Week Four NFL Picks.

I've Got an Idea, Tom.

I’ve Got an Idea, Tom.

I was going to kick off the picks with some comments about the downtrodden Bill Simmons, famously poor NFL tout, who is now suspended from ESPN and all other aspects of his life for the next three weeks.  Where will Simmons make his picks?

But, the Ryder Cup has me furious.  As I get older I care less about a lot of sporting events.  I remember watching NBA regular season action when I was kid–true story.  I used to watch highlights of NFL games I had no rooting (fantasy or otherwise) interest in–but times change.  I guess I just don’t want it enough anymore, but I still care very deeply about the Ryder Cup.  Regardless of who is suiting up for the U.S. Team, I’m going to be closely following the action.  I think this is probably because it’s only every two years, the format is a bit of an oddity for golf, and the US consistently gets crushed by the Euros, who I hate–on principle.

I missed they Ryder Cup glory years when we were coasting to wins for about five straight decades.  If you’re honest, in major sports, rooting for the U.S. does not give you much of a chance to get with an underdog.  Are we counting tennis? We certainly are NOT.  Even the regular PGA Tour doesn’t count, because Americans do just fine and win majors, etc. But, when the Ryder Cup starts, we buckle, and the Euros make everything they look at.  This leaves the US team with a full two wins in the event since 1999, the first of which was a stone miracle.  I’m so tired of the LOSING.

Apparently, the PGA was tired as well and that’s why they tabbed Tom Watson, fabled linksman, and respected Hall of Famer to lead the squad this time around.  I would have chosen Fred, but hey, what do I know?  Tom is known for his fire, the respect he commands, and being the last captain to win in Europe.  That was Nineteen hundred and ninety three.  Ouch.

Watson was a fine choice for me, certainly a preferred option to Mark O’Meara or someone awful like that.  The guy has been hitting it stupidly pure for decades and had he won the ’09 Open Championship, it probably would have been the greatest achievement I’ve ever seen on television.  So, OK, Watson, I can overlook the fact that he’s out of touch with current players and has a bit of egoism about him–who doesn’t?

What bothers me about all U.S. golf captains is that they have almost no creativity.  If you played DECENT with a guy four years ago?  Well, that’s your partner.  So, we still get stuck with Simpson/Watson, which I think now dates back to the 2011 Presidents Cup.  That’s great, except Webb Simpson is currently awful and should be ironing the team pants until Sunday.

This was an inevitable mistake, though, and everyone has to play a bit, so I can live with that in the morning where the U.S. stole the session and Spieth and Reed delivered a methodical beatdown of Ian Poulter and IT DOESN’T MATTER who his partner was–Poulter is the worst.

An aside on Reid and Spieth.  Spieth seems very quietly cocky, the type of assuredness that comes with being a prodigy, I would imagine.  In his press conference after the round, Spieth commented about a lack of battle scars, which is important in this event.  For guys like Jim Furyk, a good Ryder Cup memory is something along the lines of not getting food poisoning, or that SWEET halve he got one year.  Anyway, Spieth’s confidence is dwarfed by the ego of Patrick Reed, which has it’s own seat on the plane and hopefully (by now) a Twitter account.

For those who don’t know, Reed has the type of match play pedigree that almost no one on the American team has, granted it’s not on the professional level.  Reed led Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA championships after the NCAA went to match play, made a US Amateur semifinal, and generally seems like he’d be the most annoying person in the world to play against.  This is what the U.S. team needs.

Reed and Spieth who looked like they might never make a par, ran Poulter’s shabby game off the course and of course they were rewarded by Captain Watson with a seat on the bench for the afternoon.  You gotta get Furyk his reps, and it’s important to run Phil Mickelson into the ground as well.  Mickelson looks like a grey-faced retriever who has been trying to keep up with a new puppy all day.  He’s 44, Reed and Spieth are 45 combined.  It’s clear Watson had it in his mind he was going with certain pairings and paid no attention to the morning outcomes.

His explanation–about the benching–contained no explanation.  He basically said, “Yep, probably going to get second guessed on that one.”  The problem is, the US team has no room for error.  They’re down Tiger, and Mr. Gretzky, and Duff.  They bypassed the hottest golfers on Tour for guys like Webb, so they can’t afford to get skunked in sessions like they did Friday afternoon.

Now Reed and Spieth could have gone out and lost, and lost all that good feeling from this morning, but shouldn’t they have been given the chance?  It couldn’t have been much worse, right?  Mickelson’s own coach is saying on the broadcast he should have been rested.  You don’t want to overstate the value of a captain in these things (unless it’s Fred), but come on Tom, get your head out of your ass.

***

NFL Picks:

Big Dub, 4-6

  1. New York (+3.5) over Washington–WINNER
  2. Chicago (+1.5) over Green Bay
  3. Indianapolis (-7.5) over Tennessee
  4. Baltimore (-3.5) over Carolina
  5. San Francisco (-4.5) over Philadelphia

***

Nichols,  5-5

  1. Green Bay (-1.5) over Chicago
  2. Detroit (-1.5) over New York
  3. Pittsburgh (-7.5) over Tampa Bay
  4. Atlanta (-3) over Minnesota
  5. New England (-3.5) over Kansas City

***

Grossy, 5-5.

Green Bay( (-1.5) over Chicago.  This is the game I feel most comfortable with, because the Packers have looked terrible and yet are still favored to beat Chicago, who while not exactly looking like their ’85 incarnation, appear at least competent.  More than most NFL teams can say.  I’ll either look smart, or we’ll say, WOW, Green Bay really is bad.  Could go either way.

Pittsburgh (-7.5) over Tampa Bay.  Do the Steelers have one good player?  Yes.  That should be more than enough to throttle Tampa at home.  The thing is, the Bucs could come out spirited, play much better than last week and still lose by 3 TDs.  I was really looking forward to the Steelers being awful, but we’re going to have to wait until after this week.

San Francisco (-4.5) over Philadelphia.  The Niners absolutely have to have this one.  The Eagles are making the trip with a patchwork offensive line.  I don’t see McCoy getting it going and since the Eagles don’t really stop anyone–I think their comeback heroics take a week off.

Atlanta (-3) over Minnesota.  The Falcons have looked pretty good with the exception of the Bengals game, but Cincy has made a few teams look bad.  The Vikings are much worse than Cincy, so I wouldn’t make any grand leaps about Atlanta’s inability as a road team YET.

Kansas City (+3.5) over New England.  Tom Brady is killing fantasy seasons.  Guy is sneaky old, but it’s probably not his fault as the the Pats have essentially surrounded him with the Jags (only older) at this point.  Trash o-line, trash wideouts, the revolving door of RB mediocrity.  You gonna let Tommy go out like this?  If they lose in KC, push the panic button, could be a horse race with the Bills for the division.

All Hail Coore and Crenshaw.

These Geniuses Could Probably Fix Pickering.

These Geniuses Could Probably Fix Pickering.

I can’t wait for the U.S. Open to start this week, partly because it is possibly my favorite major, but also because I want to see what Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore have done to the place.  I’ve seen pictures.  I’ve heard stories, but I don’t think it’s going to sink in until we see the course under tournament conditions.  I have a pretty strong memory of Pinehurst.  The 1999 U.S. Open, for obvious reasons, was probably the pinnacle of my golf fandom.  Pinehurst produced an unmatched leaderboard that year, but it did so with ribbons of fairway and heavy rough.  Crenshaw and Coore have blown the place up, restoring all that original grandeur.  The fairways now meld into waste areas, the rough is non-existent, and it should be as spectacular and difficult as ever.

Coore and Crenshaw restore as well as they create.  There are several highly regarded designers out there right now (Doak, Hanse, etc), but I don’t know if anyone gets as consistently praised as these two and they deserve it.  This U.S. Open might help put golf course architect at the top of Ben Crenshaw’s resume rather than Masters Champion, and I honestly think in 50 or 100 years if we’re still playing golf and all the great courses haven’t been taken over for windmill farms, that Crenshaw could be better known for his courses than his on-course exploits.

The older the golf course and the older its designer, the more esteem we seem to give, the thought being that a new course can not instantly be great.  We’ve started to get away from that a little bit with the help of places like Bandon Dunes, or the Coore & Crenshaw masterpiece, Sand Hills.  But, I think time will only make us fonder of the work these two guys are doing.

So, what are we expecting for this U.S. Open at the digitally remastered Pinehurst?

For me there are three stories this week.  The first, is the course, which I just touched on.  Not only is this the wide release debut of the redesign, but Pinehurst is tasked with hosting back-t0-back events.  The women will have their U.S. Open on the same course next week.  So in addition to how it’s playing, there will be a level of concern about how the course is holding up.  I think it’ll do just fine.

The players will be taking center stage, though, and leading the way are Phil and Rory.  With Tiger still sidelined with his back injury, we look to Phil and Rory to fill that void and both are doing an admirable job, with on and off-course exploits.  Rory has been alternately brilliant and awful since his 17th hole split with The Woz.  The course seems to set up perfectly for what Rory does well, when he’s doing it well.  Then, there’s Phil…

Phil has had an inconsistent year at best, but he’s mostly gotten a free pass because everyone knows he’s been pointing to this week.  Phil has become all about the majors in recent years and more specifically all about the majors he hasn’t won.  The career grand slam seems to be the last realistic goal that Mickelson wants to check off his list.  He’s never going to catch Tiger, so winning the U.S. Open would give him all four titles and no longer make him “that guy who finished second 6 times.”

In true Phil fashion, Mickelson added a bit of spice to the proceedings with his involvement in an insider trading investigation.  Phil had a little impromptu meeting with some FBI agents at the Memorial, who apparently wanted to know about one of Phil’s gambling buddies and some stock activity.  Mickelson claims he has no involvement, but I guess we’ll find that out soon enough.  If you asked me to construct a list of PGA players who I thought might get caught up in an insider trading scandal, Mickelson would shoot to the top of that list, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still be surprised if he’s guilty of something.  Philly Mick couldn’t handle prison, not even fancy Martha Stewart prison.

Getting back to Phil on the course, this does seem like it’s his last chance.  Right after Payne Stewart won in 1999 he was talking about how gratifying it was to take advantage of the opportunity, because he knew deep down that his chances were going to be limited.  Stewart was 42 at the time of his tragic death just months later, but he knew that his window for serious major contention was closing.  Mickelson is 43, and while equipment has made golfers effective later into their careers, with his physical ailments, family, and the crazy depth of the modern fields, you can’t feel too confident saying Phil could win his U.S. Open at 48, or 50.  It might need to happen now at a course where he should be able to work his magic and where he has some positive memories from past results.

After this year the Open goes to two new courses in three years (Erin Hills and Chambers Bay sandwiched around Oakmont), before visiting what would be a good Phil window in 2018-2020 (Shinnecock, Pebble, Winged Foot), but by then it may be too late.

I think it’s going to be a great week at Pinehurst.  This time last year we were worrying about the torrential rains ruining Merion, and that turned out to be mostly be wasted energy, but it’s nice to head into the week with no real worries about the golf course.

The Definitive, Yet Arbitrary, Top-10:

  1. Jim Furyk
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Dustin Johnson
  4. Sergio Garcia
  5. Henrik Stenson
  6. Miguel Angel Jimenez
  7. Bill Haas
  8. Jason Dufner
  9. Hideki Matsuyama
  10. Jordan Spieth

 

They’re Finally Mine.

Taylor Made Still Trying To Recapture This Glory.

Taylor Made Still Trying To Recapture This Glory.

What I guess I have to admit at this point is that it takes something huge to bring me back to the blog.  In fact, maybe it takes even more than that–a cluster of news.  We’re in the midst of a pretty big week.  There’s a little golf tournament being held in Pinehurst, NC starting Thursday, maybe you’ve heard of it?  It’s called the U.S. Open.  Also starting Thursday?  El Cupo Worldo.  It’s hard to believe that it has already been four years since an extra time goal against some random country unified the nation (for about 48 hours).  Then, we lost, and soccer was handed back to the fanatics.  But, I don’t want you to feel like I’ve lost my passion for Switzerland.  They’re back.  And, they’re dangerous.

Dwarfing these global sporting events though, was the completion of a longtime goal of mine.  I acquired a set of Taylor Made Forged 300 irons over the internet.  All they cost me was $87 (and probably some stolen credit card info).

The Taylor Made Forged 300 irons burst onto the scene during what I would call the dark ages of irons.  It was probably about 2002 and irons were frightfully boring.  I was still playing my Tommy Armours, going on about eight years at that point and it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  Cast, cavity backs irons were everywhere.  It was as if the pinnacle of forgiveness had been reached and everyone was focusing on putting new and weird metals into woods.

Goldwin Driver Anyone?

Goldwin Driver Anyone?

I honestly don’t remember seeing an iron that really caught my eye.  Callaway was happily running with their x-14, x-16 family, Titleist was making very difficult to hit irons with random three digit numbers on them, Ping was still trying to recreate the Eye 2’s success…no one cared.  I worked at a golf course during this time that probably housed 350-400 sets of clubs.  I admit now that I tried out several of these drivers, but trying out an iron?  Who cared at that point.  There was exactly one set of clubs in the entire room that interested me–Snake Eyes blades.

Forged By Smith and Wesson.

Forged By Smith and Wesson.

There was a guy who couldn’t play a lick and he had a set of these 1-PW.  That’s one-iron through pitching wedge. Obviously, I had to try that 1-iron.  My memory now is that I hit complete bullets with it, but maybe that was not the case.

I saw the Forged 300s for the first time at a college golf practice.  They immediately caught my eye.  And, even though this was just before the failed blade iron experiment of 2003, maybe in my heart I knew I would never be a guy who hit blades.  These were in the neighborhood, though.  JUST AS SHINY.  That invisible top line.  Swoon.  The four-figure price tag brought me back to reality, though and they were mostly forgotten for a year or two until I ended up at another golf course, this one in possession of a set of demo Forged 300s that were left sitting around from a prehistoric fitting cart.

That was really where I fell in love, with my Tommy Armours falling apart and my MP-14s shamefully hidden in my trunk, I’d steal 10-15 balls at a time with these clubs and I loved the feel.  I finally played a set of forged clubs about 5-6 years ago, the Callaway X-Forged, but shortly after I stopped playing so much and my game went sideways.  Back to the cast.  This didn’t stop my periodic perusal of eBay for the holy grail, but in testament to the class of these sticks, the price hovered above dabbling range for a long time.

Maybe it’s the emergence of the newer, quality forged cavity backs that finally drove the 300 Forged into my price range.  If you have $1,100 I’d recommend the Callaway Apex in a heartbeat over the 300 Forged.  They don’t look as good, but they feel nice and they go nine miles.

Distance.  Perhaps this was my last hurdle as well.  I’ve always been someone who assigned a good portion of their golf identity to how far I hit my irons.  I was never the longest with the driver, especially after the ball explosion, but there weren’t many people out there that could scorch a 9-iron like I could and when I went to the forged irons in 2008 even being at the top of my game I lost probably almost a club in distance.  I was still hitting the ball plenty long enough, but psychologically I wasn’t comfortable.  Now, I’m not as long as I was when I was 25 anyway and I’m planning on starting a hybrid revolution in my bag, so maybe it’s OK if I now hit 9-iron ONLY 150.  And, those flatware looking long irons?  Gone.

I got to play my first round with these sweeties the other day.  I had them re-gripped.  In another twist of fate, the clubs were already +1/2 inch–hooray!  It was a bit of a mixed bag of results.  I found that I still hit a lot of wedges, and there was a VERY unfortunate swing with a 5-iron (buys 26 degree hybrid), but I also completely flushed two 7-irons and if we’re being honest that worth the 80 bucks.  Easily.

And On the 2nd Week of April, Bobby Jones Said,

"Let There Be The Masters."

“Let There Be The Masters.”

Obligatory link to the greatest website in sports.  Masters.com.

Happy Masters week, everyone.  The shining beacon that is The Masters holds an especially dear place in my heart this year after enduring MEGA-WINTER.  I haven’t had a chance to play golf yet this year–possibly a new all-time low for me, and I don’t think many people around here have gotten their proper fix.  The few warm days we’ve had, you’ve probably needed a canoe to navigate most local dog tracks.  I see the hunger for golf in people’s eyes, I hear it in their wavering voices as they gently cradle their new $400 drivers.  The Masters is going to take care of that for you, because the Masters always delivers.  Even when it’s bad–it’s good.

I don’t know many sporting events that could live up to that billing.  The NCAA tournament coming to a conclusion tonight, might work for some people.  Perhaps the NHL playoffs?  But other big-time events stand out to me for how utterly terrible they can be–The Super Bowl? During my formative years, the Pro Bowl was more competitive.  The Masters though is almost guaranteed to deliver some excitement.  Now that we’re safely out of the, “Tiger could win by 11 era,” things have been quite good lately…

2013: Adam Scott’s playoff win.  After Snedeker, Day and some others fell off the pace Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera exchanged blows on the 18th.  Cabrera’s 2nd shot when he needed a birdie to tie was electrifying and a great moment with his son on the bag.  Scott’s putt in the playoff erased decades of Australian demons.

2012: Bubba’s Hook.  Another playoff, one remembered for Watson’s brilliant recovery from the woods on the 10th hole, but earlier in the day, playoff loser Louis Oosthuizen made a two on the par-5 second hole and vaulted into contention with just the 4th double eagle in the tournament’s history.

2011:  The Rory Buckle.  After McIlroy started (hilariously?) leaking oil on the back nine, this thing was wide open. We even had a hint of a Tiger Woods charge before he started missing putts and ran out of holes.  A two-man battle between Jason Day and Adam Scott was interrupted by Charl Schwartzel who decided to birdie the last four holes and win by two.

2010:  Mickelson’s Pine Straw Shot.  The least dramatic of the last four tournaments had the most lasting shot, with Mickelson dodging a tree on 13 to set up a birdie that kept a flawless final round going.  Mickelson pulled away from a field that included Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and Fred Couples for a relatively comfortable win.

***

As you can see, we are on a hell of a run of events and I hardly even mentioned Tiger Woods, so while his absence will certainly be noted, it’s not a reason to tune out.  If you think you’re going to miss Tiger, just get up every couple of hours and lip out a 4-footer on your carpet.  That should fill the void.

No Tiger, Phil may be still hurting and so we’re left with what many people are calling a changing of the guard type of Major.  A new, fresh era.  Non-Tiger and Phil contenders can be broken down into a few categories:

Next Dominant Player:

  1. Rory McIlroy.  As much I dislike Rory as a fan, he’s in this category by himself, because he’s still younger than most of his peers, and he’s won two majors in dominant fashion.  You can’t disrespect Rory by listing him with Adam Scott, even if Scott has had a better last 12 months.

Major Validators:  This is a long list and could be longer.  There are a lot of guys out there toward the top of the Official World Golf Rankings who have one major.  None of these guys is likely to have even Mickelson, or Ernie Els’ career, but with every major victory you validate the one prior and separate yourself more from the field.

  1. Adam Scott
  2. Jason Dufner
  3. Keegan Bradley
  4. Justin Rose
  5. Bubba Watson
  6. Charl Schwartzel
  7. Louis Oosthuizen

Career Cappers:  Some guys, despite their talent are likely to never get to the heights of the multiple major winners. They are looking for a signature win and still have the game to get it done.

  1. Sergio Garcia
  2. Matt Kuchar
  3. Brandt Snedeker
  4. Ian Poulter
  5. Henrik Stenson

Next Generation:  Very fresh faces who could use a major win to challenge the like of Rory and could become the game’s next great player–in time.

  1. Jordan Spieth
  2. Patrick Reed
  3. Hideki Matsuyama
  4. Jason Day

You could certainly add names to most of these lists, but I feel like this will be story that the press gravitates toward depending on which players are in contention.  For me, I’d like to see someone very old, or very young win this year. Or Dufner, I kind of like Dufner.  But, give me a playoff between Craig and Kevin Stadler and I’d be pretty riveted.

***

Five Thoughts Presented As Facts:

1. Someone is going to butcher the 1st hole on Sunday and vanish from contention.  The first hole at Augusta National is so, so hard.  One bad drive and you’re hacking out, skanking up, two chip and three putting your way to triple or worse.  Leading Candidate: Matt Every.

2. Sergio Garcia’s going to contend.  No one should ever pick Sergio to win any event, especially a major, but I think Sergio has 4-6 serious flirtations with a major left in his career.  I think he’s more likely to break through at an Open Championship where putting has been mostly neutralized, but he’s close to top form and has a decent Augusta track record.

3. We Won’t Hear Much About Slow Play.  There’s the small field for one, but I have a feeling that if the final twosome six hours on Sunday, we’d all be happy to watch.  Plus, after the blowback from giving a 14-year old a slow play penalty last year, I think the tournament committee will go back to being content making this issue someone’s else’s problem.

4. We’ll Hear ALL ABOUT the Eisenhower Tree.  For those living in a dark hole, we lost the Eisenhower Tree to this winter’s ferocious ice storm.  The tree, named after that guy who was you know, like a General and President and stuff, was a major hazard on the 17th hole.  For those expecting the tree to be replaced like nothing happened, that apparently is not the case as Augusta is moving on without its signature piece of foliage.  I expect 11-17 minutes from Nantzy on the history of the tree.

5. You’ll Root For Someone To Hit in the Water on 15.  Let’s be honest here.  Things are going to be tight.  You’ll end up on one side of the coin.  Maybe it’s someone you really dislike, maybe it’s someone you just can’t justify as a Masters champion.  They’re going to come to 15, probably needing a birdie to keep pace, they’re going to take out their hybrid (this player will almost always be hitting a hybrid and not a 3-iron) and you’re going to say, “Get in the f*cking drink.”  That’s sports.

The Top-10–In Exact Order:  

In case you forgot, I put on one of the great golf handicapping clinics of all-time last year, nailing the PGA, the Open Championship and having Justin Rose finishing 2nd at the US Open.  I’m not entirely sure I got enough credit for this, which is a shame, because it’s very unlikely to ever happen again.

  1. Matt Kuchar
  2. Zach Johnson
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Jason Dufner
  5. Hideki Matsuyama
  6. Sergio Garcia
  7. Jason Day
  8. Angel Cabrera
  9. Adam Scott
  10. Keegan Bradley

 

Golf Equipment Guide.

For Those With Cabin Fever.

For Those With Cabin Fever.

I’m not sure when the tees are going to go back in the ground in Pennsylvania.  It’s going to be a while.  I’ve never been one to play golf through the winter, but by Mid-February you start to think about possibly stealing a round. Not this year.  So to pass the time a bit, quench the thirst, I thought I’d offer up a little equipment guide for those with the itch.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m nothing if not opinionated.  Find the key to shaving zero shots off your game….

Drivers:

It's Callaway's Year.

It’s Callaway’s Year.

It seems like TaylorMade is finally suffering some backlash from consumers who don’t appreciate their short product cycle.  If you ever really want a T-MAG driver, be patient, it’ll save you a bunch of money.  Along with killing the value of their clubs in trade, TaylorMade is now well into the life of its “speed pocket” technology.  What felt like a revolution with the original RBZ woods barely moves the needle in the Jetspeed driver.  On the other hand, Callaway is making a huge push with its Big Bertha marketing campaign and has a piece of real innovation with the gravity core in the Big Bertha Alpha.  Unfortunately, that driver will cost you half a stack ($499 retail).  

Best New Driver:  Callaway Big Bertha.  

The Big Bertha, just released on Valentine’s Day, is creating more buzz than any driver I’ve seen in past two years.  For most consumers, they’re simply looking for yardage, and for an average player that means more distance from all spots on the face.  Spoiler, if you are a 18-handicap you probably don’t center it up THAT often.  The Big Bertha accomplishes this forgiveness and still gives the player several adjustability options with a sliding weight on the back of the club and two adjustable weights for the heel and toe. 

Best Drivers for Better Players:  

*The Titleist 913 series remains a standard in this category, but since it’s been over a year since its launch, I’m not going to include it on this list.  

For a lot of good players the quest for a driver involves reducing carry-robbing spin.  If you’re on the PGA Tour and have this problem you can get hooked up with a $500 shaft and all is well, but we’re starting to see some lower spinning clubheads that allow high-speed players to use a bit more loft and start maxing out their carry potential. There are two leaders in this category…

Big Bertha Alpha: The Alpha’s gravity core can lower spin by several hundred RPMs without any other adjustment to the golf club.  This is a huge technological advancement.  But, since the Alpha is $499, and the lower spin won’t benefit the average player, beware buying this driver just because it is the latest and greatest.  Most players will be better off with the regular Bertha, or even the X2Hot.  

TaylorMade SLDR TP/SLDR 430:  The SLDR is TaylorMade’s best advancement in a while and the driver has been incredibly popular with their Tour Staff.  The issue with the low-spinning SLDR is that it is not for every player and you need an experienced fitter to set you up with the correct loft, etc.  Again, most players will be better off with T-Mag’s Jetspeed line, but these clubs aren’t a huge departure from other recent releases.  

Sleeper Driver: Cobra Bio Cell/Bio Cell+

You may have not given a second thought to Cobra since you saw your grandfather playing the original King Cobra Offset woods in the nineties, but with an increasing presence on Tour, Cobra is responding with some serious clubs. They may look awful, and you may not be craving an orange driver in your bag, but if you are looking for pure distance, the Bio Cell is a must try.  Solid stock shaft option as well.  

***

Fairway Woods: 

I Like My Fairway Woods Like I Like My...Nevermind.

I Like My Fairway Woods Like I Like My…Nevermind.

My general advice on fairway woods is that you should never, EVER, abandon a fairway wood like you like and consistently get in play in pursuit of a few extra yards.  Does it matter if you hit your 3-wood 235 or 241?  Not really. And that is true regardless of the wood and how far you hit them.  However, if you are in the market for a new fairway wood…

Best (Newish) Fairway Wood:  Adams Tight Lies

As I said, most of this is personal preference.  Size of head, depth of face.  I actually prefer the look of a little bit deeper faced fairway wood.  I like the XHot Deep Series (X2Hot Deep Coming Soon) and the 913 FD, but I found it tough to argue with the performance of the Tight Lies.  It has velocity slots on the top and the bottom of the club, making it not the most beautiful club at address, but this thing is a rocket.  And, it launches surprisingly high and offers forgiveness as well.  Great all-around club.  And, this is coming from someone who equated the original Tight Lies club with the Alien wedge.  

Longest Fairway Woods (In Addition to the Tight Lies): 

  1. TaylorMade Jetspeed
  2. Callaway Big Bertha
  3. Cobra Bio Cell
  4. Callaway X2Hot

The TaylorMade Jetspeed is undoubtedly a monster.  It carries forever.  The Callaway Big Bertha is also a very long club as is the X2Hot, but I don’t see the technological advancement in comparison to the original XHot to make the upgrade.  And again, the Cobra is a sneaky long and quality option.  

***

Hybrids:

Touch 'Em All, You Just Went Yard.

Touch ‘Em All, You Just Went Yard.

My advice for fairway woods holds true here as well, though I would encourage seeking out more carry distance in your hybrids.  These are some of the most important clubs in the bag as executing from 175-230 can drastically improve your game.  If you can suddenly get to a 210 yard par-3 instead of hoping to get somewhere around the surface, that can be a big help.  

*Much like the 913 Drivers, I must mention the Ping G25 Hybrids.  These are probably my favorite hybrids on the market right now and the whole G25 line, while not brand new is great equipment.  Unfortunately Ping has a long product cycle and it can sometimes feel like you aren’t getting great value paying full retail for a club more than a year after its release.  

Best New Hybrid:  Callaway x2Hot.

If you are starting to think I’m a paid advertiser for Callaway, I’ll just mention that I thought the original Xhot hybrids were mostly garbage.  I didn’t like the shape (I prefer  my hybrids to look like mini-fairway woods as opposed to driving irons) and I didn’t see anything noteworthy in the performance.  The X2HOT changes that.  Callaway has put their cup face fairway technology into the hybrids and the result is more distance.  A LOT more distance.  

Best of the Rest: 

  1. Adams XTD
  2. Taylormade Jetspeed
  3. Nike VRS Covert 2.0

Adams makes a really good hybrid and I’ll be anxious to see the new Pro Series that will launch later this year.  For now, the XTD is a monster but probably only for better players with some wallet ($300 for a hybrid).  TaylorMade has always done well in this category, and don’t be afraid to try an original RBZ if you are new to this market.  The performance will be comparable for half the price.  I have vowed in the past to never say a positive thing about a Nike club, this came on the release of their fabled Slingshot irons years ago, but they’ve come a long way and the Covert 2.0 hybrid is a solid option and the 2.0 Driver isn’t terrible either.  Won’t be in my bag, but trying to be fair here.  Also, for the average and recreational player, don’t be afraid to re-explore the Cobra Baffler or Adams New Idea.

***

Iron Sets:  

If You Ever Wanted to Try Mizuno...

If You Ever Wanted to Try Mizuno…

Iron technology moves faster than you might think.  Thin faces and strong lofts have created a boom in iron distance.  If you are at home swinging a set of 10-year old irons, I promise you will gain at least a club in distance just by going to the new technology.  You can put your same horsebleep swing on it–promise.  Part of this is what used to be a 5-iron is now almost a 7-iron, but also the equipment companies are making thinner iron faces while not sacrificing the solid feel that most golfers crave.  

*Note on Blade Irons:  If you play blade irons, you probably don’t need any advice from me.  On the other end of the spectrum I wouldn’t encourage anyone to get into blade irons from a CB model just feel like a player, or in pursuit of “feedback.”  If you want blades, the same companies have been making the best for a while.  Mizuno, Miura, Titleist…

My Favorite Irons Across A Few Categories:

(Mostly) Players Iron: TaylorMade TP CB.  One of my favorite iron sets ever was the Taylor Made 300 Forged. If someone ever wants to get me a present, you can track down a set of these for me.  I could probably no longer hit the 3-iron, but they were gorgeous.  And the feel was incredible.  I don’t know if TaylorMade has reached that height since, but the most forgiving of their new TP line is my favorite.  Unfortunately, these are not forged, but still offer pretty solid feel.  

Forged Forgiveness: Mizuno EZ Forged.  Mizuno with their forging and weak lofts isn’t for everyone, but you aren’t going to find many better or consistently made forged clubs out in the market–especially from a major manufacturer.  The new EZ line opens up Mizuno to a new cast of players.  Longer than previous iterations of their game improvement irons, the EZ line reminds you of some of Ping’s best work.  The EZ Forged doesn’t look like a traditional Mizuno forged club, but the feel is there and they are surprisingly easy to hit.  

Runnner Up: Callaway Apex–Long and Forgiving for an iron of their shape and construction.  

Players Cavity Backs: Titleist 714 AP2.  I’ve heard some lament the new AP2 saying it’s not forgiving, doesn’t go anywhere, among other things.  Personally, I think the club looks great and feels great–when you flush it.  I am probably looking for a bit more forgiveness at this point and maybe trying to squeeze a few yards as well, but there is nothing wrong with this club.  Beautiful package.  

Worth Noting: Callaway X2Hot Pro:  A much more forgiving and longer iron in a pretty compact package.  

New Irons to Buy if You Aren’t Good:

  1. Ping Karsten
  2. Taylormade Speedblade
  3. Adams Idea Hybrid Iron Set
  4. Cobra Baffler XL

The majority of these clubs will look hideous at address, but if you don’t know any better–who cares?  They’ll get it in the air, they’ll correct your mishits, and make the game more fun.  The Ping Karsten is one to watch, the first iron Ping has made where they are focusing on distance.  Could be a winner for them.  The Speedblade is not a super game-improvement iron, but is the most forgiving club currently in T-Mag’s lineup.  Always a contender when seeking distance in this category.  

***

Wedges:

The World Eagerly Awaits.

The World Eagerly Awaits.

There isn’t much to say on wedges.  Instead of recommendations, I’ll offer a few tips for getting your wedges:

1.  If you have custom specs, or are a low-handicap player, do not buy wedges off the rack.  If you have a Dynamic Gold x100 in your pitching wedge, you probably shouldn’t have a basic wedge flex shaft in your sand wedge.  Also, if your other clubs are long/short or have a lie angle adjustment, it makes sense to do this to your wedge also.  

2. Don’t get too bogged down in sole grind.  Different grind options on the sole are the newest things we’re seeing in wedges, but this matters more to very good players, or players who can afford to switch out their wedges based on conditions.  You probably want the wedge that is most versatile for the conditions you usually play in, not a wedge that Phil had specifically designed for Augusta.  The grinds that offer a variable bounce angle are worth looking into. 

3. Mid-Bounce is almost always the way to go.

4. Check your spin.  For most players the spin of a wedge is the most important factor.  Don’t just buy a Cleveland or Vokey because you think you are supposed to, go somewhere you can see how they perform for you.  

***

Putters: 

You've Seen These Heads Before.

You’ve Seen These Heads Before.

Not a soul out there should be taking putting advice from me, not only am I a very average putter I don’t really feel the difference between a lot of the available options.  There are certain putters that could better fit your stroke, but other than that I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending one putter over another.  Of what’s out there right now, I like the feel (I think) of the TR line from Ping, the newest of which can be found in the Karstens you see above. Also the first putter I’ve seen available in that old copper finish in a long time.  I also reluctantly like some of the putters in the Nike MOD line, and new Scotty Camerons will be available this spring including the return of one of my favorite heads–the Squareback.  

Thoughts on Counter-Balanced Putters:  In response to the ban on long and anchored putters, a lot of manufacturers are offering counter-balanced options.  This is a putter in the 36-39 inch range with a heavy head and a heavy grip.  They are designed to be choked-up on, and the argument is they greatly stabilize the face.  I find these putters roll out very well, and do swing nicely, but whether or not they are here to stay remains to be seen.  

***

Golf Balls:

How's 38 Compression Sound?

How’s 38 Compression Sound?

Things have changed a lot since my days on the college golf team when I would proudly tee it up with a Titleist Professional 100 every time out.  Back in the day MEN used 100 compression.  Of course the golf balls had rubber bands in them…

Personally, I cannot tell the difference between most tour balls.  It is important to know however that if you want the performance of a tour ball there are now more options than there used to be.  Most players would benefit from exploring the Bridgestone B330 RX line, Callaway’s Speed Regime 1/2, and other balls that are designed for less than tour clubhead speeds.  

If you are an average player, who is looking for distance, doesn’t spend a lot of time on fast/penal greens and doesn’t want to spend a fortune, please buy the following:

  1. Callaway Supersoft (38 compression–goes forever)
  2. Wilson Staff Duo
  3. Titleist Velocity
  4. Maxfli Noodle
  5. Bridgestone E-Series

***

Shoes:

Footjoy Steps Up.

Footjoy Steps Up.

When I was in high school there was little I wanted more than a pair of Footjoy Classics.  This is what the guys on tour wore, they were leather soled, probably uncomfortable for the first 20 wears and the opposite of light.  But, they were also a status symbol.  I never got a pair.  They were QUITE expensive.  By the time I could afford a pair, the Classics were replaced by the ICON–Footjoy no longer making a leather soled shoe.  Even though I never got the Classics, my taste in shoes has remained traditional.  I still wear spiked shoes and play most of my rounds in Dryjoy Tours.  But, I’m starting to come around a bit on the weight factor as companies combine lightness with a look that doesn’t scream soccer or sweet, sweet skating…

My Top-5 Shoes:

1.  Footjoy DNA.  I wish I could still wear “nails” as they were called so I could dig in and take a pass at the ball.  This is why I try to get as much spike as I can for my money.  The DNA has serious traction, but is far lighter and more comfortable than the Dryjoy Tour.  

2.  Nike Lunar Control.  Rory’s shoe.  Very light and tons of cushion, but still feels substantial and stabilizing.  

3. Footjoy Dryjoy Casual.  Kind of like the old “shop shoes” which I also always wanted, but a bit more stylish and very lightweight.  

4. Ecco Biom Hybid.  I prefer the look of the Tour Hybrid (a dress shoe look), but the other style currently worn by Fred Couples/Graeme McDowell etc., are much more popular.  

5.  Adidas Adipure.  I’m pretty sure these are out of the line for 2014, and that’s a shame.  Adidas’s best shoe by a mile.  

***

That’s it…feel free to ask questions, I’ve hit them all (badly).  

 

On Riches and Embarrassments: The Golf Digest Top-50 Instructors.

20 Grand To Tell You About a 4th Wedge.

20 Grand To Tell You About a 4th Wedge.

Perhaps you know that golf has a bit of an affordability problem.  It’s never going to be a game that will have a truly broad reach, but even the middle class is probably starting to feel a bit closed out.  I played nine holes of golf on Sunday afternoon. Late, it was almost evening.  It was at the least glamorous course you could imagine.  The least expensive place around.  It cost $28.  And what struck me most was that the course was almost deserted.  Late Sunday afternoon is not a popular time for golf during football season.  Wouldn’t the course be better served with a $15 rate?  Or even $20?  It is October.  Wouldn’t this scare up a few more groups?  Or, would charging that much invalidate the people who pay $50+ earlier in the day?

For most of my life I didn’t pay to play golf.  When I was a kid my parents paid the bill.  I was on the golf team in college and that allowed me to play plenty of free golf.  After college it was working at golf courses.  For a five-year stretch or so through my late twenties I might have paid two or three greens fees a year while playing the most golf of my life at top-level courses. During this time I also got balls, clubs, gloves, tees, range balls and any number of things for either no or little cost.  This is a great way to play golf.  But, it ends, and when I stopped working at the golf course I came face to face with a hobby that I could barely afford.  I’ve played fewer rounds of golf in the past three or four years than I’ve ever played in my life.

Part of this is just life, it’s just time.  Golf is time consuming and when you aren’t already at a course and can’t hit a few balls quickly after your shift or play nine holes for free before dark it can be hard to motivate.  It’s hard to coordinate a group, or find the right tee time.  But, another reason is that without free golf and free practice, I’ve become a good bit worse.  I was never a great player, but I was all right, and I got accustomed to playing at a certain level.  But, to stay at that level, I’d need to practice and play a lot of golf.  I simply can’t afford to do that.  I don’t really practice much anymore, I settle for rolling the dice when I go out to the course.  There are times I play like I used to and there are times that I play so poorly I don’t really recognize my own shots.  I’m getting better at becoming a casual golfer, but it’s not easy.

Of course, I could always take a lesson or two to improve my game, but there’s another dilemma.  Golf lessons aren’t cheap. Never has this point been hammered home more efficiently than it is in the most recent Golf Digest.  The magazine proudly unveils its list of the game’s best instructors.  The bold font on the cover says, “I can help you,” by Sean Foley.  Sean Foley is Tiger Woods’ instructor.  Inside the magazine Foley has a tip for hitting your fairway woods.  He says you should swing at them smoothly and consistently.  He suggests you approach a 3-wood like a 9-iron and even recommends alternating between the two clubs on the range.  I’ve got two things in response to this.  First–what if you can’t hit your 9-iron?  Second, this is the worst, most general tip I’ve ever heard.  And, Golf Digest is constantly full of wisdom like this.  Some stupid blurb re-packaged by a famous player or coach.  You’ll never learn golf from blurbs.  But, this is as close as you’ll ever get to having Sean Foley actually help your game.  I imagine it’s not the easiest slot to get, but if you can, Foley charges $250 an hour. Compared to his peers this makes him a shocking bargain.

Among the top-50 teachers listed in Golf Digest, exactly ONE of them charges less than $100 an hour.  That’s Manuel De La Torre of Milwaukee Country Club.  He charges $80 an hour.  Hats off, Manuel.  More commonly on this list you’ll see 2, 3, 5 hundred dollars for a lesson.  And, then things get comical.  Fifteen thousand dollars for a “day” with Hank Haney.  Twenty thousand will get you same with Dave Pelz.  Can you get a good short game in a day?  NO.  Can you be swindled?  Certainly. I should throw in a disclaimer here that all of the teachers on the list would probably be a great help to your game over a period of time, but really where do these exorbitant fees come from?  Should learning anything cost so much?  I guess these guys have the right to make as much money as they can, but when did coaching become something you got rich doing?

Even if you throw out the outlier, high-end guys like Haney, what is the purpose of this list in Golf Digest?  Is this their only clientele?  Certainly people who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on instruction read Golf Digest, and if that is who they are targeting doesn’t that say enough about golf in itself?

The magazine publishes a list of the best golf courses and just like this list of teachers who will never teach the average player, the average player will never set foot on the Top-100 courses.  But, a course is something different.  It’s something you could appreciate without playing and who knows, maybe you get on one day.  Maybe you save up for a Bandon Dunes trip.  But, whose goal is to spend ten grand on a lesson?  I think the number of people using a picture of Cypress Point as their desktop background outnumbers the ones who use a picture of Dave Pelz by about 10 million to one (the one is probably Pelz himself or Phil Mickelson).

The point of all this is, I’m disappointed in Golf Digest.  I’ve never been a fan of their instruction sections, but it’s almost impossible to learn from a magazine anyway.  Here’s a chance to actually help, but this list seems like an especially big waste of time.  Singling out teachers who don’t need the accolades while there are plenty of decent teachers who are probably scraping by and plenty of players who would like to know where to go to find these people who give affordable lessons.  I know Golf Digest will always have a place on the tables in the locker rooms of country clubs, but I wonder if the number of clubs, and the number of people who gather around those tables will continue to get smaller.

I still like to play golf, I just wish I had the money to play it more often.  I fear I’m not alone in this sentiment.

 

Jean Short Open 2013–I Lost the Belt.

Your New Champions.

Your New Champions.

What can you say about the JSO that hasn’t already been said?  It’s pure sporting spectacle.  But in the past couple of years, we’ve also realized that it may be the most evenly matched golf contest in all the land.  It took 20 holes to decide the historic 2012 version, and this year it seemed like extra holes were possible again until Stars & Stripes up there made the putt of his loving life on the 18th green.  It was a well-deserved and emotional win, especially for Haas, who takes ownership of the championship belt buckle for the 1st time.  You could say he was born to wear it, and his general intoxication–with life, with Coors Light, with the result–on the 18th green made it hard for the losing team to feel too bad about themselves.  But, it still stings.  The accessories closet is a bit barren.  Speaking of which…

Second Place (of Two).

Second Place (of Two).

Before we get into the rundown (I think I’ll do hole-by-hole this year), it’s important to note that Pickering is in uncommonly bad shape.  You really should never, ever go play that golf course.  It’s not in “HAHA bad shape,” it’s borderline unplayable. The rumor that “The Pick,” is about to be shutdown was denied in the clubhouse, but the course conditions could lead you to believe otherwise.  Scary day for the JSO, and a sad day for those with deep-rooted feelings of Chester County golf nostalgia.

1st Hole–The first hole is a spot for ceremonial pictures, we usually get our weirdest looks as well.  The course was certainly more crowded this year.  More eyes took in the show.  A single college player asked us right before we went off, “Mind if I go ahead–you guys look…pretty serious.”  Fire away young man!  Team 3PT/Rando would win the 1st when Stars and Stripes 3 putted from about 12 feet.  Not foreshadowing.

2nd Hole–The 2nd Hole is closest to the pin/furthest to the pin must drink a beer.  The winning team drank, there was another 3-putt, this one for a halve and we moved to the 3rd tee still 1-up.

3rd Hole–Three is where the modified shamble really takes hold.  Haas hit the green in “1” and proceeded to make birdie to square the match.  Walking off the green I said, “We’ve got a horserace with 15 holes to go.”  I was dead-on.

4th Hole–I panic when i realize I haven’t put on any sunscreen and I’m playing golf without a hat on for the first time in maybe 30 years.  That’s just an aside.  But, on the 4th hole we try to get a perfect shot of everyone at impact on the tee.  This has never worked.  Until…

245 Right Down the Middle.

245 Right Down the Middle.

5th Hole–I think we halved the 4th?  It’s not important.  The 5th hole is long drive/short drive drinks a beer.  The 5th is also where Haas hit a car last year (on the bounce/no injuries), but at 375 yards, dead downhill–you don’t want to leave the driver in the bag.  Everyone missed safely left off the tee.  Then Haas’ shot from the left rough went sailing toward the street. I calmly said, “That’s over the road.”  The ball then hit the street about 2 inches from a car.  We lost the hole–I probably 3 putted.

6th Hole–Putters only Par-3.  Sounds fun, and it is.  At almost 200 yards, it’s a long putt.  Rando lasered one down there to about 40 yards and we easily made four from there.  Cakewalk city.  Back to all square.

7th Hole–High water mark for Team Rando/3PT.  After a big drive I coaxed in a 40 foot birdie putt which set off a wild celebration on the green.  Rando, “Was that the longest putt you’ve ever made.”  Me:  “No.  Maybe.”

8th Hole–Let’s just say we followed up that putt with the quote, “I think that’s the worst shot I’ve ever seen Gross hit.”  It was also my first “negative one” for a truly horrible shot.  Pretty embarrassing.  In my defense, it’s not that easy to play golf in suspenders.  Of course, Haas was in overalls.   We lose the hole–back to all square.

9th Hole–Don’t really remember.  We halved it.  Just a race to get to the clubhouse at this point, get some calories back in the system.  Non-liquid calories, that is.

10th Hole–Reverse Shamble.  Playing from the worst ball, both teams have to re-tee after hitting the ball out of play.  From the JSO approved drop zone, I hit one to 4 feet, then miss the putt.  We’re still tied.  I’m starting to think about missed opportunities?  No, still confident.

11th Hole–We lose control of the JSO thanks to another bogey from the middle of the fairway.  Somewhere around this point, Stars & Stripes finds the zone, the perfect BAL?  Whatever it is, he starts playing steady performer to Haas’ erratic greatness.

12th Hole–One down, Rando and I both miss the green from 60? 50? 38 yards?  And, we begin arguing with each other.  I’m not sure about what.  Who was playing worse?  I think I said, “My partner can’t hit a chip shot.”  Then he said, “Whose drive got us down there?”  Then we were fine.  Somehow the hole was halved.

13th Hole–We get back to even after the winners can’t locate either of their tee shots.

14 Hole–We go right back to one behind thanks to a 7 (net 4 birdie) from Haas.  This included two swings and misses, the 1st of which was rewarded a (-1) great shot point.  It may be of note that at this point, Haas’ posture has started to noticeably change.  He’s really getting down there with his ball at this point.  Getting personal….

Not Textbook, but Effective.

Not Textbook, but Effective.

15th Hole–One club only.  Last year on this hole I made a par with just my 7-iron.  For some reason I switch to 8-iron this year, but still manage to hit the green in 2 shots.  We have a decided edge until Stars & Bars knocks one in for the halve from about 12 feet with his something-iron.  Is there destiny involved in this?  Still one down.

16th Hole–Beer Par.  Haas is the only player who has ever successfully tried or completed a beer par (three beers) on the Par 3 sixteenth hole.  But, as we drove to the tee, both teams plotted their strategy.  Not willing to go dormie two, we decided we at least needed to threaten Beer Par.  Somehow I got nominated for this.  I actually got off to a good start before Rando knocked it to about 10 feet with his damn driver from 145.  Shot of the Day!  I scaled off of beer par, Haas completed it easily and the hole was tied in threes.

17th Hole–Down one, I decide it’s time to put a tee through the cap of a water bottle and hit off that.  There is some discussion over whether this is wise, considering the situation, but it feels like the only thing to do.  17 is pretty generous off the tee, an embarrassing, short par-5 and we managed to get one down there and win the hole.  ALL SQUARE.

*Unfortunately I was not able to upload the video of this shot, or any of our other fine videos.  I will work on that.

18th Hole–Here we go.  For the record, I still feel like we’re going to win, but there is no hard evidence to support that feeling.  Eighteen, contrary to some other holes at Pickering is ALMOST a real hole.  It’s probably 400 yards.  A bit uphill.  Both teams were fine off the tee, but true to the day’s form, Rando and I both missed the green while Stars and Stripes connected.  No offense, but this was one of the 13 most unlikely GIRs in golf history.  This is what we were up against.  So, I go up there and chip to about 20 feet (terrible).  Rando’s in his pocket, because remember–he can’t chip at all and it looks like Kev, there I said it, his name is Kev has two comfortable putts for the win.  Until he rolls the first one 12 FEET PAST.  New life?  Nope, he calmly drained it.  Everyone fought back tears.  I took off the belt and another JSO was in the books…

Few More Shots…

From The Payne Stewart Denim Collection.

From The Payne Stewart Denim Collection.

Textbook Ball Position

Textbook Ball Position

I Wonder How the Crops Are Doing?

I Wonder How the Crops Are Doing?