Editor’s Note: Why I Re-Posted “Revisiting ‘The Big Miss'”

tiger_woods_the_open[1]

Photo courtesy of http://www.ibtimes.com.

          Well, we made more blog history this a.m. I just did a re-post for the first time this morning, the day after the blog broke its single-day traffic record.

Amongst the searches yesterday, and all week, has been a post I did after the Farmers Insurance Open this year about Hank Haney’s book, “The Big Miss,” published a few years ago. “The Big Miss” is Haney’s tell-all about his years coaching Tiger, and my post focused on Haney’s predictions about Tiger in majors and his pursuit of Jack’s record.

You can read the post to see how Haney’s predictions have fared, but you will notice at least one that’s quite timely. Based on Tiger’s inability to tame his driver, Haney predicted that if Tiger broke the record it would be via British Opens, the least driver-dependent major or the one that least penalized scattering the ball.

And, low and behold, Tiger had to pull driver yesterday and we all saw how that went. I turned on the Golf Channel last night and watched Tiger get completely dismantled, a day after, of course, some people had him winning the thing.  It was a veritable analyst feeding frenzy on Tiger and his game capped by analyst Steve Flesch saying, “Tiger’s a 25-handicap with his driver right now.” Ouch. Not sure Johnny M would’ve even gone there.

But Tiger puts himself on a tee, so to speak, when he does what he does and says he still expects victory despite only one competitive round since his back surgery. The criticism that he should’ve squeezed in another tourney before the British if he really expected to contend is entirely valid and also gets back to a Haney book bullet point – Tiger’s dedication.

You can love Hank or hate him, or certainly quibble with his ethics, but he’s been dead on as Tiger’s Nostradamus. (Ooops, I just gave way the ending of the re-post, but that zero in Tiger’s major record since Torrey in 2008 probably told you that.)

Personally, I wish Haney wouldn’t swing at every pitch when it comes to opportunities to criticize Tiger. Pick your spots. It’s becoming a bit much and seems a little unprofessional and piling on at this point.

Anyway, it isn’t Haney’s name that is coming up in the searches by the way. It’s Sean Foley, Tiger’s only swing coach sink Hank.  And the word “ruin” is being with “Foley” in searches.

So that’s my gauge for what people are talking about out and the blog aims to be timely and provide a place to have the debate.

Feel free to leave a comment. I appreciate the feedback and, like in this case, sometimes it can guide the content on the blog.

Enjoy the rest of the British. Rory has been something to behold. Feels like the door is slamming on the Tiger/Phil era this year and especially this week given what Phil did a year ago and how feeble he’s been in 2014. Just saying …

Revisiting “The Big Miss” and Hank Haney’s Predictions About Tiger and Majors

Image

I use the word “revisit” but that’s mostly in reference to myself as I have yet to meet someone in California who actually “visited” Hank Haney’s tell-all about coaching Tiger Woods when it was released prior to the 2012 Masters.

So, for almost all of you, the passages I’m about to quote from the closing chapter of “The Big Miss” will be entirely new.  For what I remember reading at the time, that chapter, titled “Adding It Up,” didn’t get any play in the press coverage of the book, which focused almost exclusively on injuries Tiger incurred while being fixated for a time on being a Navy SEAL and training toward that end.

That was the easy tabloid takeaway at the time from a book that actually gave quite a bit of insight into Tiger and his game, enough that you never watch him the same way again after reading it.

The title ends up having multiple meanings and applications in the book, but its literal meaning is “the big miss” the pros fear off the tee. In Tiger’s case, that’s a big duck hook that comes out under pressure and can ruin runs at titles, and, in the bigger picture Tiger is always measured in, majors.

Haney contends in the book that Woods has more or less become scared of his driver and controlling his otherworldly swing speed, thus the club he rode to greatness and domination becoming his nemesis as this point in his career.

That’s why Haney concludes that if Tiger is to break Jack’s record of 19 majors, he’ll have to do it via British Opens, where the courses are hard and fast and more conducive to iron play off the tee.

Eight majors have passed for Tiger since the book was published and so far the predictions in “The Big Miss” are 8-0. I thought about this after the Farmers, when Haney and Tiger got into a media tiff about how much his emphasis on weight training has hampered his swing.

Haney certainly seems to have plenty of appetite left for his issues with Tiger, who now has not won a major since his epic U.S. Open win at Torrey in 2008, leaving him stuck on 14 majors, five short of passing Jack.

As we all recall, Tiger bombed out of the Farmers this year, not even making it to Sunday on a week that many predicted would be just another victory lap at Torrey Pines for Tiger.

That wasn’t the way anyone expected Tiger to start up a new year that followed five wins and another Player of the Year honor in 2013. Momentum seemed to be building again for him and many looked at the Tiger-friendly majors line up and had already predicted, of all things, multiple major victories for him in 2014.

You haven’t heard much from those people since Torrey, but we have heard from Haney, whose book I recently tracked down and partially re-read. Since the Jack vs. Tiger debate is always just bubbling below the surface in golf when it’s not at a full boil, I thought I’d go back and quote a few portions of the book and see how it scores two years out.

I was going to wait to do this prior to the Masters, but Tiger and Hank’s media squabble prompted me to move it up.

So here’s some of what you missed in “The Big Miss” when you missed it the first time.

         “The most asked question about Tiger is whether he’ll break Jack’s record for major championships. … Certainly there are questions of health, physique and technique to consider, but to me the most important issue is desire.”

Here’s where Haney picks up his familiar theme of questioning Tiger’s practice habits and it echoes those of people who wondered how much Tiger prepped for Torrey.

         “I’ve never known a player who lost his hunger for practice to regain that same level of hunger. Nick Faldo, who in his prime was one of the most diligent and intense workers the game has ever known, said that after he won the 1996 Masters, he lost the drive to practice. … That drop-off marked the end of his career as a champion.”

But then Haney’s tone changes and he seems to forecast Tiger being an exception.

     “If Tiger can keep his work ethic strong, he’ll sort out his golf swing. Whatever theory he’s using, he’ll find a way – either in concert with Sean Foley or another teaching or be finding his own accommodation of their theories.”

        However …

        “However, I don’t think simply solidifying his technique alone will fix his problem with the driver. There is a mental issue there that needs to be addressed, and the odds are against it ever being completely resolved.”

And here’s what mean when I talk about this book changing how you watch Tiger. Remember the British Open last year when Tiger couldn’t keep up with co-leader Lee Westwood on Saturday? Westwood was hitting driver and blowing it by him, while Tiger was settling for 3-wood/5-wood/irons and finding traps and losing ground. According to an SB Nation column from the tourney, Woods didn’t hit his first driver until the 39th hole of the tourney. You can look up the column by Emily Kay that basically reads like it came right out of Haney’s book.

Which brings us to Haney’s British Open theory.

        “(The driver issue is) a weakness that tells the most in majors. It’s why, unless he finds some kind of late-career fix with the driver, Tiger’s best chances in majors will come on courses with firm, fast-running fairways that will allow him to him irons off the tee. Of the four majors, the British Open best fits this profile.”

After a strong start, Tiger finished tied for sixth, five shots behind winner Phil Mickelson. His week at Muirfield played into Tiger’s new trend of fading on the weekends of majors.

And it’s largely due to putting. Tiger seems to lose his touch and feel for the greens, which he was already struggling with when Haney wrote his book.

Here’s Hank on Tiger’s putting:

        “I’m not sure what to make of Tiger’s putting problems. Technically, he still looks good over the ball and has a textbook stroke. But putting is undone by the smallest and most mysterious of errors, and players rarely improve their putting after their mid-30s. … His putting, both his ability to lag long ones close and his solidness in holing from within six feet, was the foundation of Tiger’s ability to close out victories when he had the lead.”

And save for a few flurries of vintage Tiger putting in 2013, he largely didn’t look like the player we’ve known.

And if you can’t putt in the clutch, you can’t close, which is what leads Haney to doing a little math about how many majors Tiger will likely need to contend in to get five major victories. And this was Hank’s math going into 2012.

         “He’s not quite the same closer kind of closer, or not quite as fortunate as he’s been, (so) it could take 15 or more such opportunities. It seems like a tall order for the Tiger who enters 2012.”

And now for the Tiger who enters 2014 staring at basically the same equation, but now at age 38.

Hank closes by playing into an argument John Miller trumpets of how intense the media scrutiny will become if/once Tiger moves off 14 and gets his majors train moving again. And this is also where Haney sees the biggest difference from Nicklaus.

         “A final factor to consider it that, whereas Jack Nicklaus’s final few majors were won in a historical vacuum and were essentially padding to his record, Tiger will face ever mounting pressure and scrutiny the closer he gets to No. 19. Assuming the erosions of age, for Tiger, the soon he can get to 18, the better.”

Haney then predicts Tiger needed a major in 2012 to put a restrictor plate on the pressure he’ll feel to go faster to catch Jack as the battle with age and time sets in. Well, we know how that turned out.

Haney closes with a hopeful note on never counting out Tiger’s genius, but then gets back to a central theme of  how Tiger’s personal turmoil caused him to lose his mental edge – and caused his biggest miss, a shot at golf history.

         “Unlike the Tiger who in his 20s and early 30s was virtually indomitable, today’s Tiger has discovered that in like real disaster lurks. … That realization creates doubt, and in competitive golf doubt is a killer.

         “The big miss found its way into his life. If it’s ingrained, primed to emerge at moments of crisis, his march toward golf history is over.”

So there you have it. You can question Hank Haney’s motivations, and especially his ethics, for writing the book, but his observations to date are spot on.

Like I said, I found the book an insightful read, though a bit of a flat one, and it adds perspective to understanding of the greatest sports chase/storyline of our lifetimes and the debate that will never die until Tiger either breaks Jack record or hangs up his clubs.

We’ve got a lot of years left on this debate, but the score for “The Big Miss” going into year three post-publish is that it hasn’t missed yet.

Friday Photo Post: The PGA TOUR Grill In The San Diego Airport

You’ll be reading more about this on here down the road, but for those who haven’t discovered it, I wanted to share these photos of the PGA TOUR Grill that opened in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport in May.
The TOUR plans to open 20 to 25 of these in the next four to five years. The San Diego location was quickly followed by restaurants in the airports in Honolulu and Las Vegas. Boston is next.
Initially, the TOUR is targeting cities that are either PGA TOUR stops or golf hotspots for this. San Diego is obviously both.
The golf-centric restaurants offer healthy menu alternatives for travelers and each location is localized, which for San Diego means murals of Torrey Pines and memorabilia from the Farmers Insurance Open.
I hope to see the place for the first time next week. Photos for this post were provided by HMSHost, the PGA TOUR’s partner in the project.
If you visit, or have visited, the PGA TOUR Grill, please kindly drop a note in the comments.PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%203[1]PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%207[1]PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%205[1]

PGA%20Tour%20Grill%20angle%208[1]

JC Golf: British Open Preview and Picks By Our Pros

3c571fea3ff6df1baee0c6a0636bb3e22a3eb91e117602dd6677568aa8f97680_large[1]

Storylines abound as the Tour makes its annual trek across the pond for the third major of the year, the British Open, which begins Thursday at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake.

Just like the course, we don’t allow slow play on the blog, so let’s get right to the tournament preview followed by predictions from our pros.

Tiger And His Healed Back Are Back – After missing the Masters and the U.S. Open while recovering from back surgery, Tiger Woods returns to major championship competition at the site of one of his most revered major wins.

Woods famously rode his iron play to victory at Hoylake in 2006. Hitting just one driver, Woods negotiated a veritable minefield of bunkers without going into a single one to claim the Claret Jug.

Having played just one tournament since his return (he missed the cut), Woods will have to find his form quickly to have a chance to notch his first major victory since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008.

Regardless of how he plays, him merely teeing it up to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and the major victories record is sure to at least be worth a bump in the Open’s TV ratings.

With just the British and PGA Championship remaining, Woods is looking at another year of losing ground to history if he can’t get a win.

Can Phil Two-Peat? – A year ago, Mickelson book-ended a win at the Scottish Open with astellar Sunday charge to claim his first victory in the Open championship to get him to three-fourths of career Grand Slam.

Mickelson wasn’t even on the first page of the leaderboard when the day began, but he bolted past the field with a birdie binge to pull out a thrilling win, one of the best in recent major championship history.

Mickelson birdied four of the last six holes, including a legendary 3-wood into the par-5 17th to set up birdie. Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” McKay would later compare the shot to someone driving it through their garage door from nearly 300 yards out. Mickelson put it to 25 feet.

“Best round I’ve even him play,” McKay told Fox Sports.

A year later, Mickelson has just one top-10 finish and his year mostly consists of being the media darling in the run up to the U.S. Open, where Mickelson finished tied for 28th after battling his putter all week long.

Like everyone else, Mickelson spent the weekend chasing Martin Kaymer in futility as Kaymer dusted the field at Pinehurst, which brings us to …

What Can Kaymer Do For An Encore? – Kaymer’s methodical march to the title at Pinehurst after posting opening 65s was pure dominance.

Can Kaymer do it again? History, of course, says it’s unlikely. The last player to win repeat majors was Padraig Harrington in 2008 (the British and the PGA).

Then again, Kaymer only wins the biggies. His only three Tour wins are the PGA Championship and this year’s U.S. Open and the Players Championship.

Kaymer’s best British finish is T7 in 2010. He finish T32 last year.

By the way, according to Bleacher Report, the U.S. Open-British Open championship has been accomplished four times.

Favorite Son, Justin Rose – A year ago, it was Lee Westwood. This year, Justin Rose, coming off consecutive victories, including the Scottish Open, is the countryman of choice.

To do it, he’ll have to pull out a performance his championship resume doesn’t currently qualify him for. He’s missed five of the last six cuts, including the last two years.

But you never count out the hot guy, especially when he’s proven himself consistently to be among the best ball strikers in the world.

Is the Winning Strategy Tiger 2.0? – Can someone just do what Tiger did in 2006 and basically bag the driver?

Well, the course is reportedly only 54 yards longer than 2006 and actually has fewer bunkers, so it seems plausible.

Will Tiger try it again? Will anyone? Tune in very early tomm. a.m. and we’ll start to find out.

Happy British Open week.

Now the predictions from our pros …

 

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn – Rory McIroy is overdue to win his third major.

Troy Ferguson, Head Professional, Twin Oaks – Miguel Angel Cabrera

 

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Oaks North –I like Justin Rose . Maybe the hottest player in the world. He is from Europe and knows the style of golf.

My second choice is Martin Kaymer – pure golf swing and great putter.

Scott Butler, Tournament Sales Director at Twin Oaks – Adam Scott by six or eight shots – or Tiger in a close one.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn – It’s all about crisp irons and great putting in order to capture the Claret Jug.  Justin Rose is one of the best long iron players on the planet, while possessing an incredible short game

For such a talented player, though, he has had a poor track record at the Open since his breakthrough performance in 1998. I expect Justin to do what Phil Mickelson did last year; Go back to back, winning the Scottish Open and following it up by winning the Open Championship, bringing an end to the drought of Englishmen to win since Nick Faldo in 1992.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch – Rickie Fowler: Time for him to break through and win a big event. After his showing at the U.S Open, he could finally be ready.  Great ball striker with a lot of imagination around the greens.

Martin Kaymer – perfect ball flight for links course (as proven at the US open) and loves to putt around the greens.  At 20-1, he’s also a great value!

But, Erik adds, …

I would love to see Tiger win. It would be great for the sport.  With his deteriorating health over the last few years, we may not get to see much more of the brilliance that he has spoiled us with for over 16 years.

JC Golf: U.S. Open Preview & Picks By The Pros

Image

          As the year’s second major, the U.S. Open, arrives, storylines abound that, refreshingly, don’t involve Tiger Woods.

Unlike the Masters, Woods’ absence at Pinehurst has been barely a blip on the media radar this week. Instead, players who are actually playing in the tournament have been the storyline and, of course, the course itself.

According to my golf-centric Twitter feed, these are the lead stories going into the tournament.

  1. Can Phil Mickelson complete his career Grand Slam?

After his win at the British Open last year, Mickelson has now won them all, save for the Open, at which he’s finish second an incredible six times, including at Pinehurst 15 years ago. Despite his clout of having won five majors, a Mickelson victory seems a bit unlikely when you consider his atypically quiet year on Tour. And he’s tinkering with his putting grip (going to the claw), which is already drawing doubters. As one columnist wrote, “There goes Mickelson, out-thinking himself again.”

But a Mickelson victory would certain give the Tour season a shot in the arm. As would …

2. Will Jordan Spieth Finally Break Through?

The Next Big Thing in golf would erase the “Next” with a major championship. To do it, he’ll have to learn to close, something he’s been unable to do thus far this season. But after finishing second to Bubba Watson at the Masters, a breakthrough at the U.S. Open would announce an arrival that seems inevitable. But as Jack Nicklaus says of Tiger Woods’ major chase: You haven’t done it until you’ve done it.

3. A Classic Venue Restored

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore oversaw a $2.5 million renovation of the No. 2 course to restore it to the original Donald Ross design and a more natural state. Among other things, that meant removing turf and restoring bunkers and waste areas. As a result, this Open isn’t expected to play like an Open in that it won’t have ankle-high rough. However, in the practice rounds the pros have reported that the greens have been tough to hit, thus the winner’s chance possible riding on a strong short game, which (back to No. 1) … hello, Lefty.

But the course setup has some forecasting controversy …

4.  Could We See A Rules Controversy Like the 2010 PGA?

The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is where a rules controversy erased Dustin Johnson’s best chance at a major victory. He grounded his club in what he believed to be a waste area instead of a bunker. He thus invoked a two-stroke penalty that cost him the championship.   

Similar course conditions at Pinehurst abound, meaning the rules official is certain to get a workout this week. Something to watch for, but here’s hoping we don’t have another major overshadowed by a rules controversy.

There’s also the chance for Bubba Watson to notch a second major and really put some sizzle into the Tour season. But none of our JC pros chose him. Their picks are listed below.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch

Rory McIlroy – I think he has momentum on his side and his game 9and mind) are now sharp enough to return to top form

Adam Scott – He has become one of the most consistent players on the planet (hence his No. 1 world ranking), he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game, so if the putter is working he should be a favorite

Long Shot…..Webb Simpson – Wait a second, a former champion as a long-shot?  After the 2012 championship, his game has fallen off, but he is getting hot at the right time and has the experience to prevail.

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn –

Webb Simpson – Played well in the FedEx.

Troy Ferguson, Head Golf Professional, Twin Oaks –

Graham DeLaet. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn

Jordan Spieth – Too young to be scared of the U.S. Open.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Reidy Creek and Oaks North

Sergio Garcia – My wife’s favorite.

My Favorite Scene in “Tin Cup”: The 7-Iron Speech

Image

I meant to time this to the next time the Golf Channel runs a “Tin Cup” marathon, as it periodically does, but the approaching U.S. Open as timing seems just as good a reason.

Besides being the most anticipated tournaments of the year, the majors are just a great time in general to celebrate golf. That said, I’d to like to pay tribute to my favorite scene in the greatest golf movie of all time, “Tin Cup,” which we all know culminated in Roy McAvoy playing in the fictional U.S. Open.

I’ve watched golfers quote this movie, and even sing the songs, verbatim, showing how ingrained into the golf souls of people who love the game “Tin Cup” has become since it was made 1996 with, legend has it, input from Gary McCord, among others.

I’ve never tried it, but I’m sure a debate about a favorite scene in this movie could rage on for hours in the right crowd, and why wouldn’t it? Save from the romantic comedy scenes, what golf scene in this film isn’t iconic and, many times, relatable?

Roy getting the shanks on the range? Tin Cup: “Romes (his caddy), something’s terribly wrong!” What golfer can’t relate to the hopelessness of that? Or Romeo’s diagnosis: “The shanks are like a virus. They just show up.”

There’s the scene of Roy hitting the shot as David Simms’ caddie. There’s Roy knocking the pelican off the post after a bar bet. There’s Simms’ cunning bouncing of his 7-shot down the road to win a bet with Roy. And then there’s the culminating scene where Roy holes out to take a 12 on No. 18 at the Open after refusing to lay up – again.

But out of all that, if you’re telling me I only get one scene to take with me to a desert island to watch ‘til infinity, it’s the 7-iron scene.

The 7-iron scene is where Roy blows up on the course in his first Open qualifier in a dispute with his caddie, Romeo (Cheech Marin), about laying up on a par-5. We all know what happens next: Following Romeo’s lead, Roy breaks all the clubs in his bag – except his beloved and trusted 7-iron.

I believe the dialogue that follows to be the closest thing we have to golf poetry in that it speaks to the misgivings we’ve each had at one point or another about every club in our bag, and our unshakable faith in our 7-iron. You know it’s a day gone wrong on the course when your 7-iron betrays you.

In fact, a trust hierarchy of clubs probably starts 7-iron/putter/wedge … and ends somewhere with your long irons and possibly your driver, depending on how it’s going on the time.

Anyway, besides the sheer comedy and absurdity of the scene (it’s a bit like when Gene Hackman chose to play with four in “Hoosiers), I believe it’s the innate and universal truth about golf clubs that comes out amidst Roy’s rage that I find so endearing about this scene.

So for your amusement, appreciation and study (if you’ve never bothered to slow it down and catch every word) here’s my translation of the 7-iron speech.

To set the scene, Romeo (R in the screen play) and Roy (TC) are standing over Roy’s second shot on par-5, dogleg left. Roy wants to go for the green in two (“I’m going to go over those trees, with a little draw.”) while Romeo is preaching caution (“You don’t need the course record to qualify. You need to practice playing it safe.”)

And thus a golf feud for the ages plays out …

TC: Qualify? I want the course record. Now give me the lumber.

R: You’re not going to listen to me, are you?

TC: Now give me the driver and shut up.

R: You want the driver? (Snaps it over his leg.) Hit the driver, Tin Cup.

TC: I changed my mind. Give me the 3-wood.

R: You can’t clear that dogleg with a 3-wood.

TC: Want to bet?

R: Fine, take the 3-wood. (Breaks it and throws it.)

TC: (To the gallery) Guess I’m going with the safe shot, boys. (Takes the 2-iron from the bag.)

TC: But you know, sometimes I fan that 2. (Snaps it over his leg.)

TC: You better give me the 3. (Romeo hands him the 3-iron.)

TC: And sometimes I catch that 3 a little thin, too. (Snaps it and throws it on the ground.)

TC: I’ve hit fliers with the 4. (Snap.)

R: (Softly implores while looking ashen) Hit the ball, Roy.

TC: I’ve hooked my 5. (Snap.)

TC: I’ve shanked my 6. (Snap.)

TC: I’ve skulled the 8. (Steps on it. Snap.)

TC: I’ve fatted the 9. (Snap.)

TC: I’ve chili-dipped the wedge. (Snap.)

TC: I’ve bladed the sand. (Snap.)

R: Putter? (Handing him the putter.)

TC: Yeah, there is Mr. Three Wiggle, isn’t there? (Snap.)

(Roy grabs the 7-iron with Romeo looking on in disgust.)

TC: Then there’s the 7-iron. I never miss with the 7-iron. (Kicking club debris aside.)

“It’s the only truly safe club in my bag.”

Before Roy can hit, Romeo walks off the course, shouting in exasperation, “What the hell’s wrong with you?!?”

The classic extension of Roy’s rant is that, before hitting the shot, he challenges the gallery: “Anybody want to bet me I can’t par in with a 7-iron?”

Of course, none of Roy’s supporters takes the bet, and Roy proceeds to qualify by playing out with just his 7-iron.

Anyway, most of the scenes in “Tin Cup” will stop me and pull me in when I find this movie at random, but especially the 7-iron scene. For all the reasons listed above, I believe it’s the greatest golf scene ever written not involving a fight with Bob Barker – which is for another blog post entirely.;)

Carlsbad: Golf’s Ground Zero

Image

Editor’s Note: This is the my unpublished draft of the Carlsbad golf industry story you have read in the April issue of Southland Golf. Due to the constraints of traditional publishing (space limits, etc.) a shorter version of this piece ran in the mag. I wanted to post the original because I think it provides a lot of detail that was left out of the printed version. Hope you enjoy.

         Three days after Phil Mickelson’s Gulfstream V touched down in California following his thrilling comeback victory at the British Open in Scotland last July, Mickelson texted Callaway CEO Chip Brewer to ask if it’d be OK for him to drop by the company headquarters in Carlsbad.

Mickelson wanted to personally thank the Callaway team. Oh, and he had a special guest.

That afternoon, Mickelson, dressed California casual in golf shorts and flip-flops, emerged through the glass doors of Callaway clutching the Claret Jug and with bottles of champagne in tow. He was greeted to cheers by many of the 518-person Callaway staff and an impromptu celebration ensued in the lobby, the same space where workers had been greeted by live bagpipe music days before to herald Mickelson’s victory.

The party eventually moved back to R & D and the team Mickelson had worked with closely, especially on his then-custom X Hot 3 Deep 3-wood, the club that produced two now legendary shots on the par-5 17 at Muirfield.

Among those included in the celebration was long-time Callaway club designer Austie Rollinson, the designer of the Odyssey Versa #9 putter Mickelson used to roll in the victory-clinching putt.

“I got to take a sip out of the Claret Jug,” Rollinson says, looking at a photo of the moment captured on his iPhone. “That was pretty cool.”

It was a special day at Callaway, but in the golf industry at large in Carlsbad it was another day.

It’s plausible that in that same week Dustin Johnson had dropped by TaylorMade to again test the limits of the Kingdom’s driving range, or Rickie Fowler had popped into Cobra Puma Golf to check out what vibrant color patterns the company would be dressing him in next. And maybe light up the launch monitor.

Over in Oceanside, on the expansive and lush range of Titleist’s test facility, pros from various pro tours could’ve been putting the next generation of the Pro-V1 into orbit.

Were Carlsbad to make its own version of the “This is ESPN” commercials, this is what they might look like. The difference? Carlsbad wouldn’t be making any of it up.

Welcome to golf’s Ground Zero.

***

         Carlsbad’s tourism moniker is the “The Village by the Sea,” but that hardly captures what actually makes Carlsbad unique – namely, its place in the golf industry.

With a population of just below 110,000, as they say in boxing, Carlsbad punches well above its weight when it comes to influence in the golf equipment world.

The combined operations of Carlsbad-based TaylorMade, Callaway and Cobra Puma are akin to golf’s version of Silicon Valley. (Titleist has a presence here, too, but is actually based in Fairhaven, Mass.)

In terms of product development, R & D and setting golf’s equipment agenda years in advance for North America and the world, Carlsbad is it.

“The music of the golf industry plays through Carlsbad,” says Bob Philion, President of Cobra Puma Golf.

And, increasingly, Carlsbad’s equipment tune is played to the background music of a cash register. The companies combined reportedly amassed about $3 billion in sales in 2013, with TaylorMade, golf’s top brand, pulling in more than half, $1.7 billion.

How big is the golf industry in San Diego? Well, in 2008, an economic impact study pegged its contribution at $2.6 billion, making it larger than the sectors of legal services, agriculture, computer software and even aerospace.

How did Carlsbad become the hub for all of this? A Sports Illustrated/Golf.com piece in February, titled “Golf’s Ultimate Playground,” delved into those origins, relying heavily on an interview with TaylorMade CEO Mark King.

King challenged the local legend that the industry’s establishment in Carlsbad is tied to golf’s common interests with the military in terms of technology and manufacturing (club casting, in particular) needs as equipment transitioned into its current metal-based technology boom away from wooden clubs.

Instead, King said Callaway coming to Carlsbad in 1985 and TaylorMade in 1982, both destined to change golf forever with the first metal woods and drivers, was more happenstance than plan.

“It’s all folklore,” King told SI. “The whole thing was coincidental. After he sold the vineyard, Ely Callaway bought into a little company in Carlsbad that made hickory-shafted golf clubs.

“Gary Adams founded TaylorMade in Chicago but his West Coast (partner) lived in Carlsbad … so the company moved out here, too. It was all a big accident,” King concludes, noting Cobra golf was established in Carlsbad around the same time.

Ely Callaway got into golf when he used the profits from his winery to buy Hickory Sticks, USA, a golf company in Temecula, in 1982. He moved it to Cathedral City, but the lack of a robust labor pool caused him to move the company Carlsbad, where a golf labor pool existed at TaylorMade and Cobra.

Some of those workers became the original Callaway Carlsbad crew, thus beginning the now common experience of people being recruited from one company to another.

While some of the origins of the golf industry in Carlsbad may be in doubt, the impact is not.

The companies not only changed how clubs are made, but how they’re sold and marketed. Austie Rollinson, who joined Callaway as a club designer in 1991, recalls how clubs were largely only sold at golf courses when he started and how Mr. Callaway was the among the first to transition the business into the retail big-box model we see today.

Rollinson arrived as the industry was transitioning from more mom-and-pop into the manufacturing and marketing machine we see today. Rollinson says the companies maintain a friendly competitive balance, but it’s nothing like the stories he’s heard of the camaraderie of the 80s.

“If Callaway was making clubs that day and was out of Dynamic Gold golf shafts, they’d just call Cobra,” Rollinson says. “I couldn’t see that happening now. It was a much more friendly industry back then, but there wasn’t as much at stake and it was as competitive as it is now, either.”

Palomar Airport Road, a major thoroughfare in Carlsbad that leads to all three company’s offices, was a dirt road when Rollinson arrived. It’s now a major six-lane highway.

Jose Miraflor, Director of Product Marketing at Cobra Puma, recalls the dirt-road days as well.

“Now people pass me doing 70 on that thing!” he recalls with a laugh, knowing it’s possibly one of his competitors, whom he sees frequently.

“When you go out to a lunch meeting, if you’re talking products or design, you have to look over your shoulder to see else is (in the restaurant). We’re a big industry in a small community, and you never lose sight of that.”

Strangely, the one answer you don’t hear as to why Carlsbad became the center of the golf equipment universe is the one that seems most obvious – the weather.

Miraflor says that’s the reason he can’t imagine the equipment companies being anywhere else.

“We’re identifying products right now for 2016. To be that far ahead, you need to be hitting prototypes in Jan./Feb., and really the only place to do that is California,” he says.

But access to that perpetual sunshine doesn’t come cheap.

“It’s expensive,” Miraflor says, referring to taxes, real estate, etc. “The operational cost is high, but the advantages, including the weather, can’t be beat.”

***

         If you’re looking for the future of golf, look no further than TaylorMade’s posh fitting center and driving range, The Kingdom.

Situated across the street from the company’s headquarters, it’s where many of its contracted players come to practice, be fitted and hone their games in a high-tech environment.

Like golf courses, The Kingdom has a graduated set of tee boxes. During a visit there last fall, players from three pro tours were hitting, but none from what would be the tips.

I asked Frank Firman, a Category Manager at TaylorMade, where the company’s big hitters, such as Dustin Johnson, hit from when they come to practice.

“We have to ask Dustin to stand over there (pointing to the back right of the box) and hit it over there (pointing to the remote left side of the range),” Firman says. “Otherwise, if he loses it right, it’s look out College Boulevard.”

Translation: While testing clubs, Dustin Johnson is making TaylorMade’s spacious driving range seem obsolete.

More than high-profile faces for the company, its product and its brands, players have a major impact on product testing and development. The rationale largely is that if the product works for the pros, the product – or a version of – will work for every level of player below.

On my visit to Callaway, Rollinson noted how some clubs the pros use, such as the famed Phrankenwood 3-wood Mickelson once carried, don’t ever become retail products, but the technology advance gives birth to the next generation of retail clubs, such as the X Hot 3 Deep.

Rollinson also mentioned how a custom shaft bend requested by a tour player in the last year gave birth to a new Odyssey putter design.

Rollinson says attention to detail is more acute than ever amongst companies looking to make millions off of what can be fractional advantages in innovation. And the scrutiny of the public, between round-the-clock coverage on The Golf Channel and Internet pundits, has never been higher.

“Our products are watched more closely than ever,” he says.

Tens of millions of dollars annually are put into R & D to keep pace with product launch cycle that is no longer seasonal and, as TaylorMade showed last year, can produce two new drivers in the same calendar year.

But Cobra’s Philion says that competitive pressure has more advantages than drawbacks.

“It puts a lot of pressure on R & D to bring something new and better to the market place,” he says. “But it’s exciting for because we can launch more products and enhance our brand experience for the consumer.

“We like that cadence. It allows us to on bringing innovation to the market place every day instead of just pumping out units.”

But the companies do watch other closely and do exhaustive studies of competing technologies to separate the scientific truth from the marketing hype.

And then there’s brand differentiation, which right now at Cobra is summed up in the succinct motto, “Enjoy Golf,” emphasizing the many pleasures of the game aside from just what’s on the scorecard.

Knowing the competition intimately allows for greater ability to separate, Philion says.

“It gives us a chance to differentiate ourselves,” he says. “We like to zig when others zag.”

Philion launched the Puma golf brand and then oversaw its merger with Cobra in 2009. The company started with 28 employees and now has 150 in Carlsbad and 350 worldwide.

In 1998, TaylorMade was purchased by Adidas and has 1,800 employees worldwide, 800 in Carlsbad.

Callaway has gone through some down-sizing and leadership turmoil in recent years, but after hiring CEO Chip Brewer is back on the uptick.

While the balance of power right now is squarely with TaylorMade, things like Mickelson’s victory at the British can be a game-changer, Rollinson says.

Mickelson’s victory wasn’t just a major for him, it was a major for Callaway, too.

“It’s very satisfying when the fruits of your labor pay off like that and you know you got one of the best players in the world to perform at his very best at a crucial moment. It makes you proud,” Rollinson says.

“It’s bolsters you, and it’s great motivation when you get back to work on Monday.”

 

 

 

JC Golf: Our Professionals Pick the Masters

Image

         The Masters, the week that speaks to every golfer’s soul, is here.

The world’s No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, not being in the field due to back surgery has left the tournament without a clear favorite.

While a Tiger-less Masters is a buzz kill for some, true golf fans will tune in regardless to see who slips on the coveted green jacket this year.

Some of the professionals at JC Golf sized up the field this week and dared to predict a winner. You’ll find their picks and rationale below, but feel free to add your favorite in the comments.

Enjoy the Masters, and we look forward to you resuming your regularly scheduled golf season with us after.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch

Pick: Harris English.

Why: “He’s my dark horse pick. He’s a Georgia boy. He’s been on a really good run over the last year and a half or so. He’s very confident. He changed every club in his bag going into this season and he hasn’t seen a fall off, which I think is amazing.

“He even changed his putter after he won two or three times with it. That just speaks to his confidence.”

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn

Pick: Angel Cabrera

Why: “After losing the playoff to Adam Scott in 2013, it has been forgotten how clutch Cabrera was down the stretch.  Angel is in the middle of the 18th fairway when Adam Scott rolls in a 15-footer for birdie to take a one-stroke lead.  And the Augusta crowd erupts with a Sunday roar!

“Imagine watching that scene unfold in front of you.

“Cabrera, in the middle of the 18th fairway, once tied, is now watching Scott celebrate the lead.  After the green clears, in a heavy downpour, Cabrera stays in the moment and sticks his approach shot to two feet, forcing the playoff.   This type of clutch performance wins major championships and should not be overlooked.  Angel Cabrera is my 2014 Masters pick.”

Troy Ferguson, Head Professional, Twin Oaks

Pick: Graham DeLaet

Why: “Go Canada!” (Troy is from Alberta; Graham is from near Saskatchewan.)

Eric Jeska, Director of Golf, Twin Oaks

Pick: Pat Perez

Why: “He’s a San Diego boy, and nobody else will pick him. Then I can celebrate by myself after he wins.”

Paul Miernicki, Director of Instruction, Twin Oaks

Pick: Matt Kuchar

Why: “He’s the hot guy right now. He should’ve won the last two tournaments. He was just two bad swings away. He’s still won a million dollars more than me the past two weeks. My money’s on him.”

Note: Paul’s second choice is Jason Day.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Oaks North & Reidy Creek

Pick: Charl Schwartzel

Why: “He has been in the hunt before, he has good experience at Augusta (2011 champion), and he’s a great putter.”

Curtis Rowe, Director of Golf, Temecula Creek Inn

Pick: Sergio Garcia

Why: “I think he’s due to win a major, and he’s a great player, good enough to a major. And everybody hates Sergio. I’ll go against the haters.”

Note: Curtis’ American pick is Ryan Moore.

The Story Behind My Masters Ball

Image

      Masters fever has officially set in. Seeing as I can’t watch it yet, I can at least write about it, and this will be brief because I’ve only got one story to tell. It’s about the ball pictured above.

      The photo above probably leads you to believe I have been to the Masters. Sadly, I have not. The closest I’ve been is that souvenir ball, which a grateful and generous story subject gave to me after I wrote about his trip to Augusta. The significance of the story was that my friend had gone to the Masters and thus completed his own Grand Slam by having attended all four majors.

      At the time, that made him the coolest person on the planet to me, so I wrote about him for the travel section of the magazine I edited at the time. I now know many people who’ve made the hallowed journey, but at the time, he was about the only one. He told the usual stories about the landscape being so pristine it didn’t seem real, about the iconic Butler Cabin clubhouse and about eating a pimento sandwich. (For the record, that’s now two pimento sandwich references in the blog. Who ever saw that coming?)

      Anyway, the story I remember most is about him attending a day where they had a split start due to weather, meaning one round needed to be finished before the next could begin. He staked out Amen Corner and watched like five or six groups come through, as I recall, and each group had player put a ball in the water on the par-3 12th, where famously Fred Couples’ ball resisted that fate and basic physics during his victory in 2002.

     The detail I recall most is that after the groups came through, prior to the third round, the landscape crews who’d shaved the bank that morning, about 90 minutes after doing so the first time came out and shaved the bank … again. To anyone who knows about course set up, this is rather commonplace, but back then it just seemed a juicy detail and fun and part of the lore of Augusta.

    The story ended with my friend noting a player in each of the first six groups of the next round each went in the water. And that was that. I don’t keep much of my old stuff, but that’s one story I kinda of wish I still had hanging around. Oh, well. I’ve still got the ball. And now a blog post.

     Is it Thursday yet?