How Olympic Golf Went From an “Exhibition” to a Tournament of Real Value

By Tyler Olson

                 Justin Rose MedalI’ve never been so happy to be proven so wrong.  Circumstances leading up to the Olympic golf tournament such as format, lack of big names, timing and so on led me to erroneously believe, that the tournament would be a flop- an event with little prestige, intrigue or value. Due to the circumstances, I absolutely was not the only one to think that. When the event was added to the Olympics, the golf community was generally ambivalent, with some pockets of excitement. Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy were the most notable players who simply did not care enough to make the trip to Rio. The stroke play format and the qualification system, which had quotas for how many players could attend from each country, thus excluding some great players from the US and countries in Europe, seemed to foreshadow a routine tournament without enough star power to make things exciting. And that was all before the Zika fiasco.

But despite all of that, Olympic golf succeeded. It succeeded because the players who were there, the fans who attended, and the members of the press covering the tournament placed value in winning a medal for both the players and their respective countries. Rickie Fowler used his huge social media presence between Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat to give the average fan a window into the Olympic experience. Henrik Stenson competed with everything he had to bring home golf gold for Sweden. Bubba Watson tempered his usually irritable self and seemed to truly enjoy the tournament and the games in general. However, the most influential players were gold medalist Justin Rose and bronze medalist Matt Kuchar. Kuchar, who did not even know the Olympic tournament was stroke play just a week before, charged up the leaderboard with a 63 on the final day to sneak in for a back door bronze. He oozed class in his post-round interview.

“I was amazed by the nerves. I can assure I’ve never been so excited to finish top three in my life. The pride is busting out of my chest,” he gushed in his conversation with the Golf Channel. “I’d love to carry the momentum like this. There’s certainly nothing like winning a PGA Tour event. Here, I realize it’s third, but I’ve never felt this sort of pride busting out of my chest before.”

Rose battled Henrik Stenson all of Sunday in something resembling the 1977 Open at Turnberry’s “Dual in the Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. When he finally secured the gold, he put his win in a light greater than individual or even national victory:

“It’s resonated far wider than maybe my (2013) U.S. Open victory did. Basically, people are saying to me that their kids, for example, have never been into golf before could identify with the sport a lot more because of what it represented,” he said. “They could relate to it, given all the athletics and all the sports they had watched and seen athletes achieve. It brought golf into a context they could understand. They may not know what it (golf) is all about, but the fact it came down to the final hole, they could identify with that, that it was really close. It’s a hard-fought thing to win a gold medal, to win any tournament. I just think it resonated with a younger audience. I think it takes it out of the golf world and brings it into the sports world.”

These players and everything surrounding the links in Rio are what elevated Olympic golf as a triumph in a way no one could have anticipated. That momentum will carry to Tokyo in 2020 and should lead to the sport staying in the games beyond then. Players who skipped out on Rio will now recognize the value of golf gold and make the trip to Tokyo.  In much the same way as the majors are venerated globally, Olympic golf should now occupy such rarified air.

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Olympic Golf Preview

By Tyler Olson

                Despite the less than ideal circumstances that have possibly kneecapped Olympic golf before it even had a chance to get off the ground, golf is still an Olympic sport and there still is a tournament to be played. So, let’s take a look at what we’re gonna see August 11th-14th on the links at Rio.

The Course

                Designed by Gil Hanse, the 7,128 yard par-71 layout might just be the star of the show in a tournament where some of the biggest stars in the world of golf aren’t in attendance. Because it was built partially on a nature reserve, there’s plenty of wildlife for the golfers to contend with along with the other players in the field. There are monkeys and sloths and boa constrictors… oh my (terrible joke I know but I couldn’t resist). The course also plays home to a small army of capybaras (the world’s largest rodent that can grow up to 150 pounds) and a whole mess of caimans (small crocodiles that grow to be about 5 feet long). While some animals may get in the way of play, the golfers shouldn’t be in any danger as the Olympic committee hired five biologists to keep the any dangerous animals, specifically the caimans, away from tasty human-flavored snacks.

                Another side effect of the course being built in a protected area is that all 79 bunkers will be built from native sand, as Hanse was unable to import or remove any sand from the area. It should be interesting to watch how the bunkers hold up as the tournament goes on; whether they may be filled with rocks or possibly play hard compared to the perfect, fluffy sand most players are used to on tour.

                The actual layout of the course looks like it will be conducive to some exhilarating play. There are no trees or rough, so it very closely resembles a links course or something from the Australian sandbelt, giving a particular advantage to players from the British Isles and Australia. Because there is no rough at all, wayward drives should hold their speed as they careen towards the hazard areas of the course- natural sandy expanses with long, native grasses- and make for some either spectacular or impossible recovery shots.

                The final three holes are designed for eventful finishes and thrilling comebacks. The sixteenth is a drivable 303 yard par four, the seventeenth a 133 yard flip wedge of a par three, and the eighteenth a lengthy but possibly reachable 571 yard par five. While not exactly easy, there is a four-under finish out there for the taking if someone is a few strokes back in the final stretch.

 

The Odds-On Favorite                

Henrik StensonWith no Dustin Johnson or Jason Day or Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy or… well you get the point, Henrik Stenson is the highest ranked golfer playing in Rio. Not only that, but he’s fresh off a summer with an onslaught of top tens and two wins, including his first career major. Speaking of his major, which one did he win? Oh yeah, the British Open. What kind of course is the British Open played on? Links, just like the one in Rio. Possibly his biggest advantage, though: Swedes are a very patriotic people (literally in that country you cannot walk five feet without seeing their flag) so Stenson should be almost as motivated as our boy Patrick Reed. I’m not saying that Henrik Stenson is a bigger lock to win gold than the US Men’s basketball team, but I’m not not saying it either. Okay just kidding there is no conceivable circumstance where US basketball loses, or even wins by less than 25 points. But the point is that Henrik Stenson has by far the best chance of any golfer to be standing on the top of that podium come August 14th.

Players To Watch

rickie-fowler-witb-for-2016Rickie Fowler: Despite not exactly playing his best golf as of late, Fowler still holds one of the four spots on the American team. Some may look at his singular top ten in the past seven starts as a slump, I prefer to look at it as him being due. The Olympic environment may be one especially suited to Fowler too, being that since the beginning of his career, his flashy clothes, classy demeanor, and rapport with fans have made him a top figure in growing the game. While the field may not be as deep or the purse, well, literally not anything, compared to the majors or the Tour, Rickie should be very comfortable playing the part as ambassador of the game, which is really the point of these Olympics in the first place.

patrick-reed-shushPatrick Reed: When P Reed drapes himself in the stars and stripes, he seems to actually turn into one of the world’s top five players. Need we look further than his fiery performance at the previous Ryder Cup? This year, as other stars of the game dropped out of the Olympics like flies, Reed was steadfast in his desire to represent the US, “Any time I can wear stars and stripes, I do it. I get the call tomorrow, I’ll be on the flight. It doesn’t matter to me where it is, when it is. If I can play for my country, I’m going to play.” Patrick Reed wants to be at the Olympics and he’s there to win.

The Masters - Final RoundDanny Willett: As the only Olympian besides Stenson to win a major in 2016, Willett comes into the Olympics with a little added pressure. He’s been cold for most of the summer after his Masters victory and is trying to find the form that led him to a green jacket just a few short months ago. The weak Olympic field may be the perfect opportunity for the OWGR 9th ranked Willett to do just that.

emiliano-grillo-990x556Emiliano Grillo: Since coming on to the scene with wins at the Web.com Tour Championship and the Frys.com Open in late 2015, Grillo has produced a flurry of top 25’s this season and shown that he deserves to be considered one of golf’s rising young guns along with the likes of Justin Thomas and others. Grillo, an Argentinian, may also have somewhat of a home court advantage being from South America whereas most of the big names in golf will have to fly in from Europe or the United States.

 

Deep Sleepers

                Graham Delaet: Canadians always seem to rep the red and white well in international sports and Graham Delaet is looking to reinforce that stereotype in Rio. Despite being in the middle of a rough season and steadily slipping in the World rankings the past two years, Delaet recently pulled out a top-10 at the Barbasol Championship and could carry that momentum into a solid Olympic tournament and possibly a medal.

                Felipe Aguilar: Aguilar, whose play has never been good enough to bring him into the consciousness of most Americans or even watchers of the Euro Tour, will be representing Chile on his home continent in these Olympics. Limits on the number of golfers per country will let this perpetual journeyman squeeze into the 60-man field and have the chance to compare his play to some of the best in the world. Aguilar may be rounding into form just in time for Rio, as two of his last three starts on the European Tour were top-25’s. Don’t be surprised to see his name on the leaderboard heading into the last couple rounds.

                No matter how many obstacles there have been for Olympic golf or how disappointed many are with the way the tournament is being run, questionable golf is better than no golf. When the tournament starts up, it will be a welcome break from trying to be entertained by table tennis, rowing, and judo. Here’s to some good golf. 

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Olympic Golf: Dead on Arrival?

By Tyler Olson

“Now, I may be miss-informed or just don’t know. You may have to help me. Is there no team format at all? When they first talked about it, if there were four Americans it was the two highest ranked and they were going to combine the scores for a team event. There is no combined? No team event whatsoever? Just an individual? We did the same thing at the World Cup: 72 hole stroke play. I played with Kevin Streelman. We never played together but we did represent the United States in a team format. That was my initial impression of what was happening with the Olympics, but I’m incorrect on that?”

That was Matt Kuchar’s answer at a press conference the other day as he was seemingly bewildered by Jason Soebel of ESPN’s question, asking if he would be pulling for the other American golfers who made the team at the Olympics. Confusion. Disorganization. Disappointment. This is just another canary in the coalmine signaling that Olympic golf is likely to utterly fail at the Olympics.

Back when golf was added to the list of sports that would compete in the Olympics there was so much hope that putting golf on such a contemporary world stage, with everyone watching, would be a key in growing the game for the future. Unfortunately, all the excitement when I wrote the primer on Olympic golf just over a year ago has simply evaporated.

We can blame it on a lot of things. Zika. The poor timing of the Olympics coming right after the PGA Championship ended and as the scramble for FedEx cup points is just heating up. The lack of enthusiasm for the Olympics from many of the world’s best golfers. When it comes down to it, Olympic golf may have been set up for failure.

The biggest and most avoidable problem that will hurt the games will be the format: not a team game as Kuchar erroneously thought, but a simple 72 hole individual stroke play tournament. 72 hole stroke play events with no team element are on TV every single week with the European Tour, PGA Tour, and all the Majors. While golf enthusiasts are still interested in the every-man-for-himself marathons, the casual viewer clearly struggles to get interested. Matchplay team events like the Ryder Cup are always the most exciting and should have been used as the model for the Olympics. There’s nothing like seeing Patrick Reed shushing a hostile European crowd or hearing chants of “USA” as Bubba Watson tees up his ball and stokes the crowd to be as loud as possible while he hits his shot.

Why do people tune into the Olympics in the first place? It’s certainly not because of the general public’s insatiable love for watching swimming and ping pong and badminton. Its because of pure patriotism. It’s because we want to see the representative’s from our country beat out those from all the other inferior nations to prove our country is better. It’s because of the excitement. That’s why the Ryder Cup is so successful and why, with no team format, Olympic golf seems to be missing the point.

Of course, we can’t foresee what may happen in this year’s Olympic games or those in 2020. It may be an exciting dual between two top golfers from opposing countries that glues everyone to their TV sets. Maybe a no-name player from Brazil or Paraguay stages a huge comeback on the final day to beat out one of the titans of the game that didn’t drop out. Maybe in 2020 all the golfers who didn’t participate this time are drawn to the Olympic stage and put on the show we all had in mind from the beginning. But there’s really no indication of that happening. Going off of what we can see, it seems that Olympic golf will flounder quietly into irrelevance and soon enough disappear from the games just as memberships keep disappearing from our clubs.

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Do the Rules of Golf Need a Complete Overhaul?

Tyler Olson

                  This Sunday there was another rules snafu at a USGA run tournament: this time in a playoff at the US Women’s Open. In the second hole of the three-hole playoff, Anna Nordqvist was hitting an approach out of a fairway bunker when her five-iron grazed a couple grains of sand so imperceptibly that neither her nor her competitor nor any of the fans in the gallery noticed it. However, with zoomed in HD television cameras focused on every angle of the shot the rules violation quickly became clear. Norvqvist and her competitor, Bethany Brittany Lang headed into the third playoff hole tied after making a pair of pars on the first and second. Both players were hitting their third shots from the fairway at the final hole when the rules officials finally made it out of the TV truck, confirming that Norqvist had indeed committed a two-stroke infraction. They alerted the players after Norqvist had hit her conservative third into the green and just before Lang hit her approach. Having just been handed a two-stroke cushion, she played an uber-safe third that allowed her to waltz away with the US Women’s Open title.

Despite the fact this imbroglio cost Anna Norqvist the tournament and Dustin Johnson’s penalty at the men’s Open didn’t hurt him in the end, this situation is far less controversial. Where the penalty on Norqvist was a clear-cut violation of the rules, the linguistic gymnastics USGA officials went through to convince golf fans that Dustin Johnson caused his ball to move on the fifth green persuaded nobody. However, the combination of these events at two majors within the same year may underscore a far more important point than just incompetence at the United States Golf Association: Are the rules of golf so archaic, complex, and strict that they need a total overhaul to survive in the 21st century?

Rules are important. From the Ten Commandments to the Magna Carta to the US Constitution to the USGA and R&A’s most recent version of the Rules of Golf, rules let people know what they can and cannot do in order to keep life fair for all involved. Without rules there is anarchy and anarchy is really no fun. Imagine football without a pass interference rule or baseball without a strike zone. Rules have to have a functional purpose. Pass interference exists so that defenders can’t simply hug wide receivers off the line of scrimmage, thus permitting a freer and more exciting passing game. Baseball makes pitchers keep the ball within a strike zone so that hitters can actually make contact with the ball and, ya know, score.

When looking at the rules of golf, it’s important to ask ourselves, what exactly is the purpose of these rules we’re following? Why in the world are we not allowed to ground our club in the bunker? Well, the rules of golf rule 13-4 and dozens of decisions attached to it make it very clear that action is considered testing the conditions. A ban on testing the sand in a bunker can make sense at many of our muni tracks or maybe in the early 1900’s when course care tech wasn’t at the level it is now: Not all bunkers are the same condition and taking a few practice hacks would ruin the “surprise”. One bunker might have slightly firmer sand than another. One could have rocks everywhere. One could be three feet deep of white fluff. However, at a US Women’s Open, every bunker is in the same immaculate condition. If that were not the case, there would be an uproar from everyone and their mother (quite possibly Ayesha Curry or Miko Grimes as well). These women had at this point completed seventy-four holes and who knows how many practice rounds. They knew the conditions of that bunker and every other one on the course. Two grains of sand did not give Anna Norqvist a two-stroke advantage on that shot, yet, that was her penalty. In the same vein, the accidental movement of the golf ball one quarter of an inch backwards (assuming DJ caused the ball to move at all, which we’ve covered is more of a stretch than even Gabby Douglas could pull off) did not save Dustin Johnson a stroke.

Some other golf rules that are patently absurd?

  • Rule 25-1 provides that if you are in an abnormal ground condition like ground under repair, you may take relief. It seems pretty reasonable on the face. However, this rule emphasizes that full relief must be taken, meaning that if your stance is even touching the line on the abnormal condition but the ball is not, you incur a two stroke penalty. A two stroke penalty for not moving your ball far enough. If it sounds stupid to you, then you agree with Rory McIlroy. They even included a cute little chart for us:

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  • Rule 33-8/34 reiterates that no tournament ever may allow for relief from a divot in the middle of the fairway. A perfect shot is rewarded with a bad lie and the Rules of Golf gives all of us one giant middle finger. Insanity like this is exactly why people don’t play golf.
  • Rule 23-1/5 If there is an insect on your ball, it’s considered a loose impediment and therefore can be moved. However, if the ball moves in the process of the removal of the insect, the player incurs a one stroke penalty. There are a couple problems with this one. The first is the blatant discrimination towards arachnids by only including insects in the wording of this decision. What if a spider is on my ball? What then? The second is that it would be nearly impossible to remove an insect from the golf ball without moving the ball itself. The complete detachment from reality of half of this rulebook is insane and exemplified no better than in what happened to Dustin Johnson and Anna Norqvist.

 

So what is the solution here? We can’t really scrap the entire thing and start from scratch, although that would probably feel super-satisfying. Fortunately, we don’t need a complete overhaul. A look to the NFL provides a first step to take. The NFL makes small tweaks to its rulebook every year in order to keep up with the evolving game. Over time the NFL has changed the rules involving just about everything from horse collar tackles to the forward pass to the location of the goal posts. While the changes year to year are nearly unrecognizable, a look at the NFL 80 years ago compared to today reveals two completely different games. Golf hasn’t changed a bit. That can be considered good or bad, but it’s definitely contributed to the sense that golf is an antiquated sport. If the rules of golf were up for adjustment once every year (rather than once every four) then any rules controversies coming up could be solved in a timely manner. The common theme for these meetings should be the same one brought up earlier in this article: Why is this rule necessary, and does the penalty match the infraction? If a basketball player fouls a shooter while he is inside the three-point arc, the shooter gets two free throws. Not four, or six, but two. Advantage gained by rules infraction=penalty imposed. Likewise, the rules of golf should not be in the business of handing out two stroke penalties for inadvertent actions that give the player no discernable advantage whatsoever.

 

However, the problem with the rules of golf is more deeply rooted than can be fixed with just a little more flexibility. It’s in the attitudes of the people that write them. We’ve seen how golf has been so slow over the years to admit blacks and then the same with women. Heck, Augusta and the R&A didn’t even admit female members until 2012 and 2014, respectively. If golf and its rules are to survive, then we need a changing of the guard to a group who recognizes the importance of making golf an accessible game for all. The USGA especially is a representative body of its members and golfers in America at large. So, although at the moment its leadership may not be doing well enough to promote the accessibility of the game, through rules and otherwise, if we the golfers demand it loud enough, for long enough, the change we’re looking for will happen. While going through the effort to express righteous indignation over golf may sound childish and exhausting, preserving the game we love is not a spectator sport. The USGA has social media, and even though they may not respond all the time, they check it. They see what people are upset about. They see what the people want. But if we never tell them, how will they know?

 

 

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Golf is the Best Sport to Watch in Person

By Tyler Olson

                  You and thousands of others push towards the gates of a football stadium. After a couple of hours of tailgating, the crowd smells of bratwurst and spilt beer. The group lurches forward as, one by one, the bored employees scan everybody’s $80 tickets. Upon entering the stadium, you search the signs to find your section- 328- and realize that you’ll have to climb a circular ramp for what seems like an eternity to reach your uncomfortable plastic seat that’s so far from the action the players on the field, despite being giant freaks of nature, appear no larger than a group of Lego-men.

This isn’t a knock on watching football by any means. In person or on TV, football is a blast to spectate. However, this scene holds true for nearly every NFL game and exists in similar forms in the MLB, NHL, and just about any other professional or college sport. The games are fun to go to, but unless you’re shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the best seat in the house, you’re missing something in the experience.

For those who missed it, last Friday I took over the Golf Swagger snapchat (golf_swagger) from the Quicken Loans National played at Congressional Country Club. I posted on our story pictures and videos of some of the best groups, players, shots, and views that Congressional had to offer during that second round. Before Friday, I had not been so fortunate as to attend many golf tournaments in person. In fact, the only other one I’ve attended was the last year’s edition of the QL National. For those who haven’t ever been to a pro tournament, I’m here to report that you absolutely have to because they’re so much better than any other sporting event in existence.

Courtesy of Philly.com

Courtesy of Philly.com

First off, a grounds ticket to a regular PGA Tour stop is no more than $40 or $50 (with a $15 discount if you happen to have a college ID on you). But a grounds ticket is no nosebleed, as one might think based on the price. On the contrary, a grounds ticket gets you as close to the action as physically possible. The ropes that line the fairways put you mere feet from the best players in the world, and, when the best players in the world make mistakes, you get to be part of the action (ouch), or at least get even a little bit closer to it. Case in point: At the QL National last week, Justin Thomas snap hooked his drive on the fifteenth eighty yards off-line. Several other members of the gallery and I sprinted over to get a look at his lie. As Thomas was walking up, we were able to examine the lie and stand behind his ball as if we were hitting the shot ourselves. Because his errant drive was outside the ropes, there was nothing preventing us from getting as close a view as possible (except a couple volunteers who made sure he had enough room to swing) as he lined up an impressive rescue shot over some trees and ended up saving par. No other sport allows that kind of proximity to the athletes. Last year at the same tournament, Ernie Els needed to duck under the ropes to get from one green to the next tee box. He walked straight at me and, being courteous, I held the rope up for he and his gigantic frame to walk under. He smiled at me and in his South African accent said, “Thank you brother.” Try to get experiences like those at Yankee Stadium for $40.

Another element that makes golf so much better is the time you are in the event. A baseball or football game may last three hours while a basketball game may be over in just two. For one low price, attendees at golf tournaments can spend sun-up to sun-down watching their heroes play the greatest game on earth.

The final cool element of these golf tournaments is the promos, games, and free stuff that tournament sponsors have for the fans. A yearly fixture at the QL National is the “Shot for Heroes”. Fans had a chance to take two swings at a pin 60 yards away. Quicken Loans donated certain amounts to the Tiger Woods Foundation and Operation Homefront for each participant, each shot that landed in a sixteen-foot circle, and $10,000 for any shot holed out. Golfers who landed in the 16-foot circle received a sleeve of balls and anybody to hole out the shot would have gotten a matching $10,000 check from QL in addition to the charity donation. Geico staged a putting competition for a fuzzy gecko headcover. AT&T handed out sunglasses. Top Golf and Golf Smith gave out coupons to their respective establishments like candy. All total, I took home about double what I paid for admission in free stuff.

If you attend PGA Tour events regularly, you’re probably laughing at my recent discovery. If you don’t, I highly recommend you head to a tournament in the very near future, because, not only is golf the greatest game on earth top play, it’s the best to watch too.

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2016 US Open Recap

By Tyler Olson

                  It was going so well. So. Well. The 2016 US Open was going to be one for the books. The 624th ranked golfer in the world, Andrew Landry, was leading for half the tournament. Some of the best to never win majors, including fan favorites Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia were in contention on the final day. Oakmont was in great condition and despite the rain it proved to be a tough but fair test for the best golfers in the world. The back nine on Sunday began with as much tension, fanfare, and great golf as would be expected from the final round of a major. The cauliflower greens and concrete fairways that marred the 2015 Open in Chambers Bay were fading into the past like a distant memory. Then it happened. The USGA managed to foul up again and send the US Open down the rabbit hole of controversy.

On the fifth hole, Dustin Johnson was about to address his ball when it rolled backwards just a fraction of an inch. He did the right thing and called over the official to alert him of the problem. Because it was clear that Dustin had neither touched his ball nor caused it to move when he soled his putter beside it, the official instructed Dustin to play the ball from the new spot and that he would not incur a penalty. However, on the twelfth tee, an official approached him and informed him that after video review, he may be penalized for the ball moving back on the fifth. Not that he would incur the penalty, but that he might. Everyone’s first reaction was confusion. How could there even be a thought of a penalty if the video evidence was so clear? The greens were stimping off the charts as is usual for a US Open and the ball was resting on a severe slope, so clearly it was just a side effect of course conditions. The same exact thing happened earlier in the day to Frenchman Romain Wattell, except he had actually addressed the ball before it moved. Johnson’s putter was still about a half an inch off the ground, yet the USGA penalized him and not Wattell. Then, when it was quite clear the USGA rules heads intended to penalize Johnson regardless, but left the decision up in the air through the entire back nine, the confusion turned to outrage.

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and even Ernie Els tweeted in outrage that the USGA was cluttering not only Dustin’s head, but those of all his competitors with ambiguity as to what the score of the leader actually was heading into the most important part of the tournament. If you’re making the Big Easy himself incensed, you are doing something seriously wrong. Here’s just a sample of the anger from DJ’s fellow players:

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                  If I get a text from my friends that they want to go to a restaurant that I don’t like for dinner in the middle of a round, that’s enough to send me into a tailspin of shanks and duck-hooks, so I can’t imagine the nerves Dustin Johnson and the rest of the field were feeling after being told that the ruling wouldn’t be handed down until after the round. Webb Simpson said it best with his tweet on the matter, “Telling a golfer mid-round(!) about a potential one shot penalty would cost most about 4 shots in anxiety. Not for @DJohsnonPGA. Huge congrats.”

Luckily for the USGA and the rest of us, Johnson was totally unflappable and managed to finish the round four shots ahead of the field. Even though the USGA did end up enforcing the not-a-penalty penalty on him, it wasn’t enough to affect the outcome of the tournament. Thank God. Just imagine the firestorm that would be going on today if that penalty had forced a playoff that DJ ended up losing. The legitimacy of the US Open as a major could have been permanently harmed.

That being said, the US Open, the USGA, and the game of golf itself did not escape Sunday unscathed. This was the second consecutive US Open marred by the actions and aptitude of the USGA in putting on the tournament, but was luckily saved by great play down the stretch. Just read last year’s US Open Recap in case you’ve already forgotten. Next year’s Open and several after that will have to go off without a hitch to avoid compounding of these mistakes.

The real victim here was golf itself. The USGA has made it its mission to “Grow the Game” and inspire more and more people to pick up a club. The six million commercials during the tournament talking about how golf is “everyone’s game” made that very clear. However, nobody is going to wake up the day after watching that rules fiasco and think, “Man, I really wanna play golf now. It seems like such a fun thing to do!” Sunday did nothing but reinforce the misconception that golf is an impenetrable sport run by old rich dudes in ugly blazers and official dress shirts. Not exactly the kind of thing that’s very popular in the twenty-first century.

Luckily, while some clubs and leading organizations may still be struggling to make it past the year 1950, they are not “golf”. Golf is made up of all the pros, journalists that cover the pros, charity organizations, clubs, courses, and amateur golfers in the world. Where the USGA and others are failing, we can pick up the slack. Pros like McIlroy, Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and even some of the older guys like Phil go on TV every week and show the everyone how fun golf really is by having a blast when they play it. Their presence on social media along with others like the Bryan Bros, Jamie Sadlowski, and Paige Spiranac brings the game to the younger generation. Courses can reach out to their communities and grow the game on a local level. Even individuals can advocate for golf just by bringing a friend out to the driving range for the first time. It’s our game, and it’s our job to preserve it.

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Every Way to Play in the US Open

By Tyler Olson

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 2.55.41 PM

                  The US Open is this week, and while Carl from Caddyshack was daydreaming about playing in the Masters, most of us also have the same dream about playing in the US Open. So, how would one go about making that dream a reality and securing one of the 156 spots available in the tournament each year? Well, this is how:

The primary way the field is determined is through full exemptions from all qualifying. The USGA wants as strong a field as possible so they make sure to set up a system through which the best players in the world are automatically in the field. After all, if Jordan Spieth caught the flu the day before local qualifying and missed out on the US Open in favor of some anonymous club pro from Topeka, that would be a significant blow to the prestige of the tournament. Therefore, for the 2016 edition of the US Open, the USGA has fifteen exemption categories that ensure strength of field.

1) Winners of the U.S. Open Championship the last 10 years.

2) Winner and runner-up of the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship (must still be an amateur).

3) Winner of the 2015 Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A (must still be an amateur).

4) Winner of the 2015 Mark H. McCormack Medal (must still be an amateur).

5) Winners of the Masters Tournament the last five years.

6) Winners of The Open Championship conducted by The R&A the last five years.

7) Winners of the PGA of America Championship the last five years.

8) Winners of the Players Championship the last three years.

9) Winner of the 2016 European Tour BMW PGA Championship.

10) Winner of the 2015 U.S. Senior Open Championship.

11) From the 2015 U.S. Open Championship, the 10 lowest scores and anyone tying for 10th place.

12) Those players qualifying for the season-ending 2015 Tour Championship.

13) From the Official World Golf Rankings, the top 60 point leaders and ties as of May 23, 2016. Players must select a qualifying site at the time of entry.

14) From the Official World Golf Rankings, the top 60 point leaders and ties as of June 13, 2016. Players must select a qualifying site at the time of entry.

15) Special exemptions as selected by the USGA.

These exemptions round out the majority of the field, and, if you manage to fit in one of these categories, then you don’t need to read the second half of this article. However, if you are like most golfers on earth, then you need to find another way into our national championship. Luckily, there is one.

As Tin Cup said, the US Open is the most democratic of all golf tournaments. Not only is it played in America, the land of the free and home to one of the most democratic governments on earth, but the US Open is just that- open. Anybody, amateur or professional, with a 1.4 handicap index or lower, can enter to play through the qualifying process.

The first stage is 18-hole local qualifying. Each year, around 9000-10,000 players enter one of the 111 local qualifying tournaments, with the number of spots in sectional qualifiers being awarded based on field size at each venue. Those who make it through locals or are exempt from local qualifying receive one of the 600-800 spots in sectionals each year. While a full list of exemptions from 2016 local qualifying is nearly impossible to find, most of the exemptions on that list include amateurs who won or finished runner up in major tournaments, those who played well in previous US Opens but did not gain full exemption to the current year’s tournament, and top money winners from various professional tours. There are twelve sites for sectional qualifiers. Ten are in the US, one is in England, and the last is located in Japan. The number of spots available in the US Open to sectional qualifiers varies each year with the number of golfers who end up meeting one of the full exemptions to the tournament. Last year there were only 22 of 156 spots available, whereas this year, fifty-five of the 156 spots are open to those who perform the best at sectionals. That sheer volume of qualifiers this year could make for an intriguing tournament with the possibility of a no-name being in it on the final day with the likes of Dustin Johnson or Jason Day.

And there you have it: The blueprint for how to play in the US Open and have your shot to beat the best pros in the world. Now all that’s left to do is get practicing for a spot next year. See you at Erin Hills!

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Ken Duke: Perennial Underdog, Success Story, True American Hero

Tyler Olson

                  Yeah, Jason Day won the Players’ Championship. Big deal. He and the rest of the golf media talked this year’s Players’ up as the thing that might put him over the hump to be in the Golf Hall of Fame, as if he is never going to win again. Day has won 7 of his last 17 starts, and I may not have the best grade in my statistics class, but that’s a pretty good percentage. He is going to win many more times in his career and probably several times again this year. In the end, this tournament will be merely a footnote in a long line of Jason Day successes.

The real story this week is the potbellied middle-aged man who tied for third and was tied for second after the third round: Ken Duke. Duke is a long time journeyman within professional golf, but that’s only part of the story. As a seventh grader, Duke was diagnosed with scoliosis and had major curvature in his back. Just months after having corrective surgery that brought his spine back within normal range, Duke won medalist honors in his school’s district tournament while wearing a back brace.

Courtesy of KenDuke.com

Courtesy of KenDuke.com

He played division two college golf, then turned professional in 1994. In his over 20-year career, Duke has just a handful of wins to his name, his only on the PGA Tour coming at the 2013 Travelers Championship. Despite his winding road of a pro career and his current ranking at 495 in the world (subject to change significantly after this week), Duke has amassed over $10 Million worth of prize money in his career.

This year was just another exercise in Ken Duke overcoming adversity. After a freak fall last September, he needed surgery to put a plate in his broken wrist. Coming off that injury, Duke’s play this PGA Tour season has been anything but impressive. He missed five cuts in nine starts. Despite all of that, he came into this year’s Players’ Championship guns ablazin’ and carded a 65 on moving day, eight strokes lower than Jason Day’s third round score. Duke credited his scoring to the dry conditions on the course that many other players complained about, saying that is helped him make up for his comparative lack of distance against the rest of the field.

At 47, Ken Duke is old enough to be the father of many of the Tour’s young guns, but he keeps chugging along, playing golf for a living and incrementally raking in the bank as he bounces between professional tours. Oh, and also he gives back significantly to organizations like the Scoliosis Research Society to help others with his same condition overcome the difficulties that he’s defeated and then some. Ken Duke is an adversity-overcoming perseverance machine. Ken Duke is a classy guy who looks out for others even long after he made it in life. Ken Duke is what golf is all about.

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Happy Birthday, John Daly

By Tyler Olson

“It really wasn’t that bad of a drive. Then I tried to hit two three-woods over the water and then bailed out left. Shanked a seven-iron from there. Got up and down for a 12. It was a good 12.”- John Daly

                  A loud bang is heard in the background. Heads turn to the source of the sound. Bright orange and red flames emanate from the ground while a thick plume of smoke rises above them. Was it a gunshot? A bomb? Nobody can tell.

Finally, the cigarette smoke begins to waft away and the true cause of the commotion becomes clear. It was just John Daly, clad in his fire-laden Loudmouth pants, launching a drive into the yonder.

Yes, that’s right, it’s John Daly’s birthday, so it’s time to appreciate the heck out of the big guy. The multitalented long-ball hitter, country singer, partier, and trend setter is turning the big five-oh.

Daly has always walked to the beat of his own drum, and, while the level of play on tour nowadays is now doubt largely due to all the Tiger Woods disciples growing up, we probably owe a lot of the contemporary culture in our new-school PGA circuit to Daly. With his colorful dress and absurd backswing, he was Bubba Watson before Bubba Watson was Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler before Rickie Fowler was out of elementary school.

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                  His swing and the colors are just part of Daly, however. His unabashed tobacco consumption, raucous partying, awesome country songs, and no (cares) given attitude turned him into a folk hero of rebellion for golfers and non-golfers alike. I mean, the guy went on live radio and called his employer’ policies, “a big joke,”. That, and everything else he does, takes some cojones that the rest of us just don’t have, so we’ll have to live vicariously through him.

Make sure on this national holiday that you take the time to appreciate the man who’s always Hit it Hard.

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Rain and Wind Golf: How to Turn the Elements to your Advantage

Tyler Olson

                  Golf is hard, and playing golf in imperfect conditions makes it even harder. Nothing complicates a simple 150 yard shot into the green like a little 20mph crosswind. Nothing makes you more unsure of a straightforward tee shot than worrying if your driver may slip out of your hands because the grip is soaking wet. However, like anything else in golf, playing in the elements is mostly mental. If you are prepared and have the right mindset, bad weather during a tournament or just a simple match with friends can be a huge advantage to you.

The first step is preparation. During bad weather, don’t stay home and watch tv or read a book or whatever else it is that you do with your free time; go out to the course and practice. Learn how much certain wind speeds and directions will carry shots from each club. If you have a headwind on the driving range that day, practice hitting knockdown shots. If you have a tailwind, find out how much club you need to take off in order to hit to certain distances that you could normally only reach with longer sticks. Sometimes, you’ll have to just hit it under the wind. While I was never able to master the knockdown, an easier way to replicate that low flight path is to simply choke down to the bottom of the grip. You’ll lose some distance (generally about one club), but this allows you to keep the ball low without changing too much about your setup or swing.

One of the best golfers I know, who played for two different division one schools, mastered rain golf. Whenever it started drizzling, he would head out to the practice range and run through all of his clubs. He developed a system to keep all of his grips, his towel, and everything else dry so he could hit each shot confidently. His dad (my coach) told me about one specific AJGA event where he was contending and it started raining midway through the final round. He told his dad, “I’ve got this thing now.” He won.

Even with all that preparation, there is really no substitute for just going out and walking eighteen holes in bad weather. You’ll be able to see how all your shots react and file that away for the next time you play a similar one. Just be ready to book it back to the clubhouse in the event of lightning. Don’t mess with that stuff.

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Once you’re prepared to play in the elements, then the second step is easy. You need to go out the day of the tournament with confidence. Your inner monologue should play out something like this:

“Overcast with 15mph steady winds and a 60% chance of rain? #$@% yeah. All these jabronis are going to be complaining about the weather all day while I shoot my handicap or better. I love the wind!”

Does that seem a little cocky? Maybe, but you earned the right to be cocky because you’re the best around at playing in bad conditions.

Another good mental trick to use is thinking about how much fun it’s going to be shaping all those shots to account for the elements rather than just hitting the ball from point A to point B. It really is pretty cool to plan how to make the ball go where you want it to go using nothing but brainpower and maybe a halfhearted toss of some grass. The weather also provides a convenient scapegoat for your bad shots. Channel your inner. “Water on the clubface, bro. I got no chance.” Bubba Watson was endlessly mocked for that quote several other outbursts directed at either his caddy or inanimate objects that clearly had to effect on the result of his shot. Despite the fun we have with the two-time Masters champ, he’s actually on to something. The blame game helps you maintain confidence in your swing for the next time. If you miss the green due to a wind gust of questionable existence, clearly, once the outside forces that conspired against you on that shot have passed, you’ll be just fine. Always take credit for the good shots and pass the buck on the bad ones.

Golf, like life, is about making the best out of any circumstances thrown at you. In bad weather circumstances on the links, it’s not too hard to just be the best out of everyone else. All it takes is a little preparation and the right mindset.

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