It's U.S. Open Week! That's right kiddies, even though there's still some icing to be put on the cake that was the St. Jude Classic, I can't help but look ahead to our national tournament. In the first day of what I'm sure will be a week-long celebration of Pebble Beach, Bill Pennington of the New York Times caught up with Laird Small, Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, to get his unique take on the course. Here are some highlights:
– “I know it’s the U.S. Open and the greens will be fast, but no good player should be missing putts by more than a few inches,” said Small, who was the 2003 P.G.A. teacher of the year. “And if someone is, I wouldn’t expect him to be on the leader board for long. The greens are very flat and the breaks are not deceptive. They are small greens and that’s a challenge, but if you’re watching a player miss putts by more than a little, he’s really off.”
– “If someone has to hit a lob shot, then he’s made a big mistake,” Small said. “All but two of the greens are open in front. Players should be bouncing the ball to the flagstick. Lob wedge means they made the wrong play or wrong swing, and more strokes might be piling up quickly.”
– “A shot that’s pin high is not a good shot,” Small said. “Most of the greens are sloped back to front, so the putts that do have some break are the ones approached from the side of the hole. It’s true at a lot of golf courses and certainly at Pebble Beach, you must keep the ball below the hole.”
While Small's local knowledge is cool (and I'd have to assume dead on), I get the feeling that only two things are going to determine how low the winner's final score is this weekend: 1) The weather, which can go from picture perfect to treacherous faster than Kevin Stadler can demolish a double-double with fries at In-N-Out Burger, and 2) Which Tiger Woods decides to show up. Speaking of Which… Tiger hasn't exactly been burning up the leaderboard since returning to tournament golf, but he's still considered one of the favorites at Pebble Beach (according to my unscientific sampling of talking heads and my extremely scientific sampling of bookies). Is that because of Tiger's great history at Pebble, or is it something more? Mike Celizic at NBCSports.com examines why we'll never consider Tiger Woods a "struggling golfer" no matter how terrible he's playing.
If Tiger Woods were an ordinary top golfer, by which I mean someone who’s won a couple majors and has been in the Top 10 for a long time, people would be starting to forget about him already.
He’d be a Padraig Harrington or an Ernie Els, with a core of dedicated fans, but no huge following of people who are going to check the leaderboard every morning to see where he is in a tournament.
But that will never happen to Woods. Even if the way he’s played since he came back from marital meltdown is the baseline for how he’s going to play for the rest of his career, we’ll never stop obsessing about him until he puts his clubs away for good.
…Being a fan is a quasi-religious experience. You don’t simply become a non-believer just because the object of your adoration is no longer believable. You deny the obvious and keep right on thinking that nothing has changed that can’t change with the next shot, the next hole, the next round, the next tournament.
So it’s going to take a lot for Tiger’s fans to abandon ship. It’s not as simple as saying, “He’s no longer a great golfer, I’ll go watch somebody else.” There’s no on-off switch to fandom.
Celizic is certainly right about one thing: Tiger plays by different rules when it comes to both his fans and his detractors. If there's one argument that Celizic doesn't make strongly enough though, it's that Tiger earned his fan base with a kind of shot-making that had never been seen before. The quasi-religion that is described about fandom doesn't come from imagination: it comes form watching Woods actually perform his "miraculous" feats on the golf course. The reason Tiger will never be a "struggling golfer" in the minds of his fans is that, until he completely falls apart or another freak of golf ability comes along, Woods is literally irreplaceable in terms of physical talent. The Other Pitch If Pebble is the story of the upcoming week, the World Cup was clearly the sports story of the weekend. Unfortunately for the English squad, who had to settle for a disappointing tie with the U.S., a leisurely 18 might have been their best memory from the past few days. Martin Evans of The Telegraph talks about English goalie Rob Green's attempt to take a load off.
Just hours after his embarrassing slip up against the USA he joined the rest of the squad for 18 holes at the luxury course in the Sun City resort close to their Rustenburg base.
Green, 30, whose gaffe allowed the USA to earn a 1–1 draw against England in the opening World Cup clash, partnered fellow goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Also on the course were strikers Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch, who seemed to have forgiven their England team-mate as they laughed and joked with him during their round.
Some of the squad were forced to relieve themselves in bushes half way round the luxury course in the heart of the five star resort but it is believed they made sure no members of the public were around when they did so.
After the game the players enjoyed a drink at the clubhouse before returning to their base and training camp at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus around 25 miles away.
If you needed any more proof that golf is the ultimate game of relaxation, that should do it. Sure, world leaders, business titans and accomplished neurosurgeons have all been known to take their stress out on the links, but if you can manage to draw the ire of an entire nation of bloodthirsty soccer fanatics and still yuck it up on the course for a few hours, you've really got your priorities in order. I'm actually a little surprised that, even with the day off, their coach allowed the English squad to play golf. I know it's not as dangerous as running up and down a field at full speed, but injuries do happen.