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August Mailbag

Way overdue, as always. Let’s get caught up on some correspondence. Apologies in advance, this is a long one. Thanks for all of the questions.

I maintain that Rickie’s gonna get one. He’s around the top enough to conclude that he’s bound to run into one at some point. Rick has been around for awhile and had quite a few chances, so it may feel like he’s running out of chances to win one way more than the actual reality. He can go 0 for his next 11 majors and still be younger at the 12th than DJ was when he won his first major. He can go 0 for his next 16 majors and still be younger at the 17th than Phil was when he won his first major. While I wouldn’t say he’s on the trajectory of either of those players in terms of career achievements, perspective on age in these things is always important.

One thing I can’t stand is when a player is winless in majors, it seems like their high finishes in majors get held over their head as a bad thing. Seven top-5 finishes in majors for Rickie before the age of 30 is a good thing. He’s proven over and over that he has the talent to contend in majors, and though many will disagree with this, the line between contending in majors and winning them is actually pretty thin. Patience, my friends.

He’s very good! That’s never been the issue. I’ll take the bait here.

I feel like I’m at the end of a crooked game of telephone listening to what my take has somehow “become” vs. what I actually said from the start. My whole point was that, to get into the top 10 in the world rankings, you should have had to do at least something on the world stage. Winning five times on the European Tour is absolutely remarkable, and should not be dismissed under any circumstance. The point was that the Official World Golf Rankings way overrate winning events, when it should be measured more as a performance in relation to your peers.

Often times, a 5th place finish on the PGA TOUR is more impressive than a win on the European Tour in the same week given the difference in the strength of field. Noren climbed to the top ten in the world without ever playing a weekend in a major (during the the OWGR measurement time). The beef isn’t and never was with Noren. He’s just the latest subject in a mathematically proven bias in the rankings.

This is not to say that winning events shouldn’t matter. Noren’s wins were not against exceptionally weak fields, but here’s a quick example. He got 64 ranking points for winning the BMW PGA Championship, which had a field strength of 329. This week’s Dell Technologies Championship has a field strength of 728, and the winner will get 74 points, and the runner up will get around 45 points (by my count). The Dell Technologies has one of the strongest fields in golf, and you can beat a boat load of top 50 world players and get less points than beating less than a boat load of top 50 players at the BMW PGA. The system just gives you a lot of credit for winning.

Alex Noren is a fantastic player. That’s never been up for the debate. But he’s not scaring me if I see him on a European Ryder Cup team the way that the other top ranked European players do, and that’s the whole point. He’s a top 10 player in the world in ranking only.

 

The split was very amicable. My contract in Amsterdam was up as of June 30, and I gave notice to my office in Chicago back in April that I would not be coming back. Despite my best attempts to separate church and state, a lot of my colleagues in Chicago caught wind of NLU and follow the site relatively closely. It was going to be next to impossible to do both jobs once I returned. They were supportive of the move, and not surprised at all.

In Holland, I managed to keep the site a secret for my entire three years there. It really didn’t matter to them what I did after my contract expired, but they were in complete shock when I told them I wasn’t going back to Chicago. They struggled to understand that I was running a golf website, and seemed to think that I was quitting to play golf professionally. They looked at me like I was an idiot, and while I very well might be, I was pretty proud that I was able to keep the “secret” for basically three years.

With the time available, I’m definitely planning to attend events that make sense logistically. I’ve already been to seven between the PGA and Euro Tour this year, and hopefully will be at several more throughout the fall. The rest of the gang will attend when their schedules allow for it, but the vacation days are dwindling quickly!

I remember being legitimately surprised when it was rumored that he was in contention for a captain’s pick in 2015. He was nowhere near the top 10 in the standings, and had shown almost no signs of life over the course of the season. Then I remember watching him in Korea, and especially after watching his press conferences, and realizing that, of course Phil is on this team. So it’s that line of thinking that makes me think he’s going to be on the team no matter what.

The thing we all (myself included) need to realize is that the points standings mean very little to the players and the brass in charge. Around the time that Ryder Cup selections were being made last year, I was talking to a player about a candidate for the team. I mentioned where this player sat in the standings, and said something about their strokes gained stats for the year. The response I got was something along the lines of “Fuck the stats man, we just need to get the players together that give us the best chance of winning.”

This kinda hit home with me about the differences in the reality between how we view things as fans, and how the guys actually in the arena see it. A couple shots here and there throughout the season doesn’t necessarily mean that player is the best fit for a team event. Phil is a different player in these team events, takes them very, very seriously, and has been a presence in these team rooms for two decades. He’ll be there.

I’ve gotten this one enough that my answer is pretty well rehearsed at this point. It’s the Old Course at St. Andrews. And I most definitely would not have said this prior to my return visit this past June.

There’s a quote from Alister MacKenzie’s Spirit of St. Andrews (hat tip from reader Kyle Gans on nailing down the location of this quote) from Bobby Jones, where he said something along the lines of, that if you say you love the Old Course and you’ve played it less than ten times, you’re lying. While I’ve not played it ten times, I can certainly understand the spirit behind this quote because it took until my third time playing the famed links before I really “got it.” It was no doubt aided by the fact that I played it well, but I think I drove the rest of the group nuts by looking around on almost every single hole and just saying out loud, “this is the best.”

It’s challenging off the tee, yet it’s friendly. On most holes, you can bail as far left as you want and still find your ball, probably in an adjacent fairway. But you know that the further left you bail, the worse your angle is into the green. You’re going to be bringing in a series of humps and bumps that you may not have to negotiate from a more daring line off the tee.

The greens are fantastic. Pretty fast for a links course, but very smooth surfaces with subtle contours and highly unusual shapes. Most importantly, they marry the design of the course from tee to green perfectly.

We caught it in the perfect prevailing wind, and I felt like we got to see the course exactly as it was designed to be played. The first hole played dead into it, and 2-7 played into and off the left. Just the worst possible wind for a right hander. I was doing all I could just to keep the ball in play, as all of the trouble sits to the right. Having to try to hold up six irons into that wind to get to some of these pins was such a thrill that’s just hard to explain.

A brief downwind respite on holes 8 and 9, back out into it on 10 and 11, then you’re coasting home for the final seven. With the wind at our backs and off the right, the fear of the right OB miss was minimized, and we could swing freely. My caddie Brett was on point all day, walking me through shots and putting clubs in my hands I would have never even considered hitting. One instance, I remember being 156 out to the flag, but it was only 112 to cover the swale in the front. He said let’s hit a max 120 shot. I hit a little gap wedge right around in that area and watched it funnel back to the hole. This is the way golf was meant to be played.

Then once you add in the setting, the town that frames the course, the patio full of drinkers at the Jigger Inn along 17 fairway, the crowd gathered around the 18th green, the small towers in the town that you use for your lines coming in…. you can’t beat it.

I realize I spent more time answering this in a way that described the experience rather than the golf course, but it was all of those elements (the wind, the proper guidance, the setting) that added so much to the enjoyment of the actual golf course. I feel like I totally “get” the Old Course in a way that I did not in my first two times around it. It’s just the best.

One thing that Big Randy once said in one of his many anti-Rickie takes has always stuck with me:

“Rickie’s got WORK to do to get to Martin Kaymer’s career.”

Damn. That’s really true.

While I would certainly say that Kaymer’s career is odd, I’m not sure that I would say that his two majors is an odd stat. I think it’s easy to forget just how good Kaymer was pre-attempt to change his ball flight for Augusta. Putting aside the absurdity of that notion, Kaymer was on a torrid run leading up to the 2010 PGA Championship, his first major win. He already had five European Tour wins, plus top 10’s at the 2009 PGA, the 2010 US Open, and the 2010 Open Championship before breaking through at Whistling Straits. He followed that by winning three more times in the next five months, ascending to number one in the world. Then he changed his swing. Age 26 and the number one player in the world, and he changed it all! I still can’t believe that this is a real thing. Yes he was aided by the lack of true identity of a top player in the weird 2010-2011 phase, but the dude was nails and a deserving number one.

The 2014 re-emergence at the Wells Fargo, followed by the win at The Players the next week at least gave us a glimpse into the fact that his game was still there. Kaymer winning the 2014 US Open wasn’t shocking, just the way that he did it really surprised people. He eviscerated the field and put the viewers to sleep in an eight shot romp.

Somehow he is kind of the forgotten man when it comes to major champions in this era, kind of in the way that we don’t rattle off Padraig Harrington’s name frequently off the top of our heads. And I’m not really sure why. The best comp for him is probably Louis Oosthuizen? Both have run away with major championships, and while Louis still only has the one title, he’s been painstakingly close to so many other majors that essentially it’s fair to lump them in the same category.

Kaymer deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame simply because without him, Bubba is a three time major winner and that’s just not a world I want to live in.

Man, a tough one to answer because of the judgement that comes with it. One of my biggest takeaways from the summer is that, no matter where you are playing, someone always has a suggestion for a better place you should be playing.

Since realism has already been suspended for this question, I’m going to eliminate the cost element. I can’t afford many of the elite clubs of the US, but don’t want to eliminate a course from consideration because of cost.

The membership part makes the question very different from the question above, which is “what is your favorite golf course?” A strong golf course is obviously a prerequisite, but it also has to be a course that you would want to play every day. The Old Course, Pinehurst, Kingsbarns, etc. all get ruled out because you don’t want your everyday course to be flooded with tourists on a daily basis, and you get left scrambling for tee times. Five hour rounds are tolerated on a one-time walk on these courses, but every day? No thanks.

The makeup of the membership is also absolutely vital. There’s courses I’ve played where I think I would have a hard time fitting in with the members. I would want to have a group of young, solid players that enjoy competing, yet don’t take things too seriously.

After careful consideration, I’m choosing Royal Dornoch. They do get a lot of visitor traffic there, but it’s a championship level golf course that has not been super lengthened or toughened like many of the Open rota courses. The contours of the greens allow for so many different pin positions that I would imagine it feels like you’re playing a different golf course everyday. Yet the course tee to green is one of the most interesting and fun challenges I’ve seen. The setting is second to none. The vibe was phenomenal. The members I played with were a blast. You can easily play until 10:30 in the summer up there, it’s got a great 19th hole, and a storied history. Just take me back now.

I swear I would buy extra long sleeves in the early 2000’s just to be able to pull them up like Big Cat used to.

Apparel related #TourSauce moves, ranked:

  1. The hat tip – The classic. Standard placement of the index finger and thumb tightly around the bill. No tug, just a tap. Needs to be paired with a sheepish movement of the lips, yet no need to fully mouth the “thank you.”
  2. The shoe tap after a bunker shot – No one takes this more seriously than Phil. The toes of his wedges have wear marks from how hard he bangs the club off the bottom of his spikes, spraying sand all over the grass just outside the trap.
  3. The Watch Grab – High profile interview about to happen on tv? Seemingly at always the last second, a player’s manager reminds them to put their watch on for the interview, and the camera always catches them in the process of putting it on. Gotta keep those sponsors happy.
  4. Sunglasses anywhere but the eyes – It’s required keep them close by in case the sun comes out of nowhere from behind a cloud. Common resting places are on top of the hat, or around the back (to make sure you don’t cover the sponsor logo).

Bad answer here, but all of them. I don’t care a lot about the actual result of the Presidents Cup like I do the Ryder Cup, but I’m still super intrigued with the team aspect. The reason I pushed so hard for Koepka in 2015 (aside from the fact that it was abundantly clear that he was already one of the best players in the world) was that I’ve always felt that the Presidents Cup should be used as a breeding ground for the Ryder Cup. It won’t ever be for a few obvious reasons. One being that the two events are run by two different organizations that aren’t necessarily working under a common vision (PGA TOUR runs the Presidents Cup, the PGA of America runs the Ryder Cup). Another being that individual captains are trying their best to win the actual event, rather than groom next year’s Ryder Cup team that they’re not in charge of captaining.

So you’re always going to see some safe Captain’s picks at the Presidents Cup, with Phil of course being one of them. And for some reason at the Ryder Cup, experience in the actual cup is a huge prerequisite to being selected by the captain.

I hope the team falls out the way it currently stands, because I’m pumped to see Berger in team play, and some older (relatively speaking) guys like Kisner and Hoffman get their first shot. Obviously will be pumped to see JT get in the mix, mostly because he’s going to likely be on these teams for the next decade plus. This also gives Furyk four new guys with the “necessary” aforementioned team experience that may go into consideration when captain’s picks are made next fall for France.

Absolutely. In fact, I would even venture to say that the young heartthrob’s wavy locks have already captured our hearts, and are on the verge of capturing our spirits. The traj-y 341 yard driving iron on Protracer at Sedgefield was what helped seal the deal, though we’ve been on Ollie for quite some time (for Ollie’s NLU Podcast episode, click here).

Funny enough, I saw Robert Rock at the PGA Championship… as a coach!? I was aware of the Robert Rock Academy, but was surprised to see him on the grounds working with Thomas Bjorn with a coaching credential. Hardly a noteworthy story, but then I saw him back on TV at the Made in Denmark last week (with a T10 finish to boot). Maybe this happens more than I realize, but I found it odd that a player in the middle of their playing career was coaching another player on an official basis.

The Golf Club

Muirfield

Scioto

Brookside

Heritage

Raymond

I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also learned very little. Bear with me.

I moved from Chicago to Amsterdam in October 2014 partly because weekend golf was too much of a center point in my life, and I just felt like I should be doing something more. Aside from a few short trips to Ireland and Scotland, my clubs collected dust in Holland. I maxed out between 10-15 rounds a year, with 6-8 of them coming within a 3-4 day span in the British Isles. While I missed golf, putting the clubs away for an extended time allowed me the opportunity to do a lot of other things. So I traveled around Europe, Asia, or Africa at every possible opportunity, and had the time of my life doing it. I’d drop in on PGA TOUR coverage when time allowed for it, and weirdly enough, NLU started really taking off during this time. I spent a lot of time on it in the evenings after my real job was done for the day, but my own personal passion for playing was thrown way in the back seat.

This year, that all changed. The more I began to learn about golf courses in the UK, the further down a wormhole I went. Before moving back to the states, I was planning a very extended three month trip around Asia before settling back into my job in Chicago. When I decided to quit that, I changed these plans to include spending some time in the UK covering three events, and jamming in as much golf as possible (quite literally) around the European Tour spots, and wherever my rental car could reach. Of course, there is a work side of this (I’ve got a backlog of course writeups on my to-do list that hangs over my head), but as you might expect, it was the greatest summer ever.

Traveling to some of the most remote corners of the UK to play reinvigorated my passion for actually playing the game to a point where it is now stronger than it has ever been. On May 15th, my handicap rested at 2.4, and now with all of the golf I’ve played in the months since then, it’s dropped down to…. wait…. what? It’s 2.8. My handicap went up!?

I’ve never hit the ball better, and the equipment change to the Epic Subzero and the Apex Pro irons has without a doubt contributed to that. (You can roll your eyes at that plug if you want, but that’s just the God’s honest truth). I’ve never putted it better. My chipping has been brutal, but I honestly can’t figure out why more scores haven’t been better. And I think that finally brings me around to answering Tim’s question.

I’ve learned that I’m pretty much maxed out at around a 2 handicap. And I’m still coming to terms with this realization. Every time I feel like I’m about to make that leap and start shooting in the 60’s, I throw up an 81 and just come crashing down to Earth. I think it means that, without hours and hours of practice, or without tearing my swing down and starting over, that I’m stuck in this purgatory of being a good player, but not a scratch player.

The key here is acceptance. My game is good enough to have bursts where it feels like anything is possible, but not good enough that I can allow myself to get upset on the golf course. I used to be a brat, and if I wasn’t playing well, I did not have fun. Once I freed myself of that burden, I began to enjoy the game infinitely more. And that’s perhaps the best lesson I’ve ever learned in golf.

Thanks for making it all the way through, and for the great questions. I may save the rest for a mailbag pod.

About the Author

Inventor of #TourSauce, always waits for the green to clear, and club twirl savant.

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