city, for breakfast.

Sunday was gorgeous and I was stoked to play golf. I just got my retro Jan Craig headcovers and I was looking sharp and feeling good. I parred the first hole at the Wigwam Gold Course and it was all downhill from there. I stunk up the joint! I hit some shots that came off the clubhead so strangely I have no idea what I did. I was hitting the ball on the toe and the heel, everywhere except in the middle of the clubface. I was nothing if not (in)consistent. I shot a 48 on the front 9 and a 48 on the back 9 for a 96. The highlight of my round was the 400 yard, par-4 18th hole. This is a good finishing hole with a canal that runs just left of the green. The Sunday pin position was on the front left side of the green so if you miss the shot just a little left of the green, the ball rolls off the edge of the green into the canal. Of course, I bail out to the right. My ball lands next to the cart path and right of the greenside bunker with the green sloping away from me and toward the canal. I decide to hit a flop shot over the bunker that lands softly on the green about 10 feet from the hole and I make my only putt of the day for a par.

While I was stinking up the course, the Gardener was bombing his driver and lasering his irons. He had three gimme birdies and hit another shot about 3 feet above the flagstick and missed a tricky downhill sliding putt for a fourth birdie. He had a 38 on the front 9, but limped home with double-bogeys on the last two holes for a 44 on the back and an excellent round of 82 for the day. It was the best I have seen him hit the ball! Chad Feldheimer was making pars with a few birdies and bogeys sprinkled in. He made the turn at 37 and it looked like this might be the day he shoots par golf. On the par-5, 14th hole, Chad drove his ball into the trees, his second shot hit a tree branch and he almost shanked his third shot. His fourth shot was a medicore short iron that landed about 20 feet from the flagstick, but he drained the 20 foot putt for his par. He needed a birdie on one of the last two holes to shoot 72, but unfortuantely he bogeyed No. 17 for a very respectable 74.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sports on the Brain!

Super Bowl weekend in Phoenix is extra special because the [insert sponsor name] Phoenix Open PGA Tournament is always played on Super Bowl weekend. The Phoenix Open draws the largest crowds by far of any PGA Tour event. I think the record crowd for the Phoenix Open was over 538,000 in 2008. This year attendance was down because the Pro-Am was canceled on Wednesday and we had unseasonably cold weather with early and mid-morning frost. Total attendance was about 365,000, which will still be the largest attendance of any PGA Tour event this year. And crowd size is generally down on Sunday because of the Super Bowl festivities.

On Saturday, SO and I hiked the Go John Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park, just north of Phoenix. The trail is 4.8 miles long and is very scenic. There are a couple of steep grades, but mostly it is a nice hike on generally flat terrain. We completed the hike in 1 hour and 45 minutes. I led the way at the beginning and end of the hike and SO ran me ragged for over an hour in the middle. I could barely keep up with her! She has been working out like a demon and it is really showing in her physical conditioning. I am very proud of her.

On Super Bowl Sunday I played in the "traditional" Greenfield Lakes invitational golf tournament with SO's step-dad and his buddies. Greenfield Lakes Golf Course is a really nice par-62, 4,100 yards executive golf course with two par-5 holes, four par-4 holes and twelve par-3 holes ranging from 100 yards to over 200 yards. The par-5, 530 yard 18th hole is the signature hole with a double dogleg. I hit the ball really well and shot an 8 over par 70. I had two double-bogeys and two birdies and eight pars.

After golf, it was time for the Super Bowl. Although I did not really have a dog in this fight, I was rooting for the Packers. I hate to admit it, but I still remember Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers winning the first two Super Bowls (I don't remember whether the games were called "Super Bowls" at that time). I was a die-hard New York Football Giants fan at the time, but everyone revered and wanted their team to emulate the Packers. The Vince Lombardi trophy deserves to be in "Title Town". The Steelers are also a great football organization and there is no family more deserving of greatness than the Rooney family, the owners of the Steelers (except maybe the Bidwills - yah right!). This was a match-up of two storied football franchises that play football the way it was meant to be played. Although the game was not the best played Super Bowl ever, it was very competitive and until the final incomplete pass you sat on the edge of your seat thinking that the Steelers might pull out a victory.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Greatest Show on Ice

While the rest of the country is buried under a foot or more of snow, the greatest golfers in the world (or at least in the United States) are in Scottsdale, Arizona for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, generally known as the "greatest show on grass", but this year re-named the "greatest show on ice".

After a 5 hour frost delay on Wednesday, the PGA finally canceled the Pro-Am tournament because any play would have damaged the fairways and greens. Temperatures have been frigid in the early mornings causing a hard freeze on the greens and in the fairways. Thursday's high temperature may not have cracked 50 and Friday's high temperature was only in the mid-50s. On Thursday, the first groups teed off from the 1st and 10th holes at 11:40 a.m. and the last groups did not tee off until about 5:25 p.m. and only finished two holes before darkness. But check out the unbelievable sunset over the golf course. The PGA made a great decision to play the final round of the tournament on Monday rather than try to play 36 holes on Sunday. After losing the Pro-Am on Wednesday, the Thunderbirds must be very pleased to add another day to the back-end of the tournament. The weekend high temperatures are supposed to be 67 degrees on Saturday, 70 degrees on Sunday and 74 degrees on Monday with sunny skies.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Perfect Sports Day

Sunday was a sports day. Hiking in the early morning with SO, golf in the afternoon with the Gardener and floor seats at the Suns basketball game in the evening. It does not get much better than that! The weather was cold in the morning when we went hiking, but it warmed up to about 70 degrees with clear skies by mid-afternoon. Perfect golf weather!

I have got the Gardener into a physical fitness routine. His wife bought him a pull cart for his golf clubs and we have been walking the golf courses. He has become a bit of a pull cart snob. A few weeks ago we played at ASU Karsten Golf Course and the course would not allow him to use his pull carts so the Gardener decided to spite the course and ride in a cart rather than walk and carry his bag. I have absolutely no idea why a golf course would not permit pull carts other than golfers may pull them through the sand bunkers or across the green. I guess you need to make rules for the lowest common denominator. This week we played at Aguila Golf Course in South Phoenix. In the areas within 25 yards or so of the greens there were signs prohibiting golf carts from getting any closer to the greens, which is normal. But there were also signs prohibiting pull carts around the greens. As a pull cart snob, the Gardener was a little miffed about this rule. Of course, he understood not to pull his cart over the green or even the apron around the green, but 25 yards from the green, come on!

Aguila is the newest of the Phoenix municipal courses. It is a really nice track (see photo gallery)that plays to more than 7,000 yards from the black tees. There were three or four holes where the course was adding additional tee boxes to lengthen the course that were not yet open. Thank goodness! The course was designed by Gary Panks, who is one of the most prolific golf course designers in Arizona, with credits for The Golf Club at Chaparral Pines, Firerock Country Club, Whirlwind Golf Club (Cattail Course) and Whirlwind Golf Club (Devils Claw Course), among many others. Aguila is an interesting layout because there are two drivable (not for me) 300 yard par-4 holes and one short par-3 hole, which means that the par-4 holes are monsters. There are 5 par-4 holes that range from 433 yards to 471 yards. The course rating is 72.4 and the slope rating is 129.

The course was closed for a few months recently to redesign the bunkers because the golfers complained about the number and size of the fairway bunkers, the depth of the greenside bunkers and the lack of sand in the greenside bunkers. I never played the course with all of the bunkers but Matt, our playing partner on Sunday, pointed out a number of the bunker locations that are now grass. The only disappointing part of the golf course are the newly-renovated greenside bunkers. Matt said they used to be deep and difficult to escape. Now they are flat and serve no purpose. I actually putted out of three of the greenside bunkers with no difficulty. I would have liked to play the course as originally designed.

I played very consistently. I was generally hitting my driver straight down the middle of the fairway and hitting my hybrids and long irons okay. I only had two double-bogeys, one where I hit the ball into the water and another on a par-3 where I just mishit my tee shot and took a penalty stroke. I made a birdie on a par-5 hole and had 4 pars for an 86. On Saturday, I worked on my flop shot at the practice facility. After hitting about 30 flop shots without mishitting one, I was really comfortable hitting that shot. I hit three flop shots on Sunday from difficult positions out of the desert or over greenside bunkers. One was close enough that I did not need my putter and the other two were in the makeable putt range. The Gardener played really well in long stretches, but had a few erratic holes that killed his round. He shot a 90.

After golf, we washed up and headed to U.S. Airways Arena to see the Suns play the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul. Our seats were in the third row on the floor behind one of the baskets. The Suns played really well for 47 minutes and 30 seconds and then almost blew an 8 point lead in the last 30 seconds, but held on to win the game. The floor seats under the basket are really cool because you can see all of the action up close and you can see how big, athletic and physical the players are. If I had a choice of any seat in the house for a full season I would not want to sit in these seats because a small portion of the court is obstructed by the basket stanchion and you are peaking from one side to the other, but for one game it was a lot of fun (and the price was right).