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Manulife Financial LPGA Classic preview: Norman, Oklahoma, Canada

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By Vince Robitaille

GolfWRX Staff Writer

First year events are, quite obviously, new beginnings, chances to explore new landscapes and, in certain specific instances, opportunities to reflect upon a particular facet of our game’s state. Having previously taken the time to inspect the future of the American contingent, the upmost observable stranglehold of South Korea on women’s golf as well as a few European soon-to-be stars along the way, I’ve come to realize, as the LPGA Tour heads north to Canada this weekend, that I’ve never stopped to gaze at things back home.

Neverminding the inevitable argument regarding how Yours Truly can’t really call Canada home anymore, at least since a certain conservative premier has been handed the reins and has proceeded to bring us back about 60 years – at least, in terms of Canadian politics as debates on abortion, same-sex marriage and censorship had long been settled around here – our girls are starting to shake things up a bit.

Long gone are the days of Lorie Kane, despite what most writers reaching for a story might try to argue. Arguably, her two top-30 finishes this season, both resulting, on her own account, from a new workout regimen and hard work under the tutelage of countryman Sean Foley, attest that a few good results can still be squeezed out of the veteran of 16 years. Nonetheless, expecting a sudden stellar performance enabling her to tear up the field and claim a fifth career triumph – a proverbial swan song – would be rather farfetched. The torch has been passed… and with great faith in her successors. The motive for that optimism is sensibly simple: with numerous youthful prospects blossoming, in recent years, amongst some of the NCAA’s most storied programs – the Maude-Aimée Leblanc’s and Jennifer Kirby’s quickly becoming household names in women’s golf – snow’s melting and spring’s coming – but not That Spring.

While Leblanc’s physical attributes that make her a prime example of the prototypical New Millennium’s female golfer – much like Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen and Brittany Lincicome before her – and Kirby’s pragmatic game that led her through her astounding amateur career, are reason enough to be hopeful, if the former can shake her habit of shooting one disastrous round per event, and the latter can regain her 2009-2010 form, Yours Truly‘s very own enthusiasm lies in a plausible pipeline.

Véronique Drouin-Luttrell’s career as a player has been over for a few years now, but her impact on golf in the Great White North could prove greater than she could have ever imagined. Despite Golf Canada’s ever-expanding efforts and the new infrastructures that pop up here and there across the country, if one’s tempted by the idea of building a life around our grand sport, there’s but one option: pack up your bucket and head South.

Doing so, though, spawns a tremendous need of funds or a golden ticket, namely a NCAA Div. 1 scholarship. Here’s where Drouin-Luttrell might just become Canada’s greatest asset as head coach of the University of Oklahoma. In only her second season at the helm of the Sonners, after a three-year tenure as assistant of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, the Quebecer’s tremendous results netted her the BIG XII Coach of the Year honor. This year, her sound recruiting and subsequent work produced a NCAA National Champion in the person of Chirapat Jao-Javanil. Drouin-Luttrell’s paramount achievement might reside in Anne-Catherine Tanguay’s initial success in Norman. The sophomore reeled in her first collegiate win last October on top of finishing within the top-10 in 27 percent of her starts.  Clinching a few more Ws and making deeper runs into both the British and U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, could establish her as the last member of Canadian’s golf troika.

With other Canadian recruits to follow in Tanguay’s footsteps, I guess that I’ll have to become a Sooners fan. O Canada, Boomer Sooner, Red & White, Crimson & Cream, it all makes sense somehow.

Click here for more discussion in the “LPGA/Ladies golf talk” forum.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argo Golf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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