Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Playoffs Are Here

Last week I was in the scoring trailer at The Barclays in New Jersey. Here are some random musings from the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs:

What are the odds that Sergio and Vijay both make long putts on the first extra hole to extend the sudden death playoff? I’ll bet my house against that one happening again. I saw Vijay in the parking lot after his victory and he said to me, “I told you I was the best, bro!” Uh, Veej, have you already forgotten about someone?

Ben Curtis, the laid-back Ohioan who has a clothing deal with the NFL, had a solid T-4 showing, alternating his wardrobe between Jets and Giants outfits. The results? Jets 71-70, Giants 68-68. After his final round, I asked him if he was more inspired by the Giants. Ben said, “I’m a Cleveland fan…period.”

On the Monday after the tournament, some colleagues and I headed east into Queens for the first round of the U.S. Open Tennis Championship. We hung out there with Bubba Watson, who had bought one of those oversized tennis balls and had his caddie Ted get Elena Dementieva’s signature on it (a caddie’s work is never done). I asked him why in the world he was so excited about this Russian’s autograph. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “This girl won the Olympic gold in Beijing! She’s amazing!” He’s telling me this while simultaneously exchanging casual text messages with Tiger Woods, the most famous athlete on the planet. It’s interesting just what impresses certain people.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Padraig's Secret Weapon

Padraig Harrington is the new man to beat! He flips on the turbo-boosters when he needs to, and the Irishman fills the current Tiger-shaped void as someone who actually goes out and snatches the championship away from the other contenders.

Sergio played valiantly for the week, but a couple of key errors coming down the stretch cost him (why do you flirt with the water on #16?). Don't feel too sorry for Sergio, though...did you know that he has actually beaten Padraig in playoffs twice before? Garcia first humbled him on the European Tour at the 1999 German Masters, and again at the 2004 Buick Classic on the PGA TOUR. As much as Sergio probably dreads a head-to-head showdown with Padraig these days, it used to be the other way around. What has turned the tables? It's Harrington's secret weapon, or what he calls his fifteenth club...his superior mental game!

Padraig will be the first to admit that his swing and natural talent have never been head of the class. But he is a tireless worker, and more importantly, has totally embraced the notion of resilient attitude and a "soft focus". His mental coach is acclaimed golf consultant Bob Rotella, who just published a new book entitled Your 15th Club. In his book, Rotella reveals how Padraig's intense dedication to the mental side of golf has been the catalyst for his stellar play in the last few years.

You always hear a victorious pro praising their ability to focus and stay in the moment. I've never really considered "how" you are supposed to fine tune such abilities, but a good friend of mine named Lee Palms recently clued me in. Lee played briefly on the mini-tours after college, but quickly traded in his golf clubs for a briefcase and family life. In the past decade, he's had some success as a local amateur golfer in South Carolina, defeating most of the other "30-something" guys. But this summer Lee Palms has caught fire. He recently qualified for the upcoming U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst, beating out dozens of flat-bellied college players, and then last weekend he again stuck it to the "young guns" when he won the South Carolina State Amateur. This week, he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur in September, shooting 66 and earning medalist honors for his site. During a congratulatory phone call, I asked him what has made the difference in his game.

"Don't laugh," he started out, "but it's seriously been my improved mental approach. Simplifying my routine, being target-focused over the ball, accepting my bad shots and moving on, positive self-talk only, journaling my good shots and building up my self-image as a successful golfer."

"OK, but how exactly do you do all that?" I asked. "My mind is going a mile a minute when I play a competitive round!"

"This is where Rotella's new book has really helped. He provides a bunch of techniques and phrases to help you establish a daily mental routine of affirmation and confidence. And then it's up to you to really practice and apply this stuff. It takes some commitment, but I've been working really hard on it, and it's obviously started paying off."

So there it is...a book about golf's mental game that is showing some real results. Not only is it benefiting Padraig Harrington, 36-year old winner of three of the last six major championships, but it's also helping Lee Palms, 39-year old working man and reigning SC State Am Champ. I've got no aspirations of following in the footsteps of either guy, but I do want to become a better golfer and maximize my potential. Stay tuned, because I'm ordering Bob Rotella's Your 15th Club today and getting on board.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Michelle Wie Actually Signs Her Scorecard!

I've had a lot of my friends asking me about Michelle Wie after her recent scorecard debacle on the LPGA Tour. I decided to hold off until now, as I was actually sitting in the scoring trailer with Michelle last week at the PGA TOUR's Legends Reno-Tahoe Open.

Michelle was playing in her eighth PGA TOUR event, and after an opening 1-over par 73, everyone was abuzz about her making the cut. She came into my scoring area after the round, and after checking her hole-by-hole numbers and handing me the card, she proclaimed with a big smile, "Look, I actually signed my scorecard!"

She obviously was poking fun at herself, so I played along. "Good for you, Michelle! That's awesome!" I responded, and she laughed along with the other players in her group.

That moment told me a lot about Michelle, that despite all of the controversy and criticism surrounding her lately, she keeps a sense of humility and playfulness. There's a ton of pressure on that girl, and she does a great job maintaining her composure. I've dealt with Michelle at all of her PGA TOUR appearances, and each time she has been nothing but soft-spoken and kind.

That being said, I seriously doubted she was going to make the cut, even after her respectable score on Thursday. I didn't watch her round, but I spoke with her playing partners later and both agreed she was scrambling like crazy. Granted, she was playing in a stiff afternoon wind during round one, but she only had 24 total putts and yet still shot over par. That meant she needed to play MUCH better on Friday morning and post a number in the red just to make the cut. She hung in there for a little while the next day, but eventually crashed through the thin ice and made some big numbers on her way to an 80.

I know that Michelle's presence at a men's event is big time news for most, but I feel it tarnishes her reputation as a legitimate pro golfer and probably erodes her confidence, as well. She needs to play with the women, and start winning tournaments...period. I mean, if the appeal of women playing in PGA TOUR events is just to see if they can sneak under the cut line, then let's put some proven champions out there. Lorena Ochoa, Suzann Pettersen or Brittany Lincicome all come to mind as big-hitting ladies who actually have professional victories. Let's give them a shot. Michelle's had her chances, and she's 0 for 8.

I'm rooting for Michelle to do great things on the LPGA, mainly because she's too nice of a person to go down in history as a mismanaged underachiever. She's a great golfer, and as long as she keeps playing against the ladies, she'll start writing a new chapter for herself soon enough.

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