Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April 2, 2014

Is it the end of an era or the beginning of a new one? It’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods regaining the dominating form that he once enjoyed in professional golf under any circumstances at the age of 38. The golf world was jolted this week with the news that Woods would miss The Masters after undergoing back surgery on Monday.
In all likelihood, Woods might not be back at all in 2014. Graham DeLaet, Canadian player, who made his presence known in last year’s President’s Cup missed an entire year with a similar injury. It seems almost certain that Woods will be a no-show at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. It’s a long shot that he will be in the field at the PGA Championship in Louisville later this summer.
So, life goes on in the professional golf world. Certainly there is a void without Woods, but look at the last five Masters and you will see great, dramatic finishes that did not include Woods. Start with Angel Cabrera’s playoff victory over Kenny Perry in 2009. Phil Mickelson hit the famous shot out of the pine straw on the 13th hole in 2010 and beat Lee Westwood.
The next year it was Charl Schwartzel finishing with an unprecedented four straight birdies to win the 2011 Green Jacket. Bubba Watson beat Louis Ooosthuizen with that incredible second shot from deep in the woods on the 10th hole to win in 2012. Adam Scott canned a putt in the rain on the 10th green to win a thrilling playoff victory over Cabrera last year.
At no time in the past five years has Woods really been in contention at The Masters. Since he was knocked off by Y.E. Yang on the final hole of play at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009, Tiger has pretty much been a non-factor in all of the majors. He has suffered two severe injuries during that time, the latest to his back while an earlier injury to his knee also forced surgery.
We all root for Woods to have a speedy recovery because the sport needs him. “In all likelihood, he’s done for the year,” said Golf Digest’s Geoff Shackelford this week on The Golf Channel.
I have said for months that 2014 is a transitional year for golf. Many new faces are emerging and some of the familiar ones are seemingly drifting away. Phil Mickelson is out of this week’s Shell Houston Open with an oblique injury. His presence at Augusta could be in doubt. Steve Stricker hasn’t been nearly as effective this year as he was in 2013 playing an abbreviated schedule.
Granted, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Jordan Spieth are far from household names. It’s been a weird year as many of the top named players have been out of form. It begs the question, who are the favorites next week at Augusta National?
The betting favorite is Rory McIlroy. He is due again to win a major championship. If he duplicates his wins in the U.S. Open and PGA, it will be in record-breaking fashion in terms of his margin of victory. Could that happen next week? I think it can.
Adam Scott figures to be a factor even though it will defy the odds to win back-to-back Masters. Dustin Johnson has played well at times, but will he put all facets of his mental game together over 72 holes. Nobody has played more consistently of late than Bubba Watson who finishes in the top ten in virtually every event he plays in. Zach Johnson has won before at Augusta and he could be primed for another Green Jacket.                
Whatever the case, this Masters will be well worth the watch.
It’s a special year at The Masters with the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship to be conducted Sunday morning on the hallowed grounds. Last year nearly 16,000 kids competed in ten qualifiers around the U.S. with the hope of being one of the 88 boys and girls, ages 7-15 years old, to make it to the finals at Augusta National.
You can watch the competition live on The Golf Channel beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday. Nels Surtani from Noblesville will represent Indiana. The 12-year old had two aces last year and shot 72 on Pinehurst No. 2. Believe it or not, nine of the competitors in the Drive, Chip and Putt have recorded holes-in-one.    
Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will be expanded to all 50 states this summer. It is anticipated that over 50,000 kids will compete with the hopes of making the trip to Augusta National in 2015. Registration opens on Sunday, April 6 at Two of Indiana’s local qualifiers will take place at The Legends Golf Club on June 27 and July 3.

Making this competition even more unique is the fact that the putting finals will actually take place on the 18th green at Augusta National. The Masters will allow a limited number of spectators on the grounds Sunday. The initiative is collaboration between The Masters Foundation, the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sochi Final

In my lifetime I have been very lucky to attend virtually all of the sporting world's great events. Super Bowls, World Series 7th games, NCAA Finals, Indy 500's, all of golf's major championships and the list goes on and on.

Saturday 's thrilling USA victory over Russia in men's hockey ranks up there with everything- except maybe the Ryder Cup. TJ Oshie put his team on his shoulders and scored four overtime shoot out goals to give the Americans only their second victory ever over Russia in Olympic hockey history.

Two key plays in regulation set the stage for Oshie's heroics. An overturned Soviet goal with 4:40 left in the third period followed by a thwarted American breakaway shot with a little over a minute to play forced the game into the overtime and eventual shootout.

The Bolshay Ice Dome was filled to the brim on Saturday including Vladimir Putin, Russian Premier. It was apparent that this was not just another hockey game. The crowd was probably 2/3 pro-Russian and the atmosphere was cordially intense.

Constant chants of "Rush-She-U" filled Bolshay all afternoon. While the game was not of the same proportion as the famed Miracle on Ice in 1980 at Lake Placid the atmosphere was electric and the voltage increased as every period unfolded into the thrilling finish.

Jimmy Roberts, of NBC Sports, had the dubious distinction of leaving that Miracle on Ice game in '80 in the first period. It seems he had a date with a woman. When I saw Roberts on Saturday night I asked him if he stayed until the end.

"Are you kidding? I was working and wasn't even at the game. But I watched it all," laughed Roberts.

He then went on to say that he met Oshie later that night and as they chatted, the St. Louis Blues star told Roberts that he played golf. When asked what his index was, Oshie responded it was a 2.3.

"But I am really playing like a 5 right now," Oshie quickly added in the truth spirit of an avid golfer.

Lost in Oshie's dramatic performance was that of US goaltender Jonathan Quick would successfully defended 5/8 Soviet shootout attempts. The Los Angeles Kings' star was solid in goal all afternoon and clearly made a case for the game's MVP.

Safe to say that after Saturday Oshie will be a household name and there will be many #74 jerseys floating around America this week as casual hockey fans turn into rabid USA supporters. For those of us in golf , we can only wish that we could impact the interest in our sport as quickly as Oshie did for his on Saturday.

It's a long day of travel beginning at 10 am Sochi time, which is actually 1 am EST on Sunday. If everything goes right I will be back in my driveway in Franklin, IN at about 11 pm  Sunday night.

This has been a week beyond words. It's been like being on a movie set because you don't know what this place will look like in a few months. It's hard to believe that much of the infrastructure will endure the post-Sochi Olympics.

But, for one incredible three week span, Putin and his countrymen put on the show of a lifetime.