Bethpage Black: Existing to Outlast

Bethpage Black #4Take your Reds and Greens and Yellows too. It’s The Black we want. Membership dues need not apply. The course is open to all. Fireman. Financiers. Teachers too. The Black cares not what you do or who you are so long as you have the courage to step foot on one of golf’s ultimate exercises in futility. Your wits will be strained. Your legs fatigued. Your soul crushed. Punishing. Unrelenting. Unyielding. The Black will make you question a lot of things. About golf, and about yourself. Is your game good enough to survive 18? Is your heart strong enough to overcome a lover’s rebuke? Is your mind disciplined enough to stay the course, to endure the undulating ups and downs? The only way to find out, the only way to know if you’re up to the test is to play.

The Black knows your frustration. The Black hears your words. You are not the first to travel cross the threshold full of high hopes and desires only to have those dreams turn to a nightmare that you cannot escape, that you cannot avoid. The clubhouse is nowhere in sight. The 19th hole an oasis on the horizon. Your playing partners will offer words of encouragement but their support, their empathy, will fall on deaf ears. It’s just you and your thoughts.

The Black will speak to you. But are you willing to listen, are you patient enough to understand? Will you lay up on a par 4? Will you take iron instead of wood? Will you accept the reality that you are nothing more than a transient here on a brief stay and that the hills and trees that block your approach will remain long after your visit has expired. Those rocks. That heather. Reminders that the sports of golf is more nature than nurture. All the lessons in Long Island won’t help you solve the eternal, evolving mystery of The Black.

If you are one of the lucky few to cross that finish line, body and spirit still intact, take a second to look back down the hill, across the fairways and bunkers that fit together like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be solved. That view, that sense of accomplishment regardless of score is one of the greatest satisfactions the game has to offer. The Black knows this, The Black has seen it all before. It knows you’ll come back again, confident that the next time will be different. But the challenge remains. The challenge will not succumb. Bethpage Black exists to outlast.

 

Sports For Breakfast Not Dinner

If you were one of the roughly 2% of households tuning into to ESPN’s Sunday final round coverage of The Open Championship you were witness to history. No not Rory McIlroy becoming only the 3rd golfer ever to win three major championships by the age of 25 (move over Jack and Tiger). An impressive feat but not the kind of accomplishment sports fans will be talking about years from now. No, what Sunday, and Saturday for that matter as well, proved is that major sporting events are much better when served in the morning as opposed to their traditional afternoon or evening time slots.

As the entire state of California shakes their collective head in agreement, it is not often that us folks on the East Coast are privileged to such an enjoyable viewing experience. Outside of The Open Championship what other major sporting events can be seen in the morning on the East Coast? Wimbledon? Premier League Soccer? An occasional Olympics? The point being, watching sports in the morning is a much more enjoyable experience for viewers because you don’t have to wait and when it’s over you still have an entire day in front of you.

What needs to happen now is for television networks and sports leagues to get together and agree to broadcast more of their weekend games in the early morning on the East Coast. And we’re not talking about just sporting events that occur across the pond in Europe and Asia but big time college and pro basketball, baseball and football.

But why would television networks and leagues agree to such an absurd change when they’re already making obscene amounts of money? What’s in it for them? Fair point. Television networks are motivated by two things: eyeballs and advertisers. But is it the time of day the games air that make them so attractive/lucrative or is it the games themselves?

For the sake of logic, let’s just say that major sporting events will be popular regardless of what time they air. By moving big games away from the evening/afternoon East Coast time slot to the morning the audience should follow. And if there is an audience then it’s only a matter of time before companies like Proctor & Gamble and Pfizer will rush to showcase their latest elixir for low “T”.

But what about the West Coast? Why would networks essentially sacrifice half their audience? Two reasons:

1) California has been spoiled for years now what with NFL games on at 10am so they can keep quiet. Plus people who live in Los Angeles are all vampires anyway who can subsist without much sleep and as long as they’re fed plenty of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and e-cigarettes they should be able to catch the 6am start of most games.

2) Currently since networks like to start the really big games at 9pm EST most of the entire audience on the Eastern seaboard is asleep before the game is halfway done. Unless these people are falling asleep with their tv’s on this inactivity has to affect ratings. Also, why would advertisers continue to market their really popular products late at night if they know that a good portion of potential consumers are snoring on the couch?

Clearly the networks and advertisers will agree to move games to an early morning start on the East Coast but what about the athletes, the ultimate creatures of habit? Well since these professional are being paid ludicrous amounts of money to play a game they will eventually do as they’re told. And before player’s unions begin threatening any grievances they better check with their night owl members who will love this new schedule because no night games on the weekends means they’re now free to hit the clubs or read their Bibles much much earlier in the evening.

The big winner in all these changes are going to be fans on the East Coast who will now be able to wake up and watch all of their favorite sporting events in the morning instead of wasting all day waiting for the games to begin. Parenting will improve significantly because no true fan can focus on being a mom or dad when their favorite team is scheduled to play that night. And the counter programming in the morning is much more educational than what’s on in the afternoon so real progressive parents can watch the games in peace knowing that their kids are staring at a screen that may have some minor intellectual value.

Changing this system will be a massive undertaking involving television networks, professional sports leagues, athletes and fans but if enough of us sports addicts on the East Coast stand united, a revolution will follow and it will be televised. In the morning.

A Viewer’s Guide to the 2014 U.S. Open

The USGA has made it clear that there will be zero controversy at Pinehurst No.2 this week regarding the difference between native waste areas and bunkers. For those scoring at home, players are allowed to ground their club and remove loose impediments in waste areas ONLY. Doing so in a bunker costs strokes, just ask Dustin Johnson.

In an effort to make the differentiation simpler, each group at the U.S. Open will be assigned a walking rules official. And if that’s not enough, all bunkers will come equipped with rakes, waste areas will not. So, in other words, it’s anyone best guess and there will certainly be a few minor discrepancies over the next few days.

For all you armchair rules officials watching the U.S. Open from your basement coach, attached is a primer to help you recognize the difference between a waste area and a bunker. Put the USGA on speed dial because you never know when a little extra assistance is required.

Pinehurst Hazards

 

The 2014 U.S. Open: A Final Round Oral History

Retrospectives are all the rage right now, in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an event from the past that has yet to be given the oral treatment. And while it is important to know that Speed just turned 20, (“I’m a cop. L.A.P.D. There’s a bomb on your bus! There is a bomb on your bus!“) we as a society need to start turning our attention forward. Take the upcoming U.S. Open golf championship for example. Through the miracles of space, time and hallucinogenic drugs, we’ve been able to transport ourselves into the future to see what transpired during Sunday’s final round at Pinehurst No.2.

Heading into Sunday’s final round of the 114 U.S. Open, American hero, and suspected insider trader, Phil Mickelson was tied for the lead with the quiet loner (code for rude) Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. One shot back were a group of golfers that included Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald. Before action on Sunday got under way, all people could talk about were the conditions at Pinehurst No. 2.

Ben Crenshaw : When my partner Bill Coore and I took on the challenge of restoring Pinehurst we tried to recapture as much of the charm and intrigue of the original Donald Ross design. An unintended consequence of our loyalty was that it became impossible to distinguish between bunkers and waste areas. Unfortunately this confusion led to a few regrettable situations.

Dustin Johnson: I was disqualified after the 3rd round for the repeated and excessive grounding of my club in a hazard. You would have thought that I learned my lesson after Whistling Straights in 2010 but it’s a testament to the genius of the USGA that even though there was a walking official following each group it took the expertise of some Canadian dude watching at home from his sofa to phone in half my violations.

Wayne Gretzky: As a former world class athlete myself I call it as I see it and if you expect to marry my daughter then you need to be able to hold yourself to the highest ethical and professional standards.

Crenshaw: We are sorry for what Dustin went through and shocked as we thought that each bunker was going to be lined with a rake. In any event, the course played just like we wanted it to: firm, fast an unique. Kind of like some of the links courses you see at the British Open.

Bubba Watson was unavailable for this article but did speak to a waitress at a Waffle House in Pinehurst, NC shortly after missing the cut Friday.

Bubba Watson: I play Bubba Golf that’s all I can do and I wasn’t about to stop bombing my driver off the tee. That’s why fans love me so much. So what if every single one of my tee shots ran off the hard, dry fairways and into the waste areas. Normally I’m a much more inventive player. But that’s not why I lost. I lost because I wasn’t supposed to win. Just wasn’t in the good Lord’s plans.

God: I actually missed Bubba’s first two rounds as I was down in the southern hemisphere tending to several soccer players in Brazil who were seeking guidance during the group stage of the World Cup. What happened anyway? He went with the driver didn’t he? I knew he couldn’t resist temptation. We’ll have to talk about that before the Travelers next week.

Watson: Seriously, why couldn’t they throw a little hydration on those fairways? It’s not like the planet is running out of fresh water or anything.

Crenshaw: Our planet is running out of water which was one of the many reason’s why when we redesigned Pinehurst No. 2 we did so with the environment in mind. We ripped a crap ton of sprinklers out of the ground, cutting our annual water usage down from 55 million gallons a year to slightly under 15. Viewers at home may think that we did a poor job caring for the course on account of all the brown, burnt out grass but what we’ve really did was help save the environment. Go ahead, ask the players. They’ll tell you the course was difficult, fair and environmentally friendly.

Ian Poulter: Pinehurst was fair and difficult but I’ve got a garage in Orlando full of luxury, gas guzzling automobiles so clearly climate change is not tops on my list of priorities.

Sunday’s final pairing of Mickelson, and Dubuisson didn’t tee off until 3:00. By then, a few players, including Rory McIlroy had already made an early afternoon run launching themselves onto the first page of the leader board.

Rory McIlroy: Having played relatively poorly over the first few rounds of the tournament I knew I need to post a low score Sunday which I did. I checked my phone after I finished my final round and was really overjoyed by the amount of positive messages. I even had time to check twitter and Instagram to see what else Caroline and Serena were up to in Miami beach. Hopefully she’s moved on.

Caroline Wozniacki: I’ve moved on.

Dubuisson and Mickelson both played the front 9 2 over par but settled into a nice groove after the turn.

Phil Mickelson:  Ever since I lost to Payne Stewart back in ’99 I’ve always felt like I’ve had a bit of unfinished business at Pinehurst and was therefore happy to be in contention on Sunday.

Victor Dubuisson was unavailable for this article but did give an interview to Le Monde. That interview has been translated into English by a high school sophomore French student from Muskegon Michigan.

Dubuisson: I don’t often play in states but when I do I like to do my best and I believe I did my best but always feel like I’m position to succeed.

As the final group of Mickelson and Dubuisson stepped to 18 tee they remained tied for the lead, one stroked ahead of McIlroy and Matt Kuchar.

Matt Kuchar: Golly what a golf tournament.

Mickelson: When I stepped up to 18 tee and saw the name “Ogilvie” on the leaderboard my mind instantly raced back to Winged Foot. How was I supposed to know it was Joe Ogilvie not Geoff?

Jim “Bones” Mackay: I insisted that Geoff spells his name with a “y” instead of an “ie” but Phil would have none of it.

Mickelson: Even though the Ogilvie thing rattled me a bit I figured that since I was hitting fairways all day I could be a little aggressive off the tee on 18.

Bones: As we approached the tee I thought about hiding Phil’s driver behind the water cooler but decided there was no need because we had strategized how he was going to lay back a bit and avoid trouble on his second shot.

Mickelson went with the driver and ended up running his ball through the fairway and into a waste area. Dubuisson piped a 3-wood that rolled safely along the fairway.

Dubuisson: I play the ball very well all day for a sportsman and on 18 hole I was in imperfect position to win me first majors.

After Dubuisson played his second shot to the front right portion of the green Mickelson prepared to hit his approach from the waste area.

Mickelson: Right before I hit my second shot on 18 I felt a presence looming over me that brought me great calm and joy.

The Spirit of Payne Stewart: I wasn’t there yet as I was putting the finishing touches on that day’s wardrobe. Honestly, it’s a shame that there isn’t a current golfer sponsored by the NFL.

Mickelson hit a miraculous shot from the sand leaving himself less than 15 feet for  birdie and perhaps his first U.S. Open.

McIlroy: After Phil played it in nice and tight to the pin on 18 I figured since I was already one stroke and he was unlikely to three putt from that position that there was no need to keep hanging around the clubhouse. I checked Instagram one more time to make sure Caroline is doing ok and got in my courtesy car and drove away.

Caroline Wozniacki: I’m doing o.k.

Kuchar: Golly what a golf tournament!

As Mickelson and Dubuisson strode confidently to the green the crowd rose in appreciation.

Dubuisson: All day people be nice and polite and even though I France playing in United State Open I made feel happy.

Mickelson: The 18 green at Pinehurst still brings back such vivid memories of ’99 and I knew Payne was there with me on that day too.

The Spirit of Payne Stewart: From my vantage point it looked like Phil was in total control of his game and that there was little extra comfort that I could provide.

Mickelson: Payne really wasn’t much of a help so as I lined up my putt I had Bones text Billy to see if Carl had any tips.

Bones: I never texted Billy Walters. My phone is under FBI surveillance same as Phil’s and it wouldn’t be prudent to draw any extra attention from the Feds especially with a putt to win the U.S. Open. Plus I knew we’d get a good read from Victor.

Dubuisson: All day I play pretty good golf and had a putt to bird 18 but ball through the break and I tap in for level.

Mickelson: When Victor’s birdie putt blew by the hole I felt like I had the speed guaged perfectly. I looked at Bones one final time and asked him if Billy texted me back to which he replied, “Billy says trust your gut like you did when you picked the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl in ’01″.

Bones: I lied. Like I said, I never texted Billy Walters. But I wasn’t about to tell my guy that.

Mickelson: So thanks to some sound advice I trusted my line and rolled the putt perfectly towards the hole.

Dubuisson: I knew it be good as soon as off face of putter.

Bones: Straight in the cup.

Kuchar: Golly what a golf tournament!

Mickelson: Winning my first U.S. Open was a dream come true. And to complete the career grand slam at Pinehurst of all places is incredibly special. I can now consider myself one of the greatest golfers of all time. And Tiger not being here does not take away from this accomplishment.

Tiger Woods was unavailable for this article but was overheard muttering to himself while playing miniature golf with his two kids in Jupiter.

Tiger: Great for Phil but this Hollywood ending bullshit would have never happened if my back were healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Augustalytics: The Masters by the Numbers

Augustalytics: The Masters by the Numbers by Jonathan Lord

Sports was once behind politics and the stock market when it came to statistical analysis but those day are long gone now as simple math is the driving force behind many of the important decisions made by both athletes and front office executives. Professional golfers have always enjoyed playing the numbers. From pacing off yardages to factoring in handicaps, a round of 18 would not be complete without a little remedial calculus. Fans of golf can make analytics work for them too and with the 78th Masters Tournament set to tee off later this week, now’s a good time to take a peak inside the abacus at Augusta National to determine who will wear the green jacket next.

The Fountain of Truth

The average age of the previous 77 Masters champions is 32.66. There are 8 players in this year’s field between the ages of 32-33: Graham DeLaet (32), Nick Watney (32), Brandt Snedeker (33), Brandon de Jonge (33), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (33), Justin Rose (33), Matt Jones (33) and reigning champ Adam Scott (33). Only Rose (’13 U.S. Open) and Scott (’13 Masters) have previously won a major championship while 2014 represents the first trip down Magnolia Lane for both DeLaet and de Jonge.

Around the Block and Back Again

Before leveraging the farm on either DeLaet or de Jonge consider this: only 3 players have won the Masters on their very first attempt: Horton Smith ’34*, Gene Sarazen ’35 and Fuzzy Zoeller ’79. 2014’s roster of 24 neophytes is an accomplished group with the likes of Harris English, Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed. If history has taught us anything it’s that even the most talented golfers require a few laps around Amen Corner before reaching Augusta nirvana.

The average number of starts before a first victory is 6. With names like Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore, Louis Oosthuizen, and Bubba Watson the list of players entering their 6th Masters in 2014 reads like a portfolio of blue chippers. Out of this group only Moore and Mahan have yet to win a major championship.

The player with the most starts at Augusta National without a victory is Ernie Els with 19 followed by Jim Furyk (17) and Lee Westwood (16).

*Horton Smith deserves the asterisk since 1934 was the year of the first Masters.

The World Is Flat But A Golf Ball is Round

Golf is a global game but the list of countries represented by Masters champions is not entirely indicative of the diversity of the sport today. The United States is way out in front with 57 winners. South Africa (5), Spain (4), England (3) and Germany/West Germany (2) are the only other countries with multiple green jackets while Australia, Argentina, Fiji, Canada, Wales and Scotland have one each.

This year’s field of 97 represents 22 different countries from around the world including Thailand (Thongchai Jaidee) and the Netherlands (Joost Luiten). Not surprisingly the U.S. leads the field with 44 entrants. England is a distant second with 7 and Australia rounding out the top three with 7.

Even though Americans comprise close to half of the entire field at the 2014 Masters, 4 of the last 6 champions hail from outside the States including the first ever victories for the continents of South America (Cabrera ’08) and Australia (Scott ’13). A player from Asia has never won the Masters*, which, if the trend continues, could be good news for the 4 Korean players in the field: Sang-Moon Bae, K.J. Choi, Chang-Woo Lee and Y.E. Yang.

*Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion is from Fiji, which is technically part of Oceania.

Caddying For Position

In the 16 years since Tiger Woods won his first of four Masters in 1997 by a historic margin of 12 strokes the average margin of victory is roughly 2 strokes. In that time, only 6 eventual champs have held a lead heading into Sunday with the largest leads belonging to Vijay Singh (’00) and Tiger (’05) who were both 3 shots clear of the field before the final round. In 2011 Charl Schwartzel overcame the largest Sunday deficit when he came back from 4 shots behind 3rd round leader Rory McIlroy who for his part imploded on the back 9 finishing with a final round 80.

Fast starts aren’t necessarily indicative of success as the last wire-to-wire winner at Augusta was Raymond Floyd in ’76*.

*Trevor Immelman had a share of the lead after round 1 in ’08.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Since ’97, 7 of 16 champions (7 of 10 if you don’t count any of the wins by Woods or Phil Mickelson) came from outside the top ten in the world rankings including long shots like Zach Johnson (#56 in OWGR in ’07) and Angel Cabrera (#69 in ’09). Potentially signs of trouble for the current top ten of Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Mickelson, Rose, McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Z. Johnson and D. Johnson.

A Clearing in the Distance

Since the latest round of “Tiger-Proofing” prior to the 2006 tournament when Augusta National was lengthened to 7,435 yards, only 2 champions (Cabrera and Watson) have finished the year in the top ten in total driving distance on the PGA Tour.  That’s bad news this year for Bubba, DJ and DeLaet. Surprisingly, during that same period of time no winner has gone on to finish the season in the top ten in total putting which means it might be better to be ‘bearish’ when it comes to the chances of Graeme McDowell, Matt Every and Russell Henley.

Azalea and Firethorn*

 Most majors are won or lost Sunday on the back 9. When looking at the final round scores of the past 8 champions since ’06, the recipe for this year’s Masters becomes much clearer. Since ’06, the last 8 winners were a combined -13 on the two par 5s on the back 9, #13 and #15. Schwartzel is the only player not to have birdied #13 while just Johnson and Immelman failed to post a red number on #15.

Even more astounding is that over that same period of time, the 12 runners up (including ties for second and playoff losers) were a combined -6 on #13 and #15. If by Sunday afternoon you’ve yet to handicap the leaderboard then look no further then the took back 9 par 5s.

*Which reminds me of a little game I like to play called hole at Augusta National or “Game Of Thrones” character?

Augusta Baby Augusta!

 With Tiger out, Rory McIlroy has been installed as the odds on favorite to win the 2014 Masters at 9-1. But before dialing up the bookie realize that last time the line got it right with the favorite was Woods back in ’06.

And finally, since golf, like every other sport, is about streaks, it’s hard to find an equation that takes into full account the form of a golfer heading into Augusta. Ultimately, the 2014 Masters champ will be determined by who hits the most quality shots/putts and unfortunately, numbers can’t always predict the future. Or can they???