Wednesday at Torrey in Photos

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Photos courtesy of Paul Cushing

This was the ominous end to the day Wednesday, a scene that caused many to recall last year’s fogged out Saturday round. Hopefully we won’t see a repeat.

Below are some photos taken late Wednesday of the maintenance crew prepping the course for play today. You’re going to be reading a lot more about this process on Friday. I’ll be on the grounds all day today filling my notebook and getting you some unique takes on the tournament.

Have fun following Day One.

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FIO Course Conditions: Shades of the ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey?

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Editor’s Note: This is a follow up to the Southland Golf Magazine piece I did in January about the months of maintenance and preparation that go into preparing Torrey Pines to host the Farmers Insurance Open

A warm San Diego winter nearly devoid of rain has helped give Torrey Pines a golf course for the Farmers Insurance Open that is reminiscent of the PGA Tour’s major held there in 2008, says Paul Cushing, Torrey’s lead maintenance supervisor.

Cushing, the City San Diego’s Maintenance Manager for Golf Operations, described the course players were practicing on Tuesday, with thick rough and slick greens, as “U.S. Open-type conditions.”

“This is most definitely the closest the course has played to the 2008 U.S. Open for the Farmers,” Cushing says. “From a greens, rough and fairways standpoint, it’s very close.”

Cushing says course-friendly weather and diligent maintenance programs have resulted in a best-case scenario for course conditions.

“We have the ability to shape the golf course exactly like how we’d like it to play,” he says. “It’s going to be fast, firm and dry. It’s all the things you love to have to be able to present a tournament of this magnitude.”

Cushing says the ankle-deep rough has drawn compliments.

“Going around during practice rounds, everybody was talking about the rough. We’ve never had this quality of rough for the Farmers, especially on the South. It’s the best overseed we’ve ever had.”

Without a drop of rain in the forecast and high temperatures continuing throughout the tournament, Cushing says the Farmers is primed for one of its best years.

Besides the lush grass beneath their feet, Cushing hopes visitors will also notice the attention given to improving the look of Torrey on the horizon.

“We have really spent a lot of time the last two years cleaning up the canyon areas on the North and South to improve the viewing corridors. Some of the areas had really become overgrown,” he says.

“We wanted to improve the vistas and the views of the ocean, and I think people will really notice that.”

Cushing has graciously agreed to provide a daily course maintenance picture or two for socalgolfblog.com to give followers a unique look at the course and what goes into producing the Torrey Pines the world sees on TV. So you can you look forward to that.

A Pro At Work: We’re Talking About Practice

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Billy Horschel walks with his caddie during his Tuesday practice round at Torrey

On a day when the clouds refused to yield at Torrey Pines, Billy Horschel’s white golf ball dropped out of a gray sky and nearly into the cup on the South Course’s par-3 8th hole Tuesday.

Horschel’s tee shot to the front-right pin location caught a slope in the middle of the green and nestled back to within mere inches of an ace. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, it might’ve been an ESPN highlight. Today? As Allen Iverson famously once said, “This was practice, man.  We’re talking about practice.”

His reward for near perfection after he walked to the green? He got to pick the ball up and go to work. A ball had been dropped in each bunker by his caddie and two more were hiding in the lush greenside rough, buried deeply like eggs left by an evil Easter Bunny.

Five balls in all and Horschel’s job was to drop each within 6 feet of the tournament’s four locations, three indicated by wooden pegs in the green.

Horschel worked through the shots, the toughest being a ball in the back bunker to a back pin, a tight shot to execute with about 5 feet of green to the hole.

Horschel’s sand shot floated out softly but didn’t land within the desired distance. Do it again, his caddy, Micah Fugitt, directed him.

“Oh, man, that was perfect,” Horschel said in a bit of mock protest. And then he hit another one that passed the test.

Hole after hole, this is how Horschel’s practice round went until he walked off the 18th green at about 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

This was a PGA Tour pro at work on tournament week.

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Horschel hits bunker shots to multiple pin locations

If you follow the PGA Tour, you might remember Horschel for the octopus pants he wore for a round at the U.S. Open.

Locally, you’re possibly more likely to recall that he was in the final group of last year’s Farmers Insurance Open. Playing alongside eventual, and seemingly perpetual at Torrey, tournament champion Tiger Woods, Horschel couldn’t follow up his strong start and finished T-39.

Horschel, dressed in a pink shirt, white PING hat and white pats, was working hard Tuesday to prepare himself to better last year’s finish at a tournament that was his breakout a year ago.

“I still have good vibes about the place, for sure,” Horschel said. “There’s a learning curve out here and that was a learning experience.

“I’m looking forward to playing well the first two days and then playing better the last two days.”

To better his best finish at Torrey, Horschel spent his practice time Tuesday with a heavy emphasis on the short game, but with no neglect of anything.

His overall game certainly seemed sharp. He followed his near ace on No. 8 by bouncing his pitch shot into the pin on the par-5 No. 9 for a near eagle. The reward? Two more pitches to alternative pin locations and more work on the green – by Billy and his caddie.

While Horschel worked, Fugitt hand-rolled multiple balls to one peg and studied the break.

Two holes later, Fugitt switched to being videographer. On the long par-3 11th, as Horschel teed off with an iron, Fugitt stood behind him taking video with a cell phone camera. Horschel’s shot came up short right of the front pin location.

Horschel studied the video for about 45 seconds and re-teed. Similar result.

“Too high,” Horschel self-analyzed as he walked off the tee.

At the green, the short-game game began all over again with him hitting chips, bunker shots and putts to various locations.

After watching a putt to a back pin location veer wide, Horschel asked his caddie, “Didn’t I three-putt here last year?”

His caddie confirmed and Horschel dropped more balls.

On 12, the tough par-4 played toward the ocean, Horschel spent more time testing the Torrey rough, which was ankle-deep and thick. After Horschel’s club hit the rough with a grassy thud his swings produced divots the size of small house plants.

Trying to hit a flop from a particularly tough patch, Horschel’s flop flailed meekly and promptly returned to the rough prompting him to self-scold, “Geez, Billy.”

He hit four or five more from that spot.

The desired short-game goal always seemed to be six feet, but Horschel wouldn’t be that specific when asked later.

“The closer you get to the hole, the better your chance on the putt,” he said. “If you average getting it within 6 feet on your short-game shots, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting up and down.

“Everyone has their way of practice and mine is to spend more time on my short game. It’s just a little game we play.”

On 13, a par-5 played with two split tee boxes, Horschel found the middle of the fairway with his drive and then tried to get home in two to a green fronted by tiered bunkers.

His first attempt slammed into the wall of the front left bunker; his next did the same on the right.

After taking a minute to recalibrate, Horschel fired a 3-wood that cleared easily and bounded onto the green.

“That was a solid,” Horschel said while handing his club to Fugitt. It was the closest he came to an audible self-compliment all day.

After he walked off the 18th green, I asked about his practice routine and the amount of time, especially, he spent playing out of the rough.

“The rough is thick. You know you’re going to miss some greens, unfortunately, so I needed to find out how the ball was going to react. Getting up-and-down can save you a lot of shots,” he said.

Starting Thursday, we’ll find out if Horschel’s practice saves him enough.

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Highlight Hole: No. 15 at Sherwood CC

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Tiger Woods’ World Challenge plays its final rounds at Sherwood Country Club this week, making this possibly the public’s last view for quite some time of a remarkable private golf venue.

Besides seeing how the pros play No. 18, a tight downhill par-4 to a heavily sloped green fronted by a pond, I’m curious to see how the sixth hole represents on TV.

No. 15 is an incredible par-3 and the course’s signature hole, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Before adding my two cents, here’s the description you get of No. 15  from Sherwood’s web site.

The 189-yard par-3 is the signature hole of Sherwood Country Club. You are greeted by a spectacular view over seven pools and 14 waterfalls with beautiful mountains set as the backdrop. The tee shot is all carry over the water to a green that is only 21 paces deep, so make sure you have the right club, or par will become unattainable.

It’s a stunning amphitheater for a golf hole, one you just want to bask in during your round.

The mountain backdrop is absolutely huge and is part of what makes this hole so awe-inspiring. And the water features are some of the most intricate I’ve been around.

Taken together, it should make for great TV, or a destination hole for you if you’re making the trek to Sherwood.

The day I played it, thanks to being probably clubbed by my caddie, I had no trouble hitting the green. The putt, however, was another matter. It was as touchy as any on the course. The green tilts back-to-front and has subtle undulations I underestimated the first time. Curious to see how the pros do.

You can find descriptions for the rest of the holes under the country club tab at www.sherwoodcountryclub.com. Looks like the weather should be better than last year for the weekend and will hopefully make for a memorable sendoff. If you tune in, look for No. 15 and enjoy a last televised glimpse at a truly great golf hole.

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Short-Game Saturday: Take It From Phil

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For those of you who didn’t wake up to see Phil Mickelson on The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” or tape it on Friday, as I did, here’s a review of the last 10 minutes, where Phil provided his insight about short-game basics.

For many of you, this will be Short Game 101 or even Golf 10, but he echoes something I see often that people don’t seem to factor into their short games: weight shift.

So, here it is, Phil telling it like it is in response to a question about one tip he’d give amateurs.

First, a little philosophical Phil:

“What’s interesting about chipping is that it’s not like putting or your golf swing. There are a million ways to swing a club or a million ways to putt (belly putter, cross-hand, etc.). But there aren’t multiple ways to chip, because everything in chipping is designed to keep the leading edge of the club down and underneath the ball.”

Phil’s first short-game commandment:

“You’ve got to have your weight on your front foot. If you chip with your weight back, the leading edge (of the club) is coming up, and most people chip with their weight level or back, which is just terrible.

“You’ve got to have 70 to 80 percent on your front foot.”

After weight shift, Phil discussed stance to bring it home.

“You either play (a chip) off your front foot or your back foot. Back foot if you want to hit it low; front if you want to hit it high. You NEVER chip with the ball between your feet, yet every amateur chips with the ball (in the middle). It’s not making a decision. How can you commit to a shot when you haven’t even decided what shot you’re hitting?”

One thing that I left the Academy with is a competence to teach the short game. They teach a system that applies to every short-game scenario and uses a universal stroke. You just change clubs to fit the shot/distance.

The one thing people seem to constantly need to be reminded of, until it’s ingrained, is the weight shift. It doesn’t work without it.

Anyway, as an ending aside, if you’ve never watched one of Phil’s short-game videos, hunt one down. It’s mesmerizing stuff, especially the trick shots, which show you the mind-bending possibilities for this wonderful game.

In Appreciation of Arnold Palmer

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While scanning golf blog headlines today, I came across the news that it was Arnold Palmer’s birthday on Tuesday. He turned 84.

Being a Generation X’r, Arnie’s competitive achievements came before my time, but I’m very aware of his accomplishments and his enormous impact. As a golfer, I’ve most personally felt Palmer’s continuing influence on the game by playing his courses, including Aviara, the only Palmer-designed course in San Diego County.

I most consistently experience Palmer, however, through two TV spots he’s done, one being his voiceover for the “Swing Your Swing” Dick’s Sports Goods Commercial that first appeared this year. The other is the iconic “This is SportsCenter” commercial he filmed in 2009 that still appears regularly, with good reason. I think it’s the best one that has ever been done.

One clip makes me laugh and the other inspires me immensely. As a writer, I’m incredibly creatively envious and inspired by both.

If you’re not familiar with either, let’s do a little recap, starting with the ESPN piece.

The clip is part of a series the network has done for decades that hilariously spoofs life at ESPN by pretending the entire sports world takes up residence in its Bristol, Conn., headquarters, which in a way it kind of does.

The commercial shows Palmer and his caddie walking through ESPN’s cafeteria being trailed by two tray-carrying SportsCenter anchors, Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt. In awe, the two men watch as Palmer prepares his namesake beverage, the Arnold Palmer.

Palmer mixes a little iced tea and a little lemonade and finishes it off with a little more tea before exiting the cafeteria with his club-carrying caddy in tow.

Watching Palmer walk away, Van Pelt utters, in a hushed voice, “That was awesome.”

Scott whispers back, “I know.”

The beauty is in the simplicity. Palmer simply has to be Palmer, and he’s brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Check it out.

I have a friend who works at ESPN who posted the day of Palmer’s visit that an alternate clip was filmed. The film crew asked Palmer to chip a golf ball into an Arnold Palmer, and he did it – in one take.

That’s quite a hole-in-one, but he certainly aced the cafeteria scene as well.

“Swing Your Swing” evokes very different emotions in me and impresses me on a whole other scale.

If you haven’t seen it, again, let’s recap. As a montage of golfers swinging scrolls – including one of a cook in a kitchen – Palmer does a voiceover that basically pays homage to golfers everywhere. The script he reads comes across as a heartfelt appreciation for everyone who has ever picked up a golf club, so much so that you quickly forget it’s a commercial.

I remember the first time I ever saw this commercial on the Golf Channel and it stopped me in my tracks. I hit rewind about 10 times to take it all in. If you’ve never taken a moment to appreciate the words, here’s the script.

Swing Your swing…

Not some idea of a swing.

Not a swing you saw on TV.

Not that swing you wish you had.

NO … swing Your swing.

Capable of greatness.

Prized only by you

Perfect in its imperfection.

Swing your swing …

I know … I did.

 

         As the last line is delivered, a clip plays of Palmer swinging in his prime … swing-from-the-heels approach, held-off finish and all. Classic Arnie. And a true original. Check it out.

To me the script is pure poetry and speaks to everyone who’s ever dared to pick up a club and experienced the frustrations of trying to learn this crazy game – and forges ahead regardless.

As one of the many who used to have one of those self-made swings, and, to some degree, probably still does, I relate. As a golfer and writer, “perfect in its imperfection” brings it home for me in the commercial. Eventually, aren’t they all? As Roy McAvoy said in Tin Cup, when it comes to the golf swing, “perfect (is) unattainable.”

But if you’re really a golfer, that never stops you from trying.

So swing your swing, and while you’re at have an Arnold Palmer and toast the man’s continuing contributions to this great game. Happy birthday, Mr. Palmer.