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Opinion & Analysis

Wunder: The Ryder Cup Awards

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What good is a team competition if you can’t identify the individuals who provided the greatest contributions to the cause?

I was very proud to be a golf fan this weekend and I am confident that the game is in better shape than it was a week ago. The festivities at Medinah were like taking in the Star Wars trilogy over a long weekend. There were heroes, villains, ups, downs, comedy, drama and so much else to satisfy our pallets. It was epic.

Sure the U.S. Team lost but we have not fielded a “team” like we did in 2012 in more than a decade. What I mean is although I’m certain the team unity has been there in past years, it was never as visible as it was at Medinah. We had a ball club out there this weekend — each man was fulfilling a duty in the best way he knew how. In the end, the score (which should have ended in a tie, but that’s another story) concluded with yet another European victory. But this time, I, as an American golf fan, was not left scratching my head wondering why. It was a three-day competition where a great horse came from the middle of the pack to beat another great horse. It’s actually very liberating to not have to point the finger at someone. All I have are accolades to give.

So without further ado, here are the winners:

TEAM EUROPE

Rookie of the week: Nicolas Colsaerts

A complete and utter no brainer. Not only was he the only rookie on the European side, he announced his Ryder Cup debut on Friday afternoon with seven birdies and an eagle against Tiger and Stricker. He seemed completely unphased by the pressure. He did, however, finish the week 1-3, but a year from now we won’t remember anything but his performance on Friday.

Comeback player: Sergio Garcia

The Spaniard lost his first two matches of the week. But from Saturday afternoon foursomes to the his singles victory over Jim Furyk, Sergio pulled out the two wins that in my opinion broke the Americans back. Like his mentor Seve Ballesteros, Garcia won without his best stuff just by treating each hole as its own unique match. It was inspiring to watch and further strengthened my feeling that Sergio is always an asset in these matches. He possesses that Ryder Cup X-Factor that our top American veterans don’t have.

MVP: Martin Kaymer

I’ll probably take a beating for this one for not acknowledging Ian Poulter, but let me say this — Kaymer made the second most pressure-packed putt in Ryder Cup history. He not only redeemed his countryman Bernhard Langer — he redeemed himself. Despite the many questions about the state his game, he put his head down and drilled a putt to win the Ryder Cup. Nothing he will ever do personally in the game will trump that. As the great Ty Webb said, “Don’t worry about this one, you miss it, we lose.” Enough said.

Honorable Mention: Jose Marie Olazabal

If you study the footage and watch Olie throughout these matches, his reaction was stoic. He was a brick wall and that energy, even in times of defeat, gives players a sense of security. He never looked panicked or even really affected by what was happening. Like a great field general he waited until the final outcome was revealed to express his emotion. It was brilliant. To have that confidence when you aren’t the one hitting the shots is impressive. If the outcome was different he would have taken a beating in the press, unfairly in my opinion.

TEAM USA

Rookie of the week: Keegan Bradley

Let’s identify what really happened for U.S. Golf this week — an American became a Ryder Cup team leader. With the smiles, fist pumps, bear hugs, passion and everything else, Keegan Bradley represented exactly what we want to see from our U.S. players. Granted, he lost on Sunday and squandered opportunities to become a golf immortal, but the fireworks he provided were awe inspiring. For the first time in a while, an American Ryder Cup player matched the energy of the crowd. Bradley allowed me to forget about the overall loss and appreciate the fact that we have an American that will energize us for years to come.

Comeback player: Phil Mickelson (via Keegan Bradley)

Phil was golf fan No. 1 this week. His play was up and down, but his enthusiasm and mentorship of Bradley was more than we could ask for. He took full advantage of his time with Bradley and rode the young stallion to a 3-0 team record. I agree he probably could have played on Saturday afternoon but his intentions were in the spirit of what was best for the team, a quality that gets looked over quite a bit with him. Phil has taken responsibility for the fact that his legacy on Tour is far more than victories in majors, it’s his ability to pass on his wisdom and enthusiasm to the younger guys that will carry it on. These young stars look to him to lead and he delivers. As a fan I thank him for that. It’s far more important to me than his record in these matches.

MVP: Dustin Johnson

DJ redeemed himself this week. After going 1-3 in Wales, he came back strong with a 3-0 record and holed a putt at the 17th hole on Saturday that at the time seemed to have the U.S. team on its way to victory. Although DJ isn’t the most emotional player, it was nice to see his reaction on No. 17. He had struggled all day and that putt forgave all previous sins. On Sunday his five-birdie victory over Nicolas Colsaerts provided the last bit of comfort U.S. fans would experience.

We kind of all won this week. It seemed like the Cup this year was three matches in one. Like great cinema we were privileged to watch great golf played with heart and a love of country. I hope this fire continues and I can’t wait until I get those goosebumps again. Like a pure golf shot off the center of the face, it’s those that keep us coming back for more.

Thanks boys. See you at Gleneagles in 2014.

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

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John Wunder was born in Seattle, Wash., and grew up playing at Rainier G&CC. He moved to Southern California when he had the rare opportunity of working in the Anaheim Angels clubhouse and has been living in Cali. ever since. He has a severe passion/addiction for the game and has been a member of GolfWRX since 2005. He now works as the Director of Development and Production for The Coalition Group in Los Angeles, Calif.

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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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TG2: What’s the most annoying breach of golf etiquette?

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

Follow @tg2wrx on Instagram to enter the Bettinardi inovai 5.0 center-shaft putter giveaway.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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