Monday, November 17, 2008

Q-School second stage is no picnic

I spent last week on the scoreboard at Callaway Gardens, one of the second stage locations for the PGA TOUR's Q-School. Seventy-eight players were vying for the top twenty spots (plus ties) to advance to next month's grueling six-day final stage at PGA West in California. It's surprising how many well-known pros have to endure the second stage after they have fallen on hard times. At Callaway Gardens alone, the group included past TOUR winners Chris Riley (on the U.S. Ryder Cup team just four years ago), Olin Browne, Billy Andrade, Chris Smith, Tom Scherrer, Carlos Franco, Robert Damron, Jim Gallagher Jr., Mike Heinen, Ian Leggatt, Jim McGovern, Michael Clark II and Len Mattiace...and there were three other second stage sites around the country with similar fields!

A local official was taken aback by the surly mood of one of these pros before the first round. I reminded him that Q-School is much different than any other tournament these guys play in. Some participants, the youthful TOUR wannabes who have graduated here through first stage, are all excited and hopeful of realizing their dream. This week is full of nothing but promise for them.

But for the seasoned veterans who have spent years (some decades) out on TOUR, this week symbolizes something of a failure. Their V.I.P. Pass to the Big Show has been revoked, and now they finally face the daunting task of clawing their way back into the party. Surviving the final stage of Q-School is strenuous enough, but having to also grind your way through second stage, for these guys, is downright annoying. It's enough to make anyone surly.

You needed to play inspired golf to advance (9-under for four rounds was the number at Callaway Gardens), and only five of the thirteen pros above will be teeing it up at final stage. I wish them the best, and for the eight who didn't make it, I hope they can rebound quickly from the disappointment.

Concerning young Webb Simpson, who I mentioned in my last post...he did not earn enough money at the end of the Nationwide Tour's season to secure his 2009 TOUR card. Webb also played at Callaway Gardens, however, and made it through at 10-under par. So now he's off to California to try and lock up his card the hard way: posting six solid rounds to finish in the top 25 out of 150+ scrappy pros. Webb, you should heed the advice of Q-School survivor Ron Whittaker...stock up on Pepto-Bismol and Ambien!

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tiger Behind Closed Doors

Since most people only see Tiger Woods when he is either A) playing in a tournament, B) doing an interview, or C) in a commercial, they often ask me “What is he really like, you know, behind closed doors?” I’ve had the good fortune of dealing with Tiger on a number of occasions during my job on the TOUR, and my answer to this question is…he’s really a normal guy! I’m not trying to sound cliche, because Tiger is anything but normal, but seriously, for someone who is mega-rich, mega-famous and mega-talented, he seems like a very well-adjusted, likeable person. He’s always friendly to the walking scorers and other volunteers in the scoring area (but he won’t sign a golf ball…that’s a steadfast rule). He has a sharp sense of humor, and never seems to put on airs. I’m sure many golf fans have been irritated by a stone-faced, blinders-on Tiger as he strides past hundreds of screaming well-wishers, but please understand, this is what he has to do just to make it out of public situations in one piece. Just ask anyone who is out on TOUR regularly, and they will tell you it’s a completely different atmosphere around Tiger…absolute chaos. To his fellow pros, even though he is very intimidating on the course, he is very approachable off of it and has an agreeable personality that meshes well with most everybody. Tiger is very humble, never overplaying his own success and often giving praise to those guys who gave chase (or sometimes beat him).

After the final round of the 2007 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, Tiger was sitting across from me in the scoring area, checking his card following a 66 and his fifth victory in that event. I asked him, “Tiger, just how in the world do you win this thing year after year?” He answered, “Honestly, Charles (Howell III) could’ve won, but I just got some good bounces. I don’t care who you are, you need some lucky breaks to win golf tournaments.” I replied, “Didn’t someone once say that the harder you practice the luckier you get?” To that, Tiger flashed his trademark smile, winked at me, and walked out of the trailer to face the throngs of media and fans. That story describes Tiger in a nutshell…he might be self-effacing, but deep down, he knows he’s the man to beat.

If I were to formulate an equation that summed up Tiger Woods’ golfing prowess, it would be GOD-GIVEN ABILITY + UNRIVALED WORK ETHIC + VAST UNDERSTANDING OF HIS SWING AND THE GAME = TOTAL WORLD DOMINANCE IN GOLF. Stay tuned for more stories about my personal interactions with Tiger and other players out on TOUR.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Knocking on Heaven's Door - John Daly

One of the biggest perks about working for the PGA TOUR travel staff is being invited to certain social functions hosted by the different tournaments each week. One that really stands out in my mind from this year was a mid-week party for all of the amateur players in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Dozens of local restaurants set up tables of their finest cuisine in a Palm Springs resort ballroom, and hundreds of participants and their guests enjoyed a great evening of food, drink and a local band playing some background music.

As the night wore on, one of the professional golfers at the party made a surprise appearance for one song. In my decade out on TOUR, I’ve only seen one pro get on stage to perform, and that of course is John Daly. Unfortunately, when in front of a large crowd, J.D. seems to be a one-trick pony. Every single time I’ve seen him, he plays “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, and this night was no different. So Daly started strumming away and gently eased into the lyrics, as he always does (I’ve got little musical instrument experience, but I think he’s about a 4 handicap on the guitar). To his credit, J.D. usually nails this song, given that he plays it so often. But on this particular night, Daly’s back-up vocalists are the ones responsible for making the song so memorable. Sharing a microphone and screaming the chorus were none other than Alice Cooper (wearing his famous make-up) and a slimmed-down Meat Loaf (both of who were playing in the tournament). So there was the one of the oddest rock bands you’ll ever see…Long John, Alice, and the Loaf, belting out Guns N’ Roses at the top of their collective lungs, with veins popping and voices straining. Half of the crowd was screaming with them, and half of the crowd stood silent with a look of bewilderment…”Just what am I witnessing here?” It was a rather surreal moment.

That being said, I’d like to admit that I really like John Daly. He’s always been nice to me out on TOUR, and I’ve seen many examples of his generosity with both fans and other players. The guy just likes to have a good time! I do believe he’s not getting the most out of his inherent golf talent. I think he could still be a major force on the TOUR, with the right attitude. I wish him the best, and think he needs to start practicing some other songs.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Are Scorecards Necessary?

Hello, and welcome to the newest blog on the golf scene. My name is Casey Jones, and I live in Decatur, Georgia, a little city just on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta. For the last ten years, I’ve been deeply involved in the world of professional golf, first as a scoreboard calligrapher (right about now, you’re probably saying, “A what???”), and more recently as a full-fledged Scoring Official for the PGA TOUR. I have traveled all over the country for the last decade, following the top professional tours and getting to know some of the regular characters that live out there. I’m hoping that my blog will not only give my insights on this wonderful game, but also shed some light on life behind the scenes at golf’s highest level.

Concerning my job, the question I’m asked the most (besides “Who is the biggest jerk on TOUR?”) is “With all of today’s technology, with television spotters and walking scorers with each group, why do you still need scorecards and the penal rules that are associated with screwing them up?” This is a legitimate question, and I know disqualification from a tournament seems harsh just for not checking your scores diligently, but…

My take on it is simple. Someone has to be ultimately responsible for what the player scored on each hole. Who better for this job than…THE PLAYER! Scorecards have existed since the beginning of competitive golf for a reason, so that the player can verify and sign off on what he or she actually made on each hole. Golfers need to realize that their round is not officially over until they have taken the extra time needed to thoroughly check their scorecard. These days, they are given a table inside a tent or trailer, away from distractions, so they can focus on the task at hand. If they play tournament golf, they should be confident what they had on each hole, and if they just concentrate for a few minutes, should be able to confirm this on their scorecard. Anytime a player is disqualified for signing for a lower score, or penalized by having to accept a higher score signed for…it’s their own fault! Their own absent-mindedness or laziness has caused the problem, and it cannot be blamed on anyone else. It’s the same as if they did something blatantly wrong in the course of play…they need to be penalized.

Not every competitive golfer has the luxury of playing with television spotters (or even scorekeepers) walking with their group, so why should only a handful of the top touring pros be exempt from their scorecard responsibilities? The rules of golf need to stay the same for everyone. And imagine this exchange after the round…
Tiger: “What gives? All of the leaderboards say I’m 5-under, and I’m really 6-under!”
Official: ”Tiger, both the volunteer who was scoring for your group and the TV spotter had you for a bogey on #5.”
Tiger: “That’s incorrect. I thought about taking a drop, but I actually played a great shot from the hazard, and made par.”
Official: “Well, what do you want us to do about it? Verifying your own scores after the round has been eliminated. We have to trust the witnesses. Sorry.”
Tiger: “Wait a minute! When it’s all said and done, I should be able to confirm my actual scores, for crying out loud!”

Official: “You’re right, and that sounds like a great job for…lo and behold, our old friend the SCORECARD!”
I know there will always be the scorecard nay-sayers, but honestly, there is really no other fair way to do it. A player is given every opportunity to sign off on his or her correct score, and if they can stay focused for five-plus hours on the golf course, they can stay focused for five more minutes after their round. If they ever do away with scorecards in the big-time events, I cannot wait for the pandemonium that will ensue when the scores aren’t adding up correctly. Since this is my specific area of expertise out on TOUR, I’m sure there will be much more blog chatter about it down the road. Stay tuned, because I’ve got some great stories from inside the scoring trailer.

Until next time, I am Casey Jones, founder of Casey Jones Golf , and I hope you find your way back to my blog. Take care and God bless!

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