Turf and Surf: Saturday photos from Torrey and Cardiff

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Photo courtesy of Kimberly Burditt

Just wanted to post a few shots from the day and the drive home. Stopped in Cardiff after the tournament at Torrey and got the shots below of big waves rolling in before sunset.

The above pic is the scene around the 5th green today, where Jordan Spieth hit his approach long and left of the green, had to take relief from a cart path and ended up taking double bogey. To his credit, he overcome a tough start and remains the story of the tourney – you know, if you don’t count Phil and Tiger being out of it.

I’m intrigued by Spieth and followed him for half his round today. I’m going back tomm. and we’ll see if he can really grab the golf world’s attention by finishing what he started. Should be fun.

See you at Torrey.

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Friday FIO Photos: Jordan and Tiger

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This was the closest I got to the story of the day on Friday. When Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth played No. 18 on the North Course on Friday, they passed right by the media center.

After both reaching the par-5 in two, Spieth would birdie while Woods would par, and they would go on to have dramatically different rounds after.

I’ve got some thoughts and observations on Spieth, but I knew he would dominate the post-round coverage today so I thought I’d roll them into a Saturday piece.

I can tell you Woods’ missed birdie putt on 18 was met with a gasp from the gallery; his lipped out par putt to end his round was met my gasps and few jeers by those gathered around a TV in the Lodge. Very curious to observe the great divide of sentiment that still surrounds Tiger.

But what a change in story lines we have from what was expected. Many thought this would be another victory lap for Tiger and instead Torrey Pines has been handed a scintillating rising-star storyline instead. Highly curious to see how this plays out, but no doubt Spieth’s stock went way up on Friday. He was very composed and calm about it after and seemed poised to follow it up over the weekend.

Curious side note: Was selfishly a bit glad to see Billy Horschel climb the leader board Friday after my practice round piece on him.

Spieth/Horschel in the final group on Sunday? I’d write that.

As they say, see you at Torrey.

& here’s a few more of Jordan and Tiger from Friday.

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FIO Day Two: Capturing Torrey’s Transformation

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This is my final follow-up post to the preview piece I did for the January issue of Southland Golf where I documented the maintenance practices at Torrey Pines and how they prepare the course to peak for the Farmers Insurance Open.

As a complement to that piece, I wanted to go back during the tournament and document the transformation, so, working again with Torrey’s head maintenance supervisor Paul Cushing, we ventured onto the South Course at about 3 p.m. Thursday. Because of the 30-minute fog delay to start the day, groups were still on the course, so Cushing and his crew had to wait a bit so as to not disturb play.

After spending about 45 minutes watching Cushing and his crew work, I decided it might be best to just analyze the process over one hole, so here’s a look at the work on No. 4 on the South, which is where the grounds crew started and then worked toward the clubhouse.

The following is a little photo essay about the process, which utilizes City of San Diego workers and volunteers each day to return the course to championship condition in about four hours at the end of each round. Cushing also shared that during Farmers week superintendents from across the country will fly in to work the tournament to get experience.

It was interesting to watch them work as a team and restore the shine to Torrey Pines.

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This is the maintenance crew and machinery staged near the 4th hole, awaiting the go-ahead from Cushing. The orange machine is worth noting. That’s a roller. It follows the mowers to help tighten the fairways. It’s a process Torrey added after Cushing worked the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.

“It really makes a difference,” Cushing says. “It really tightens the turf and gives shots that extra little bounce.”

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     This captures quite a bit of the process in a snapshot. You can see the three mowers working in tandem in the fairway. They make one pass up and one pass back to keep turning to an absolute minimum. You can also see the hand-mowing on the approach and on the fringe. Then hand-watering takes place green-side and in the bunkers, but not on the green itself. To maintain green speeds, the greens to unwatered, spritzed at most, during the tournament.

One each hole, you’ve got about seven pieces of equipment and at least 12 workers working in unison.

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After the round, the bunkers are graded smooth in preparation for them to be hand-raked the next morning. Seemingly little things like bunker contours matter to players. The bunkers are raked to have the grain going toward the hole, which making it more conducive for an approach shot.

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     This shows the fairways making their return pass and, in the distance, you can see the roller working behind them.

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       This is the half-and-half look the mowers achieve. As you can see, the effect is created by simply mowing in two different directions. While pleasing in person, the look is largely done for TV, Cushing says.

“We never forget that the blimp is watching us,” he says. “That’s also why our lines have to be perfectly straight.”

The final phase of the transformation, which I neglected to get a photo of, is the volunteer crew that follows the machinery. They’re repairing the divots, which seemingly dot the fairway every two feet or less where approach shots are commonly taken.

If there’s an imperfect divot, the loose turf has to be removed and the divot filled with a seed/sand mixture. It won’t heal overnight, but it at least re-starts the process, Cushing says.

Image    And then the crew moves to the next hole and the process starts all over again until both courses – the North and South – are completed.

The one time-saver, at least on Thursday and Friday, is that hole locations don’t have to be re-cut. The pins and cups simply have to be removed and then replaced. Golfers who played the North Thursday play the South Friday and vice versa.

“They want the golfers to get the exact same golf course the other players had,” Cushing says. “It doesn’t save us a ton of time, but it is one less thing.”

I just wanted to say thanks again to Paul for sharing his time and his photos. I hope readers enjoyed this inside look at the process and gained a little appreciation for what it takes to make a championship golf course really sparkle.

Pro-Spective: No. 7 on the North Course

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Excuse the golfer on the right, who walked into my shot. This is the uphill, dog-leg right No. 7 on the North Course. It follows the dramatic downhill par-3 and is the last of the ocean holes on the North Course.

      While the pros largely can be much more aggressive on the North than the South – look at Thursday’s scoring split – Scott Bentley, our resident pro, says this is one hole the pros still have to respect.

       “It’s the tightest driving hole on the North. You’ll see a lot of 3-woods here,” he says. “You don’t want to get overaggressive here and bring in the trees on the right.”

      Playing at over 400 yards, a 3-wood off the tee still leaves a 7- or 8-iron approach, and Bentley says pros can’t afford to miss long.

     “You definitely don’t want to be over this green, because it will be sloping away from you.”

     It’ll be interesting to see today how many strokes the players who started on the South can make up on the North, including on No. 7.

FIO Day One: A Salute To A Classy Tradition

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When I arrived at the course today, I made a point to make the 14th hole on the South Course my first stop. I’d heard about the tournament’s annual tribute to the military and wanted to see it for myself.

What I witnessed is an incredibly classy use of a golf hole.

For those unfamiliar with a tradition that is now in its fifth year, the flag on 14 is an American flag. When the golfers reach the green, one of the caddies removes the flag and hands it to one of two waiting servicemen, who are in full dress.

The servicemen hold the flagstick to prevent the flag from touching the ground in a breach of flag etiquette.

When play of the hole is finished, the caddie retrieves and replaces the flagstick and then two more servicemen rotate in for the next group.

This is all staged at a hole were the grandstand, called the Patriots’ Outpost, is filled with active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard, all of whom receive free admission to the tournament.

What a great way to give back to the veterans and honor their service.

The hole is sponsored this year by a company called ViaSat, which is a provider of network services.

ViaSat President Rick Baldridge says half his company’s business involves the military so sponsoring the hole was a natural. The sponsorship included providing the attending servicemen with free Wi-Fi at the event.

“San Diego is a great military town, and giving these guys a venue to come out and bring their families, it’s exciting to them. The military guys love golf. That’s why all the bases have golf courses.

“It’s a noble game and it’s a noble way to honor their contributions.”

I can’t improve on that, but I’ll just say I wish all, instead of some, golfers acknowledged the servicemen before moving on to the 15th tee. Doesn’t seem much to ask.

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Pro-Spective: No. 13 on the South

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         This mini-feature is an attempt to look at a pivotal hole each day through the eyes of a former pro who has played the tournament.

Our pro is Scott Bentley, who played the tournament three times in the 80s-90s, which, of course, is before the redesign of the South. Still, 11, 12, 13 was a pivotal stretch then and certainly is now.

Bentley says it’s hard to talk about 13 without mentioning the holes that precede it, 11 being a long par-3 and 12 being a notoriously tough par-4 back toward the ocean. Then 13 is a par-5 that played over 600 yards on Thursday.

“I always felt like if you bogeyed 11 or 12, or both, it deflated you a bit,” Bentley says. “But if you parred those, you were ready to score on 13.”

There are two tee boxes for No. 13, one being far right that makes the hole more of a dogleg left. That’s how it was played Thursday.

And it was a three-shotter for each of the groups I saw come through. The ones who struggled the most were those playing their second shots from the thick left rough. That included Tiger, but unlike the others, who bogeyed, he managed to save par.

The 13th green is front by tiered bunkers, making coming up short quite undesirable.

“You’ve really got to think about your second shot there if you don’t get home in two, because you want to leave it on an upslope. The greens are firm and won’t hold shorter shots.

“But if you birdie 13, it sets you up to make a little run.”

Bentley is now the Golf Course Manager at Torrey Pines and Mission Bay. He’ll give his hole insights daily here, and we thank for him volunteering.

Gearing Up

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If you haven’t yet seen it on TV, you won’t be able to miss it at the course.

Adidas is debuting it’s new adizero blue shoe at the tournament. It’s being sported by all the TaylorMade players and is prominently displayed around the course, including the patio of the clubhouse.

The shoe, in its many styles of blue, is a pleasing color contrast to the launch of the initial line and is certainly less loud that the Big Bird-yellow shoes many players wore a year ago.

It’s also worth a mention is Phil Mickelson’s blue KPMG hat is on sale at the merchandise tent on the South Course.

The proceeds of sales of the hat go to fight illiteracy.

You can learn more at philsbluehat.com.

Broadcast Byte

Tiger Woods’ 2014 tournament debut prompted another round of will-he-or-won’t-he regarding breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for victories in major championships.

As most golfers on the planet should know, Jack’s record is 18 and Tiger has been holding at 14 for five years now.

I didn’t discover this until I got home and watched the tape of the broadcast, but The Golf Channel’s Gary McCord added a new two-cents of perspective on the chase.

McCord talked about Tiger now being age 38 and what it would take to break Jack’s record with 19 majors.

He used Phil Mickelson’s five majors as a gauge.

“So to get to 19, he’s got to have Phil’s career starting at age 38,” McCord said.

He didn’t really finish that thought, but I imagined him humming, “Things That Make You Go … Hmmm.”

  

 

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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When I Knew I Wanted To Write About Golf

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My work space this week

Please excuse the personal post, but this week is a fairly big week for me professionally in that it’s one of those rare times where vision and dreams become reality.

I picked up my press passes and various other media materials for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines today and started to plot my week.

Seeing as I was a sportswriter for about 15 years to start my career, and I did cover a string of tournaments on the Nationwide Tour, this whole experience isn’t entirely new to me, but we are talking about the PGA Tour here and that is new, and that’s also part of the dream that brought me to California.

The dream began when a friend from high school who now lives in Chicago invited me to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in Kohler, Wisc., in 2010 – you know the one where Dustin Johnson had his “sand trap” trouble?

I’d dreamed of going to be a PGA Tour event, any event really, so having a Major fall into my lap was fairly incredible and exciting even for someone who normally doesn’t get that excited about attending sporting events anymore because of burnout from my career past.

Anyway, before Dustin Johnson made some unfortunate golf history, he changed my life.

The day of the tournament, we walked on to the course in the morning and spent the first part of the day trying to get the lay of the course and get any glimpse of the top Tour talent – Tiger, Daly, Phil, etc. – we could.

We had a pretty good luck, but our best luck came in the afternoon after the crowds had cleared a bit and we had sat down alongside the fairway of a par-4 along Lake Michigan.

We watched about five groups come through and then suddenly two tee balls landed well beyond where any group had been before. Kind of like the tremors in the water glasses in “Jurassic Park,” we knew big hitters were coming over that hill.

It turned out to be Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson.  It was doubly good fortune in that Els was the hot guy at the time and making a run for the day one lead.

Well, we watched them play out the hole and then decided to follow them.

Having birdied the previous hole, Els teed off first on a dog-leg par-5 that was routed around a pond, some scrub and, it being Whistling Straits, naturally some sand traps.

Els played the hole straightaway and fired his tee shot down the fairway. Our group of four had taken up a position to to the right of the tee box. We were talking amongst ourselves when we simultaneously relived we were in imminent danger: Dustin Johnson’s tee shot was aimed at our heads.

One thing to know about watching Johnson live: Don’t blink. He plays fast and hardly takes practice swings.

On this beast of a hole, unfathomably and unpredictably Johnson was aimed to cut the corner. Before any of us could say a word or breath, much less move, Johnson fired. His ball shot straight overhead and it was like we’d just all had our towers buzzed like in “Top Gun.” We heard the ball spinning furiously overhead.

We all exhaled, realized we were still alive and then laughed a bit nervously about the hole ordeal before group curiosity set in about the destination of Johnson’s tee shot.

We tromped through the grassland around the pond before finally emerging at the fairway to discover one very bewildered spotter looking at the golf ball at her feet. She pointed and asked, “Where did this come from?”

We answered, “The tee.”

She asked, “Who?”

We replied, “Dustin Johnson.”

She simply gave an understanding nod.

I asked, “Anybody else try that?”

She said, “Yeah, one guy. Tiger.”

Me: “Where did he go?”

She pointed back up the fairway and into the pond, OB.

Here’s what Johnson had just done: He carried a ball an insane distance of 375 yards into a 25-yard landing strip. He was about to play a heavy duty par-5 on a major championship driver/wedge.

We missed it that night, but apparently the Golf Channel did an entire segment about this shot.

My all-time list of awesome athletic displays I’ve witnessed live reads like this:

–       John Elway throwing a football.

–       Mark McGwire hitting a baseball.

–       Michael Johnson running.

–       Dustin Johnson hitting that drive.

As the awesomeness of what I’d just witnessed soaked in, I decided then and there I needed to be around this great game played at the highest levels a lot more often.

I’d already been traveling to LA regularly to see a friend and was pondering my own California plan when Johnson hit that shot and kind of wrote the script for me.

I looked into the golf industry and jobs within the golf industry and decided it was time to get back into sports writing but in a way totally different than before. And here we are.

Nine months of golf magazine writing and five months of blogging later, I’m more ready than ever to go to work this week.

That work is very much a work in progress as I aim to provided coverage to complement the TV coverage of the tournament, but I have no doubt it’ll work itself out.

I’ll looking forward to a great week and sharing what I can with you during a pretty awesome time for me professionally

Stay tuned.

One for the Books: A Look at the Course Record at Twin Oaks

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      While doing some reporting for a future piece on Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos, I discovered that we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the course record being shot.

Blaire McKeithen carded a 61 last January during Farmers Insurance Open pre-qualifying, which takes place again next week at Twin Oaks.

Anyway, for those who play Twin Oaks regularly, I thought it’d be fun to post the scorecard from the record round, and Twin Oaks Head Golf Professional Troy Ferguson graciously provided it.

Ferguson makes an interesting observation about the record round:

“People look at the yardage (6,535 from the back) and think they can overpower this course, when it’s really a course-management course.  The card for the course record doesn’t have one eagle on it.”

So, for the record, here’s the record:

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     That’s a lot of red. Gives us all something to shoot for.