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

Friday, April 23, 2010

An "Obsolete" Rant

"Are your clubs obsolete?" That's the question Golf Digest asks here, in an article about upgrading to the latest technology. It comes complete with a long list of clubs the magazine considers to be in various stages of obsolescence, including some models (especially drivers) released as recently as 2008. Obsolete? Really? (Image: The Whiffler Collection)
     According to Merriam-Webster, the primary meaning of the word "obsolete" is: "no longer in use or no longer useful." Think of Beta format videotapes, computer floppy disks, and my size-34 pants. But "obsolete" can also mean: "of a kind or style no longer current." In other words, "old-fashioned." (Again, my pants come to mind.)
     OK, fine. By that definition, some (or perhaps even all) of the clubs in my bag are indeed obsolete. But they still do the same job, the same way, as more modern golf implements: They propel the ball in the general direction of, and ultimately into, a 4.25-inch hole in the ground some distance away. They are both "useful" and "in use." Obsolete? No more so than my Popeil Pocket Fisherman.
     Regular readers may have figured out by now that The Whiffler is pretty cheap – though I prefer to say "frugal," "fiscally conservative," or "tighter than John Daly's Lap-Band." How about "family rich, golf poor"? That is to say, golf is high on my list of passions but fairly low on the financial priority scale. I prefer to put my limited golf budget toward greens fees, par-3 rounds with the Golden Bear Cub, and pre-round donuts rather than new stuff.
     And when I'm honest with myself, that's at the heart of my love/hate relationship with equipment. It occurred to me recently that if I had unlimited resources I would probably be a golf club junkie. But I don't, so instead I find myself mildly resentful of the ongoing golf technology revolution.
     When I was a naive teen-age golf nut poring over the pages of Golf Digest, there were lots of gadgets and gizmos advertised in the back that were said to add yards to your tee shots and cut strokes from your score. I remember once pointing some of these things out to my dad, who replied, "Well, according to these ads, if you used this, this, this, and this, and added up all those claims, you'd hit the ball 400 yards and shoot 60 every time. And I don't think that's going to happen." My dad was in advertising, and he knew not to take every claim literally. It was a lesson I took to heart. (He also taught me the value of hard work. Thanks for trying, Dad.)
     When it came to clubs, there were good ones and not-as-good ones, but I never felt I was at a significant disadvantage when competing with my older Walter Hagen irons and Johnny Miller woods. When I splurged and bought myself a set of Wilson Staff woods as a high-school graduation gift to myself (Chargers RULE! Class of '81! Wooooo!!!), I didn't necessarily expect them to improve my game. I bought them partly for the prestige of owning fine clubs (I admit) and also because it seemed like a good investment (it was). I fully expected to play them for a lifetime, or at least until they wore out.
     Things started changing in 1991 with the introduction of Callaway's Big Bertha driver. With a relatively tiny head (by today's standards), measuring just 190cc in volume, it was the first salvo in the modern equipment wars – and perhaps the first driver to offer a true advantage over more traditional clubs. Before long, drivers were topping out at a balloonish 460cc (now the legal limit) with price tags in the hundreds of dollars – for one club! I paid about $140 – $335 in 2010 dollars – for my set of four Staff woods: Driver, 3-, 4-, and 5-woods (set of four puffball knit headcovers not included). (Image: dwquailgolf.com)

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Volcanic Whiffle*

Some absolutely stunning pictures of the Icelandic volcanic activity at boston.com. Just one small sample (click to enlarge):
Click here to see all 35. (Hat tip: The Corner)

UPDATE: More cool volcano photos (this time with the Northern Lights added) here.

* A "whiffle" is a post "light or insignificant" in nature and that may not have anything to do with golf.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Taking Risks

A few choice words from some legendary risk takers ...

"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Theodore Roosevelt: "Citizenship in a Republic"
UPDATE: Phil Capelle has marked the 100th anniversary of TR's fine speech (which is today!!) with a great post at capelleongolf.com.

"I think it's better to risk my life and to be a has-been than to never have been at all. Even though crippled and busted in half, it's better to have taken a chance to win a victory or suffer a defeat than to live like others do who will never know victory or defeat because they haven't had the guts to try either."

"If you can see the ball you can probably hit it, and if you can hit it you can move it, and if you can move it you might be able to hole it out. So try. It is the trying that is fun."
(Image: John Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated, via golf.com)

"A great shot is when you pull it off. A smart shot is when you don't have the guts to try it."
Phil Mickelson: post-Masters comments, April 11, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Can Nice Guys Finish First?

A special guest commentary ...
The Whiffler has invited me to contribute a guest commentary, and I'm honored to do so. I exchange periodic emails with Mr. Whiffler, and the prompting for this post came from a rhetorical question I asked in one particular email – something to the effect of: "Can't you be a nice guy and be a great athlete?"
     Actually those were my exact words, voiced in frustration after the recent Masters. I'm not so happy with Tiger and his behavior, both on and off the course, and I know I'm not the only one. I find myself rooting for Phil to become great, despite his track record as what I might consider a lovable loser. Three Masters victories isn't exactly a losing record, but it seems like he has come close many more times than he has won. So back to the question – can you be a nice guy and be a great athlete? Two of the greatest athletes in our generation, Michael Jordan and Tiger, would seem to have personalities dominated more by drive, competitiveness, and ego, rather than empathy or compassion. But then there's Phil, who I'm sure has his faults, but seems to be more capable of being a nice guy on his way to winning than others.
     Part of this question comes from my own experience as well. In my competitive sports history, I have encountered all sorts of personalities, and more than a few whose drive to win apparently came packaged with blinders to the feelings and needs of those around them. I would like to think that an athlete who was at peace with himself or herself, grounded, humble, and morally mature would have the advantage over the self-centered, immature, yet incredibly competitive one. But do they? Or is it really all on an individual basis, and generalizations are pointless and unfair?
     I really don't know the answer, and would be curious what the Whiffler and others think about both their personal experience and observations specifically regarding golfers. Until someone proves otherwise, I'm going to go on rooting for the nice guy. It may be my ego, but I can relate more to the nice guy than the win-at-all-costs type. And who knows, maybe someday, I'll be rooting for the new and improved Tiger! Until then, here's to becoming one of the greatest golfers ever, Phil.
     Thanks for the chance to contribute, Mr. Whiffler, and I look forward to reading your posts for a long time to come.
     Rob Twardock, Grayslake, IL
Rob Twardock, aka "the Glacier," is a gentleman, scholar, good friend, loving husband, devoted father, talented musician, and all-around great guy. He is also one of the four surviving original members of "The Mojo Daddies." He regularly loses to the Whiffler at golf, but not usually by very much.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Formerly Phony Phil

Everything changed for me in 2003 – late 2003, or perhaps it was 2004. It took a while for the news to come out.
     I had always thought of Phil Mickelson as something of a flashy phony. The turned-up collar. The "aw, shucks" grin and demeanor. I had read once that he put off turning pro for a year because he (and presumably his "people") had calculated he could make more endorsement money by building his amateur stats for another year. Staying in the spotlight for another season as a top amateur (he's the 1990 U.S. Amateur champion, a three-time NCAA champ, and won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open in Tucson while still at Arizona State) was viewed as a good investment. To me, this moved seemed cynical. It also signaled he must be a spoiled brat to be able afford to do it. (Image: David Cannon/Getty Images via golf.com)
     As a pro, he won plenty of tournaments, but couldn't get over the hump with a major victory. Another reason to think he wasn't all he was cracked up to be. He was becoming rich and famous without becoming great.
     In 2003 he hit the skids. Didn't a win a single tournament, let alone a major, and dropped to 38th in the world, after three years entrenched solidly at #2, behind Tiger. I figured maybe he was done.
     And then I found out that in March of 2003, Phil's wife, Amy, had come very close to dying during the birth of their son, Evan (who also nearly died).
     But what really got to me was ... he didn't tell anybody. At least not publicly. I really don't know why. Maybe he didn't want his family's personal trauma to become an excuse for his poor play. Maybe he felt it was nobody's business. Or maybe, he just couldn't, because the wound was too fresh and too deep. Whatever his reasons were, learning this put Phil, his young family, and his golf career in a very different light.
     By then I had become a husband and father myself, so I was able to imagine more keenly what a scare that must have been, and how the shock waves could have traveled all the way to the golf course. It seemed surprising to learn he was so devoted to his family, but maybe I just hadn't been paying close enough attention. After all, this was the same Phil who carried a beeper during the 1999 U.S. Open and swore he would walk off the course if he received word that Amy had gone into labor – even though he was in contention until Payne Stewart sank his now-famous putt on the 72nd green.
     And now an exciting an emotional Masters win, his third, with Amy in the gallery at the 18th green for the first time since last May, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment is going well and the prognosis is good, but the ordeal has taken a lot out of her. For Phil to win a major under the circumstances is golf's biggest feel-good story in quite a while. (Image: Harry How/Getty Images, via orlandosentinel.com)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Phil the Thrill

 (Image: Redington/Getty Images via pgatour.com)
By winning his third Green Jacket on Sunday, Phil Mickelson joins an elite group of three-time Masters winners:

Jimmy Demaret (Image: Life.com)

Gary Player (image: sporting-heroes.net)

Sam Snead (Image: rbccanadianopen.com)

Nick Faldo (Image: virginmedia.com)

The players above trail only Tiger Woods (4), Arnold Palmer (4), and Jack Nicklaus (6) in career Masters victories.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Masters Tap-ins

Old Tom! Old Tom Watson continues to amaze. In shooting 5-under 67 on Thursday, Watson was only player in the field without a bogey, and briefly held the lead all by himself. He had a five-way share of the lead until Middle-age Fred (50-year-old Couples) strolled into the clubhouse, basically wearing sneakers, with a stellar 67. But here's what I'm wondering: Let's say Old Tom continues to play well and finds himself in contention, or even leading, on the back nine on Sunday. How will that feel in comparison to last year at Turnberry? Will it be just as exciting, or will it feel a little different because we've seen it before. I think it will be just as amazing – maybe even more so, because it'd be a repeat performance – but maybe not quite so special. Last year was so out of the blue, so unexpected. But this year we're not caught quite as off-guard. And here's hoping we get the chance to make an actual comparison! (I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.)

Fred's Shoes. I've always had this thing about golf shoes ... I don't like 'em. It's partly because I'm usually too cheap to buy good ones, so they never seem to fit quite right or be comfortable. As long as the course is dry, I'm quite content to play in sneakers, especially if I'm walking. I sometimes even think that they help me, in that when I'm aware that I'm spikeless, I'm less prone to swing too hard, which is a common Whiffler mistake. The thing is, I sometimes feel less-than-serious by not wearing golf shoes. Hopefully, Fred's success on the Champions Tour and at the Masters (so far) wearing what look like sneakers will make it less of a stigma to wear actual sneakers on the golf course. Made by ECCO, I'll bet they start selling like crazy. But amazingly, I just went to the ECCO website and can't find Fred's shoes (I found the picture above here.) Very bad marketing mistake, it seems to me. These shoes should be the first thing you see on their homepage right now).
     Afterthought: I just occurred to me that this shoe has probably not been introduced yet. They're letting Fred create a buzz and will launch it with a bang sometime soon. That works, too.

UPDATE: Some fresh info on Fred's shoes (they're not out yet) in the Truth & Rumors blog at golf.com (third item).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bob Jones on Augusta

(Image: masters.com)
More from the 1959 Sports Illustrated article – in which Bobby Jones describes his philosophy behind the design of Augusta National and offers a hole-by-hole strategy for playing it:
We are quite willing to have low scores made during the tournament. It is not our intention to rig the golf course so as to make it tricky. It is our feeling that there is something wrong with a golf course which will not yield a score in the 60s to a player who has played well enough to deserve it.
On the other hand, we do not believe that birdies should be made too easily. We think that to play two good shots to a par-4 hole and then to hole a 10-foot putt on a dead-level green is not enough. If the player is to beat par, we should like to ask him to hit a truly fine second shot right up against the flag or to hole a putt of more than a little difficulty. We therefore place the holes on tournament days in such locations on the greens as to require a really fine shot in order to get close. With the greens fast and undulating, the putts from medium distances are difficult, and the player who leaves his ball on the outer reaches has a real problem to get down in par figures.
The contours of the greens at Augusta have been very carefully designed. We have tried to provide each green with at least four areas which we describe as pin locations. This does not mean that the pin is always placed in one very definite spot within these areas, but each area provides an opportunity for cutting the hole where the contours are very gentle for a radius of four or five feet all around.
Again, a few things stand out, such as: "We are quite willing to have low score made during the tournament." Yet it seems the current overlords lost sight of this, at least temporarily, in the years (in particular, 2007 and 2008) when they were making the Masters feel a little too much like a U.S. Open.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Tiger-Proofing" Augusta National

With Tiger Woods making his long-awaited (well, not really all that long) return to golf at the 2010 Masters, "Tiger-proofing" Augusta National may take on a whole new meaning. This year, it may well mean keeping the spectacle of Tiger's return from befouling their sacred event – which will be a tall order.
     Previously, however, "Tiger-proofing" has referred to efforts made by the ultra-proud and exclusive club to toughen the course and keep Woods from winning every year. Since his historic and record-breaking 12-stroke victory in 1997, the benevolent despots at Augusta have added limited rough (for years the course had little to none) and, more significantly, added more than hundreds of yards to its total length. This has led to myriad complaints that they've significantly diluted one very important aspect of the special tournament – by tipping the scales in favor of conservative play.

Historically, Sunday at the Masters has been known for its back-nine "roars," as players in contention throw caution to the wind and attack the course in hopes of making a charge. Meanwhile, the leader sweats through his Foot-Joys knowing that he if doesn't play aggressively down the stretch, somebody else will – and likely pass him in the closing holes. There's no better risk-reward atmosphere in tournament golf. (Image: masters.org)
     The tradition of the back-nine charge goes back almost to the very beginning. In 1935, the tournament's second year, Gene Sarazen famously holed a 4-wood at 15 on Sunday for a double-eagle 2. The "shot heard 'round the world" got him into a playoff (36 holes in those days) with Craig Wood, which he went on to win by five strokes. Just two years later, Byron Nelson played holes 12 and 13 in 2-3 (birdie, eagle) on Sunday to Ralph Guldahl's 5-6. Picking up six strokes on the first two-thirds of what is now known as "Amen Corner," Nelson pulled ahead and stayed there, finishing two strokes better than the runner-up Guldahl. The Nelson Bridge at the 13th hole commemorates the feat.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Whiffler Wants to Love Raymond

In between near-crippling paroxysms of overwhelming guilt, The Whiffler has been in heaven these last few days. During a spring cleaning jag last weekend, while attempting to clear thick layers of dust from behind the big, black, old-fashioned tube-style television wedged obtrusively into the corner of our tiny bedroom, I made some comment about how maybe we should find a better place to put it. Mrs. Whiffler's reply put my jaw on the floor: "Or we could just get a new TV." (Image: Wikimedia Commons.)
     Two minutes later I was at Best Buy, doing my best Brett Favre at Sears imitation, standing and staring at the various flat-screens for literally (and I use that word correctly) a good solid hour, studying the picture quality, weighing the differences of 60Hz vs. 120Hz, 720p vs. 1080i, etc. Finally, I pulled the trigger and made a purchase decision – just minutes after a lady bought the last of my chosen model out from under me. Fortunately, another location had the one I wanted, and I set off across town to pick up my 32" of high-def glory. Hopefully, the buyer's remorse (I ended up spending more than I set out to) will wear off before the thrill of watching The Masters in 1080i splendor. (I may never blog again!) But I digress ...
     While watching Monday night's episode of "The Haney Project: Ray Romano" on our new Sony Bravia KDL32EX500 Tuesday morning, I found myself thinking: "I really want to like this show."  I love the premise. Ray's a likable guy I can relate to (he's got certain mental defects in common with The Whiffler). And his golf game is at a level (his goal is to break 80) where it seems like I could benefit from what Coach Haney would have to say to him – unlike with his previous subject, Charles Barkley, a.k.a. the "Renowned Mound of Sound-bites." (Photo: Dunn/Getty Images, via pgatour.com.)
     But they're making it difficult for me. There are good parts of the show, but they're surrounded by so much fluff! There are too many of Ray's celebrity friends (Brad Garrett is really obnoxious), too much palling around, too many jokes, and too much ... Hollywood. Also (and this seems to be a general trend in "reality" television), they spend too much time before a commercial break "previewing" the next segment and too much time after reviewing what came before. It gets quite redundant for those watching the whole show.