April 24, 2009

Back at Black

By Billy Condon

Last week, I got the opportunity to travel to Bethpage for a photo shoot for our upcoming June/July issue of The Met Golfer. The goal was to get shots of Mike Davis, Sr. Director of Rules and Competitions for the USGA as well as Hamilton Lopes, a member of the grounds crew who is an alum of the MGA Foundation's GOLFWORKS student intern program and who will be featured in that issue as well.

I have been to Bethpage a few times in the past to conduct U.S. Public Links qualifiers and interviews for the upcoming article with Hamilton and head superintendent Craig Currier. I always got that feeling of excitement when pulling up to the welcome sign and always think back to that "Everybody Loves Raymond" episode where they sleep in their car. However, being there as all the tents and preparations are now in full swing was tremendous. Between the corporate and hospitality tents going up to walking up to the famous sign on the first tee "WARNING - The Black Course is an Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers." It reminds you of how special a place it really is. I couldn't help but take some pictures of my own.

Seeing the eager and nervous anticipation of the players waiting to tee off, (including some who disregarded the WARNING sign and made everyone aware that they are not highly skilled) made me wish I was one of the lucky ones able to get a tee time between 8 and 1 for the chance to play the Black and for the chance to say "I was there, I went dead center on #1 and got on in two! Tiger hit his in the rough!"

Between the cameras and the interviews (I got the chance to pretend to be Jimmy Roberts as I interviewed Hamilton) onlookers were trying to get the scoop as I have been that onlooker on numerous occasions. It definitely gave me a sense of importance and that in some small way, I was a part of the 2009 U.S. Open.

April 20, 2009

Ike Duo Rules School

By Billy Condon

Having witnessed the outstanding golf put on display by Kevin Foley and Morgan Hoffmann on numerous occasions last summer, including their one-two finish at the Ike respectively, it is great to see their continued success each week on the college circuit.

Foley, a Penn State junior, and Hoffmann, a freshman at Oklahoma State had outstanding months of March and have brought their A-games into April as they prepare for conference and NCAA tournaments right around the corner. This past week, Foley finished at a tie for first place at the Boilermaker Invitational with a total score of nine under par. This helped Penn State to second-place finish overall, one shot short of first. This marked the fourth time that Foley finished first in a collegiate event. It should also be noted that fellow Met Area student athlete Chris DeForest, a sophomore at the University of Illinois finished in third place, two strokes behind Foley and helped Illinois capture the team title.

As for the Cowboy's freshman phenom, Hoffmann has recently been named one of ten semifinalists for the Ben Hogan award. The award goes to the top collegiate player among all divisions, taking into account all of their collegiate and amateur achievements in a 12-month period. Hoffmann has won two events this year while at OSU, and was also named the Big 12 Golfer of the Month for March, and made it to the quarterfinals at the U.S Amateur. To be one of ten for the Heisman Trophy of golf is extremely impressive, and he's only a freshman!

It will be exciting to see both Kevin and Morgan, as well as the other Met Area college stars continue to excel throughout the rest of the collegiate season and hopefully their fine play will continue into U.S. Open qualifying.

April 16, 2009

Viva Argentina!

By Greg Midland

One last thought on the 2009 Masters champion, Angel Cabrera. I had the good fortune to travel to Argentina in February with about two dozen golf professionals to sample a few of the best courses in this golf-rich country. In addition to spending more time than we ever expected eating some of the finest steaks in the world, our group got to sample five courses around the capital city of Buenos Aires. Golf has been played in Buenos Aires for more than 125 years, when British settlers first brought the game to Argentina. While golf is a distant second behind soccer in the Argentine sports pantheon, Cabrera's second major win will only help boost its profile.

One of the highlights of the trip -- in addition to trading a New York winter for an Argentine summer for a week -- was the opportunity we had to meet and interact with two legends of Argentinian golf, Eduardo Romero and Roberto De Vicenzo. Romero, or "El Gato," as he is known by Argentinians, has had a very successful run on the Champions Tour, and won an event just a couple months ago. But it is De Vicenzo, now 86 years old and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, who put Argentine golf on the map. He won the 1967 British Open at Hoylake, by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus. The following year, he made one of the biggest gaffes in golf history. De Vicenzo signed for a 66 in the final round of the 1968 Masters, rather than the 65 he actually shot, which would have put him in a playoff with Bob Goalby. Instead, Goalby was the outright champion, and De Vicenzo uttered the now-famous words, "What a stupid I am!"

Rest assured, De Vicenzo is anything but. When he walked into the clubhouse at Pilar Golf Club outside Buenos Aires, everyone in attendance, from golf pros to clubhouse staff to members, congregated around him. I was able to pose with him for this picture (above), along with teaching pro Pat Eggeling of Old Oaks and head pro Don Beatty of Garden City Country Club. De Vicenzo clearly set the bar for players like Romero, Cabrera, and young Andres Romero to follow in his footsteps and bring deserved recognition to Argentinian golf.

April 13, 2009

What an Ending!

By Billy Condon

Wow! I don’t think anyone could have predicted such an exciting finale to the Masters. With Tiger and Phil’s comeback efforts falling just short, Kenny Perry nearly acing 16 and a three-man playoff, this year’s Masters was anything but drama-free. Although our predictions were a little off with no European, man from the Emerald Isle, or Mahan/Cink coming through in the end to don the green jacket, it sure was fun to watch and congratulations are due to Angel Cabrera. From the avid follower to someone watching for the first time, it’s hard to say golf isn’t a great spectator sport.

Yesterday was a perfect example of why not only golf, but all sports are so exciting. Just when you think you're out for the count, you get a lucky bounce off a tree back into the fairway, make a putt and before you know it, you are in Butler Cabin being awarded the green jacket. Cabrera paralleled what the Boston University hockey team achieved this weekend, as the Terriers scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to force overtime and eventually win the National Championship.

2009 will be a great year for major championship golf and with the next stop being right here in the Met Area, the world’s best will be itching for their next shot to win a major at the Black.

April 9, 2009

Saxton Enjoying the Azaleas

By Greg Midland

While it's true that none of the PGA Tour pros who we follow on Tour Watch (J.J. Henry, Marc Turnesa and Johnson Wagner) made the Masters field, we do want to point out one person with ties to the Met Area: amateur Reinier Saxton (left). The 21-year-old Saxton, who won the 2008 British Amateur to get into his first Masters, is the son of Jonas Saxton, a three-time Ike champion (1981, '83 & '84) and two-time MGA Player of the Year. Jonas Saxton lived for many years in Greenwich, Connecticut, before moving to his native Holland, where Reinier grew up.

The younger Saxton obviously picked up his father's good golf genes, and bears a striking resemblance to Jonas in his younger days, right down to the trim frame and thick, dirty blonde hair. After winning the British Am, Reinier showed his sense of humor: "Of course it’s a dream come true to play in the (British) Open and the Masters. I was going to try for my European card later this year, but there’s no point. I’ll just have to win the Masters and then turn pro,” he joked.

He'll have to make quite a rally during Friday's second round to have a chance to accomplish that feat. He is well down the leader board after a first-round 75, although he did manage three birdies, including two in a row on the 13th and 14th holes. If Reinier does manage to make a run on Friday and get into position to make the cut, it will be further proof that the Saxton apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

April 8, 2009

Quigley in Greenwich

By Greg Midland

I had the pleasure of spending some time with PGA Tour player Brett Quigley at an event last night at the Vineyard Vines store in Greenwich, Conn. Quigley, who has a sponsorship deal with Vineyard Vines, was in town to help promote the company's spring line and play in an outing today at the Country Club of Fairfield. (I hope he brought thermals for the round).

Quigley, who grew up in Rhode Island but now lives in Florida, is part of a great golf family. His uncle Dana is an 11-time winner on the Champions Tour and his father, Paul, has won a ton of amateur events in New England. Brett, who turns 40 later this year, is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory (he has two Nationwide Tour wins), but he does hold a notable Met Area distinction: He was the medalist at the 2006 U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying Round at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., shooting 68-63. Of course, he joked last night that his performance was "completely forgotten," because another player in the field that year, Michelle Wie, received 99.9 percent of the attention from the 5,000 spectators and more than 250 members of the media who descended on Canoe Brook.

Even though Tour pros are among the most accessible athletes in sports, it's always nice to see just how down-to-earth someone like Quigley is. Here's a guy who has won just over $10 million in his professional career, and yet it's obvious that he simply loves to talk golf. Like any golfer, he tends to linger more on his disappointments (two chances to win tournaments in March that resulted in second-place finishes) than his successes. Surely he would have preferred to be in the Masters field this week, but he still seemed to be enjoying himself.

The talk turned to future major championships, and Quigley, who didn't make the field for the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and has never played there, would love a crack at the Black this year. There's a good chance he will have to qualify to make the Open field, and if so, those of us here at the MGA are hoping he'll be in the field at the June 8 Sectional Qualifying Round at Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. Here's hoping that Quigley continues his success. He's an easy guy to root for.

April 6, 2009

Big Monday

It’s a great sports day, with home openers at baseball stadiums across the country and the NCAA Men’s basketball championship game tonight in Detroit. It’s also the first full day of practice rounds at Augusta National Golf Club, as the Masters begins in less than 72 hours. Unfortunately, none of the players of local interest that we track as part of Tour Watch on mgagolf.org – J.J. Henry, Johnson Wagner and Marc Turnesa – made it into the Masters field. But that doesn’t mean we still don’t have some ideas about who’s going to wear the green jacket come Sunday evening. With that in mind the MGA Communications staff of Greg Midland, Bob Nielsen and Billy Condon decided to launch MGA Swing Thoughts with our 2009 Masters predictions below. Check back all season for golf news and stories from the Met Area and beyond.

Lucky 13 for Tiger

It’s hard to believe, but this is Tiger’s 15th Masters appearance (his 13th as a professional). He has grown up before our eyes, from a skinny Southern California kid who won six consecutive USGA titles from 1991-‘96 (three Juniors, three Amateurs) to an incredibly well-built, mentally strong, virtually unstoppable force in golf. During that time, he has amassed more course knowledge about Augusta National than any other player, especially when it comes to reading the greens. He will continue to be the favorite in every major championship until well into the next decade, and despite coming off reconstructive knee surgery last year, he appears to be in top form heading into the first major of the year. No matter what he says, Tiger would love nothing more than to win the Grand Slam (and tie Jack Nicklaus with 18 majors in the process). You can’t win all four without winning the first.

The Euro is Rising: A European has not won the Masters in 10 years, since Jose Maria Olazabal came out on top. If it’s not Tiger, I’d look for either Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, or Padraig Harrington to end the Euro drought. Casey, in particular, seems to be peaking at the right time, having just won last week in Houston. And with three top-10s in four Masters appearances, Casey obviously feels comfortable on the course. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Casey become the sixth player in history to win the week before the Masters and then go on to claim the green jacket (the last was Phil Mickelson in 2006).

Greg Midland

Three in a Row

It’s tough to pick against Tiger, but 37-year-old Padraig Harrington has flourished in the major championships the last two years, grabbing the last two and three of the last six. After an impressive playoff win over Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie in 2007, Harrington overcame an injured wrist and crowd-favorite Greg Norman to win back-to-back British Open titles and become the first European golfer to successfully defend his crown since 1906. Three weeks later, a pair of 66s over the weekend propelled him to victory at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan. That’s all well and good, but can he do it at Augusta with a healthy Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson back to form with two wins this year? The answer is in the numbers: Paddy has three top-ten finishes at Augusta since 2002, including a tied for fifth finish in 2008 and a tied for seventh in 2007. I expect Harrington will have to be a little more aggressive than he usually is, but his steady play and ability to withstand major championship pressure bodes well for his chances at Augusta. Here’s to rooting for the "Paddy Slam" at Bethpage Black!

The “Tin Cup” guy?: No, not Roy McAvoy. I’m talking about Rory McIlroy, the 19-year-old Northern Ireland native who burst onto the professional golf scene in 2007 when he finished low amateur at the British Open. A Masters rookie is definitely not the popular pick to win as there have only been three in the event’s history, most recently Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, but McIlroy has the game to fill out that foursome. He snagged his first professional win this year at the Dubai Desert Classic in February and later reached the quarterfinals at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (where he lost to eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy). Augusta National may not favor the free-swinging and charismatic teenager, but what could be more exciting than Tiger, Phil or Padraig paired with a young phenom like McIlroy in the final round of the Masters.

Bob Nielsen

A Master-ful Final Four

As my picks for the NCAA basketball tournament have dwindled, leaving me battling at 1,115,000th place on ESPN going into tonight’s final, I can only hope my Masters picks treat me better. Before I reveal my choice(s) for the green jacket, I am going to first make a prediction on the par-three contest. With no player having ever won the par-three and the championship prior in the same year, I have strategically chosen Sergio Garcia. No offense to Sergio, I’m saving him as my Barclay’s ringer.

I have found that Masters picks can be compared to March Madness with regards to selections: there is a limited number, those that get in may only get the chance once in their lifetime, and you can’t get enough Jim Nantz. First and foremost, you have the heavy favorites: UNC, UConn, Tiger, and Phil; next are the picks you make only because their names sound cool: the Zips of the University of Akron, the Matadors of Cal State Northridge, Reinier Saxton of Holland, and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan; and lastly you have the hopeful Cinderella’s that you know are only worth picking for a big pay-out: Morehead State, UT Chattanooga, Sergio Garcia, and Greg Norman.

So after a thorough analysis of the field, I have narrowed it down to four players who I think have what it will take to win. Coincidentally, these four picks show similarities that have been cross-referenced to the teams that played in this year’s Final Four.

-My UNC has to be Tiger Woods. After a couple of scares, UNC is the team to beat just as Tiger is coming on strong after a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The players know that on his A-game, Tiger is unstoppable.
-My other heavy hitter is Phil. As a fellow lefty, I have a great allegiance to Phil and I would have to compare him to UConn. He has been playing well, but you never exactly know what you are going to get out of him, and as seen by both, it is always harder to make a move after being rattled early on.
-I see Hunter Mahan as Villanova: no one would have guessed they would be in contention except those close to the team, and with the way he has been performing in recent weeks, he can make some noise. -As for Michigan State, I am going with Stewart Cink. After winning at the Travelers Championship last year and helping the U.S. team win back the Ryder Cup, as well as two top-ten finishes at Augusta the last three years including a tie for third in 2008, I would really like to see “Big Stew” in Butler Cabin. As much as the title may seem a lock for the Tar Heels or a healthy Tiger, Cink and the Spartans are riding some pretty heavy momentum. It also doesn’t hurt that he is a Georgia guy, and as the Spartans can attest, it never hurts to have the hometown crowd on your side. (I just hope he doesn’t use all his good swings in Wednesday’s par-three).

Billy Condon