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Opinion & Analysis

A corrupt bargain: Brookline and Medinah

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By Tim Gavrich

GolfWRX Contributor

The trouble started 13 years and five days earlier. On the eve of the Sunday singles round—the final one—of the 1999 Ryder Cup, U.S. Captain Ben Crenshaw’s smile, the epitome of wryness, curled into a cool, slanted grin as he said, “I’m a big believer in fate…I have a good feeling about this.”

In the moments after Martin Kaymer’s Cup-sealing five footer sank Steve Stricker and the United States team on the 18th green at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 course, no American player or fan felt anything remotely “good.”

Golfers love to talk about the “golf gods.” Twenty-four hours after Crenshaw’s emotional declaration, it appeared the two-time Masters champion had appealed successfully to them. Another 13 years later, it seems instead that that night, he made a deal with devils. He traded an immediate triumph for an equally cruel turn of the golf gods’ fancies that would strike on September’s final day, 2012.

Of course, five Ryder Cups came and went between Brookline and Medinah. And in four of them, the United States lost—twice by an embarrassing margin. Perhaps Crenshaw purchased his team’s improbable comeback at the expense of those defeats.

No. The golf gods made this one the one that really hurt. There are simply too many arcs back to that 1999 event to ignore.

In 1999, Europe led 10-6 going into Sunday. So, too, did the Americans in 2012.

In 1999, in order to try to affect the crowd in his team’s favor, Ben Crenshaw loaded up the front of his lineup with his more battle-tested and dynamic players. The Americans won the first six matches on the course that day. In 2012, European Captain José María Olazábal sent stars Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose out first. They and fifth-off Paul Lawrie won their matches.

Lawrie, by the way, played in his first Ryder Cup since 1999. His was a rare European victory on that day.

In 1999, both men who would oppose one another as Captains in 2012 took to the golf course. Davis Love III did his part by drubbing Frenchman Jean Van de Velde. Later that afternoon, Olazábal would be on the receiving end of the shot that came to define that Ryder Cup: Justin Leonard’s long putt on the 17th green at The Country Club, Brookline that assured the United States a victory.

Fittingly, the singular defining shot of the 2012 Ryder Cup took place on the 17th green as well. This time, though, it was a miss, those cruel golf gods exacting their payment from the American side via Steve Stricker. All-square with German Martin Kaymer, who has arguably had the most mediocre year before playing in a Ryder Cup than any player in recent memory, Stricker had a simple downhill chip shot from the rough behind the green of the par three. After blowing it six feet past the hole, he—historically one of the best putters in golf, which is greatly why Davis Love III made him a Captain’s Pick—hit a woeful putt, giving Kaymer the hole.

Kaymer’s par putt on the closing hole was the final gut-check, yes, but the culmination of Stricker’s 0-4 record tipped the momentum to the Europeans for good.

As the Europeans embraced, tears coating their captain’s cheeks, it seemed that the debt Crenshaw unwittingly took on in 1999 was finally repaid.

Motivation

At the end of a gorgeous early-fall day in 1999, a generation of young American golfers sat in awe of the comeback they had just witnessed. Some of those youngsters went on to build careers that saw them compete on this year’s team—Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley were all teenagers when their American golf idols showed them the overwhelming thrill of a historic Ryder Cup comeback.

Unfortunately for those young American players, the axiom that one learns more from defeat than victory holds true in golf. For this year’s European team included sixplayers who, as teenagers, felt the way American golf fans of all ages are now feeling. Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Nicolas Colsaerts, Francesco Molinari and Justin Rose would have seen and felt the letdown from their own idols and Sergio Garcia, still 19 in 1999, lived it.

Perhaps some of the generation of young American golfers that bore witness to this year’s stunning defeat will take enough of their heartache forward in their own careers so that in another dozen years or so, they will carry an American Ryder Cup team to a stunning victory over Europe.

If and when that happens, we will all be watching, as transfixed and affected by that event as we were by this one, for better and for worse. And those golf gods who Ben Crenshaw bargained with will still have us millions of golfers to toy with. It is only right.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Tim grew up outside of Hartford, Conn., playing most of his formative golf at Hop Meadow Country Club in the town of Simsbury. He played golf for four years at Washington & Lee University (Division-III) and now lives in Pawleys Island, S.C., and works in nearby Myrtle Beach in advertising. He's not too bad on Bermuda greens, for a Yankee. A lifelong golf addict, he cares about all facets of the game of golf, from equipment to course architecture to PGA Tour news to his own streaky short game.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Joanne

    Oct 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    as Clarence responded I am amazed that any body can earn $5302 in a few weeks on the internet. did you look at this website (Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/sFkNW

  2. bob

    Oct 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    @jc: these “less heralded” euro players have 4 of the world’s top 5, so maybe the problem is with you; the fact speak for themselves, Europe have won 7 out of the last 9 because 1. They play better as a team and 2. They have the better players. I know this must trouble you, but face reality and drop the lame excuses.

  3. G-ga

    Oct 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Ryder Cup has become so ridiculous, it’s an anachronism! Lets forget about it. It’s so totally not exciting or meaningful any more. It’s become “who can embarrass the other best” fest, rather than a gentleman’s get together of class behavior. So pathetic.

  4. jc

    Oct 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    It all comes down to this for the last 2 decades….The US picks captains who had one big moment in their career but who are all buddies…So they pick their friends over more deserving or hotter golfers….And Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Hal Sutton, Jim Fuyrk, etal continue to lose every single match and hand it to less heralded Euro players….All it would have taken is just a stinking tie from Woods or Stricker or Fuyrk….Haven’t we lost enough to learn the lessons that these guys can’t play team golf?

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Opinion & Analysis

Skateboarding legend Steve Caballero on why golf is cool (Bonus: must-watch golf trick)

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GolfWRX recently spent time in Los Angeles, California where we investigated skate culture, and why so many skateboarders are starting to play golf. There is much, much more content that we will release in the coming weeks from this journey, but we thought this was an interesting place to start.

Spear-headed by Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, who grew up skateboarding and snowboarding (ever heard of Lamar Snowboards? that’s him), we spoke with skateboarding legends Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk about the golf-skateboarding relationship.

Steve spoke with Bert about his recent introduction into the world of golf, what’s drawing him in, and how skateboarding is similar to golf. Enjoy a transcription of that conversation below (edited for brevity), and check out our trick golf shot with him at the bottom of the story!

Fun fact: Steve Cab is the inspiration behind the Vans Half Cab shoe (“half-Cab” was a trick that he invented, and he also advised Vans to make a mid-height shoe that was given the same name).

Skating, music, art and… golf?

I’m traveling a lot around the world. Skating, I do a lot of artwork these days. So I’ve been traveling to Japan, and I’m going to France in two weeks, to ride motorcycles, skate, do art, play some music… I’m kind of all over the board when it comes to being creative, and just kind of expanding my capabilities and possibilities of things, and now golf has become a new challenge for me. My oldest brother used to play golf with my dad, and that’s something that they shared together, and my brother’s been trying to get me to play golf for probably around 10 years. And I’ve just always said “no, no, no, I’m too busy”… I ride dirt bikes, I mountain bike, I skate for a living. [I started playing golf] to please my brother. I was like, “you know what, ok”…. We went out and hit some balls, [at] the range, and I definitely got a feel for what it takes to hit the ball and try to focus on what you’re doing and it really, really struck me; it is very challenging, and it kind of reminds me of skating in little ways.

How is skateboarding similar to golf?

Just technique, body position, repetition. I know golf is a very difficult sport, and I just knew if I indulge myself into it… I like challenges so anything that I get into I’m gonna focus on and that’s all I’m gonna do; I’m gonna eat, breathe and sleep golf… I know that golf is a little bit more safer than skateboarding in terms of bodily injury and getting hurt; breaking a wrist or your leg or concussion.

What makes golf cool?

I think what makes golf cool is the fact that you need to put work in and just to be good at it. You have to put a lot of time and focus into it. And I think what it is, you have to have that personality of wanting to challenge yourself at something. It’s something you can do on your own, something you can do with a group. That’s kinda why it reminds me of skating because it’s kind of the same thing, like, one day I’ll be able to do an “air” three-feet out, the next day, I can’t even grab my board…

Are you a natural at golf?

It’s a thing where I get into arguments with my older brother; I don’t believe in natural talent, everything is learned.

So, how about that trick shot, huh?

Our own editor Andrew Tursky and legend Steve Caballero collaborated on a golf trick shot during the interview session. Actually, this only took a couple tries. It turns out Steve is a good putter when using the wheel of his skateboard.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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