Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Olympic Golf Tournaments are Going to be Terrible

We're two years away from the 2016 Summer Olympics, when golf will join the list of Olympic sports. Whether golf needs to be or should be an Olympic sport is something I've always been agnostic about. Personally, I don't care whether golf is left out of the Olympics, which means that it also doesn't bother that it will be included.

But now that golf is part of the Olympics, what kind of tournament will we see in two years in Brazil? I'm glad someone else did the work for me, because I wouldn't want to have to figure out which golfers are likely to be in the Olympics and which aren't. Someone else has already done that: You can see sample fields for both the men's tournament and women's tournament, what those fields would be if the Olympic golfers were chosen today.

And those fields are pretty lame. For example, while all of the current Top 10 men would make an Olympic tournament if it was chosen today, No. 11 Jordan Spieth wouldn't. Neither would Phil Mickelson. Yet, 10 golfers ranked lower than No. 250 would! That includes Chan Shih-chang, Antonio Lascuna, Juvic Pagunsan, Roope Kakko and Thomas Pieters. Right: Guys you've never heard of.

The women's field will be even weaker. If the women's Olympic field were chosen today, Paula Creamer would not make it, but No. 545-ranked Mia Piccio would. Lizette Salas, Jessica Korda and Na Yeon Choi would not get to play in the Olympics, but Maria Balikoeva, Noora Tamminen, Chloe Leurquin, Margarita Ramos, Gauri Monga and Melanie Maetzler would.

The reasons for this are outlined in this explainer. The method for choosing the Olympic tournament fields is based on the idea of including as many countries as possible. I don't have a problem with that.

The problem is that overseers of golf and the Olympics have applied that selection criteria to just another stroke play format, and one with only 60 players in the field. So we're left with what will be very weak fields, devoid of many of the game's stars.

Golf simply doesn't need that. Golf's biggest tournaments are big everywhere, and they are much bigger than these Olympic tournaments will be. If the poobahs had decided on different types of fields - using only amateurs, or using male/female 2-person teams, or whatever - anything other than plain ol' stroke play - maybe I'd feel different.

The first Olympic golf tournaments will generate lots of attention because they are the first. Once that novelty wears off - and if they stick with the current format/selection criteria - Olympic golf is going nowhere but down. And probably out of the Olympics after 2020.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Beatles on the Golf Course

With the 2014 British Open at Royal Liverpool, here are a few photos of Liverpool's most famous export - The Beatles - playing golf. OK, they aren't actually playing golf; none of The Beatles were (or are) golfers. You can tell by the way they are holding the clubs they have no idea of the right way to hold golf clubs. But, it's the Beatles, it's golf ... yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Arnold Palmer Coolatta from Dunkin Donuts

It wasn't too long ago - maybe just 10 years ago - that you might have to explain to someone (even many golfers) what an Arnold Palmer is. Not the golfer - the drink.

But these day, the Arnold Palmer drink is darn near ubiquitous. It really started in the early 2000s when Palmer licensed his name and image to the Arizona Brewing Company, which then created a whole bunch of Arnold Palmer tea-and-lemonade mixes. Then there was a Sportscenter commercial featuring Palmer making the drink, and later still a short ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about the drink.

How common is the Arnold Palmer today? So common that Dunkin' Donuts will serve you up a frozen one. They call it the Arnold Palmer Coolatta: "Iced tea and lemonade with a refreshing twist. Our Frozen Arnold Palmer Coolatta® is just the ticket to keeping you icy cool in the heat," the Double-D says.

Have you tried one? It's basically a slush - frozen tea and frozen lemonade blended together in a 50-50 mix. If you want one, hurry - Dunkin' says it's a limited-time offer. The Arnold Palmer Coolatta will probably be available only through Summer 2014, but if it proves popular, who knows.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Video of Black Swans Charging Golfer Turned Into 'Game of Thrones' TV Commercial

For the last few months a video of two black swans charging at a golfer has been making the rounds. The golfer, with his buggy, hit too close to the swans' favorite water hole, and they didn't like it when he showed up to try to play his golf ball. (The giggling and cackling videographer lets loose multiple f-bombs, so take that into consideration depending on where you are watching this.)

The incident took place at Grimsby Golf Club in England. And the video, after sitting on YouTube for a short while, was noticed by Blinkbox, an on-demand video service in the U.K. They digitally replaced the swans in the original video with dragons, and, there you go: a neat commercial for Game of Thrones:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jack Nicklaus: Friend or Foe?

Most people have strongly positive impressions of the Golden Bear. Most golf fans admire him personally as well as professionally. But not everyone.

About eight years ago I was interviewing a golf course owner and developer who had built some of the top courses in Southern California. His company had worked with both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. And he owned a home alongside a fairway at one of those fancy courses, one that was once the site of an exhibition match between Palmer and Nicklaus.

This fellow and his kids waited in back of their house, next to the fairway, as Palmer and Nicklaus played that hole. When Palmer reached this little group of fans he was friendly and chatty. "You won't be surprised to learn that Nicklaus wasn't," the fellow said to me.

He continued: "Nicklaus, as I'm sure you know, is an ***hole."

As I'm sure you know. Well, no, I didn't know that. And I still don't know that. I'm sure Nicklaus, in the course of his not-always-successful business ventures, or over decades of beating the tar out of his fellow golfers, rubbed a few people the wrong way. Like everyone else on the planet, Nicklaus has his bad days.

I told the story to a friend of mine, a teaching professional who has had the chance to play golf with Nicklaus a few times at corporate events. "What???" was his reaction. "Jack's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet." My friend regaled me with tales of Nicklaus' generosity of time and spirit on the few occasions my friend had golfed with him.

Why am I thinking about this exchange today? I ran across and old newspaper article. A golf columnist in a Aussie newspaper offered his picks for best quotes of the year. One of them was:

"If you'd offered me a 69 at the start this morning I'd have been all over you." - Sam Torrance

Let's hope Sam didn't say that to David Feherty. And this one:

"I'd stick my head up a dead bear's bum if it made me putt really good." - Peter Lonard

Picture the training aid ...

And then there was this one:

"Nicklaus' courses are like Jack himself - grim and humourless with sharp edges." - Peter Thomson

Thomson is a Hall of Famer, a 5-time winner of the British Open. I'm not aware of any prior beef between Thomson and Nicklaus, but perhaps there is one. Perhaps it goes back decades. Perhaps Nicklaus once insulted Thomson's course design work. For what it's worth, Thomson hates Augusta National, too, so at least Jack is in good company in drawing Thomson's ire.

In truth, many of Nicklaus' peers have never been fond of Jack's golf course designs. Some of his best friends - Tom Watson, for example - have poormouthed his work as an architect. But if you recall Watson's tears as he and Nicklaus walked off the 18th green at The Old Course following Jack's final British Open appearance in 2005, then you know that Watson doesn't share Thomson's opinion of the man.

Fact is, you can develop a bad opinion of anyone - of Mother Teresa - if you want to. Depends on what you take away, on what you weigh most heavily in other people.

Not even The King himself is immune. Remember that ESPN series from 1999 or 2000, "SportsCentury"? ESPN came up with a list of the 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century, then did a 30-minute or hour-long documentary on each. Their episode on Arnold Palmer portrayed Palmer as an insecure, insincere, manipulative egomaniac. It wasn't a pretty picture. Most of us remember Palmer much differently.

So, sure, there are people out there with poor opinions of Nicklaus. People who, perhaps, caught Jack on a bad day. Or saw a side of him he usually keeps hidden. Or whatever. Nicklaus can be arrogant, sure. His ultra-conservative, right-wing politics surely rub some the wrong way (but not his fellow pro golfers, since most of them are also ultra-conservative right-wingers). And I'd bet that Nicklaus' reputation would be far different - much more like Tiger Woods before Woods' cheating scandals became public - if Nicklaus had played in a media/celebrity/social media environment like today's. (Disagree? Go back and look up some of the things Nicklaus said about the competition over his long time at the top of the PGA Tour pecking order.)

The things I've always found most insightful about Nicklaus, however, are those little acts of kindness he has always - according to the stories - done for his friends and fellow pros. Those things Nicklaus himself never publicized, but that were eventually revealed by the recipients of Nicklaus' kindnesses.

Like that 6-year-old boy in Georgia who scrawled a letter to Nicklaus on Big Chief tablet paper, and has Jack's response framed on his wall today (Charles Howell III). Or that teenager in Canada struggling with his game, writing to Nicklaus to ask if he should switch from lefty to righty and start over (Mike Weir - you know what Jack told him).

Or that young pro in 1971, the one whose father died and who then received a warm, thoughtful letter of condolence from Nicklaus, a man to whom he'd barely spoken, and who has that letter with him still (Ben Crenshaw).

There are dozens and dozens of stories like these. Private little acts of kindness.

Another famous story about Nicklaus regards the time he took Lee Trevino aside and gave him a pep talk. I believe I recently stumbled across what may well be the very first telling of that story. It was in the July 19, 1971, issue of Time magazine, in a lengthy article about Trevino:

Troubled by business problems ... and the lingering illness of his mother, (Trevino) started out the 1971 season by dropping out of three tournaments. During an exhibition match in Palm Beach five months ago Nicklaus took him aside in the locker room and told him: "I hope you never find out how well you can play. If you do, it will be trouble for all of us." Says Trevino: "That word of encouragement changed my life. It stopped me from being the nervous character I was. I realized that I could reach the peak." He cut back on his outside commitments, and tempered his night-owl habits. Last April, Lee won the Tallahassee Open and started off on his fiery streak.

Trevino has spoken often about what those words of encouragement from Nicklaus meant to him. Remember, Trevino was Nicklaus' greatest rival at that moment, and Nicklaus was trying to help him get his game righted. Can you imagine Tiger Woods taking aside Phil Mickelson and offering him advice and encouragement? No?

There's no such character as Saint Nicklaus, or Saint Palmer. Like all of us, Nicklaus has had bad moments, moments of arrogance, moments of intemperance, moments of sullenness, and moments of worse.

But on the whole, Nicklaus seems so much better a person than Peter Thomson - or that golf course developer whose tale started this post - appears to believe he is.