Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interview with Josh Karp - Author of "Straight Down the Middle"

I reviewed "Straight Down the Middle" a few weeks ago. Subsequent to reading the book I've had the pleasure of exchanging several emails with the author Josh Karp. You might enjoy getting to know him as I have, so I edited some of our conversations into an interview. FIRSTLY, ON A NON-GOLF TOPIC, HOW DO YOU GET TO BE A SOX FAN LIVING IN THE NORTHERN SUBURBS OF CHICAGO? I am surrounded by Cubs fans. I like them individually (some of my best friends) but despise them collectively. My grandfather was a Cubs fan who absolutely and completely hated the Sox because he was a fan of theirs back in 1919 when they threw the world series. That was it for him. He wouldn't even watch the AL unless it was the all-star game or the series. I probably became a Sox fan just to drive him nuts. IT'S BEEN ABOUT TWO YEARS SINCE YOU WROTE "STRAIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE". HOW HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN PROGRESSING SINCE THIS TIME? DID YOU BREAK 80 YET? No, not yet. I only played about 10 times last summer because after 2 years of being paid to play golf part-time the party was over and i had a hard time justifying getting out on the course. That said, I’ve had a few 80s the last two summers. I'm trying to play about once a week this year and i'm finding that even without playing as much as i would like, my game has improved in just about every way except for breaking 80. I've managed to sail past the point of implosion when i open 6 over after 3. when i get in the zone or get hot, i don't think about it in a way that will destroy the feeling, and most of all - even though i want to shoot the lowest score - I've detached from results pretty effectively. HOW HAVE YOU CONTINUED TO APPLY THE LESSONS YOU TALK ABOUT IN THE BOOK? Well, the three biggest things I take away from what I learned are this: 1) Don't keep score. I still do, but not with the avidity (if that's a word) that I once did. I can play hole to hole without thinking about what I'll have for nine or 18 and if I am counting things up it doesn't create pressure in the way it once did. 2) Loosen your grip. This is kind of related to #1 and also has improved my game immeasurably. I hit the ball so much better and even when I'm falling apart I remind myself to loosen my grip and it seems to help. and 3) Maybe most importantly, I try to go out and have good swings and enjoy swinging the club, kind of letting fortune take over. Last week was a good example. I was playing in a charity tournament with my dad, my uncle and a friend of my uncle's. It was a shotgun and i opened 6 over for what would be holes 7-9 on the back. After this I calmed down and started playing really well. I was maybe one over after 6 or 7 and hit a really nice drive and 2nd shot on a par 5. I was 130 away and grabbed my 8-iron, my 125-140 club and hit a great shot, felt perfect, was flying directly at the stick, etc. Even though the ball sailed 10 feet past and rolled off of the back of the green I was still happy with how well I hit the ball and how good it felt. This positive experience kind of negated any disappointment at not putting for birdie. IN THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK YOU DISCUSSED HOW YOUR SEARCH WAS RELATED TO IMPROVING YOUR GOLF AND YOUR LIFE, BUT IT SEEMS THAT TOWARDS THE END OF THE BOOK IT WAS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT GOLF. WAS THIS A CONSCIOUS DECISION? I think I kind of got tired of writing about my anxieties and they began to genuinely subside as the journey went on. I had that moment flying out of Scotland where I felt completely free of everything. It didn't last, at least not in that pure of a state, but that was a huge turning point for me. I tried to tie it up in the conclusion by acknowledging that I probably wasn't going to morph into Bing Crosby, but that I was going to continue to meditate and to keep slogging away at both golf and enlightenment. I FOUND IT FUNNY HOW YOU WOULD TRAVEL TO VISIT ALL THESE DEEP THINKERS AND SPIRITUAL FOLKS TO GET THEIR ASSISTANCE WITH THE MENTAL ASPECTS OF YOUR GOLF GAME, AND THE FIRST THING THEY DID WAS TO TAKE YOU OUT TO THE DRIVING RANGE. WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THIS AT THE TIME? That was pretty much the deal. It was one of the things that i thought was hilarious about the entire idea and genre of books, and something I really wanted to explore, this idea that golf and life are somehow linked. Since I'm a journalist I'm pretty much a born cynic, which is usually just an idealist with a bad case of disillusionment. I was fairly dubious about all of it while also kind of believing it and having experienced it in bits and snatches during the course of my having played the game. In the end I think that golf is about as close to spirituality as I will find. I'm unlikely to meditate on the range again, unless I'm with a Shivas Irons outing, but I surprised myself with how I was able to buy into it. AS I READ SEVERAL SECTIONS OF THE BOOK I FOUND MYSELF CONSIDERING A PARADOX: DID YOU HIT GOOD GOLFSHOTS BECAUSE YOU WERE IN A "HAPPY PLACE", OR DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE IN A "HAPPY PLACE" BECAUSE YOU JUST STRIPED A SIX-IRON. HOW DID YOU HANDLE THIS CONUNDRUM? I think it may be both. I was much more likely to stripe a six-iron if I wasn't thinking about my swing or worrying about where the ball would go, while striping the same six iron at a bad moment would definitely improve my mood. The difference was that in the past it would have made me happy and I'd have immediately started worrying about my putt. I learned to take in and appreciate each shot for what it was. The two are pretty well connected to each other and hard for me to separate. IT SEEMED YOU WERE THE HAPPIEST ON THE COURSE WHEN YOU CHOSE TO NO LONGER CARE HOW WELL YOU PLAYED, YET AT THE SAME TIME YOU HAD A VERY SPECIFIC GOAL IN MIND AS FAR AS YOUR GOLF PERFORMANCE. HOW DID YOU RECONCILE THESE TWO DIRECTIONS OF EMPHASIS? There is an amazing correlation between the amount I care about my score and the score I actually shoot. This year I've had some weird schizophrenic rounds of 50-38, 39-48, 40-49, etc. The difference between the nines corresponds to the amount I am thinking about my score or how hard I am trying. When I finally give that stuff up things get much, much better without my having to do anything but swing a club and forget about the rest. But, there is a lot of paradoxical stuff in the book and within the genre. I think that's what attracted me to it. How can one get what they care about by not caring about it? Sounds insane, but is absolutely the truth. The more you do and the less you try, the more good happens. SOME ASCRIBE TO THE "THINK ABOUT NOTHING" THEORY, WHILE OTHERS ADVOCATE WE SHOULD HOLD ON TO SOME FORM OF A SWING THOUGHT AS WE GO ABOUT HITTING A SHOT. WHAT'S YOUR OPINION? I ascribe to the idea that I should focus on nothing. If i do focus on something, it is generally a feel. I want the swing to feel good. It needs to be a thought that is vague enough so that I can't obsess about it. I've never done well with guided imagery and visualization. I'm much, much better off working on something that's difficult to quantify.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Product Review - Kentwool Socks

If there's technology in socks then clearly there's going to be technology in everything related to golf. Kentwool was founded with the intent to "create the world’s best golf sock. The innovative result is a one-of-a-kind performance product that delivers an unexpected edge for serious golfers." Kentwool socks are worn by Bubba Watson and Jonathan Byrd on the PGA Tour and Jenny Gleason and Kristy McPherson on the LPGA Tour, among other professional golfers. THE TECHNOLOGY Kentwool's socks are made of high grade "superfine" wool, which they spin themselves and combine with both natural and synthetic materials to get the properties they seek. The Socks I tested were very low, which I like, and they also make a regular crew height model as well. They have extra padding in the heel and toes for increased comfort. THE VERDICT: BIRDIE I did two tests with my socks, and I ran them through the wash a handful of times inbetween (in order to avoid the naturally good feeling of any new sock compared to what's in my golf drawer). When I opened my package my first thought was that there was no way these socks (their XL size) would fit my size 14 loaves, but I was wrong. The fabric is very flexible, and the socks fit snugly on my feet. The first time I wore them I played 18 in near-100 degree temperatures. In my second test I wore them for several hours at the range, again in very warm temperatures. Although the Kentwool socks feel thick on your foot they're very cool to wear, every bit so as any other sock I've worn. The padding make the sock feel very comfortable, and it helps to secure the shoe on your foot as well. It feels like your foot is molded into the shoe. After several washes my socks looked a little fuzzy, but their soft feel and flexibility were retained.

The Hack Shack - The Open

This week I and my fellow Hack-Shackers discuss Goydos' 59, golf at St. Andrews, who we like at the British Open this week, and how our own game is going. PAUL GOYDOS SHOOTS A 59, AND STRICK WINS THE JOHN DEERE AT A RIDICULOUS 26 STROKES BELOW PAR. HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS? STEFAN: I love "Sunshine", but he gets a slight asterisk next to his score. Par is 71 on this course, and they were playing "clean and place". This essentially means every iron shot is teed up as long as it's in the fairway, and we all know Goydos hits a lot of fairways. The other three 59s were on par 72 courses. Strick can shoot darts with the best of them. JEFF: How can you not like "Sunshine" Goydos? The guy is a quote a minute. I do think this is pretty significant, despite that it was on a par 71 course. These guys play PLENTY of par 71 courses throughout the year, and still this is only the 4th time it's ever been done in history. How can you not say that's significant? STEFAN: Oh, it's definitely significant, and nobody's a bigger Goydos fan than me. Earlier in the week I was keeping my fingers crossed for a Goydos/Mediate pairing on Sunday. They would have HAD to put a mic on those guys. JACK: Whichever way you look at it, a 59 on the PGA Tour is a 59. Incredible stuff, even though Paul Goydos was the last guy I had down to achieve such a feat. Imagine if Stricks could have gone one better on the Thursday and matched Goydos: a pair of 59s on the same day! Now that would have been significant. TONY: That round shows you how good any regular middle tier tour player could be on any given day. They're so beyond low handicap amateurs it is sick. How funny is it that Stricker shoots a 60 in the first round and was in 2nd place? The scores last week were very Bob Hope Desert Classic like. I don't mind a tourney or two a year where they go super low like this. Perhaps that balances out the high scoring of the US OPEN. Any company who provides gear for Goydos has been quick to jump on the bandwagon, from ball manufacturers to club manufacturers. I think I even saw a press release from Goydos’ toothpaste manufacturer. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, EMOTIONS ABOUT ST. ANDREWS? TONY: The home of golf. The whole town is all about golf. I can't wait to go. Planning on going next July. My best friend has played the old course and walked the grounds at Augusta National. He tells me the feeling he gets at the old course is far beyond what he felt at the Masters. As big a Masters fan as I am, I found that hard to believe but I'll wait until I stand on the 1st tee at the Old Course before I judge what he said. I love the old course and the links style golf. I play very well on links courses and I love the creativity and shots that can be played, especially ones which run and follow the contours and rolling hills. STEFAN: I've never been there, and maybe I'm building it up too much in my mind, but for me it's the Mecca of golf in every sense of the word. It's like a portal through which all other golf experiences get funneled. Growing up in Sweden we were big Seve fans, and his win there in '84 put it on the map for us. Then you add Bobby and Jack before that and Tiger a couple of times after that, and you can't beat it. I'd love to see the Ryder Cup played there one day, maybe for the Centenary in 2027. JEFF: Overall I'm not a "huge" fan of links style golf, but have to respect these players that go and can completely change their game to accommodate the course and conditions like that. St. Andrews IS the Mecca of golf and I'd give my right arm to play there some day. It's created so many historic moments over the years and I love that The Open goes back there so often. I love watching the guys tee it up on the road hole. JACK: First things first, I think St Andrews is slightly overrated as a course. Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic, but Turnberry and Royal Birkdale stand out as two better Open Championship venues I've had the privilege of playing... not wanting to brag or anything. As an Open Championship venue, however, you can't beat St Andrews. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that it's the best major venue by quite some way. The atmosphere, surroundings, fans, architecture, EVERYTHING: the place is just so special. Close your eyes at the last hole and you can almost envisage yourself on the fairways with the game's greats - the sense of history is palpable and somewhat overwhelming. TIME TO MAKE YOUR PICKS. I SAY WE PICK ONE PLAYER FROM THE TOP 10, ONE PLAYER FROM 11-20, ONE PLAYER FROM 21-30, AND ONE PLAYER RANKED ABOVE 30 IN THE WORLD ACCORDING TO OWGR ( IF YOU'RE NOT PICKING TIGER OR PHIL, LET US KNOW WHY NOT. (EDITOR’S NOTE: THOUGH THIS CONVERSATION WAS POSTED AFTER THE START OF THE TOURNAMENT, THE PICKS WERE MADE ON WEDNESDAY) STEFAN: I'm basing my picks in part on the fact that with the exception of Nick Faldo the recent six winners at St. Andrews have been some of the longest hitters in the game (Jack, Seve, JD, Tiger). - LEE WESTWOOD (barely edging Rory and Tiger). Beware of an injured golfer. This tournament will be a stern test to his psyche, after his performance at the US Open. He's won here before on the Euro tour. - JUSTIN ROSE (just ahead of Paddy). I know it's supposed to be some sort of weird taboo to win the tournament before a major, but the way he has been playing he has to have loads of confidence at this time. - DUSTIN JOHNSON. You know how when you hit a bad shot with a certain club on a hole you're bound to get that very same shot on the next hole? Well, for Dustin it's another Major, and obviously a test of his psyche as well. - ANGEL CABRERA. He has the power and the experience to do well here. It's about time for him to come out of nowhere to win a major again. I think Tiger will get another Top 10 here, but I think Phil will struggle. He's just so in love with his own game. The power of his drives, and the freaky flop shots he throws up there. I think he's blinded to the kinds of shots he's going to have to hit in order to do well at St. Andrews. JACK: Top 10: Tiger Woods, who else? Yeah yeah, he's streaky, but he's got to win sometime soon. This is his favourite track, and it shows in the fact that he's hoisted the Claret Jug here on the past two occasions. He'll make it three in a row if you ask me.11 - 20: I'm with Stef on this one... Justin Rose. Made a name for himself at this tournament back in '98 at Royal Birkdale and, based on current form, there's no reason why he can't go a few better and win the thing.21 - 30: Sean O'Hair, anyone? Love Sean's game and after a decent finish at St Andrews in 2005, I think he'll be turning a few heads come Sunday afternoon. You heard it here first.Outside 30 - Ross Fisher. Sure, this guy's dull as dishwater, but he can't half play golf. Let's forget the fact that Fisher made a hash of thing at Turnberry last year, because he's got the length and patience to contend again this week. JEFF: From Top 10 in OWGR - Lee Westwood He's primed and ready for his long-awaited first Major. After the Masters I said that I didn't think his first would be Pebble, but that St. Andrews would be. So I'll stick with that. He's a Major Championship shark, and he's playing the best golf of his career. I think he's the guy to beat this week. 11-20 in OWGR - Justin Rose - The OTHER Brit who is absolutely on fire right now. Rose is finally starting to live up to all of that potential and I would not be surprised at all to see him win this week. He'll certainly have the crowds behind him. 21-30 in OWGR - Geoff Ogilvy - Ogilvy hasn't been playing the best of golf this year, but to choose from this small select group of 21-30 in OWGR, I like his chances seeing his T5 finish in 2005 at St. Andrews. Outside of Top 30 - Sergio Garcia - I know this can be somewhat laughable, but since 2001 he's finished in Top 10 SIX times at The Open. I just like him as an outside reach/sleeper pick. I didn't go with Tiger or Phil for pretty obvious reasons. Tiger, as we've seen has had some issues with the putter, and you just don't know what you're going to get with him lately. Phil, doesn't exactly have a great track record at the British either, as much as I'd love to see him win. TONY: 1-10: Lee Westwood (arguably playing the best golf of anyone on this planet right now and will have great support from the galleries)11-20: Padraig Harrington (total stud, knows how to win Opens)21-30: Sean O'Hair (like the kid)30+: Angel Cabrera (love his attitude and he's mega long) WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU'RE WORKING ON WITH YOUR OWN GAME RIGHT NOW, AND HOW IS IT WORKING OUT SO FAR? STEFAN: I've come to the realization that I need to spend some time in the practice bunker, so I started that last night. It was ugly. My regular muni doesn't have a lot of sand on it, which is nice for two reasons: 1) It doesn't have a lot of sand on it, and 2) I can wear my golf sandals to play there. When I go to a course with more bunkering (like Bali Hai last month) I tend to struggle. In addition to the difficulty of the shot there is also a lot of variation from sand to sand. My focus is on taking a consistent amount of sand with a shallow swing. I realized last night that bunker practice takes a lot more out of you than almost anything else you do on the range. My plan was to hit a small bucket after about 45 minutes of bunker practice, and I barely made it through the bucket because I was worn out. JEFF: I have played golf for over 23 years and despite playing on high school and college teams with coaches who would give "tips", never had a formal/official lesson. But still got down to a 4 handicap at one point. About 2 months ago, I decided to finally take a lesson with a pro. I know there were some things in my swing that needed to be worked on. He identified 2 off the get-go. I take the club back too far, and I'm lazy with my hip turn. The club going back too far is something that is difficult (at least for me) to correct. It's so mental to tell yourself to stop, when for 20 years you've been used to that backswing. I've been hitting the range a lot and working on it. I see much cleaner and pure contact with that shortened backswing (as well as consciously firing my hips through), but my tendency now is to pull the ball a bit, and sometimes hit it fat. It's all a timing thing I think at this point, and just hitting the range on a regular basis I'll hopefully get it down to where I can build that "repeatable" swing for better ball striking. Keep'em in the short stuff. ______________________________________________ The Hack Shack is a group of golf fans and golf bloggers who like to comment on the current events in the world of golf. You can get to know us better in our introduction On the electronic internets we can be located as follows: Tony’s blog is also runs twitter account is Jack’s blog is twitter account is Jeff’s blog is twitter account is Stefan’s blog is his twitter account is

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A British Open Martini - The "Seve-tini"

You would think a Martini based on the British Open would have Gin in it, and I can see your point. But I think that what we'd drink at Royal Liverpool and what we'd drink at St. Andrew's are two completely different things. Gin is the official drink of the British Empire. Gin is wonderful. On a hot day, a Gin 'n' Tonic or a Gin Pixie (Gin and Sprite) is a perfectly wonderful beverage. But it's not Scotland. Everybody knows about Scotch, but this concoction intends to introduce you to a quite marvelous Scotch-based liquor called Drambuie. It's thick and sweet and syrupy, and absolutely awesome on a cold day. The most popular cocktail using it is a Rusty Nail, which is half Drambuie and half Scotch. I was all geared up to celebrate Seve's return to St. Andrews this year. The Golf Digest feature last month brought tears to my eyes. Growing up in Sweden, we claimed Seve as our very own world-beater, and the stories of his shots and accomplishments were nothing short of legendary in every sense of the word. He was "El Hombre" before Tiger got out of diapers. Then sadly, his health has prevented him from attending this year's celebratory event. Knowing what I know about Seve the man, that tells me he's close to death, because there are very few things that could have prevented him from going north this week. So, here's a tribute to Seve the best way I know how: A Martini. Like Seve's game it's strong and surprising and sweet and unpredictable, all the while combining the flavors of Scotland and Spain.
1 oz Drambuie
1 oz Cuantreau
2 oz Belvidere Vodka
Combine ingredients over lots of ice in a shaker.
Shake heartily.
Wait a minute.
Shake heartily again.
Wait 30 seconds.
Pour into your favorite Martini glass.
Decorate with a slice of orange, and golf accutriments.
"Viva Seve !!!"

British Open Picks

Going forward I'm going to use the following criteria to pick who I think will do well in golf tournaments: I will pick one player in the top 10 of OWGR (, one player in the next 10, one in the third 10, and one player ranked above 30. I'm basing my picks in part on the fact that with the exception of Nick Faldo the recent six winners at St. Andrews have been some of the longest hitters in the game (Jack, Seve, JD, Tiger).
LEE WESTWOOD (barely edging Rory and Tiger). Beware of an injured golfer. This tournament will be a stern test to his psyche, after his performance at the US Open. He's won here before on the Euro tour.
JUSTIN ROSE (just ahead of Paddy). I know it's supposed to be some sort of weird taboo to win the tournament before a major, but the way he has been playing he has to have loads of confidence at this time.
DUSTIN JOHNSON. You know how when you hit a bad shot with a certain club on a hole you're bound to get that very same shot on the next hole? Well, for Dustin it's another Major, and obviously a test of his psyche as well.
ANGEL CABRERA. He has the power and the experience to do well here. It's about time for him to come out of nowhere to win a major again.
I think Tiger will get another Top 10 here, but I think Phil will struggle. He's just so in love with his own game. The power of his drives, and the freaky flop shots he throws up there. I think he's blinded to the kinds of shots he's going to have to hit in order to do well at St. Andrews.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Review - "Straight Down the Middle" by Josh Karp

If it's true what I've heard that Jerry Garcia actually carried a 12 handicap at Olympic in the 70s then "What a long and winding road it's been" may well have been written about a struggling golfer's journey similar to the one Josh Karp took in writing this book. He's all over the place. He visits Zen Masters and martial artists, authors, physicists, and philosophers, and his travels take him to Scotland and Wisconsin and points inbetween. Going on the supposition that what works in golf also works in life, he tries to improve his handicap in both fields.
Josh Karp is a native and resident of Glencoe, Illinois, in the high-faluting northern suburbs of Chicago. After college he stumbled around in marketing, law, and baked goods before getting a journalism degree from Northwestern. In his own words. he "found something that he was not bad at". His written pieces have appeared in Salon, Premier, and the LA Times, and he's the author of "A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comdey Forever". He currently teaches journalism to other students who presumably are not bad at it either.
Josh first played golf in sixth grade and hacked his way around golf teams in high school and college. He wasn't very good, but then neither were his teams. As an adult he found himself carrying an 18 handicap and a more than healthy dose of curiosity and open-mindedness about methods which may help his golf game.
Inspired by books like "Golf in the Kingdom" and "Zen Golf" he sets out to further explore the links between Zen Buddhism and meditation to success on the golf course and in life.
He explores the "effortless swing" of Yoni Zaluski, and Steve Yellin tries to help him get "in the zone". He spends time with Doctor Joe Parent, and an assortment of other thinkers of varying magnitude. He visits Buddhists in Scotland, and the Shivas Irons society's outing in Wisconsin.
By the end of his travels and travails his handicap is down to 11, and he's gotten very close to one of his goals, to break 80.
Josh's writing is very casual and personal. At times it's painfully intimate, and at other times it's uproaringly funny. Deep philosophical concepts are described in very matter-of-fact terminology, and he doesn't let the fact that he writes about spirituality keep him from dropping the occasional F-bomb.
"This is psychic power, mind over matter. It's high-level shit. When you hole out a chip, sink a long putt, or paint a picture that flows directly from your mind to the canvas - that's the creative unconscious. For guys like you and me - it's pretty much magic. For Tiger, it's normal."
His journey is inspiring in it's honesty and candidness, and his descriptions of his adventures are colorful and moving:
"His shots make almost no noise. They say that Sam Snead's irons sounded like the door of a Rolls-Royce being slammed. Mine are loud as well, but never like a Rolls. More like a Buick on good shots, and akin to a Yugo being sideswiped by a Gremlin on the bad ones."
If you're at all intersted in the mental side of golf, and if you have an open mind to the pseudo-magical, non-plane aspects of improving your golf game then "Straight Down the Middle" will touch you deeply. Even if you're not into these things you'll still be very amused.

Open Championship groupings

The groupings are out for The Open this week, and here are some of the highlights: Fernandez-Castano/Moore/Schwartzel - Very talented young players. I've been a fan of Charl since the beginning of 2009. Poulter/Els/Cink - Two winners this year, along with last year's Champion Golfer. Woods/Rose/Villegas - Clearly the premier group. Rose is as hot as anyone right now. Tiger will do well just to keep up at the rate he's going now. Harrington/Ishikawa/Watson - Interesting mix of cultures and eras. It would be surprising to see Tom compete again, but who knows. Paddy has been a disappointment this year. He ended last year playing so very well, but it hasn't transferred. Casey/Cabrera/Fowler - Is it time for Angel to jump up and win a major again? Is Casey over his injuries? How will Golfer Smurf do on the links? Jimenez/Westwood/Scott - We'll really see how tough Lee Westwood is, after his huge disappointment at the US Open. Jimenez won last week, and Scott has been playing well also. Montgomerie/Mickelson/Goosen - Interesting mix of personalities and styles of game. ESPN's broadcast starts at 4:00 AM ET on Thursday. Might as well sleep on the couch Wed night.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book Review: "The Match" by Mark Frost

I picked the right time of the year to read this book. It just fit very nicely to take in a book that is largely about Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson while the PGA Tour was playing it's Dallas events that are so closely tied to those golfing greats.
"The Match" is about a round of golf played on Cypress Point in 1956, which pitted a pro team of Hogan and Nelson against the top amateurs of the time Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. The round was played during the buildup to Bing Crosby's clambake, which at that time was a major event on the PGA Tour.
"The Match" was published in 2007.
Mark Frost is a bestselling author as well as a producer and director in both TV and movies. He worked on such significant creations as Hill Street Blues, Twin Peaks, and Fantastic Four. Other books about golf include "The Grand Slam" about Bobby Jones, and "The Greatest Game Ever Played" about Francis Ouimet's US Open victory.
In the 1950's, the golf world was still debating whether the game belonged completely to the professional tour players, or if there was still a chance the amateur game could be competitive. Bobby Jones had retired decades earlier, and nobody had stepped up to be the champion of the amateur cause.
The money on the PGA Tour was growing, but it was not a sport in which you were able to accumulate great personal wealth. If you were very good, you could make it go around, but that was about it. Some in the golf community held on to the amateur ideals with great passion and fervor, while others had hitched their wagon to the pro train.
Eddie Lowery was a San Francisco car dealer, and a rich one at that. He was also a great fan of golf, and amateur golf in particular. He often employed top amateur talent at his dealership, and his support made it possible for them to attend the major amateur tournaments and to work on their game.
In one of the many parties leading up to The Clambake in 1956 he got into an argument with fellow rich guy George Coleman. Eddie claimed that his best amateur players could beat any two professionals. George and Eddie decided to put some money on it, and George went about finding himself a couple of pros. Lucky for him, he was close to the Texas golf contingent, and he was able to round up none other than Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.
"The Match" is about the ensuing game. Every shot is covered in great detail. Interspersed with the retelling of the round the author covers the personal history of the four golfers, as well as how their lives turned out after this round.
VERDICT - Birdie
I must admit, when I first heard about The Match I was a little sceptical. It's a book about one round of golf. Surely there's no way to make that spellbinding in any way.
Well, Mark Frost manages to do just that. By weaving the personal histories of each of the players in and out of his retelling of the round itself he keeps every chapter fresh and the story moves forward at a very comfortable pace. His writing is casual and easy to read.
As I was reading it I had to wonder how much of this story was truly real. Because of the setting and the participants, it sort of felt like "Magic and Bird One-On-One at the YMCA on the corner". At the end of the book he retells the research he did in writing the book, and by all accounts it's a true representation of a great day of golf. I think he would have been better served to have this documentation up front.
I highly recommend "The Match" to any golfer or golf fan.

The Hack Shack - AT&T National

WE'VE HAD SOME TIME TO LET THINGS MARINATE FOR A BIT: WHAT ARE THE IMPRESSIONS FROM THE US OPEN THAT YOU THINK WILL STAY WITH YOU THE LONGEST? Stefan - Pebble continues to be one of the most beautiful places in all of golf. Great win for McDowell. I've liked him since watching him with Rory in the World Cup last year. I go back and forth on that 14:th hole, whether it's fair or if now and then professional golfers can just stop the whining and play the thing. Tom Watson walking up 18 was very memorable. I still maintain Tiger is not far away from being his usual world-beating self. Jack - I thought it was a pretty memorable US Open. I love Pebble to death and, no matter how much players whinge about it, I still feel the same: you just can't beat that place as a Major Championship venue. Woods is not himself, but I love the fact that he still has the ability to put the spark and electricity back into a tournament and its galleries with one round. Anyway, this one was all about McDowell for me. He left himself enough breathing room to make a few mistakes on Sunday, and walked away the worthy winner. Jeff - I think this year's US Open was great. You can't get a better venue than Pebble Beach, and having Tom Watson there made it that much more memorable. It was great to see him not only be there because of his history at Pebble/US Open, but because he deserved to be and played quite well, all things considered. That 14th hole is insane and I'm up in the air if it's fair or not. I've heard fom Tour players that they say while it's unbelievably difficult, it's also very fair. But maybe it's those guys just not wanting to make waves! I also thought the little 7th hole added some excitement. Nowhere else in the world do you see a 100 yard par 3 give the best players in the world such a headache. It was great to see Graeme McDowell play well and hold off the big guns of Woods, Mickelson, and Els. He's been knocking on the door for a while and it was nice to see him break through. Hopefully the 2010 Open will be remembered more for his steady play under pressure, than Dustin Johnson's complete meltdown. Tony - I thought it was a good open but not a great one. I loved how the USGA had Pebble prepared, with the long grass around the bunkers and the difficulty level of the greens. The cool thing about this course's length and setup was that it brought the whole field into play, not just the bombers. That being said a bomber (Dustin Johnson) was on the brink of winning the thing until he realized he was leading the US OPEN on Sunday and completely lost it. When he hit that shank/flop on #2 I knew he was toast. I almost fell out of my chair. Regarding 14, I'm of the belief that it was fine. If all the players play the same hole in the same conditions that is fair. I personally like US OPEN golf and seeing the big boys struggle. It makes me feel like they're actually human. I wonder how much easier 14 would have been if the players could have played it with square grooved wedges? What I thought was most notable on Sunday was that everyone at the top of the leaderboard, including McDowell, gagged. Nobody within reach made a run at it. It was just that McDowell gagged the least and calmed himself down enough to pull it off on the back nine. Tiger, Phil and especially Ernie all had good chances to win the thing but they all made mistakes. Both Tiger and Phil had terrible putting days. It sounds like a broken record, but Tiger's putting was "not Tiger like." Phil has been hot and cold in US OPEN with his putting historically so it wasn't as big of a surprise to me. The one person who didn't gag and was very impressive was Gregory Havret, who shot the best final round of those on page one of the leaderboard. His swing looked as good as any I've seen. I wonder if that was a flash in the pan or if we'll see more of him. I love Tom Watson. I followed Tom around on Tuesday at this year's Masters practice round. He was so cool and nice. I think it is amazing that he made the cut in a US OPEN at that age and it shows how much of a stud he is. WHERE DO YOU THINK TIGER'S GAME IS AT THIS TIME, AND HOW DO YOU THINK HE'LL DO THIS YEAR AND IN THE FUTURE? Jeff - Never having been a huge Tiger fan, I'm somewhat enjoying this levelling of the playing field. Like Jack, I think his game is around 75% back. But I'm not sure we'll ever see the Tiger of old again and the domination he once displayed. I think he'll win this year, but I'm not feeling it for the British. His mental sharpness is obviously not what it one was, and the British is coming up pretty soon. However, you can't discount the guy's two top 4's in the Majors so far, playing well below his "A" game. Jack - I'd say his game is at about 60%, which is obviously nowhere where he wants it be. Funny thing being is the fact he's played nowhere near his potential and still managed to finish tied 4th in both of this year's Majors! I think that says all you need to know really. Only a matter of time before he's back winning Majors in my opinion. If he can steady the ship in the next few weeks then I'd say the outcome at St Andrews is a formality. Stefan - I think Tiger's game is closer than 75%. I know Johnny Miller won't agree, but there's a lot of things I don't agree with that loudmouth on. Tiger's ballstriking at the US Open was as good as anyone else's. Having said that, I don't think we'll ever see the kind of domination that we witnessed ten years ago, but I felt that way before his injuries, surgeries, and personal upheaval. That domination was the outcome of him taking a giant leap in terms of strength, fitness, and work ethic over the bulk of the PGA players at the time. Now, the rest of the tour has caught up in a lot of these regards. In a way this makes it a lot more interesting, because now we'll see if his pure talent is enough to maintain his #1 status. Tony - Having gone through a divorce over the last few years (fortunately and unfortunately) I can sort of feel Tiger's pain. The difference is that my ex didn't get what is looking like it could be 3/4 of a billion dollars. That process had a very negative effect on my game. Even the slightest bad break, like a lip out, would finish me off for a round. My handicap has gone up a great percentage over the time of my divorce and stress, and my frustration level has been the highest ever. My psyche has been fragile. My divorce is now over and I'm trying to get my game back. Despite what some may think, Tiger is human and this has and will have a negative effect on his game for some time to come. Will he win a major this year? Many thought he'd win at Pebble because it set up so great for him and he had such a dominant win in 2000. He didn't. Those same pundits are saying he should dominate at St. Andrews because he plays that course so well. I have a tough time with that. As good as he is, he's not as sharp mentally as he has been in his winning ways. In "Open" situations you can't afford to make small mistakes. He himself said he made "three" mental mistakes in his final US OPEN round which cost him the tournament. I thought he made more than that. DO YOU THINK THE MEDIA IS SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME COMPARING TIGER NOW TO TIGER TEN YEARS AGO? Jack - Yep, but that was inevitably going to happen, what with his injuries and personal life revelations. Pretty pointless drawing comparisons if you ask me: every great athlete has his or her prime years and we can't expect it to last forever. If you asked today's pros, I'm sure the majority of 'em would give an arm and a leg to have Tiger's current, 60 - 75% game! Bottom line being that Tiger can still compete week-in-week-out, even if he's not as dominant as he used to be. Jeff - Never having been a huge Tiger fan, I'm somewhat enjoying this levelling of the playing field. Like Jack, I think his game is around 75% back. But I'm not sure we'll ever see the Tiger of old again and the domination he once displayed. I think he'll win this year, but I'm not feeling it for the British. His mental sharpness is obviously not what it one was, and the British is coming up pretty soon. However, you can't discount the guy's two top 4's in the Majors so far, playing well below his "A" game. Stefan - I agree the media is spending too much time looking into the past. If I have to hear "that's not the kind of missed putt we would have seen from the Tiger of old" one more time I'm going to put a Titleist through my TV. But I think this is another expression of the laziness of the mainstream golf media. It's much easier to re-hash some old Tiger comparisons than doing some actual research and maybe possibly tell us who the f*ck Gregory Havret is. CHRISTIE KERR WON THE LPGA CHAMPIONSHIP LAST WEEK, AND VAULTED TO #1 IN THE WORLD, THE FIRST US WOMAN TO DO SO. HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS? Jeff - It is kind of hard to believe that she is first isn't it? I think it's pretty significant but it was only a matter of time with all the good young American female golfers coming up through the ranks. Just watching the Solheim Cup, you could see the talent there and then with Ochoa retiring, you had to figure. It will be interesting to see how long Kerr holds on to the spot. Tony - To me this isn't significant at all. I don't follow the LPGA tour much. I doubt I've watched any LPGA since Annika retired. I don't find watching or following the LPGA to be interesting. Jack - The fact that she's the first women's world number one is surprising more than significant in my opinion. Can't believe it's taken this long! Saying that, I'm not sure how long it'll last, what with Ai Miyazato being on fire this year. Will be interesting to see those two (amongst others hopefully) battle it out over the next few years. Stefan - It's significant, but only for the wrong reasons. We should not have to get excited to finally have an American #1. Between that bit of statistics and the 7-month drought between American winners on the LPGA Tour (that's a total of four events, you know), it's no wonder they're in dire straits financially. IF this triggers an increase in interests and it motivates other American players to raise their game, then it's definititely significant. Otherwise, it may be the answer to a trivia question in 2018: "Who was the first and last American #1s on the LPGA tour?" Until next time, keep'em in the short grass. ========================================= The Hack Shack is a group of golf fans and golf bloggers who like to comment on the current events in the world of golf. 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