Connect with us

Opinion & Analysis

Think Carnoustie’s hard? Try winning a title on it playing golf with one arm

Published

on

When things get challenging during the 147th Open this week on the Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, the players would do well to think of Mike Benning–specifically the fortitude he channeled into success at the venerable venue.

Benning grew up with golf at Congressional while his father, Bob, was head professional at the iconic country club in Bethesda, Md. Due to a rare form of cancer, Benning, who was already a top junior in the Washington, D.C. area, lost his left arm below the elbow to amputation at age 14.

Rather than let that stop him from playing, he learned to adapt. So much so that he won back-to-back Society of One-Armed Golfers world championships in 1993-94. The first win came at Seaford Golf Course in Sussex, England, in 1993. Benning defended his title at Carnoustie in 1994, the 56th and 57th renditions of the annual event, which began in the 1930s.

Benning was low medalist in stroke play at Seaford, shooting 80-81-161. With the top 16 finishers advancing to match play, Benning won four matches in two days to become champion. He went to Carnoustie the next year full of confidence but couldn’t find the form initially that carried him at Seaford, qualifying 10th in medal play.

“My game wasn’t on, and the course was brawny and fast,” Benning said this week from his home in Scituate, Mass. “The course was so dry it was grey, and it was windy. That makes Carnoustie very difficult, even more challenging than normal. I had a difficult draw in match play, but I found my game when it mattered most, and only one of my matches went to the 18th hole.”

In the championship match, Benning defeated Scotsman Brian Crombie of Dundee, a 25-minute drive from Carnoustie.

“He had about 50 friends and family members rooting him on, the crowd was definitely behind him,” Benning recalled. “But I had a couple Americans following me. One was Mike Gibson, who now works for Titleist. He came out wearing a pair of red plus fours and an American flag shirt. He and Mark Frace really propped me up. I remember having a big decision on the 10th hole – whether to try and get a 3-wood over the burn – so I turned and looked at those guys behind me, and they encouraged me to go for it. I cleared the burn and ended up 12 feet from the hole.”

Benning was an independent sales rep in the golf business before joining Hanger, Inc., the leading U.S. provider of prosthetics and orthotics, where he is currently Marketing Manager. He has played other Open Championship courses but calls Carnoustie’s Championship layout “probably the greatest risk-reward course” in the rota. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do justice to the demanding test of golf it presents players,” he said.

To underscore his assertion, Benning cited the 6th hole – “Hogan’s Alley” – named after 1953 Open Champion Ben Hogan. Here is the description for it from the Carnoustie Golf Links website. “Normally played into prevailing wind, this can be a severe par 5. Bunkers and out of bounds await the miss-cued drive and although the best line is up Hogan’s Alley between the bunkers and the out of bounds fence, it requires a brave player to drive to that narrow piece of fairway. The second shot is no less perilous with a ditch angling across the fairway and the out of bounds continuing to be a threat. The approach is reasonably straightforward to an undulating green, particular care must be taken if the pin is located on the back-right portion of the green. A player should always be content with a five on this hole as it can be the ruin of many a scorecard.”

Benning said the pair of fairway bunkers side by side on the 14th hole – known as “The Spectacles – have to be experienced to be understood how hard they play for those unfortunate enough to find them.

“I hit into one of them during a match and it was the only time I had to hit backwards out of a bunker during the championship,” Benning remembered. “The face of the bunker was unthinkably high.”

The closing holes at Carnoustie’s Championship Course – Nos. 16-18 – may be the most difficult finish in all major golf, particularly No. 18, named “Home”.

“Just ask Jean Van de Velde,” said Benning, referring to the Frenchman who led by three strokes going to final hole of the 1999 Open Championship. Van de Velde took triple bogey to fall back into a tie and playoff, which he lost to Paul Lawrie. No golf follower who watched the debacle can forget the image of Van de Velde standing in Barry Burn with his trouser bottoms rolled up, hands on hips, stunned disbelief etched on his face. Conversely, Lawrie’s final round 67 astounded Benning, who pointed out that the final round average score was significantly higher. The 18th also cost Johnny Miller the 1975 Open title, after Miller took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker on the hole.

Suffice it to say, Carnoustie will provide many of the world’s greatest players the chance for immortal golf glory this week, or demoralizing defeat. Maybe both. Whomever emerges as champion, Mike Benning will relate to the elation felt after prevailing on one of the game’s greatest courses.

Your Reaction?
  • 59
  • LEGIT4
  • WOW9
  • LOL1
  • IDHT2
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK0

A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in Northern Virginia. Fan of the Terps and all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was once Editor of Golf Inc. Magazine.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Greg Stark

    Jul 24, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Awesome stuff Mike. I am sure growing at Congressional was pretty special. People speak of your family with fond memories

    Greg Stark
    DOG at Congressional

  2. Angela Silvestre

    Jul 22, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    I have had the good fortune to meet Mike and to have him give me a few golfing tips while we hit some golf balls. I am also a one armed person (and golfer). Just spending a few hours with Mike it was clear that he was not only a great golfer but also a wonderful person.
    I knew he had won 2 world championships, but I didn’t know 1 of them was at Carnoustie. WOW!
    Great article.

  3. Jack Wullkotte

    Jul 20, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Dear Dan, Pardon me for not mentioning that it was a really inspiring and well written article. When I begin to tell a story, I sometimes have a brain lock, and forget the reason for telling my story. You have had quite a career. Much success in the future. Jack Wullkotte, (former clubmaker and now, an 89 year old, retired, lazy, senior citizen.)

  4. Kim Williams

    Jul 18, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you for such an inspiring read!
    The Open golf courses test every aspect of the game, as well as demanding great precision and imagination. Well done Bob and thank you Dan for highlighting a tremendous achievement.
    Kim Williams, Bethesda,Md

    • Dan

      Jul 18, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      Thank you, Kim. Mike is forever a Carnoustie champion and even better person.

  5. Mike Benning

    Jul 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Dan, Great work and thank you for reviving my memories of Carnoustie. It was a magical week and it was special to recall it with you during our call. Love the pic too! Thanks for remembering. All the best, Mike

    • Dan

      Jul 18, 2018 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks Mike. Enjoy Open Championship week and all the great memories it’ll bring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Opinion & Analysis

Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!

Published

on

Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.

Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?

I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.

First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.

How Does This Happen?

Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.

A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?

OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.

Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.

The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.

You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.

Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…

With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.

It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.

What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?

There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules,  technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.

Your Reaction?
  • 48
  • LEGIT3
  • WOW1
  • LOL1
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK7

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

Chat with a (soon-to-be) PGA Tour champion: Sam Ryder

Published

on

From 2003 through 2008, I had a side job as a high school golf coach for Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida. One of the kids to come up through the ranks during my tenure at Bishop Moore was a young man named Sam Ryder. Now, at 29 years of age, Sam is in his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, qualifying by way of his second-place finish in the standings on the 2017 (then) Web.com Tour.

Ryder played on the PGA Tour Canada in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, he finished fourth in the PGA Tour Canada Order of Merit earning a place on the Web.com Tour for 2016.

In July 2017, Ryder had his first Web.com win, at the Pinnacle Bank Championship, finishing eight strokes ahead of the field. He finished second in the 2017 Web.com Tour regular season rankings to gain a place on the PGA Tour for 2018.

In his rookie campaign on the PGA Tour, Sam had a T2 finish at the John Deere, a fifth-place finish at the Houston Open and a T7 at the Barbasol Championship. He finished the year ranked 101 in the FedEx Cup Race.
This year, despite battling an injury, Sam has a third at the Shriners, a T4 at the Safeway and just last week, a T18 at the John Deere. He is currently ranked 92nd in the FedEx Cup standings and 190th in the World Golf Rankings.

I recently caught up with Sam to chat about his run-up to the PGA Tour and all the various experiences that go along with that.

So, let’s go back to your Bishop Moore days…when I was coaching my last year of vrsity, I think you were a junior. Sean took over your senior year. Curious, if back then, did you aspire of playing professionally?

SR: Generally, yes, I think I always saw myself playing baseball growing up. I wanted to be a professional in Major Leagues. When I turned to golf, I continued the path. I have always thought, “Why put in the effort if you don’t have a means to an end?” Without putting the goal on paper, it was always the end goal: to see how far I can go.

How about your years at Stetson? How did that play into your development as a future PGA Tour star?

SR: Stetson was my only Division 1 scholarship offer, and actually the only school I applied to. I knew I wanted to give golf a shot. Playing Division 1 in Florida was going to give me my best opportunity to get better.

At what point during your rise through the Canadian and Web.com did you really feel like you had what it took to play full time on the PGA Tour?

SR: I’ve always just wanted to see how good I can get. I love the game of golf, so it’s easy for me to work hard. I never knew if I was going to be a failed pro who never made it on tour or make it to number one in the world. But I’ve always been driven by the competitive nature of the sport and wanting to see where I “stack up” so to speak.

What was the most eye-opening part of playing full time on the PGA Tour for you?

SR: I think the biggest challenge of being a PGA Tour rookie is trying to learn all of the new golf courses. Everything about being a rookie on Tour is setting you up to be uncomfortable. Rookies are really behind the eight-ball when they get out there. Until you’re able to get into a routine and develop a level of comfort it’s hard to expect good results. I wanted to stay true to my approach for the most part. I earned my way on the PGA Tour and knew I was good enough based on the success I had on the Web.com Tour. I’m always trying to get better, but I wanted to do it my way, the way that got me there. It’s really easy to try to be someone you’re not when you get on Tour.

You have been in contention multiple times on the weekend and deep into a Sunday, what have you taken as the biggest positive from those experiences and what do you feel you still need to work on in regard to notching that first win?

SR: Biggest positive: playing well in big-time pressure moments. I haven’t really “lost” an event, so to speak. I have come from behind to make a good push. Knowing that when I am in these situations, and the adrenaline is going, I am able to hit the shots and make the putts. It gives me confidence that I am not going to fold in a pressure situation.

Something that everyone is always working on, including Tiger Woods, is to stay in the moment. As cliche as that is, it is a constant struggle to focus on the task at hand. Don’t get too high or low- treat each shot for what it is…

As a PGA Staff Professional with Cleveland/Srixon for several years, I know how great the equipment is with them. What had you join their team as a staff Tour Professional?

SR: I’ve been with Cleveland since I turned pro in 2012-13, they were the first manufacturer to approach me, and I love their equipment from the ball to the wedges and now the irons and driver.

What currently are you and your coach working on?

SR: Having missed significant time due to injury recently, we are just working on a lot of the same things I have been working on, my swing doesn’t change much. Right now, distance control with the irons and wedges is a focus.

Any veteran Tour members welcome you as a new member when you first came out? Kind of show you the ropes.

SR: Former player, Fulton Allem, gave me advice about managing strengths and weaknesses. Some players get so consumed with their weakness that they lose their strengths. Other players maximize their strengths and have awareness and the ability to monitor and play around their weaknesses. That goes along with the importance of staying true to your identity as a player as opposed to trying to be someone you’re not.

Chris DiMarco has been a mentor to me, growing up in the Orlando area. He has been able to provide guidance and support over the past few years, as I navigate my first years on TOUR.

For the most part veteran players as a whole have been accommodating and welcoming and are happy to share knowledge along the way.

So, what’s a typical work week look like for you? Tournament week and non?

SR: Tournament Weeks are pretty consistent…

Monday- is usually a travel day and I make a point to good work out in that day, as it’s a day off from golf Tuesday- I play nine holes
Wed- Pro-am
I go to the gym every day before I go to the course, just to get my body warmed up. Thursday and Friday rounds alternate AM/ PM tee times. I get up three hours before regardless of the time of the round, just to get body ready.

Non-Tournament Weeks…
When I am home, I go to the gym with my trainer, Alex Bennet @ TPC Sawgrass performance center 5/6 times per week. Usually, Monday and Tuesday are days off from golf, to give my body a rest.

I practice on Wed/ Thursday and play money games with other TOUR players on the weekend, to keep my game sharp and prepare for the high stakes the next week. I live less than a mile from the beach, and I enjoy going there to relax. I spend time visiting friends too.

You’ve become somewhat of a fashion icon on tour…what is your take on style and dress on Tour? It seems like a big thing for an observer from this side of the ropes…a way of self-marketing perhaps or standing out from the pack?

SR: I definitely care about my style on the golf course. I’m certainly not afraid to make a little bit of a fashion statement and wear things other players may not be willing to wear. The clothes I wear can definitely contribute to some added confidence, and confidence is one of the most important components to playing good golf.

Curious on your take of the health of golf in general?

SR: I think it’s great. The game of golf is in a good spot. I think Tiger Woods being relevant is massively important to the game, it brings sponsors and more viewers to the game. There is a great crop of young players right now. It is in a healthy, sustainable spot. Jay Monahan really has the TOUR moving in a good direction.

Your Reaction?
  • 6
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW2
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK1

Continue Reading

Podcasts

The 19th Hole: Gary Player, Irish ambassadors talk Open in Northern Ireland

Published

on

Hall of Famer Gary Player returns to the 19th Hole to talk about the Championship, his record and his favorites to win this year. Also features Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall and Northern Ireland Consul Director Norman Houston.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

Your Reaction?
  • 1
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK2

Continue Reading

19th Hole

Facebook

Trending