Thursday, June 26, 2014

Playing The Bunkers Paradise Tournament

I have been slowly but surely getting back into golf and it has been AGES since I played in a tournament. When Bunker's Paradise (a great website and golf forum located here in LA) said that not only were they putting on a tournament to raise money for the Special Olympics (great cause) but also that it was going to be at the Black Gold Golf Club, I knew I had to sign up.

Designed by Arthur Hills, I had been targeting BG for a while and the course did not disappoint. There is rarely a level lie with lots of elevation gains and losses. What was great about this course from an aesthetic and challenging point of view was the shelving of the fairways which you can hopefully make out below:

(the fairway landing area is to the left and curls right but if you go too far to the right you are off into the wilds)

I had so many favorite holes on the day, of course, the picturesque par 5 18th hole comes to mind:

as does the third hole as it is short but tight and a tester:

I also really dug how the course hugged the landscape and made for some great view from the tee boxes.

But what I really enjoyed about the course and the tournament was about how much fun I had. Ken and Kate from BP were so welcoming and fun and on numerous holes we got to try out different golf balls and contribute money to charity by buying birdies. Plus there was also an appearance from Fiamma Felitch who helped us get a birdie on a hole (thanks Fiamma!).

The day was a lot of fun. Ol Group 4B did well but we didn't win.

(the team in action, photo courtesy of Bunkers Paradise)

What did win was my appreciation of Bunker's Paradise and the great course we played. Everyone is getting geared up for next year's tourney, its only 361 days away!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

US Women's Open Day 3

7:00am: Whew, why am I waking up so early in the morning to follow the US Women's Open? I can't wait for the Open to come to California in 2 years. I need more of these golf tournaments to be on California time. Sure some of the best and "classical" courses are in the East, which developed before the West but I live here and the tournament schedulers should cater to me, is what I am saying.

8:00am: The leaders aren't close to teeing off yet but its interesting to see if anyone is trying to go low on "moving day". Also, it seems all the low scores have come from the morning groups both days so we will see if that holds true and if the afternoon leaders fall back to the pack today. So far, only 3 of the morning golfers, Brittany Lang, Julie Inkster and Lydia Ko are in red figures and everyone else is shooting above par. So much for my vaunted "morning" theory.

9:30am: No one is really making a move yet although one more golfer, Shanshan Feng is -1 for the day but at +6 overall, still way back of Wie. One of the complaints about the men's US Open was the golf course on Saturday was set up in such a way that no one could go low and catch Kaymer (its funnier if you say his name like one of the Germans in Hogan's Heroes). The course may be similar for the women, we shall see.

10:30am: Of course, someone IS moving now on moving day. Julie Inkster is -4 under for the day and +2 overall for the tournament. If she can keep this up, she will be definitely in the mix for Sunday. We are starting to see more golfers in red figures. Perhaps has the course firms up as we turn toward afternoon in North Carolina (or who knows, I have no idea why people do what they do, I am just an armchair commentator, now GET OFF MY LAWN :)).

12:16pm: Lexi bombs a putt way over the green (yes you read that right) and makes a double bogey to drop 3 back from the lead held by Michelle Wie.

(Lexi putted from the far right to off the far left of this green)

It shows you just how tough the course is but how consistent the women have been in misreading their chips and putts this week. It is definitely course-specific as the women are usually spectacular with their short game and this week they look like a bunch of 20 handicappers if on their chips. Update Lexi's bad luck continues as she doubles the next hole with similar putting problems around the green.

1:00pm: I know Pinehurst has received some criticism for being too "brown" and not having the typical US Open rough that is high as an elephant's eye but I don't care, I love seeing pros have to deal with the sand and pine needles.

Its a different look and feel to a course and I think the challenge of the US Open being "different" is good for the pros and good for us.

2:00pm: In a true testament to moving day, Amy Yang is putting the moves on Michelle by going -3 thru 15 at this point and actually taking the lead as Michelle is moving the other way and currently 2 over for the day. Lexi continues to struggles going 3 over at this point. Heck even the amateur Minjee Lee is currently in third place only shooting one over for the day. The lead swings on this day have been impressive.

2:40pm: The third round ends with a lot of digging in. Lexi digs out a birdie to get back to +3 and within at least shouting distance of the lead. Amy digs in to hang on for a 68 and a tie for a lead. Michelle, leaking on the back 9 has a solid par on 18 to keep her tied for the lead (dig something something). With 11 people within shots of the lead and with course very capable of making you put up some large numbers, I think its going to be a fight to the end. Who you got?

All images poorly photographed from NBC are their property and their use herein is for commentary and criticism purposes only and no rights are claimed to the copyright thereto.

Friday, June 20, 2014

US Women's Open Day 2

Round 2 of the US Women's Open! Whose Coming With Me?

9:00am: Here we are, another beautiful day at Pinehurst (presumably, I am following a leaderboard on a website in Los Angeles). Michelle Wie is having a good round at even par (only at the US Open is even par a "good" round). Looking down the leaderboard, I am amazed how many international flags are represented on the leaderboard. For all the talk of the NFL expanding into Europe and other sports trying to go international, the LPGA has truly bridged the international divide not only in terms of players but also tournaments. The first 4 events of the year and 7 out of the last 8 tournaments take place outside the country in places like Singapore, Mexico, China, basically all over the place.

10:30am: Michelle Wie continues her great year and finishes her round in first place. She won earlier this year at her home course in Hawaii which featured a nice victory celebration but also a weird hula dance thing. The pouring water/beer thing has become kinda cliched on the LPGA tour but I am much more fine with it than the enforced hula-ing. No one should go through that.

11:10am: Paula Creamer ends the day at 2 over par. She is still tied for 15th place but is not challenging for the top spot as I thought she might. She has been in a lot of commercials recently (she's a pirate!) and may be suffering from some Rickie Fowler disease. If you aren't familiar, Rickie is everywhere, commercials, crazy outfits on the course, boy bands. If you are a professional athlete, please try and make as much money as you can but it may lead your game to suffer, just something to keep in mind.

12:00pm: Aaaaand here we go with coverage coming back on ESPN. Its raining in North Carolina and I love it. You get used to golf being played in pristine conditions but you have to remember golf is also played outside and you have to deal with the rain and wind that come with it. Will be interesting to see how the ladies do with it.

1:05pm: Horrible sports pun 1,345,765 was just uttered when Emma Talley hit a scorching putt that blew by the hole and the announcer said "stop rolling, because she is roll tide" (she went to Alabama). golf is boring to watch on TV but there is no excuse for bad puns. 2:11pm Pun Update! This terrible announcer said that a Canadian should have used a curling broom to get the ball closer to the hole. Not a pun but equally as terrible.

1:45pm: Can I just say how much I love Dottie Pepper and her commentary? Not only is she from Upstate New York (like yours truly) and a Hall of Fame-type career but she really brings it announcing-wise. Great insights and much more even handed then her colleague Judy Rankin (who I can barely stand, she is just so caustic).

2:00pm: So many shots and stories and close-ups of 11 year old Lucy Li who is is playing much better than most of us could play Pinehurst (78 the first day, I wish!).

Still there is something weird about seeing a true child hitting and hanging out with adults. She is also a novelty (who can play for sure) but there are tons of golfers playing and yet almost no shots of them.

2:30pm: Lexi Thompson, one of my favorite golfers on tour currently is looking pretty good.

Hovering around +1-2 all day which is putting her in a tie for 6th (at the moment) and well positioned for the weekend. Lexi is only 8 years older than Lucy Li but that gap is all the difference as Lexi is more powerful and has her game together. Its fascinating though the difference between the mornings and afternoon sessions as those going out both mornings have had better scores than the afternoons thus far.

2:42pm: Lexi strings together a few birdies to get into a tie for second. The announcers mentioned how short the course is playing (one par 4 is 227 or something ridiculous like that) and for a golfer like Lexi who bombs it long, that can only help. No surprise her another another long hitter Michelle Wie are at the top of the leaderboard. 3:00pm: Lexi makes it 3 birdies in a row and is on a roll.

4:00pm: And another round is in the books. The cut (meaning the cut off line between people playing in the weekend or not) is an incredible +9 so even if you had terrible rounds, you are still in it. It is shaping up to be quite the contest between Wie, Lexi and Stacy Lewis, who will win?

All images poorly photographed from WatchESPN are their property and their use herein is for commentary and criticism purposes only and no rights are claimed to the copyright thereto.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

US Women's Open Day 1

Welcome to my coverage of the 2014 US Women's Open! While I am a fan of all of golf, I am particularly drawn to the LPGA. The hit the ball about the same distances I do so their approach to the game is something to watch closely and emulate if possible. Also, the Tour is a lot of fun. Not a lot of slim, Oakley be-spectacled golfers here. I saw a couple of tournaments years ago at Kingsmill and in Nashville and now that I am getting back into golf, I am definitely getting back into the LPGA.

What better way to feed my mania than a live-ish blog of the US Open at Pinehurst?

8:00am: Wake up and check out the scores. Stacy Lewis is already out to a blazing start at -2 and it continues with her ending her round at -3. I am kicking myself because in my mind, I would have picked her for the fantasy golf team that I don't have. I just found out about this fantasy league but since we are halfway through the season, I didn't enter. I lost last week picking Kaymer to finish with -8 (his final score was -9) am I doomed to repeat with Stacy Lewis kicking ass and taking names?

11:00am: Still waiting for the ESPN coverage to come on the TV and its clear what the difference is between the men's coverage of the US Open and the coverage of the women. It makes me upset that I can't get the same wall-to-wall coverage of the LPGA tour that the PGA puts out there. I think streaming costs are going down so much that eventually streaming the off-peaks events will become common place (as the PGA has done) but until then, I am refreshing the US Open Leaderboard.

11:17am: Update on Streaming! The head of the LPGA Media answered my question and said it was a rights issue:

That right there is why the LPGA is different/better than the PGA or other sports, their responsiveness to their fans is almost unmatched.

12:00pm: OK! Coverage is underway!

Wie skulls one over the green (and makes an "ugly" 6) and Paula Creamer putts a ball off the green; clearly Pinehurst is showing its teeth. I don't the course ever plays easy from what I hear but once you have been accurate driving and in the fairways, the greens could still mess you up.

1:00pm: A fascinating statistic comes up regarding how well the amatuers are doing at the US Open.

We often think that the pros are, well, professional. That they are lightyears ahead of any other golfer but there is plenty of talent all around the country and world in golf. When I played golf seriously back in the day, I was consistently surprised how many good golfers were at each level I played at. It is clear there is the same depth of talent in the women's game and the fact that so many amateurs are near the top of the leaderboard will make for a very interesting tournament, especially as the pressure gets ratcheted up on the weekend.

1:30pm: It is interesting to see how the course is playing compared the course that the men just competed at. So far hole 9 (a par 3) is playing like it owes someone money since so many shots are coming up close to the stick. It cousin, hole 10 isn't playing much better, what with it being ranked as the easiest hole on the course through the first round so far. Conversely, hole 10 was middle of the pack in terms of toughness for the men. One of the points of holding the men's and women's championships at the same course was the interesting experiment of how would each play the course? So far, it has yet to be seen but it looks like a much more competitive tournament than the one Martin Kaymer ran way with last weekend (I think he still making birdies despite the tournament being over for 4 days).

1:36pm: Wait, wait, wait, there is a golfer with the last name of "Pancake"??? Have I found my new favorite LPGA player?

2:20pm: The youth are on parade here at the US Open. A college amateur (Marissa Chow) was leading the US Open until she blew up on 8 with a double bogey and then another double on 9. I will admit to being in my 30s and I am getting to the point where I am older than the athletes I follow but the LPGA is ridiculous with 11 year olds, 15 year olds and 18-19 year olds out there. So basically, the US Open makes me feel old.

3:20pm: Your current leaders of the open are Stacy Lewis (current No. 1 in the world), Michelle Wie (No. 11 and climbing) and Paula Creamer (13th in da world). the amateurs have fallen away a bit and the pros have taken command. The difference between the pros and amateurs that I have seen this late in the day is that while each is capable of making good shots, the pros don't blow up with double bogeys or worse. They keep the damage of their misses to a minimum and also have the ability to birdie a hole to pick up shots. Me, I am just hoping to keep it on the fairway.

4:00pm: And that wraps up the TV coverage although there are a few golfers still left on the course. Paula gave one back on 9 but is still in the hunt as are a lot of other golfers. One thing you can usually count on in a US Open is that the course is so tough, most scores hover right around par and right now 24 golfers are +1 or better so lots of people are in the hunt. Of course, we will have to see if Stacy pulls away a little bit or comes back to the pack tomorrow!

All images poorly photographed from WatchESPN are their property and their use herein is for commentary and criticism purposes only and no rights are claimed to the copyright thereto.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Golfing DeBell Golf Club

Nestled in my favorite mountains in Southern California (the Verdugos) lies DeBell Golf Club, a short but challenging golf course that I got to check out the other week.

The first thing about DeBell that you must pray to the deer gods in order to have a good round.

Seriously, the deer where EVERYWHERE on this track. Completely oblivious to duffed shots, golf carts, cursing. Theirs is a blessed existence.

The course offers a variety of tight driving holes (only broke out my driver a few times and paid dearly for my decision) with bling tee shots greeting you on over 50% of the holes. Once you get to the landing areas you are often faced with pins that are guarded by bunkers or streams.

What is also fascinating about this course is that many of the holes are set up as par 4s between 250-320 yards but then the par 3s are ALSO 210 or so (from the tips). This isn't your run of the mill of executive course since par is 71 with a bunch of par 5's thrown into the mix. Its like an executive course on steroids.

It is also a pretty course with many a flowering bush to be had.

There was also a great sense of history with the course as all the benches were in honor of various luminaries in the Burbank golf scene and there was this great statue greeting all the golfers as they got the clubhouse.

One of my favorite holes is a severe downhill 180 par 3 that you can't see at all from the tee. Your best hope is to aim between the mountain and the tree and pray.

I actually got a par on this hole, one of my favorite pars of the year.

That is the thing about DeBell, its short but with ton of tight driving holes and elevation changes, this course packs a punch. Pace of play was an issue with another 5+ hour round (for no reason especially on the day I played) but it was so pleasant and I enjoyed the course so much, I sucked it up and gave thanks to the deer gods for my round.

Check out more about DeBell here:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Following Freddie

I think most golf fans aren't just fans of the sport but of individual golfers. Much like someone follows sports teams like the Indians in baseball or the Buffalo Bills in football (and God help you if you follow both the Indians and the Bills like me, then you are in a world of hurt) you tend to root for individual golfers.

For me growing up I followed guys like Corey Pavin and David Duval but the golfer who really took the cake was Fred Couples. Masters winner, one of the most popular guys on tour for his easy demeanor and easier swing, and the one golfer whose poster graced my bedroom (I was a deranged child growing up).

So when the recent Toshiba Classic recently came to Newport Beach here in Southern California with Fred in the field, I knew I had to check out the golf action.

The course was really in good shape and so was Fred. While Fred added some years since the last time I saw him, space-time has done nothing to diminish the length of his drives or how good his game actually is.

I usually like to mix it up, watch many golfers but I wanted to see how Fred approached an entire round of golf. Plus I wanted to see the entire course and see how the other 1% lives since Newport Beach is a private country club.

Walking 18 holes with one golfer is a test for any golf fan, there were only a hardcore few but it was interesting to see Fred have ups and downs just like us (if any of us could actually drive the ball 320 yards) but how he bounced back was a good lesson in shaking off the bad holes and questing for the good.

The course itself was in great shape but rather straightforward for my tastes. Of course, 17 with its water and palm tress is the most picturesque hole on the course so I took many, many pictures.

At the end of the round I tracked down Freddie and wished him well on the next round. Boy did my luck my pay off, Fred won the tournament the next day. I am expecting my cut of the winnings any day now.