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

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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 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 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.

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Fearsome Foursome: The Demanding Par-5s of Maderas

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The view from the 18th tee at Maderas

The majority of the par-5s in Southern California are of the grip-and-rip variety that after two solid shots either result in a putt or short pitch for eagle or birdie and you usually end settling for par.

Not so at Maderas.

As a group, the par-5s at Maderas Golf Club in Poway require more precision, strategy and execution than any other group of 5s in So Cal. I’m open to other candidates, but right now this is my pick.

You don’t settle for par on Maderas’ par-5s; you savor them.

If you haven’t played Maderas, it’s a public course with country club amenities located just off the 15 past Rancho Bernardo Inn. It garnered a top 100 ranking among U.S. public courses by Golf Digest for the first time in 2013.

To quote the course’s own yardage book, “Maderas golf club is quietly tucked away amidst the rolling hills of north San Diego … (It) offers a unique combination of golf course strategy and design mastery, while taking the concept of upscale golf to exhilarating levels.”

Maderas is love at first sight to a golfers’ eyes but that design mastery can induce initial misery without a little guidance. It especially takes a few rounds to learn how to properly club the highly strategic front nine. The back nine is more open, but distance becomes the challenge as the course lengthens out considerably.

But the meat of Maderas is the par-5s, all of which incorporate a carry either off the tee or to the green. In that way, Maderas is like the Crossings, the difference being you can get away with a mistake at the Crossings more so than Maderas.

So here’s a look at a group of great par-5s that test you off the tee and then are likely to give most of your bag a workout. We’ll offer a few strategies along the way that at the least might keep you in play, which is a victory unto itself at Maderas. (Note: Yardages are given from the blue tees, fitting the 10-handicap perspective of this blog.)

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No. 3, par-5, 540 yards

The yardage book says: “Inspired by nature, this is the first of several elevated tee boxes. On the second shot, lay back of the creek safely leaving a short-iron approach.”

My take: This hole is golf’s answer to bumper bowling. As long as you don’t go extreme left or extreme right, a bowled fairway will not only keep you in play but probably bring you back to center. In that sense, this is the easiest of the par-5s. It’s also the only one that’s downhill start to finish.

Less than driver will do off the tee if that helps you hold the fairway. You’re unlikely to get home in two on your second so be smart. Going for it on your second will likely land you in the ravine that’s waiting for you about 120 yards out from the hole.

I know because that was my fate once after ripping a 3-wood. I found my ball next to a boulder and made a crazy up-and-down off the boulder that I don’t care to repeat. I’ve learned to take my 6-iron/7-iron layup and like it.

The other likely outcome is carrying the ravine but being right of the green and watching the slope run your ball off into the woods OB. I’ve done that, too.

So take the layup, cozy a wedge in and take your chances on Maderas’ slick roller coaster greens. The opening four holes might be the most score-able stretch on the course if you’ve got your game together. Take advantage by being smart.

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No. 8, par-5, 507 yards

The yardage book says: “The Sycamore and Thompson creeks merge here, so the fairway is a must. Most will use a fairway metal or long iron off the tee. A lofted club for your second shot over the tree will you leave you a short iron to an elevated and tightly guarded green.”

My take: The par-4 5th is the No. 1 handicap. My Maderas member friends think this hole’s tougher.  Either this or the tee shot on No. 16 has to be the toughest tee shot on the course.

Sliding a drive past the tree in the middle of the fairway and keeping it from going OB left is position A, but it’s also a very tight fit. Anything less brings that huge tree into play and will likely leave you to execute some sort of knockdown shot to a narrow uphill fairway to give yourself any kind of look at the green. And anything right into the lake or right of the lake is OB.

If you get your second past the tree, then comes the aforementioned tight approach, which presents OB left and a raised bunker complex on the right. (Have I mentioned yet that par is a very good score here?)

If I hadn’t experienced a par-5 at Dove Canyon that played like hitting it down a high school hallway, this would get my vote for the toughest par-5 I’ve played in SoCal. It doesn’t help that my draw does my absolutely no good off the tee here.

Take the book’s advice here. Obviously I’ve got nothing but bogeys and scars to show for my rounds on this hole.

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No. 14, par-5, 505

The yardage book says: “Blended in native hillsides and natural creek features, use caution when hitting your second shot with a fairway metal or long iron as the ravine can approach quickly. Play an extra club for your third shot as it is uphill and well guarded.”

My take: Don’t believe the yardage here. This hole plays much longer. And if you’re really want to feel what it’s like to have a lot of golf hole on your hands, try it from the 552-yard back tees.

The tee shot isn’t so much the challenge here. I’ve missed this fairway left several times and been able to get back into position. The problem is biting off enough fairway on your second to put you in reasonable position for a very difficult approach over a ball-swallowing canyon.

The green is elevated, thus the extra club, but I advocate one more. You can only afford to be short here if you find the bailout left, which I did last time after going 3-wood/rescue/7-iron.

I still made bogey as my pitch caught up short of the green.

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This is a the first of two long-distance par-5s on the back that don’t give up par, much less birdie, without a fight.

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No. 18, par-5, 555 yards

The yardage book says: “With signature oak trees and dramatic elevation changes, this fairway slopes left to right. A fairway metal or long iron second shot will clear the corner and leave players with a short iron to a well-guarded green.”

My take: What a finishing hole. First of all, the bird’s-eye view of the 18th fairway also provides a glimpse of the back nine, giving you one a stunning perspective and appreciation for the course.

The key to your tee shot is the mature oak tree sitting on the right side at the turn in the fairway. This is your aim line. You ideally want to end of left of it, leaving an ideal angle for your second. Even right of the tree, leaves with you a shot. The sand traps left aren’t crippling for your par chances, but OB left or short is.

I have a witness to testify that I’ve reached this green in two, but it took a flushed 3-wood. With a decent tee shot, a more conservative play will leave you in scoring range and not risking the green-side creek on the right.

After No. 3, I deem this to be the second easiest of the par-5s, but the caveat is the undulating oblong green. Depending on pin placement, you can get some breaks on this green that will simply defy belief. Once you experience it, you’ll know.

But all in all, this hole does what I think a great finishing should do, which is give you a last chance at glory. After stumbling through 14, 15 (tough par-3), 16 (par-4 w/tight tee shot), I’ve often salved my round on 17 (short par-3) and 18.

That’s another reason I’m partial to this hole. It’s shown me a little mercy on a course that doesn’t show you much if game isn’t spot on.

Yet, I still keep coming back hoping to be up to the multiple challenges Maderas’ par-5s throw at you. Maybe next time I will be.

A “Super” Drink: Maderas Lemonade

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I wrote about the sweet post-round lemonade about Maderas Golf Club last year when I reviewed the course for the September issue of Southland Golf Magazine.

However, that was in my less professionally sophisticated pre-blog days, so I didn’t have the chance to post the recipe.

Well, consider this my mulligan. I was back to Maderas last week as part of media contingent that got to play the course in advance of the Farmers and re-discover why Maderas was ranked top 100 in Golf Digest’s list of U.S. public courses.

I’ve got another post coming about the Poway course and playing its diverse group of par-5s, which could be the best in the county, but I wanted to post the lemonade recipe today as a non-alcoholic option for your Super Bowl party.

The recipe involves using California Lemon juice, which fits into Maderas’ culinary theme of offering tastes of the region, such as locally brewed craft beers and fish tacos.

I find the lemonade to be an especially refreshing and unique end to a great day at Maderas. So for your enjoyment at home, I offer the recipe below. Cheers.

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Pinehurst A “Major” Advertiser

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I don’t mean to go all Editor & Publisher on you, but I had to point out this Pinehurst ad in this month’s issue of ClubCorp’s Private Clubs Magazine.

When you’ve been in the business for more than two decades, including 10 years in magazines, these are the things you notice.

This appears in the first few pages of the magazine,and it just stops you. It’s a clean ad with a tremendous photo and smart copy that promotes Pinehurst No. 2 hosting both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open this year.

It reads: “In June 2014, the greatest men and women in golf will play Pinehurst No. 2 … Until then, the first tee is open.”

A simple yet brilliant play on golfers’ desire to follow in the footsteps of the pros – or precede them. This ad makes me want to get on plane tomorrow. Now that’s a good ad.

Of local note, Scott Slater of San Diego hamburger fame as the owner of Slater’s 50/50, is also featured in the issue, which reminds that I need to get back to Slater’s. The only time I’ve been there I had no advance notice about what a goliath of a hamburger I would be served, and I was defeated soundly by a very tasty burger. A rematch is mandatory, preferably after a suitable fast.

Slater is a ClubCorp member at the University Club atop Symphony Towers, thus meriting the profile.

Cali at Christmas: I Love A (Boat) Parade

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I just wanted to share a quick holiday post going into the weekend about what has quickly become my favorite California holiday tradition: boat parades.

I witnessed my second this week on Balboa Island and it was even more fun than my inaugural boat parade in San Diego Harbor last year.

Coming from the Midwest, I had no idea whatsoever about this bit of California Christmas culture. You see, the Midwest doesn’t have these, seeing as, among other reasons, the lakes and waterways have normally long frozen by now. The best it ever got there was holiday lights tour of high-end neighborhoods in a limo bus. That has its own charm, but it’s not the same, especially because it’s likely 10 degrees out.

With a night in the balmy 60s on Wednesday, we stood on shore and watched a procession of fabulously decorated boats of all shapes and sizes. There were roughly 60 vessels or so, which I’m told pales in comparison to the previous years (and has been going for 105 of them now), but this is all new to me so I don’t have the buzzkill of history in this case.

For 45 minutes or so, we watched a floating procession of Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa and lights, lights, lights! Like houses at Christmas, some boats were decorated modestly whiles others resembled the U.S.S. Griswold. And they came by blaring everything from Christmas music to rock.

I appreciate the investment of time and resources it takes to put this on and will eagerly line up to grab some shoreline space to view it again next year.

White Christmas? Wildly overrated. Water Christmas? Wonderfully West Coast.

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No. 18 at Sherwood CC: Well Done, Mr. Nicklaus

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What you see above is the view that greets you after you walk through the clubhouse at Sherwood Country Club. This is the green view of No. 18.

Seeing Torrey Pines for the first time and seeing Sherwood rank as my most memorable California golf course first impressions. At Sherwood, you can’t help but just stand there, take in the scene and then begin to contemplate what it’ll be like walking down that 18th fairway. And then when you do it, it completely delivers on the experience.

No. 18 could well decide the tournament on Sunday as Tiger takes a two-shot lead into the final day of the final World Challenge at Sherwood, where Woods will seek a sixth title.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this event on TV the past three days and found especially entertaining the travails the field had at the par-3 No. 15 on Saturday (11 balls in the hazard, making it the course’s toughest hole).

No. 18 doesn’t seem to trouble the pros too much, despite a tight tee shot. Tiger in particular has been content to fly a 3-wood to 160-170 yards or so and play from there.

But the second shot is what makes this hole so memorable. What golfer wouldn’t want to be looking at this for a second shot? Isn’t this the challenge we all live for?

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It’s about as pretty as it gets, but daunting as well. The day I played, my drive found the right rough of the fairway. I had a clear shot at the green, but I was very leery of the water. The last thing I wanted was to execute the drive and then rinse my approach. So I clubbed up and hit a fabulous 4-iron that carried to the back of the green. It was a club more than I needed, but I was dry.

That approach shot replays in my head every time I see the 18 green on TV. Yes, it was one of those shots.

From the replays, I expect the pin position to be in front today, as it was the day we played. That left me a super slick downhill that I mishit and then I lipped out my par putt. Oh, well. Being on in regulation was one satisfying feeling and rates among my better golf accomplishments for the year.

But enough about me. Let’s give credit here to the designer, Jack Nicklaus, and his fabulous creation. Check out sherwoodcountryclub.com’s hole description to gain a little more appreciation for No. 18.

Nicklaus calls the 444-yard par-4 eighteenth hole the finest finishing hole he has ever created. The tee shot is blind and must be played down the left side allowing the left-to-right slope to take the ball to the middle of the fairway. A mid-to-long iron approach awaits.

The second shot must be played to a multi-level green that presents an extremely visually intimidating shot. The green is protected in front with a rock-filled pond that flows into a waterfall on the right and is connected to another waterfall and stream on the left leaving very little room for error short of the green. There is also a bunker on the left that will catch balls that are missed slightly left. The back right portion of the green is protected by the waterfall, a deep pot-bunker, and a deep grass-bunker. Most shots left short of this green find the water, but balls over the green face a chip or pitch from the deep rough to a green sloping away from the player, taking the shot right back toward the bunker and water.

This is truly a classic finishing hole that ranks as one of the finest in the world.

I’ve hardly played everywhere in the golf world, but I don’t know of a finishing hole I’ve played that rates above it.

So take a minute to appreciate No. 18 today and lament that we might not see it on TV again.  It’s a masterpiece to play and a wonder to watch and a hole that can’t help but make you love this great game just a little more.     Image

The view as you walk off No. 18

SD Day Trip: The USS Midway

ImageHaving grown up without any real-world exposure to the military or military culture, moving to San Diego has an been an almost daily education for me about our nation and its armed forces, and one I’ve enjoyed immensely.

I still get school-boy giddy when I drive the 5 through Camp Pendleton and the Marines are in the middle of exercises – the more tanks, the better – and I’m only too happy to let veterans tell me stories from their days of service.

That said, I was greatly looking forward to finally touring the USS Midway, the legendary battleship moored in San Diego harbor. That day finally came on Friday, and I was simply awed by everything I saw, heard (they simulate sounds of the ship deployed at sea) and learned during two hours aboard the massive ship.

I will say upfront that two hours is an inadequate amount to devote to touring the Midway, so what you’re about to read is more impressions about the tour than a definitive guide. Just getting through the ship , which spans 18 decks and 1,000 feet, is a workout unto itself, much less trying to take in all the educational accents – speakers, flight simulators, artifacts, signage, etc. – that make this such an exquisite education about the Midway, our military, our country and our history.

And you’re doing all this while climbing what amounts to a giant floating jungle gym. You’re always stepping over something, climbing up or down something, or ducking under something while you’re navigating the Midway. That’s just one of many ways in which you get a sense of what life was like on the Midway for the men who were deployed on it for up to six months at a time.

The tour itself is heavy on education about what a military lifestyle was like aboard the ship, but it ends with what for me was a surprising and unexpected look at what it really was like during combat. The war room is set up circa the Persian Gulf War, with war plans and targeting equipment still locked on Iraq. It’s a giant dose of modern history that is made very real by the veterans staffing the ship.

It’s every navy military movie you’ve ever seen come to life and largely how you’d expect it. It’s a powerful way to end the tour and could be one almost unto itself. The map could say, “If you want to go the Persian Gulf War now, report directly to flight deck control.”

But before we throw down on Iraq again, let’s look briefly at the history of the Midway and take a minute to appreciate one of the true marvels of our military.

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Anytime you tour something as massive and complex as the Midway, you can expect to be hit with a veritable avalanche of mind-boggling facts and stats. The Midway doesn’t disappoint in that regard, but lets at least cover the basics.

The Midway was launched in 1945 and saw action in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and basically toured the world, including the Arctic, until it was decommissioned in 1992. It now serves as a military museum for a million tourists annually.

The ship weighs 69,000 tons (20 ton in just anchors), is 1,001 feet long, has a four-acre flight deck, consists of 2,000 compartments spread over 18 decks and was home to a crew of 4,500. It was reportedly the first ship to be too big to fit through the Panama Canal.

The program and tour delivers as many of these facts as you could ever want, but to channel my pastor, the master of simplification, let’s just say this: it’s a really big ship.

The enormity of the Midway, of course, is what first strikes you, before you ever board the ship, but your world gets very small very quickly once you enter the vessel. This is not a tour for claustrophobics.

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One of your first stops is the cramped sleeping quarters for the crew, and as your progress through the ship, you realize there’s a direct ratio between rank and sleeping space and even proximity of your bed to light. In other words, it’s good to be an admiral.

The lowest bunk looks barely big enough to host a guitar case much less a person, but that’s how many sailors slept aboard the Midway.

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In this sailing city, there’s a lot of space devoted to sleeping and eating, and when you’re not in a bedroom, you’re likely in a kitchen or dining room for much of the first legs of the tour, although one of the early stops is the area where they stowed the anchors.

On the audio tour, which is excellent, a seaman shares a story about the ship’s “anchor pool” that tells how when the anchor would drop, the entire crew would look at their watches. What minute and second the anchor dropped mattered in that crew members each had a time reserved in a pool and the corresponding times resulted in more funds for shore leave for the winners.

You quickly get a sense of how crew members passed the time – lots of it – at sea when they weren’t participating in the ship’s day-to-day operations.

And the days had to have been long. For one thing, on the tour, save for a glimpse through a porthole here and there, you rarely see the sun or the ocean. Just think how disorienting that alone must’ve been.

And if you worked in, say, the engine room, the laundry room or another steamy area in the inner bowls of the ship, well, it probably felt a lot like another hellaciously warm place.

We’ll just say that after 15 or 20 minutes below deck on the tour, it’s a relief when you “surface.” Now imagine spending entire days, weeks and months like that.

While seclusion and boredom abounded aboard so did danger, and the danger on the ship lurked much more within than from beyond. As one veteran imparts on the audio tour, “A battleship is an accident looking for a place to happen.”

Beyond the handling and transport of tons of military ordinance and the perilous landing of planes on the ship’s flight deck, the very storing of elements critical to the ship’s operation presented a danger and, in fact, nearly inflicted a mortal wound on the Midway.

While at sea near Japan in 1990, a compressed oxygen explosion killed three crew members and injured eight others. The oxygen plant on the tour was on the same level as the cargo hold, where old photos shot you tons of stored ordinance as well as dozens of aircraft.

It seems like a small detail when the audio tour diverts your attention to the barely noticeable red-and-yellow fire doors that would close off half the hold in case of fire, but then you realize, no detail was too small on the Midway.

Once you reach the cargo hold, or hanger, you finally get close to some of the military planes and helicopters you see before you board the ship. The aircraft on display are from a cross section of aviation history and are marvels unto themselves.

On the flight deck, among other aircraft, you’ll discover the helicopter that retrieved astronauts from the Apollo missions, including the ill-fated Apollo 13, and it makes you start to appreciate all capacities in which the Midway served its country besides war.

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But this was a battleship after all and war was why it existed. Which brings us to the Persian Gulf.

The Midway had previously served in operations in Vietnam, but the Iraq war where the Midway was the flagship for American’s air operations at sea and the pinnacle of the ship’s service.

The ship’s combat command and control is frozen as a time capsule for that period, with CNN’s war footage scrolling, attack plans still adorning the walls of the war room and radar still locked on Iraq. Among the war documents, there’s a sheet of green paper that includes footnotes instructing Saddam “to take a seat and enjoy the show.”

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And what a show it must’ve been. Another audio file calls a fully functioning flight deck “the greatest show on earth” and I don’t doubt it, given the coordination of crew and craft.

The volunteer we met in the room where combat operations were coordinated informed us that 25 men ran the show from inside a box no bigger than your living room throughout the Gulf War. It’s always humbling to walk in the footsteps of history, but it’s even more so to meet someone who was there, as this man was.

Now retired for six years, he says he returns to the Midway monthly, driving from Nevada to volunteer for a week at a time. And that’s the type of commitment and dedication that really brings the Midway to life and that I had not nearly enough time for on Friday.

In just brief conversations or overhead bits of presentations, the passion and admiration with which these volunteers share their insights and stories is truly inspiring. They’re the true legacy of the Midway and they make an incredible contribution by giving of their time this way.

Next time, I’m going to allow more time to let them share all they have to offer and, in turn, more fully appreciate what this ship meant to them and our country.

For now, I’m just happy to have had the experience and be better able to share the Midway’s story with others and be better able to properly guide guests on the next tour. This ship has hardly sailed as far as me touring the Midway again. Consider me locked and loaded, and (tail)hooked on learning more.

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Highlight Hole: No. 14 at St. Mark

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Based on the relatively flat topography of the front nine – and actually of most of the course – you’d never guess a hole like this is waiting for you on the back. But this is what you see after you climb to the 14th tee box at St. Mark Golf Club at Lake San Marcos in San Marcos.

This driver’s delight – or potential nightmare, if you’re a short-hitter – plays to 369 yards from the blue tees and virtually the same from the whites.

This is risk-reward at its most basic. I haven’t put a GPS to it, but it seems to be about 240-250 yards to carry the water. Factoring in considerable carry from the elevated tee, it’s plenty do-able and I’m usually easily 40 to 50 yards over, and I’ve heard stories of people driving the green. Totally plausible.

The play if you don’t feel confident you make the carry, or keep the ball on the course (I can only imagine how many golf golf balls the yards around this fairway yield), is a hyrid/long iron to around 200 yards. That’ll leave you short of the water and sand – another common tee shot destination – and a mid-iron home.

My one lament about this hole is that I have yet to make birdie. No matter how well I place my approach, it always seems to run to the back of the green, or off. So you might want to factor that in as well.

I actually don’t mind the back nine at St Mark, which plays 300 yards longer than the front. On the back, the course stretches out with three par-5s, including a 600-yarder, and a 460-yard par-4. Then there’s 14, which will likely be for driving bragging rights amongst your group. Three words of advice: Go for it.

Equipment Review: JetSpeed by TaylorMade

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TaylorMade unveiled JetSpeed last week, which is its update to the RocketBallz line and includes the first driver to utilize Speed Pocket technology.

I’ve pasted portions of the company release below, but if you’re up to speed on JetSpeed and just want to read about my experience, then scroll about halfway down.

The word from the source:

TaylorMade, the No. 1 played driver brand on the PGA Tour, has announced the release of JetSpeed, a breakthrough line of metalwoods that includes the company’s first driver to feature Speed Pocket technology. In addition, JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs combine an enhanced Speed Pocket, an extremely low-forward center of gravity (CG) location and extremely light overall weight to promote faster swing speed, clubhead speed and ball speed for more distance.

“We expect ‘low and forward CG’ to represent the next great innovation in metalwood performance,” said Sean Toulon, Executive Vice President. “With our SLDR and JetSpeed products, we’re giving golfers of all types the opportunity to increase their launch angle and reduce their spin-rate, which ultimately leads to more distance.”

  The First Driver with a Speed Pocket

The Speed Pocket was originally designed to increase the speed at which the clubface flexes and rebounds to promote faster ball speed.  Why put a Speed Pocket in a driver, since the face is already as fast as the USGA will allow? TaylorMade engineers discovered that incorporating a Speed Pocket into the JetSpeed driver promotes less spin, as well as greater ball speeds on shots struck below the center of the clubface. Research suggests 72% of all golf shots are hit below the center of face, so the JetSpeed driver is designed to minimize the ill effects of shots struck below center.

“With most drivers, low impact generates too much spin, making the ball fly too high and land short,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s Senior Director of Metalwood Creation. “JetSpeed’s Speed Pocket is engineered to dramatically reduce that added spin to promote more distance on that very common type of mishit.”

 JetSpeed Fairway Woods and Rescues

JetSpeed fairway woods and Rescue clubs each incorporate a radically redesigned Speed Pocket that’s smaller and accounts for less weight, while remaining just as efficient at boosting the speed of the clubface.

The improved Speed Pocket is filled with a polymer that keeps debris out, improving turf interaction while absorbing unwanted vibration without slowing down the clubface.

The weight saved by the new Speed Pocket design is redistributed strategically within the clubhead to move the CG lower and more forward, a location that TaylorMade has proven promotes faster ball speeds and lower spin. JetSpeed fairways and Rescues reduce spin by 200-300 RPM compared to previous models to promote more distance.

JetSpeed fairways and Rescues also feature a low-profile head design that makes it easier to make contact with the clubface below the ball’s equator, making it easier to launch the ball on a high, long-carrying flight and easier to get the ball in the air off the turf. The combination of low-profile head design and Speed Pocket work together to make JetSpeed fairway woods the longest and most playable fairways TaylorMade has ever created.

The driver retails for $299; the fairway wood, $229 and the rescue,  $199. They go on sale Dec. 13.

My experience:

I was fortunate enough to preview JetSpeed last week during a prescheduled round with Tony Starks of TaylorMade that just happened to coincide with the product launch.

First, I should say here that I own the RocketBallz Stage 2 3-wood, and it has been an absolutely revolutionary club for me. It has more or less replaced my driver. I get easy distance with it (260, 280) and, to use a “Star Wars” phrase, an occasional “jump to light speed” when it’ll push 300 yards and beyond.

That said, when I heard the JetSpeed driver employed the same technology, I was intrigued and not surprised when the driver felt familiar and comfortable to me. The photo below is the result of my very first swing with it on a 364-yard par-4 at Shadowridge Country Club. I was inside 80 yards after hitting an easy draw down the right side.

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I played the JetSpeed driver for the majority of the round and found the driver and 3-wood easy to hit, long and forgiving on off-center hits. Most likely from teeing the ball too high, I got under a couple, but my drives still flew a decent distance and held the fairway.

I was amazed at the number of quality shots I hit given I had zero range time with the club. It immediately felt comfortable to me in that I could feel the head, but the club managed to remain light. For comparison sake, I’ve been unable to hit the R1 in the past because the head has been too heavy for me. My 3-wood, much lighter by comparison, has always swung like a breeze for me, and my playing partners tell me it evokes my most natural swing.

JetSpeed felt the same way, and I look forward to having a go with it again and it becoming a permanent part of my bag. Hello, Santa? …