Friday, June 19, 2015

Par for the course doesn't change but par for the holes might

At the US Open at Chambers Bay, there’s a good chance that par on the first and last hole will not be the same each round. The total of the two—the standard par 4 1st hole and the usual par 5 18th hole—is 9 and that will stay the same, but by lengthening the 1st hole and shortening the final hole, the pars can be switched and the risk reward factors on those holes will change. It’s an interesting twist to a golf tournament that’s more gut-wrenching than any other golf championship.

Come Sunday night, changing the par on those holes may not make any difference. Par for the four days will remain at 70 each 18 holes, 280 for the golf tournament, and the USGA usually looks for the winner to finish right around that number. Some years, the final 72-hole total is under par by a few strokes and some years the winner is a few strokes over par. Rory McIlroy’s 16-under par at Congressional Country Club in 2011 and Tiger Woods’ 12-under at Pebble Beach in 2000 are the only double digit under-par US Open winners.

Par is a relative term meaning an average or normal amount. In golf, it’s the number of strokes set as a standard for a specific hole or a complete course. It’s an easy way for golfers to determine how well they are playing against the golf course. Noting a player is under or over par, showing a leader board at golf tournaments or on television is specifically for the fans and helps the players easily keep up with the competition as the event progresses. Showing in on TV broadcasts was an idea hatched by CBS golf producer/director Frank Chirkinian. He wanted to keep the viewers informed about the status of the players against par, making it easier for those who play golf and those who don’t to understand who is winning and how far back a favorite player may be.

As far as changing par on a hole, we believe it’s never been done during a tournament until now. Holes have been made shorter and longer, but par for the holes has remained the same. Courses have been changed between tournaments with par for holes varying year to year. At Pinehurst No. 2, site for the 1999, 2005 and 2014 US Open tournaments, the 4th hole was designed as a par 5 and the 5th hole was designed as a par 4. Actually, the architect Donald Ross claimed the 5th hole as his favorite par 4.

In 1999 and 2005, those holes—4 and 5—played as designed. In 2014, last year, the holes were changed—the 5th made a little shorter and turned into a par 4; the 4th lengthened a great deal and played as a par 5. The result was lower scores on the average in 2014 than in the other two years.
  • In 1999, the 4th stroke average was 4.926, slightly under par, and the 5th averaged 4.529, nearly half a shot over par.
  • In 2005, the average score on the 4th was 4.756, more under par than in 1999, and the average at the 5th was 4.395, still over par but better than in 1999.
  • When par for those holes changed for 2014, the 4th, now a par 4, averaged 4.262, much better than the previous US Opens there but now over par. The average score on the now par 5 5th hole went to 4.8, under par but a higher average score than the other two US Opens at Pinehurst No. 2.
  • The average scores for the 4th and 5th combined for those years were: 1999—9.475; 2005—9.151; and, 2014—9.062. No doubt, in relation to par, those are two tough back-to-back holes.
On the other hand, only three players finished the 2014 US Open under par. The other 64 players who qualified for four rounds were a total of 554 over par, an average of 8.7 over par for the tournament. Add in the three who were under par, the average drops to 8.1 over par, and that, for the USGA, may be par for US Open courses.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tiger Woods afterthought story placement perfect

Someone in the layout department at The News & Observer either deserves a lot of credit or simply stumbled onto the perfect placement and headline of a story in today’s print edition. As the US Open, being played at Chambers Bay in University Park WA, starts today, coverage in the newspaper will not be extensive as last year’s event when it was played on the Donald Ross masterpiece, No. 2 at Pinehurst Country Club. However, in today’s newspaper, there are three stories, two placed prominently on the front page of the sports section. The third was staged on the last page of the section along with where the front page stories were continued from page B1.

There’s a nice story about the course—Chambers Bay—itself and how the players are responding to it after playing practice rounds and a discussion of who is favored including mention of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. That is the lead front-of-the-sports page story, and it is accompanied by a column by contributor Ron Green, Jr., who concentrates on the course itself. Ron has a knack for interesting descriptions and in this case comparing the view of Chambers Bay to that of Mars. We assume he’s talking about the planet not the candy bar. When you watch, you'll get a better idea.

Most interesting of the coverage today is a column by Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel who focuses on Tiger Woods who at age 39 is dwindling in ability and in stature within the league. He’s still a top draw for the crowds and the viewing audience at any tournament, but when he shot 85, his highest score ever as a professional, in the third round a couple of tournaments ago, it showed even more than he’s waning. After the 85, Dan Jenkins, probably the best ever golf writer, tweeted, I’ve never shot my age, but congrats to Tiger who did it today: 85. Tiger could fool us all this week and contend, but it’s doubtful.

The story on Tiger was titled, Tiger Woods an afterthought at U.S. Open. Intentionally or not, it was the very last story in The N&O’s sport section today, section B, page 8, at the very bottom of the page. It was appropriately placed, relating the headline and the story to its importance to read, sort of an afterthought. The person who placed it there either has great insight to Tiger, golf and a good sense of humor or just got lucky. In either case, job well done.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

US Open golf hits prime time TV with west coast venue

The United States Golf Association’s US Open championship gets underway Thursday at the Chambers Bay Golf Course, a public facility in University Place WA, just south of Tacoma. If you’re a golfer or if you are just interested in watching the sport, you are in for a bonanza of viewing, especially if you’re in the Eastern Time zone of the United States. With the three hour difference, there will be prime time viewing each of the four days.

FOX is the new broadcast partner with the USGA, and this is that network’s first attempt to broadcast golf. Gone with the NBC broadcast booth is Johnny Miller, one of those announcers in the Howard Cosell mold: you either love him or hate him. Greg Norman will offer his insight each day. FOX is using its FOX Sports 1 channel during the day, beginning at noon ET Thursday and Friday and at 2:00 pm ET Saturday and Sunday. Thursday and Friday, the broadcasts switch to the regular FOX channel at 8 pm ET. Saturday, FOX will pick up the play-by-play at 7:00 ET and Sunday’s final round starts at 7:30 pm on FOX. On all four days, FOX will broadcast until the last players are off the course. That’s about 11 hours the first two days and 9 hours the last two.

The course itself will remind golfers of the Open Championship, the one played in Scotland most of the time. The course demands a lot of creative play; don’t be surprised to see the professionals using putters from off the green, not just a few feet off the green but several yards off the green, maybe as many as 50 yards off the green. There will be a lot of bump and run shots. There will be interesting approach shots, both from off and on the green, being played at weird angles away from the hole. The course was built to require lots of strategic play-making from off the tee and onto the putting surfaces, probably more that most golf courses.

Tuesday evening, during a Golf Channel Live From broadcast at the course, we got a glimpse of Rory McIlroy, the number one golfer in the world, on the practice tee. It was noted he would play a nine hole practice round that day starting around 5:30 Pacific Time and that he would probably just play nine holes and those would be the back nine. He would do the same today. His strategy, the golf analysis explained, is because he expects to be on those holes at that time on Saturday and Sunday as he contends for the title, and he wants to know what's the course is like at that time of day. Don’t be surprised if he’s there at his appointed time. And, don’t be surprised if telephone calls to my home go unanswered the next four days, especially during prime time viewing.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

For future success, Tiger Woods should throttle back, have fun

Professional golf, as good as it is, has lost a lot of the charm and character it had before Tiger Woods appeared and turned the sport of fun and relaxation into one of all business. It’s gone from creating shots to one of exact yardages. And, as long as the media continues to worship Woods as if there will a second, third, fourth—you get the idea—coming of Tiger, the game will suffer from lack of a cluster of stars to take his place as the lead attraction. There are plenty of good golfers in the professional ranks, none who capture the attention of golfers and those who don’t play golf as Woods does, but it is better to concentrate on what’s at hand than what’s not and why with Tiger.

Today, on nearly every golf broadcast, on nearly every show on the Golf Channel, in written golf columns all over the world, on radio sports radio broadcasts that include golf and sometimes not, discussions migrate to “What’s wrong with Tiger?” and how to fix his game to return him to the top level of competition, to gain the spotlight, the leadership role, the throne as many pundits prefer. Just a couple of years ago, Tiger won five tournaments, not the major kind, but he won on the PGA Tour, against the best of the rest. In those tournaments, he dominated the minds of others which allowed his dwindling physical ability to play just well enough to surpass the others. His mental ability, though, dwindles with every bad shot he makes, every “wrong” swing he produces, every slight appearance of wrong-doing on the course and off.

In recent years, Tiger has had physical problems and sometimes blamed those ailments on his swing, something he’s changed often in his career. He has always been a power player off the tee. In his early years, he shortened the courses with his long ball. When his drives split the fairway, and even when those tee shots are just a little off line, Tiger has been within reach of the greens with much shorter irons than the competition. His play of those irons—8, 9, W, etc—was superior. His putting ability was legend. But now, more than ever, he’s off his game. His strength—his ability to play and score better than the rest—started with his drives; now that’s a weakness. He’s pressing himself causing his shot to avoid fairways way right and way left, requiring him to hit scrambling shots with which he is unfamiliar or for which he makes a half-hearted effort as if he’s seeking someone’s sympathy. Those bad approach shots put him in tough putting positions, decreasing his accuracy on the green. The result of all of this has been missed cuts or finishing his final tournament round hours before the leaders tee off on the final day of the event.

Some say he needs a new swing coach; others say he needs help other places; some suggest he stop everything else—including following a well-known skier—to concentrate on his golf. Maybe his time has passed, that he will not surpass Jack Nicklaus in “major” titles; he definitely will not do that if he keeps playing the way he has been recently. He doesn’t need the money; but he needs the success, the spotlight though he doesn’t want any outsides coming inside.

There is a solution to his woes, but it would be un-Tiger-like to do it. He needs to throttle back on the tee, not try to duplicate his game that dominated the tour for so long. He needs to hit straighter yet shorter shots off the tee and develop a better mid-range game. In doing so, if successful, he’ll increase his confidence and not enter a tournament wondering if he’ll be around for the final two rounds. He doesn’t need a new swing coach or a new caddy or a new psychological guru. Nearly any daily greens fee golfer could take the place of each of those. It’s obvious Tiger’s not having fun playing tour events and that’s because he’s not winning, not dominating. He’ll only get the fun and the winning back when he hits fairways and greens and holes a few putts. It’s to be seen if he can do it; it’s doubtful he ever will. Golf will survive without him. It’s been nice knowing his game.