Friday, December 23, 2011

What a Year for Texas Golf

I’m not big on New Year resolutions … or any kind of resolutions for that matter. Most are empty promises. Either to yourself or others. Regardless, I am trying to better myself in many areas. One of which is writing.

Writing shorter in particular.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you probably have noticed that sometimes I can get a little long-winded and write some really long sentences and long paragraphs and long stories and that might drive you crazy and make you click off the page, curse my name or both.

Sorry about that.

In an effort to be more efficient, here are my top-10 Texas golf moments for 2011. There are only five of them.

Shorter, see?

Lefty’s Redstone Romp: Who can forget Phil Mickelson’s course recording-setting 63 in the third round of the Shell Houston Open? With his wife’s and mother’s oncologist, Dr. Tom Buchholz, on hand again in April at the pristine Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club, Mickelson was inspired.

Phil Mickelson dazzled the crowds
at Redstone Golf Club with a victory
a week before the Masters.
He went low on the weekend with 63-65 to post 20-under par and won by three shots.

In the past 10 years, the SHO has had plenty of quality winners—Freddy Couples, Vijay Singh (three times), Adam Scott, Stuart Appleby, Anthony Kim—but last year was extra special. Mickelson loves Houston—Dr. Buchholz and M.D. Anderson especially—and the throngs of fans following Lefty at Redstone as he dueled Dallas native Scott Verplank in the final round will remember that show for a long, long time.

It might a while before we see that kind of excitement at the SHO again.

Unless Mickelson repeats in 2012.

History in the Making: In July, Jordan Spieth took another step toward cementing his legacy as one of the most decorated amateur golfers of all time. By winning his second U.S. Junior Amateur—this one at Gold Mountain outside of Seattle—the Dallas native joined Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win the national championship twice. (Woods won it three straight times from 1991-93).

Spieth won his first U.S. Junior Am in 2009. He was the heavy favorite this year and rallied in three early matches to claim nail-biting, 2-and-1 victories. Then the ball-striking savant wasted Chelso Barrett 6-and-5 in the 36-hole final match.

The second USGA title was a glimpse into the future. It won’t be long before Spieth is winning professional major championships—yes, plural—and becomes a worldwide sensation.

Make no mistake: still just a teenager, Spieth already is a star. He’s made the cut twice in PGA Tour events. He was the only American to post an undefeated record at the Walker Cup in September. The college freshman won his first tournament for the University of Texas in his third start. He has the game, support system, maturity, personality and poise to become mega-star on the professional level.

If he continues on the path he’s on now, it’s going to happen. This is not news to those who have been paying attention.

Catching The Spirit: One of the most unique golf events in the world takes place every two years in Trinity, Texas. Whispering Pines Golf Club, the No. 1-ranked course in the state six years running, plays host to The Spirit International, a co-ed amateur championship unlike anything else you’ve seen.

The two best male and female amateurs from the top-20 golfing countries in the world comprise the teams. They all live together for a week in a camp-like setting and compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in five categories.

 
Nathan Smith (left) and Kelly Kraft
had a memorable final round
walk to the 18th green.
This year, Americans Kelly Kraft (the reigning U.S. Amateur champ), Nathan Smith (a three-time U.S. Mid-Am champ), Austin Ernst (reigning NCAA champion) and Emily Tubert (2010 U.S. Public Links champ) pulled away from Mexico for an epic 10-shot win.
Smith’s final round eagle-two on the 392-yard par-4 14th started the U.S. party early.

Tiger’s Late Prowl: From the Obvious Department, it was a joy to see Tiger Woods’ game come around at the end of the year. He looked great at the Presidents Cup—even if his record didn’t reflect it—and he capped the season with his first victory in two years at the Chevron World Classic.

I’m giving a heap of the credit to Fred Couples. Many jumped on Freddy’s case when he made Woods a captain’s pick two months before the Presidents Cup. But that early decision put a ton of pressure on Woods to get his game in order. Once fully healthy again, he started practicing six, seven even eight hours a day. Woods wasn’t going to make himself—or Couples—look foolish after the captain bypassed PGA Champion Keegan Bradley, who deserved to be on the U.S. team.

When Woods wins a few tournaments next year, including a major championship, hopefully we’ll remember that it was Fred Couples who helped jump-start the comeback.

What’s the Texas connection here? Don’t worry about that right now. (Couples played college golf at the University of Houston and Tiger won the 1997 Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas, so there.)

Junior golfers will
love this book.
Ti Ming & Tem Po: Can I be self-serving for a moment? Of course I can. This is my blog, after all. One of the biggest moments of the year (of my life, really) came in late November. That’s when my children’s book was released.

By now, I’ve surely bored you to tears about it via Twitter and Facebook. So I won’t beat you over the head here. This blog already is too long.

I’ll just mention that “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods” is a magical story full of character-building morals and lessons. It’s a great read for any junior golfer—or any parent, aunt or uncle of little linksters.

Go buy a few copies and give them as gifts. The golf gods will thank you with fortuitous bounces off trees and putts that fall in the cup instead of lipping out of it.

Happy Holidays and thanks for reading.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tiger Woods is NOT Back

First of all, in the essence of transparency, some full disclosure. I am a Tiger Woods fan. Always have been. Probably always will be. I’m guessing some people just stopped reading and clicked off my blog. That’s fine.

Tiger Woods won Sunday for the first time in
two years at the Chevron World Challenge in California.
(Photo US Presswire)
Like him or not, Tiger is the most gifted, exciting golfer of his (and my) generation. He’s also the most important person we have in the game. He drives ratings, sponsorships, public interest and he inspires people to support local golf courses. Because of Woods, millions of people invest their money and time into playing golf. As someone who makes a living writing about the sport, I’m well aware of how badly we need him to be successful again.

So there weren’t too many people more excited to see Woods birdie the final two holes of the Chevron World Challenge to win his first tournament in two years by a single shot. He came through in the clutch like the old days, and it was joyous to watch. The upside of Woods’ victory is obvious: Golf just became more interesting—dare I say “relevant again”—to the masses.

Here’s the downside: Since that final putt dropped, scores of media-types and fans have fallen all over themselves to say the precious words that all of us who understand what is at stake have longed to proclaim: “He’s baaaaack.”

Give me a break. That’s ridiculous. Just because he won an exhibition event in a field of 18 players does not mean Tiger is back to being the dominant player who has won 71 PGA Tour events (Sunday’s win didn’t count toward that total) and 14 major championships.

Anyone who thinks Tiger is “back” to being the Tiger Woods we knew pre-sex scandal is disrespecting his standard of excellence. It’s also a sign of how quickly people can forget how great he was. Remember the year 2000? He’s a recap: Tiger Woods won NINE TIMES, including the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. He also finished second five times that year.

Yes, Woods is swinging the club better than he has in a long, long time. He’s compressing the ball again, creating a sound at impact that only he can create. His trademark “stinger” shot seems to be back, too. And he’s making more putts (though not as many as he’d like) in crucial situations. He poured in the 15-foot birdie putt Sunday on No. 17 at Sherwood Country Club to draw even with the gritty Zach Johnson. Then he slammed home the 12-footer on the final hole to win for the first time since the Australian Masters in September 2009.

But he’s not back. Not yet.

Once Tiger wins three or four (or five) times—including a major championship—in a single season, he’ll be back. That’s when Tiger Woods will once again be the Tiger Woods I remember.

I’m guessing that happens next year, by the way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are the golf gods Real?

People ask me if the golf gods are real. I always answer honestly.

They are real if you believe they are real.

The power of positive thinking created a billion-dollar industry with self-help books. Millions of people have improved their lives dramatically by simply thinking positively. Is my new children’s book, “Finding Ti Ming and Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods,” a self-help book?

The perfect Christmas gift for the golfer in your
life. Available at http://www.timingandtempo.com/.

Absolutely it is. The story of Ti Ming and Tem Po helping golfers of all ages master, respect and appreciate the game of golf also teems with real-life lessons. Tem Po, the mystical caddie, tells his students, “You can’t go for every green.” The non-golf lesson is pretty clear: Sometimes the conservative approach to one of life’s challenges is the best option.

Ti Ming, the all-knowing golf god, reminds his believers that the Champion Golfer is honest at all times and is respectful of his opponents. Another obvious lesson. There are several similar metaphors lying just beneath the magical and inspirational story.

The book was written for kids aged 8-17, but the messages within the story transcend age. The lessons golf teaches us are salient reminders of how to conduct ourselves as respectful, honorable people.

Now, back to the question. Do the golf gods exist?

The answer is up to you. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can do something or you think you can’t, you are right.” Belief and trust in the golf gods are the same.

For the past seven-plus years, I’ve worn a Trion:Z magnetic bracelet on my right wrist. The product claims to boost blood circulation, which increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients.

Does it work?

It’s like the golf gods. If you think magnetic therapy benefits you, then it does. It could be a placebo, but I can truthfully tell you this: When I was introduced to the technology, I was feeling little twinges of a pain in both of my wrists. I called these annoying twinges a pre-symptom to a possible case of carpel tunnel syndrome.

Since the day I first put on the Trion:Z bracelet, I’ve never felt those twinges of pain again. So you tell me if the product works.

How many times have you horribly bladed an 8-iron only to have your ball roll up the fairway, onto the green and stop inside 20 feet of the pin? I know that happens to you because it happens to me. So was the result of the bad swing just dumb luck? Or were the golf gods at play?

It depends on what you believe.

Home with family for Thanksgiving this year—one of the many, many things for which I’m thankful—I played golf with a high school buddy on Wednesday. I swung the club pretty poorly overall but still shot an 80, which is a good score for me.

There were several moments during the round in which Ti Ming and Tem Po helped my cause. I bladed a wedge from the rough on the first hole, but my ball chased up to the back fringe. I shanked a 5-iron off a tree on the sixth hole … my ball bounced to the middle of the fairway. I pulled my drive on No. 8 into the trees and out of bounds … but my ball kicked back in play. I made par to swing all the bets. On No. 12, I chunked a lob wedge that traveled about two feet. Then chipped in for par on the next shot.

You can call all of that blind luck. You can call it whatever you want. That’s your choice. I choose to believe in the golf gods. I believe they helped me shoot a winning score.

This year I’m thankful for many things. My health. My family and friends. The U.S. Armed Forces -- active troops and the veterans -- who keep our country safe and freedom in tact. I’m thankful for my job. I’m thankful for the 13 years I spent with the Jack Dog. I’m also thankful for the golf gods. They helped me win a bunch of bets yesterday.

Are the golf gods real? You know where I stand.

What do you believe?

Learn more about the mystical golf gods at http://www.timingandtempo.com/.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Spirit Personified

Lexi Thompson, 16, won three gold medals at the
2009 Spirit International. In September, she became
the youngest player to win on the LPGA Tour.
TRINITY—Sixteen-year-old Alexis “Lexi” Thompson is the fastest rising star in women’s professional golf. She stands six feet tall and hits the golf ball 280 yards off the tee. In September, she became the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic by five shots.

No player on the planet has “Caught The Spirit” more than Lexi Thompson, winner of three gold medals as a 14-year-old at the 2009 Spirit International. Thompson was back again this year, delivering the past champion’s speech at the opening ceremonies and playing a practice round with the U.S. Team on Tuesday.

The first round of the 2011 Spirit International begins Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. with 80 of the world’s best amateurs playing as two-man, two-woman teams for 20 different countries. (Tee times and live scoring available at www.golfstat.com.)

Over the next four days, 54 holes of Four Ball Stroke Play will determine gold, silver and bronze medal winners in five categories: International Team, Men’s Team, Women’s Team, Men’s Individual and Women’s Individual.

Thompson made the rare clean sweep in 2009, taking the gold in the International Team, Women’s Team and Women’s Individual. Only Paula Creamer and Lorena Ochoa have accomplished the feat. Thompson said her three gold medals hang in her parents’ dining room next to the 150-plus trophies she’s amassed since winning her first U.S. Kids World Championship at age 7.

The Spirit began in 2001, and in the past decade it has become known for showcasing tomorrow’s professional golf stars in the amateur setting. Major champions such as Creamer, Ochoa, Yani Tseng, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel all participated in The Spirit as amateurs.

“On and off the course, The Spirit is the best experience,” Thompson said. “We have fun no matter what we’re doing. Team events are always so relaxing, and you really get to know the other players so well. Every minute of it is a great time.”

The players stay adjacent to Whispering Pines Golf Club in Camp Olympia, which transforms into the International Village during The Spirit. There’s a common dining hall where all the competitors eat, and players sleep 12 or more to a room in a true camp setting.

Lexi Thompson enjoyed a practice round at
Whispering Pines with the U.S. Team on Tuesday.
“The whole experience brings all the teams so close together,” Thompson said. “Sharing a cabin with about 20 other players and hanging out with all the teams for a few hours every night was such a bonding experience. I loved it.”
  
In 2007, Thompson made history by becoming the youngest player to qualify for the Women’s U.S. Open. She was 12. Two years later she was dominating at Whispering Pines with 17 birdies and posting a winning 24-under par score with teammate Jennifer Johnson. Thompson turned professional the next year as a 15-year-old.

“This tournament (in 2009) was a big step for me,” she said. “Being invited here was a big honor. I had heard so much about it. I had just come from the Junior Ryder Cup, and that was the only other time I had played on a team for my country. This tournament has the best amateurs in the world.”

With a field comprised of 75 national champions and No. 1-ranked players from 20 countries, it is highly likely that the next Lexi Thompson or Martin Kaymer are playing at Whispering Pines this week. Thompson said she sees budding star power in the two U.S. women, LSU sophomore Austin Ernst and Arkansas sophomore Emily Tubert.

“Austin and Emily are amazing players. I’ve played junior golf with both of them,” Thompson said. “They both have really consistent games. Emily hits it a mile—she hits it farther than me. They both have great advantages in their games. If they keep working hard, they’ll be out there. They’ll be on tour.”

Thompson turns 17 in February. She is fully
exempt on the LPGA Tour for next season.
Thompson planned to stay at Whispering Pines long enough to watch the U.S. Team play in the first round. The U.S. women tee off at 8:30 a.m. with the Swedish team of Daniela Holmqvist and Madelence Sagstrom, who plays at LSU with Ernst. The U.S. men follow in the 8:42 a.m. group with Swedes Robert Karlsson and Victory Tarnstorm.

Former U.S. Team captain and 2011 assistant captain Alli Jarrett texted Thompson about 10 days before The Spirit to ask if she wanted to return to give the past champion’s speech. Thompson jumped at the opportunity. Like every golfer who has passed through the front gates, Thompson absolutely loves Whispering Pines. She said taking the bus ride back down Olympia Drive to the clubhouse brought back a flood of memories.

“I was really happy to come back,” she said. “This place holds great memories. The last day at the award ceremony, it was the best experience. Receiving the gold medal and knowing I represented my country well meant so much to me.”

--

NOTE: For live scoring of The Spirit, visit www.golfstat.com. The 2011 Spirit International will feature a live webcast of the competition on holes 14-18 at www.thespiritgolf.com/live-webcast.html.  Follow the action on Twitter @thespiritgolf and use the official hashtag of #thespirit11. You can “like” The Spirit on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thespiritgolf.

Spirit International Opens with Acrobatic Show

THE WOODLANDS, TEXASBefore the world’s best amateur golfers put on a show at the most unique international team event in golf, they were treated to one on Halloween at the Cynthia Woods Pavilion.

The gravity-defying performers of the acrobatic Cirque Le Masque troupe topped off the opening ceremonies for the sixth playing of The Spirit International on Monday night. The theatrical wizardry featured synchronized and costumed jugglers and aerialists performing gasp-inducing feats of balance, strength, grace and coordination.

Surely the 80 amateur golfers in attendance were impressed.

The 2011 Spirit International begins Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas. Twenty countries, represented with their top two male and female amateur golfers, will compete as teams for gold, silver and bronze medals in 54 holes of four ball stroke play.

The opening ceremonies began with an address from golf media mogul and Master of Ceremonies Peter Kessler. Whispering Pines founder and Spirit Golf Association Chairman Corby Robertson presented the procession of countries with each team walking to the stage flying their nation’s flag while a video introduction of each team member played for the estimated 400 in attendance.

A video address from former President George W. Bush congratulated Robertson and all the competitors for promoting international goodwill through the game of golf. Rising LPGA Tour star Alexis Thompson gave the Past Champions Address and spoke about the importance of chasing your dreams. Thompson won three gold medals at the 2009 Spirit International.

“I’ve learned a lot from my successes in golf, but I’ve learned so much more from my struggles,” said the 16-year-old Thompson, who became the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history in September when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic by five shots. “It was my decision all the way to turn professional. I had to do a lot of convincing to get my parents to go along with it, but it is what I wanted to do. I encourage everyone to chase after their dreams no matter what anyone says.”

That’s exactly what the players in the field at The Spirit International are doing. Seventy-five of the 80 competitors are national champions or ranked No. 1 in their home countries. These truly are the greatest amateur golfers in the world. The bi-annual event, known as “the Olympics of golf,” has become the proving grounds for tomorrow’s golf superstars. International icons such as Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Yani Tseng, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day and Matteo Manassero are only a few past alumni of The Spirit.

“I’m honored to be a part of this,” said three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Nathan Smith, who makes up one-quarter of the U.S. Team. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve heard Whispering Pines is off-the-charts good, and I’m excited to play my first practice round tomorrow.”

Smith, the oldest player in the field at 33 years, is joined by 2011 U.S. Amateur Champion Kelly Kraft from Denton, Texas. Kraft, 23, played college golf at SMU and won the Texas Amateur in 2009 and 2011. The U.S. men are accompanied by University of Arkansas sophomore Emily Tubert, 19, the 2010 U.S. Public Links Champion, and LSU sophomore Austin Ernst, 19, the reigning women’s individual NCAA Div. I champion.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Ernst said. “Anytime you get to represent your country, it is a major honor.”

For fans at home or at the office, the 2011 Spirit International features a live webcast of the four-day tournament. Along with a highlight package of the opening ceremonies, the webcast is available at http://www.thespiritgolf.com/. Admission to the international competition is free.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reader Appreciation

Just a quick note here to thank you for reading this blog. The past two posts received quite a little bit of traffic. “Chasing Squirrels,” the tribute to my little buddy Jack Dog has received more web hits and unique visitors than anything I’ve written in this space.

Jackers would be proud. So I am.

The post earlier this week with the news on Mike McCaffrey’s forfeited amateur status, which vacated his Texas Mid-Amateur championship and U.S. Mid-Amateur medalist and quarterfinalist honors, also caught the attention of many readers.

Both posts garnered several reader comments, as well. I tried to figure out how to respond directly to each reader who made a comment. Alas, I am not that savvy.  

So this post is my way of saying “thank you” to everyone who has taken time from their busy schedules to read this blog. I have special appreciation to everyone who took time to comment, too. It is greatly appreciated.

I’m especially thankful for all the kind words that were written in regards to the loss the Jack Dog. Many of the posts were made anonymously, but some were not. So thank you, Faith, Sarah, Matt, Sharon, Neil, Liss, Susan and Kristi. Your words were comforting, as is the realization that many of you have also gone through the heartache of losing one of your best friends. There is comfort in that.

The comment section for the McCaffrey story ran the spectrum of disbelief, outrage, anger, support and empathy. I’m happy to have helped provide a small venue for others to share their opinions on a controversial topic.

I hope you’ll continue to read this blog and comment with your opinions.

Thank you so much.

Monday, October 24, 2011

U.S. Mid-Am Medalist Forfeits Amateur Status

NOTE: This is exclusive breaking news from Texas Links Magazines.

Mike McCaffrey had one of the most successful summers in recent Texas amateur golf history. Most of it has been stricken from the record books.
 
League City's Mike McCaffrey forfeited his
amateur status by accepting $8,500 in an
Aug. 21 skins game at Beeville Country Club.
The United States Golf Association on Oct. 20 ruled that McCaffrey “professionalized his playing status” on Aug. 21 by accepting $8,500 in prize money from a skins game at Beeville Country Club. Accepting prize money is a violation of Rule 3 of the USGA’s Rules of Amateur Status.

Rule 3-2 under the Rules of Golf’s Amateur Status states “an amateur golfer must not accept a prize (other than a symbolic prize) or prize voucher of retail value in excess of $750 or the equivalent, or such a lesser figure as may be decided by the USGA.

USGA spokesman Joe Goode told Texas Links that McCaffrey, a 41-year-old from League City, clearly violated Rule 3.

“The USGA ruling follows a lengthy investigation,” Goode said. “As soon as he accepted the prize money, he professionalized his status.”

With the ruling, McCaffrey retroactively forfeited his amateur status on Aug. 21, which means his win at the Texas Golf Association’s State Mid-Amateur Championship at Carlton Woods has been surrendered. McCaffrey was also made ineligible for last weekend’s Texas Shootout.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation that certainly brought to light some things for other players to be aware of, things that might damage their amateur status,” TGA president Rob Addington said. “The USGA is the governing body in situations like this, and we will abide by their ruling. We have no choice but to make him ineligible for the Mid-Am, which means that victory is forfeited.”

McCaffrey also forfeits his impressive run at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in September.

The USGA has asked McCaffrey to return the medal he received for his nation’s-best low score in sectional qualifying, an 8-under 64 at Pine Forest Country Club. The USGA also asked McCaffrey to return the medal he received for the stroke play portion of the U.S. Mid-Am. McCaffrey posted 68-68 at the national championship for amateur golfers aged 25 and older and earned medalist honors. He was the top seed in the match play bracket, in which he advanced to the quarterfinals.

All of that has been forfeited.

McCaffrey’s October win at the Harvey Penick Invitational, a prominent amateur event at Austin Country Club, likely will be vacated as well. Tournament chairman Rod Harris was caught off guard by the news Sunday night.

“We’re going to do the right thing here,” Harris said. “We’re going to abide by the USGA ruling.”

Goode said the USGA took no pleasure in its ruling.

“As the national governing body of golf in the United States, it’s our responsibility to write and enforce the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status,” Goode said. “Failure to act in this case would have been to abdicate one of our core responsibilities.”

In an investigation conducted by the USGA and TGA, the USGA found hard evidence that McCaffery accepted a check for $8,500 in a Beeville skins game on Aug. 21.

McCaffrey said he is appealing the decision.

“It was a skins game,” McCaffrey said. “When I learned it was excessive per the USGA standards, I gave the money back.”

McCaffrey, who regained his amateur status in February, said he returned the money to the club in Beeville a few days after the event. Repeated calls to the Beeville Country Club were not returned.

“After-the-fact repayment of prize money isn’t a valid defense of a violation of the rules of amateur status,” Goode said. “This case serves as a cautionary tale of conduct that undermines the spirit and values of the game that all competitors should avoid.”

One of the USGA’s primary functions is to protect the integrity and fairness of the amateur game. Goode said McCaffrey’s actions illustrated a “clear violation” of the rules.

McCaffrey said he knows of scores of golfers who have broken Rule 3 of the USGA’s Amateur Status.

“I could name 300 golfers who have played in Calcuttas and accepted money,” McCaffrey said. “A skins game is a skins game. I guess they have certain cheeks they can turn at certain times. I’ve turned everything over to my attorney and I’m appealing it. I think I’ll come out ahead in the end. I’ll get my satisfaction in the end.”

A former two-time All-American at North Texas, McCaffrey was a longtime mini-tour player before regaining his amateur status. In the spring of 2010, he began suffering from a loss of sensation in his fingers and toes. He said he visited several doctors for extensive testing and was diagnosed by Dr. Milvia Pleitez with a neuromuscular disease with a concern for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Repeated calls to Dr. Pleitez, the head of the Neuromuscular Biopsy Laboratory at Methodist Neurological Institute, went unreturned.

Upon receiving the new health information in McCaffrey’s appeal to regain his amateur status near the end of 2010, the USGA reinstated McCaffrey as an amateur in February 2011. Two months later, McCaffrey won the 36-hole TGA South Region Mid-Am at Riverbend Country Club by two shots with 11-under 205.

McCaffrey also finished third at Austin Country Club for the Texas Amateur, eighth at the Champions Cup and third at the State Four Ball in Kerrville. Those accomplishments stand, but all of McCaffrey’s amateur results after Aug. 21 will be vacated. 

More controversy surrounded McCaffrey this summer. Rumors swirled about the veracity of his health issues and neuromuscular disease diagnosis. On the eve of McCaffrey’s quarterfinal match against eventual champion Randal Lewis at the U.S. Mid-Amateur, the USGA confronted McCaffrey about the claims. There was a closed-door meeting at Shadow Hawk with McCaffrey and at least two USGA officials, including U.S. Mid-Am Director Bill McCarthy.

McCaffrey said the tone of the meeting was accusatory and his doctors’ diagnoses were called into question. McCaffrey added that his performance in the quarterfinals—he lost 3 and 1 to Lewis—was affected by the previous night’s meeting with the USGA.

The USGA did not comment on whether McCaffrey’s health concerns played a role in his forfeiture of amateur status.

“Our ruling was based on the clear facts we learned in our investigation about Mr. McCaffrey professionalizing his amateur status,” Goode said.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chasing Squirrels

This morning I said good-bye to my best friend.

Jack Dog was a 15-year-old Welsh Corgi mix and the most loyal, loving friend a guy like me could ever hope to know. I’m going to miss him eternally, but I know he’s happy right now. He’s pain-free, running fast and breathing easy in heaven.

Jack's natural smile was only one of
the amazing things about him.
That makes me feel good.
 
I can promise you right now he’s up there begging my grandpa for table scraps. Jack never begged with a whiny whimper like so many other dogs I’ve known. No, not Jack.

He just sat there quietly and stared at you with those big, sad, brown eyes that said, “I’m hungry, too.”

There are a couple golf connections to the Jack Dog, also known as Jackson, Jackers, Jackaroni, Macaroni and Jackson-Roni among many others.

Back in 2001-03, we lived with my good friend Robert in an apartment near downtown Atlanta. It was just off Peachtree Street and right across from a run-down municipal track called Bobby Jones Golf Course. Robert and I had some battles on that old course. It was short, hilly and never in great shape. But I loved it and always will.

The 15th green was just across the street from us. I used to take Jack for walks on the course, and he loved, loved, loooved chasing squirrels there. In his prime, Jack was Deion Sanders fast with Barry Sanders-like agility. He could jump a foot off the ground. If he didn’t want to be caught, well, you weren’t going to catch him.

I’d walk Jack over on Bobby Jones at night, too. When the moon was bright, I’d take a wedge and a few balls and chip on the 15th green while Jack wandered around, looking for brave late night squirrels. One of his absolute favorite things to do was run at full speed on the 15th green and hurl himself over the lip of the greenside bunker and belly-flop down into the soft sand.

He’d run around in circles, kicking up sand everywhere. Then he’d come back to the green and do it again. And again. The maintenance crew must have loved it.

Jack with Abby Ling and my mom.
When Jack first came into my life back in 1999, I was on a golf hiatus. I took a job writing sports for the newspaper in Corpus Christi. It was so windy down there—and my normal ball flight was a 30-yard slice—that I quit playing for three years.

At work I met a great guy named Dan, who taught me how to surf. Dan is the best surfer I’ve ever known. He can rip. We became great friends and I ended up moving into the downstairs portion of Dan’s house on Port Aransas Island.

We lived two blocks from the beach, and Dan’s house on East Street had a yard in front and back (Dan still lives there today, along with his beautiful surfer wife Michelle and their amazing son Zach). One of my beats back then was covering the minor-league hockey team that had just come to town.

If it wasn’t for that hockey team, I would have never met Jack.

At every home game, I sat in the press box next to a friendly and generous man named Rick Dames. He owned the radio station that broadcasted the games, and he usually did the radio color commentary. One night I told Rick that I moved out to Port A. I was pretty excited about it.

“Now that I have a yard, I can finally get a dog,” I told Rick.

About two weeks later, Rick called me. I didn’t know it, but his wife was on the board of directors for the local Humane Society. Rick said they had this great 2-year-old Corgi he thought would be perfect for me.

“Just come and take him for the weekend,” Rick said. “If it doesn’t work out, you can bring him back.”

Yeah, right.

Thirteen years later, and letting him go for good this morning was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Jack was a great dog. A great friend. Some of you reading this got to know him well. This summer, he made a new friend named Bozley. Jack’s circle of friends cast as wide as mine: Peyton, Abby Ling, Jasper Puddles, Divot, Buddy, Lucy, Manny, Apollo, Pritzi, Ollie, Walter, Sadie, Kate, Dusty, Peanut, Charlie and Oreo were just some of them.

Jack at Galveston Island this summer.  
His last trip to the beach.
Like his owner, Jack wasn’t the most social guy. But when he met someone he really liked, he latched on pretty tightly. I’m just lucky that he latched on to me the tightest. You should have seen Jack follow Bozley around like a shadow this summer. Peas in a pod.

I wanted to write about Jack today because I’m not sure what else to do. I’m sitting here at my home office and everything is quiet. Way too quiet. It is way too damn quiet in here right now.

I’m used to hearing Jack’s cough or his Kansas Jayhawks collar jingle when he shook himself after a good nap.

My vet, a kind doctor named Susan, told me I’d probably hear Jack’s echoes in my home for a while. I’ll hear his collar, she said. I’ll hear his cough. After so much time together, Susan said people often hear their pets for a while after they are gone.

I don’t hear Jack right now. I hope I do soon. I know he’s happy, and I hope he’s thankful for the life and love I gave him. He gave me 13 wonderful years of friendship, loyalty and unconditional love. What else is there in life?

I’m going to remember the good times. I’m going to remember him chasing squirrels and kicking up sand. I’m going to celebrate his life. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’m going to get another dog.   

My favorite band plays a song with the following lyrics: Sometimes a dog is as good as any man.

In Jack’s case, he was often better.

Rest in Peace, Jack. You were a great friend. The best. You will be missed and never forgotten.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Catch The Spirit of International Golf

Note: This article appears in the October issues of DFW Links and Houston Links magazines.

’Tis the season to don your colors.
   
No, this isn’t a column about your favorite college football team. The colors in question here are the red, white and blue of the American flag. 

The victorious U.S. Team at the 2009 Solheim Cup.
Starting last month and running through November, patriotism continues to be on high in the golf world. With apologies to the contrived FedEx Cup Playoffs, international team golf has taken center stage with the playing of the Walker Cup and Solheim Cup last month and the Presidents Cup looming in November.
    
The pageantry of individuals playing as teams from their countries will soon touch Texas, too.

The sixth playing of The Spirit International starts Nov. 2 at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity. In one of the most unique formats in all of golf competition, teams consisting of two men, two women and a coach from 20 countries will vie for gold medals in five events played through 72 holes of best ball format.

If you’ve never been to Whispering Pines, this is the perfect opportunity. Admission is free, the golf is superb and the competitive passion is contagious.

There’s something special about golf events played in team formats. Maybe it’s because golf is such an individual game. Other than one’s caddie, golfers rely solely on themselves for success. So many of our other favorite sports allow for teamwork—a key block in football, a timely pass in basketball—and it underscores how unique and difficult golf is. It’s just you, the golf ball and the course.

When you add in patriotism and playing for an entire country to the team format in golf, the results are extraordinary.

A fired up Jordan Spieth after making
a 12-foot birdie to halve his singles
match at the Walker Cup in September.
Look at the photo of Jordan Spieth on page 43. It really says everything about playing on a team for your country. The emotion is raw, genuine and unadulterated. Spieth, as an example, has played golf on the highest levels. He’s played on the PGA Tour. He’s won USGA national championships.

He’ll also be the first to tell you that playing for his country means more to him than any of it. It showed in September during the Walker Cup. Spieth was the only U.S. Team member to post an undefeated record (2-0-1) in Great Britain & Ireland’s 14-12 victory.

During the weekend of the Solheim Cup, I woke by 6 o’clock each morning, rolled out to the couch and flipped on the telecast from Ireland. One of my favorite things in the world is waking early on the weekend for international team golf played across the ocean—namely the Ryder Cup every two years. This year’s Solheim Cup was equally as thrilling.

I rooted hard for LPGA Tour rookie Ryan O’Toole, who was a controversial pick by U.S. captain Rosie Jones. Like Spieth at the Walker Cup, O’Toole finished undefeated (2-0-2) and was one of the bright spots for America.

Even though Europe rallied to win back the Solheim Cup for the first time since 2003, it was compelling TV. Watching players like Christina Kim, Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie show so much emotion was a joy to watch.

Maybe that’s why I love these international competitions so much. It’s really the only time in golf (outside of winning a major, I suppose) when it’s acceptable for players to go over the top with fist pumps and tree-rattling screams after making a clutch putt. You just don’t see that kind of emotion in other events.

I’m looking forward to witnessing firsthand that kind of passion at The Spirit International next month. With the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and Solheim Cup all resting in the hands of the Europeans, The Spirit is the next chance for the U.S. to win one for the red, white and blue.
 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Woods Belongs on Presidents Cup team

About a month ago, I wrote here that Keegan Bradley was more deserving than Tiger Woods for a Presidents Cup captain’s pick by Fred Couples.

I’d like a mulligan on that.

Woods deserves to be on the team more than anyone. More on that in a moment.

As far as the Bradley vs. Woods conversation, Couples made it moot a couple hours after my post went live. He announced on Aug. 25 that Woods was his first captain’s pick.

Tour Championship and FedEx Cup winner
Bill Haas should receive the final 
U.S. Presidents Cup captain's pick. 
Now, with Bill Haas winning the Tour Championship and the uber-contrived FedEx Cup on Sunday, Bradley’s chances are even slimmer to make the U.S. squad for the President Cup. While trying to predict anything that Couples does is about as effective as a Bermudagrass divot, we have to think the U.S. captain is going to tap Haas on the shoulder after his win at East Lake for the final U.S. spot.

Bradley, meanwhile, recently said he would be “devastated” not to make the U.S. team. Couples reportedly will make his final captain’s pick Tuesday afternoon.

Will Bradley, the PGA Champion, be left out in the cold?

Maybe not. Even if Couples takes Haas with the final pick, there is a chance that Bradley still makes the team.

Steve Stricker, the top-ranked American player in the World Rankings at No. 4, might not make the trip to Australia for the Nov. 17-20 match play exhibition. The 44-year-old has an MRI scheduled for his left elbow for issues with a herniated disk and bone spur.

Stricker wants to play, but he’s said he will defer to his doctors’ advice. There’s a chance Stricker could have surgery on his arm this week and shut it down for the year.

Let’s get back to Woods. When I wrote that Bradley (and at the time, Rickie Fowler) deserved to be on the U.S. team more than Tiger does, I had forgotten what the Presidents Cup is.

It’s an exhibition. It’s about promoting the game and the goodwill that accompanies it.

Regardless of his recent record,
Tiger Woods deserves to be on
the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
This isn’t the Ryder Cup. Sometimes we (I) forget that. The Presidents Cup is merely a showcase for the game. The Ryder Cup is Us vs. Them, and national pride is at stake.

Nothing is at stake in the Presidents Cup. Want proof? Back at the 2003 Presidents Cup, the score was tied at the end of the final day. Woods and Ernie Els were selected for a sudden-death playoff as nightfall approached.

You might remember that on the third extra hole—in the dark—Tiger made a 12-foot par save, and Els matched it with a slippery six-footer. The playoff should have continued, but captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were satisfied with the “showcase,” and they called it a draw.

That would never happen in the Ryder Cup.

And since the Presidents Cup isn’t the Ryder Cup, I’d like to reverse my stance on Woods’ participation.

He most definitely should be on the U.S. Team.

First, if the purpose of the event is to promote the game (read: get people to watch), then Woods is a no-brainer. No player in the last 20 years has meant more the game and the attention it receives than Woods. No player in the history of the game has done more to accelerate the game’s worldwide popularity. No one raised the amount of sponsorship dollars and prize money like TW did.

More people will watch now that Woods is playing. It will be interesting to see how his game has progressed in the past months. Woods is always a story, and the Presidents Cup wants (needs) all the storylines it can get.

I maintain that Bradley belongs on the team. I hope he gets the nod. But once I remembered what the Presidents Cup is, I am totally convinced that Tiger Woods belongs on the team as much (or more) than any American player.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lesson from a Legend

Jackie Burke’s putting stroke was as pure as love.

From 1950-1963, he won 16 PGA Tour events. He was an absolute wizard on the greens and got halfway home to the Grand Slam in 1956 when he won the Masters and PGA Championship.

Not many have ever putted
it better than Jackie Burke.
(Photo: Robert Seale, wsj.com)
A five-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member (and the 1957 U.S. captain), Burke has given putting lessons to some of best who’ve ever rolled it, including Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson.

He recently gave one to the hack who writes this blog.

A couple days ago I was at Champions Golf Club, which was founded by Burke and three-time Masters champ Jimmy Demaret. The historic club was the site of the 1967 Ryder Cup, 1969 U.S. Open and 1993 U.S. Amateur and is home to more single-digit handicaps than any club in Texas.

I was there waiting to interview and shoot some photos of 17-year-old Kayli Quinton for an upcoming story in Texas Links. Back in 2006, Golf Digest named Kayli the most improved junior golfer in the state – boy or girl – and she recently won her third consecutive Greater Houston Junior City Championship. She has a great story. I look forward to sharing it with you soon.

While waiting for Kayli, I ran into the 88-year-old Burke in the pro shop.

“You’re strong,” he said, squeezing my bicep like he has done before. (My arms aren’t much bigger than Kayli’s, by the way. He was just being nice.)

“What’s your handicap now?” he asked.

I told him and he said, “Not bad, but we can get that number down with his club.”

He had a putter in his hand.

Then he gave me a lesson next to a rack of $100 golf shirts. He told me putting the ball isn’t any different than rolling it across the green with your hand.

“You roll it with your arms,” he said. “You don’t hit at it.”

With his open palm, he punched me in the shoulder.

“You can’t putt like that,” he said. Then he took the same hand and gently rubbed it up and down my arm. “You putt like this.”

It was like those old credit card commercials: Putting lesson from a Masters champion? Priceless.

The next day in a media event, I made almost every putt.  

One of my all-time favorite golf pro stories involves Jackie Burke. He was giving a tour pro a putting lesson. They were working on four-footers. When the pro missed one, Burke slapped him across the face – hard. The pro recoiled, and then asked why Burke did that.

“When you miss a four-footer,” Burke said, “I want it to hurt.”

They didn’t just break the mold after Jackie Burke. They destroyed it.