The Toughest Thing About the Presidents Cup . . .


. . . is being forced repeatedly to watch the PGA Tour’s guys-standing-in-line-with-pint-glasses-commercial for the Charles Schwab Cup. It would be bad enough if it were merely incomprehensible. I’ve gotten pretty fast at hitting the mute button when it comes on, but I will never be able to unsee Bernhard Langer’s leering grin.

Frank Discussion of Testicles During LPGA Tour Broadcast

Among the advertisers on the Golf Channel broadcast of the current LPGA Tour event is the Duluth Trading Company, which is promoting its Ballroom Jeans. Those aren’t jeans that are nice enough to waltz in; they’re jeans that have extra room for your balls. A women’s sports event may seem like an odd place to advertise a product intended for overweight middle-aged men—but keep in mind that the main viewing audience for LPGA Tour events is overweight middle-aged men.

Beef Box: Don’t Call Fairway Woods “Metals”

My first driver—which was partly responsible for my decision, at the age of thirteen, to give up golf for more than twenty years—was a two-generation hand-me-down with a head that could have filled in as the foot of a Queen Anne chair. Nowadays, though, even seven-year-olds demand titanium. A few years ago, I played in a senior event with a guy from another club who carried an ancient Spalding persimmon 3-wood, but he was the only Luddite in the field and he never hit a good shot with it. Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three. You seldom see actual wood anymore even in the golf bags of estranged wives, who occupy the lowest rung on the club recycling ladder.

The question, though, is whether this change in technology necessitates a change in terminology. Various prominent television commentators,  Johnny Miller among them, have decided that it does. They refer to woods as “metals,” saying, for example, that a certain player has elected to go for the green with a “fairway metal” of some kind—perhaps a “3-metal.” Jim Nantz, on CBS, sometimes refers to a fairway wood generically as “a metal-headed club.”

There are three things wrong with this trend. The first is that it creates more confusion than it eliminates, since almost all modern golf clubs, including irons and putters, are “metal-headed.” The second is that “wood” is no more anachronistic than “iron.” (Irons haven’t been made of iron since Britain was ruled by Romans. Should we start calling those clubs “alloys”?) The third is that avoiding “wood” is excessively fastidious, like objecting to the use of the (useful) word “hopefully.” The television commentators are proposing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Besides, retaining an archaic expression creates the possibility for creative revisionism later on.

“Why are woods called ‘woods’?” your great-great-granddaughter may ask you someday.

“Well, Little One,” you can explain, “there was an awfully good player back around the turn of the century. He hit the ball farther than anybody else, and he won every prize there was to win. In fact, I taught him everything he knew. Woods were named after him.”

Great Golf Course on TV This Week: Kingsbarns

The British Women’s Open is on this week, and it’s being held on one of my favorite courses: Kingsbarns, in St. Andrews. The Golf Channel’s coverage so far seems to be limited to putts, commercials, and talking heads, but occasionally the camera drifts past a few holes, on its way from the leaderboard back to the commentators’ booth. I’ve played Kingsbarns only once, and that was thirteen years ago, but I still often think about it, and I want to go back.

Kingsbarns looks like a links course but is actually an optical illusion. It was carved (by an American! in 2000!) from a featureless swath of seaside pastureland—but despite its lack of an ancient pedigree it’s a terrific course and it’s unusually fun to play. In addition, the clubhouse is the right scale (small), and it has a good bar with the most amazing panoramic windows, plus leather chairs you could sleep all night in.

During my single round, in 2004, we were held up on every shot by a painfully slow group ahead of us. On the suggestion of our bus driver, we complained in the bar and were given all our drinks for free (then left a tip that was big enough to cover pretty much the entire tab). That night, we ate at a restaurant recommended by the same driver, who had overruled the recommendation of our caddies. The suspicion on the trip was that the driver was receiving kickbacks from the restaurants he took us to, although I was inclined to trust him, having eaten in a few caddie-recommended pubs over the years. Here’s the Kingsbarns clubhouse:

Me Talking About Donald Trump in Japanese

Last week, a television crew from a Japanese news program interviewed me about Donald Trump, who was about to play golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The frame above depicts the moment, in 2012, when I momentarily mistook Trump for a bag-drop attendant and nearly slipped him five bucks. Here’s the whole segment:

The Most Dangerous Score in Match Play

I was watching the final match in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship on TV on Thursday. Scott Harvey was leading Stewart Hagestad by four holes with six holes to play. My wife and I had to leave to go out to dinner, so I turned on the DVR. “That guy’s in big trouble,” I told her as we left the house. She asked how far behind he was. “No,” I said. “His problem is that he’s too far ahead.”

Four up is the most dangerous score in match play. When you lead an opponent by one hole, you think only of extending your lead to two, but when you lead by four your focus turns insidiously toward the trophy room. You hadn’t expected the match to be this easy, yet here you are, so far ahead that your cat could finish it for you. Uh-oh—what if you lose?

Scott Harvey and Stewart Hagestad. (Photo by USGA)

Scott Harvey and Stewart Hagestad. (Photo by USGA)

Four up is the narrowest margin that seems too big to squander, and the widest one that seems small enough to throw away. It teeters unnervingly between the certainty of triumph and the possibility of humiliation. Meanwhile, you have to deal with an opponent who no longer has anything to lose.

I once watched my teammate Norm compete in an inter-club match in which his opponent played beautifully for fourteen holes and was 4 up with four holes to play. On the fifteenth tee, both men knew the match was basically over, because Norm would have to win all four remaining holes just to tie. But Norm birdied No. 15, and you could almost hear the gears of panic beginning to grind in his opponent’s brain: If I can lose one hole, why not two? (He then lost No. 16.) And if I can lose two, why not three? (He lost No. 17.) And if I can lose three . . .

Norm won the last hole, halving the match, and he did it without having to putt. In fact, he did it without having to hit an approach shot, because his opponent—who in his mind had returned to the clubhouse two holes earlier to explain to his teammates how he had wasted a lead that couldn’t be wasted—pulled his drive into a grove of trees, failed twice to punch his ball back into play, and conceded the hole right there, too ashamed to go on. As I watched him staggering up the hill, I wondered if he would ever play again.

Whenever I find myself down in a match, I try to channel Norm, whose calm perseverance made an inspiring case for never giving up. In a match many years ago, though, I ended up on the wrong side of that dangerous score, and the player I channeled, unfortunately, was Norm’s opponent. Playing against a better golfer, I somehow made all the putts that mattered for 11 holes and found myself four up with seven to play. Until the moment my putt dropped on No. 11, I had never truly believed I could win. Now, though, my strategy changed from innocently lethal offense to suicidally anxious defense. I counted the remaining holes on my fingers, like a blackjack player in Vegas deciding how much he can afford to lose.

You can guess most of the rest. I lost the match on the first extra hole, to a bogey. The worst of it was hearing the other guy, afterward, boasting about the deficit he had overcome. “Four up with seven to go!” he crowed to one of his teammates as I put my clubs back in my car, wondering if I would ever play again. (I beat him last year, though. This year, too.)

On Thursday, I turned on the DVR when my wife and I got back from dinner, but I had already guessed the result. Harvey lost the 32nd hole, and then the 33rd, and then the 35th, and then the 36th—all to birdies. Then Hagestad birdied the first extra hole, and they were done.

Photo by USGA.

Photo by USGA.

Masters Countdown: Great Moments in the History of Slow Play

Ed Furgol, 1957 Masters. (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Ed Furgol, 1957 Masters. (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Not all that long ago, Masters competitors, playing in twosomes, were expected to finish 18 holes in about three hours, even during the tournament’s final round. After the 1956 Masters, a competitor wrote to Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, to complain that, after playing the first nine in an hour and a half, he had been told by an official to hurry up. You can read more at this blog’s official home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new. And, if you’re willing to wait a month or so, you can find complete versions of all my old posts on this site, too, by paging down until you reach them.

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts, 1957 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts, 1957 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Why Isn’t the Men’s Member-Guest on TV?

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I wish the Golf Channel would drop the Champions Tour and broadcast my club’s member-guest tournament instead. Wouldn’t you watch? Among other reasons, there’s way more drama and beer, and the spectators are appreciative:

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The putting is less tedious, especially after dark:

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Protracer was practically made for it:

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The player endorsements are more persuasive, because you know the players really do use they products they promote:

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There are always plenty of refreshments:

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We get pizza during the putting contest:

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Faster foursomes are allowed to play through:

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There are moments of high drama—like when the pro has to explain to a member who didn’t read her email that the course is closed all weekend, except for participants:

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And you see shots the pros won’t even try:

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Which Nine Was That?

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ESPN’s scorecard graphic for the Open Championship is labeled “front nine” and “back nine,” but the Old Course doesn’t have a front and back. You play nine holes “out,” making a little loop at the bend of the shepherd’s crook, then nine holes “in.” “Outward nine” and “inward nine”—he preferred local terms—would be more accurate. But not for every course, even on the Open Rota. People often say that out-and-in is a defining characteristic of links golf, but it isn’t. Troon (for example) does play nine out and nine in, more or less, but the holes at Carnoustie (for example) wander around:

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And there many variants.
“Front” and “back” actually don’t make sense on many golf courses. It’s rare to find a club at which the first nine holes you play are laid out in front of something, and the second nine holes are laid out in back of the same thing. Sometimes the nines are right and left; sometimes the holes are all over the place; sometimes—as on nine-hole courses, where you play the same holes twice—the nines are essentially on top of each other (upper and lower?).
Bobby Jones wanted TV announcers to refer to the nines at Augusta National as the “first nine” and the “second nine,” partly because “front” and “back” weren’t accurate, and partly because he felt that “back side”—a common variant—was indecently anatomical. One nice thing about “first nine” and “second nine” is that they work for any golf course, including your course, my course, and the Old Course. Golfers will never change, naturally—but if it came to a vote I’d go with Jones.

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