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Opinion & Analysis

GolfWRX Interview: Writer Michael Croley

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Michael Croley is a writer and a teacher. Without too much trouble, you can find his collection of yarns, Any Other Place: Stories or his magazine-published essays. What he teaches, is writing. When you interview a writer, you resist being the child of impulse, who tosses out the simplest, mundane inquiries. Instead, you do your level best to come up with questions that compel the subject to sit back and ponder their intricacy, if only for a while. I suspect I’ve done the later here, but you’ll be the arbiter.

Mr. Croley hails from Corbin, Kentucky, but that’s simply an opening for a layered, nuanced story that we won’t come close to completing today. He grew up in the southeastern portion of the commonwealth with an older brother, now deceased, who he adored. In a piece that he wrote for Golf Magazine, Mr. Croley reveals that he would tell folks his favorite basketball player was Larry Bird, because it was his brother’s favorite. In truth, it was older brother Tim who always would be his favorite baller.

While doing a bit of research on Corbin, I came across two items of interest. The first is the geographic location of the burg on interstate 75, smack dab between Lexington and Knoxville. If you want to get from UK to UT, you have to pass through Corbin. The second was a bit funnier. Listed among the most famous people to emerge from the home rule-class city was one Jerry Bird. Also a basketball player, but not nearly as famous as Larry. JBird played at UK, but he would have been no higher than third on Michael Croley’s list of favorite basketball dribblers.

Tim Croley (left) and Michael Croley (right)

Golf prose is the better when great writers choose to write about golf. Not great golf writer, mind you, but great writers. Folks like John Updike, Billy Collins, P.G. Wodehouse, Bernard Darwin, and their ilk. Fortunately for golf and for us, Michael Croley writes about golf. His connection with our game, of course, is connected to his brother and their bond.

RM: Is there more poetry, or more prose, in golf?

MC: A little of both, right? But I guess I’d lean more towards poetry in the best architecture, which leads to better stories and debates (prose) post-round.

RM: Was golf a part of your life while growing up in Corbin, Kentucky? If so, elaborate. If not, when/how did you find the game?

MC: Not at all. We only had one course, a nine-holer at the country club and we weren’t members. Golf definitely seemed like a game for “them” when I was growing up. I found the game in my early twenties when my older brother took it up. It was a way for us to spend time together.

RM: In one of your articles on golf, you reveal the pride you felt in watching your brother hit golf shots high in the air, straight at the target. My brother and I do not share golf, so we don’t have that connection. How did the sharing of golf enhance your relationship with your brother?

MC: It was just a way for us to continue playing and competing with each other as we did when we were boys. As we got older and had families, the golf trip was a way for us to turn out some noise and we built our year around it. I don’t know that golf made us closer–we were always really close–but it gave us a lot of great memories.

Pinehurst by day

RM: Is there a golf club in your bag that you rarely use? If so, which one, what do you fear, and why is it still there?

MC: I rarely keep the 4-iron in the bag. I’ve only hit well, seriously, twice in my life. Also, hybrids don’t treat me well, either. They’re supposed to be miracle clubs for regular golfers but they just baffle me.

RM: As a sometimes-writer on golf, do these story proposals find you, or do you begin with a notion, then seek an outlet or venue?

MC: More often than not, I’m pitching the stories to editors. I try to think of which venues will best support the story.

RM: What type of golf characters would populate your theoretical volume of stories on the game?

MC: The same ones that populate the fiction I write now, I suppose. Folks struggling to figure out who they are. Don’t what all suffer existential crisis on the golf course?

RM: There are at least two general sorts of golf writers: those whose dedication has been to tell the story of golf over the years, and others who are creative writers first, but cannot resist the siren call of golf. Do you have any to recommend, from either camp?

MC: I don’t, really. I’ve tried to read Updike’s essays and don’t enjoy them. I came to golf writing because I wanted, in part, to tell some stories about architecture and learn more about how golf courses are designed and built. Golf is a contemplative game for me, but I’m not contemplating golf when I play but my other writing and my life.

RM: In one of your articles, you mention the sect of golfers that studies the architecture of great courses. Talk a bit about this, about your entry into the coven, and the impact it had on how you played and enjoyed golf.

MC: That was due in part to my brother. He was really enamored with the work of Tom Doak as as I started playing golf I started paying more attention to how courses are built. I read Tom’s book The Anatomy of a Golf Course and that’s when I knew I wanted to write about him. I learned a lot from just talking to Tom and watching him walk the land of a golf course, which I’ve been fortunate to do twice.

RM: You have researched and profiled Anthony Ravielli, the artist who created Ben Hogan’s hands in the famous Five Lessons golf book. Select for us a historical figure from golf’s past, and why you might share 18 holes and a dram or two with that person. For bonus points, where would you play?

MC: Well, I’ll cheat and pick two. The first would be my late brother who passed away in May of 2021. I would play anywhere with him but we’d probably head to Pinehurst No. 2, where I scattered some of his ashes in September and wrote about that for Esquire. A historical figure is a tougher ask because I’m not that enamored of a good number of golfing characters but Donald Ross might be fun because I think he’s the most influential architect in the American game. Might be fun to pick his brain for a round.

Pinehurst by night

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Setting goals…and achieving them

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Well, here we are, diving right into the new year of 2022 and seeing where this crazy world is going to take us now. I think we will all admit that the past two years have been a bit crazy, with the arrival of COVID changing everything in ways we would never have imagined at this time two years ago. Regardless of your personal thoughts, ideals and emotions about how it has been handled, it’s been crazy, right?

But that’s not what this column is all about. Today I want to offer some thoughts on how to set your own goals for your own golf this year, and then some ideas on how to make those goals a reality.

If your golf – and getting better at it – is important to you, there is no time like right now to decide what you want to do to achieve that objective. Are you willing to spend the time and energy to work on major swing improvements? Or do you just want to try to score better with a minimal amount of time and energy you have for practice and work?

Are you living where you can still get out to the range or course frequently? Or are you stuck inside for another few months until Spring begins to show? Do you have the desire to invest in instructional assistance, or do you pretty much want to do it yourself?

All these are important questions to answer as you decide your goals for 2022. For today, I’m going to address three ways I believe any golfer can improve their scoring measurably in 2022, regardless of how you might answer these questions I’ve posed. You can decide which of these would have the most impact you your golf as you kick off 2022.

IMPROVE YOUR PUTTING

Regardless of your handicap, a great percentage of your shots are taken with that one club. So, if there is any one part of your game that should get the most attention and work, it should be your putting. Begin by analyzing your own putting performance. Do you three-putt too often? If so, is that because your lag putting distance control is off, or your make percentage of short putts is not as good as it could be? Or do you just not convert enough 5-15 footers?

Putter fitting has become much more advanced these days and is usually worth the investment. You might find that the putter itself is ill-suited to your personal tendencies in the stroke and alignment.
If your mechanics are not reliable, an investment in a good putting mat and a few hours a week will offer huge returns, both in short putts made and improving your conversion of more of those 5-15 footers.

HONE YOUR SHORT GAME

Next to putting, you are likely taking more shots inside 50 yards than anywhere else. Even if you are a GIR machine (and few golfers are), those missed greens are what run up your scores. I see so many recreational golfers who just do not have a sound and repeatable technique around the greens, and that costs them with chunks and skulls that run up scores quickly.

I cannot “teach” the short game here, but there are so many good YouTube videos and books/tapes on the subject, you have no excuse to have a poor technique around the greens. Spend some time studying and learning, and practicing in your basement, den or office. It’s a short swing that anyone can execute – but it takes work. And that work will pay huge dividends.

SHARPEN YOUR MENTAL GAME

Regardless of handicap, I believe many bad shots are ‘pre-ordained’ by a poor mental approach. Many golfers do not get their mind right about what exactly they want to do with any given shot. And very few have a set pre-shot routine that gets their mind right so their body can execute the shot. On the course, it is unproductive to try to process swing thoughts; or at least more than one simple one.

When you are facing a shot, you should have a clear picture of what you want the ball to do and a clear mind to get out of your body’s way of trying to execute that vision. The great book and movie “Golf’s Sacred Journey”, but Dr. David Cook, nails it – “See it. Feel it. Trust it.”

I feel certain that one of these three areas of attention can help nearly every one of you improve your golf in 2022. And I hope to be able to offer you more insight and guidance in that endeavor as I write each week. Let me know if you have subjects you would like me to address, OK?

Let’s do this together.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Review of Fujikura’s Ventus Blue TR shaft and new Cobra LTDx drivers

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Fujikura has a new Ventus TR shaft out and it seems to fit right in between the Ventus Blue and Ventus Black. A Slightly stiffer profile and handle section seem to make a tighter and more stable shaft. Cobra has 3 new drivers out for 2022 and I think they are going to do very well. Great ball speed and stability on mishits keep the ball in play.

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 American Express: Best prop bets

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Alongside Matt Vincenzi’s chief betting article, here I breakdown this week’s best side bets for the American Express.

 2022 American Express best props

Lucas Glover Top-20 +400

The 2009 U.S open winner has certainly has had his trials and tribulations both on and off the course, but he looked in good shape when finishing in fifth place at the Sony last week and can put up a similar display this week.

When winning the John Deere last year, the 42-year-old broke a 10-year losing streak, and came via a closing best-of-the-day 64 and a tournament ranking of 3rd and 4th for strokes-gained-approach and tee-to-green.

Nothing much changes for Glover in that regard, and it was good to see him return to that standard of play at Waialae when leading the approach stats and ranking second in tee to the short stuff. That he was 30th off-the-tee gives a further boost to his iron game at present and he showed last year that he can keep the game going when finding form – T21/T0/T21/T23 – through the Charles Schwab, RBC Heritage, Travelers and Rocket Mortgage, at least two of those courses with a correlation to this week’s test.

A couple of top-six finishes at The Players show a further liking for Pete Dye designs, and whilst he will never win the prize for best putter, 2016 winner Jason Dufner showed that a solid tee-to-green game can keep you in contention, whilst they both have form at Colonial and at Sawgrass.

Glover’s first four starts here yielded two top-20 and one top-30 finish, whilst I’ll ignore the two recent missed-cuts given they were his first outing of the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The vast majority of winners have played at least two recent competitive rounds before coming to the American Express (and its various guises) and Glover can take encouragement from the vast progress made when down the field at Maui.

Russell Knox Top 20/Top 40 +300 +130

The Scotsman is another that fits with the Dufner/Glover/Henley genre of player.

With an always impressive iron game, it is always encouraging to see players rank highly in approach and greens-in-regulation even if finishing lower than their overall game warranted.

Take, for example, 2021 finishes of 40th and 58th at the RSM and Fortinet. At both, he ranked top-10 for finding the short stuff and continued that form with the irons at last week’s Sony Open, where he ranked 4th for greens, 10th in approach and 8th for overall tee-to-green.

One swallow doth not make a Summer and all that, but he ranked 7th in putting average and inside the top-30 for strokes-gained-putting, a figure that will certainly help him gain his fourth consecutive top-40 here in as many starts.

Alongside finishes of 29th and 37th at this event Knox can also boast a couple of top-20 finishes, the latest 16th a figure that should have been better given a final round 73, he has a win at the Pete Dye River Highlands, and high finishes at Colonial, Harbour Town and Scottsdale.

After a 12-birdie weekend, he comes here in the form that makes me believe anything better than field average on the greens will land the bet.

Luke List Top 10/Top 20 +550/+250

It’s a trio of excellent tee-to-green players this week, and whilst here is another player that often lets himself down with the putter, the case for him to do well is strong enough to make him my play of the week.

Start with his current form, which reads 7th at the Zozo, 11th at Houston and 10th at the Sea Island course. We don’t have full stats for the first-named, but, at the other two, the 37-year-old has ranked top four off-the-tee, and 12th and 17th for approaches, figures that combine to give a ranking of top-four at both for tee-to-green. Also worth noting is that, at both, Luke was inside the top-10 going into Sunday.

That isn’t unusual for the former U.S Amateur runner-up, and once again, it has been the short stick that has let him down. However, rather like the two players above, List should only need to be field average in putting to put up a good show at a course at which he has a best finish of 6th in 2016 and a 21st last year, when a final round 72 saw him fall from an overnight 13th.

List also carries some of the most guarded Pete Dye form, his last win in 2020 being at TPC Sawgrass at Dye’s Valley Course, whilst in 2012 he won his first Korn Ferry event at the South Georgia Classic.

That event was held, until 2014, at Kinderlou Forest on a course designed by Davis Love III, a player that thrived on Dye courses, winning The Players on two occasions and at Harbour Town a total of five times.

Take a deeper dive into a few of the top two finishers at the Georgia track and Brian Stuard, Will Wilcox, Blayne Barber and runner-up Alex Prugh all have form at one or two of either The Heritage, Pheonix, Sawgrass, River Highlands and here at the Bob Hope, as it once was.

In an event that has seen many shocks, and that might be subject to the weather as they rotate around the three courses, I’m happy to be with a player with far more current positives than many at a shorter price.

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