Saturday, February 27, 2010

Whistling Straits

There's only one bad things about heading to Whistling Straits, site of the 2010 PGA Championship, next week. The weather.

Unfortunately, my schedule forced me to visit what's been called "a masterpiece in the world of golf." I checked the weather for Kohler, Wisc., and it's supposed to snow today and tomorrow, so there should be snow on the ground when I arrive Monday.

But that should be the only downside to my visit. With plenty of interviews on tap, including one with tournament director, Barry Deach, I should get a good idea why the PGA chose to bring this year's Championship event to Whistling Straits.

That's not all though. The 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup also will be held at Whistling Straits.

If anyone has anything they'd like to know about this course, let me know.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger talks


I've been holding off all day on this, wondering whether I should even bother. I guess I'll throw my 2 cents into the mix if for no other reason than to say I did.

For the three people on the planet who didn't watch Tiger Woods this morning, he came out of hiding, read a statement to the world, hugged some people and left. If I sound a little cynical, it's probably because I've been reading so many opinions about what Woods said.

And what he didn't say.

And what he should have said or done.

But there are others out there who didn't skewer Woods today. And some who still believe in the "good Tiger."

As for me, at the risk of repeating myself: I DON'T CARE ABOUT HIS PERSONAL LIFE.

I watched the latest in the Woods drama because I was hoping he'd make some kind of announcement regarding his return to golf. He didn't, other than to say he probably would at some future date. That was disappointing.

But most of the other stuff that he said was just filler for me. I will say that I think he had a lot of guts to say the things that he did. Whether they were sincere or not, whether they were from the heart or not, whether it was all a PR ploy or not, just the words coming out of his mouth impressed me.

He manned up and said he was sorry. He apologized several times in numerous ways. He called himself selfish and foolish. He admitted that because of his celebrity status - and I'm paraphrasing - he believed that he didn't have to live by the same rules and moral code as us regular folk.

As far as I can tell, everything he said about what's happened so far was true. He said he brought this on himself; he said he lost sight of his values as a Buddhist; he said he was the one who deserves all the blame.

As far as what he said about the future, that's a little harder to sort out.
"I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year."
Sooner rather than later would make me happy. But I guess Woods isn't going to base his decision on what makes me happy.

But what he said right after the above quote was what I thought the most important part of Woods' statement. And he said it almost in passing.
"When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game."
Does that mean no more cussing and throwing golf clubs? Perhaps that statement was for Tom Watson's benefit, who recently criticized Woods for his past on-course behavior. Regardless, that part impressed me most.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

David Duval - Still good after all these years

I remember David Duval when he was a kid. Well, when I say kid, I mean a force in the world of college golf. Fiery and focused might have described him best, but many thought arrogant and aloof were better descriptors of the young Duval.

In a story by Jim Sumner of theACC.com, legendary Georgia Tech golf coach Puggy Blackmon told a story about Duval's first ACC golf tournament, which was held at Northgreen Country Club in Rocky Mount, N.C.

Duval finished second in the ACC Tournament as a freshman in 1990, one stroke behind Duke’s Jason Widener, while Tech finished fifth in the team competition, eight strokes off the lead. Tech’s Trip Isenhour, approached Duval to congratulate him on his individual play. Duval snapped at Isenhour, “I didn’t win and the team didn’t win and if my teammates had played worth a damn and given me some help, we would have won.”

That fire and drive - plus a bunch of talent - helped Tech win the team conference title for the next three years, and Duval took the individual titles in 1991 and 1993. I was a young reporter for the Rocky Mount Telegram - back then, called the Evening Telegram - when Duval was playing in his final conference tournament. Returning to Northgreen Country Club for that 1993 event, Duval then had future PGA Tour star Stewart Cink on his Tech team.

I wasn't as obsessed with golf back then as I am now. And I guess I didn't appreciate spending time following those two future greats on the course. Looking back now, I remember Duval as a bit standoffish. He signed a few autographs, but he didn't talk a lot to the media or the fans. At least, that's my recollection.

By the time 1999 rolled around, Duval was at the top of the golf world. He was No. 1 in the world golf rankings, and his eagle on No. 18 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was good enough for a 59 for the final round and a one-shot victory. Two years later, he won the Open Championship and was the Masters runner-up.





But then, his well-publicized spiral began. In 2003, he took an extended break from the game. Injuries and a lack of confidence have plagued him as he's made numerous comeback attempts since then.

Now, after second-place finishes in both last summer's U.S. Open and this past weekend's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, his return to form seems closer than it has been in a long while. Stan Awtrey wrote a piece about Duval for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Web site this week, and one his quotes shows a maturity that probably wasn't there in 1990.
“I’m feeling very comfortable and very confident in what I’m doing,” Duval said. “And, you know, in a kind of strange way, it makes me proud. I feel like I kind of have given the folks who have given me starts this year good firepower for why they did it. That makes me feel good, too.”
Duval never was a fan favorite when he was winning all the time, but his struggles during the past decade have made him a little more endearing, in my eyes, at least. I always watched for his name on the leaderboard because of my brush with him at Northgreen so many years ago, although I never really cared whether he won or not back then. But now, I watch for his name because I want him to win.

If he keeps playing like he has been lately, it won't be much longer.

Photo credit: PGA Tour

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tiger who?

Don't tell me golf isn't exciting without Tiger Woods.

This weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, we had plenty of drama that makes for a good final round in a golf tournament.

Two golfers in contention - including the leader - completely wrecked their chances at victory with excruciatingly painful 9s on the par-5 14th hole at Pebble Beach. Paul Goydos held a one-shot lead on eventual champion Dustin Johnson before his debacle that hurt me to watch. I can't even imagine what Goydos felt.

David Duval continues to periodically wow and amaze us. After his well-publicized fall as the world's best golfer a decade or so ago, Duval has turned up near the top of a few leaderboards here and there. For the fans who want to see him succeed, he did so again this weekend by finishing tied for second, one stroke behind Johnson. Duval's birdie putt on No. 17 was the highlight for me.

J.B. Holmes also made a charge at the end with an amazing second shot on No. 16, which he birdied. A near birdie miss on 18 was the only thing that kept the tournament from heading into overtime.

Then, we had the winner - Johnson, whose final round 74 was nothing to write home about. But it included an eagle on 6 and a double on 9. And when he needed a shot, he got it. His chip out of the bunker on 18 to within less than 4 feet from the hole won the tournament for him. He mucks up that chip or misses the short putt, and we're in a playoff.

Now, that's exciting.

Yes, TV ratings go up with Woods in the field. Yes, he makes things more competitive. And yes, I'll be glad when he returns.

But don't tell me golf isn't exciting without him.

Friday, February 12, 2010

K.J. Choi in second


I have a reason to follow K.J. Choi more closely than other golfers. We've actually hugged.

I was fortunate enough to play in the Buick Open Pro-Am this past year thanks to Travel Michigan, and my team was partnered with Choi. Before then, I knew of Choi by name only.

But afterward, I was a fan. I pick him every week on my fantasy golf team, and on Thursday, he came through for me - and himself, of course. At the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he carded a seven-under 65 for a tie for second in the opening round. So far after three holes today, he's even and still tied for second behind Dustin Johnson. Here's what Choi said after his first round at Pebble Beach, which is one of Choi's favorite courses.

I wrote a story for the Rocky Mount Telegram last year about my experience at the Buick Open Pro-Am, and you can find it on my new Web site under the clips header. It was definitely one of the highlights of my golf-writing career.

My pro-am team didn't win, but we all contributed to our score - even me. I had an eagle opportunity on one of the par 5s at Warwick Hills in Michigan (thanks to my handicap, of course.) I missed the putt, but tapped in for birdie, and we used my score on that hole.

That's when I got a hug from Choi. Hope there are plenty more of those to go around for Choi for the rest of the Pebble Beach tournament.

Photo: K.J. Choi tees off during the 2009 Buick Open Pro-Am. Credit: J. Eric Eckard

Monday, February 8, 2010

Interactive golf #CKJR



Twitter, blogs galore, Facebook and just about every social media network on the Internet has been raving about CKJR. And for anyone who hasn't heard, it was the Twitterific battle between one of the world's top female golfers - Christina Kim - and PGA Tour hopeful, John Raser.

John ultimately won the match, chipping in on the 18th for birdie and winning the final hole of the match play impromptu event. Unfortunately, the shot that won the match was undocumented. The two iPhones used for streaming went dead before the final hole. I'm not saying there was a conspiracy because I saw Christina's facial expression in a Tweetpic immediately afterward, posted by John, of course.

But until the final hole, viewers witnessed a match that rivaled some of the best and more well-known golf events - primarily because of the interaction available between the golfers and the fans. I was among the viewers who tuned into the Ustream feed. Here are some highlights from John's Ustream video clips and Christina's Ustream video clips. And although it didn't always work, I sat and waited for it to return so I could see what happened next.

The match was casual, as it had to be considering Christina and John kept passing iPhones back and forth while filming and playing. They also tweeted when the video feed went down. But what made it even more special was that the fan were able to "chat" with the golfers. And Christina and John read many comments aloud, playing off them and each other. The chemistry between the two was pretty awesome, which is special because the two had just met a week or so before Sunday's CKJR matchup.

A chance meeting at the PGA Merchandise Dow in Orlando led to Christina and John setting up what started out as a casual round of golf. But after a little good-natured trash-talking, the two ramped up the event, and it took on an Internet life of its own.

The two eventually settled on a wager: the loser would caddy for the winner at some future tournament. John was in danger of working Christina's bag at an LPGA event in New Jersey, but because of John's come-from-behind win - he was down two holes with four to go - Christina will be caddying for John at a Tar Heel Tour event.

Afterward, Ryan Ballengee conducted a waggleroom.com interview of the hottest two reality golf show stars of the week.

I hope the two continue CKJR. They both said they want to turn it into a quarterly event, complete with a real video crew next time so we can see the entire match. And I hope to make it to the Tar Heel Tour event to see Christina caddying for John.

Photos: Via John Raser and Christina Kim on Twitter

Sunday, February 7, 2010

#CKJR

Apparently, Kyle Busch, a race car driver, didn't think too much of Twitter. But I read Saturday from my friend, Jeff Gluck, a NASCAR beat writer sbnation.com, that Busch now is on Twitter and immediately had 3,000 followers within the first day.

Why should I care about a NASCAR driver's Twitter account? Well, I don't. But I'm illustrating part of why I'm sitting here waiting for a golf match to start. No, it's not the Northern Trust Open or any other big name tournament.

It's called #CKJR, a private match between LPGA golfer Christina Kim and PGA Tour hopeful John Raser. What started out as plans between these two friends on Twitter to meet for a round a golf turned into a Battle Royale complete with a wager that will see the loser caddying for the winner in an upcoming tournament.

The trash-talking was rampant, and it spread to many of the followers who interact with Kim and Raser on Twitter. I even threw in a jabs at Raser - although I spelled his name wrong a couple of times. A mortal sin for a journalist, I know.

Now, a friendly match between two people on a private golf course without TV coverage or a huge gallery typically doesn't attract interest. But considering Kim has almost 7,000 followers on Twitter and Raser has more than 6,000, this match has the makings of a Major.

Yes, I do believe that social networking sites are here to stay. And I can say that because I'm sitting here in front of my computer on a Sunday morning waiting for two random people to tee it up for no other reason than I watched the beginnings of the match unfold on Twitter.