Whiffle: verb – to blow lightly in puffs or gusts; noun – something light or insignificant.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Greatest?

A while back in my men's Bible study, a discussion started (OK, I started it) regarding who is the greatest golfer of all time. It quickly boiled down to: Well, it depends on whether you're comparing short-term, peak performance or long-term, career performance. In these cases, the answers tend to be Tiger and Jack, respectively. At least so far.
     And while it's hard to argue with this instant-analysis, I always like to take this discussion a little deeper, and stir the pot a bit by throwing out a few more names that I think at least belong in the discussion. But rather than tackle it in-depth that morning (because we were, in fact, there to study the Bible, not discuss golf!), I waited until I got home (and by "home" I may or may not mean "the office") to put together the following, which I think maybe is worth sharing:


It all really comes down to how you define "greatest golfer." On Friday, I contended that Ben Hogan at least belongs in the discussion. And I presented the attached photo spread of all the golfers I believe you can at least make an argument for (though Arnie is mostly in there on sentimental terms, for all he did to grow and popularize the game). We talked a bit about Young Tom Morris, who has one of the most amazing stories in golf history. (You can read my take on it HERE.)(And HERE is a great book about Old and Young Tom.)

Attached are three charts from Wikipedia, showing career-long performance in the majors for Tiger, Jack, and Hogan (wins in green; top-10s in yellow), followed by a brief evaluation (by me). Each chart (click to enlarge) shows something unprecedented and distinctive about the respective golfer.

Enjoy!!

TIGER

Clearly, Tiger's claim to the greatest golfer title lies primarily in that four-year stretch from 1999-2002, in which he won seven majors, some by amazing margins, such as his 15-stroke U.S. Open victory in 2000. This is almost inarguably the single most dominating performance ever in golf. During that time he won seven of 11 majors, from the 1999 PGA to the 2002 U.S. Open. And an incredible five of six if you stop with the 2001 Masters. Add in all those green boxes in the 2005-08 stretch, and you have a very, very strong case for greatest golfer ever. Certainly that stretch surrounding the "Tiger Slam" from the 2000 U.S. Open to 2001 Masters belongs at the very top of the charts.


Jack's claim lies primarily in his extended greatness and consistency over time. In addition to his 18 major victories, Nicklaus also had 19 runner-up finishes in majors. He never had quite as dominating a run as Tiger has had, but if you look at that entire 1970s block you see he almost never finished out of the top 10. And rarely out of the top 5! No one approaches Jack's consistency in this regard. He also did this in the time of Arnold Palmer (7 majors), Gary Player (9), Lee Trevino (6), Tom Watson (8), and other Hall of Fame caliber golfers. (Jack finished second in majors to Watson and Trevino four times each!) An interesting discussion can be had about the "lack" of other great golfers in Tiger's era; really only Phil Mickelson, with four major wins, approaches the level of greatness that Nicklaus faced in multiple opponents. The question is, did so few other great golfers emerge because Tiger was that dominant? Or was Tiger helped by the lack of golfers rising up to consistently challenge him. I don't think there's a clear answer, but I think it's a little of both. (I also think it's fair to say that the "top 10" golfers were stronger in Nicklaus's day, but the "top 100" are a lot stronger today, in the Tiger era.) If you add Jack's grace and legendary sportsmanship into the mix (which makes Tiger look like a real jerk by comparison), it's no wonder that Jack will still be considered the "greatest" by many even if Tiger does one day surpass his majors total.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ON HIATUS

Whiffling Straits is on hiatus while I concentrate fully on the Scratch in the Mirror book project. To follow my progress, please visit:


Thank you for your continued support!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Masters Tap-ins

A few backhanded stabs at the hullabaloo going on down in the sleepy little town of Augusta, Georgia this week ...

Phil the Fave
So before this past weekend, everybody was talking about how wide-open this year's Masters was. Now, suddenly, in the wake of Phil the Thrill's swashbuckling win at the Shell Houston Open on Sunday, Mickelson is suddenly the man to beat. It's an obvious conclusion, but is it a logical one?
     I would love to see Lefty wearing his fourth green jacket come Sunday evening – for a variety of reasons. But it seems to me that Phil plays his best when expectations are low. Last year, no one expected much from him following a very mediocre performance in Houston the week before. Besides, he'd been through so much in the previous year. How could golf possibly be his top priority right now.
 Image: AP via www.nj.com
Ditto last week, when Phil candidly talked about he wasn't going to be focused on winning in Houston as much as he was going to be working on the shots he would need at Augusta. As much as anything, I suspect he was trying to take the pressure off by saying those things. But guess what? Turns out those two objectives (winning and practicing) were not at such cross purposes. Phil won handily, displaying all the flair, risk-taking, and shot-making we see in Phil when Phil is at his best.
     But now, instead of going into The Masters without having shown much this year (or since last year's Masters, for that matter), he goes in with expectations soaring. As he was closing in on his victory Sunday, NBC's Johnny Miller commented that the biggest thing Phil may have to practice between then and next Sunday would be "putting on his own green jacket"! How's that for a ringing endorsement?
     I'm just sayin' ... I don't expect Phil to fold under the weight of expectations, but I think it's a possibility. (Not to mention that Phil can potentially get to #1 in the world with a Masters win – and he's historically blown it every previous time he's had a chance to do that.)

The Tiger Zone
A lot of people also seem to think that this may be the week Tiger finally returns to form. After all, they point out, he finished fourth last year after not having played a tournament in five months! Augusta is where he feels most comfortable, so it would only make sense that now, with the scandal further behind him and more "tournament-tested" than he was a year ago, how can he not improve on last year's performance?
 Image: 3-Putt Territory via www.examiner.com
But the big wild card is still the swing change. He's still struggling mightily, seemingly hitting as many disastrously bad shots as "old Tiger" brilliant ones. And the expectations last year were rock bottom; there was no pressure for him to perform. Of course, one of the defining characteristics of Augusta National – as Phil demonstrated so brilliantly last year – is that it affords recovery opportunities (to those with the short games up to the task) like no other course. So it's certainly possible for Tiger to contend, or even win, without his ballstriking being at peak form.
     It's cliche to say, but I think his putting will be the key. And he really hasn't shown much reason for confidence there in recent weeks either.

Supernatural Augusta
Augusta National has often struck me as the most unnaturally natural place you can imagine. It's nature manicured almost beyond recognition; almost beyond what you can really consider "nature." Almost supernatural. If there's golf in Heaven, I imagine the courses look something like the course The Masters is played on.
 Image: Masters.org
On Monday night this week, a windstorm blew through the course and took down a few trees – not that you or anyone else would ever know it first-hand. The course's response to the damage was magnificently swift – and secretive, as reported today at golfdigest.com. Here's a sample from the full article:
Arriving at Augusta National shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday, there were trees down in the parking lot. Entering the gates - only the media and others working on site were allowed on the property at that time - you were serenaded by the sound of power saws working as downed trees on the golf course were being removed. The normal 8 a.m. opening to the public was delayed and eventually pushed back to 8:45.
 
In the media food room was the odd sight of a dozen or so of the best photographers in the world sitting and drinking coffee, unable to go onto the course to shoot the damage. Those are the kind of images the folks at Augusta National Golf Club do not like the public to see. This is a place where even the garbage is green - all sandwich wrappers and every cup - and nary a cigarette butt can be found on the ground. This is a place where workers pick through the azalea bushes to remove dead leaves.
This just in: A tree apparently blew down during a practice round Tuesday afternoon. No one was hurt. But will we see pictures?

Stricker Update
Hey, it's been a while seen we've mentioned Steve Stricker here at Whiffling Straits, hasn't it? Well, let's remedy that right here. Two things ...
     I couldn't help but notice that at least two writers over at golf.com mentioned Steve among their Masters picks in Monday's weekly PGA Tour Confidential feature. It seems his strong performance in Houston last week, where he finished alone in fourth, got some of their attention. He hasn't shown us much this year, but is he peaking at the right time? Well, according to local golf columnist Gary D'Amato ...
     Stricker has been tweaking his swing a bit these past few months (and also sharpening his putting stroke on a putting green he recently built in his basement!) in an effort to correct a little something. It seems Steve, whose natural play is a slight draw, had begun hooking the ball a little bit more than the optimal amount. Stricker told D'Amato:
"I don't want to get rid of that (draw), but it's gotten to the point where I'm not getting a lot of (backspin) on my ball and I need that with my irons. I haven't hit my irons particularly well this year. I haven't played poorly, but I haven't played like I want to play yet."
I'm not ready to count Stricker among the favorites – my heart is not strong enough for that! But I like what I saw in Houston, and like everybody's been saying, this Masters is wide-open. At least, it was until a few days ago, and now Phil is the favorite, but ... [continue reading at top of page].

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cool Masters Stuff

Golf Digest has posted a couple of very cool interactive features in recent weeks showcasing Augusta National Golf Club.
     The first was this one, which visually chronicles all the significant changes made to each hole since the course was first built in 1934. Look at the difference, for instance, in the par-5 15th between 1934, 1970, and 2011 (click each graphic to enlarge):
     The other is this hole-by-hole virtual tour, which includes a stunning animated "fly-over" for each hole. Just like the stuff they show you on TV, it lets you visualize each hole in a much more sensory way than a two-dimensional map allows. The opening graphic alone (shown below; click to enlarge) in and of itself provides a better overall picture of the course than I've ever seen before.

Are Jack and Arnie ready to hit their ceremonial opening tee shots yet? I can't wait!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coincidence?

I love this story. Obviously, the biggest concern is the health of the new baby involved, but you almost can't help but wonder if the golf gods arranged this whole thing. If you were trying to promote the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Children, you couldn't have written a much better script, a P.R. professional's dream ...
     On Tuesday, March 22, Annika Sorenstam – one of the greatest women golfers of all time – went into premature labor – 13 weeks premature! Due to a condition called placenta abruption, there wasn't much they could do to delay the birth. Fortunately, Annika lives in the Orlando, Florida area, home to the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Children, reknowned for the high-quality it provides to women in Annika's situation. Ron Sirak, who is close to Sorenstam and her family, writes eloquently about the experience. Here's an excerpt:
But the next chapter in parenthood is off to a much more challenging start, one that will be filled with uncertainty for months to come. In the early morning hours of March 21, Annika awoke Mike [McGee, her husband] and told him she was bleeding. After consulting by telephone with a friend, Dr. Matthew Siebel, they knew they needed to leave their Lake Nona home in Orlando and get to the hospital immediately.  

"I drove fast and it was like a blur," Mike told GolfDigest.com. "We weren't sure what had happened and were scared that we may have lost our son. They were ready for us at Winnie Palmer Hospital and immediately did an ultrasound. When we heard his heartbeat we were immediately brought to tears of joy."
     The good news is that Sorenstam and her new little boy, Will, are both doing well, though Will still has many challenging months ahead of him. In fact, his parents named him "Will" because "he's going to need to will himself through this process," Sorenstam said.
     And here's the twist ... March 21 happened to be the Monday prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament ... in the Orlando, Florida area ... which supports, as its primary charity, the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Children ... which just happens to be named for Arnold's late wife. On Sunday, during the last round of the tournament, Annika was able to join the telecast on NBC and talk about the wonderful care she and Will received (and that Will is still receiving) at the Winnie Palmer Hospital.
     Nice.
     Congratulations to Annika and her growing family. Our prayers and best wishes will be with them all as young Will grows bigger and stronger by the day.

You can read updates about Will's progress at Annika's blog, www.annikablog.com.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seven Years of College ...

... down the drain!
     If only I'd known about places like this when I was 17. Back in those days, I was pretty much clueless about what to do with my life. I ended up enrolling in the local junior college just because I really had no idea what else to do. Golf was my big passion back then, but I wasn't really anywhere near good enough to pursue the only dream I ever had: to become the youngest Masters champion in history. So instead I just kind of floated along the next seven (or was it eight?) years at Parkland Community College and, eventually, the University of Illinois (where I once saw Steve Stricker in the Illini Union).
    Now, I can't say I have any complaints about how things have turned out. I've been very blessed in my life. But if somebody had told me that places like the College of Golf at Keiser University (to cite just one example) even existed, I would have crawled to Florida if necessary to enroll. But I was just too dim back then to realize that there are career paths in golf besides "PGA Touring Professional."
     I mean, just look at the curriculum: classes in "History of Golf: Traditions and Culture"; "Golf Swing Fundamentals"; "Club Fitting and Repair"; "Golf Course Design" (!!!); and "Food and Beverage Services" (I think that means how to drive the beer cart), just for starters.
     The only drawback would appear to be that, as part of your education, in addition to the rigorous classwork and studying, they also expect you to ... play golf! And lots of it. Can you imagine? Students are apparently forced to make liberal use of the area's top-notch courses (with green fees included in the tuition) and world-class practice facility (pictured below), with instruction available from a resident staff of PGA Professionals (also included). Sounds awful, I know.

     I'd write more, but I suddenly can't stop crying for some reason. I just wonder if they have special scholarship programs for middle-aged mid-handicappers trying to learn to play left-handed. (Doesn't that make me a minority?) If they don't, it's probably just because they never thought of it before. A trip to Florida to enlighten them is probably in order.
     Honey, don't wait up! I'll be back in less than 72 (credit) hours.
     Oh ... and will you call the office for me?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tiger and Sir Charles

It has occurred to me recently that two very different golfers are working on swing changes at the same time I am: Tiger Woods and Charles Barkley.
     Tiger's quest is well-documented. He is working on the third major swing change (and thus the fourth different swing) of his career, with new teacher Sean Foley. His struggles are obvious, as he continues to confound the experts with his wild swings between brilliant and ordinary (and occasionally downright ugly) golf. It's been interesting to listen as commentators talk about how he is still occasionally reverting to his old swing habits, especially under pressure. His struggles reinforce how difficult it is to "unlearn" deeply ingrained habits. This is especially amazing when you consider how many hours and resources Tiger has no doubt poured into trying to groove his new swing. He remains very much a work in progress. (A new interview with Sean Foley is here.)
     Charles Barkley's struggles are also well known; even Hank Haney couldn't permanently fix the amazing and amusing massive hitch in his golf swing. So rather than continue to try to fight it, Sir Charles is reportedly (according to numerous sources, including Haney himself) learning to play left-handed. Yes, that's right. Just like The Whiffler.
     His new backhanded swing, however, is apparently not yet ready for prime time, so he continues to play his public rounds right-handed. Meanwhile, he reports that playing lefty has helped him enjoy the game again in a way he hasn't been able to since the full-swing yips first set in.
     Will he be successful making the switch? Based on my own experience so far, my guess is "yes" – so long as he's willing to put in the work. Based on the video evidence below, he still has a ways to go.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Brandel Chamblee: Rickie "Gets It"

I love this, what Brandel Chamblee said about Rickie Fowler on the Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" show today:
It’s so rare when somebody like him comes along, and it’s very, very early in his career, he has yet to win – and yet he wields star power like someone who’s won 12, 15 times and a couple of majors. It’s the way he goes about what he does, as much as what he does. He’s just a very appealing golfer. He plays fast. His golf swing is unique. He plays shots … I heard yesterday when it came time to warm up, the contrast to Ben Crane, he (ben crane) was out there, and he had all these devices, and he was going through a very regimented practice session before he played, which is fine. That’s what Ben Crane does and it works for him. And Ricky came out and hit 10 or 15 shots and was ready to go. And that’s what’s neat about the kid, is that he’s a sharp contrast to the sort of homogenized look that exists in golf today.
[Question: “What does that mean when people say he gets it?”] Well, he understands the best way to play golf – and you know, this is my opinion – is to go out and to try to hit shots. There’s this … it’s the “big lie” to me, that you can go out there and swing perfectly. And I understand why guys do it. Literally, they’re trying to play this game in the most organized fashion. There’s so much money out there at stake, and if you can stay on Tour for a long time, you can get ridiculously rich. So what are you gonna do? You’re gonna work out, and you’re gonna get a sports psychologist, and you’re gonna get the video camera, and you’re going to take all these lessons … you want everything to just be perfect. And Rickie’s like no, I’m going to go out and I’m going to hit golf shots. I’m going to go out and I’m going to hit it high and I’m gonna hit it low, I’m going to draw it, I’m going to fade it. And I think … I don’t think, I know it’s because of the way he was taught the game. His teacher was very much into hitting golf shots. And that’s why he plays fast. Because he’s not out there thinking about a pre-shot routine. And he’s not out there thinking about swing mechanics. He’s out there thinking about golf shots. And it’s … you know, look. We’re not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, but … when you watch Michael Jordan play basketball, you’re watching a guy who yes, he spent all these hours practicing. But it looks like art. It just looks like an athlete. And Rickie, he just looks like an athlete when he plays golf.
It meshes really well with something I've been thinking a lot about lately as I try to groove my new left-handed swing. And that's this: that the purpose of practice is to groove your swing to the extent where you don't have to think about it when you're out on the course competing. On the course, especially when the pressure's on, you don't want to be thinking about where your elbow is or what plane your swing is on or what your hands are doing. You want to be thinking about where you want the ball to go, what you want it to do.
     Think about throwing a baseball. Sure, a throwing motion is a lot less complex than a golf swing (to me it seems that way, anyway), but the principle is the same. If you're scooping up a grounder and getting ready to make a throw to first, you're not thinking about you're technique, you're looking at that first baseman's mitt and thinking about the ball smacking into the center of it. It should be the same thing with the golf swing. Yes, that's a very hard thing to achieve. And it probably applies more to professionals, who spend hours and hours on the practice tee than to people like me who (historically) have done most of their "practice" out on the course. But if you want to really improve, it makes a lot of sense.
     One of the things my new coach, PGA Professional Carl Unis, has told me is this: "An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can't get it wrong."
     Exactly right. A lofty goal, to be sure, but something to strive for.

From the "SIM" Journal

A few excerpts from the very beginnings of my "Scratch in the Mirror" Journal ...

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
     I went online to Golf Outlets and found some really cheap off-brand lefty putters. They look nicer than the Hippo [a cheap putter I found at a golf shop]. The one I have my eye on is a Odyssey two-ball knockoff – a “Texan” (same brand as Jack’s clubs!) for $12.99. Add $6.99 shiping and you get $19.98 – two cents cheaper than the hippo – and no sales tax!
     I think I may need to go for it.

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010:
So I did it – I ordered the putter. Does that mean there’s no turning back? Probably not, but it is a step in the direction of commitment. I’ve been imagining how I’ll set up my putting drills in the basement. I’m afraid I’ll get bored – that’s the pattern. I’m thinking 100 putts a night? And maybe throw in one of those “I have to make 20 in a row from four feet” kind of deals for good measure. I’m just not sure. But it’s easy to imagine hitting 10 or 15 putts and then getting “distracted” and just start whacking putts and not thinking about it. But maybe that’s OK at this stage, because my first step is just to get used to that left-handed motion. But then, if I get used to that motion with crappy technique that defeats the purpose – and sabotages the project before it even gets going.

Monday, Oct. 4, 2010:
I’ve realized that I probably should start out (putting) with some sort of a plan for instruction. Even just playing around with my existing putting stroke, I realized I don’t really know if I open and close the face or not. That is, whether I should be swinging the putter in a slight arc around my body or try to keep it square the whole way, like a pendulum (as Steve Stricker appears to). I think I probably do open/close it during the stroke, but only a little. The key is, I think, that I don’t think about it. I hope thinking about it doesn’t mess me up! ...

As it happens, the current issue of Golf Digest has a 30-page putting section. So I think I might just start there. I took a look at it at lunch today and wouldn’t you know it, one of the tips (from Dave Stockton, Phil’s and others’ putting guru) is to practice putting with just your left hand [or right hand, for a lefty], because it’s so important! I was already planning to do that! And it’s nice to know that this bit of information sort of backs up my theory.  ...

Putter came today! Jack [my then-8-year-old son] and I went to the putting green at Brown Deer for about 45 minutes – we closed down the joint. ...

For my lefty putting, I thought about going cross-handed. That would be easy, right? Basically my right-handed putting grip, swinging the other way. But that seemed like cheating or something. I’m intrigued by putting grips where the hands are almost on top of each other. That kind of makes sense to me because it makes your arms symmetrical, and it seems like your shoulders would be more level, which makes sense. In fact, I’ve seen grips that take this to the extreme with a very wide putter grip that you grasp with two hands [on opposite sides], with palms facing each other. This makes a lot of sense. I’m not one to consider something so unconventional (no belly putters or “broomsticks” for me, either!). So I’m trying it with a grip where my hands overlap quite a bit, but the left hand is still low. ...

I figured out right away that I’m having a lot of trouble seeing where I’m lined up. On a number of occasions, after lining up a putt, I would hold the putter in place while stepping behind it to see where I was aimed – often not where I thought I was. In general, I think I was more often aimed to the right of where I thought I was lined up. Some of this may be the unfamiliar putter, but I think more of it may be that I’m not used to lining up a putt with “that side” of my face. I think there’s a big dominant eye factor.
     I practiced mostly 5-6 footers, trying to concentrate on just making a smooth, straight stroke. I also practiced some using only my right hand, which a lot of times felt actually easier than using both hands.
     My results were fairly mixed. There were times when it felt fairly natural to putt left-handed, and other times where it felt completely foreign.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: "Tiger vs. Jack"

"Exhaustive."
     That would be one word to describe author and fellow blogger Phil Capelle's epic work, Tiger vs. Jack: Golf's Greatest Rivalry. Other words would be "comprehensive," "thorough," and "impressive."

     Capelle sets out to tackle an oft-debated question: "Who is the game's all-time best player, Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?" You don't have to look too far to find a variety of opinions on the matter. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anything close to the in-depth look Capelle takes. Not content to simply add up the major championship victories, Capelle considers such factors as strength of competition, performance in different "types" of victories (blow-out wins, close wins, comeback wins, high-scoring, low-scoring, good-weather, bad, etc.), quality and consistency of golf swing, what he calls "contender finishes," the role of teachers and caddies, and even the role that luck has played in their 32 combined major championship victories. Just for starters.
     Along the way, Capelle makes a few surprising (and sure to be controversial) points, including the case for why Bobby Jones's Grand Slam season in 1930 is "the most overrated feat in golf history":
"Here's why: the fields at the amateur events were watered down by the absence of the pros. And, at the U.S. and British Amateurs, the top amateurs of the other side did not compete." [page 24]
But don't take his word for it. Here, as throughout the book, the author offers plenty of numbers to back up his claims.
     And though he limits his best-ever discussion to the modern era (1958-present), he also makes a strong case why the great  Walter Hagen should be credited with 16 professional major victories instead of the 11 the record currently shows. This would, of course, put him squarely between the Golden Bear and Tiger on the all-time list.
     If you're not a statistics junkie, there may be a few sections of Tiger vs. Jack you'll want to skim rather than read thoroughly. Capelle goes deep with his analysis on many topics. But what makes this 480-page tome (including the appendix and comprehensive index) so noteworthy is that all the information, and then some, is there if you care to dig in.
     It's clear that Capelle has a deep and abiding respect for golf history. He thereby avoids falling into the trap of giving greater weight to events that have occurred more recently, as you so often see in listings of "all-time great" teams and athletes in various sports. If anything, Capelle is biased to the opposite, perhaps looking back on occasion with an overly romanticized view of the past. But it's to his credit that he makes his biases known up-front. He grew up watching the Golden Bear dominate golf and makes no secret that he's a fan. His analysis is so quantitative and objective, however, that it's difficult to believe his admitted affections have affected his conclusions.
     What are his conclusions? I'll not spoil the movie here. But here's a hint: He takes a solid stand on the issue while also conceding that the closing argument has yet to be written.

Tiger vs. Jack is available at Amazon.com or through the author's website, www.capelleongolf.com.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Scratch in the Mirror"

Those who have been paying attention (is anyone still paying attention?) may have noticed that lately I've been posting a number of items about lefties – more specifically, natural righties who play golf left-handed, and vice-versa. That's because that's the subject of the book I've been working on – and what's been drawing my attention from blogging. I've decided that it's time to merge the two a bit and start blogging about the project. So here's the working introduction to Scratch in the Mirror: Right-handed Lefties, Left-handed Righties, and the Search for the Perfect Backhanded Golf Swing. By Mike Zimmerman. (You may notice that this earlier post was actually an earlier version of the introduction.)
     Please don't hold back with your opinions. I can use all the feedback I can get!

Scratch in the Mirror – Introduction
Want to win a few bets at the 19th hole? Ask the others in your foursome how many lefties have won major championships in golf. Your knowledgeable friends will say three: Bob Charles, Mike Weir, and Phil Mickelson.
    Imagine their shock and surprise when you tell them – as you hastily collect your winnings – that none of those guys is a real lefty. Each is actually right-handed, but plays golf from the sinister side.
    Now imagine their rage when they realize you’ve tricked them. Fisticuffs ensue. Since you’re outnumbered three-to-one, they easily beat you to a pulp and take back their winnings. They also take your watch and the rest of the cash in your wallet, just for good measure.
    Man, who are these guys!? Why you would want to play golf with three jerks like that is beyond me, but who am I to judge another man’s friends?
    Later, in the ER, you tell your wife what happened and she asks the obvious question: “Well …? If not Charles, Weir, and Mickelson [your wife is very knowledgeable about golf; that’s why you married her], what is the right answer? Have any actual left-handers ever won a major professional golf championship?”
    A smile creeps across your bloodied face, but you wince only slightly at the pain. “Johnny Miller,” you gasp. “Greg Norman. Curtis Strange. Nick Price. David Graham. Byron Nelson.”
    A hush falls as doctors, nurses, assorted orderlies, and the little old lady in the waiting room stop what they’re doing and draw silently closer, hanging on your every word. Everyone is astonished by the revealed wisdom that has already passed your swollen lips, but you’re not done yet. With strength fading, you summon another breath and whisper, like Charles Foster Kane spitting out “Rosebud”: “Hogan.”
    A nurse faints. In the hallway, a bedpan crashes to the floor. Across the pond, a chill wind blows through “Hogan’s Alley” at Carnoustie.
“They’re all naturally left-handed,” you explain. “They only play golf right-handed.”
    A tear runs down your wife’s cheek as she turns to the attending physician and says, “Doctor, my husband is obviously delirious and in great pain. Can you do something?”
    Shaking his head with a sad and concerned look, the doctor lowers a mask to your face. Moments later the room goes dark and all is quiet.
    In retrospect, maybe you should have just stuck to the conventional wisdom. Or at least made the stakes a little lower.
• • •

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Stricker Whining

Not Steve Stricker whining ... me whining about Steve not getting enough love!
     I just don't understand why Matt Kuchar (who I love) seems to get so much more buzz for 2010 than Steve Stricker. The latest was in Alan Shipnuk's Mailbag at golf.com. When asked to name the top five players in the world right now (ignoring the official world rankings), he answered Kaymer, McDowell, Westwood, Furyk, and Mickelson/Kuchar (tie).
     Everybody talks about top 10s. Fine. Kuchar had 11 in 26 tournaments (.423), but Stricker had 9 in 19 (.474). Kuchar won the scoring title, but by a whisker over Stricker (69.61 to 69.66). Kuchar won the money title (4,910,477 vs. 4,190,235), but again when you look at it per-tournament, Stricker comes out ahead, 220,500 to 188,900 (rounding off). Stricker (1,697 points) finished well ahead of Kuchar (1,437) in the regular season FedEx Cup standings. Plus, Stricker had two victories in 2010 to Kuchar's one. I'll give the majors to Kuchar, who finished ahead of Stricker in all four, including two top-10s. All in all, it's very close. But overall I'd give Stricker (whose season was shortened by injury) the edge between the two.
     I suppose the disparity is at least in part because Kuchar is younger and his comeback story is fresher. He's an extremely likeable guy who has developed into a very fine player. Stricker's been back at the top for a while now, and if anything is trending (ever so) slightly downward. Kuchar, on the other hand, seems to still be on the rise.
     But they're both great guys, good family men, and fine players. I hope they both have monster years!

(By the way, posting at Whiffling Straits has been erratic lately, to say the least, as I've been concentrating on a book project. But I'll try to pick up the pace a little as the season gets going.)