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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Is This the World’s Greatest Golf Course?

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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.

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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.

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Getting soaked was better than inhaling pine pollen—something we’ve done a lot of this spring:

P1150687Because 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.
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Among its many memorable features are its bunkers, which are maintained by vengeful demons:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Will the Open Championship ever be held at Royal County Down? Fingers crossed.

Masters Countdown: Why CBS Refused, for Sixteen Years, to Show Augusta National’s Twelfth Hole

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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.”

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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.

Major Breakthrough: A Better Way to Watch Golf on TV

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My wife’s college roommate’s son got married recently. Before the wedding, he and his fiancée were interviewed at length for an episode of a reality show called Something Borrowed, Something New, on the television network TLC, which is to women what the Golf Channel is to men. Three years ago, during the summer before my daughter’s wedding, I inadvertently watched parts of quite a few TLC programs, because during that period the TV in our kitchen was permanently tuned to that channel. For example, I saw parts of several episodes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a British reality show about the weddings of gypsies and Irish travelers. From it, I learned that, in planning our daughter’s wedding, my wife and I had made many mistakes, including allowing our daughter to marry a non-gypsy and failing to rent any stretch Hummers or horse-drawn carriages:

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Something Borrowed, Something New is about wedding dresses. The episode featuring my wife’s old roommate’s son and his fiancée aired shortly before Christmas, and my wife suggested that our own son, whose name is John, and I watch it with her. John and I consented, out of loyalty to her and her old roommate, whom both of us know, but we worried that sitting through an entire TLC show might permanently harm us in some way. Luckily, we were able to protect ourselves, by viewing the episode through long cardboard tubes from two used-up rolls of Christmas wrapping paper:

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Watching through the tubes enabled us to make it all the way to the end while suffering few if any ill effects, and it occurred to me later that the same technique might be useful in other fraught television-viewing situations, such as nerve-wracking parts of important golf tournaments. If a golfer you were rooting for in one of the majors faced a critical putt on the final day, for example, you could use a tube to focus solely on the hole, potentially even helping the ball to drop. Or, during one of those web.com commercials featuring Jim Furyk and his wife, you could use a tube to focus on a blank part of the screen (after first hitting the mute button).

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In other golf news, Jed, a member of the Sunday Morning Group, became a father on December 20. Here he is with his brand-new daughter, whose name is Louisa. As you can see, she already has a healthy interest in golf:

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My granddaughter, whose name is Alice, is thirteen months older than Louisa. I don’t have a recent picture of her playing golf, but I do have one of her doing a pretty good imitation of most of the guys I play most of my rounds with:

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Two Easy Ways to Speed Up Golf

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My golf course closed for the season on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The day before that, thirteen guys showed up for the final 2014 home-course meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. I wasn’t there, because I was on my way home from a non-golf reporting assignment in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California—poor life-management on my part. The following Sunday, though, Hacker (real name), Mike B., Gary, Ray, three of Ray’s friends from other clubs, and I played at Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a 36-hole facility owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut:

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The Wheel (as it’s known to friends) is the main winter golf hangout for a lot of guys in our region, because it’s so close to the coast that it doesn’t get much snow. It’s where S.M.G. played last year on New Year’s Day:

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The Wheel is also the home of an extremely successful chapter of The First Tee, which served more than 600 kids last summer:

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One of the volunteer coaches is Richard Hunt, an honorary S.M.G. member. That’s him at the far left in the photo below, which was taken at Twisted Dune during S.M.G.’s fifteenth annual golf trip to Atlantic City, in October:

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Each summer for the past ten years, Richard has spent his Saturday afternoons at the Wheel introducing youngsters to golf. This year, his First Tee chapter named a trophy after him: the Coach Rick Award, which goes to the scoring champions in the Ace/Birdie division. (He’s also pretty good at teaching grownups; he’s a marketing consultant in Manhattan, and he oversees the Venture Creation Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where he is a mentor-in-residence.)

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A couple of weeks ago, Richard attended the U.S.G.A.’s Pace of Play Symposium, at which two dozen speakers spent two days talking about how to make golf go faster. “I thought the event was quite valuable,” Richard (who took the photo below) told me. “This is exactly the kind of thing they need to do ‘for the good of the game.'”

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Richard’s report:

Turns out, there are way more problems than your buddy plumb-bobbing his third putt. A major culprit is tee-time spacing, which is way too short at most public courses, and even in professional events. The L.P.G.A. did a test this year, and was able to reduce playing times an average of fourteen minutes per round just by moving tee times slightly farther apart, from ten minutes to eleven, and asking players to keep up with the group in front of them. Easy stuff. In addition, course setup, design, and facility management policies are all either part of the problem or part of the solution.

When I was in Arizona, I had dinner with my old friend Shelby Futch, the world’s greatest golf teacher, whose company owns several courses in the Scottsdale area. At one of them, Shelby reduced playing times by offering forty dollars in grill-room credit to each day’s first group if they finished in less than four hours, and by asking the groups behind them to keep up. Easy stuff.

I asked Richard whether the kids he teaches play quickly—and, sad to say, he said they don’t:

Trust me—we don’t teach them to play slow. Yet on late summer Saturday afternoons, during our team matches, my young charges struggle to beat darkness every week. I myself blame CBS, NBC, and the Golf Channel. Maybe Fox will only show golfers in action next year, instead of repose.

Easy stuff.

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Two Ryder Cup Shots You Didn’t See on TV

You didn’t see them because they happened in a different Ryder Cup, the one the Sunday Morning Group held while the American tour stars were getting whupped in Scotland.

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Twenty-four guys signed up in advance, and Corey, our terrific pro, divided us into two teams, one red and one blue. The youngest guy in the field didn’t show, apparently because he had met someone interesting in a bar the night before. Corey took his place, after persuading his mother, our club’s immediate past president, to watch the golf shop for him. (The guy who didn’t show made a big mistake, in my opinion. The time to establish golf in a romantic relationship is at the beginning, before the non-playing party has had time to develop a case.)
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And after everyone had finished we had our usual lunch of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and beer, on the patio near the practice green:
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Before I get to the two shots that weren’t shown on TV, I’d like to make two general observations about the other Ryder Cup:
1. What is the source of Ryder Cup Europe’s pathological golf-course selections? In the sixties and seventies, the trans-Atlantic side of the contest was held exclusively on Open courses: Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Royal Birkdale, and Muirfield—an over-reliance on England, granted, but otherwise impeccable. Since then, the thinking has apparently been that crummy venues deserve international exposure, too. The worst is the Belfry, also in England, which has hosted the matches four times—more than any other course in history. The Belfry has just two good holes, the ninth and the eighteenth, and most matches don’t reach the eighteenth. This year’s course, at Gleneagles, was in the works when I first played golf in Scotland, in the early 1990s. At that time, the Scots had seemingly decided that the way to attract American golfers to Scotland was to hire Jack Nicklaus to build something that would remind them of Florida, cart paths included. Somebody, please, wake up the people in charge. The PGA Centenary Course, as Nicklaus’s creation is now known, isn’t even the best course at Gleneagles.
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2. There’s been lots of angry speculation about the reasons for this year’s American defeat, but no one, so far as I know, has hit on the real explanation: the extraordinarily annoying pre-shot routines of Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley. In TV broadcasts of regular tour events, producers have become adept at keeping the cameras away from those two until they’re almost ready to make a real stroke. During the Ryder Cup, though, so little actual golf is under way at any moment that they had no choice but to make us watch full sequences—all the tics and twirls and feints and bird peeks and pocket scrunches and everything else. True, we were spared Furyk’s 5-Hour Energy wardrobe, and thank goodness for that. But the other stuff was increasingly infuriating, and by Saturday afternoon (I’m guessing) so many U.S. TV watchers were mentally rooting against Furyk and Bradley that the cosmic tide irretrievably turned. Those two golfers, between them, won two points and lost four; turn those Ls to Ws, and it’s a blowout the other way.
Now, back to the other Ryder Cup. The two shots you haven’t seen were both hit by Doug, who was my partner. In each case, he went on to triple- or even quadruple-bogey the hole. But that was OK because I had him covered.

Sunday on TV: Two Great U.K. Links Courses, Two Great Golf Trips

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The Scottish Open—that is to say, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open—is being played at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, in northeastern Scotland. My friends and I played two rounds there in 2008. The photo above is of some of the guys on the first tee. St. Andrews is just eighty miles to the south, but you could skip it and still put together a terrific golf trip, playing only courses within bicycling distance of Aberdeen. Maybe start at Carnoustie, on the northern side of the Firth of Tay. Then Forfar, a heathland course, definitely worth the twelve-mile trip inland:

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Then Royal Aberdeen, which you can study on TV on Sunday (the Golf Channel in the morning; NBC in the afternoon):

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Then Murcar, which is so close to Royal Aberdeen that players on one course sometimes accidentally play onto the other. Here you are looking toward Murcar from Royal Aberdeen:

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And here you are looking toward Royal Aberdeen from Murcar:

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Then Trump International, which I haven’t played yet but which I walked when it was nearing completion. Then maybe Newburgh-on-Ythan, where I played with two other guys named Dave. The course isn’t the greatest, but if you like to walk you can drive a couple of miles up the road and hike into a nature preserve whose many fascinating features include some enormous sand dunes, which are also visible from the course:

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You can also explore the remains of the village of Forvie, which was swallowed by blowing sand in the 1400s. All that’s left are some piles of stones and part of the village church, which was built on high ground:

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Then Cruden Bay, which is one of my favorite courses anywhere:

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Then maybe Peterhead (where I played with the pro), Inverallochy (where I accidentally set off the clubhouse alarm), and Fraserburgh, whose first and last holes could use some work but is otherwise terrific:

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There you go: a great golf trip, and you’ve put barely a hundred miles on your rental car. And if there are non-playing spouses along you can stop for occasional sightseeing without driving more than a mile or two out of your way:

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Meanwhile, in England, the Women’s British Open—that is to say, the Ricoh Women’s British Open—is being held at Royal Birkdale, in northwestern England. (You can study the course on ESPN2.) My friends and I visited Birkdale in 2010 and I returned in 2013. Here’s Ray in 2010:

Ray at Royal Birkdale, May, 2010.

Ray at Royal Birkdale, May, 2010.

Birkdale lies near the center of what may be my favorite golf trip, the route for which runs along the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool, where the British Open will be played next week, about an hour to the south of Birkdale, to Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where the Open was played in 2012, about an hour to the north. I have an article about that trip coming up in a future issue of Golf Digest. In the meantime, I can tell you that in 2010 nine of us played fifteen rounds in eight days on eleven of the courses between Liverpool and Lytham, and at dinner on our last night in England the nine of us named eight of them as the one we’d most like to play again.

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Scientists, Psychologists, and the Mayo Clinic Take on the Yips

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I had an article in the May 26 New Yorker about the yips. The term  was coined around the middle of the last century by the Scottish golfer Tommy Armour, a sufferer, who defined it as “a brain spasm that impairs the short game.” (Stephen Potter, in his book Golfmanship, published in 1968, quoted Armour and added, “‘Impairs’ is a euphemism.”) Yipping typically involves an involuntary twitch of a golfer’s hands, wrists, or forearms. The late British golf writer and television commentator Henry Longhurst once said that he didn’t have the yips but was a “carrier.”

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Henry Longhurst. In the olden days, some forms of the yips were called “whiskey fingers.”

During the BBC’s broadcast of the final round of the 1970 British Open, at St. Andrews, he agonized vicariously when Doug Sanders left himself a three-foot putt on the final hole to win the tournament. “Oh, Lord,” Longhurst said on the air. “Well, that’s not one that I would like to have.” Sanders hesitated over his ball for what seemed like minutes; noticed something on the ground and bent to remove it (“Oh, Lord,” Longhurst said again); froze once more; and shoved the ball to the right of the hole. “Missed it!” Longhurst said as the ball went past. “Yes, a certainty. That’s the side you’re bound to miss it.” In the video below, skip to 21:23 to hear Longhurst’s full commentary and watch the gruesome outcome:

Among the people I interviewed but didn’t quote is Dick Hyland, who is the head professional at the Country Club at DC Ranch, in North Scottsdale, Arizona, and a longtime yips sufferer. Before I went to see him, he wrote down some of his thoughts about his own experience with the yips on a yellow legal pad, and gave me the sheet (clicking on the image below will enlarge it to a more legible size):

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Another person I talked to is Debbie Crews, a sports psychologist and a consultant to the women’s golf team at Arizona State. She has participated in three studies of the yips sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, and she’s about to participate in a fourth. Even for golfers who don’t have the yips, Crews is a good person to know. Here’s one thing I learned from her: most of us would putt better if we had someone tend the flag even on medium-length putts, because our brains are better at judging the distance to targets that protrude above the ground.

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