Learning To Go With The Flow

The great martial arts instructors talk often about pulling as your opponent is pushing. What does this mean? Basically, it’s a simple way of maintaining balance. Think of it this way…

If your opponent pushes you in the chest with all of his force…and you resist…it won’t take long before you lose balance. But if instead of resisting, you let your body step backward — you would easily keep balance. This is a great example of not fighting the laws of nature.

Another example is water. Imagine a river finding it’s way. It doesn’t try and ram it’s way trough a rock wall. It’s just meanders around the wall — basically taking the path of least resistance.

To me, great golf is a lot like these two examples. And in turn, poor golf is like standing your ground against that opponent – instead of stepping backward. Or, like water ramming against the rock wall – instead of gently finding it’s way around.

How does that relate to you and the golf course?

Too many times I see people struggle instead of taking what the golf course gives. Or, for that matter, struggling with their game — in a quest for perfection — instead of playing with what they have on a given day…or just going with the flow.

Tour professionals understand this. Well, at least the best ones do. They know that there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to achieve the same result. And when it comes right down to it — the result — or a good score — is all that matters. On one day, their swing might be so good that getting around the golf course is easy. But maybe their putting doesn’t feel all that great. So, even though their swing is great — they still only manage two or three under par. But on the next day, their putter comes alive — but their swing feel goes slightly dormant. They hit less greens – but make lots of par putts and take advantage of the greens they do hit. But the net result is the same — two or three under par. They understand that golf is a marathon — not a sprint — so they take this in stride. They’ll wait for those days when everything clicks – but aren’t consumed with it happening each time they tee it up.

This can happen with course conditions just as easy. One day, on a par four, you could hit driver within a short iron of the green. But the next Saturday, when the wind shifts a little, it might turn into a hybrid or fairway wood. The golf course is constantly changing, which to me, is one of the things that makes this game so special. But if you don’t embrace that change and expect to end up in the same spot every time — you will end up a seriously frustrated golfer.

These are some of the reasons why it’s difficult to follow up a great round with another great round. Say the last time you played — you were 2 under by the 6th hole — but now you are 1 over — so it’s very easy to think “what’s happening here?” Or, “why am I so bad today when I was so good yesterday?” Part of it could be some simple fundamentals, which I’ll address in another post shortly…but mostly — it’s about just being at peace with the game. And knowing that no one masters golf. This is why Tiger Woods doesn’t shoot 54 every time he plays. Or why Ben Hogan would always wake up from his famous dream on the 18th hole — right after making 17 straight birdies. Even in his dreams he couldn’t master this game.

Can taking a more serene approach help you score better? Absolutely!

Here are a few things that could help you go with the flow on the golf course…

1. Understand that golf course conditions are ever-changing — so it’s impossible to duplicate your play each time out.

2. Develop a balanced game — with emphasis on the short game — so when you don’t have a solid swing — you still have chances to shoot your handicap.

3. Take each shot and each round on it’s own merit. Don’t compare past rounds and past shots. Just take what you have in front of you — with whatever physical tools you have for that given day — and make a plan accordingly.

4. Understand that your score on a given day doesn’t define you as a golfer. Sometimes — a lot of times actually — luck plays a huge part in this game. I know Gary Player said “the more he practiced, the luckier he got” — but somethings are just outside of your control. Know that and be OK with it.

As strange as it sounds — you may have to think about and practice going with the flow. There is a wonderful story about the great South African champion Bobby Locke. As a young pro, Locke was a nervous wreck. He couldn’t take the pressure and would always beat himself up on the golf course. But one day he had an epiphany and decided to act calmer and easy going on the golf course. This took practice, as he was definitely a “type-A” personality. But he decided to fake it if he had to. He decided to start his new persona as soon as he left the house. On purpose, he would drive to the golf course much slower than the speed limit. Upon arriving, he would take the long way into the clubhouse. Once in the locker room, he would take lots of time putting on his shoes. Outside he would ‘shoot the breeze’ with a few other pros. Sometimes he was so relaxed and unassuming, he wouldn’t have time to warm up. But he didn’t care. He would just go with the flow. He knew other pros were concerned with all the negative stuff that used to consume him — and knew that would always work to his advantage. So even if he didn’t practice or warm up — he was prepared to take what the course gave him and stay calm. It must have worked, as he won 3 British Opens and countless other events. But none of his profound success happened until he learned to go with the flow.

My guess is — you won’t see your greatest success on the course until you too can go with the flow…

Good luck!

The Billion Dollar Man

According to Forbes magazine 2009 will be remembered as the year that Tiger Woods became the first dollar billionaire in sport.

That’s not bad going,is it?

I don’t pretend for a moment – and at this point my bank manager would nod forlornly – to have any understanding of such things. Except to whistle quietly and say “a billion” with some incredulity.

In truth I’m surprised he hasn’t already surpassed that figure but I’m guessing Forbes have based their calculations on earnings that can be traced directly to his day job.

20 or 30 years ago people would have found it mind boggling that a sportsman – still very active in his sport – could crack the billion mark. If you’d told them a golfer would do it they would have written you off as a crackpot.

But all of that was before Tiger. He has not just rewritten golf’s script he has changed the face of sport.

New sporting superstars are now judged as much on their earning potential as they are on their ability to dominate their field. Has any sport not had the latest bright young thing described as the “next Tiger Woods?”

Nike had already had success with endorsements before Tiger but the deal they pulled off with the young Woods has no parallel. He has become the company’s biggest star and, given Nike’s global pull, that makes him the brightest star in the sporting galaxy.

It is, after all, only money so what does it all mean for golf? I’ve always been of the opinion that Tiger is nothing but a good thing. Yes, it can be boring if he wins all the time and his sullenness can be annoying.

But his very attitude, the swearing and club throwing, the monosyllabic press conferences, the early morning practices, proves that the competitive spirit remains unsullied by the gigantic fortune.

If nothing else that is a measure of the huge desire of the man to be the very best in golf. Think about the sheer spirit that it must take to sit with close to a billion dollars in the bank and still put in the hard hours to rebuild your game and fitness after major surgery. I find something admirable in that, in the way his obsessive need to win has remained undiluted.

It’s a common complaint that golfers now earn so much money that their desire is blunted, they’re happy to cruise along knowing that a couple of good rounds here, a strong back nine there will keep the mortgage on all three houses paid for a good few years.

If that is the case then they should take a look at the man they are chasing, a man who could pay the mortgage on a small European country, and be ashamed. He beats them because he’s better than them yes. But he also beats them because he works harder than most of them. That is the key to unlocking true greatness.

So right now Tiger is doing alright by golf and golf is doing alright by him. Globally the game is exploding and in many places it is doing that on the back of Tiger. That’s a good thing but it needs to reap rewards. Young talents need to be found and nurtured.

Because at some point Tiger is going to retire to spend more time with his money. At the moment that would leave a gaping hole.

Those though are worries for the future. In the meantime we’ll just need to sit back as Tiger Woods Inc. adds yet more dollars by playing the most amazing golf we’re ever likely to see.

Seve Trophy Shows Its Value

The debate over its merits often overshadows the actual event itself but the the Vivendi Trophy with Seve Ballesteros (more commonly know by a slightly more romantic name: The Seve Trophy) did provide us with some talking points the weekend before last.

Great Britain and Ireland won again, a fifth triumph on the bounce after Continental Europe’s inaugural win back in 2000, thanks to a five point victory that survived a European revival in the singles.

Much of the talk on the eve of the event focused on who wasn’t around. Lee Westwood took a rest week, Padraig Harrington was chasing Tiger in the FedEx Cup and Ian Poulter explained on Twitter that he wanted to avoid burn out with a hectic schedule.

Strangely though, in the short history of an event that has never seemed to be one thing or another, I can’t remember when it has been followed by such positivity.

Much of this is thanks to two men who weren’t even playing.

Firstly Seve Ballesteros himself. This event is intended to honour his greatness and his lasting legacy to European golf. The normal moans and groans are insulting to that legacy, even more so when he bravely battles back from such a serious illness. That meant a lot of the normal brickbats about it were cast aside out of respect so that, despite some controversy, this year the tournament wasn’t completely written off before it began.

Seve couldn’t make it to France but the event somehow came together as a fitting tribute was thanks to another of
the European Tour’s behemoths.

As Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie attended the trophy as an observer as he begins to form ideas for his assault on Corey Pavin’s Americans next year in Wales.

Despite this his influence could be seen throughout the week. He had hand picked the two captain’s with an eye to the vice captaincy roles that he feels will be so important at Celtic Manor.

Both Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley impressed in their roles but Montgomerie will be most heartened by the way McGinley went about the job. Already Padraig Harrington, a man who has often seemed uncomfortable with the team game, is tipping his fellow Irishman as a Ryder Cup captain. If Europe’s leading player is saying that then you can bet the selection committee will now have McGinley on their minds.

McGinley got his pairings right, got his media persona right and managed his team well. He was, in a nutshell, given a Ryder Cup captaincy dress rehearsal. At no point did he fluff his lines.

And in managing his team McGinley gave Monty the biggest boost he has yet had in his battle to regain the transatlantic bragging rights.

Last season Rory McIlroy dismissed the Ryder Cup as nothing but an exhibition match. That sent shockwaves through the media but it must have also worried Montgomerie.

If young Rory continues to progress the way he has been he is going to be a massive player for Europe, the talisman feeding the crowd and spurring others on to greatness. It’s a great boost to have that potential on your side, a great worry to think he might not fancy the competition.

So McGinley’s ability to provide McIlroy with a team environment in which he could thrive – four points out of five and a strong partnership with countryman Graeme McDowell – will have taught Montgomerie a valuable lesson. And he will have been delighted to hear Rory playing the contrite young man to perfection and announcing that he’d got it wrong. From now on, as far the Ryder Cup goes, Rory McIlroy is raring to go.

Don’t bet against seeing the “three Mc’s” together in Wales: Rory and Graeme playing together under the on course tutelage of vice captain Paul.

For Montgomerie and his European team the positives of the Seve Trophy have far outweighed the negatives of absences and largely manufactured media spats.

A lasting and fitting tribute to Seve? Perhaps not yet. But if Monty, Paul and Rory have turned it into a breeding ground for a victorious European Ryder Cup side then something tells me that nobody would be happier than Spain’s finest.

The Most Important 48 Shots in Golf…

Okay — so you want to be a scratch golfer. I for one believe you can reach that goal — if of course, you have the requisite time and talent. And if you have access to the correct information through instruction or books/DVDs. And if…and this is a big IF…you learn that great play, which to me is the definition of scratch golf, is not…about fabulous shots. Nor is it about terrible shots. It’s about all the shots in between. Or…in my opinion — the most important 48 shots in golf — good misses. Let me explain…

I once read that Bobby Jones hit about six perfect shots a round. I also read that he hit about six awful shots a round. His words – not mine. I found it curious that I also read the same thing about Walter Hagen. When he would hit a poor shot – he would brush it off as just one of the six he knew he’d hit each day. This number six stuck with me through the years as I continued to read more and more about great players. Jack Nicklaus said the same thing. He too would only hit about six perfect shots a round, as well as six awful shots. Tiger Woods said the same thing. What was up with this number? I wondered if they all came up with this number six on their own — or were they all reading each other’s words and just going a long. Either way, I decided to investigate with some of my professional students. And believe it or not — I found the same thing. They all hit about six perfect and six poor shots per round.

Now, what constitutes perfect and horrible for players of this magnitude?

Well, a perfect shot is just that — perfect. For example, they have 148 yards to a right pin and decide to hit a little cut 8-iron just slightly left of the flag. Their result is perfect. The shot goes 148 yards. It ends up right at pin high and leaves the 10-foot birdie putt they wanted. It was dead solid and came off exactly how they saw it in their mind. This would be a perfect shot. This could also be a drive that goes 300+ yards right on their intended line. Or a 25-foot breaking putt that curled into the hole just like they envisioned. These too are examples of perfect shots. Granted, some days the top players have exceptional feel and can hit many more than six perfect shots per round. But I’m talking about on average. We tend to remember the 63’s and 65’s — but these players also shoot a lot of 70’s and 72’s. And at times – even higher.

On the other hand, a horrible shot is something that looks nothing like they intended. They were aiming down the left side of the fairway, trying to hit a little cut, only to double-cross it into the left trees. Or, they have a simple 7-iron shot…which they pull left of the green into a bunker. Or worst yet, they yip an easy straight in 4-footer. These would be great examples of horrible shots. And if you were to follow the PGA or LPGA Tours around — you would see many of the top players in the world hitting tons of horrible shots. Of course, as we only get to see the guys and girls on TV (which means they are playing great that week), we can sometimes get a false impression of just how “perfect” these golfers can be. What about all the players not making the TV cut that week?

Remember, this is an average. I’m talking about the majority of the time — not the 5-10 times out of 100 that a pro can shoot over 75-76. Or for that matter, the 5-10 times out of 100 that a pro can shoot under 65-66. I’m talking about the 80-90 times out of 100 when the pro shoots scores that when combined fit right into their average — between 70-72. I know there are a handful of players out there that average less than that — but I am talking about the majority. And for you — as someone trying to get to scratch (basically a 72 average) — this is even more pertinent.

Ok — so what about the title? Based on the information I just gave you — how did I come up with the most important 48 shots in Golf? And what are they? Well, basically the most important 48 shots in golf are just good misses. As a scratch golfer…or someone who averages 72…you will hit roughly six perfect and six awful shots per round. Lets subtract those 12 shots off 72, which would leave us with 60 more strokes left to play. Now, from that remaining 60 — we have to take off tap-in putts. And scratch golfers average roughly 12 tap-ins per round. This would be anything after a missed first putt — to a tap-in after a good chip. Basically, anything that you SHOULD make. So, if we then take those 12 tap-in strokes off 60, it leaves us with 48 remaining strokes. So what are these remaining strokes if not great, awful or tap-ins? They are simply good misses. And that my friend is exactly what great golf is all about — good misses.

It’s not the quality of your great shots — or for that matter — the quality of your horrible shots (As long as horrible doesn’t consistently mean penalty shots for you) — that determine your score. It’s the quality of your misses, as they will make up the majority of your strokes, that will determine just how good you get at this game. Because if the greatest players in the world can only expect to hit six perfect shots per round — how can we expect to hit any more? But the funny thing is — that attitude is usually what keeps players from reaching their full potential. They think about the one perfect 7-iron that flew 155 yards, as opposed to the other 90% that flew 145 yards. Or the one bombed drive that flew over that fairway bunker positioned 235 yards from the tee, as opposed to the other 20+ that flew directly into that same bunker. Bob Rotella calls it “a conservative strategy with a cocky swing.” I think that’s great advice. Take a club and/or line that takes stress away — instead of one that increases mental anguish.

Let me give you an example of a good miss. You have 155 yards to the pin with 10 yards past the flag before you run out of green. So, basically 165 yards to the back. And to top it off, there is no trouble on the back of the green. And you’re a great chipper of the ball. In front of the pin is a deep bunker that is almost impossible to get the ball close from. You have 146 yards to carry the bunker. Now, you can hit a 7-iron 155 yards. You’ve done so in the past. But realistically, you only carry it about 145-148 yards. So, instead of selecting a club you would have to hit perfectly, take a 6-iron, which you carry easily 155-158 yards, and swing confidently. If you miss it slightly, great – you are right at pin high. If you hit it normally, you’re more to the back of the green. If you absolutely flush it — you are slightly over the green with an easy chip — your strength. So, in this example, no matter what happens — you will probably make a par or birdie. But if you hit 7-iron, you could be either in the bunker or perfect. Those are your only two choices. And if you play those percentages throughout the round — the golf course will eventually get you. But if you play the 6-iron type percentage — you will always be in control and…even when you miss it — you’ll be in position to score. And this is how great players work themselves around the golf course.

Alright, her are some tips to help you get better at the most important 48 shots in golf.

1. Develop a sound course strategy based on your strengths and weaknesses
2. Understand your strengths and weaknesses
3. Develop a sound pre-shot routine that gets you into a consistent mind-set and set-up
4. Develop quality practice habits that focus on set-up fundamentals, which are key to missing it well
5. Become a great putter inside 5 feet
6. Know how far your clubs go on average in the air — not just your best. And then, based on what’s in front of you, plan accordingly
7. Play from the hole backward when you devise your strategy. Imagine yourself on the green before you hit your tee shot and then ask yourself — “where would be the best place to miss this for an easy chip or putt?”
8. Develop a “go-to” shot that can get you around the course when you’re feeling off

If you work on these things and more importantly — make a choice to say “Hey, I’m not going to try and be perfect in an imperfect game” — you will start making progress on that goal of scratch golf. Embrace your misses because no matter how great you get at this game — you will always have more misses than perfect shots.

Good luck and play well…and smart.

Pakistani pair put themselves in world spotlight

When it comes to Pakistan and sport, one would instantly mention cricket. Hockey and squash are other sports in which the sub-continental country has boasted world-class athletes.

Golf-wise, Pakistan are still among the minnows. However, a significant breakthrough was made by two Pakistani golfers on the Asian stage that could lead to world recognition.

Muhammad Shabbir and Muhammad Munir helped their country qualify for their first-ever Omega Mission Hills World Cup finals last weekend.

The duo finished third in the Asian qualifiers in Malayisa to join Singapore and the Philippines at the November finals in China.

Shabbir and Munir shot a combined three-under-par 68 in the final round foursomes for their total of 274.

Singapore’s Lam Chih Bing and Mardan Mamat, a European Tour winner, compiled 269 after a 72 on the last day, one stroke ahead of the Filipino twosome of Mars Pucay and Angelo Que.

The top three teams qualify for the finals from Asia, which means fourth-placed Malaysians Danny Chia and Iain Steel, who finished on 276, missed out.

It was an historic performance for the Pakistanis with Munir saying in an Asian Tour media release:

“Never before in our history have we been in golf’s World Cup. We showed that we are in there for the first time and hopefully we will be able to perform well in China. I don’t know how to describe how we feel right now. I’m sure everyone in Pakistan will be very happy.”

Five other Asian countries are among the 18 teams who qualified automatically for November 26-29 to be played on Mission Hills’ Olazabal Course.

They are India, Thailand, Japan, Chinese Taipei and South Korea. China qualify as hosts.

Sweden’s Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson won last year’s tournament ahead of Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Pablo Larrazabal. The Japanese pair of Ryuji Imada and Toru Taniguchi were third.

Retired 64-year-old widow aces twice in the same round

There are certain holes in a golf course where you don’t even need a putter. At least that was the case in two holes for 64-year-old retiree Ruth Day.

Day had plenty of reasons to celebrate earlier this month at the Whitley Bay Golf Club in England, shooting two holes-in-one in a single round.

In what is estimated to be a 67 million-to-one chance, Day, a widow, aced the two par threes 10 holes apart.

The first was on the 149-yard third hole, in which the ball trickled into the hole for her, her playing partner and players from the flight ahead to see.

The second was on the 161-yard 13th, where Day and her friend went looking for her ball behind the green but then realised it was in the cup.

Day, who has been playing golf for 10 years, talked about her experience in the Club journal. AP quoted her as saying:

“A hole in one in itself is usually pretty amazing. But I couldn’t believe it when I did the same thing 10 holes further on. Some people go through their whole life and never get a hole-in-one. I think there are only a very small number of people around the world who have done it twice in one round.”

The feat is, indeed, rare, but the report cites another case in the United States in early September when Steve Blass, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, scored two aces during the team’s annual golf day.

Day is a retired British Gas showroom manager and her achievement is even more surprising given the fact that she has a relatively high handicap of 35.

Fighting Green wants Tour return after losing leg in accident

In 1990, Ken Green was the star attraction at the Hong Kong Open golf tournament, which I covered as a reporter for the South China Morning Post newspaper.

From a strictly media-to-player point of view, I found Green slightly cocky and arrogant. He could afford to be. After all, he was the main drawcard, having won five times on the PGA Tour.

And, he went on to win the tournament in Hong Kong. As I said, I comment on his personality from the superficial perspective of a journalist, not all of whom endear themselves to high-profile athletes.

If, however, there is a hint of accuracy in my observations, then these qualities are just what he needs to overcome the biggest challenge of his life – returning to pro golf after losing those closest to him, and one of his legs.

On June 8, Green was in a car with his girlfriend, brother Billy, who was driving, and his dog Nip, travelling on the Interstate 20 in Mississippi. A tyre blew, the vehicle went off the road and it hit a tree.

Green was the sole survivor. Although he has no recollection of the accident, soon after regaining consciousness, he was already planning his golfing comeback to the Champions Tour.

The doctors told him that they would be able to save his leg but he would never regain the same functionality. Green told them to cut it off. He’d rather have no leg than a leg that would prevent him from playing golf.

Green told journalists this week that he has targeted a return to pro golf by, the latest, summer next season. AP quoted him as saying:

“July might be better. But I don’t know, I’ve never done this before. The question is, can I get back to the highest level? Our level and just golf are two different worlds.”

This is not the first trial Green has had to face. He has previously overcome depression, financial woes and back problems, though nothing compares to the tragic losses of life and limb he experienced in June.

His sister, Shelley, has been helping him in his recovery and professional golfers such as Fred Funk, Curtis Strange, Mark Calcavecchia and Phil Blackmar played in a charity event to help him pay for medical bills and expenses.

When he turned 50 last year, Green, who had not made any money as a pro the previous three years, was eligible for the Champions Tour. Before the accident, he was 54th on the money list and earned more than $120,000.

He is confident he can overcome the loss of his leg and play at the level needed to be competitive on the Champions Tour.

“When I was fighting through my depression, that, I believe was harder, because I didn’t know I was in it. Whereas this one, you know what you have to tackle. You have to get your leg, then you have to go change your swing, and then you have to go start playing like a pro again.

“Obviously, I lost three of my best friends and I think I’d be doing them a dishonour if I didn’t come back from this. Just because I lost a leg, you have to say, ‘OK, we’ll work around that’.”

Should Green succeed in his comeback, he will make history. And whatever anyone thinks of his personality, he will always be a champion, just like he was in Hong Kong 19 years ago.

Mickelson and Woods capture Tour Champs and FedEx Cup honours

The biggest stars of the PGA Tour were its biggest winners over the weekend.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shared the honours after The Tour Championship in East Lake – Woods winning the FedEx Cup and Mickelson coming up trumps in the tournament itself.

Woods finished second to Mickelson in the tournament – three shots behind – but finished on top of the FedEx Cup standings to snare the $10 million prize that comes with it.

It was a reverse situation in the tournament with Mickelson shooting a five-under-par 65 in the final round for a total of nine-under 271. Woods was second on 274 after his closing 70, having led at the half-way stage.

Mickelson collected $1.35 million for winning the tournament in addition to £3 million for finishing second in the four-tournament FedEx Cup series.

The left-handed golfer, who had a difficult year personally when his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer during the spring, joked about earning less money than Woods despite winning. He said:

“Let me see if I get this straight, I shot 65 and he shot 70, and he gets a check for $10 million … no, I’m just kidding. I didn’t play well in the first three events to give myself a chance.”

For Woods, the tournament was always more important than the overall series title. He figured the FedEx Cup would take care of itself if you put the numbers up. Said Woods:

“Phil played well. He did the things he needed to do this week. Unfortunately, I didn’t putt well, and consequently, I didn’t push him. Phil ran off and got away from us.”

In third place was Sean O’Hair, who finished with a 69 for 275 with two-time British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Kenny Perry sharing fourth place on 276.

Harrington, who has shown fine form in the latter half of the season, made 69 in his final round while Perry, who at one point appeared headed for both tournament and FedEx Cup win, settled for 74.

One-time series leader Steve Stricker was sixth on 277 while Jim Furyk and Steve Marino tied for seventh on 278. South African Ernie Els was ninth on 279.

Mickelson’s victory was reminiscent of his 2000 Tour Championship triumph when he also fought back in the final round to beat Woods.

After birdies on the third and fourth, he took a share of the lead on the eight with a tap-in birdie. A bogey-free round meant he was primed for victory. Woods’ only one-putt birdie was a 35-footer on the 16th.

Meanwhile, Great Britain and Ireland continued their domination of The Vivendi Trophy with Seve Ballesteros as they beat Continental Europe for their fifth straight victory in the Ryder Cup-style team event in Paris.

The British Isles won 16 ½ to 11 ½ — the third year in a row it finished with this score – with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy completing the victory when he beat world number five Henrik Stenson on the final green.

The Europeans, however, won the singles tussle 6-4 but it was not enough to prevent GB & Ireland from victory following their impressive performances over the first two days.

GB & Ireland were captained by Paul McGinley while Thomas Bjorn was in charge of the Continental Europeans.

The tournament is named after Spanish great Ballesteros, who is still recovering from multiple surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumour.

However, he did send a message to the players and congratulated the winners. He said on the European Tour’s website:

“I wish I could have been there today, at Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, but I don’t have enough strength at the moment as my radiotherapy treatment finished last week, and I am suffering its consequences. I have followed the matches on TV and I was very happy to see competitive golf and great champions trying their best.

“I want to thank The European Tour, and all the French fans that went to watch the competition. Finally I want to thank all the people that are supporting me and sending me many messages of support, these really help me to keep going.”

Golf still surviving despite sponsor woes

The global economic woes continue to bear down on golf but the sport appears to be riding out the storm better than most industries.

Certainly, golf has not been immune to the credit crunch with major automaker General Motors pulling out its key brand Buick from two big events. The company also ended an endorsement deal with world number one Tiger Woods, reported to be worth $8 million annually.

However, US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the sport was in reasonably good health, although he expects more sponsors to pull out next season. He was quoted in a Reuters article as saying:

“It’s possible we could lose a couple of events; it’s probable that we’re going to lose some sponsors. We will have a good solid schedule for 2010, we know that. But I think it’s also important to recognise that marketing budgets are still down … it’s certainly going to take a while to improve.”

The case of the Buick Open loss had a happy ending with the Greenbrier Classic replacing it as part of a six-year agreement.

In addition, Finchem reported that many sponsors had actually extended their contracts with various tournaments on the Tour, which is the richest and most prestigious professional circuit in the world.

With the United States showing an inkling of an economic recovery, he is confident that beyond next season, sponsors will start queuing up again.

The fact that golf still has money is reflected in the on-going FedEx Cup play-offs, which concludes this week.

The four-tournament series culminates with a payment of $10 million to the winner, with Woods the big favourite to nab the bonanza.

The European Tour also has a big-money, season-ending event – the Dubai World Championship, which initially offered a $20 million prize pool.

However, recent reports indicated that the sum was cut because of the recession.

Woods keen to wrap up FedEx Series title

He may not have won a major this season but Tiger Woods is still determined to go after the next best thing – victory at the Tour Championship and wrapping up the FedEx Cup series play-offs.

World number one Woods heads the FedEx Cup rankings ahead of the final tournament of the play-offs in Atlanta, where a 30-strong elite field will be vying for the US$10 million bonus bonanza.

Woods, having returned to the PGA Tour at the start of the year after an eight-month injury lay-off, has won six times this season though none of them at a major.

But, as reported in AP, Woods loves nothing more than beating a strong field on a tough course with plenty at stake. The East Lake course will provide that challenge, as he said:

“If you look at years past before we had this format, it was basically the hottest players for the year. This is a little bit different, though, because you actually get some of the hotter players later in the year. It adds for a little bit more excitement.

“You always have the same approach and same attitude that you try and win every tournament you enter. Whether it’s a regular tour event, a play-off event, World Golf Championship, Players, whatever it may be, it’s the same intensity.”

The format of the series means that any of the top five seeds going into the tournament will head the FedEx Cup standings if they win the event – Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum.

Even Australian outsider Marc Leishman, who tied with Woods for second in Chicago recently, has a chance to win the series should Woods finish 10th or below and the next four seeds end up no better than fifth.

Another unlikely scenario for a Series winner is Padraig Harrington, who would need a major collapse by the leading players.

Unusually, there could even be two play-offs – one for the tournament and one of the series. Furthermore, the same two players could be involved.

But emerging from all the convoluted possibilities is the fact that Woods, once again, is the favourite.

Spaniard closes with 60 to win Austrian Open

Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello produced one of the most sizzling final rounds in European Tour history to win the Austrian Open near Vienna.

Cabrera Bello, eight shots behind the leaders after the third round, fired an 11-under-par 60 to storm up the leaderboard and edge England’s Benn Barham by a single stroke.

The first-time Tour winner ended up with a total of 20-under-par 264 while Denmark’s Soren Hansen was third on 267.

The 25-year-old could even afford to miss a 30-foot eagle attempt as he became the third player on the Tour to score 60 on the final day. He said on the European Tour website:

“It’s just amazing. I played the best golf of my life and I can’t believe it. I was so far back I wasn’t thinking about winning. I just tried to play a shot at a time and today it worked out really, really good.”

Bahram was three shots in the lead overnight but Cabrera Bello started chipping away from the third hole onwards, picking up three birdies and four more from the eighth to 11th.

The Spaniard collected further shots on the 13th, 14th and 16th at the Fontana Golf Club.

On the LPGA Tour, Choi Na-yeon, of South Korea, achieved her breakthrough title when she won the Samsung World Chmapionship at Torrey Pines.

After losing a seven-stroke lead, Choi held her nerve to birdie the final hole and hold off the strong challenge of Japanese ace Ai Miyazato, who found water on the last.

She finished with a total of 16-under-par 272 after carding one-under 71 while Miyazato settled for 273 after her 69, the lowest round of the day.

In third place was South Korean Shin Jiyai on 277.

Meanwhile, there was no tournament on the PGA Tour as players prepare for this week’s final event of the FedEx Series, the Tour Championship.

British amateur launches PowerPlay Golf in India

India hopes to do for golf what they have done for Twenty 20 cricket.

The sports-loving Indians may not have invented either game but they have provided the platform to enhance the spectacle thanks to their huge fan base.

For instance, T20 cricket, courtesy of the Indian Premier League, is a multi-million dollay industry in India where the world’s top players gather every season to play for regional teams around the country.

Now, a British amateur golfer and course designer, Peter McEvoy, is hoping the advent of PowerPlay Golf can have the same crowd-pulling effect on India’s golf fans as T20 has done for cricket.

At a press conference in Mumbai, McEvoy unveiled his plans for the game, which involves golfers playing over nine holes and having two flags to target, with bonus points and nett birdies on offer for those selecting the tougher black flags.

McEvoy, a former Walker Cup captain, said he was inspired by shortened versions of sports that have done well globally, such as T20 cricket, sevens rugby and five-a-side football. He said in an Indian online news portal:

“We realised the audiences were dropping steadily maybe because golf was taking too long. So we came up with a shorter and exciting format for golf too. We believe in the mantra that half the time, twice the excitement.”

The “PowerPlay” part is a term also borrowed from cricket. In cricket, powerplay is when a team chooses to bowl under certain fielding restrictions. In golf, each golfer has three powerplays within the first eight holes in which they must go for the more difficult hole.

PowerPlay Golf shares another aspect with T20 cricket in that both games originated in England.

According to the news report, the first game was played on February 6, 2007 by 16 British golf journalists at the Playgolf Northwick Park course in London.

Seven months later, Surrey 3-handicapper David Kemp won the first ever National championship at Hampton Court Palace Golf Club.

The sport has since been played in 140 courses in UK, 14 in Australia and 30 in South Africa. The first dedicated PowerPlay golf course is being built in East Kilbride, Scotland, says the report.

India will play its part in popularising the game with the Signature Club Golf Championship, involving more than 40 clubs all over the country. It tees off on September 26 and ends on December 14.

Presidents Cup Captain’s Picks A Mixed Bag

U.S President’s Cup captain, the affable Fred Couples, made two predictable selections as his captains’ picks for the up coming teams event to be held at San Francisco’s Harding Park Golf Course Oct 8-11. Couples went with reigning U.S Open Champion Lucas Glover and Ryder Cup hero Hunter Mahan. Both players barely missed out on the team based on the points qualifying system- Glover was No. 11 and Mahan No. 13.  Both have shown solid form over the summer and were justifiably picked for the side.

Although Couples did create some controversy with his naming of former NBA superstar and gambling hound Michael Jordan as one of his assistant captains, it was nothing compared with the response directed toward his counterpart, Greg Norman. Norman, with his selections, went with 17 year-old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa and fellow Aussie Adam Scott.

Norman was struck smitten with Ishikawa earlier in the year at a meet and greet for potential Presidents Cup players. The “shy prince” cast cliches aside and handled the room like a seasoned pro.

“He was engaged, he walked around the entire room, introduced himself to everybody, made sure everybody understood that he wanted to be on the team,” Norman said.

“There are so many great players on both teams, and I’m humbled by my selection to be with them,” Ishikawa said. “Although I’ll be a bit nervous surrounded by a such a great captain and so many great players in the world, I will do my best during the week and hopefully contribute to the victory over the American team.”

Ishikawa first came to the attention of the golfing world when, as a 15 year-old amateur, he captured an event on the Japanese Tour. Since then he has gone on to win four more times in Japan, including three times in the past 10 months, punctuated by a five shot victory in the last event before the selection process ended. For many, the future superstar was an obvious pick. Scott, on the other hand, was not.

It’s no secret the former world No. 3 has fallen on hard times of late. Since July 2008 Scott has fallen from that lofty perch in the world rankings to No. 53. He has earned a career-low $754, 810 this year on the PGA Tour and despite one 2nd place finish in Januaryat the Sony, 2009 has been nothing short of a nightmare for Scott. He has not made a cut since March where his last paycheck came when he was eliminated in the first round of the WGC-Accenture matchplay. The slide in form meant that Scott even scheduled surgery on his knee when he figured he wouldn’t be playing on Norman’s side at Harding Park next month.

“At the end of the day, he’s got the playing skills … what he can bring to the locker room, the support he gives to other players, the connection and the experience that he’s had playing on the Presidents Cup team,” Norman said in support of Scott. “He was really a logical choice.”

Norman bumped Rory Sabbatini, Jeev Milka Singh, Shingo Katayama and Stephen Ames among others for his former protege Scott.

“Maybe, somewhat unexpected,” Scott said in response to his selection. “It’s been a tough year. I really feel like it will be great for my game and I feel like I can contribute points and contribute in the team room, as well.”

His captain coupldn’t agree more.

“What he can bring to the locker room, the support he gives to the other players, the connection and the experience that he’s had playing on the Presidents Cup team. He was really a logical choice,” Norman said. “It’s a tough decision, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a commitment out of a player. He has rededicated himself to a higher degree, so he’s going to be ready come four weeks from now.”

While there were few obvious picks for Norman to consider, his counterpart Couples was flooded of choices, several of which would have made as much sense as Glover and Mahan.

Brain Gay, No. 12 on the points list, has had a breakout season in 2009, winning twice, both times by large margins against quality fields. Possessing one of the best short games on Tour, Gay also, unfortunately, is one of the shortest hitters at the top of the game. The fact that Harding Park is expected to be set up extremely long meant that Gay was eventually overlooked by Couples.

Dustin Johnson also threw his name into consideration with a strong season. The long-hitting Johnson did not finish worse than 22nd in the four events leading up to the final day of selections, and posted a 4th place at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Presidents and Ryder Cup vets David Toms and Scott Verplank were also on Couples’ radar, as was young gun Nick Watney.

“The hardest thing?… Dustin Johnson and Brian Gay,” Couples said. “Brian Gay has won twice. He’s taking it pretty hard, which he should. I was overlooked one time, but I got picked a few times. For Hunter Mahan and Lucas, I think it’s a no-brainer, I really do.”

The U.S team consists of Glover and Mahan as well as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Sean O’Hair, Anthony Kim and Junstin Leonard.

The Internationals are Geoff Ogilvy, Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, Mike Wier, Robert Allenby, Y.E Yang and Tim Clark as well as Ishikawa and Scott.



Woods hails one of his best seasons ever

His best may have come too late for the season’s majors but there is always next year.

Tiger Woods declared boldly that he his back to his best after a storming victory at the BMW Championship that returned him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.

Woods, who left the PGA Tour last year for eight months to recover from knee surgery, dominated the field to win by eight strokes and capture his 71st tour title.

The world number one failed to add to his collection of 14 major titles in 2009 as he chases Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.

However, with his sixth victory of the season, Woods reckons he is now on top of his game and has solved the putting problems that blighted his chances at the four majors. He said in a CNN article:

“It’s one of my best years, there’s no doubt about that – I haven’t won as many times as I did in 2000 and didn’t win any majors this year, but certainly I’ve never had a year where I’ve been this consistent either, this many high finishes and the number of events I’ve played.”

Woods, who shot a course record 62 at Cog Hill in the third round, closed with a 68 for a total of 19-under-par 265 and his fifth victory in the event. That was eight strokes better than Jim Furyk and Australian Marc Leishman.

He agreed that putting was the key to his victory.

“It’s just been a matter of making a couple putts here and there and I would have won the tournaments. That’s all the difference was. And lo and behold, boom, I hit the ball just as well, just as consistent this week, and I made a few putts, and that’s how it happens.”

Furyk is third on the FedEx Cup standings behind Steve Stricker with Zach Johnson fourth and Heath Slocum fifth.

Woods and company now head for the season-ending Tour Championship that could seal his victory in the FedEx Cup.

On the European Tour, 43-year-old South African James Kingston beat Denmark’s Anders Hansen in a play-off to win the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Cologne.

Kingston closed with three-under 69 and Hansen fired 67 as both players finished on 13-under 275 for the tournament.

The veteran then sank a four-foot putt on the first sudden-death play-off hole as Hansen missed a six-footer.

Kingston is now the oldest Tour winner this season and jumps into the top 50 of the Race to Dubai contest. It was also his second career win on the circuit after his South African Open triumph in 2008.

England’s Simon Dyson, Denmark’s Soren Hansen and Peter Hanson, of Sweden, were tied for third on 276.

Arnold Palmer turns 80 – stars offer praise and best wishes

Almost 50 years ago, Arnold Palmer undertook a journey that would change the face of professional golf.

He blazed a trail that would open up untold opportunities for professional golfers to make the kind of millions that they earn in modern times.

In doing so, he became golf’s first megastar. This week, Palmer celebrated his 80th birthday and tributes poured in from all around the world.

It all started when he met college buddy Mark McCormack for the first time.

McCormack, a legend in his own right, became golf’s first true agent and he helped Palmer exploit his huge name through endorsements and sponsorships.

In his first year, Palmer’s endorsement earnings went from $6,000 to $500,000. And all because of a handshake deal with McCormack, the founder of IMG – International Management Group that now serves thousands of professional golfers, other athletes and entertainment stars around the world, including Tiger Woods.

IMG also had golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player – two giants of the game. Woods, Nicklaus and Player were among those who gave their best wishes to the man known as “The King” who has ruled the roost on all four major tournaments in his total collection of seven titles.

World number one Woods led the way, as Reuters quoted him as saying:

“With his charisma, with his personality in conjunction with TV, it was just the perfect symbiotic growth. You finally have someone who has this charisma and they’re capturing it on TV for the very first time. Everyone got hooked to the game of golf via TV because of Arnold.”

Nicklaus eventually became one of Palmer’s main rivals on the PGA Tour, going on to win a record 18 majors. Writing on his website, he said:

“Arnold became a friend to me when I first came on tour. We became very close and our wives became very close. We played a lot of team championships together and we had a lot of fun. Through those years, yes, we had a rivalry but we never had a rivalry when we were off the golf course.”

South African Player, who is 74 and won nine major tournaments said one of Palmer’s best legacies was the positive impression he left on younger players and fans, for whom he would always sign autographs. He said:

“He’s been a wonderful role model to young people and to everybody for that matter, not only in the United States but in the entire world. He’s been a great ambassador.”

In recognition of his achievements, the US Senate agreed to award Palmer with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his service to America through golf.

According to reports, in true Palmer style, he celebrated his birthday on September 10 playing a round with friends.