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.
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.”
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:
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:
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?
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.
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.
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:
The putting is less tedious, especially after dark:
Protracer was practically made for it:
The player endorsements are more persuasive, because you know the players really do use they products they promote:
There are always plenty of refreshments:
We get pizza during the putting contest:
Faster foursomes are allowed to play through:
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:
And you see shots the pros won’t even try:
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:
On Memorial Day weekend, I played Friday afternoon (lost five dollars), Saturday morning (came in third in a two-man scramble, playing with Tim), Saturday afternoon (advanced to the final in the member-member, also playing with Tim), Sunday morning (won six dollars), Monday morning (won low gross in the nine-hole Memorial Day mixed shamble, playing with Madeline—my golf wife—and an actually married couple), and Monday afternoon (lost five dollars). Then I played again on Friday (lost five dollars) and Saturday morning (won the member-member, one-up, playing with Tim.) That was a pretty good eight-day run, so I wasn’t totally bummed when we had thunder, lightning, and heavy rain just before 7:00 the following morning.
I sent an email to the Sunday Morning Group saying I’d bring a couple of decks of playing cards, and Hacker (real name) suggested that we eat our cheeseburgers and hot dogs (supplied by Barney) for breakfast, instead of lunch. But the lightning had stopped by 7:30, so we played golf instead of setback. One very good thing about rain is that it scares away slackers: twenty regulars showed up, and we had the course to ourselves.
Getting soaked was better than inhaling pine pollen—something we’ve done a lot of this spring:
Because I was up early on both Saturday and Sunday, before I left for the club I watched some of the Irish Open — by which, of course, I mean the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation. The D.D.F.I.O.H.R.F. was held this year on a course that many golfers would pick as the best in the world: Royal County Down, in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.
Among its many memorable features are its bunkers, which are maintained by vengeful demons:
During a round at Royal County Down in 2013, my playing partner and I waded into a jungle of whins and briers near the eleventh tee to look for a century-old relic that a caddie had told me about two years before: the remains of a small stone building, which the maintenance crew had uncovered during an aggressive gorse-removal project. We found it, at some risk to our clothing, although it was so overgrown that we couldn’t see much more than one corner.
Later that day, Harry McCaw—a past captain of both Royal County Down and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews—told me that he thought the structure might once have served as the literal “club house”: the place where early players stored their clubs.
I had driven to Newcastle from Dublin, a hundred miles to the south, and during part of the trip I followed Mourne Coastal Route, a scenic highway. Irish roads are narrow under any circumstances; they become narrower if your eyes are repeatedly drawn to the hills and out to sea—a danger that day, because the sky was so clear that I could see the Isle of Man, halfway to the English mainland.
My parents once visited Ireland with another couple, and on an especially harrowing stretch of road my mother, who was sitting in the back seat with the other wife, yelled at my father to stop steering so close to the edge. He innocently raised both hands, to remind her that, in Ireland and the U.K., the driver sits on the right, not the left. During my own trip, I knocked the cowling off the passenger-side mirror of my rental car. I told the clerk at Avis when I returned the car, but she said it happened all the time, and not to worry about it.
Will the Open Championship ever be held at Royal County Down? Fingers crossed.
The Masters first appeared on TV in 1956, on CBS. (NBC, which covered the tournament on radio, had turned it down.) CBS initially wanted to show little more than the eighteenth hole, but the club said it would forego $5,000, half its fee, if more of the course could be included. CBS added a second transmission station, but the coverage was still minimal: two and a half hours over three days, showing just parts of the last four holes.
Augusta National argued for more. The club’s television committee, in its report on the second broadcast, in 1957, wrote, “A most picturesque part of our golf course lies about the twelfth hole and thirteenth green. An attempt should be made through employment of portable cameras to bring this area into live broadcast. If this is impractical, a few films of the area could be shown.”
CBS disagreed that there was any need to show more of the course, even on film, and it stuck to that position. Seven years later, Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman and co-founder—after reading in Golf World that CBS was planning to cover six holes at a lesser tournament, the 1964 Carling World Open, at Oakland Hills—wrote to Jack Dolph, who was then the network’s director of sports, to ask why the Masters could not be given the same treatment. Dolph replied: “It’s true that we are covering six holes of the Carling’s rather than four as we do at the Masters. This was a commitment made in acquiring the rights to the Tournament; one on which Carling’s insisted. We have grave doubts that this extra hole coverage will add to the overall impact of the tournament, and we are, in fact, giving the extra two holes the very minimum of coverage.”
Roberts did not give up, and in 1966 CBS finally agreed to extend its coverage beyond the fifteenth hole, by adding a camera near the fourteenth green. Coverage of the thirteenth green began two years later, in 1968, after Roberts suggested moving a camera from the far less interesting fourteenth tee. The twelfth hole wasn’t shown live until five years after that, in 1973—sixteen years after the club’s original suggestion.
The twelfth hole might not have received its own camera even in 1973 if Roberts had not effectively tricked CBS into putting one there. The year before, ABC Sports had asked the club for permission to film the twelfth hole during the 1972 Masters, for a prime-time sports special that it planned to broadcast on the Monday following the tournament. “As you know,” an ABC executive wrote to Roberts, “this hole has never been shown on the live presentations of the Masters, and our segment, which would probably be only five or ten minutes in length, would not only show how some of the top finishers play this hole but would also capture the many moods and some of the unique happenings that transpire at this locale.”
Roberts—who knew that ABC for years had yearned to win the Masters contract away from CBS—agreed. CBS noticed. The following year, for the first time, it placed a camera of its own on the twelfth hole.