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.