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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Casual Water

This is the scene The Whiffler arrived home to after work tonight. A narrow band of torrential rainstorms moved through the Milwaukee area – the LONG way – right about 5:00. I took this picture from next door, standing in at least two feet of water, because I had to park up the street since the water was so deep. There was already one car stalled in the water ahead of me.
All in all, we got off pretty easy. A few inches of water in the basement, which has already receded. And the good news is we think it's just water, not sewage. It's still raining at 9:00 with more on the way, and as I watch the local news I can see there is lots of significant flooding all around us. My brother-in-law a few miles away (the one married to my sister-in-law who was asking about the caddies) apparently has 20 inches of sewage in his basement. So we're more concerned about others than about us. Prayers are appreciated all around. Thanks.

UPDATE 2: In case anyone is concerned, we've been dealing with some water damage in the basement so I haven't had a chance to put up a new post in a while. All things considered, we feel very fortunate it wasn't worse. New posts will resume in due time.

UPDATE: For a gallery of pictures from the storm that hit Milwaukee Thursday evening, go here. A number of the pictures (but not the one shown below) are from Nicolet High School, which is a half-mile from my house.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Intervention at the Old Course?

The Whiffler has been known to take shots at Sergio Garcia from time to time – primarily in regard to his occasionally sour disposition and his penchant for excuse-making. But there's no denying his talent (not to mention is flair) and I find it a bit of a shame that he hasn't capitalized more on his enormous potential. It's not like he hasn't accomplished anything; he has 19 professional wins around the world, including 7 on the PGA Tour.
     But in some ways, he seems to have fallen a long way since he nearly knocked off Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship. Back then he was a fountain of boundless energy and unbridled joy who seemed destined to step up and challenge Tiger for golf's top spot. Today he is a grouchy old man of 30 mired in a pitiful slump who seems to have lost all of that joy and much of that energy. He's no longer the "Best Player Never To Have Won a Major." Not because he finally won one, but because he's just not that good right now. (Image: Getty Images via golfdigest.com)
     But I love stories of redemption (which is why I'm still rooting for Tiger to turn things around, though more in his personal life than on the golf course). So I was intrigued to read this item in the "Local Knowledge" blog at golfdigest.com. Apparently, some people close to Sergio decided he needed a kick in the pants about his attitude and had a few words with him:
"You don't need to know, but it was people that I care about and people that care about me, and that's the important stuff," Garcia said when asked who spoke to him. "It's probably because it was the kind of day where I was really, really angry at myself, and it kind of made me feel a little better and probably realize things. I'm just hoping that I can keep doing the same things."
The Friday night "intervention" apparently had an effect, as the passionate Spaniard was reportedly much more upbeat following his Saturday round of 70 (after back-to-back 71s to start off the week). His eventual T14 finish was his best in a major since his tie for 10th at the 2009 U.S. Open. (Not a long stretch, I know, but his performance in majors has been very erratic for years.)
     Hopefully, he will be able to "keep doing the same things," whatever those may be. It seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 30. And the recent and long-overdue success of Justin Rose, another former boy-wonder who celebrated his 30th this year, is why we shouldn't give up on Sergio. If he can shed a few of his demons and gain some proper perspective, maybe he can yet become a great player.
     There's plenty of time left. And admitting you have a problem, as they say, is a big first step.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Open Championship Tap-Ins

A few stray shots on the recently concluded 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews ...

Tiger's Putter. I found the whole Tiger Woods putter drama fairly interesting. On one hand, it probably wasn't that big a deal, because his new Nike Method putter was very similar to his old Scotty Cameron Titleist model – which he'd use to win 13 of his 14 majors. The new one no doubt had been set up to feel as much like the old one as possible; the difference being the "hotter" face on the Nike to get the ball moving a little quicker on the slow St. Andrews greens. But to me the bigger surprise was not the switch but the switch back on Sunday. It made me wonder two things: 1) Had Nike been pressuring Tiger at all to switch to a Nike putter? As I understand it, Tiger's club contract allows him some flexibility with club choices. But it's not hard to imagine something like this coming from Nike, either stated of implied: "Tiger, we stuck with you through all of this, now it's your turn to do something for us." 2) Conversely, how did Nike feel about him abandoning it after three rounds? After all the ballyhoo, they could not have been too happy.
     More significantly, you have to wonder if Tiger's putting switcheroo is a sign of desperation. Could Tiger's putting stroke be starting to abandon him – for good? It's astonishing how many all-time great golfers had their putting strokes go south at some point – or at least not be what they once were. Palmer, Hogan, Watson, and Snead come immediately to mind. Lower on the list are guys like Singh and Langer, who try all kinds of different methods to regain their putting touch. It's been easy to think of Tiger as being immune to such "human" frailties. But, as Joe Posnanski (one of the most consistently thoughtful writers on all things Tiger) writes, Tiger may be closer to descending back to earth than a lot of people are willing to admit.

UPDATE: A little more on Tiger's putter saga from David Dusek at golf.com here (in which the author, among other things, briefly addresses the "conspiracy theory" posed above about Nike's role in the switch. In short: He doesn't buy it).

Rory's Roller-coaster. What to make of Rory McIlroy? For one, I just love the fact that he still has never shot in the 70s at the Old Course – it's just that one of those non-70s rounds is now an inglorious 80. His 63 on Thursday was very impressive. Yes, it was shot in extremely benign conditions, but you still have to hit the shots and make the putts. And he bested the field by two strokes with his major championship record-tying score. As impressive as he was on Thursday, he looked just as lost in the high winds on Friday. But he showed a lot by bouncing back with 69-68 on the weekend to finish tied for third. Makes you wonder if anyone has ever finished so high in a major with an 80 on the card.
     And speaking of benign conditions ...

St. Andrews without Wind. It really was amazing how easy the course looked on Thursday morning. It was tempting to think that maybe St. Andrews has been "outgrown" by the caliber of today's players and the level of today's technology. I don't think that's the case. It seems to me that it's really just a matter of the elements being an essential part of the Old Course experience. It played tough enough the rest of the week. And if they "tricked up" the course any more to guard against the windless onslaught, the course could get almost unplayable when the weather changes – which it can do at a moment's notice. It seems unfair that the guys who played Thursday morning had so much better scoring conditions than the afternoon group, but that really is just part of the game – especially in links golf. The ones who accept that – even embrace it – are the ones who will succeed (see: Watson, Tom). The ones who don't ...

Phil's Demeanor. I have to say I was disappointed in Phil Mickelson's performance. Not with his ball-striking so much as his attitude. He felt cheat by having to play in the bad afternoon weather on Thursday, but rather than shrug it off, do his best to look at it as an extra challenge instead of a tragedy, he seemed to pout his way around the golf course. He looked defeated before his was halfway through his first round. Again, see: Watson, Tom. Story goes (retelling from memory) that Watson's longtime caddie Bruce Edwards, who went to work for Greg Norman for a couple years later in his career, explained the difference between his two bosses this way: He said that if Norman would hit a perfect drive only to subsequently find his ball in divot, he would get upset and curse his luck. Watson, on the other hand, would say something like, "Watch what I can do with this shot!" It takes only looking at Norman's and Watson's respective records in majors to understand which approach is more effective. (Are you reading this, Phil?) Speaking of attitude ...

Louie Ooie. I'm not sure which was more impressive, Louis Oosthuizen's ball-striking (especially his driving) or his calm on-course demeanor. Everybody, myself included, seemed convinced that he was a "rabbit," one of those no-name early leaders who sets a torrid pace in the early going but then inevitably fades. But he surprised us all with an historic display of precision ball-striking and all-around good play. He won by SEVEN! That's huge. That's Tiger big. His win was no fluke (even though he did benefit from the benign conditions on Thursday morning). Only time will tell where he goes from here, but he's easy to like and easy to root for. And I love the little red dot that he has on his glove to think about when he's trying not to think about anything. You can bet you'll be seeing a few more red dots around the golf world in the near future.

Gary Player and the Claret Jug. Finally, I got a big kick out of a story told near the end of the ESPN telecast – I think by Mike Tirico – about the engraving of names on the legendary trophy. Back in the day, it was once the responsibility of the winner to have his own name engraved on the trophy (such as is the case with the legendary WLC traveling trophy). However, when Gary Player won it (likely either in 1974 or 1968, Tirico did not specify) he had his name engraved LARGER than the other names! Ever since, the R&A has taken the responsibility of engraving the names on the Claret jug. This story strikes me as one that could be apocryphal, but I want to believe it because it's so consistent with what I've written about Player previously: that even though by all accounts he's a warm, charming, gracious, and generous individual, his ego sometimes gets the better of him!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stricker Week, Continued

The Whiffler is feeling a bit prescient this morning about predicting that Steve Stricker was primed to have a good week at the John Deere Classic, where he ended up coasting to a second consecutive win on Sunday. A lot of fireworks during the week, including a 54-hole PGA Tour scoring record following rounds of 60, 66, and 62. The most amazing stat of this birdie barrage? Stricker birdied every par-5 on the week, going 12 for 12 on the par-71 course. Through Saturday, he had only two 5's on his scorecard, and one of those came on a brain-fart missed two-footer for par on 9 (his 18th) on Friday. All the rest were 2's, 3's, and 4's. During those first three rounds he birdied exactly half the holes, 27 out of 54. (Image: AP)
     As usual, he was a little shaky on Sunday – he still hasn't seemed to figure out how to keep the throttle down with a big lead – but he held on for a comfortable two-stroke victory over the persistent Paul Goydos. All in all it was a very impressive performance. Whether he can take that with him to St. Andrews remains to be seen, of course, but if nothing else it makes him one to watch this weekend in Scotland. (It also validates The Whiffler's earlier prediction that Stricker would again win multiple titles in 2010.)
     Congratulations, Steve, on another fine victory and good luck at the Old Course!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Goydos vs. Stricker

Holy smokes! When I updated the post below saying that Steve Stricker would have his work cut out for him to catch Paul Goydos (who shot 59 this morning) and repeat as champion this week, I didn't think he would try to make it all up in one round! What a match that would have been, if Steve and Paul had been going head-to-head in match play. Perhaps it would have played out something like this (with the leader's score to-par in parentheses) ...

Thru 1: Stricker 1-up (-1)
Thru 2: Stricker 1-up (-2)
Thru 3: Stricker 1-up (-2)
Thru 4: All Square (-2)
Thru 5: Stricker 1-up (-3)
Thru 6: All Square (-3)
Thru 7: All Square (-4)
Thru 8: Stricker 1-up (-5)
Thru 9: Stricker 1-up (-5)

So as they make the turn and grab a lemonade in the clubhouse (with Stricker graciously picking up the tab), Stricker holds a one-hole advantage, having shot 30 to Goydos's 31.
      "Nice shooting, Paul," says Stricker, his eyes welling up with tears at the prospect of a thrilling back nine.
      "Not bad I guess," Goydos responds, rolling his eyes slightly, "for a broken-down old man with no shoulders."
     And the match continues ...

Thru 10: Stricker 1-up (-6)
Thru 11: Stricker 1-up (-7)

The gallery swells as the birdie barrage continues. Somewhere, Phil and Tiger are glued to their TV sets. Phil cheers them both on; Tiger ... plays video games.

Thru 12: All Square (-7)
Thru 13: All Square (-8)
Thru 14: Goydos 1-up (-9)

Goydos hits 3-wood, sand wedge to six feet on 14 to take his first lead of the day with a birdie! Serious buzz about a possible 59 begins to grow. "This is quite a match, don't you think, Paul?" Stricker offers as a means of mutual encouragement. "Pffft," snorts Goydos, a.k.a "Sunshine," who once described himself as "the crust" of the PGA Tour.

Thru 15: Goydos 1-up (-9)
Thru 16: Goydos 1-up (-10)
Thru 17: Goydos 1-up (-11)

"This is surely the greatest game ever played!" declares legendary scribe Bernard Darwin from beyond the grave. "Even better than Ouimet defeating Vardon and Ray in 1913!"
     Inspired, other departed greats of the game begin to weigh in:
     "I expect someone's about to shoot a 59 -- Lord willin', of course," says Byron Nelson.
     "Thes is as braw a roon ay golf as i've ever seen – an' frae tois braw gentlemen ay th' gam," adds Old Tom Morris.
     "Jolly good, I say!" echoes Harry Vardon.
      "You know, I think that's the first time I ever birdied this hole," says Ben Hogan, who seems a bit too involved in his own Heavenly game at the moment.

A rousing ovation erupts for the combatants as they approach the 18th tee -- which quickly turns to a reverent hush as Goydos lines it up. He needs a birdie for 59, but the match still hangs in the balance. Goydos swings and finds the right side of the fairway on the 476-yard par-4. He'll have 177 yards to the front-left pin. Stricker steps up and drives it about 10 yards past Goydos, also on the right half of the fairway.
     Goydos is away, and drills a 7-iron to seven feet. He'll have that for 59 and to win the match – unless Stricker can hole his 160-yard approach. Stricker pulls what looks like a 9-iron – and nearly jars it! He'll have just over two feet to tie if Goydos misses. But Goydos calmly rolls it in to become, at 46, the oldest player to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour and win the match 1-up. And Stricker taps in for 60. Certainly the lowest pair of scores ever recorded in a single match.
     "Well played, Paul," Stricker sniffs, the tears flowing freely now. "Well played."
     "Thanks, Steve," Goydos answers. "Today was a nuclear bomb. I don't know where it came from. If I knew that, I wouldn't be able to touch it."
     Somewhere, Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, and Annika Sorenstam are raising a toast – and wondering just what the heck Goydos means by that.

Update: I love this quote from the 5'-9" Paul Goydos: "Most people try to shoot their age. I shot my height." (From the Orange County Register, via golfdigest.com.) What's ironic is that Stricker, who is listed at 6'-0", also shot his height that day! (I love weird stats like that.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stricker Week

Steve Stricker is tanned, rested, and ready as he returns to the John Deere Classic this week as defending champion. Since he took some time off to let an injured clavicle heal, the Whiffling Straits favorite has plummeted in the world rankings – from second all the way to fourth after being passed by first Phil Mickelson and then Lee Westwood. And though he's looked a little rusty since returning, watch for things to come together this week close to home in Silvis, Illinois.
     In 2009, Steve fired a course-record-tying 61 in Saturday's rain-delayed second round, then held on with a 68-64 to hold off Brandt Snedeker, Brett Quigley, and local favorite Zach Johnson for a three-shot victory.
     I love how this second-tier tournament, staged the week before the Open Championship, charters a plane to attract Britain-bound players to its humble festivities in the humble Midwest. Maybe this year the John Deere winner will hop on the plane, fly to St. Andrews and take home the Claret Jug. Maybe it'll be Steve. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

BREAKING: If Steve Stricker is going to win this week, he'll have to catch Paul Goydos, who JUST SHOT A 59!! 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Day at Whistling Straits

Wow, what an amazing day at Whistling Straits on Tuesday, where The Whiffler took part in the Stacey Elizabeth Mayer Foundation golf outing. Amazing weather. A beautiful course. Fun playing partners. Great people and a great cause. Here are a few of highlights and observations ...

The Irish Course. The less-famous little sister of the formidable Straits Course is still a hoot to play. Pete Dye himself graces the scorecard to tell us that "There's nothing in the United States that has the look and feel of this course" (if he does say so himself). The terrain is very similar: jagged sand dunes, gaping traps and waste areas, knee-high (at least) grass, and barely a flat lie anywhere but the tee boxes. Instead of Lake Michigan (which comes into view on several holes), water hazards are courtesy of a few ponds and a winding creek. (Click photos to enlarge.)

#10 on the Irish ("Shepherd's Post"): 361 White; 398 Black.

One of the things that struck me about the course is how "accessible" it was from the White tees (the second-shortest set), from which Duane, Bob, Donna, and I played our four-ball scramble. The White tees measure just 5,992 yards; the Greens add up to 6,336; the Blues 6,750; and the Blacks 7,201. From the Whites (Donna played the Reds), we generally had no difficulty keeping the ball in play. On only one occasion did none of us manage to hit the fairway, which for the most part had fairly generous landing areas. However, it was clear that off-target tee shots would be punished severely in a regular round. Even though we shot what felt like an impressive 61 for our scramble (we were several strokes off the winning score, though we took pride in the fact we didn't use any pre-purchased mulligans), I hit enough bad shots to know that my individual score would have been higher than I would've liked.

#11 on the Irish ("Lamb Chop"): 169 White; 208 Black.

While the Straits course is famously walking only, with a caddie required, the Irish Course allows carts, but the rule is "cart paths only" at all times. This helps keep the fairways in pristine condition and helps preserve the feel of a traditional Irish layout.

Normally, I'm not a big fan of the scramble format; I usually find myself wishing I could just play for my own score. The format also tends to mess with my head a little bit. If my team doesn't yet have a ball safelyin play when I step up, the pressure gets to me. Conversely, when we are safely in the fairway it's hard not to try to kill the ball, which of course usually throws everything off. In this case, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the team competition. Bob, Donna, Duane and I had a great time together – and we all seemed to come through for the team at various times.
     And, against all odds, I hit two of my longest drives ever on our 16th and 17th holes (#4 and #5; we started on #7), when I swung for the fences with a ball already in play. Both were a little flukey and a lot lucky, cutting the corner on two doglegs, but they set us up for a birdie and an eagle. I also sank the biridie putt on our final hole, making the final three holes among the most satisfying I've ever played. A great way to finish.

#4 on the Irish, a long dogleg par-4 (489 yards from the Black tees; 407 from the White), the site of my longest-ever drive "on paper."

#2 on the Irish ("Giant's Leap"): 340 White; 372 Black.

The Irish Course was described in this 2006 article at golf.com as a "quirky but endearing patchwork quilt of a course" featuring "nine holes routed through man-made dunes flashed with sand; six parkland-style holes crisscrossed by creeks; and three holes wrapped around ponds." Frankly, I don't remember noticing quite so much of a stark contrast among the holes, which seemed to blend well together to me. The pond holes, however, such as #2 above, definitely provided a change of pace (though now that I think about it, I think #2 is probably one of the "parkland" holes).

The Straits Course. I only got a glimpse of the Straits of course: holes 1, 9, 10, and 18 from the clubhouse, and a couple others from high spots on the Irish. But it was exciting to see that preparations (such as the construction of grandstands) are already underway for the PGA Championship in August.
     In 2004, pre-tournament fears that the course would play too hard led organizers to take it easy – too easy! – on the golfers in the first round, in particular. I seem to recall that -7 was the leading score after Thursday, which prompted a local radio commentator to speculate that course owner Herb Kohler (of Kohler plumbing fame) was probably hurling toilets through windows at the American Club (which he also owns) in a fit of rage. The course played harder and harder as the week wore on, however, and was positively brutalizing the players by Sunday. Vijay Singh shot a final round 76 to squeak into a three-hole playoff with Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco, which Singh won.
     With one major championship already in the books, I expect they'll set the course up a little more consistently (that is, consistently difficult) in 2010, which should be absolutely fascinating to watch. And if the wind blows (which it didn't much in 2004), look out! I'll be there on Friday, and I expect to find the proceedings very entertaining.

#10 on the Straits as seen from the tips, the Black tees. At 389 yards, it will offer the PGA pros one of their best birdie opportunities. It's the hole Vijay Singh birdied in the playoff to claim the 2004 title.

#11 on the Straits, as seen from an unfortunate spot on the Irish Course. In the center of of the photo is a massive sand trap, 8- or 10-feet deep, that challenges anyone crazy enough to go for the green in two on this 608-yard (Black tees) par-5.

The 18th green on the Straits in the late afternoon light. The massive clover-shaped green occupies more than 18,000 square feet.

The Stacey Elizabeth Mayer Foundation. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was offered a "scholarship" to play in this fundraiser by Steve and Sue Mayer, the parents of Stacey, who was killed in a car accident in July 2007 at the age of 19. She was home at the time from attending the Capernwray Bible College in England. Steve and Sue established the foundation to provide scholarships for deserving students to attend Capernwray. It's a wonderful cause, a great foundation, and a fitting way to both both remember Stacey and honor Jesus.
     After the round, Mrs. Whiffler drove up for the dinner, where we reconnected with a number of people we hadn't seen in a while. So thank you, Steve and Sue, and the entire Mayer family, for including us in this wonderful event! It was a true blessing to be a part of it.