Handicapping in Pattaya

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Pattaya boasts many golf societies, something in excess of 40 outlets I would think. These include the bar with a sandwich board placed outside advertising golf trips, to the more serious venues, whose golfing service includes serious administration such as handicapping and local rules. The two most prominent clubs that offer full administrative services in Pattaya are the Pattaya Sports Club (PSC), and the International Pattaya Golf Club (IPGC). The former uses the USGA Handicap System whilst the IPGC uses the UK-based CONGU Handicap System.

This article will not cover why or how this divergence occurred (for another day perhaps?), but the separation has caused frustration over the years. Recently, Shane Ruddle, who runs the successful PAGS golf tournament each month, posted on Facebook an article justifying why, earlier this year, PAGS would only accept entries from golfers who had a USGA-based PSC handicap (or its offshore equivalent). On 02 November last, Shane posted that he had many people asking why the PSC-only handicap rule? His response was to refer readers to an article written by popeofslope.com: http://birdie.in.th/en/blog/knowledge-center/congu-handicaps-vs-usga-handicaps-92.

The article, which I suspect was written some time ago, makes more than one reference to why CONGU is inferior to the USGA Handicap System. Unfortunately, many conclusions are wrong, both in fact and context. Some examples:

  • Now the technical problem with the CONGU system is that it is based on T (tournament) scores only. An average golfer gets in only 3 to 5 “T” scores a year. This makes the system very slow to respond to current ability. The time it takes in detecting changes in ability is often around six months. It simply does not keep pace with a player’s current skill level.

This argument may apply in the US, but here in Pattaya where 95 percent of PSC/IPGC golf is tournament play, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • The other point to make is that the CONGU system is slow to respond to players who are declining, since they can only go up at a rate of 0 .1 stroke per tournament round. With, say, 5 tournament rounds per year, it could take years for a declining player’s handicap to catch up with his current ability.

This is another point at odds with the facts. Any IPGC player who submits seven consecutive scores that moves the handicap out 0.1 will automatically qualify for handicapper review.

There are other references to the CONGU’s use of CSS or standard scratch score that is used for calculating the course rating for the day. Suffice to say the CONGU system takes into account course difficulty on the day as influenced by pin placements and weather. The USGA system does not.

This popeofslpope.com article just scrapes the surface when making any serious assessment of differences between the two systems. To understand the issues further and the implications for how we administer golf here in Pattaya, the story of Golf Australia and its excursion into and out of the USGA handicap System makes for interesting reading: https://golfnutter.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/handicap-flaws/

Motivated by a desire for handicap portability, Golf Australia (GA) adopted the USGA Handicapping System in April 2010. It took barely six months before negative feedback from clubs had reached significant levels. This concern grew such that after 12 months GA commenced a major review of its new handicap system. Amongst other things, the reviewers wanted to know why winning scores had markedly increased, and why higher handicappers were now dominating the winner’s podium in club competitions in every state. Put another way, why did a return of 36 points – often a winning score in the past – now not even get a mention, and how come lower-markers now struggled to get a look-in?

According to advice GA received from USGA experts, the problems had little to do with Slope – a mechanism giving golfers portability of handicap from one course to another. Rather, the problems were more to do with differences in golfing culture in the US compared to Australia. Culture in this context refers to the dominant form of golf played in the US compared to Australia. Ninety percent of golf in the US is 4-ball better-ball match (4BBB) – they don’t do tournaments where individuals compete against the field. Golf, at least as far as handicapping is concerned, is totally dependent upon tournament scores in not only Australia, but also the UK and Europe. And so it should be in Pattaya also. The Golfnutter article referred to above makes this culture difference and its attendant implications a lot clearer.

Ignorance of the differences in the two systems, and what it means to golfers here in Pattaya, has been flourishing for years. In my experience, golfers who play regularly under both systems will normally see a minimal difference in their category one handicap (0-5), perhaps one shot in category two (6-12), two shots in category three (13-18) and perhaps more in category four. In nearly every case the IPGC handicap will be the lower. Experienced golf organisers know this. They also know there is no simple way around it. If a golfer has both a PSC and an IPGC handicap, then whatever system is running the day, determines which handicap they will use.

There will be circumstances that rely upon a golfer’s integrity, as indeed do the Rules of Golf. For instance, take a golfer with dual handicaps who has played only IPGC tournaments for the past six months, during which time his handicap has gone from ten down to seven. His last PSC handicap was 12. What does he play off when entering his next PSC tournament? The PSC organiser will see 12 against his name. If that is the handicap the golfer elects to play off, he is cheating and should be disqualified. And please Mr Organiser, tell the story in the press report – we want to know.

 

Conversely, if an IPGC 10-marker splits his golf outings approximately evenly between the two systems, yet has a 12 handicap with the PSC, then that is the number he should use when playing with the PSC. We are talking equity. Any reasonably minded person should be able to work this out.

The same principle applies when golfers return to Pattaya from their home clubs – they should play off the handicap that reflects their most recent golf – whether higher or lower, just bring the evidence.

PSC golfers wanting to try out with an IPGC society will be welcomed as will their PSC handicap. Similarly, the same goes with most PSC venues accepting a golfer using his/her IPGC handicap.

Unfortunately, there will always be the exceptions where cheats seek to prosper. The USGA system left itself wide open to abuse by allowing individuals to submit scores for handicap assessment by methods other than submitting to the course just played. Here in Pattaya, all PSC/IPGC tournament scores must be submitted to the golf organiser, signed by a competitor, that same day. But to allow golfers to submit their non-tournament scores, via internet, with or without verification, is inviting abuse. This cannot be done under CONGU.

What about CONGU’s lack of handicap portability? This is the only area where CONGU, as a handicapping system, is limited. However, does this really matter when taking into account the courses we play here in Pattaya? And do they, the courses, offer layouts consistent with their alleged USGA Course Rating? Or do the positions of tee boxes, for example, so often moved way beyond allowable USGA guidelines, render the conversion – between the golfer’s base index (base handicap) to that course’s daily handicap – redundant?

To sum up, yes we have two different handicap systems here in Pattaya, but golf organisers have, on the whole, managed to work round this. And as far as Shane Ruddle, the PAGS organiser, is concerned, he has every right to impose a one-system handicap rule for his monthly tournament. It gets rid of any dispute related to golfers with handicaps from different systems vying for podium finishes. But with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the popeofslope.com article was not the best way to explain this.

In a recent chat with Shane, he explained that his new web-based handicap system – http://birdie.in.th/ – was designed, in part, to allow people with non-USGA handicaps to register their scores from rounds played elsewhere, and thus obtain a PAGS-compliant handicap. So for all you golfers without a PSC handicap, who want to join one of Pattaya’s more popular monthly tournaments, simply input your rounds to http://birdie.in.th/ and presto; you’re back in the game, probably with a few shots more!

Happy golfing,

Golfnutter

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Masters 2016 – Preview

Masters-2016

This year’s first major – The Masters – kicks off this Thursday, 7 April. While the top-3 in golf’s world rankings; Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy dominate the headlines, such is the current form of many other proven performers that today’s so-called “Big Three” won’t have it all their own way.  So, who are the other genuine contenders, and what type of game is best suited to the uniqueness that is Augusta National?

Augusta National’s defence is its greens. Their undulations are complex and when this is combined with their speed, it adds up to the most testing greens the pros play.

This course demands careful analysis in determining exactly where, relative to that day’s pin placement, the ball should come to rest on any given green. Next is to execute the very shot that has the ball finish as close as possible to that spot. Finally, putt the ball with the right amount of pace, and on the right line. And therein lies two keys to winning the Masters – approach shots and putting.

Most amateur golfers have no idea what it’s like to putt on genuinely fast greens. Stimpmeter speeds at the Masters are thought to be around 12 – 14 feet, although this information is not released. By comparison, the local Mountain Shadow course, about seven-plus years back, was reckoned to be amongst Pattaya’s fastest.  At their best they would have run at circa10 – 11 feet. The slopes on Augusta’s greens are far more severe than television shows them to be and they are fast, knee-trembling fast.

The effect these putting surfaces have on scores cannot be overestimated. Any flaws in a player’s putting stroke will be agonisingly exposed. The challenge from tee to green still exists, obviously. But fairway width is generous, and if the ball finishes in the second cut – Augusta has no rough – chances are the player can still reach the green. The test, therefore, is for the player to place his drive in a position from where the approach shot can best be played, with a lofted club. In short, be long off the tee, hope for a reasonable lie, determine where on or before the green to land the ball, and hit it there – with as pure a strike as possible.

As to who will win, well, that is a far harder question. Consider the following:

Length: The course has been lengthened by 500 yards over the last five years. At 7445 yards it is genuinely long. It normally has roll. Enough of it will permit the use of a more lofted club for the approach shot, and that could be vital. It has an unofficial course rating of 78.1.

GIR: Greens in Regulation is a crucial part of scoring well at Augusta. In the last eight years, six of the winners have ranked 1st or 2nd for tournament GIR. Rather reinforces the need for pure ball-striking.

Experience: History states first-timers rarely win at Augusta. The first two Masters aside, it has only been done once before – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Just knowing what it’s like to be at Augusta National gives experienced pros an edge over those who don’t. Augusta has rules that both pros and patrons don’t experience elsewhere. Get caught using a mobile, or videoing a swing on the range, and you are escorted off the course, immediately. Out on the course proper, knowing where to put your approach shot is critical. For example, it took a player as accomplished as Rory McIlroy six attempts before he managed a top-10 finish. The importance of experience cannot be over-estimated, on and off the course.

Putting: Enough has been said.

Of course there are many other factors worth considering, but limiting these to length, GIR, Masters experience and putting, my top ten, in terms of attractive odds (paddypower.com) would be:

  • Jason Day; 6/1. Tied for 2nd in ’11, third in ’13 and won last two starts. Hot hot.
  • Jordon Spieth; 7/1. Defending champ with lowest-ever winning score of 18-under.
  • Rory McIlroy; 8/1. This for a career grand slam. Needs to find his putting stroke.
  • Bubba Watson; 10/1. 2nd at Doral, won Riviera and two of the last four Masters.
  • Adam Scott; 11/1. Looks stronger than ever, and with a short stick. Form hot.
  • Phil Mickelson; 18/1. 3-peat winner. Tied 2nd last year. Knows course, form good.
  • Henrik Stenson; 33/1. Tied 18th last year, but knows the course and in good form.
  • Louis Oosthuizen; 33/1. Runner-up in ’12. Game well suited to course. Form good.
  • Charl Schwartzel; 35/1. Won in ’11. Undergoing resurgence in form this year.
  • Angel Cabrera; 200/1. Past winner. Does nothing all year then arrives at Augusta.

No mention of Rose, Fowler or Dustin Johnson? I don’t think the odds offered are good enough to warrant inclusion.

To the Augusta National Golf Club, who forgo broadcast fees so the viewer gets a near commercial-free coverage of top-level golf; on behalf of those of us who get to watch the Masters live on TV, thank you.

One final observation: How does a golfer consistently give 40 yards in length and still win? I don’t know, but Lydia Ko does. A very impressive performance this morning in the ANA Inspiration that gives her successive major wins and back-to-back tour titles.

Ko to her caddie when facing an 86-yard approach to the par-5 18th, “I’m going for the pin, half a yard left.” “Good,” confirmed the caddie. The ball stopped directly left of the hole – 12 inches away. She won by one shot.

Enjoy the Masters

Golfnutter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Masters Time

It’s Masters Time

Augusta National Archive

The view down Magnolia Lane heading towards the clubhouse

This article first appeared in this blog 12 months ago. Notwithstanding, it is timeless and worth repeating in preparation for the start of the year’s first major; the Masters beginning Thursday 7 April. We take a look at some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the running of the Masters, and look at certain facets which help set Augusta National apart.

Golfers who have written about their real-life experience of Augusta National invariably refer to it is a memory much cherished. That the drive from the entrance-way, down past the magnolias, is but the start of a wondrous visual experience. While I am sure the spectacular display of flora is breathtaking, especially when you’re close enough to smell it, what would interest me more is the grass, especially the Bentgrass on each of those putting surfaces. As many an expert will attest, their nuances hold the key to triumph or disaster.

It is not just about how one plays Augusta’s greens that can invite trouble, it is also about how one describes them. In 1956, CBS was first awarded TV broadcast rights to the Masters, but only for a period of one year. That 12-month contract has been renewed every year since. Most broadcasters offer mega-bucks to secure long-term rights to show golf’s majors, but Augusta is a hugely rich private club unlikely to be swayed by money. What they do want is a presentation that fits their image of how Augusta should be viewed, and spoken about.

Restrictions placed on CBS include minimal commercial interruption, currently limited to four minutes per hour – a lot less than the US norm of 12 (offshore viewers may not get the benefit of this). Unlike other courses that host majors, Augusta limits those permitted inside the ropes to competitors, caddies and rules officials only. When watching a Masters broadcast, you will see little evidence of cameramen, microphone jockeys, sign-bearers or reporters. And coverage showing messy TV cables sneaking into view – well, that is completely forbidden.

These and many other restrictions exemplify the fact that CBS’s broadcast of the Masters is always subject to compliance with Augusta’s strict requirements. And in case the broadcaster forgets their place in the scheme of things, they are reminded when the contract is reviewed, every 12 months. This is a major reason why the Masters is, year in and year out, television’s best presented golf tournament.

Regardless of what aspect most takes your fancy, the presentation of the entire golf course, whether in real-life or on TV, is a sight to behold. I have often wondered how Augusta goes about its agronomic challenges, how it manages to have the dogwoods and azaleas flower just so, at the right time, every year. And those greens – how do they have them so wickedly fast yet still able to grip a ball that has been crisply struck, thus rewarding the good golf shot but penalising the not-so-good?

Starting immediately after the completion of a Masters Tournament, members have just a month before the course will close for renovation and maintenance work over the summer. It will not re-open until October. That’s right; Augusta National does not permit play from late May through to October.

During this time the greens will be subjected to continuous coring, and top-dressing if appropriate. This is a period where the weather is at its hottest and most humid, with the threat from disease a real concern. Shade tents and fans are installed on the greens to supplement the internal cooling systems – a system of sunken pipes that allows for warming or cooling through what is known as SubAir equipment.

As March approaches the maintenance programmes intensify. The mowing regime is increased to produce the most pure ryegrass and bent surfaces possible. Green speeds are closely monitored ensuring consistency, day to day and green to green. The results are recorded and maintenance practices are modified to achieve ‘membership speeds’ or ‘tournament speeds’ – which are a closely guarded secret. It has been assessed by notable experts watching the Masters over recent years, that variance in speeds over all eighteen greens rarely exceeds four inches on the Stimpmeter. To those who know a little about greens maintenance, this is a phenomenal statistic.

Aussie green-keeper, Daniel Cook, recalls the time he was put in charge of the back nine greens leading up to and including the 2007 Masters:

“It was an amazing experience to take greens that far and not go over the edge. The pressure was immense and anything less than perfect was unacceptable. It was an awesome experience and I am definitely one of a privileged few.

“I will take many things away from my time at Augusta. While the agronomics were second to none, the most important lesson I learnt was that it’s the small things that count. Attention to detail is what separates the excellent from the exceptional. Sometimes these can be so small that you don’t even recognise them. I also learnt that planning is the cornerstone of success.

“It was a sad day to walk out of Augusta National for the last time. It was very emotional to return my keys and credentials and know that I didn’t have access to the amazing facility that is Augusta National. I will always smile as I embark on my challenging new role back in Australia with the experiences at Augusta strongly in my memory. The road to Augusta National and beyond has been the experience of a life time.”

It appears golfers are not the only professionals in awe of Augusta National. Indeed, the challenge issued each year to the world’s best golfers, appears also to extend to a dedicated team of green staff. If Daniel Cook is to be believed, the motivation for Augusta’s agronomists to perform is every bit as strong as it is for the pros.

Little wonder the Masters presents as it does – year on year.

Enjoy.

Golfnutter

 

 

 

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Xmas in Ban Chang

Xmas Day in Ban Chang – Bring ur A Game

golfnutter - xmas in bc

Emerald’s par-3s are amongst the best around. The challenging 7th

The planning had been meticulous. Four devout observers of Christmas traditions – two Englishmen, a Welshman and a Kiwi – leave Pattaya at 0745 on Xmas Day, destination; the Emerald Golf Course and a 0912 tee-time. The golf was to be followed by a full-on Xmas dinner served at that well-known Ban Chang establishment – the one with the excellent kitchen – the Camel. Transport leaves at 0745. Bring ur A game….for BC stated the text sent out the night before. And so the day was set.

Our four intrepid golfers decided on a form of split sixes, where everyone finishes up partnering with each of his companions over the course of 18 holes. Three six-hole matches of pairs better-ball is normally a fair format, especially when handicap differential is reduced by a quarter.

Dividing Emerald’s 18 holes into three sets of six should mean the team of lower markers would take the first set, arguably the toughest thanks to holes three, five and six. Not so on this day. One of the Englishmen – an 18-handicapper and the highest marker by some margin – proceeded to play the golf of his life. By the time we arrived at the 6th tee he was one over the card, gross. He and his fellow countryman, smiling from ear to ear, had already won the first set of six – 2&1.

Again the balls were tossed. This time it is the turn of the Welshman to partner the golfer who at this stage simply had to be the hottest thing on the course. If this were a guess what happens next scenario, one suspects many would get it right. Over the course of the next six holes, the Englishman, the same one who had played the first six impersonating Lee Westward, proceeded to have five of six scores circled. Yep, he came into just one hole and that was for a half. For the second time running the unfortunate Welshman stood on the last tee of a set already having lost; 2&1.

Xmas Day: a day for love and fellowship, a time for giving, for charitable thoughts and goodwill towards all men – even golfers. Yeah right!

No need to toss balls for the last set of six, as the pairings picked themselves. This time it’s the Kiwi’s turn to partner Lee Westward, and as luck would have it, the set started on the par-3 13th. It’s stroke index three, meaning Lee got a shot all by himself.

The 13th on Xmas Day required a tee-shot of 170 yards to an elevated green. The pin was in a tough spot back left, playing the equivalent of 185 yards. Unfazed, the mighty Lee stepped up and proceeded to flush a magnificent hybrid to centre rear, just off the green. His superb chip left his ball 18-inches left of the hole, whereupon, much to the amazement of the normally good-natured Welshman, his playing partner unbelievably concedes the putt. Lee’s score: three net two, one-up, five to play.

If the goodwill to fellow men thingy hadn’t previously been discarded, it certainly had now. “What have I done to deserve this?” or words to this effect would have been heard by most golfers on the course. That the Welshman had the undoubted sympathy of all three playing partners didn’t help one jot, apparently.

From this point on the Kiwi and Lee Westward simply cruised home in even-par for a 1-up win, leaving the Welshman, normally a regular on the podium, the only loser of the day. And this in spite of him playing to his handicap, shooting a net-72. Lee Westward on the other hand was well over his. Golf – it was never meant to be fair.

On to The Camel for a 2:30pm sitting of our three-course Xmas dinner. Such was the setting, the quality of the food and the service, all four golfers, yes all four, were soon enjoying the sort of spirit that is Xmas. From the entrées through the mains and on to dessert, the culinary experience was enjoyed by all. It was just before the brandy-sauce coated Christmas pudding arrived that the somewhat erudite Welshman, complete with backpack, brought out his offering.

On the table was placed the dice game; the ubiquitous conversation starter showing numbers 1 – 9 complete with two dice, found in most Pattaya bars. Three of us looked somewhat confused. The fourth asked “Where’s yours?”

golfnutter - xmas in bc 2

There was no answer to this, really. Not when one has absolutely no idea what brought the game out in the first place.

He might have lost the golf, but he wasn’t going to lose this.

“Your text,” said the perplexed Welshman, “stated bring A game. This is mine. Where’s yours?”

What a lovely Christmas Day it was turning out to be, and it still had some time to run.

I hope your Christmas was as merry. Have a great New Year.

Golfnutter

 

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Race Winners – Rory & Lyds

Rory McIlroy wins the Race to Dubai and Lydia Ko the Race to the CME Globe in last weekend’s season finale to the European and LPGA Tours.

rory mcilroy race to dubai 2015

The European Tour’s season-ending finale: the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, played host to the top 60 European Tour players as they competed for the Tour Championship as well as the overall Race to Dubai bonus of US$1.0 million.

Hot favourite and world number-3, McIlroy, playing in the last pairing with overnight leader, Englishman Andy Sullivan, went on to win a thrilling encounter by just the one shot. That it was so exciting was tribute not only to McIlroy’s stunning final round six-under 66, but also to the doggedness and skill of underdog Sullivan.

More than once McIlroy’s power and precise iron game threatened to have Sullivan founder in his wake, which would have met most pundits predictions of how this year’s final round would play out, except no-one told Sullivan. Time and again, he would match McIlroy’s attempts to break away. Three times McIlroy birdied only to see Sullivan sink a clutch putt to maintain his one-shot advantage. Once, when facing what looked like a two-shot swing, Sullivan had a crucial chip from rough and above the hole, some 20 yards away. If he managed to get up and down for two, he would limit the damage to just a shot. He holed it for par.

Birdies for McIlroy on 12, 14 and 15 saw him finally edge out to a two-shot lead at the par-3 17th. What happened next was inexplicable. McIlroy, with six-iron in hand and most of the Emirate state’s dry land to his left, proceeded to block his shot 40 yards right, into water. Sullivan then put his shot safely on, offering a possible birdie or certain par.

From the drop zone McIlroy’s wedge bunted his ball to about 30 feet.  A two-putt would give him a double-bogey five, and, assuming Sullivan two-putts for par, a share of the lead with one hole to play. At this point Sullivan turned to his caddie and said, “I expect him to hole this.”

He did.

McIlroy’s one-shot lead was good enough to take the title and the order of merit crown, thus ensuring a GBP2.1 million payout. Not a bad way to end an otherwise frustrating year for the Northern Irishman.

The top three in the men’s game seem to have put some distance between them and the chasing pack. Next year’s battles between Speith, Day and McIlroy offers much, providing all three stay fit.

Lydia repeats:

lydia ko POY 2015

LPGA Player of the Year and winner of the Race to CME Globe – again

She was the LPGA’s rookie of the year in 2013, their player of the year in 2014, and now she repeats that feat in 2015. But she didn’t have it all her own way in the season-ending Race to CME Globe in Naples, Florida, last weekend.

Starting the last round two-shots adrift of the leaders at 11-under, Ko’s expected challenge never got started as she struggled with an errant putter for most of the day. Notwithstanding, she still put together an even-par round of 72 to claim a tie for 7th, enough to give her the Race to the CME Globe title as well as the coveted LPGA Player of the Year.

As intended the season finale was dramatic, with final outcomes not known until the very end.

Winning the season-ending championship was 38-year old veteran Cristie Kerr, who broke from a condensed leader-board when she brilliantly eagled the par-five 17th, giving her a one-shot cushion which she maintained with a par at the last. It was Kerr’s 18th career victory.

World number-2 and Ko’s closest challenger, both in the Race to CME Globe as well as Player of the Year, Inbee Park, finished just the one shot ahead of Ko, in 6th place. Had Park finished three shots better, she would have won both the Race and POY.

When Ko, playing in the penultimate group, had a four-footer lip out at the last hole for bogie, she thought she had blown it. But it was not to be. “I said if I could choose one of the awards, I would choose player of the year,” Ko said. “To know that I am the player of the year, it’s an awesome feeling.”

Veteran Cristie Kerr on Ko winning the Player of the Year, for a second time, aged 18; “I don’t think she’s the age she is,” said Kerr, who at 38 is more than twice Ko’s age. “She’s such an old soul. It’s hard to believe she’s that young. … There’s that saying, `Youth is wasted on the young.’ They don’t know what they have until they are my age, right? But she has such a great, easy disposition about her. She puts everybody around her at ease. I think she’ll be that way for the rest of her life.”

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan offers an interesting insight into the teenage phenom.

“I don’t know how to describe what Lydia Ko is doing,” Whan said. “I mean you know sometimes when you’re watching history and you sort of tell yourself, I’m watching history, but I don’t really grasp it when I’m standing in the range talking to her. And if you play a practice round with her or pro-am you grasp it even less. Because she doesn’t seem to be caught up in it at all.”

For Ko, that really is the key.

 

A final thought on tour-ending finales: both the European Tour and LPGA season-ending events are a joy to watch, uncomplicated and drama-packed. A pity the PGA Tour, complete with their obscene US$10 million winner’s bonus, struggle to replicate this.

Happy golfing,

Golfnutter

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Lydia’s Legacy Grows

Lydia Ko with the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Trophy

Lydia Ko with the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Trophy

If what Lydia Ko is doing in women’s professional golf had an equivalent story in the men’s game, the headlines would be deafening. “Couldn’t happen,” I hear many say. Perhaps, perhaps not. Notwithstanding, what is surprising about golf media treatment of Ko’s achievements is the absolute understated reaction to what is a phenomena – by any criteria.

The standard of golf in the lady’s professional game of today has never been stronger. One only has to look at the eclectic nature of the participants to know that the LPGA is, like the men’s game, a world-wide affair. And it is competitive, very competitive.

Unlike many other individual sports, champion golfers find it very hard to repeat win after win. Why? Because unlike match-play events where you go one-on-one, such as in tennis, a golfer needs to beat 140-odd competitors each time. This is extremely hard to do; as Tiger, even in his prime, would attest.

Given this and the competitive nature of todays LPGA, Lydia Ko’s latest feat warrants explanation. The Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship had all the top names there except defending champion Inbee Park, who elected to play in her native South Korea.

Ko entered the final round with a four-shot lead over her closest challengers. After birdieing four of the first six holes, her victory wasn’t in doubt; it was just a matter of what the winning margin would be. In the end she won by nine strokes (largest winning margin this year) after completing a seven-under par 65 for a 72-hole total of 20-under par 268.

With this win, Ko retakes the world number one ranking she lost to Inbee Park, some four months back. The win also marks her 10th career LPGA victory, which in itself is a milestone. She becomes the youngest, male or female, to reach ten wins; aged 18 years, 6 months. She breaks Nancy Lopez’s LPGA record by three-plus years. The youngest male to record ten wins was Horton Smith (21 years 7 months). Other notables and their age upon achieving ten wins are:

  • Tiger Woods: 23 years, 6 months
  • Jack Nicklaus: 24 years 3 months
  • Rory McIlroy: 25 years 11 months
  • Annika Sorenstam: 26 years 7 months

She also holds the record of youngest to win a major, a feat that accompanied her win in last month’s Evian Championship.

What her ten LPGA Tour wins don’t recognise are four European Tour wins plus two from the ALPG and LPGA of Korea.

Consider this; at 14, she became the youngest golfer, male or female, to win a professional tournament; the Samsung Women’s NSW Open in Australia, in January 2012. Later that summer, aged 15, Ko became the second-youngest winner of the US Women’s Amateur just prior to breaking Lexi Thompson’s record as the youngest winner in LPGA history with victory in the 2012 Canadian Open. Against the best the LPGA had to offer, Ko, still an amateur, defended her title a year later. At age 17, by then a pro, she won the 2014 CME Group Tour Championship (the women’s FedEx equivalent); to win the biggest pay-day in women’s golf history and in so doing became the youngest world number one. Seven months later she became the youngest major winner, aged 18 years four months.

Lydia Ko: back to world number one

Lydia Ko: back to world number one

In her last five starts the Korean-born Kiwi has won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, Won the Evian Championship in France, tied for second in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, tied fourth in the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship and won in Taiwan – her fifth win of the year.

On waking up on the morning of her final round her first thought was not golf, but rugby. She tweeted, “First thing I did waking up on Sunday morning was checking the results from RSAvsNZ match! Sooooo excited for the Finals! Go @AllBlacks.” As anyone close to Lyds will confirm, she is as rounded as she is grounded.

Asked about the possibility of negative comments from Inbee Park, in their ongoing battle for the number-one spot, Ko responded, “I think she is nicer than me, first of all, and she’s never going to give me any crap or talk behind my back.” Perhaps an insight into why she is so readily accepted by her peers.

Lydia Ko is a one-woman show who is not about to stop anytime soon. There is no player, of either gender, whose current golf is as hot. Oh, and did I mention she is still a teenager, and will be so for another 18 months? Incredible.

The legend grows.

Golfnutter

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Presidents Cup Reborn

Korean Sang Moon Bae concedes on the last to American Bill Hass

Korean Sang Moon Bae concedes on the last to American Bill Hass

The biennial golf match played between Team USA and a team representing the world minus Europe, reached its thrilling climax at Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday 11 October. The event was concluded when Sang Moon Bae conceded on the 18th, thus handing American Bill Hass his win, and the Americans a 15.5 to 14.5 overall result.

Hass was just one-up playing the 18th. With these two being the last match out, and team scores tied at 14.5 apiece, this match seemed to encapsulate the whole tie in terms of the suspense provided. Such has been the one-sided nature of past contests that many wondered whether the event would survive. Based on this last encounter, it certainly will.

There are countless reports on the standard of golf played, the excitement created by the match-play format, and who beat whom and by how many. But one story perhaps not covered to the degree it deserves is the one involving the arrogance displayed for many years by the PGA Tour; arrogance that nearly sucked the life from this otherwise deserving event.

As dominant a player in golf as it is the PGA Tour still does not possess a big one; a genuinely huge golf event that makes the sporting world really sit up and take notice. Unlike the body from which it was sprung – the PGA of America – the PGA Tour does not own a major, nor does it have a 50 per cent interest in the biggest golfing event on the planet; the Ryder Cup.

When it became obvious that the PGA of America’s share of Ryder Cup earnings was huge, the PGA Tour decided to jump on the match-play bandwagon by creating the Presidents Cup in 1994. The biennial event was to take place in years when the Ryder Cup didn’t. It was a match played between the United States and the rest of the world, except Europe.

Since inception, the US has lost just once to the internationals; a side that has not come remotely close to winning since a tied event in 2003; 12 years ago. Not only have the results proved lopsided, but the event has lacked the type of drama that has come to define the level of competitiveness that is the Ryder Cup. The reason – a one-sided format – has been obvious to any follower of match-play golf, and has been pointed out, repeatedly, to the PGA Tour.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup has only one owner who makes all decisions. Unlike the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup format made 22 points available in team matches, making it easy for the team with greatest depth in numbers to get so far ahead that the last day’s singles matches, all 12 of them, could and often did become an irrelevancy. Unlike the Ryder Cup, which limits all team matches to eight players (each team required to rest four), the Presidents Cup up until this last event did not rest any. Unlike the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup has, mostly, not been a competitive event; until now.

Because the US has traditionally boasted the greatest depth in playing strength, the more players involved each day, the more likely Team USA would win. And win it did. So often and by such large numbers that interest in the event became dangerously low.

Years of complaints from the likes of Ernie Els, Greg Norman and Nick Price fell on deaf ears until, it appears, Price’s uttering of 2013.

Shortly after being named as captain of the international team for the 2013 event, he was asked would he consider accepting the position again in 2015, scheduled for South Korea. Price replied, “I’d love to be but I don’t know if I would do it under the current points format. Hopefully they will do something about it. We’ll see.”

Price had suggested to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem that as many as six matches be eliminated from the competition. This would allow the captains to sit out certain team members in each session and create better matchups. Price was repeating what many had stated over the years, so why wasn’t the PGA Tour acting on what was being said?

Having conceived the format, the last thing the PGA Tour wanted was the accusation of a Ryder Cup lookalike, a poor-man’s copy if you will. They wanted their own unique product that would appeal to American audiences and American sponsors. That meant that Team USA had to win. And in that formulae lay the recipe for failure as they overlooked the most important factor of all; the thing that makes the Ryder Cup such a huge drawcard; competitiveness of the highest order and the drama it brings.

Finally, in August this year PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced changes that Nick Price et al had been pleading for. The changes meant two players dropping out of the team events, meaning the captains would name ten players for team matches from the 12 available. Not quite a Ryder Cup copy, but closer.

The result; a thrilling tie that went all the way to the last hole in the last game on the last day. A result which gave us golf of a type that could well see resurgence in interest, world-wide, in an event that had become a non-event on the golfing calendar.

Why did the PGA Tour take so long to fix what was an obviously broken format? One suspects arrogance, and the possibility they placed the perceived need for constant US victory above the need for true competitiveness – not a good idea in a match-play event, just ask Jack Nicklaus.

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The Legend Grows

Lydia Ko: youngest ever to win a women's major

Lydia Ko: youngest ever to win a women’s major

The final round of the Evian Championship, the last of the year’s majors, was keenly anticipated. In the last group were the overnight leader, Korean Mi Hyang Lee, the 20-year old American bomber and major winner, Lexi Thompson, and 18-year old Lydia Ko, attempting to win her first major and with it, the accolade of youngest ever.

After eight holes Thompson was 11-under and enjoying a three-shot lead over Ko, with Lee, struggling to stay in contention, a further two shots back. Ko, ranked 65th in driving distance, was spotting the big-hitting Thompson some 20-yards off the tee, but that didn’t matter a damn.

Two Ko birdies later saw them tied with seven holes to play. Here the pressure was at its greatest, a situation which seems to suit the Korean-born New Zealand teenager more than perhaps any other; an amazing claim given her age. Over the last seven holes Thompson appeared to crack whereas Ko got better. The final winning margin was an emphatic six shots. Ko’s final round 8-under 63 was the lowest of the tournament. It was her 4th win of the year, and gave her the title of youngest ever to win a major – a title she took off American, Morgan Pressel, by some six months.

Back in August 2012, Ko became the youngest player ever to win a LPGA event when she won the Canadian Open, as an amateur aged just 15 years. She repeated the feat a year later, still an amateur. This year she won it for the third time, but the first as a professional.

When Tiger Woods first achieved the number one ranking in men’s golf he was 21 years old. Lydia Ko reached the same mark as a 17yo; four years younger than Tiger. She lost the number one ranking to Inbee Park earlier this year, but after today’s win, many expect her to regain it before year’s end.

Ko proves there is no substitute for accuracy. Par fives are the domain of the game’s long hitters, or are they? Watching TV coverage of this event, I saw Thompson driving the ball 300 yards on more than one occasion. Thompson, who ranks 4th in driving distance, played the par-fives in five-under. Ko played them in nine-under. Even playing longer irons and hybrids into greens, Ko still leads the LPGA in greens in regulation. In today’s last round, in such a pressure-cooker environment given it could be her first major, and the last chance she had to qualify as the youngest major winner ever, she missed one. Yes you read that right; she missed one green out of 18. Accuracy.

It isn’t just accuracy alone. It is Ko’s consistency which also plays a big part. If one was to watch her hit balls on the driving range, one could be excused for thinking she lacks the explosiveness of a Lexi Thompson or Michelle Wie. But hang around for a while and an erudite reader of the game will come to realise that unlike the others, Ko is repeating every shot flush, with unerring accuracy, time after time after time. There is rarely a variation away from where she wants to be at impact. The result is the straightest driving and iron play on tour. Add this to an unflappable temperament and you have, as learned analyst and commentator Judy Rankin observes, a grinder like no other. “When you look back and see Lydia coming at you, you know she won’t be going away. It is a time of reckoning for many as they realise they need to up their game. Some can do it, most cannot. She will get you eventually.”

Ko’s coach, David Leadbetter, who was on hand to witness his charge become women’s golf youngest major winner, agrees. “Lydia now has all the shots she needs to shape the ball in accordance with what the situation demands. Her practise is now all about maintenance of what she has, not development.” That is an amazing statement to make of an 18-year old teenager.

Runner-up, Lexi Thompson, who once held the tour’s record for youngest-ever winner before Ko arrived, must have felt somewhat relieved that Ko shot the lights out. It doesn’t feel so bad when losing to someone who shoots a final round 63, even if the margin is six shots. But had she had lost by just the one shot, after a pressure-induced double-bogie on the par-3 14th, she may have felt a lot worse. “It’s kind of hard to beat somebody that shoots 63,” said Thompson. “She played amazing. She deserves it. She ball-struck the heck out of this golf course and putted it really well. You can’t get much better than that.”

Ko, who’s dry humour and openness has ready appeal, was asked to comment on her birdie-birdie finish. “I said before that my goal coming into today was to make par on 18. I failed,” joked Ko, who had bogeyed 18 on her first three rounds. “I’ll be back next year to do that.” I bet she will.

Fellow New Zealander and Golf Channel commentator, Frank Nobilo, got it about right on Twitter: “@LydiaKo continues the trend of being the youngest and the best at virtually every age. Beyond extraordinary,” he wrote.

The legend grows.

Golfnutter

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PGA 2015 Review

JD: Huge Win for the Good-guy

Jason Day with wife Ellie, son Dash and the Wanamaker Trophy

Jason Day with wife Ellie, son Dash and the Wanamaker Trophy

As Jason Day approached his tap-in putt on the last hole at this year’s PGA Championship, he struggled to hold back the tears that were welling up inside. Shortly after holing out, he embraced his long-time caddie, mentor and dear friend, who was experiencing similar emotions. Time stood still for the new PGA Champion, as both were reduced to, in caddie Swatton’s words, “A blubbering mess.”

OTT? Far from it.

Day had just won his first major. He won it by going head to head with the world’s hottest golfer, Jordan Spieth, and he shut him out. Day’s previous attempts at winning a major have included three seconds, a third and a fourth. This was the third major in a row in which he held, or had a share of the lead going into the last day. He knew well the feeling of having the door of success slammed shut in his face. On this day, it was held ajar.

Not only did he increase his margin over the field, his last-day five-under par 67 gave him a tournament total of 20-under – one better than the previous lowest to par in a major; the 19-under that Tiger Woods set at St Andrews in 2000. Seasoned golf announcers were in awe of the standard of golf on display. “This course is not as easy as these scores suggest,” was the common theme, after reminding the viewer that Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship here five years ago with an 11-under par total.

It was easy to see this win was popular in the dressing room. Among the many to sing Day’s praise was Rory McIlroy; “This is a huge monkey of his back. Obviously he’s had so many chances; he finished second to me in the US Open at Congressional four years ago. And he was close at the Masters that year, as well. So after all that knocking on the door I’m delighted for him. It would have been harsh if he’d lost this.”

As Jordan Spieth, gracious in defeat, said, “This is as easy a loss as I’ve ever had because I felt I couldn’t do much about it. Jason was just that good.”

So that is what it takes to beat Spieth; shoot the lowest score in major championship history – simple really.

Spieth went on to recount his reaction after seeing where Day’s tee shot on the 573-yard par-5 had come to rest. “That tee shot on 11, if he gets a little off line there, either way, he has to lay up and it’s probably a par. I thought at the time my ball was still going to be okay. It was going to be good enough for me to reach the green. But when he hit that tee ball and I walked up and saw where it was, I turned to him, I actually out loud turned to him and said, ‘holy sh*t!’ you know, and I yelled it over to him and I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ And then he gave me a little bicep curl.” Day hit wedge in to set up an easy birdie.

Spieth’s sportsmanship was again on display at the critical 17th where Day faced a challenging two-putt for par. After Day made a brilliant lag-putt to within a few inches, Spieth acknowledged not just the shot itself, but probably the fact that Day’s three-shot cushion down the 18th meant Spieth’s last chance had evaporated.

To understand why the display of emotion between caddie and player after they knew victory was theirs, one needs to understand their history. Day’s father died of cancer when Day was 12. Shortly after, Day took to drinking, serious drinking. His widowed mother struggled to cope. She took out a second mortgage in order that the troubled Jason could attend an international boarding school known for grooming top athletes. It was this decision that led to the young antisocial trouble-maker meeting up with Col Swatton, an instructor at the Hills International Academy in Queensland, Australia.

From that time until this, Swatton has been there for Jason Day. Not only has he carried Day’s bag, raked the bunkers, replaced the divots, but he has also been the boy’s coach, mentor and father-figure that, near as possible, replaced the person that cancer took away. Swatton’s influence on Day’s life cannot be overstated.

“He’s been there for me since I was 12 1/2 years old,” Day said in his press conference. “I mean, he’s taken me from a kid that was getting in fights at home and getting drunk at 12 and not heading in the right direction, to a major champion. And there’s not many coaches that can say that in many sports. So, he means the world to me. I love him to death.”

As caddie Col Swatton said after the round; “On the 18th, all I said was, ‘I love you.’ And he loves me, and we were just a blubbering mess. It was pretty cool.”

Good guys do win.

Golfnutter.

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Inbee Park Completes the Slam

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 02:  Inbee Park of South Korea poses with the trophy following her victory during the Final Round of the Ricoh Women's British Open at Turnberry Golf Club on August 2, 2015 in Turnberry, Scotland.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Inbee Park with her British Women’s Open Trophy following her win at Turnberry

Even though she has now won seven majors in total, this win at Turnberry was her sixth major win in her last 14 major starts. The win also meant she completed the Grand Slam of women’s golf. These are incredible statistics and ones that put the South Korean among the world’s greatest golfers of all time. Only Tiger Woods and Mary Kathryn (Mickey) Wright had won seven majors by the same age; 27 years.

After putting up with fierce winds and lashing rain, as well as the sunshine that accompanies Scotland’s “four seasons in one day” golfing experience, one wonders what wining on a genuine links layout means to the South Korean.

“It feels great to finally hold the British Open trophy. I gave it a few cracks and it’s just been so hard. This is the birthplace of golf. Scotland is where golf started and this feels like real golf. This is definitely the golfer’s most wanted trophy. I set only one goal this year, one and only, and that’s winning the British Open. Achieving it feels great. This is the greatest day of my life, for sure.”

Asked about playing in such harsh conditions, she responded, “When the rain was pouring down, when the wind was blowing, when my 5-iron only went 100 yards, I just felt so bad. I wanted to give in, but you can’t give in. I said to myself: I can’t really push to achieve the career Grand Slam. I was really close and couldn’t wrap it up. I had to get myself out of Grand Slam thinking, and playing without expectations really helped this week.”

Park, starting the final round three off the lead, reeled off seven birdies and an eagle to equal the course record. She was four behind fellow South Korean, Jin Young Ko, with 12 holes remaining. It was here that Park applied the pressure on her young countrywoman, by birdieing the next four holes followed by an eagle at 14. The 20 year-old rookie, playing in her first major, three-putted the 13th and double bogied the 16th, opening the way for Park to win by three shots.

Park finished on 12-under par, three shots clear of Jin Young Ko at 9-under. In third equal, one shot back at 8-under, were Lydia Ko and So Yeon Ryu. Interestingly, three of the top four finishers are from South Korea. The only one who isn’t is Lydia Ko; the 18 year-old world number 2 who hails from New Zealand. But she didn’t arrive in her adopted country until she was four years old. One guess as to where she was born?

Much has been written about why women with South Korean origins dominate the LPGA. And why, given such dominance in the women’s game, don’t South Korean Men feature more on their professional circuit? One huge reason: Compulsory Military Training.

One person who successfully avoided his military call-up during the Vietnam War era was that well-known celebrity of modesty and self-effacement; Donald Trump. The owner of this year’s host of the British Women’s Open, Turnberry Links, arrived by helicopter at the course as the event was well into its first round.

The multi-bankrupted billionaire, who is leading the polls for GOP nomination for next year’s US Presidential election, has been hogging the headlines with some outrageous statements of late, including labelling Mexicans as rapists, thieves and whatever else adds to – in his view – their undesirable status.

Among his more memorable quotes given at his press conference upon arrival were:

“A poll came out two days ago where I am number one with the Hispanics.”

“Everybody has asked me to be here. The world has asked me to be here.”

“Don’t know who she is.”

This last was in response to stated disapproval at Trump’s presence from top-30 world-ranked player Lizette Salas, who has Mexican parents. This alleged ignorance came in spite of claiming to be a big fan and follower of the women’s golf game.

When asked of his chances of winning the race to the White House?

“I expect to be President.”

Californian Salas wouldn’t be the only one to express displeasure at the Donald’s presence.

While Inbee Park was winning on Scotland’s West Coast, another Asian, Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat, was showing his growing credentials by winning on Scotland’s East Coast. The Murcar Links at Aberdeen played host to Paul Lawrie’s European Tour sanctioned match-play event.

golfnutter - women's open british two

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat with his European Tour match play trophy

Asia’s answer to John Daly, in more ways than one, beat Swede and former European number one, Robert Karlsson, one-up in a closely contested final by birdieing the last.

With this win, Aphibarnrat becomes: the first Thai player to win a European Tour event in Scotland and only the second player from Thailand to win a European Tour event on British soil, following Thongchai Jaidee at the 2012 ISPS Handa Wales Open.

He continues with his stunning 2015 European Tour season. This victory is his fifth top five finish from 17 events to date. In addition to winning the Shenzhen International and the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play, he tied fourth in the True Thailand Classic at Black Mountain, tied fourth in the BMW International Open and fifth in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Aphibarnrat, with five, now moves alongside Bernd Wiesberger and David Howell for the most top five finishes on this season’s European Tour.

Next up; the PGA Championship starting 13 August.

Golfnutter

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