Golf Buzz

January 6, 2015 - 1:27pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Bubba Watson
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The closing hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course lends itself to some awesome shots. This one from Bubba Watson -- a driver off the deck -- is among the best.

The PGA Tour resumes its 2014-15 season this week at Kapalua's Plantation Course on the impossibly beautiful Hawaiian island paradise that is Maui.

We're ecstatic that golf is back... especially those of us freezing our tails off in the Northeast right now. Sure, we'll be jealous of the beautiful pictures on our TV from Maui, but it's not bad sitting in your favorite recliner, in front of a toasty fire, sipping on your favorite adult beverage while watching some night-time coverage of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The Plantation Course boasts one of the more dramatic final holes you'll find on the PGA Tour schedule. It's a long, downhill par 5 that epitomizes "risk-reward."

That leads me to the reason for this post... a flashback to Bubba Watson's incredible eagle on the hole in the first round of the 2011 event.

After smashing his drive 348 yards, Watson was left with 305 yards to the hole.

With a downhill lie, Watson elected to go for the green in two by taking a huge risk and hitting driver off the deck.

Here was the result:

That, folks, is one of the best eagles you'll ever see.

January 6, 2015 - 10:13am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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2015 Masters
USA Today Sports Images
Based on their respective performances in the 2014 majors, there's no doubt Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are among the early favorites at Augusta National.

The Masters is less than 100 days away, so it isn't too early to start looking at potential winners.

As we've seen as a general theme over the last few years on the PGA Tour, there's been a youth movement. With one exception, I think that trend could continue once we focus in on Augusta National in the first full week of April.

RELATED: Masters coverage | Masters field as of Jan. 6 | Past winners

With that, here are my five early favorites to win the Masters:

5. Matt Kuchar
Kuchar is my "exception to the youth" rule. Then again, at 36, he really isn't that old. Kuchar's first Masters appearance was in 1998 when he tied for 21st as the reigning U.S. Amateur champ. After a little rough patch in his professional career in the early 2000s, Kuchar has gone on to become one of the most consistent players in the world. His name is routinely on the first page of leaderboards. A winner of the Players Championship and two World Golf Championships, the lone item missing from Kuchar's resume is a major championship. He'll head to Augusta National this spring having finished no worse than a tie for eighth in his last three trips to the Masters.

4. Jordan Spieth
If it weren't for his victory in Australia followed by his win a week later in Tiger's tournament late last year, I may have been a little reluctant to give Spieth the nod in this space. Not because he doesn't have the talent -- we know he has that. It's just that given the short sample size, he hadn't quite yet established himself as a "closer"... that all changed in November and December when he established himself as a bonafide obliterator, romping the field by six shots in Australia and then crushing the Hero World Challenge field by 10 shots just seven days later. Spieth tied for second in his first Masters appearance last year and -- for a while in the final round -- looked poised to become the youngest Masters champion in history before Bubba Watson turned it on. With the exception of Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old Spieth is the player I'm most looking forward to watching in 2015.

3. Jason Day
It seems like Day has been around forever, but he's still only 27 years old. In his last eight majors played, Day has notched four top-8 finishes, including a third-place finish in the 2013 Masters (he tied for second in 2011) and a tie for second at the 2013 U.S. Open. Really, the only thing that seems to have held Day back from breakout seasons lately are injuries -- back injury, thumb injury -- the guy has been plagued with the injury bug. But, when healthy, he's one of the most exciting players out there. He came so close to becoming the first Aussie to win the Masters in 2013 before being edged out by his buddy Adam Scott. Day strikes me as the type of player who is destined to win a major. So, why not this April at Augusta National?

2. Rickie Fowler
Surely you've heard, but the 26-year-old Fowler was the only player to finish in the top 5 at all four majors in 2014. That's a terrific stat unless you're Fowler and realize that along with being the only player to top 5 in the four big ones in 2014, you were also the first player to accomplish that feat without one of those being a win. Fowler has morphed from the talented player with the flashy clothes to a world-class player whose game matches the flash of his clothes. His 2014 major finishes: T5 Masters; T2 U.S. Open; T2 Open Championship; T3 PGA Championship. That's crazy good. Fowler is hoping the adage, "If you put yourself in a position to win enough times, eventually you're going to win" applies to him. The Masters will be our first look at how much "major" confidence Fowler took away from 2014.

1. Rory McIlroy
He's the most electrifying player in the world right now. Already a four-time major champion at age 25, McIlroy is looking to complete the career grand slam at the Masters in April and also win his third consecutive major. All eyes will be on Rory and rightfully so. That's the position he's put himself in and -- furthermore -- no one's expectations for McIlroy are higher than those he has for himself. Anything less than a win at Augusta National would be disappointing... first and foremost for Rory and, secondly, for golf fans who want to see him take a crack at a "Rory Slam" with a fourth straight major win in June at Chambers Bay in the U.S. Open.

Honorable mentions: Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els.

Why Woods?
Well, let's remember that he's looking healthy for the first time in a long time. Before the back/neck injuries that plagued him in 2014, the 39-year-old Woods was coming off a five-win 2013 season. Also, aside from a T40 in 2012, the 14-time major champion has finished no worse than a tie for sixth in every Masters from 2005 to 2013. He did not play due to injury in 2014. With 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts at Augusta National as a professional, it's silly for even the biggest Woods cynic to think he won't be a factor.

Why Stenson?
The 38-year-old has four top-four finishes in his last eight majors played. His four wins on the PGA Tour are made up of a Players Championship, a World Golf Championship and two Playoffs wins. Oh yeah, there's also those nine wins on the European Tour, including back-to-back victories in that Tour's version of the Tour Championship -- the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. At Augusta National, he has to be considered more of a dark-horse than a favorite (strange to say about the No. 2-ranked player in the world at the time of this post) seeing as it's the lone major where he's failed to top 10.

Why Els?
Because I love a great story. Sue me. There's no major the Big Easy would rather win -- which is probably a little easier for him to admit than most, seeing as he already has two U.S. Opens and two Open Championships. A win from the 45-year-old is a big ask at Augusta National. He's top-10'd there on six occasions, including five in a row from 2000-2004 with bookend runner-up finishes, but hasn't done a whole lot lately. The consensus is Els presses a little too much at Augusta National. What a story it would be if he could get the job done at a place where he's been so close so many times in the past. 

Medinah Country Club
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With the restoration of Course No. 2, Medinah Country Club will have invested more than $14 million since 2008 to upgrade its three courses.
Medinah Country Club has approved a $3.6 million project to restore the club's Course No. 2 to its original character while upgrading its infrastructure to 21st-century standards. 
 
The project is set to begin next fall, with the goal of re-opening in June 2017. It will include the construction of state-of-the-art greens, along with new tees and bunkers, the installation of bentgrass fairways and extensive improvements to its storm drainage system.
 
Designed by prominent Scottish course architect Tom Bendelow – who created all three courses at Medinah – No. 2 opened in 1927 and has remained virtually untouched. After the restoration, it will play from 4,800 to 6,400 yards and will include a variety of tee options to make it more family friendly.
 
 
"Most people don't know what a special gem Course No. 2 is," said Curtis Tyrrell, Medinah's director of golf course operations. "When we restore the design elements and upgrade the playing surfaces, it's going to bring an exciting new dimension to the overall Medinah golf experience."
 
Tyrrell will spearhead the restoration, while course architect Rees Jones will serve as a consultant. Jones, of course, led the renovation of Medinah's Course No. 3 ahead of the 2012 Ryder Cup.
 
Medinah is the Chicago area's most frequent major championship venue. Along with the 2012 Ryder Cup, Course No. 3 has hosted three U.S. Opens (1949, 1975, and 1990), two PGA Championships (1999 and 2006) and three Western Opens (1946, 1962, and 1966). 
 
With the restoration of Course No. 2, Medinah will have invested more than $14 million since 2008 to upgrade its three courses. Course No. 1 reopened last summer after a renovation by Tom Doak.
 
Ford Plantation
Ford Plantation/Facebook
Ford Plantation's redesigned greens are firm and fast, exactly what Nelson Caron says today's golfers are looking for.

Firm fairways. Fast greens.

That's what modern golfers expect from their golfing experience, according to top golf course agronomist Nelson Caron. The No. 1 request the director of golf course maintenance at the Ford Plantation Club hears when he chats with members: They want a course where the ball rolls firm and fast, particularly on the putting greens.

"When we wake up every morning and get to the golf course, that's some of the first pieces of data we're looking at," Caron said. "What was the firmness reading the evening before? What was our moisture level the evening before? And how do you make the adjustments agronomically for that day's play?"

A graduate of North Carolina State's agronomy department with over 20 years experience in golf course management, Caron has been at Ford Plantation since 2008. He's assisted with course preparation at the Masters since 2010.

Q&A: Pete Dye's anecdotes on his favorite course designs

And he was Ford Plantation's point person when noted golf architect Pete Dye was called in to assess why the course southwest of Savannah was having so much trouble with drainage. Eventually, Dye and his team decided to redesign the course, a project that was completed this fall.

"The project started as an infrastructure rebuild," Caron said. "On Mr. Dye's first two visits in 2009, we didn't discuss golf course design. We discussed how we were going to rebuild the infrastructure at a reasonable cost and achieve firm and fast conditions.

"Seepage drainage allowed us to firm the place up. We have an incredibly high water table at Ford Plantation, because it's the Low Country. We have water moving laterally through the soils, so we had to intercept it."

Caron said with the new drainage, Ford Plantation can withstand an eight-inch rainfall over a 24-hour period without flooding. That's a good thing, since the Savannah area averages close to 56 inches of rainfall a year.

COURSE REVIEW: Ford Plantation, Savannah, Ga.

And the benefit to the golf members? Drier conditions mean firmer fairways. Caron said 70 acres of Celebration Bermuda grass sprigs were brought in this spring and summer -- and with water and nutrients from the soil -- the fairways were ready for play in less than two months.

In addition, Dye also created putting greens at Ford Plantation that can be made fast without sacrificing the integrity of the turf. Unlike many southern courses that wilt under the intense summer heat, Ford Plantation won't require cooling fans.

"These greens at Ford Planatation are built for speed, pitched anywhere from 12 to 14 inches from back to front," Caron said. "And most of the undulations are introduced from the sides. So that allows golf course maintenance to get the greens fast and achieve the firmness expectations, to achieve the speed and still have a challenging course that club members can play."

 

 

 

 

January 5, 2015 - 10:45am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Snow Golf
YouTube
Garrett Clark of Bonner Springs, Kansas, prepares to hit a shot after sweeping a path through the snow to the hole on Sunday.

Who says you can't play golf in the winter?

I, for one, teed it up the day after Christmas up here in Rhode Island -- the latest round I've ever played here in the Ocean State (of course, temperatures were in the mid-50s).

My round, however, was nothing compared to the dedication -- and perhaps, shall we say, "craziness" -- displayed by the father/son duo of Jerry and Garrett Clark of Bonner Springs, Kansas, on Sunday.

RELATED: Tips to beat the cold | Your favorite cold weather golf tips | Indoor swing routine

But the Clarks decided that despite a frozen-tundra looking Sunflower Hills Golf Course that was covered in a blanket of snow with a high temperature registering in at 18 degrees, it was a perfect day to play some golf.

My general rule is that if the temperature is equal/less than the number of holes in a regulation round of golf, the closest you'll find me to the first tee is in front of the clubhouse fireplace sipping a hot chocolate.

But not the Clarks.

Jerry, the elder Clark, manned the camera, while Garrett -- armed with his golf bag and a broom to sweep away the snow so he could hit his shots and putts -- played the course.

Jerry sent in this video to PGA.com to show us how it all went down:

Chilling video. See what I did there?

Jerry says in the video that "the camera crashed due to cold weather."

Not surprising.

He also said, "In other news, Bubba Watson is tweeting pictures from the PGA Tour in Maui!"

He wasn't kidding:

Probably as good a segue as any to remind you that the 2014-15 PGA Tour season resumes this Friday from Kapalua's breathtaking Plantation Course in Maui, Hawaii, for the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, where the weather is expected to be, well, perfect -- high 70s to low 80s with magnificent sunshine.

If the Clarks flip on the tube to watch the action they'll be saying, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

New Year's golf resolutions
A new year means a fresh start, and golfers are no exception to New Year's resolutions.

A new year is always a time for reflection and renewal. That includes the time-honored tradition of making resolutions for the new year, and golfers are no exception.

We asked PGA.com readers what are their New Year's golf resolutions for 2015, and the responses were as varied as the game itself. Whether it's breaking through to the next level, lowering your handicap, playing somewhere new, playing more or just having more fun, it seems we all resolve to enjoy golf.

Here are some of our favorite responses from Facebook and Twitter.

KEEP AN EYE ON THESE: 10 Players to watch in 2015

How about those who would like that one breakthrough round in 2015?

Tu Pham: Break 90.

Martina Weindl: Putt better, play more and break 80.

Norman Lang: Same goal as last year: Break 80. It's been a long time since I shot in the 70s. I just can't find the time to practice or play enough to improve my consistency.

Mosayeb Khademi: Have more fun and break 80!

Josh Perez: Break 70!

Mary Virginia Horne: Shoot my age.

CRYSTAL BALL GAZING: The top five storylines in 2015

Then there are those who want to improve incrementally in 2015.

Maria Bland: Drop my handicap below 30.

Amelia Lewis: Practice more and drop my handicap to 20.

David Hannam: Lower my handicap from 17 to 12.

DallenH: Go from a 15 to a 10 handicap.

Barry J C Meyer: Drop three shots a round to get to a 10 handicap!

Elizabeth Ayers DeMartino: Be most improved this year. Want to be a single digit. Working on it!

Brad Denny: Single figures.

And don't forget those who just want to get better at some facet of the game in 2015.

Doris Schleich-Tavernese: I received 12 lessons with my pro for Christmas! Expecting a better year than last year.

Mike Devine: I want to be more physically fit and limber. Play more, practice more and better. Get fit for a set of Miura 1957 irons.

Matt Cole: More practice, work on my core, play more open events and go low.

Wayne Garrison: Hit a legitimate draw.

Yanni Foundaki: Crowd the ball more and hit a draw.

Robby Hart: Fix that super ultra mega-slice.

Michael D. Weisner: Take some yoga classes to get a little bit more flexible. I'm an old guy that can't quite turn like I used to.

Drew Ryhorchuk: To be more consistent with my putting, and to play more even though I work at a golf course.

Christian Schnell: Work on my chipping.

Don Porter: Putt better!

Phil Hewlett: To learn how to play golf

GET GOLF READY: Plan your golf around fun

But most of all, there's the bottom line: Have fun and play as much as possible.

Randal Strickler: Play more golf!

Kurt Wainwright: Play at least one round more than I did in 2014.

Leon Lara: My golf resolution for the new year is to play more rounds of golf that make a difference.

Wayne Jury: Have more fun, play well, enjoy my playing partners!

Tom Jones: Better cigars, slower swing, meet new friends!

Daniel Sadoch: Play better, play more and be the best!

Roy Cortez: Enjoy the game and find a golf ball that doesn't get lost along the way!

And this is the best piece of advice we could offer you this year. 

Michael Stetz: Enjoy the hell out of every round. No longer concerned about my score. It's about being with good company and enjoying the game and the outdoors.