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Olympic Golf: Rooting for the Red, White and Who?

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It all started so well. Like building a new house, the blueprints were perfect. Well known builder… check. Money… check. Piece of land… check. Interest… check. Then as they started building, it all went wrong, sinking like a bad foundation.

Way back in October of 2009, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced with great fan fare golf would return to the Olympics at Rio for the first time since Canadian George Lyon won in 1904. At the time (2009 not 1904), Padraig Harrington went as far as to tell PGATour.com:

“I do believe in time the Olympic gold will become the most important event in golf, and I don’t believe it will take that long.”

Well, someone forgot to tell the rest of the players because players have been dropping like flies.

Vijay Singh, someone with no issue taking on the PGA Tour and its governing body, announced in April of 2016 he would not play for Fiji. A week later, Adam Scott said he had a busy summer schedule and personal commitments, which would not allow him to play.

Since those two, a proverbial who’s who of players have announced they will not attend. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Braden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Hideki Matsuyama, Brendon de Jonge, Andy Sullivan and Tim Wilkinson have all bowed out. That’s a leader board any major championship would be happy with on a Sunday afternoon.

Of those not playing, the excuses have run the gambit from family (Day and others), schedule (Scott and others) and Zika, which has been the most prevailing.

With regard to the schedule, the chance to win gold comes at an inopportune time. The event will take place August 11-14, which is just two weeks after the PGA Championship and the week before the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. There’s no doubt the Wyndham is a popular event. It attracts a top field, but we aren’t talking about the Quad Cities Open. This is the Olympics; it’s a once-every-four-year chance. Given the way the Tour has gone the last couple years, it may be a once in a lifetime chance. There is no telling who will be the best players four years from now.

Not to mention these guys aren’t flying United. They can hop on a private jet and fall asleep in Rio and wake up in Charlotte ready to go.

Now we come to the touchier subjects: family and Zika.

Mind you, family is just a code word for Zika, and it is seemingly a legitimate concern. Who is going to argue with a player putting family first? It is an easy out, maybe even a smart decision. No one is going to deny Zika is a risk. The photographs of Brazilian mothers holding a newborn child with microcephaly are sad and scary. But is health a real concern or just a convenient reason to get out of playing?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), yes, athletes are at risk of being infected by the Zika virus from infected mosquitoes, the same as any other Brazilian citizen. However, WHO has stated Zika usually only causes minor symptoms, with most persons not having any symptoms at all. The Center for Disease Control has said Zika should not cause any problems for women wanting to get pregnant after it has passed through the blood stream. They have recommended waiting for at least six months after the first symptoms to start trying to have a child just to be safe.

It’s up to the player to decide if waiting six months to have a child is worth a possible gold medal; only they can answer that. Not to get all Dr. Ruth but, if a player really needs to have a kid within the next six months, can’t they freeze a sample before heading for Rio? Plus if it is such a concern, why hasn’t Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, or other top LPGA players backed out?

Other athletes have more concerns than Zika, and will be more exposed to contracting Zika than golfers will. Dead bodies are washing up on the shore where the beach volleyball games will be played — that’s right, dead bodies. The USA rowers are all wearing science fiction body suits to keep bacteria in the water from touching their skin. Just this week we learned the waters sailing events will take place in have super bacteria resistant to medicine.

“Every time you get some water in your face, it feels like there’s some alien enemy entering your body,” a German sailor told CNN.

Think he’s withdrawing? Nope. Let that sink in. Sailors, without million dollar salaries or endorsements, are willingly going to risk becoming infected with a bacteria medicine can’t help just for a shot at a medal.

Think about it: if the beach volleyball teams can play in bikinis and board shorts, can’t golfers take precautions? How about long sleeves and bug spray? Heck, use it to get sponsorship deal with Off!

The Red, White and Blue hasn’t been immune either. Just last night Dustin Johnson backed out citing family reasons, after previously stating he would play. And there could be more losses to follow; Jordan Spieth just last week said he is still gathering information and Rickie Fowler has been non-committal. It would be no shock if those two members of the #SB2K16 were waiting for another American to withdraw so they could, too.

And back to that list, poor Gary Player, captain of the South African contingent, has gone from having Oosthuizen and Schwartzel and a legitimate chance of gold to suggesting that he may have to play for South Africa in the Olympics.

So exasperated with the process, he went on Morning Drive recently and reiterated his belief amateurs should play instead of pros because they would appreciate it more.

And while amateurs would certainly appreciate it more (at this point, it would be hard not too), it’s not reality. People aren’t tuning in, and the PGA Tour, IOC and Brazil haven’t spent millions of dollars to find the next George Lyon. Fans and organizers want star power. Just like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson brought to Barcelona in 1992. Without those types of names, enjoy the golf this year, because after 2020, it may be another 112 years before we see it again.

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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

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The 19th Hole (Ep. 165): One-on-one with Shane Bacon

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Host Michael Williams talks with the co-host of the Golf Channel’s Golf Today about the Open Championship and Collin Morikawa’s place in the history books.

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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