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

Monday, May 31, 2010

God and Golf

Let's start with Zach Johnson, who on Sunday won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Walking off the 18th green, he had this to say to CBS's Peter Kostis:
I feel honored. They say everything's big in Texas, but I know there's one thing bigger and that's my God. And I want to lift this up to Him and give Him the glory, because the peace and the talent that he's given me I don't deserve. But I'm very thankful. (Image: Scott Halleran/Getty Images, via Golf.com)
Earlier this year, Golf magazine "editor-at-large" Connell Barrett mentioned Johnson in a list of 10 "new rules" for 2010 at his "Flyers" blog at Golf.com. In fact, he took advantage of the opportunity to rip Christians not once in that column, but twice.
     A few days before, conservative commentator Brit Hume, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, urged Tiger Woods to "turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world." (Video here.) Now, make of that comment what you will. But here's what Barrett had to say (in "new rule" #6):
Brit Hume must lay off the assholier-than-thou act. The Fox News Bible thumper suggested Tiger convert from Buddhism to Christianity to fix his cheatin' heart, a shockingly dumb comment. Brit, did you learn nothing from Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder? "Never go full retard."
The irony is, in rule #3 in the same piece, Barrett wrote that people should "[s]top telling the press to leave Tiger alone. He's fair game. A public figure by choice. What two people do in the privacy of a church parking lot is everyone's business."
     So, apparently Barrett thinks it's OK to go after Tiger to make jokes about him, but if you offer him some sincere advice about how he might improve himself, you're an a**hole and a retard.
     Later, for his final "new rule," Barrett wrote: "Tour pros may no longer credit the Almighty for a victory." To elaborate, he turned to "comedian/golf nut" Lewis Black, who had this to say:
I hate that .... I remember watching the Masters the year Zach Johnson won. I was rooting for him. He was a great story, this underdog. Then he opens his mouth, and it's God this and that. I said, 'Noooooo! Not another one!' Sorry, Zach, but God wasn't with you on the back nine—he was busy helping hurricane victims, where he was needed. You know, God stuff!
I understand that you might not share Johnson's beliefs, and even that you might not appreciate him proclaiming them after a victory. But I really don't understand the hostility. Where's the "tolerance" everybody always says you're supposed to have?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tell Me What You Think ...

... of the new banner picture. Here's the old one – which do you prefer?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Straight Shooter: A Book Review

When Tiger Woods stood in front of that now-infamous blue curtain at PGA Tour headquarters in February and told the world he would recommit to Buddhism as part of his new self-improvement regimen, author Josh Karp must have thought his prayers had been answered. Or ... that karma was shining down upon him. Or ... whatever one says in the Buddhist realm when good fortune befalls you.
     Because suddenly the golf world was talking about Buddha for the first time since ... ever? And Buddhism, along with the search for inner peace and enlightenment, are central themes of Karp's new book, Straight Down the Middle: Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing. (Image: Straight Down the Middle, by Josh Karp; Chronicle Books, 2010)
     So as far as publicity hooks are concerned, he's got that going for him. Which is nice.

After being called a "new soul" (as opposed to an "old soul," or someone with wisdom and depth beyond his years) by a friend of his wife's, Karp decided his inner being needed some aging, so he set out on a journey of enlightenment:
My quest, the quest that became this book, was one toward two goals – better golf and a better life via the non-traditional Eastern route. I would sample various Eastern approaches to golf and life – meditation, martial arts, and all manner of instruction both on the course and off – hoping to lower my handicap and find my true, calm, happy self, or vice versa.
In Straight Down the Middle, Karp searches for golfing Nirvana (as opposed to the flannel-clad, grunge rock variety) by traveling around the country (not to mention Scotland) to sit at the feet of a wide range of offbeat golf teachers, gurus, spiritualists, and even a sensei. He was asking, essentially: Can inner peace lower your golf score? As a firm believer that the answer is "yes," I was immediately captivated by the topic.
     Karp chronicles his quest with a lively and self-effacing voice that is part Rick Reilly and part Dave Barry, with an anxiety-ridden dose of Woody Allen thrown in for good measure. While the Reilly/Barry component gives the book its life, the Woody-ness supplies the heart. It's Karp's openness and honesty about his anxiety and insecurities that ground the book, give it some real weight, and make it more than an entertaining lark (though entertaining it most certainly is).
     Along this metaphorical "Road to Utopia" (Bing Crosby plays a recurring role), Karp encounters a cast of compelling characters, who come alive through his vivid descriptions. Take Coach Stephen, a practitioner of the self-styled "Renegade Mindset Technique" (an offshoot of something called the "Emotional Freedom Technique"), with whom Karp trained in Columbus, Ohio:
[H]e's got that energy that the truly healthy – and particularly the truly healthy that don't have kids – possess. His training methods are infused with what he calls a "need for speed." His healthy lifestyle is not something he lords over you, but you get the sense that everything he consumes is organic and that each bit of food, albeit delicious, has a precise purpose that it quickly fulfills when it enters the bloodstream, where his body maximizes the nutrients then dumps out the waste in neat little packages.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The State of Australia

Whiffling Straits is proud to be joined once again by Australian professional golfer and golf journalist Grant Dodd, for an update on the state of Australian golf in America. Thanks for "coming back," Grant! I trust your red-eye flight on the Cyberspace Express (where they never charge extra for baggage, even the emotional kind) was a pleasant one. Now let's get right down to it ...

On Sunday, 29-year-old Aussie heart-throb Adam Scott returned to the PGA Tour winner's circle for the first time since 2008. By all accounts he's a very likable bloke and popular amongst his peers, so it's good to see him back on top. Did you ever have any doubt that he would be a winner again? To what do you attribute his recent struggles? And do you think he's back for good -- or is one win (plus the Australian Masters, of course) just one win? (Image: AP, via golf.com)
 Actually, it was the Australian Open, but what's a title between friends! I always thought that he would win again, but I wasn't sure at what level. He seemed to be suffering such a crisis of confidence, particularly with the putter, that I wondered whether he had contracted the yips. And as Sam Snead said, "When you've got 'em, you've got 'em". Very few guys, Bernhard Langer excepted, ever truly excel at this game once they have caught the yips so I'm pleased to see that this wasn't the case.
 At his best, he is one of the most dynamic players in the world, a gifted ball striker who most definitely has the potential to spend the next decade in the world top ten. It really depends on his hunger and drive, and I can't speak for that.
[Note: One of the reasons I like getting Grant's perspective is that here in the States, it's all too easy sometimes to get tunnel vision about American tournaments and not fully appreciate what's happening elsewhere in the world – as evidenced by my confusing the Australian Open and the Australian Masters (which Tiger Woods in fact won in 2009, his last victory before all the unpleasantness hit the fan). So thanks for straightening me out, Grant!]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Matter with Tiger Woods

Could it get any worse for Tiger Woods? Just one week after missing the cut, badly, at the Quail Hollow Championship, Tiger Woods was showing at least a few signs of life, heading into the weekend at -3 in The Players Championship. After carding a 1-under 71 on Saturday, Woods withdrew after just seven holes on Sunday, citing a neck injury that's been bothering him since before the Masters. (Image: Cover of Tiger: The Real Story, by Steve Helling)
     "I've been playing with a bad neck for quite a while," Woods said. "They want me to go get a picture [MRI] on it next week. I might have a bulging disk."
     No word thus far on how serious the injury might be, or whether it's related to the world's #1 ranked golfer's now-infamous Thanksgiving night joy-ride. But speculation is likely to run wild.
     And this comes on the heels of a new unauthorized biography by a reporter for People magazine. And a National Enquirer report that Woods 'fessed up to sleeping with as many as 120 different women while married to Elin. And widely circulating rumors that Elin and the kids have high-tailed it to Sweden, with a divorce filing imminent. No matter what you think of Woods and his self-made mess, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit sorry for him.
     What fascinates me most about L'affaire Tiger Woods is looking back in time for clues about whether we might have been able to see this all coming. One of the things that's so unusual about his historic rise is the way he had been groomed since he could walk to become the greatest golfer in the world – or even history – and yet seemed to come out of it all more or less OK. Like child stars gone bad, these things have a way of not working out very well. Just ask former USC quarterback Todd Marinovich.
      But Woods had seemed to have weathered all that. He emerged from adolescence not only as the #1 golfer in the world, but also, or so it seemed, so ... well-adjusted.
     Where did he go wrong?
     I dunno. And does it even matter? My only conclusion is that spending your life chasing after the world's adulation and glory is ultimately a fruitless task. "Everything is meaningless," once wrote the world's richest, most successful man.
     But such a well-documented life leaves a long paper trail. What follows is a list of links to and short excerpts from articles about Tiger Woods from various stages of his career. Many of them are quite fascinating when read with the inevitable 20-20 hindsight. Read them as you see fit and draw your own conclusions if you wish. Just don't think you'll be getting any closer to the real truth about Tiger Woods than anybody else who tries.

Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, "Goodness Gracious, He's a Great Ball of Fire," 1995:
When the boy was six, he asked his parents for the subliminal tape. In the parents' plan to raise the greatest golfer who ever lived, the boy's mind had to be trained. The tape was all rippling brooks and airy flutes on top and chest-thumpers underneath: MY DECISIONS ARE STRONG! I DO IT ALL WITH MY HEART!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What a Weekend!

RORY! On the verge of missing his third straight cut in what has been a frustrating year so far, 20-year-old Rory McIlroy on Friday hit a 206-yard 4-iron to six feet on the 7th hole (his 16th) to make eagle – and the cut on the number. Two days later, McIlroy, just two days shy of his 21st birthday, put the finishing touches on a magnificent 10-under 62 (32-20) to claim the Quail Hollow Championship by four strokes over Phil Mickelson. He also set a course record by two full strokes, going 5-under over the final five holes on one of the toughest closing stretches in professional golf. "It surpasses everything by a mile," McIlroy said after the round, which vaulted him into the international spotlight leading into this week's Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. By claiming what may well prove to be his breakthrough win, young Rory keeps alive the Whiffler's earlier prediction that he "by year's end will be regarded as the favorite to unseat Tiger (or possibly Phil) as the #1 player in the world." (Thanks, Rory.) (Image: Scott Halleran/Getty Images, via Golf.com.)

PHIL Speaking of Phil the Thrill, by finishing second, with a strong performance that likely would merited a win if not for Rory's heroics – and with Tiger ignominiously missing the cut by more than he missed some fairways – Mickelson put himself in position to claim the world #1 ranking for the first time in his career. With a win at the Players Championship, Phil would move into the top spot if Tiger finishes outside the top five. The way he looked on Friday, Tiger is about as likely to finish fifth or better as he is to give Elin a Mother's Day gift subscription to the National Enquirer.