Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The 107th U.S. Open and my Beef with Tiger Woods

I don’t know when I’m going to be able to post this. One thing about living in the Philippines, when things break or everyday services like power, cable and telephone cease; you just never really know when you’re going to be able to get them operational again.

My Internet has been FUBAR for almost a week now. I’ve called the service reps going on dozens of times; they are always very pleasant, and twice they sent repairmen out who seemed to have a handle on the problem; but then, well, I’m STILL offline.

Living here, it helps to be languidly retired with no overly developed sense of urgency, …OR, you can get drunk and take lots of deep breaths—either way. My advice: leave back in the States your American-style need to have everything fixed IMMEDIATELY, ...Or...risk acquiring hypertensive disease or some other stress-related disorder. To keep one’s sanity here in the islands, especially if you are not from here originally, it’s best to be very patient (longsuffering?) and happy go lucky. In other words, “be like the Romans, …OR, …get soused.

Anyway, at least my cable TV is working and for me that’s even more important than the cable Internet. I stayed up the whole of both Saturday and Sunday nights tuned in to the 107th U.S. Open. Starting at 1 a.m. I watched fascinated through the wee hours until well after sunup, till around 6:30 or 7 both mornings. Now its 8:15 Monday night Philippine time and I’m still a little groggy from my self-induced “jet lag.” Just the same, I NEED to get some of my “post U.S. Open” thoughts and bitches off my chest.

You know, I don’t get to watch Tiger Woods as much as I’d like. It seems most of the golf on cable here is either the U.S. women’s pro circuit, or broadcasts of one of the lesser men’s PGA tournaments. I can take or leave most of that fare, but whenever one of the four major opens is on, I’m there for almost every second of play.

No matter what the golf venue, if he’s playing, I root for Tiger. I was analyzing why I do that, since I normally pull for the underdog in any other sport. With his #1 ranking, which he seems to have retained uninterrupted for the last decade, Woods can seemingly never be considered the underdog. But, he’s so incredibly good and impossibly consistent at being good that I can’t help myself; I yearn to see him squash his “unworthy” competitors every time he plays, to witness as he continues to rack up the wins. Its incredibly riveting, the idea of seeing someone like him, a living sports legend in the midst of his best playing years; and knowing that it might be another 3 or 4 generations, or even longer, before his like comes along once more. Go Tiger!

Okay, having said that, having made my obligatory tribute to the altar of Woods, now I shall carp a little. His putting! What the heck? I tuned in a little late on day 3 and missed his two early and ONLY birdies. What I DID see was some very ordinary and unimpressive putting from him. It can certainly be argued that he wasn’t all that bad, since he managed to have so few bogies, and over the last two days I can’t remember him suffering any double bogies at all. But just not screwing up is NOT what we expect from a champion like Tiger Woods. I want, I expect, perfection from my golf deities.

Announcer Johnny Miller commented late in the day during the Saturday round that Woods’ command of his driving, his ability to hit the lean fairways at will, and his near perfect rate at sticking “greens in regulation” portended that Tiger was SURE to win the tournament. As Miller pointed out, no one else came close to hitting as many fairways and greens. By the middle of the final round though, the writing was on the wall for me. Tiger’s putting was NOT getting any better; in fact, it seemed to get, if not worse, certainly more and more ordinary; and ordinary does not win championships.

The frustrating AND fascinating thing about golf is its nuances. The muscle memory required to stick a 320-yard drive is a whole lot different from that needed to make a tricky putt or a touchy chip or flop shot. From what I saw this week of Tiger Woods, it appears that he’s been working harder on perfecting shots requiring large fast-twitch muscle and sinuous tendon; watching him muscularly swing through his drives and long irons was breathtaking. Obviously, he’s been hitting the gym nonstop—what a body! He probably has THE most impressive build in professional golf. But here’s a newsflash, someone needs to tell him to lay off the protein shakes, let go of the “lat” bar, and GO for some balance. Muscles and putting evidently don’t mix?

His wear of the tight muscle/golf shirts is clearly designed to show off his perfect V-shaped back and superman-like protruding pecs. Even his pants are in on the showoff game! I’ll stay above the waist and keep it clean (NOT!) by not overly mentioning his well-developed buttocks; they clearly strain the seams of his perfectly tailored form-fitted trousers! (Ahem!)

Seriously… Simply put, Woods missed out on winning lifetime Major #13 today because he’s forgotten how to putt to WIN. I watched him “manage” most of his putts instead of trying to seriously “make” them. I’m sure it had a lot to do with the trickiness of those greens (more on that after this little bit of critical analysis), but he seemed to purposely lag anything over 12 feet away; while I watched a host of other supposedly lesser golfers drain plenty at that length and longer. So my bitch with Tiger is that he putted “NOT to lose” instead of going for it, and “going for it” is what he’s always been all about. I hear him in his interviews talk about “course management” and all that cerebral malarkey, but sometimes he just needs to get inspired like he used to and just GO FOR IT.

Maybe it’s time for a new caddy—one that can READ putts. His longtime caddy, Steve Williams, is one of his best buddies and he’s a great cheerleader, but apparently he and the Tiger are on the same WRONG page when it comes to reading greens. Most of the many birdie putts he missed over the weekend resulted from a severe lack of greens instinct. Typically the putts didn’t drop due to a serious inability to read the direction and speed of the break.

Most of those missed putts were easily “called” and “read” by the announcers who could tell before the putt was even struck that he was lined up and aimed at the wrong spot. THAT is the caddy’s job, and he shares the blame when his guy lines up on the spot that DOESN'T drop the putt. And it wasn’t JUST a putt or two; it was one after another. Tiger, you make a lot of money—get off the pot, put loyalty and friendship on hold, and hire a caddy that can read the break! I’m really getting impatient with your majors winning rate; you’re slowing down mate!

Okay, we ARE talking Oakmont, a course with the most ridiculously tough greens anywhere. Now I want to bitch about THAT. I hated it! Those aren’t greens; those are slippery tracts of slate laid spitefully over the sides of treacherously sheer mounds. I just don’t understand the concept of making the surfaces so slick as to be impossible to roll a golf ball across it to a predictable stopping point.

If I want to see golfers humiliated I can go to any course anywhere and see amateurs do that. Why would I want to see the best in the world put into a situation that makes them look like everyone else? Lets get REALLY silly…why not blindfold them, have them golf using only one arm, and forced to use only a total of three clubs? We could make it a driver, a wedge and a 7 iron. How about that? I mean we can figure out all kinds of bizarre ways to make golf more difficult than it already is.

So I’m watching these guys flail around a course so impossible that some of the best in the world can hardly manage to shoot less than 15 over. My beef is that these guys don’t golf or practice on greens like those at Oakmont for the rest of the year, mostly because it would be a waste of their time. So what happens with a place like Oakmont is the PGA creates these stupid “trick courses” that makes golfing in THAT tournament seem an entirely different sport. Those pros were so out of their element at this Open that it was about like watching football players from Texas try to play outdoor ice hockey in Canada. Sure, it’s entertaining for a bit, but soon it becomes just a cheap stunt.

To me, Oakmont’s greens are just plain gimmicky. They are gratuitously challenging, almost arrogantly so, but believe it or not, that’s my only grumble about the course. I like the longer narrower fairways, the thick roughs, and the stacks of deep bunkers and devilishly placed fairway traps. All those complications exist on all PGA courses to some degree or other and can be compensated for based on typical golfing skill. But as far as I know, there are no greens anywhere else on the tour like Oakmont’s, except for maybe at the Masters at the end of a long drought on an exceptionally hot, dry and windy day! Even so, I’ll bet Tiger and his PGA pals could STILL actually putt for score on them.

And that reminds me… Remember Tiger’s first Masters win? He putted back then like he wasn’t human, as if HE WAS THE BALL, like he was “a golfing god of the putting kind.” I miss THAT Tiger! I hope we see that one again at The Open next month.

Care to make a bet?

Some interesting U.S. Open sidebars:

Jim Furyk’s caddy, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, was Tiger’s caddy before Tiger fired him and hired his current caddy, Steve Williams. Jim Furyk finished just behind Tiger because he made a foolishly unnecessary error by going for the green off the tee on the par four 17. I wonder if Fluff tried to talk him out of that idiocy? If he hadn't gone with driver on 17 he probably would have won the Open.

Angel Cabrera, the winner of this year’s U.S. Open is from Argentina. That nation lost its war with the U.K. over possession of the Falkland Islands on the 14th of June 1982. Exactly 25 years later, Cabrera began his epic struggle to win Argentina its first U.S. Open. Viva Cabrera!


Nick Ballesteros said...

*sigh* I wish I can share your enthusiasm with golf. But I've unfortunately grown weary of it. You see, every year for the past 5 years our company holds a golf tournament for our customers. And I'm part of the organizing team. It's gruelling work! All the preparations take months. And to top it off, it usually lands on my birthday. I would love to have a break on my birthday but there we are, either on the day before making final-minute preparations, or on the day itself.

Nevertheless, the name Tiger Woods hasn't escaped my callous brain. And if you're betting for Mr. Woods, count me out. :-)

PhilippinesPhil said...

I've heard the same thing from my compatriots in my past Air Force life on how "fun" it is to organize golf tournies... No thanks! Takes the fun out of it.

Don't blame you for not betting against Tiger... He IS number 1 for sure.

I've been reading your posts, but didn't have anything to contribute. Once you start talking food you lose me! grin...

Ed said...

I tuned into the final hole of the Open and my first thought was that Tiger had been taking steroids. He went from scrawny to buff seemingly overnight!

Maybe his wife and soon to arrive baby were on his mind causing the poor putting.

Like you, I normally root for the underdog but enjoy watching Tiger stomp his opponents and make impossible shots look effortless. If I had one-tenth of his talent, I would stomp all my collegues in the annual gold outing.

KA said...


Anonymous said...

Good observation Ed, I was mulling about his newly physique also. All of the announcers/commentator were so focused on how bad the grass were. PGA should sanction drug testing like, maybe two before the event. Would be a thrill to see how many will back-off to those who have committed to play. I'd like to listen to their
reasons for all of a sudden not playing.
Love watching golf ever since TW surfaced out, although my favorites are Fred Couples, Retief,
and Ernie Els, just because of their "very cool" demeanor while playing.
I've hit hundreds of golf balls at Camp John Hay when it was still a US Base and they barely left my sight, the farthest maybe is 50ft, so my future ain't there. Love putting though.
I like TW to win all events he gets into for only one reason - the negative comments such as these: Lee Westwood, oh he's beatable (don't think this turd won a PGA event or a Major), Sergio Garcia, at one point he thinks he was sooo goooood that he was the next TW (crappy player at best), Rory Sabbatini, well at least he won three or four PGA, but to make comments like he wants to play sundays with TW is downright ridiculous (he should be able to make cuts first and be consistent), Vijay's caddie who sported a ball cap that says "Tiger Who? If Vijay had class, which he doesn't have anyways, he should have prevented his caddie for such act. And there's a lot more within the PGA and it's fans who just think negative of his huge accomplishments! Again, wish I can hit that darn little twat!!! I will try a ball with Paris' picture on it, it will probably motivate me better...Cheers and goodhealth.

Amadeo said...

Re TW's changed physique, and I thought I was the only one who noticed, catching a glimpse of him in some commercials.

Got reminded again last night when I was looking at the magnificent physique of Evander Holyfield in a fight against Ray Mercer, on HD TV.

Realized too late that it was a replay of their 1995 fight.

Steroids was mentioned in one of the comments. Saw Barry Bonds at bat at very close range some weeks ago. And boy, how his physique has changed since I last saw him many years ago in SF. BTW, my son-in-law also mentioned steroids when we were looking at the Holyfield fight.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Still I have no internet...I've stopped in presently for a few minutes at a nearby hotel to tap this comment in real quick...

Yeah I know what you mean Katana, that's how I feel about watching cricket or soccer. You have to have played golf semi-seriously before you can truly appreciate watching it done on tv by the pros.

I don't think Tiger is on steroids, he doesn't have the telltales for that. He does look like he's been bulking up with weights and protein though, and there's nothing illegal about that. I just don't think its helping his game any. Golfing is about technique and attitude, and has very little to do with muscle power, more like muscle memory is the thing.

I've had my "magic golf moments" back when I could still play. I remember hitting the occasional 300 yarder off the tee, the 40 foot putt, the perfect sand shot, and I once hit a 6 iron from 150 yards and in three bounces directly into the cup. Then again, I've hit a hell of a lot more shanks, slices, tops, and hooks then any of the magic shots. Still, I sure do miss playing... sigh

Anonymous said...

It was kinda fun to see Angel striding up the 18th fairway, beer-belly jiggling, puffing away on a cigarette.
One observation on Tiger: I think its silly the way the gallery has gotten so unruly, especially those screams of "Get in the hole!" one microsecond after the putter strikes the ball. I never saw that until Tiger came along... maybe not his fault but hell ya gotta blame somebody-- might as well be the guy that ordered cheeseburgers at the traditional Masters dinner...

PhilippinesPhil said...

It was indeed cool seeing Angel acting the unlikely athlete. He definitely showed up Tiger.

That "U DA MAN!" & "GET IN THE HOLE!" crap is way played out. It was cute for about 5 seconds the first time someone did it. Now, I want to shoot whatever bigmouth dummy that does it. Tiger is already on record as despising it as well. Its unseemly, and its NOT golf.

But you ARE right. Tiger has brought out the masses and many of them do NOT understand how golf is supposed to be played AND spectated. Golf is NOT hockey, nor is it the NBA or the NFL. The niceties of golf are why its the ONLY sport I watch anymore...and those idiots ruin it for me!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how anyone can play their best game when their wife is in the Hospital giving birth to their first child.
I guess Tiger is human also...


PhilippinesPhil said...

Good point James. All right. We'll cut him slack this time, but if I see him putt like he did in the Open, which I call "pokn & hopn," then I continue my lambaste!