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

Thursday, February 25, 2010


A few short strokes on items that have caught my attention ...

Leaving His Options Open. Here's an interesting bit of information about Tiger: Apparently, the Masters has no official policy for confirming a player's appearance at the tournament. Tournament organizers request an RSVP, but don't require it. Which means, until they hear from Tiger that he's not coming (so far, not a word), they'll assume he is coming and hold his tee time open. He could conceivably pull onto the grounds ten minutes before his tee time, check in, stroll over to the first tee, and tee off. Wouldn't that be something? Now, I don't think that's any more likely to happen than it is that Martha Burk will become the first female member of August National, but still ... it's interesting to know that it could.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some Stricker Love

On the occasion of Steve Stricker's 43rd birthday (actually yesterday), I couldn't resist linking to this (admittedly somewhat sappy) video about Steve Stricker over at golfdigest.com. Those of you who might think I like Steve just a little too much, well, seeing this video here is not going to change that! But if you compare it to the video of Tiger posted below ... nah, that's not fair. After all, Steve is at the pinnacle of his career (so far?) while Tiger is surely at his low point. And if we've learned nothing else from le affaire Tiger Woods it's that appearances can be deceiving. But still ...

Happy belated birthday, Steve!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Half-Decades of Dominance: Young Tom Morris

One in a Series
Tom Morris Jr. was so good he nearly brought an end to the oldest tournament in golf – almost before it even even had a chance to get going.
     The year was 1870. In ten prior iterations of the tournament now known as the Open Championship (more commonly the "British Open" in the U.S.), the Challenge Belt had six times been presented to a man named Tom Morris: four times to the Senior ("Old Tom") and twice to the Junior ("Young Tom"). Young Tom had won the previous two championships, and with a third straight title, according to the tournament's charter, the cherished belt would become his permanently. Despite the best efforts of the world's best golfers, Young Tom claimed the Belt again – this time, by 12-strokes, a margin bettered only by his own father's 13-stroke triumph in 1862. But we can cut Young Tom a little slack, seeing as he was was just 19 years old when he won his third consecutive Open.
     The following year, due to squabbling over where it would be played and who would pay for a new trophy, the Open was temporarily shut down.

There is perhaps no more mythical figure in golf than Tom Morris, Sr. He defined the game for a generation in the land of its birth. With sweat, persistence, and vision he turned the links of St. Andrews from a scruffy collection of nondescript holes into the finest course of its day. He won the Open four times – the first at age 40. But it was his son who showed the world just how well the game could be played.
     By the time he was 13, Young Tom was beating some of the best adult golfers in the world (which, for all intents and purposes, meant in Scotland). At an exhibition match in Perth, he won 15 pounds, a small fortune. Though very well-educated for his time and his station – his auld dad saw to that – it was clear Tommy's future was as a golf professional.
     Young Tom was the first golfer to routinely use spin to make the ball curve or stop more quickly on the greens. Heretofore, golf was a game played primarily along the ground. Tommy's aerial assault changed the way the game was played forever. In the first round of the 1869 Open, Tommy flew the bunkers at Prestwick's 166-yard seventh hole to score the first recorded ace in golf history. In 1870, he opened the tournament with an unheard-of 3 on the 578-yard first, holing out an uphill, semi-blind, 200-yard third shot for what today would be called an eagle. (Photo: Tom Morris Jr. with the Challenge Belt, public domain)
     To borrow from Bobby Jones, Tommy was playing a game with which the rest of the world was not familiar – nearly 100 years before Jack Nicklaus inspired his idol's famous quote.
     Author Kevin Cook writes of Tommy's dominance in his book, Tommy's Honor:
"A man generally wins a championship by the narrowest possible margin," Bernard Darwin [the leading sportswriter of the day] wrote. "Tommy for the three years he won the Belt was on an average nine strokes better than the runner up." ... No other player would so outshine his peers until 130 years later, when Tiger Woods began winning major championships by double-digit margins.

Friday, February 19, 2010

After Words

Well, other than Elin not being in the room with him, I'd say my guesses in the post below about what would transpire at the Tiger Woods extravaganza today were pretty much on target (not that I went out on any big limbs). In at least one way, he in fact exceeded my expectations, by being surprisingly direct about the nature and extent of his previously admitted indiscretions: "The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated."
     He hinted that he may not play competitive golf all year, while also leaving the door open for a return sometime in 2010: "I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year." He even seemed to allude to his often-criticized on-course behavior when he said: "When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game."
      He showed some anger and resentment when he admonished the press for harrassing his family and saying things he said were not true about them. "I am the only person to blame," he said. "Please leave my wife and kids alone." He apologized to parents who may have held him up as a role model to their kids: "I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry." He called his behavior "irresponsible and selfish."

"Rehab" vs. "Therapy"

I just got off the phone with one of our local newstalk radio hosts, who was fielding questions/comments about Tiger and his "press conference" later today. Basically, he was going off on Tiger for blaming a "disease" and/or an "addiction." He didn't give me much time before hitting the off button, perhaps because if he had conceded my point, it would have pretty much ended the discussion, as he had framed it. My point was simply this: Tiger has not said one word about either of those things.
     Maybe he will and maybe he won't, but we won't know until 10:00 a.m. today (11:00 Eastern).
     What prompted the topic was the word going around that Tiger is going to be returning to "rehab" following his one-way presser today. And yes, I'd heard the word "rehab," too, but not directly or from anybody official. In PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem's letter, he stated that Tiger will be returning to "therapy" after today's event; hence, the inconvenient/inconsiderate timing of his statement (Tiger has received a lot of criticism for interrupting the Accenture World Match Play Championships going on this week, which coincidentally or not, is sponsored by the first company to officially drop Tiger as its spokesman).
     But in my view, there's a world of difference between therapy and rehabilitation. It looks as if it really was Tiger in those blurry photos taken outside a sex-addiction clinic in Mississippi. But we don't know what type of treatment, counseling, therapy, whatever he's getting there. If he comes out today and says anything even resembling "it's not my fault; I have a disease," I'll be surprised and disappointed, and will lose a measure of respect for him. If he says, on the other hand, something like, "I have a problem, and I'm getting help for it," I'll say, "Good for you, Tiger" and wish him well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Winter Olympiad Whiffle

In honor of the Olympic Winter Games, which open this weekend – as well as the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Hockey team's "Miracle on Ice" – I'd like to take the opportoonie to present my favorite YouTube video of all time – because I ... CAN! I hope you enjoy it, every one-ya.

And while we're on the subject, here are some excerpts from major "pre-game speeches" from the world of golf I wish had been captured on video:

"Remember, no pressure! Nobody expects you to do very well in your first professional major, so just go out there and try not to embarrass yourself."
     -- Fluff Cowan, to Tiger Woods, 1997 Masters

"Hit 'em hard! Hit 'em straight! Pound it up the middle, 300 yards and a cloud of dust! And don't worry about the fans. Sure, we're right in Arnie's backyard here at Oakmont, but they won't give you any trouble. It's not like we're in Michigan!"
     -- Woody Hayes (a close friend of Jack's dad), to Jack Nicklaus, 1962 U.S. Open 

"Relax, Harry, he's hardly more than a boy. An American. And I've got crumbs in my mustache older than that bloody caddy of his! Have another drink with me. We can beat that kid in our sleep if we have to."
     -- Ted Ray, to Harry Vardon, 1913 U.S. Open  

"... play skillfully, and shout for joy."
     -- The Lord, to Zach Johnson (via Psalm 33:3), 2007 Masters 

"I say, old boy, I noticed on the practice tee ... I could have sworn on your backswing you were breathing out instead of in ... or perhaps vice-versa? No worries! I'm sure you've got it sorted out. See you on the first tee!"
     -- Nick Faldo, to Greg Norman, 1996 Masters 

"Noo min', if ye win th' belt a body mair time it's yoors tae keep. An' it willnae be easy tae convince th' lads tae part wi' mony coins fur a new a body ... we micht hae tae use 'at auld bucky jug ay yer maw's insteid. Sae tak' it easy oan yer auld dad it thaur the-day, aye laddie? Aye? Laddie?" *
     -- Old Tom Morris, to Young Tom Morris, 1870 Open Championship 

"I triple-dog dare you to hit driver."
     -- Craig Parry, to Jean Van de Velde (on the 18th tee, 4th round), 1999 Open Championship

This ... is YOUR time! Share your ideas on pre-game speeches (in any sport) you'd like to have heard by submitting a comment.

* "Now remember, if you win the belt one more time it's yours to keep. And it won't be easy to convince the lads to part with many coins for a new one ... we might have to use that old wine jug of your mother's instead. So take it easy on your old dad out there today, OK son? OK? Son?"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Watson and Tiger and Steve, So Far

When I launched Whiffling Straits earlier this year with a series of predictions for 2010, I promised myself I would follow-up on them as the year went along. After all, any idiot can make predictions – but it takes a special kind of idiot to go back and publicly confirm how wrong he was.

Let's start with Tom Watson. What else can I say but "I'm sorry!"? I clearly underestimated the state of Tom's game. Not only did he make the cut, comfortably, at the Dubai Desert Classic, contrary to my prediction, he tied for the low round on Sunday to  finish tied for eighth! This against a strong field that included Irish wunderkind Rory McIlroy. At literally one-third Old Tom's age (20 vs. 60), Rory managed to finish only two shots and two places ahead of Watson in a tie for sixth. Who knows, maybe Old Tom will make me look even more foolish by winning the Open Championship at St. Andrews this year! That would be cool.

(Graphic: europeantour.com – click to enlarge)

Tiger: Though we don't yet know Tiger's plan for the Masters this year, when I prognosticated that Mr. Woods would not make it to Augusta – and possibly sit out the entire season – professional pundits from here to Lake Michigan thought I was crazy. The general consensus was that Tiger would almost certainly be back for the Masters; probably, in fact, in time for the Torrey Pines event. Well, the Farmers Insurance Open has come and gone, and now at least one national sportswriter is starting to see things my way. Here's Sports Illustrated's Alan Shipnuck on Friday, writing at golf.com:
At this point I'd be stunned if he plays the Masters. If he's not back for the U.S. Open I could easily see him shutting it down until 2011.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Half-Decades of Dominance: Walter Hagen

One in a Series
Walter Hagen made it respectable to be a professional golfer – which is ironic when you consider he was known as a hard-drinking, hard-partying, womanizing showman who had a habit of showing up on the first tee still dressed in the previous night's rumpled tuxedo, drink in hand.
     That's what people often remember today. What they sometimes forget  is what an amazing player he was, how much he dominated the professional game, and what he did for the sport.
     From 1924-1928, Walter Hagen won 6 of the 13 major championships he entered, including four PGA Championships in a row (he won five overall). During this stretch of majors, he finished in the top five 11 times, and never finished out of the top 10 (his worst finish was 7th, in the 1926 U.S. Open).
     An incredible run, to be sure. But now let's add a little perspective ...

Hagen launched his pro career at a time when American professional golfers typically scratched out a living working for an eastern country club during the summer, then headed south for the winter in hopes of supplementing their incomes with tournament winnings. It was not a glamorous way to make a living, a far cry from the pampered life top professionals (and even many middling ones) lead today. (Photo: NY Times/AP)
     Here's how author Curt Sampson describes the era in his best-selling book, Hogan:
As it had been since golf took hold in the United States in 1888, a professional had to have a job at a club to make any financial headway. The lone exception to the rule was the charismatic Walter Hagen, the first full-time, unattached touring professional. After winning the 1919 U.S. Open, he resigned his post at Oakland Hills Country Club for a life of tournaments, exhibitions, and drinking champagne from women's spike-heeled shoes.
To make matters worse, it was also a golden age of amateur athletics. Athletes of any sort who cashed in on their gifts for money were viewed as little more than mercenaries. Golf, in  particular, was viewed as a "gentleman's" game, played in its purest form by men who did so purely for the love of it (assuming they could afford to do so). As a result, many of the top golfers of the day retained their amateur status throughout their career. Thus, Hagen shared the golfing spotlight with amateurs such as Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans, and, in particular, Bobby Jones.
     Though clearly the two top golfers of the era, Hagen and Jones are difficult to compare. It's not quite apples and oranges; more like red apples and green apples. They played the same game, but they had different goals, different ways of earning a living (Jones was an attorney), and different tournaments available to them.
     Jones was eligible to compete in four tournaments considered majors at the time: the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs. Hagen had only three: both Opens and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Championship – four if you count the Western Open (more about that later). Further, most professional golfers at the time did not make the trans-Atlantic voyage to play in the Open Championship (the proper name for what Americans generally call the British Open) due to the expense and the relatively small size of the purse. Hagen, however, was not most professionals. By the time he played his first Open Championship in 1920, Hagen was accomplished and popular enough on both sides of the Atlantic that he knew he could make the trip worthwhile by lining up lucrative exhibition matches and personal appearances. In addition, that first trip was subsidized by a wealthy benefactor – no doubt one who intended to make his money back by wagering on the action.
     During the 1920s, Hagen played in the oldest championship eight times, and won it four. This includes two straight wins in 1928-29, and five straight top-3 finishes. Meanwhile, Jones entered the Open Championship just three times between 1926 and 1930, in 1926, '27, and '30 – but won all three times. Between the two of them, Hagen and Jones won seven of eight British Open titles from 1924-1930. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
     In head-to-head U.S. Open competition from 1924-28, Jones owns one title to Hagen's none and finished ahead of the Haig four times out of five. But in their high-profile 72-hole exhibition match in 1926 – billed as the "World Championship of Golf" and promoted as something akin to a heavyweight title fight – Hagen took it to Jones, but good. Competing in match-play format, Hagen built a huge early lead and never relented, closing out the storied amateur on the 61st green, 12-and-11.
     Hagen's greatest legacy comes in the PGA Championship. Not only was he a charter member of the Professional Golfers Association, he won its championship five times in seven years, including four in a row from1924-27. In 1928 he made it as far as the quarterfinals, giving him an astonishing 22 match wins in a row against the best professional golfers in the world. It's a shame Hagen didn't get more of a chance to compete against Jones in match play. The big match-play tournaments at the time were the U.S. and British Amateurs, in which Hagen could not compete; and the PGA, for which Jones was ineligible.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Is Phil the New Tiger?

Did anybody else notice that Phil Mickelson seemed to be channeling Tiger Woods this past weekend? Unfortunately, it was not by willing the field into submission with his superhuman focus and otherworldly command of the game. (Photo: Telegraph, UK)
     As expected, golf's interim #1 took center stage last week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, but it was his exploitation of the new groove rule that dominated discussion. Phil was one of the handful of players deciding to flop through a legal loophole allowing the use of certain pre-1990 Ping Eye 2 wedges, even though their grooves do not comform to the new standard. Mickelson dug out one of his old college wedges in San Diego – and was subsequently accused of "cheating" by Scott McCarron. Other players spoke out against Phil's decision, as well, but only McCarron – a three-time winner who is 0-for-3 in cuts made this year – publicly uttered the c-word.
    The debate rages over whether the rule itself (as opposed to the exception) is a bad one (most seem to think it is) and whether players who put their Eye-2s on the ball are violating the spirit of the law. But my concern is with how Phil handled himself when asked about the controversy:
We all have our opinions on the matter, but a line was crossed and I just was publicly slandered. And because of that, I'll have to let other people handle that.
When pressed if those "other people" might be his legal team, Mickelson declined to say. That's an understandable response. It's safe. But it strikes me that he was being "handled." What I would rather have heard is something along the lines of, "Who cares what Scott McCarron thinks? I'm following the rules, my conscience is clear, next question." Better still, he could have laughed it off, perhaps saying something that might have drawn a little heat, akin to his "Tiger doesn't like that I can fly it past him now" comment from a few years ago. How about: "If Scott McCarron has a problem with me he can talk to me about it this weekend. Oh, wait ...."