Saturday, June 27, 2009

French connection

I promise to write more later when I have a more accessible Internet connection. Right now, I'm sitting on the sidewalk of Pexiora, France, which apparently right in the heart of Cathar country in the Languedoc region of the country.

I played golf Thursday at the Carcassonne Golf Club, which is a nice course - several blind shots, but wide open fairways and views of the rolling countryside. In the distance, you can see the Pyrenees.

It took me about nine holes to get used to the meters vs. yards dilemma, and I followed up a front nine score of 52 with a back nine score of 42, including a birdie on the closing hole - a short par 3 that has an extreme elevation change. I took a picture after my tee shot from the overhead tee box that shows my ball about 3 feet from the hole. I'll upload it when I get back to London or home.

Still, the locals are friendly, and I was fortunate to play a few holes with a 15-year-old boy who eventually hooked up with his friends and left me to fend for myself over meters. Sporting a set of Callaways, he was pretty good. And although he said he spoke some English, I think the language barrier was apparent when I asked him if there was on toilette (bathroom) on the golf course. He said, yes, on No. 10. We were on No. 10, and I never saw a toilette. Maybe he thought I asked what hole we were on. And maybe that's why I shot better on the back nine. I was desperate to get to the clubhouse to find that toilette.

After that, I wanted to extend my appreciation to the people in the pro shop, so I approached the counter, with French dictionary in hand.

"Tres bon le terrain de golf."

I got several mercis and smiles, so I assume I got it right - very good golf course. And it is.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The universal language

Some people say love is the universal language. I say it's golf.

I'm on my way from the tube station to the Northwick Park Golf Course - about a 10 minute walk - when a man starts yelling at me from across the street. He's at a bus stop outside the local hospital. I'm lugging a duffel full of golf shirts, a laptop backpack and my golf clubs. Struggling, actually. I think that's why he noticed me.

"Are you coming or going?" he yelled again.

I assumed he meant to the golf course, and I said, "Going."

So, he walks across the street, extends a big paw and said, "I'm Wolf - like the Big Bad Wolf."

"Eric," I replied, glad for a break from dragging my gear.

Wolf talked and talked and talked. His son lives in Denver, but Wolf and his wife can't move to the States because he has cancer, and she has Alzheimer's. And according to Wolf - and millions of other people - the health care system in the U.S. sucks.

But it was what he said about golf that really hit home. When he played regularly, he was a 3 handicap. He's been playing since 1969, and he had one piece of advice for me.

You drive for show and putt for dough.

This is the mantra that I've heard since I started playing. Who knows when and where that started, but it's ingrained in golfers around the world, I guess. I know that Wolf is trying to spread the word - as am I.

I tried to get Wolf to accompany me to Northwick, but he declined. I think the hospital scrubs or gown that he was wearing meant that he'd just been released from some cancer treatment. I wish him well.

Wolf is a great ambassador for the U.K., and he's a great ambassador for golf. He saw some guy with a set of clubs, and he wanted to make sure I knew what you drove for and what you putted for.

First round in London

Well, I just landed in London, and I'm trying to figure out the Tube thing. Apparently, it's pretty easy. I guess I'll find out once I get onboard. The plan is to head over to Northwick Park for a nine-hole round this afternoon. Northwick Park is the tribute course, with some Ryder Cup course holes and two holes from Augusta.

I've been on the road since 6 a.m. Monday, and it's now 9 a.m. Tuesday (London time). That's 4 a.m. back home. I slept a couple hours the night before I left and a hour or so on the planes. Fortunately, I had a five-hour layover in D.C., and I was able to watch Lucas Glover capture the U.S. Open trophy at Bethpage Black. Nicely done.

I really thought Phil Mickelson had a chance when he eagled the 13th. And I thought maybe David Duval had a shot when he birdied three straight starting on No. 14. But both of them bogeyed No. 17, and Glover held them off for the win.

I'm not sure about Internet access for the rest of the day. But I'm going to try to give you an update after my Northwick Park round. Plus, I want to upload this week's golf tip from Bryan Bush. He'll be talking about fairway woods - or fairway metals as they're called today.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quick notes

OK, what have we learned after the first/second round of the U.S. Open? Well, I learned that Tiger Woods is human; Mike Weir can play small ball to a course record 64; David Duval still has a little life in him; and Phil Mickelson remains my sentimental favorite.

I know ESPN and NBC mainly showed the best shots today, but some of those players were flagging shot after shot. I thought Bethpage Black was supposed to be a monster. The signs on the course say so. "The black course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers."

To be sure, the field playing in the U.S. Open is a group of highly skilled golfers. But considering the last time the Open was played there, widespread under par scoring is unusual. Right now, 16 players are at least one under, with Lucas Glover leading the way at 6 under.

Having said all that, it's good to remember that the tournament isn't even half over. Some players hadn't even finished their second rounds when the horns sounded for darkness. We all know about comebacks and rallies.

Look at last year's U.S. Open when Rocco Mediate was in the clubhouse with the lead. Woods needed a birdie to tie, and that's what he did. Then we all remember how Woods and Mediate duked it out for 19 more holes, until Tiger won.

Well, the names might be different this year, but early indications say that we might have another dramatic finish.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Odds and ends

I leave for Europe on Monday, and I have tee times at six courses while in London and the South of France.

Tuesday - Northwick Park, London, a 9-hole tribute course, including holes No. 12 and 16 at Augusta.
Sunday - Golf Club de Carcassonne, also known as Carcassonne Golf Club for those of us who don't speak French. The course apparently has some spectacular views of the Pyrénées.
Monday - Seilh Golf Club's Red Course, near Toulouse, is said to be one of the most beautiful in France.
Tuesday - Old Thorns Golf Club was christened in 1982 with a four-ball match between Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Isao Aoki and the then reigning British Open Champion, Bill Rogers.
Tuesday - Hindhead Golf Club in Surrey was founded in 1904 by a group of enthusiasts that included Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, the first president.
Wednesday - Burhill Golf Club in Surrey has the Old Course, which opened in 1907.


Romero to play in U.S. Open

Eduardo Romero is expected to tee off at at 8:17 a.m. Thursday at the 2009 U.S. Open, which is being played at Bethpage State Park in New York. Why is this of interest?

Well, Romero won the 2008 SAS Championship, a Champions Tour event held annually in Raleigh. And Wednesday, SAS Championship announced that Romero would be defending his title in September.

I covered the SAS tournament at Prestonwood Country Club for The Associated Press, and I had a chance to meet Romero, as well as a few other Champions Tour players: Tom Kite, Fred Funk, Bernhard Langer, Jay Haas, Bruce Fleisher. I followed Romero on the final day of the tournament as he carded seven birdies en route to a three-shot victory over Kite.

Despite the flu, he was consistently longer off the tee than the rest of the field on the last day. And he putted extremely well. After the tournament, he credited yoga for helping him concentrate better once on the greens.

Since then, he's won once - the Toshiba Classic in March.

Second annual PBS golf tournament in Nashville

Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools will host the second annual PBS golf tournament on June 29 at Birchwood Country Club in Nashville. Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is a statewide initiative adopted in all 29 Nash-Rocky Mount schools.

Last year, the tournament drew 28 teams and 44 sponsors.

For more information, call Rhonda Reid at 252-462-2850.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

U.S. Open

Thursday marks the opening round of the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in New York, arguably one of the most demanding golf courses in the country. It hosted the Open in 2002, making it the first municipal golf course to host an Open.

The last time this Long Island muni was the site for one of golf's four majors, Tiger Woods beat Phil Mickelson by three strokes. Woods was the only player to post a below-par tournament score.

This weekend, Woods and Mickelson, ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively, again will be in the spotlight at the Open.

Woods, the defending champion, will be trying to become the first golfer to win back-to-back U.S. Opens in 20 years. Curtis Strange did it in 1988 and 1989. Before that, you have to go back to the 1950s when Ben Hogan won two straight.

Woods won last year in dramatic fashion - on a bum knee, gutting out a 19-hole playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines. One year and knee surgery later, Woods, coming off an incredible Memorial Tournament win, is poised to take home another U.S. Open trophy.

But Mickelson is my sentimental favorite. His wife, Amy, was diagnosed with cancer, and Mickelson took some time off the Tour to be with her. After doctors assured the Mickelsons that the cancer was caught early enough, Lefty returned to play.

It will be hard to top last year's dramatics, and there are plenty of contenders. Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Steve Stricker and Brian Gay all are ahead of Woods in the FedExCup race. Of course, Woods has played in about half the events than those ahead of him.

Tip of the week - the tee shot

This is the first in a series of golf tips from teaching professional Bryan Bush from Charlotte. He has taught me everything I know about golf. He'll tell you that himself - unless of course, I hit a bad shot. I must have picked that up from somewhere else.