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Ryder Cup Heroes and Villains: The Gleneagles Story

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It was September 26, 2014, and the time was 6:20 a.m. on the first tee of the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles. Three thousand expectant faces peered through the concoction of dark and camera lights, with at least another 20,000 lining the first fairway. Literally caught in those camera lights, the man of the moment stood trembling, anxiously waiting for the starter to call out his name. In this instance, however, it was not Ivor Robson calling the shots. The producer of BBC Radio’s 5 live Breakfast put the thumbs up and after years on various American mini tours, the hard hours in the pro shop, many a media training and a very early alarm call, Andrew Jowett, head golf professional at Gleneagles, was good to go.

Andrew Jowett

Andrew Jowett, head professional at Gleneagles.

Frivolous this may be, but talking to Andrew almost exactly two years since that day, he says he “genuinely felt a sense of what the 24 Ryder Cup players were about to experience.” As it happened, Andrew dealt beautifully with the pressure and successfully completed one of more than 20 interviews that he undertook during Ryder Cup week.

Understandably, Andrew considers that week the highlight of his working career. At the time, he was in his ninth year at the world-famous golf resort and had progressed from picking up balls on the range to become only the ninth ever head golf professional at Gleneagles.

“Standing on that first tee, with all the fans, all the expectation and after years of hard work, it was an emotional and nerve-wracking moment,” he said. He went on to pinpoint Webb Simpson’s 150-yard lob with a 3-wood as a case in point as to how the Ryder Cup can be a “leveller.”

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Tom Watson was captain of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team.

“There is nothing quite like the first tee of a Ryder Cup,” he said, and he betrays a slight glee and relish about Simpson barely making the fairway. It is important to add that the USA halved that hole, with Bubba Watson sniggering to Simpson about his shot, but they would lose resoundingly to Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.

Europe convincingly, and some might say predictably, went on to defeat the USA 16.5 to 11.5. Far from the drama of the “Miracle of Medinah,” it was a Ryder Cup to remember for the perfect staging, the immaculate golf course, the warmth of the Scottish crowd and a setting to beat all others. Plaudits included visiting Vice Captain Andy North suggesting Gleneagles should always be the host venue in Europe.

As a Scotland resident, Andrew is quick to thank the weather for playing ball. “About five minutes after that interview finished, the sun rose over the Ochils and the stage was well and truly set,” he said.

Some 250,000 spectators from 96 countries attended the event, 30,600 cars were parked, over 50,000 rail journeys were taken, more than 2,000 media were present and the Ryder Cup was mentioned in 500,000 tweets.

What pressure?

Andrew is a born-and-bred Mancunian who learned his trade from the ex-tour professional Denis Durnian. On joining Gleneagles, he never imagined having such an involvement in the sport’s biggest spectacle.

“The close proximity to the world’s best players was an absolute treat,” he said. “We were like kids in a candy shop. My team of professionals was positioned on the driving range, so the contact we had with the players and the exposure to their level of professionalism was second to none. I have always understood the different levels of player, but seeing it at such an event, at a place you know so well, having had so much involvement in the staging, it was brilliant.”

Andrew mentions that this was the same for all of the golf staff, including the 80 greenkeepers who formed a particularly strong and unique bond with the players.

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“So much rides on the matches, there is so much focus on the players, yet somehow the atmosphere is fun and friendly,” he said. “Over 500 million homes watched on TV, 250,000 on the course, yet there was still time for a group photo with a stray dog.”

I asked Andrew if he thought the absence of Tiger Woods had any impact, whether negative or positive, on the week. “Yes, of course it would have been great for him to be there, but the event is bigger than one person,” he said. “His form wasn’t good enough, so it was right that he wasn’t picked.” An interesting comment considering the seventh-ranked player in the world, Bubba Watson, was not picked this year. Along with Woods, Bubba will watch the action with an earpiece and a golf cart. As cheerleaders go, they are probably the best paid in sporting history.

“I think this year the USA is as focused on success as they have been for some time,” Andrew said. “Of course they should have won at Medinah, but that was something that will never happen in the event again. I think the event needs a close contest, in fact from a USA perspective it needs a win!”

Sky Sports had interviewed Andrew the morning after the Miracle of Medinah, when all eyes turned to Gleneagles and Scotland. “It was a little surreal,” he said. “The interview was on the very spot I was interviewed in 2014 by the BBC and there were only three of us. Having had such drama the previous night, I didn’t quite know what the future would hold for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. It seemed a long way off.”

Gleneagles was awarded the 2013 Ryder Cup in 2001, having originally bid for the 2009 event that Celtic Manor won. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the event was postponed by a year, so 2014 became Gleneagles’ year.

“I joined in 2006, so the planning was already five years down the line,” he said. “Fortunately for me, I was part of the PGA Centenary redesign process with Jack Nicklaus. Watching the course mature, develop and blossom was confidence-building. Gleneagles held a European Tour event each year, so with the pros’ feedback, the refinement of Jack Nicklaus and the passion of Scott Fenwick, our estate manager, the result was a massive success. We won over the doubters.”

Prior to the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, skeptics questioned why the Ryder Cup should be played on what was called an “American layout,” allegedly turning its back on the true courses of the home of golf. One of the chief protagonists was this year’s European captain Darren Clarke, who said: “It’s beyond my comprehension they’ve chosen to have the Ryder Cup on this course.” Interestingly, Andrew is not critical of these comments, but praises the various stakeholders who agreed to soften the PGA Centenary, bringing it in line with its sister courses the King’s and Queen’s, while still appreciating that the course had to host the third most-watched sporting event in the world.

“I don’t think the scale of the organization and operation is understood,” Andrew said. “The logistics involved to get that many people in place to watch four fourball matches is mind-boggling. And, you know what, we did!”

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So what was done to specifically tailor the course in favor of the Europeans, as there is a lot of talk about how Davis Love III will set up Hazeltine?

“Scott Fenwick and head greenkeeper Steve Chappell worked closely with Paul McGinley – Europe’s 2014 captain – to present a European Tour-like course. It might have slightly favored the Europeans, as they had played events on it on more than one occasion, but professionals can adapt.”

Head greenkeeper, Chappell, said in a recent interview that Hazeltine will not benefit one team or the other, mainly due to the amount of golf the European team has played on the PGA Tour.

All Ryder Cups have a hero and a villain, so amid the perfect conditions, what was the 2014 Ryder Cup famous for? There were, of course, the Phil Mickelson vs. Tom Watson rumors, the emergence of the Task Force, no Spieth/Reed for the Friday foursomes, Spieth’s capitulation against McDowell, Patrick Reed’s shushing, the deer careering across the fairways and the post-Indy Ref fallout, but by and large Gleneagles staged one of the most successful Ryder Cups ever.

And who will be the hero and villain in 2016?

“It’s going to be close, but I think Europe will sneak it by a point or two,” Andrew said, smiling. “I was there when Sergio hit his rescue on (hole) 18 to 15 feet to halve his foursomes match on Friday afternoon. I know that shot and I know it’s impossible. I don’t think he would have hit that shot that well on any stage other than the Ryder Cup. His partner that day was Rory and I am confident that he will be the talisman. His form is back, $13 million back and despite his youthful comments he now knows what the Ryder Cup is all about. It’s under his skin.”

But it’s not all about Europe. Who will shine for the USA?

“In 2010, Jordan Spieth played the Junior Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary at Gleneagles and won,” Andrew said. “It was great to see him back. I think he is fully focused on the win. He is saying all the right things in the media and I genuinely think he wants to be part of a USA win. Spieth vs. McIlroy down the stretch on Sunday will take some beating!”

Having been to three Ryder Cups, Andrew’s fondest memory of the tournament was watching Nick Faldo’s hole-in-one on the 14th of the Belfry in 1993. The USA would prevail at the Belfry 15 to 13, the last time they won on European soil. With a nice synergy, the winning putt and the hero that year was this year’s captain, Davis Love III.

With clear emotion and plenty of fond memories, Andrew heads off to teach one of his regulars.

“I have immense pride in what we achieved, what we all achieved,” Andrew said. “I am sure Hazeltine are up to the challenge and I wish them well. Come on Europe.”

Andrew Jowett was talking to Graham Hesketh. A big thank you to Billy Murray, Golf Marketing Manager at Gleneagles (gleneagles.com), Martin Smith and James Bledge, greenkeepers at Gleneagles and of course, Andrew himself.

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Born and bred in the home of the Beatles, Liverpool, sport has always been Graham’s number one pastime. Football (soccer!) and cricket were Graham's games of choice at school, but his dad always asked him to caddy. With the reward of a half a shandy and a packet of salt and vinegar, how could he refuse? But, it was the day after winning The Amateur Championship at Formby in 1984 that Jose-Maria Olazabal really got Graham hooked. Dragged along to watch Jose-Maria hit ball after ball after ball he fell in love with the game. Graham's job as a golf tour operator for seven years and seven years at wonderful Gleneagles have confirmed his love affair with the sport. He has been lucky to play some of the best golf courses in the world, but mainly in the UK and Ireland. Graham's favourite course is Muirfield, which is just down the road from his home in Scotland. His favourite club is the putter, now putting left-handed (yips right-handed). No hole in one! Never been hit by a ball, thank God. Shot shape tends to be left to right - exaggerated from time to time! But, most of all he loves the 'chat' and the exercise. Graham realises just how fortunate he is professionally, combining his love of golf and travel. He now promotes four of the best golf resorts in Europe, if not the World. So, if want to know about golf over there, give him a shout. Cheers me dears!

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Reviewing Callaway’s NEW Apex UW and Graphite Design’s Tour AD UB shaft

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Callaway’s new Apex UW wood blends a fairway wood and hybrid together for wild distance and accuracy. The UW is easy to hit and crazy long but also lets skilled players work the ball however they would like. Graphite Design’s new Tour AD UB shaft is a new stout mid-launch and mid/low-spin shaft. Smooth and tight, this shaft takes a little more of the left side out of shots.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Your game vs. The pros

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I know most of us like to watch golf on TV. Seeing these marvelous (mostly) young athletes do these amazing things with a golf ball makes for great theater. But the reality is that they play a very different game than we do, and they play it differently as well.

I’ve long contended that most rank-and-file recreational golfers cannot really learn a whole lot by watching men’s professional golf on TV. It would be like watching NASCAR or Formula One racing and looking for tips on how to be a better driver.

The game is different. The athletes are different. And the means to an end are entirely different. Let me offer you some things to ponder in support of this hypothesis.

First, these tour professionals ARE highly skilled and trained athletes. They spend time in the gym every day working on flexibility, strength, and agility. Then they work on putting and short game for a few hours, before going to the range and very methodically and deliberately hit hundreds of balls.

Now, consider that the “typical” recreational golfer is over 45 years old, likely carrying a few extra pounds, and has a job, family or other life requirements that severely limit practice time. Regular stretching and time at the gym are not common. The most ardent will get in maybe one short range session a week, and a few balls to warm up before a round of golf.

The tour professionals also have a complete entourage to help them optimize their skills and talents. It starts with an experienced caddie who is by their side for every shot. Then there are the swing coaches, conditioning coaches, mental coaches, and agents to handle any “side-shows” that could distract them. You, on the other hand, have to be all of those to your game.

Also, realize they play on near-perfect course conditions week to week. Smooth greens, flawless fairways cut short to promote better ball-striking — even bunkers that are maintained to PGA Tour standards and raked to perfection by the caddies after each shot.

Watch how perfectly putts roll; almost never wavering because of a spike mark or imperfection, and the holes are almost always positioned on a relatively flat part of the green. You rarely see a putt gaining speed as it goes by the hole, and grain is a non-factor.

So, given all that, is it fair for to you compare your weekly round (or rounds) to what you see on television?

The answer, of course, is NO. But there ARE a lot of things you can learn by watching professional golf on TV, and that applies to all the major tours.

THINK. As you size up any shot, from your drive to the last putt, engage your mind and experience. What side of the fairway is best for my approach? Where is the safe side of the flag as I play that approach? What is the best realistic outcome of this chip or pitch? What do I recall about the slope of this green and its speed? Use your brain to give yourself the best chance on every shot.

FOCUS. These athletes take a few minutes to drown out the “noise” and put their full attention to every shot. But we all can work to learn how to block out the “noise” and prepare ourselves for your best effort on every shot. It only takes a few additional seconds to get “in the zone” so your best has a chance to happen.

PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS. You have complete control over your set-up, ball position and alignment, so grind a bit to make sure those basics are right before you begin your swing. It’s amazing to me how little attention rank-and-file golfers pay to these basics. And I’m firmly convinced that the vast majority of bad shots are “pre-ordained” because these basics are not quite right.

SHAKE IT OFF. The game is one shot at a time – the next one. That has been preached over and over, and something most pros do exceedingly well. Very often you see them make a birdie right after a bogey or worse, because the professional bears down on these three basics more after he had just slacked on them and made a bogey or worse.

MEDIOCRE SHOTS ARE THE NORM. And those will be interspersed with real bad ones and real good ones. Those guys are just like us, in that “mediocre” is the norm (relatively speaking, that is). So go with that. Shake off the bad ones and bask in the glory of the good ones – they are the shots that keep us coming back.

Let me dive into that last point a bit deeper, because some of you might find it strange that I claim that “mediocre shots are the norm,” even for tour professionals. First, let’s agree that a “mediocre” shot for a 20-handicap player looks quite different that what a tour pro would consider “mediocre.” Same goes for a “poor shot.” But a great shot looks pretty much the same to all of us – a well-struck drive that splits the fairway, an approach that leaves a reasonable birdie putt, a chip or pitch for an up-and-down, and any putt that goes in the hole.

Finally, I will encourage all of you – once again – to make sure you are playing from a set of tees that tests your skills in proportion to how their courses test theirs. This past weekend, for example, the winner shot 25 under par “on the card” . . . but consider that Summit had four reachable par-fives (most with iron shots) and a drivable par-four, so I contend it was really a “par 68” golf course at best. Based on that “adjusted par”, then only 20 players beat that benchmark by more than 5 shots for the week. So, obviously, the rest pretty much played “mediocre” golf (for them).

So, did your last round have at least one or two par-fives you can reach with two shots? And did you hit at least 10-12 other approach shots with a short iron or wedge in your hands? More likely, you played a “monster” course (for you) that had zero two-shot par fives and several par-fours that you could not reach with two of your best wood shots. And your typical approach shot was hit with a mid-iron or hybrid.

The game is supposed to be fun – and playing the right tees can make sure it has a chance to be just that. Paying attention to these basics for every shot can help you get the most out of whatever skills you brought to the links on any given day.

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The ghost of Allan Robertson: A few thoughts on the distance debate

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It’s that time of year in certain parts of the world. Ghosts, ghouls, and ghoblins roam the lawns. Departed ancestors return to these fields to visit with living descendants. It’s also a time (is it ever not?) when curmudgeons and ancients decry the advances of technology in the world of golf equipment.

Pretty big narrative leap, I’ll admit, but I have your attention, aye? An October 16th tweet from noted teacher Jim McClean suggested that it would be fun to see PGA Tour players tee it up for one week with wooden heads and a balata ball.

Others beg for a rolling-back of technological potency, raising property acreage as a critical determinant. Fact is, 90 percent of golfers have no experience with hitting the ball too far, nor with outgrowing a golf course. And yet, the cries persist.

Recently, I was awakened from a satisfying slumber by the ghost of Allan Robertson. The long-dead Scot was in a lather, equal parts pissed at Old Tom Morris for playing a guttie, and at three social-media channels, all of which had put him on temporary suspension for engaging violently with unsupportive followers. He also mentioned the inaccuracies of his Wikipedia page, which credits him for a 100-year old business, despite having only spent the better part of 44 years on this terrestrial sphere. Who knew that the afterlife offered such drip internet access?

I’m not certain if Old Tom cared (or was even alive) that his beloved gutta percha ball was replaced by the Haskell. I believe him to have been preoccupied with the warming of the North Sea (where he took his morning constitutional swims) and the impending arrival of metal shafts and laminated-wood heads. Should that also long-dead Scot pay me a nighttime visit, I’ll be certain to ask him. I do know that Ben Hogan gave no sheets about technology’s advances; he was in the business of making clubs by then, and took advantage of those advances. Sam Snead was still kicking the tops of doors, and Byron Nelson was pondering the technological onslaught of farriers, in the shoeing of horses on his ranch.

And how about the women? Well, the ladies of golfing greatness have better things to do than piss and moan about technology. They concern themselves with what really matters in golf and in life. Sorry, fellas, it’s an us-problem. Records are broken thanks to all means of advancement. Want to have some fun? Watch this video or this video or this video. If you need much more, have a reassessment of what matters.

Solutions

Either forget the classic courses or hide the holes. Classic golf courses cannot stand up in length alone to today’s professional golfers. Bringing in the rough takes driver out of their hands, and isn’t a course supposed to provide a viable challenge to every club in the bag? Instead, identify four nearly-impossible locations on every putting surface, and cut the hole in one of them, each day. Let the fellows take swings at every par-4 green with driver, at every par-five green with driver and plus-one. Two things will happen: the frustration from waiting waiting waiting will eliminate the mentally-weak contestants, and the nigh-impossible putting will eliminate even more of them. What will happen with scoring? I don’t know. Neither did Old Tom Morris, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., Lady Heathcoat Amory, or Mildred Didrickson, when new technology arrived on the scene. They shrugged their shoulders, stayed away from Twitter and the Tok, and went about their business.

Add the tournament courses. Build courses that can reach 8,500 yards in length, and hold events on those layouts. Two examples from other sports: the NFL made extra points longer. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. The NBA kept the rim at ten feet. Has it impacted game results? Maybe. We don’t play MLB or MLS on ancient diamonds and pitches. We play their matches and games on technologically-advanced surfaces. Build/Retrofit a series of nondescript courses as tournament venues. Take the par-5 holes to 700 yards, then advance the par-4 fairways to 550 yards. Drive and pitch holes check-in at 400 yards, at least until Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire figure a few more things out.

Note to the young guys and the old guys from this 55-year old guy: live your era, then let it go. I know things.

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