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Opinion & Analysis

Playoffs for the FedExCup: Thank you Mr. Finchem

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Dear Mr. Finchem,

Haven’t seen you or heard from you for a while. Hope you are enjoying your Labor Day weekend as much as I am.

Look, I know that you and I have had our ups and downs. I wanted you to stand up to Tiger Woods and find a way to get him to support the tour that has supported him by playing more than a baker’s dozen tournaments each year. I wanted you to protect the integrity of the game by instituting mandatory testing for performance enhancing drugs. I begged you to take the moral high ground with regard to the admission of women at Augusta. No response on any of these small requests.

Yes, we have had our disagreements.

But the key to any relationship is being able to admit when you’re wrong. And when it comes to the FedExCup playoffs, I was wrong. For years, I made fun of your attempt to create playoff atmosphere in an individual sport. You pointed to the success of NASCAR and the success of their playoff, “Chase for the (fill-in sponsor name) Cup,” and you cobbled together a similar system. I had a lot of fun at your expense for a long time, but I wasn’t the only one.

With its combination of points and elimination rounds, the system was harder to understand than the PA system in the New York subway. And while the system produced winners like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh and gave them a $10 million tax liability that they didn’t need, the whole process lacked gravitas. It seemed utterly commercial and unworthy of the word playoff.

But this year it has been different. A combination of factors have conspired to create a situation where the best players in the world are participating in every event and are playing their best. The venues have been superb and the play has been stellar.

Last week we witnessed the resurrection of Nick Watney’s season and Sergio Garcia’s career at Bethpage. And this week? Well Mr. Finchem, this week produced an event that couldn’t have been better if it had been held with a major title at stake. I mean, the back nine on Sunday kinda looked like a group of race cars heading for a finish line.

The top 10 included winner and World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, the once and future king Tiger Woods, 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and Dustin Johnson, who is two goofy rounds away from being a multiple major winner. What we got on Sunday was something that recent majors haven’t been able produce; a leaderboard dominated by the best players in the world.

Woods, who perfected the modern air game, had a ringside seat to watch the current practitioners of the game take it to the next level. Woods is no longer the longest guy in every field that he plays; in fact, he is just getting used to the fact that the days are over where he was playing at par-68 when everyone else was playing the same course at par-72. But with four straight rounds in the 60s and a third place finish at 18-under par on a challenging TPC Boston track, Woods is honing his sword in preparation for a return to the throne.

But McIlroy was a sight to behold, Mr. Finchem. The boy wonder is now becoming the Man of Steel. He has virtually no weaknesses in his game, and in a week like this one where he is first in driving distance and first in putting it would be hard to imagine how he could lose. And he does it with a Gaelic charm that is irresistible to men and women, young and old. He is only limited by his ambition, and you have given him four tournaments in a row that he definitely wants to win.

Mr. Finchem, I want to put the past behind us. The FedExCup is a rip-roaring, four-star, cancel-the-tee-time-so-you-can-stay-home-to-watch success. And you did it, Mr. Finchem. I’m not just happy for you; I’m happy for us. Call me. We should have lunch.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brody

    Sep 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Great article, Michael!

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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Podcasts

Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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