Golf Buzz

February 14, 2014 - 10:23am
Posted by:
Bob Denney
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President Ford
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids
Joe Garagiola (wearing plaid pants at center) clowns with a Secret Service agent as 67-year-old former President Gerald Ford attempts to sink a short putt in the Amana VIP tournament. June 22, 1981. (Republished with permission ©2014 Iowa SourceMedia Group, Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Four years removed from serving as the 38th president of the United States, a term that was one of the most turbulent periods in American history, Gerald R. Ford greeted me near a clubhouse door.

“Are you my caddie today?”

They say you learn a lot about a person when you spend a few hours playing golf with him. You learn perhaps more as a caddie. My short course with the man who pulled a country through post-Watergate and post-Vietnam healing came on June 22, 1981.

PHOTOS: U.S. presidents playing golf

Ford made his third and final visit to the former Amana VIP Pro-Am in Iowa City, Iowa, arriving at the University of Iowa’s Finkbine Golf Course with a seven-cart detail of Secret Service. He had warmed up 48 hours earlier with what he said was “a pretty good round” at the Vince Lombardi Memorial Classic in Menomonee Falls, Wis. I became one of the members of the “detail,” provided that I kept my pin secure on a badge pinned to my caddie bib.

On this day, Ford hit the practice range briefly before facing a gallery of 20,000 at the “Masters of the Pro-Ams.” The 15th annual VIP field spanned the sports and entertainment industry, featuring Tom Watson, Hubert Green, Fuzzy Zoeller, George “Goober” Lindsey, St. Louis Cardinal slugger Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola; former Milwaukee Bucks Coach Don Nelson and college basketball coaching giants Bob Knight, then of Indiana, and Lute Olson, then of the University of Iowa.

WATCH: Best drivers of 2014

Our group included LPGA Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner and NBC Sports announcer Joe Garagiola. Presidential aide Lee Simmons of Palm Springs, Calif., who met Ford at the White House while in the Air Force, drove the former president in a cart. I trudged behind, stubborn to prove to the Secret Service that I could keep up.

My Boss for the day carried a 12 handicap at home in Palm Springs, and despite those well-publicized reports of his wayward drives bopping spectators, Ford’s game was well within the ropes this day. He posted a 90, but he displayed enough game to prove that he was a far better golfer.

The president’s scrambling talent was showcased on the 15th hole, a par-5 that rose up a valley to an elevated green. Ford shanked a wedge approach and was faced with an almost impossible recovery from a grassy ravine. A Secret Service agent stood nearby and whispered, “Watch this; just watch this.”

Ford lofted his approach over a clump of trees, on to the green and within 25 feet of the hole. As the gallery applauded enthusiastically, the same agent said, “He does a lot of that stuff.”

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On one of the longest holes at Finkbine, Ford asked me for club selection. “Everything you have in the bag, Mr. President.” He swung smooth and hard, and smiled, “That felt good, Bob.”

Ford’s concentration was broken at the right time for laughs with Garagiola, a left-hander who had played numerous rounds with the former president. “You folks should have been behind us in 1976, and then I could’ve been named the Italian ambassador to the Vatican,” Garagiola declared to the gallery. “Instead, you voted for Carter.”

Just as Garagiola lined up a putt, a woman yelled back, “I didn’t vote for Carter!”

“Thatta girl,” Garagiola said without looking up.

The Boss also smartly flew an approach over a television truck parked along the 18th fairway and out of trouble. The same Secret Service agent grinned. “I have a variety of teaching pros telling me what to do,” said Ford during the special moments when it was just me and him walking to a green. “I think that is the problem sometimes. I just come over the top on a lot of shots. Just need to swing smoother.”

Earlier in the round, Garagiola hit a tee shot and then sprinted up and put his arm around me as we walked. “Well caddie, what do you think of the Boss?”

READ: What shocked Tom Watson on the golf course

“He’s one of the most gracious guys you ever want to meet. He also plays a good game despite the distractions.” Garagiola concurred, and then went into a story about a past round with Ford. He recalled a female reporter ducked under the gallery ropes and began walking with the group.

“I told her as nice as I could, ‘you can’t be out here, you have to take care of that (an interview) before or after golf,’ ” said Garagiola. “The next day she writes a column ripping Mr. Ford for snubbing her.”

We celebrate another Presidents Day and some of us are fortunate to have literally rubbed shoulders with the Commander in Chief of our country. President Gerald R. Ford is the least appreciated of all our modern presidents, and I always felt he deserved better. His 1979 autobiography, “A Time to Heal,” convinced me.

As Ford finished the last round of golf that he would play in Iowa, he was greeted by a mass of officials in a crowded, tiny clubhouse. I was busy putting his golf bag into a waiting open trunk.

“The man wants to see you right now,” said a Secret Service agent. Sprinting back to the clubhouse, I arrived just in time to hear my name called twice, and as loud and clear like my dad used to call me from the back door before dinner.

“Here I am, Mr. President.” Ford greeted me with a big handshake and smile, thanking me for the afternoon’s work. The media eagerly awaited post-game remarks and the security cordon quickly formed around me and the Boss. Together, we were escorted, shoulder-to-shoulder, out the clubhouse door.




February 13, 2014 - 8:45pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
john.holmes's picture
Augusta National
Kevin Faigle via Twitter
Augusta National's 'Members Only' sign at Washington Road was coated in ice and knocked off-kilter by the storm.
Masters Week is less than two months away, and the crews at Augusta National might have a bit of extra work to do to prepare the iconic course for the season's first major. That's because the prominent club – like much of the rest of the South – was coated in ice earlier this week as a huge winter storm wreaked havoc from Louisiana all the way up to New England.
A couple weeks ago, we remember, Augusta National was covered in a picturesque layer of snow. That did no lasting damage, but the same likely can't be said for this ice storm.
The club is cleaning up some minor debris, an Augusta National spokesman told The Augusta Chronicle on Thursday via text. Club officials are still assessing the damage, but they expect to reopen on Friday.
Photos shared on social media showed several limbs down on Magnolia Lane, and the ''Members Only'' sign at Washington Road was knocked off-kilter by the storm. Crew cleaned up the entrance area on Thursday, the newspaper said.
There have been no reports as to whether any of the property's signature trees – like the Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole or the big oak tree directly behind the clubhouse – suffered any damage. 
Here are some photos from Kevin Faigle of WRDW-TV:
February 13, 2014 - 4:53pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
john.holmes's picture
Natalie Gulbis
Natalie Gulbis via Instagram
Natalie Gulbis led a group of youngsters in a game of ''golf ball.''
As we all know, the golf industry is always looking for new ways to introduce people to our great game. In some cases, that can mean incorporating aspects of golf into other sports.
LPGA Tour star Natalie Gulbis did her part to grow the game in just this manner the other day as she led a group of youngsters in a game of ''golf ball.'' As she explained it on social media, the game is essentially baseball – but, instead of hitting a pitched ball, batters hit an oversized golf ball with a golf club and then run the bases. 
Gulbis devotes a lot of her free time to working with kids – especially the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. She's in a great position to encourage youngsters unfamiliar with golf to give the game a try, and it's gratifying to see her exploring creative ways to do so.
February 13, 2014 - 4:04pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Pebble Beach Golf Academy
Getty Images
A new driving range and dramatically expanded golf academy are joining the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.
After more than 20 years of planning and nine months of construction, there’s a new addition to the fabled Pebble Beach Golf Links complex. The Pebble Beach Driving Range and Golf Academy has opened.
"It almost doesn't feel real," CBS golf announcer and Pebble Beach resident Jim Nantz told The Monterey Herald newspaper. He also called it "the one last missing link" at Pebble Beach. 
The range, 350 yards long and double-ended, is next to the nine-hole, par-3 Peter Hay Golf Course at Collins Field, and also includes a putting green and 40,000-square-foot short game complex. 
The academy is housed in a 3,000-square-foot building that replaces the small tent structure at Spyglass Hill Golf Course that long housed the school. Among its amenities are a 3-D motion capture system for swing analysis and an indoor putting area.
The new structure is "a dream come true," according to PGA Professional Laird Small, the academy's longtime director.
"The way that I've always looked at this is that Pebble Beach is one of the best places in the world to come and play the game," Small told The Herald. "My dream has always been to make it one of the best places to come and learn how to play the game. Golf is a passion for people. So if we can then make a change in their game, you're changing their life for the positive." 
The motion capture system helps instructors identify the specific areas of a golfer's swing that need help, Small said, adding that it is especially useful for junior golfers and players just learning the game. Along with that system is what he calls a robot golf pro, which guides golfers through their perfect swing to help ingrain the proper muscle memory.
"We now have a practice facility and a golf academy that rivals any in the world," said Bill Perocchi, CEO of Pebble Beach Co. "Most importantly, it's one that is befitting the legendary golf, the legendary customer service and just the stunning beauty of Pebble Beach." 
February 12, 2014 - 11:46pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
john.holmes's picture
Davess Vertugo's thank you card
Scott Langley was one of several PGA Tour players so impressed with 12-year-old Davess Vertugo's thank-you card that he shared it on social media.
Your average PGA Tour player signs hundreds, if not thousands, of autographs each year, and no doubt most of their encounters with fans are necessarily quick and forgettable. But on Wednesday at the Northern Trust Open, a young fan made quite an impression on several players.
Why, you ask? Well, because after getting an autograph, 12-year-old Davess Vertugo hands the signee a thank-you card. And not just a cheap drugstore card, either. These are homemade tokens of his appreciation, complete with photos and an explanation of why he's at the tournament.
As you can see in the Twitter photos embedded here, the front side has ''thank you'' in big letters and several photos of Davess in golf mode. On the reverse, there are more photos along with this: ''I am back again for my annual birthday trip to the Northern Trust. Thank you for such a memorable experience. I look forward to this day with my dad every year and I enjoy watching you play golf.''
I don't know anything else about young Davess, but I do know this – judging by their response on social media Wednesday, the players he met will remember meeting him every bit as long as he remembers meeting them. And who knows? As much as Davess loves golf, he might be inside the Riviera ropes himself in another decade or so.  
February 12, 2014 - 7:49pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Hunter Mahan
USA Today Sports Images
Hunter Mahan is trending up the charts on the PGA Tour this season.
At Rivera Country Club, there is no ''party hole'' like the par-3 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Nor are there ocean vistas like at Pebble Beach, or wide-open spaces like the Hyundai Tournament of Champions or the Humana Challenge. No, at Riviera, everything you want to see can be found between the cart paths.
The challenge at Riviera is as much mental as it is physical at this classic layout that wends its way through the Santa Monica Canyon just off Sunset Boulevard. The fairways are narrow – and, thanks to California's dry winter, tougher to hit than ever – while the greens are compact and challenging. That makes Riviera more of a player's course than a bomber's course, not to mention arguably the best pure layout on the West Coast Swing. 
So, given all that, who's worth keeping an eye on? Here are five: 
5. Graham DeLaet
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Tied for second at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open
Reason to watch: Who's the best player not to win a tournament so far in the 2013-14 wraparound season? If you go by results alone, it just might be this lanky Canadian with the eye-popping Puma Golf wardrobe. Since missing the cut in Las Vegas last fall, DeLaet has chalked up four straight top-10 finishes, the last two of which were ties for second. His biggest concern this week will be keeping the ball in play with his sometimes wayward driver.
4. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Fifth at the 2013 WGC-HSC Champions
Reason to watch: The reigning U.S. Open champion is the last big-name player to get cranked up for the 2014 season – this is his first start anywhere since the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa in mid-December. Rose has been skipping most of the West Coast Swing for the last several years, but the classic Riviera layout suits his tee-to-green game (he was fourth in total driving on the PGA Tour last year and ninth in greens in regulation). Rose has been posting photos of himself hard at work in the Bahamas in recent days, so he might not be as rusty as it would otherwise seem.
3. Jimmy Walker 
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Wins at 2013 Open, 2014 Sony Open and 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Reason to watch: The best reason to watch Kid Dy-No-Mite? Dude has won three of his first eight starts in 2013-14, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as the only players to accomplish that impressive feat. Can Walker – who, by the way, we featured in last week's ''5 Players to Watch'' – win yet again this week? Why not? In his last three starts at Riviera, he tied for 16th in 2013, and tied for fourth in both 2011 and 2012. 
2. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Second at the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Spieth was tied with Walker after 36 holes at Pebble Beach last week, then got the worst of the weather on Saturday and fell off the pace. If not for that, and given the way Walker struggled on Sunday, he just might be rolling into Riviera with a pair of PGA Tour titles in his pocket. Also, while this is Spieth's Northern Trust Open debut, his Texas Longhorns won the NCAA Championship there in the summer of 2012, so he already has good feelings about the place.
1. Hunter Mahan 
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Tied for fourth at the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open
Reason to watch: If Hunter Mahan was a stock, he'd be rated a ''buy'' because he's definitely trending in the right direction. In his last three starts, he finished 47th at Torrey Pines, tied for fourth in Phoenix and sixth at Pebble Beach. You want more? How about this: In his last four starts at Riviera, he tied for 64th in 2010, tied for 55th in 2011, tied for 24th in 2012 and tied for eighth last year – that's the kind of trendline stock pickers love to see. Mahan's precise ball-striking, like Rose's, is made for this West Coast version of Hogan's Alley, and it’s no surprise that this Californian-turned-Texan thrives there.