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Opinion & Analysis

Post Mortem: Fixing the U.S. Ryder Cup Team



By Seth Kerr

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Every golfer, writer, and Monday morning quarterback has given his or her opinions on what went wrong with the 2012 Unitied States Team. Many believe the U.S. Team didn’t want to win as bad as the Europeans, pointing to Bubba Watson’s congratulatory tweets and Phil Mickelson’s thumbs-up while losing to Justin Rose as two examples.

The problem is, no one has said how to fix it. The U.S. has only won once this century and a meager one time on foreign soil since 1993.  For a majority of those years, Tiger and Phil were playing and still couldn’t win on European soil.

But instead of crying about the past, its time to provide the PGA of America with a plan to win moving forward.

Paul Azinger

In 2005, USA Basketball hired Jerry Colangelo to take responsibility for picking the team after disappointing finishes in 2002 and 2004. His teams went on to win the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 with a little help from Mike Krzyzewski.

Well the PGA of America needs their Jerry Colangelo.

I don’t know who is in charge of picking the captain, other than it’s the PGA of America, but shouldn’t I? I watch much more golf than basketball and have no idea who runs the show. Wouldn’t the Ryder Cup benefit from having a well-known player in charge of the team?

It’s an easy choice really: Paul Azinger

He is the last captain to win, one of the most intense players in U.S. Ryder Cup history and shows more passion announcing the Ryder Cup than most of the players playing. He put together a system that worked when nothing before it, or since it, has. The team needs the fire and intensity he shows, and he would put everything into the job.

The job is too difficult for a once every two year (more on this later) captain who is normally still trying to play on Tour. The captain needs to be Coach K. Don’t worry about all the administerial tasks leading up to the Cup. Come in and lead the team to victory when the Cup starts.

Azinger is the perfect person to have in charge of the U.S. Team. He can work to implement and assist the captain in formulating a plan and picking a team for victory. In the two years between Ryder Cups, he can scout players on a weekly basis, since he rarely plays and is normally announcing each week. He can arrange team outfits, dinners, practice schedules and everything leading up to the Ryder Cup that is a drain on the captain. Then during the week of the Cup he can be there to assist the captain and provide another pair of eyes on the course. 

Choosing a Captain and Assistant Captains

Azinger’s most important job will be to pick a captain. And to pick a captain who plans to captain for four years. Yes, four years. No more two-year captains. There are not enough decent players to have a new captain every two years.

Look at the names the U.S. Team has to pick from moving ahead. There aren’t many players. The early name being banded about for 2014 is David Toms. No disrespect to Mr. Toms but he is still actively playing, and playing worse than all 12 members of the team.

The Captain should be someone who has done something special in golf, not just the next American in line. Staying for four years will give the team consistency and make sure the field of potential captains to choose from isn’t too thin.

The same is true of Assistant Captains. Assistant Captains only qualification should not be being friends with the Captain. Fred Couples and now Davis Love III took flak for having Michael Jordan as an assistant. You tell me who is likely to bring more awe and inspiration to the team, Mike Hulbert and Scott Verplank or Michael Jordan?

Picking a Team

The U.S. players seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to the “team” aspect of the competition. Maybe its because they gravitate toward each other on the PGA Tour, but for whatever reason the Europeans seem closer.  he U.S. Team has to do something to close the gap.

Getting the players together more often is the way to do it. Every two years the Cup is played somewhere in Europe. What is stopping the captain from getting a group of players together for a couple days each year before or after the British Open to get together, play the course, have dinner together, and hang out to get to know each other. The majority of top Americans are in Europe anyway so it should be pretty simple to schedule.

The years the Cup is in the U.S. it would be even easier to get a group of guys together.

Invite the top 25 Americans in the world and see how they bond and like the course. See who likes to play together, and who is a fit on the course or which young guys hold up to the pressure of playing with the veterans.

Your telling me the players not guaranteed a spot wouldn’t show up to make sure the Captain knows they want to make the team?

Plan for the future

This one should seem pretty obvious. The team should always be planning for the future, but do they?

Looking at the 2012 Team, how many players would you guarantee will be on the 2014 team or 2016 team?

Probably Tiger, but are we sure he can get his game back to the top and play under pressure? He hasn’t shown the ability to perform under real pressure with his new swing. Plus he has an old body with a number of ailments. It is a fair question if his body will hold up two or four more years.

Phil? It’s conceivable Phil won’t be in the top eight of the point standings in two years. He already plays a limited schedule and will continue to do so as he ages and his family time becomes more and more valuable. Not to mention, he didn’t exactly set the Tour on fire this year anyway.

You can assume Bubba, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson have a chance to play in many more Ryder Cups. All five played reasonably well this year and Dufner and Johnson even won their Sunday matches.

The rest? We have probably seen the last of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar could make the team again, but their spots are hardly guaranteed.

It’s time to build a farm system for the U.S. Team.

This year’s team should have brought a number of younger players to Medinah to soak in the experience and see what they could expect from playing in the Ryder Cup. Having Nick Watney, Kyle Stanley, Bill Haas and other guys come to Medinah and learn from the experience would have been invaluable, so if they make the team someday they would know what to expect.

In 2014, a group of young guns should make the trip to Gleneagles. Call them team interns if you want.

Doing the same thing the last 20 years and expecting to stem the European tide has done nothing to help the PGA of America. Chalking up 2012 to a herculean comeback would be a foolish mistake. The question is whether anybody is going to do something about it.

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

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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

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Opinion & Analysis

The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings



I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?

I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.

  • The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
  • The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.

In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.

Case No. 1

It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.

Case No. 2

Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.

At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.

There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.

In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.

The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.

In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.

  1. Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
  2. Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.

And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.

Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.

What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.

As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.

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TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?



Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”

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

For more info on the topics, check out the links below.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross



The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.

The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.

Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?

After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,

Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.

Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,

His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.

What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.

In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.

It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.

Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.

My recommendation: read the book.

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19th Hole