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Opinion & Analysis

Five Things You Can Learn from a (Good) Musician

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By Dan Ross

GolfWRX Contributor

NOTE: This article might be more helpful if you have a little bit of experience in music, but is written to my best ability to be accessible to a range of readers. 

Believe it or not, music and golf have much more in common than you might think.

Maybe that is why you see so many well-known musicians play golf in the celebrity events: Alice Cooper, Kenny G, Justin Timberlake, and Adrian Young (of No Doubt) to name a few.  What’s more, the gentlemen I named are pretty good! Cooper is a 5-handicap, Kenny G is a +0.6, Timberlake is a 6, and Young is a 1. Pretty good stuff in the celebrity category!

On the opposite side, many great golfers are drawn to music, including Trevor Immelman and John Daly. You could also add Nick Watney’s interest in rap music to the mix as well as Bubba Watson, Ricky Fowler, Ben Crane, and Hunter Mahan’s performances as the “Golf Boys” to the discussion as well. Hey, they might not all be playing instruments in the traditional manner, but music can be defined a lot of different ways these days. It just goes to show that there is a lot of overlapping content between music and golf, and I think it is be worthwhile to look at some of the things golfers might take from music to become better… at golf! So here are a few, in no particular order.

1. You have to PRACTICE how to practice!

Show me a great musician, and I will show you an expert in the art of “practice.” Show me a great golfer, and I am less confident I will see someone who has learned the ins and outs of practice. I think there is something about golf that lets people get by on an ability to assimilate actions and concepts quickly that doesn’t happen quite to the same extent in music. While “natural ability” can take you quite far in golf, it only goes so far in music. Of course, there are always exceptions and overlap, but this is my opinion based on more than 20 years of playing music and golf. Your opinion may differ.

I ask you: have you ever had a great first golf lesson with a pro where everything seems to be working better, but the lesson just ends with… “now, go practice?” The problem is, you get to the range, hit some shots and everything falls apart. You toil away for an hour or so before giving up, thinking, “Well, I will just keep going with it tomorrow…,” and the same thing happens again when you return.

The likely reason for this is that you don’t know how to structure your practice sessions and haven’t been given enough checkpoints/failsafe measures to get back on track when the meltdown shows up.  In other words, you likely don’t know how to self-correct. For musicians it is easy – if you hear the wrong note, you used the wrong fingering or rhythm. It is harder for aspiring golfers because there are ways to “cheat” ball flights and getting access to high-speed cameras is a little harder.

With this in mind, every instructor owes it to his/her students to include instruction in how to structure their time alone at the range. Instructors in both golf and music often make the assumption that students know exactly what to do on their own. That is why we now have research that suggests that “homework” is almost totally ineffective with younger learners; they are the least prepared to work independently. If we move that thought to golf instruction, many of us don’t have the contextual information needed to self-correct.

The key to successful practice sessions is the ability to recognize mistakes in the process that create roadblocks to progress and correct them independently. It is the difference between solving a swing issue on the spot, or practicing a swing fault for a week or more until your next lesson. Which would you want?

A good instructor can mitigate the effects of this “crash and burn” phenomenon by detailing the structure of an effective practice session, and giving the student the necessary knowledge to self-assess and redirect. While this writing is not intended to be prescriptive in terms of lesson curriculum design (every lesson should be differentiated according to the needs of the student, so one single approach would never suffice), a component of any good lesson should include a breakdown of steps during individual practice from start to finish, as well as a short list of corrective measures to be used by the student when they are on their own practicing. 

2. Take “note” of the signature elements of your playing style.

Okay…what does this mean? Every good musician has a noticeable playing style (which includes sound, touch, phrasing, articulation, etc.). So does every good golfer. For example, if Jimi Hendrix (were he still alive) picked up any old guitar (vs his trademark Fender Stratocaster), you would be able to tell that it was Jimi Hendrix playing it, even if you couldn’t see him. It makes the point that the music Hendrix produced came from within him, and was a natural extension of his personality and soul. I submit that the same thing can be viewed in golf.

If you happened to see only a blacked out silhouette of Ben Hogan’s swing, would you be able to recognize it as being his, without first being told? I think I could; the various motions and rhythm are distinctive. I could do the same with Phil Mickelson, or David Duval, or any of the great players I have studied over time. We can go even further; those of you who are instructors might even be able to recognize your (more advanced) students just from seeing the ball flight. One might hit it higher or lower, have a more piercing trajectory, a flat apex or hit “risers.” Some of us who have studied tour player swings up close might be able to tell them apart standing at a range solely by ball flight even if we aren’t watching the player. It might be more difficult perhaps, but it certainly is not impossible. These qualities are “signature” elements displayed by any one particular player that are expressions of that person’s personality.

Here is why identifying the personal qualities of your swing is important: The best players don’t fight their tendencies: they work with them. These idiosyncrasies are the means to a consistent swing – BECAUSE they are the natural extensions of their personality. This is why major swing changes take so much time: any substantial adjustment involves not only changing the swing, but also changing the mental approach. A whole new paradigm must be formed, and the mind must then grow to accept the change as “normal.”

For example, let’s take the example of David Duval. Mr. Duval is a major champion and former No. 1 player in the world. His swing is far from what many might consider “perfect,” however. Duval has a very strong grip, and appears to take the club away shut, kept the club shut at the top, and also looks away from the ball through impact. It is likely that Duval found these “signature” elements of his swing comfortable and repeatable and learned to work with them rather than replace them. To keep from hitting a big pull or hook, Duval has a lot of body rotation to mitigate some of the effects of the club being shut through most of the swing, for example.

If I were to ask you to imagine what a low cut looks like in your mind’s eye, can you describe the shape? Can you describe the backdrop of the hole you are playing the shot on? Can you imagine what impact feels like on such a shot? Can you imagine what the ball feels like at impact? All of the great players (music AND golf) can visualize all the individual idiosyncrasies of their playing styles, because they have learned to accept them. The best instructors recognize these elements in their students and work as much as possible to keep them and build swings around them. They are the signature elements that are genuine expressions of our core selves in golf, and are the potential building blocks to an effective (not necessarily picture-perfect) swing.

Click here for more in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

3. Tempo…(with a twist!)

Many of us can recall reading that Sam Snead preferred to swing along to an imagined “waltz” that he heard in his head when his swing didn’t feel right. This segment follows from the same concept, but takes it a step further; something of an intermediate approach to tempo for golfers. In order to grasp it, you are going to have to use some visualization; lucky thing you are all golfers!

If you want to move further in your interpretation of rhythm/tempo in golf, you have to learn to subdivide. Think of fractions: A whole can be divided into two halves (2/2), three thirds (3/3) or four fourths (4/4), right? Well, depending on your natural rhythm, each of these divisions should line up with a point in your swing, the swing representing the “whole.” Are you with me so far?

In addition to Snead, there is a nice video out there on YouTube with Nick Faldo describing this basic idea using the syllables of Ernie Els’s name. If you watch it, you can see the basic breakdown:

“Er” – takeaway

“nie” – top of swing

            “Els” – impact

Musicians would count this rhythm as simply, “ONE…AND…TWO.” Or,

“ONE (Er)…AND(nie)…TWO(Els).”

To feel it, try swinging a club while saying, “ER-NIE-ELS,” matching your swing positions to those listed above, and then swing a few more times replacing “ER-NIE-ELS,” with, “ONE-AND-TWO.” Just make sure you are now swinging with the same natural flow as you would if you said “Ernie Els” in casual conversation; just at a speed that accommodates your golf swing.

So, is music class in grade school is coming back to you now? This is an example of subdividing a beat, or breaking it into simple fractions to make it easier to align with positions in your swing. Learning how to subdivide your swing (or, more accurately, subdivide the natural rhythm of your swing), helps you stay more consistent in your execution, and firmly establishes a base-line “norm” in how you swing the club.

But wait! You can divide things down further and/or more explicitly. Remember the Sam Snead example? That was a case of breaking things into triplet meter, which is the characteristic of a waltz. You know, like “Some Day My Prince Will Come?” If you know this song, you will know the flowing feel is attributed to this meter.

On paper, the way that rhythm breaks down is:

“ONE…E…AND…TWO”

or

“ONE(1)…E(e)…AND(+)…TWO(2).”

If you want to hear what this sounds like, we need to associate it with a spoken phrase. Try saying, “Three…hun…dred…YARDS.” Those of you with little or no musical training might likely start to sense the difference between the “Ernie Els” example and the “three-hun-dred-yards” example. Just to be clear, the breakdown for this example would be:

“ONE(three)…E(hun)…AND(dred)…TWO(yards)”

Just as before, start by saying the phrase while you swing.

The added syllable can be used by those golfers who tend to have a longer “windup” in the backswing and an aggressive transition down to impact, to better align the positions of their swing in tempo. When I think of a player who might conceptually represent this type of triplet rhythm, Fred Couples comes to mind, in addition to Sam Snead.

In the case of Couples, the breakdown might look like:

ONE – takeaway

E – halfway back

AND – the Freddie “pause-at-the-top”

TWO – impact

Anecdotally speaking, I find many of the “sweet” swingers of the golf club fall into the “triplet swing” category. Something about the spacing of their swings tends to line up with the triplet meter, even if they don’t always consistently arrive at specific points.

You might be getting bored a little right now, but hang in there for the last example, as it addresses Ben Hogan, and his meter. The last rhythmical breakdown I want to share is the 16th note rhythm. On paper, it reads like this:

“ONE(1)…E(e)…AND(+)…A(a)…TWO(2)” or simply, “1e+a 2.”

It can be expressed verbally by saying “Hit it in the CUP.”

ONE – Hit

E – it

AND – in

A – the

TWO – cup!

When I watch Ben Hogan’s swing, the 16th note rhythm comes to mind, and the corresponding positions line up extremely well. I might say this doesn’t surprise me one bit, as Mr. Hogan was very deliberate in his approach to the golf swing with the different parts clearly defined. The breakdown of his swing might look like:

ONE – takeaway/7:30 position

E – halfway/9:00 position

AND – top/10:30 position

A – top/lower body transition down

TWO – impact

If you substitute the spoken phrase for the numerical count, you would get:

HIT – takeaway/7:30 position

IT – halfway/9:00 position

IN – top/10:30 position

THE – top/lower body transition down

CUP – impact

(The point of reference would be 1950’s/60’s era Hogan, for all you Hoganites.)

To recap, I know this might be a little cerebral for some of you, but the process can go even further; outlining almost any point in any swing in an expressible rhythm (albeit more complex) that may be somewhat unique to a single player. For you mathematicians, you will also recognize that this concept can allow the swing rhythm to be expressed numerically as well.

What the average player can take from this is that by subdividing your inner rhythm/tempo, you can add a layer of consistency to your swing, and groove a better feel in the process. How do you decide which of these rhythmical structures is best for you? You have probably already done it. Simply ask: “Who is my favorite golfer?” What many don’t realize is that we naturally gravitate towards swings that align with our personal “inner pace.” Your favorite players might likely represent the tempo you want to achieve in your own swing. Without getting technical, simply analyze that player in terms of the subdivisions I have outlined here (halves, triplets, and sixteenths), and apply the concept in reverse to your own swing. Chances are excellent it will line up. Creepy, huh?

4. Improvisation

In music, improvisation usually refers to the process of creating something from nothing, or at least creating a new work from existing/related material. It is the basis for nearly all styles of modern music – blues, jazz, rock, rap, etc. The concept of improvisation also appears in Bloom’s Taxonomy, and addresses topics like adaptation, and extrapolation. Improvisation is a higher-functioning quality in almost every endeavor; because being an effective “improviser” means that you have reached a high level of competence/performance in that content area. For our purposes, the content area is golf.

Who are the great improvisers in golf? Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson … all of these players come to my mind. In fact, it might be said that the shots they had to improvise were also the shots that we use to define them as players (ie. legend-building). When we tell golf stories, we don’t talk about the time when “Player X” hit the ball in the fairway, hit the green, and made a 12-footer for birdie. Birdie is nice, but not as cool as making eagle from behind a tree on route to a Master’s win, holing a toed putter off the boards, the 200-yard six iron out of sand over water, the lily pad shot, etc. The funny thing also, is that you rarely see any great improviser (in music or golf) ever have a frown on their face before or during the shot. They see improvisation for what it is: a fun opportunity to do something great.

A great solo improvisation in music and a cool golf shot have a lot in common: the fun factor goes up depending on who is watching and the difficulty of the shot.  That means you have to have BOTH confidence and skill/creativity to be a good improviser. No guts, no glory, right? We have all heard that one before. Well, what about those of us who don’t have the skill of a Mickelson or Ballesteros? What do WE do? Not everybody has mastery of their craft or confidence needed to pull off the hard shots.

Well, improvisation (despite what you may have heard) is not a skill that some people “just have” and others don’t. It definitely is a teachable skill. Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker learned how to improvise a jazz solo, and YOU can learn to incorporate improvisation into your golf game at whatever level you feel comfortable with in effective ways. Improvisation in golf is not defined solely by the ability to hit sweeping hooks out of the trees with a wedge in order to win the Masters.

Some basic strategies in golf improvisation (improv 101) might include the following:

1) Use the WHOLE tee box

Do you ever stand outside the box while addressing the ball inside the box? Have you ever moved your tee ball back in the box four or five feet to get at a particular yardage or do you always tee it up at the line? If you have a significant shot shape (slice or hook) do you use the proper side of the tee box to accommodate it? Being creative on the tee box improves your chance of success on the hole by helping keep your shots in play or getting them in a better position.

2) Think “outside the green” on approaches.

Do you always try to land shots on the green? Are you locked into that one approach? Some golfers see “the green” and think the only option is to hit the ball onto that surface. Sometimes it is a good idea to run shots up through the neck of the green or leave a shot in the sand on a par 5. I once played with a gentleman who always hit left of a par 5 green because the approach from that position mitigated the effects of the drastic slope of the landing area. He always had a better look at birdie than I did trying to reach in two.

3) Sometimes, you have to hit your “best” bad shot.

I played in a 4-man scramble just recently (no jokes please) where the best shot unexpectedly came to rest behind a tree, despite looking very good from the tee. Of course everyone else picked up assuming this shot was in play, only to get to the ball, sitting roughly four feet behind a very large pine tree. We were 140 out, and the A, B, and C players were all talking about pitching out. Our “D” player (before we were done discussing anything) walks up to the ball and hits a huge slice around the tree that rolls onto the green to about 15 feet. I don’t know if I was more surprised by the fact that the ball got onto the green or by how TERRIBLE the swing looked. It was textbook “don’t do this in golf,” which he had been doing on and off through the day, but it was just ugly. The thing was, none of the rest of us thought we could do better – so we just picked up the mark and walked to the green.

Another such type of shot is the “chunk and run.” This is a shot deliberately hit fat in order to try to stun the forward progress of the ball. So, there is the precedent if you didn’t believe the merits of my suggestion. Even the pros will hit a “bad” shot, given no other option. It is ugly, but it works.

4) Use the right information

I could sit here and list all the different ways to improvise recovery shots or vary trajectory off the tee, but most of you already know this information. Besides, there are much more knowledgeable people out there to hear it from than yours truly. Instead, let’s boil things down to simplest terms, with something all such shots have in common.

So, here it is: Trackman has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the clubface primarily governs initial direction on all shots. Knowing this one piece of information drastically improves our chances of hitting effective recovery shots if we find ourselves in less than ideal spots. Just like a good jazz musician never solos without knowing the chord changes to a song, YOU need to “phrase” your shots according to the right information.

Musicians create solo improvisations (solos) from a set of chords that go along with the music. These chords contain groups of notes that tell musicians what they can play at any given time and have it sound “right.” A joke that bands play on musicians they don’t like is to give someone the wrong set of chord changes – when that person solos, they sound terrible because they are using the wrong set of chords/notes. Their solo might be brilliant – in the context of the chord changes they were actually using, but in the context of the band, it made them sound like a rank amateur.

The equivalent scenario in golf would be this: A golfer hits a shot into the left trees and needs to hook one out right to left to reach the green. That person sets up with a closed face, looking to hit from the inside out and finish low for a hooky runner. He/she takes a few waggles and then swings, even managing to have that Tiger Woods-like finish – standing on one foot, looking intent, sawed-off swing, etc. Ball flight is exactly the desired result. Everything about the swing screams “pro” until you hear the clonk of the ball on the tree because, after all else, that golfer didn’t know how to aim the shot despite knowing how to play it. Like the above example, everything seemed fine in the context of the player, but the end result was undesirable.

If you are going to improvise shots in golf (easy or hard), you have to figure out what is the lowest common denominator before you attempt to get creative. In our case, it is the ball flight laws.

5. Optimism

This last segment is a compare and contrast perspective on the mentality surrounding the development of high-level players in golf and in music. The root observation is purely anecdotal, and is intended as food-for-thought. I will start with a little background.

As you may or may not have guessed, my “normal day job” is being a professional musician and also an educator. I have played drums in various bands you have never heard of, but also with a few you definitely have heard of. My professional performing career is now approaching the twenty-year milestone.  In all that time, however, I have never heard a single great musician ever tell me (or anyone else) that playing at the highest levels of musical accomplishment and exposure is impossible, and that it can only be achieved by a rare (special) few. That said, there was never a single one who ever said it was easy either, OR that one could get all the breaks necessarily to reach that high level, but the overall spirit is one of optimism.

While there are always exceptions, most musicians react to performances from other master-level musicians as open invitations to get improve and to seek out others in a similar situation for mutual benefit. It is like seeing and hearing the goal you are working towards and use it as inspiration to continue improving. If you display good musicianship, it is rare to hear a master tell you, “You don’t have a chance… you shouldn’t even try… or, be happy where you are at.”  (This latter statement refers to relocation to New York or Nashville to pursue a professional career in music). So, why then is the most prevalent comment in golf, “You don’t have a chance?”

Ask many players who carry low handicaps who haven’t reached a professional tour and you will likely hear at some point, “Those guys are just too good.” Further, you often hear “Those players have something special the rest of us don’t have.” While my intent here is not to spark a nature vs. nurture conversation; why is this? Why is there a spirit of defeatism in golf that doesn’t appear nearly to the same extent in music? Why might many instructors write off their student’s chances of performing at the highest level and then teach from that perspective?

If you read background information about professional golfers, you can make many observations: the have all practiced diligently, played extensive competitive golf, have financial support, etc., etc. These are all things that have been noted before ad nauseam. However, it seems to me, one thing that must have been overlooked is that there certainly could not be a single PGA Tour professional that has ever believed he could not make it to the Tour. Further, it is likely that any such person was never surrounded by folks preaching the impossible. Certainly, more sobering perspectives must have been shared at some point, but obviously not enough to dissuade that player from trying.

So, I ask: If professional golfers share a similar perspective to musicians that is framed in optimistic achievement…WHY DON’T YOU?

Click here for more in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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I am a professional musician, educator and researcher, in addition to being a golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My past academic achievements include a Bachelor's degree (in music performance) from the University of Maine, a Master's degree (in jazz performance) from Florida State University, a second Master's degree (in education) from the University of Maine, and K-12 teacher and school administrator certifications in Maine. My current research interests include overlapping content points between music and golf, as well as studying/comparing/contrasting how people learn in both endeavors. I have worked in education for 12 years, including public school education and university instruction. I have taught in the Maine public school system, and at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Florida State University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My main area of musical endeavor is drumset performance with an emphasis in jazz, where I have performed with Chuck Winfield (of Blood Sweat and Tears), Dr. Billy Taylor (of the Kennedy Center), Yusef Lateef (jazz legend), and numerous local and regional groups in the New England area.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ted Bishop on the U.S. Open setup, Phil Mickelson’s antics, his infamous Tweet and more (full interview, transcribed)

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Ted Bishop has seen highs and he has seen lows. As the 38th President of the PGA of America, he was the one of the leaders of the game and the industry of golf. He was at the pinnacle of the game, but one ill-advised tweet brought that crashing down. After calling Ian Poulter a “lil’ girl” on social media, Bishop was impeached from his office and stripped of all of his titles and honors. But he retained his dignity and his love for the game of golf. In this exclusive interview, Bishop opens up about his feelings on the PGA of America, the USGA, this year’s U.S. Open and the double standard that seems to exist in the upper echelons of the game

Read the full transcription below, or click here to listen on SoundCloud, or click here to listen on iTunes!

Michael Williams: So, you’re out in Indiana. What are you doing these days?

Ted Bishop: You know, I’m the General Manager of the Legends Golf Club, which is a 45-hole facility about 25 minutes out from downtown Indianapolis. And it’s a golf course that I’ve built. And that’s pretty much what I do seven days a week and loving every minute of it. It was great when the PGA thing was over with to really dive back into my operation. And the day to day aspect of public golf… I’ve never gotten tired of it in my 47 years of working on a golf course.

Michael Williams: So let’s get to it with the U.S. Open. You saw it just like I did. Great winner, Brooks Koepka. I think you had a lot of great players fighting for the championship as we came down to the wire, which is exactly what you want to see. And you have a repeat champion for the first time since Curtis Strange. Talk to me about how you felt about the players and the level of play and then we’ll switch to how you felt about the golf course and it’s set up.

Ted Bishop: Well I thought Koepka played great and he putted the ball so well on that back nine Michael. And I thought Paul Azinger had one of the classic quotes late in the round yesterday, where he said, “You can’t ride ball striking to the winner’s circle.” And that was certainly the case with Koepka. When you look at the biggest hole that he played, it was probably the bogey he had on number 11.

Michael Williams: Absolutely.

Ted Bishop: And a couple of par saves after that. So for him to have been injured and to have been out as long as he has been here in 2018, this is a great, great victory for him. We knew that DJ was going to be there. I mean, I think he’s clearly earned his right to be the number one player in the world. And he’s playing better, week in, week out than anybody else does. Obviously with the setup, there was a lot of controversy as to how good golf was and how entertaining the open was. But at least when I’m here at a public golf course, they kind of enjoy watching the greatest players in the world be challenged. And that was the case at certain times last week.

Michael Williams: They say that Shinnecock is a second shot golf course but it’s not really a second shot golf course, it’s a third shot golf course because you’re going to hit some shots that hit that green and you’re going to hit a lot that don’t. So, it’s all about your ability to persevere and be creative on the greens and around them, making sure that that three goes from four to five and not to six, seven or eight.

But the controversy really started on Saturday. In your opinion, did they lose the course?

Ted Bishop: You know Michael, I thought the most telling interview that I saw the entire weekend on the course set up was the one that FOX did yesterday with Patrick Reed when his round was finished. And they asked him about the Saturday setup and he said, “You know, I really didn’t have a problem with it.” He said, “There were two pins on 13 and 15 that were maybe two yards out of place and it made a completely different situation on the putting greens.” But he said, “Other than that, I didn’t have any issues with it.” And that’s his personality. He’s the guy that rolls with the flow and doesn’t make any excuses. Now obviously, there were a lot of players that were very critical. I was just reading an article before this phone call. Some quotes from Steve Stricker, for example. And Strick’s usually a guy that doesn’t say anything bad about anything and he was very critical of about the set up. But I think the biggest controversy would be the fact that the players in the morning on Saturday were probably a different golf course than the players in the afternoon were. And that’s just sometimes in golf, the way that it goes.

But I for one, like I said before, I like to see these guys challenged and the US Open always kind of borders somewhat on the unfair side. I remember very vividly the 1974 US Open at Winged Foot and watching Hale Irwin slugging out there. I think he was … Correct me if I’m wrong or if you know, maybe he was seven over par at Winged Foot. So it’s just … That’s just what the US Open is. And it’s different than the other majors. And I personally found it entertaining.

Michael Williams: I did too. If you had been in charge of that championship, would you have done anything different throughout the four days? In terms of course set up.

Ted Bishop: Well, you know that’s a difficult question. My youngest daughter is a PGA member and she’s at St Andrews Golf Club, which is not far from Shinnecock. It’s the oldest club in the United States. And I was talking to her Saturday night, just about the weather that they had to experience in that part of the country and she was saying to me that their greens at St Andrews were as hard and fast as she can ever remember them in the 15 years that she’s been there. So hard that you could actually … You could hear the ball land on the green from the fairway. And so obviously, Shinnecock was harder and faster than some place like that would’ve been in that area.

Michael Williams: Right.

Ted Bishop: And you know, I guess maybe you would have watered … In retrospect, you might have watered more on Friday night if you would have known that conditions were going to get that out of hand. You know, that part of this is so complicated and sophisticated. I say complicated, really in a lot of ways it’s easier Michael, because you got these moisture meters. And you can go out and you can actually test your soils at any point during the morning hours. You can anticipate what your evaporation rate’s going to be based on the wind. And you can do some things differently.

I think Mike Davis said he kind of got off guard on Saturday and I’m sure that if he had some things to do over again, he would’ve done it. But then he made the corrections, I felt like on Sunday. And pins were far more reasonable, the golf course was softer and there were no issues.

Michael Williams: Yeah and you got Tommy Fleetwood shooting a 63. Does that mean there’s an overcorrection?

Ted Bishop: Oh I don’t know about that. I just think the weather got out of hand. And that’s the one element that you can’t ever control. And I know Mike has taken a lot of criticism and he continues to take it. I did an interview with a radio station in Charlotte on Saturday, and they were asking me the difference between Kerry Haigh, who sets up the PGA Championships and Mike Davis who obviously does the USGA. And Kerry is not a risk taker; you can almost go to the bank every year no matter where the PGA’s played, that the winner score is going to be 8 to 12 under par. His philosophy is he wants to see good shots rewarded and there’s a little bit of risk and reward, but he never gets over the top. Mike on the other hand, I would call a risk taker. And that starts really with some of the sites that he selects. And you can point to Chambers Bay and Erin Hills as two that would be that case. Certainly, he made it that way with Shinnecock. But you know, they are different personalities and their philosophies are different. And I’m going to stand up for Mike Davis and I’m going to say that one’s not necessarily right and one’s not necessarily wrong.

I always felt part of golf was being able to adapt to the conditions, no matter what they are. And Tom Watson had a great quote that he said that golf was not meant to be a fair game. And that’s just kind of the way it is… I think that’s always interesting Michael, about the U.S. Open, the tour players are so conditioned to play with the same type of playing conditions week in and week out.

Michael Williams: Yep.

Ted Bishop: I mean, the PGA Championship is not much different than a tour event. Obviously, the Open Championship is going to be different. The U.S. Open is going to be different. The rest of them … Even the Masters, is a, what I would call a PGA Tour set up. So these guys are so conditioned to play the same way week in and week out, when they get a curve ball thrown their way sometimes they don’t react well.

Michael Williams: You’ve already addressed the fact that what happens at the U.S. Open never happens at the PGA Championship. Who is the constituency of Mike Davis? Who is he trying to please? If so many people are displeased, why isn’t he held accountable? Why doesn’t somebody else get a crack at doing that?

Ted Bishop: Well, I think his constituency would be the USGA Executive Committee, possibly.

Michael Williams: So as long as they’re pleased, he’s good to go?

Ted Bishop: Yeah.

Michael Williams: Okay.

Ted Bishop: Exactly. And, they own that championship. I know it’s the United States Open, but you and I don’t own it. The USGA does. So, it’s really their prerogative, and Mike’s the guy that they’ve entrusted that core setup year in and year out to, so it’s their baby to do with what they want to.

Michael Williams: Again, I’m with you. I love what Mike Davis does. I love the fact that you get one tournament a year that’s half Masters and half NASCAR. You’ve got speed and performance, and you’ve also got crashes in Turn 2.

Besides the winner and the course, the story was, Phil Mickelson. I’m going to ask you this as a three-parter. What do you think of what he did, what do you think of his explanation for why he did it, and if it was your sole decision to make, would he have been disqualified?

Ted Bishop: Well, I think that had Phil kept his mouth shut after the round and really not exposed what had happened he would have been OK. Under rule 14-5, I mean, he clearly struck a ball in motion, so that’s a two shot penalty.

Michael Williams: Right. That’s physics, so you can’t argue with physics. He hit a ball that’s moving. Done.

Ted Bishop: Yeah. Can’t argue with that. Honestly, the great thing about the rules of golf, you always have the opportunity to use the rules to your advantage. That’s not cheating. That’s just knowing the rules book and using them to your advantage.

Michael Williams: Right.

Ted Bishop: At that point, when he did that, I would say that he succeeded in using the rules to his advantage. When he went to the media scrum afterwards, and basically admitted what his intent was, now all of the sudden, that really kind of falls under a different rule, Rule 1-2, which is another situation that could have very easily have resulted in a disqualification.

Michael Williams: Now, what is it he said specifically that takes it from a 14-5 consideration to 1-2?

Ted Bishop: Well, he indicated what his intentions were, to stop the ball before it went off the putting green and rolled down into a place that he very conceivably might not have had a shot. It was his intent, if he wouldn’t have divulged what his intent was, if he would have just said, “Hey, I clearly struck a ball in motion. I did what I did, and that was it”, and not taken it any further than that, then it would have been pretty clear-cut that it was a two shot penalty. But when he expressed his intent to breach the rules, then that’s where the disqualification would have come into play.

I talked with a guy that’s on the PGA of America Rules Committee, and watched a couple of people talk about it this morning in preparation for this story, and I think that’s about as clear and concise as you can make it. The question then goes to the USGA, well, then why did you not go ahead and disqualify him because he clearly indicated what his intentions were? That stuff happens. I remember being at the Masters when Roy McIlroy took that practice swing (2009). I was on the Rules Committee in the bunker that year, and there was a lot of talk that he should be disqualified. I know Kerry Haigh privately said, hey, if this would have been the PGA Championship we would have DQ’d him, but they elected not to at Augusta, and the USGA elected not to DQ Phil. Again, that’s what the committee does. They make those types of decisions, and the rest of us debate them.

Michael Williams: Okay. A lot of this discussion going forward is going to be about one of my favorite subjects, which is hypocrisy. I think hypocrisy ruins the world, among other things. Let’s go there a little bit. So, it’s not Phil Mickelson that does this, it’s Pat Perez. Is he DQ’d?

Ted Bishop: That’s a great subjective question. I would say that he might have been DQ’d. I would also say this, I know Phil well, as well as I guess I could have in the position that I was in. I like him, but I also think that sometimes there’s nothing that he doesn’t do without an agenda. I think that clearly what he did on Saturday was basically his way of really trying to show up the USGA for what he felt like was not a good course setup.

Michael Williams: You know the other thing that he did, it hasn’t been talked about at all, but I thought really served as a frame of reference for what he did on 13, was the putt he made on 14. Because he hits the green on 14, and instead of going right at the hole, he went, what, six feet to the right of it and up the bank, and tried to bring it in from above the hole back down to it and into the backdoor. He hits that putt, and then like turns to Beef Johnson, and is sort of like laughing and giving that Phil Mickelson smirk. To me, that’s like, okay, this is how you feel. You are saying and giving a clear statement that this course is unplayable, and I’m going to show you just how unplayable it is by hitting into the windmill on number 14 and trying to get it into the hole. Did you see that too?

Ted Bishop: Yeah. I can’t argue with any of that. Then, of course, you had the Twitter tirade that my friend Ian Poulter went through on Saturday night where he said some very derogatory things about Mike Davis and the USGA. I guess the difference between those two styles is that maybe Phil’s was a little bit more discrete than what Poulter’s was. But, I think there were a lot of negative reactions by players to what went on on Saturday, and how they displayed that certainly was different.

Michael Williams: So, it’s been my contention that what Phil Mickelson did will probably not dent his reputation among his fans. But within the people who are the guardians of the game golf, those people who wear green jackets, and pins, and crests, and things like that, I think it has taken an irreversible hit. What do you think?

Ted Bishop: Well, you know Michael, here’s what I would say. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are, in a lot of ways, are bullet proof for any of their actions. I mean, their fan base is loyal, and supportive, and that’s really kind of the interesting thing about this sport, is the fact that people just have a tendency to turn their head or overlook some things that happen that maybe aren’t really in the best interest of the game, and really doesn’t seem to tarnish them much going forward. I mean, Phil’s had other things that have come up in his career. I mean, the insider trading situation is one. If that was Pat Perez, would that have been handled differently? So, you know, I’ve always laughed about golf; for a sport that hangs its hat on ethics, and etiquette, and ideals, I do think that there is a lot of hypocrisy from time to time in the sport.

Michael Williams: Let’s go a little deeper into your tenure as President. I think most people know the situation where there was a series of tweets between you and Ian Poulter. In one of them, you made a comment that ultimately was determined to be sexist and damaging to the reputation of the PGA, and the golf industry in general. In a very short period of time between one tweet and a consideration of this action, it led to your removal as the President of the PGA. What’s your recollection of the timeline of that event? How do you look at it now?

Ted Bishop: Well, I mean, just the factual part of it was this. It took place on October 23, 2014. It was less than a month after the Ryder Cup, and I was working the Faldo Junior Series at the Greenbrier with Nick Faldo.

Michael Williams: And we were there at the Greenbrier at the same time.

Ted Bishop: Oh, no kidding?

Michael Williams: Yeah, we were there. I was doing a fundraiser for St. Jude’s and Faldo was the guest of honor. I was there that night.

Ted Bishop: Wow. You should have saved me. But at any rate, it was the last night that I was there. We were going to go out to Nick’s for a quick reception. He has a house there at the Greenbrier, and then we were going to go back and have dinner with the kids that night. I was looking at Geoff Shackelford’s blog, actually, and I had seen where Ian Poulter had released his new book called No Limits, and he had been very critical of Nick Faldo and Tom Watson both, actually. Watson is a Ryder Cup Captain, and it struck a nerve. It’s no excuse on my part, but it was really kind of the last straw in the aftermath of that 2014 Ryder Cup, so as you said, I called Poulter out on Twitter and Facebook, and referred to him as a little girl. The PGA and other people took offense to that remark. And actually, within 18 hours after my stupid remarks on social media, I was removed from office with 29 days left to go in my tenure.

Michael Williams: Stunning. With 29 days left to go, amazing. Amazing.

Ted Bishop: Yeah. I mean, I will say this, and I’ve said this 100 times, it was a very poor choice of words on my part, very stupid for the media training that I had had. I’m not going to apologize for standing up for two guys that I felt like were being unduly criticized, particularly in Tom’s case, as a Ryder Cup Captain being criticized by an opposing player. I really, I don’t make apologies for that, I just wish I would have chosen my words better. What I did was, it was stupid. I mean, I make no excuses. There’s a lot of ways I could have said it, but to use the term little girl, I just never even began to think of it from a sexist viewpoint, but it is what it is, and I was done.

Michael Williams: It was funny because you had been on my show not long before and we talked about the fact that your tenure was almost over, and I asked you about the practice of the U.S. presidents leaving a note in the office of the incoming President, for their eyes only.

Ted Bishop: I remember that. That was a great question.

Michael Williams: As you look back on it now, although it wasn’t a timely exit, what would you have put on your note in your desk for the incoming president?

Ted Bishop: I mean well, my mindset has totally changed since then. Another thing that was kind of interesting, obviously, in preparation for my outgoing speech at the annual meeting in Indianapolis, we were at the Grand … I’ll back up. A week before this all happened I was at the Grand Slam in Bermuda and we were having what really would be our final executive committee meeting with Kerry Haigh, Darrell Crall, Pete Bevacqua, Derek Sprague and Paul Levy and myself. I asked the PGA to kind of summarize my two years; I said, “Could you give me a timeline of just the things that happened in my two years which what kind of really put into play my remarks at the annual meeting?”

And, they came back about a week later and they gave me a five-page, single spaced document of all the things that happened in ’13 and ’14. And, there were a lot of really positive things that we did as an association, that we did for the game. I think we elevated the stature of the PGA of America and the golf community. And unfortunately, even to this day I feel like my stupidity on social media wiped out a lot of that work. They always say to any kind of a leader, “How will your legacy be defined?” And, I think had it not been for that minute and a half of really dumb, irresponsible action on social media, my legacy in golf probably would be a hell of a lot different than what it is today.

Michael Williams: I applaud you for being a man and stand up and taking responsibility for your actions. But again, the rails that we’re riding this train on for this part of the conversation is hypocrisy. You didn’t use any of The Forbidden Seven. You didn’t say anything that you could have been fined for by the FCC. You called the guy a little girl. But, when you looked around the room at the people who were judging you, do you think that there was any one person around there who hadn’t at some time said to a playing partner when they hit a putt short, “You gotta hit it Nancy.” Or, “Hit it again, Shirley.”

Ted Bishop: No, there’s no question about it, and we had situations in my two years as the president where we actually had past presidents and we had board members that we kind of had to sanction. And when I say sanction, I mean, I felt like we did it in a very responsible and gentle way. We brought the people in, we said, “Look, you can’t be saying this. You can’t be doing this. You represent the largest working sports organization in the world.” And, I think that was a bitter pill for me, the way that my whole thing went down. Some of that didn’t happen. That being said, again, I’ll make no excuses. I’m the guy at the top of the ladder and I’ve got to set an example for everyone within the association. And, I should have done that, but I would say that certainly there were other disciplinary cases and there have been since that weren’t quite handled the same as mine.

Michael Williams: When you look now and you see the things that are said by athletes, by entertainers, and I’m going to go there, even by the President of the United States about women, seemingly without consequence, it’s hard not to be bitter, Isn’t it?

Ted Bishop: Yeah, but I just never wanted to be that guy. That’s why I just try to come back and really throw myself into my family and my business and just try to move on and not get caught up with that. That was one of the reasons that I wrote the book. I wanted to try to educate people on your responsibilities with social media and I’ve spoken on this topic. And, I guess that was really to this day, that’s my biggest disappointment, Michael, with the PGA of America.

I could have been a poster child for all those things. I think I could have helped with a golf professionals, but I could have helped people in general doing a lot of the things that I’m doing now. So, when it was all said and done I thought, “You know what? That is what I’m going to do. I’ll just take matters into my own hands and try to do that.” And, that’s kind of been my message and what I kind of stand for now. “Hey! Learn from my mistakes.”

Michael Williams: There’s a recent incident, again, most of our readers and listeners know about it and I know you know about it too, where Paul Levy, the current president of the PGA, was arrested last week on a DUI, driving under the influence. A statement of apology and contrition was made, but I have heard no word on any disciplinary action. And I say this noting that Paul Levy is a friend of mine. I really, really like that guy. But, isn’t it a double standard?

Ted Bishop: I think that’s for other people to judge and I’m not going to comment on Levy’s arrest. I think the PGA of America’s been pretty clear at this point that they stand behind him and they’re going to continue to do that. The way they’ve not messaged Paul’s situation to the membership compared again to the way my whole thing was handled, is kind of curious. But, I don’t know. Maybe they feel that my remarks were so insensitive and so violating to the diversity and inclusion principles that they have really made their platform over since 2014. Maybe that’s a bigger issue to them than the DUI. I don’t know, you’d have to ask somebody from the PGA of America.

Michael Williams: Yeah, I fully intend to. Thanks, and I’ll keep you posted on that. What’s your relationship with the PGA, professionally and personally right now?

Ted Bishop: I’ve tried to get as involved as I possibly can in my own section, the Indiana PGA. I’ve actually hosted and MC’ed our last few section awards ceremonies in the Spring, which I’ve enjoyed. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at some section meetings. I’ve led something that I think is critical to the future of the game right now and that was a junior pace of play pilot program that we had called Project 215 where we’re trying to get juniors to play nine holes in two hours and 15 minutes because I think the slow pace of play at the junior golf level is one of the things that’s killing the sport right now. That’s where I’ve really chosen to get involved with. One of the things that happened to me when I was impeached was that they took away my right to vote, they took away basically my right to be involved in any governance at the PGA of America level. So, I’m a guy that kind of has to rely on the local aspect of the PGA in my life right now. And again, that’s okay because selfishly, Michael, that’s kind of what influences my own little world each and every day and I’m done with the rest of it. However, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work for MorningRead.com, which is a daily digital golf newsletter that Alex Miceli started and that’s kept me in touch with the game and I love to write and I felt that it kind of kept me relevant to a degree.

Michael Williams: As always Ted, thanks so much for your time and most of all for your honesty. In today’s world that’s pretty tough to come by.

Ted Bishop: I always love talking to you and I remember very well that first meeting we had down at the PGA show and I’m glad to call you a friend.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Travelers Championship

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The Travelers Championship gets underway this week. Unlike some events after a major championship, we will be treated to an excellent field. Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Brooks Koepka will all be in action at TPC River Highlands this week in what is without a doubt the most stacked field in this event’s history.

Unlike last week at Shinnecock Hills, TPC River Highlands is a short course, measuring just 6,841 yards. It should mean that all different types of players will have the opportunity to excel here. The par-70 includes 12 par-4 holes, eight of which measure between 400-450 yards. Those are birdie holes for this generation of players. Expect to see a lot of positional play off the tee with players then relying on their short irons to get the ball close.

Last year, Jordan Spieth defeated Daniel Berger in a sudden-death playoff with a stroke of genius from the greenside bunker.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Thomas 12/1
  • Rory McIlroy 12/1
  • Brooks Koepka 12/1
  • Jordan Spieth 14/1
  • Patrick Reed 16/1
  • Jason Day 18/1
  • Paul Casey 18/1

With just one missed cut in his last nine events, Webb Simpson (25/1, DK Price $9,100) gets the call to continue his excellent 2018. Simpson bounced back from his missed cut at the Fort Worth Invitational to deliver a top-10 finish at the U.S. Open last week. Simpson had a dismal Thursday. He looked set to miss the cut at Shinnecock Hills, but he performed excellently over his final three rounds. One of the most encouraging signs was his iron play over the weekend. Simpson gained over 5.5 strokes with his approach play over his last two rounds, which should bode well for this week’s challenge.

TPC River Highlands is a course that Simpson has played well in years past. He has recorded two top-10 finishes in his last three starts at the Connecticut event, and his form this year is better than it was in that period. Over his previous 12 rounds, Simpson ranks 13th for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Strokes Gained-Short Game, 17th for Strokes Gained-Putting and second for Strokes Gained-Total. All parts of Simpson’s game are in form right now, and on a course where he’s enjoyed success in the past, he should play well again this week. I don’t particularly like his outright price of 25/1, but as a DraftKings play at a salary of $9,100, Simpson is a rock-solid choice.

Another man who is enjoying a terrific 2018 is Bubba Watson (33/1, DK Price $8,800). Watson has won twice already this year, and although he has cooled off lately, he should be full of confidence heading to a track he adores. Watson has won this championship twice in his career and has missed the cut on just one occasion, which came last year when by all accounts he was struggling with his health.

Don’t read too much into his missed cut last week at the U.S. Open. It’s an event Watson doesn’t enjoy, and he’s now missed four of his last five cuts at the tournament. When he missed the cut at the U.S. Open in 2015, he won this championship the very next week, and there’s every chance he could do the same this week. Watson is sixth in Ball Striking over his past 24 rounds, and his record at Pete Dye-designed courses is excellent. Watson ranks 10th for Strokes Gained-Total on Pete Dye courses over his last 50 rounds, while his Strokes Gained-Total at TPC River Highlands over the past five years is better than anyone else. I expect Watson to bounce back from last week’s missed cut, and he looks an excellent price to do just that.

Emiliano Grillo (55/1, DK Price $7,700) may also have missed the cut at the U.S. Open, but TPC River Highlands is a course that is tailor made for the Argentine’s game. Grillo is first in Ball Striking and seventh in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his previous 24 rounds on courses measuring less than 7,200 yards. Over the same period on Pete Dye-designed courses, the Argentine ranks second in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green.

Grillo finished T43 on his first appearance here last year, although it would have been much better had it not been for a miserable week on the greens. Grillo was 13th that week for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. With the way he is hitting it at the moment, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him improve on that effort this week. Over his previous 24 rounds, Grillo sits eighth in ball striking, sixth for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, sixth for Strokes Gained-Putting and second for Strokes Gained-Total. At a top price of 55/1 and a DraftKings salary of just $7,700, the Argentine is well worth siding with this week.

Lastly, I’ll take Aaron Baddeley (160/1, DK Price $7,000) at a knockdown price to play well this week. Judging by his last two outings, the Australian’s game is slowly coming around. Notably, his irons look very good all of a sudden. Over his previous two events, Baddeley has gained over eight strokes with his approach shots, which is excellent. Baddeley has also played well at the Travelers in the past, recording a top-5 finish here in 2014. He has made the cut at this event in three of his last four attempts. With such a low price tag and his iron game nice and sharp, I’ll happily take a punt on Baddeley this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Webb Simpson 25/1, DK Price $9,100
  • Bubba Watson 33/1, DK Price $8,800
  • Emiliano Grillo 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Aaron Baddeley 160/1, DK Price $7,000
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The 19th Hole: “It was chaos” behind-the-scenes at the 2018 U.S. Open, says Shane Bacon

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Fox Sports anchor Shane Bacon gives a behind-the-scenes look at the unforgettable 118th U.S. Open on The 19th Hole with host Michael Williams. Also, former PGA President Ted Bishop gives his take on the difference between USGA and PGA Championship course setup, Phil’s Faux Pas, and the apparent double standard in how the game disciplines its own on and off the course.

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

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19th Hole

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