A collection of golf's under-the-radar people, places, and things
In the world of golf, the same names grab the headlines time and again. But for every Tiger, Callaway, or St. Andrews, there are others scratching just below the surface, waiting for that one breakthrough moment that'll put them on par with the big boys. Stay ahead of the curve with this winning collection of under-the-radar people, places, and things that are this close to getting the attention they deserve.
Q&A: MULTIPLE PGA TOUR WINNER MARK WILSON
He has just as many PGA Tour victories (five) as Rory McIlroy, yet most fans couldn't pick Mark Wilson out of a police lineup. That's a shame, because he's a big-time player - No. 49 in the Official World Golf Ranking and No. 89 on the Tour's Career Earnings list, at more than $12.8 million. Humble and funny, the 37-year-old from Elmhurst, Ill., is about as far removed from the self-aggrandizing, self-promoting modern athlete as imaginable. At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, short-hitting but scrappy, Wilson also serves as a reminder that winning isn't always about being the most physically gifted.
You're not the most intimidating guy on Tour, are you?
The average scratch player watches me on the range, where I'm not that impressive, and thinks, "I can do that." But there's much more to it. Plenty of guys on the range look like they should shoot in the 60s every day, but because of nerves, or whatever, they can't take it to the course. I elevate my game from the range to the course. I'm at my best in competition on the PGA Tour.
What can better amateurs learn from watching you?
Play the percentages and don't take too many risks. I no longer have the mentality that I need to go for a par 5 in two just because my playing partners do. Over the years, I've learned that even pulling off hero shots can affect my mood and my nerves for the next 30 minutes. Focus on your strengths and play your game, not somebody else's.
Is that why you still fly under the radar despite all your accomplishments?
I don't have the flair some players do, especially the younger guys. I'm not going to try to change my game and find 20 more yards off the tee and dress flashy so more people notice me. I do my work and enjoy playing the game, and if I get accolades for it, great.
Do you get noticed much outside the ropes?
My family and I were in Palm Springs [Calif.] at a playground with Matt Kuchar's family a few days after I won the Humana Challenge there this year. A guy comes up to us and says, "Man, I'm seeing pro golfers everywhere! The other day I saw Jerry Kelly at a restaurant, Mark Wilson at a Walgreen's, and now Matt Kuchar!" I had just won the tournament, and I'm standing right in front of the guy, and he doesn't recognize me. Though I was at a Walgreen's, so maybe he was one for two.
When did you feel like you had your peers' respect?
The first time I got in contention to win a tournament, I pulled it off. That raised some eyebrows. You win another one and it's not a fluke. Suddenly you're a guy who people may not want to play against down the stretch, someone who gets the job done.
How has your perception of your abilities changed?
I used to be happy to finish in the top 125 and keep my PGA Tour card. Then I went to work with Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist, who said if I think that way I'm probably going to hang around that number. He said you might as well think about yourself as one of the world's top players and try to get there. That mindset takes you to where you end up being.
For centuries, Himeji, Japan, was the seat of the ancient Japanese art of samurai sword manufacturing. Today, similar steelmaking skill goes into hand-ground irons made one by one by Katsuhiro Miura and his sons Yoshitaka and Shinei under the banner of Miura Golf.
Ten different iron models are available, suited to low-, middle- or high-handicappers, united by the unmistakably warm feel of forging and highlighted by the return of the previously sold-out, utterly gorgeous Limited Forged Black Blade ($235-$275 per club). You'll likely play better just to live up to the club's great looks.
The real hook is that you get tremendous feedback on shots - either the knowledge that you didn't quite catch it right, or the encouraging, unmatched sensation of hitting it flush.
BETTING GAME: UMBRELLA
Even gambling golfers who know their "Barkies" from their "Bingo Bango Bongo" may be unfamiliar with "Umbrella." Variants exist, but here's the gist: Two teams of two compete for six possible points on each hole - two for low score, two for low total, one for closest to the pin in regulation, one for birdie or better. If one team procures all six points, that's an umbrella, and the points double. Even at low stakes, the sums can add up quickly, so bet small or play well to avoid a financial deluge.
TV ANNOUNCER: JUDY RANKIN
Judy Rankin's golf résumé speaks loudly, even if the woman herself never does: 26 LPGA titles, three-time Vare Trophy winner for lowest scoring average, twice the Tour's leading money winner, twice its Player of the Year. The gracious commentator has long been royalty to the golf community, a recipient of the LPGA's Patty Berg Award, the USGA's Bob Jones Award, and the PGA of America's First Lady of Golf award. Just as she never won a major championship, however, Rankin has yet to receive a major broadcasting award, which is overdue, because the ABC/ESPN announcer is as good as there is.
Her style: "I'm told that I'm pretty good at not being too wordy. I speak a language that viewers are comfortable with and understand. And if I am trying to say something complicated, I still try to do it in basic terms. I was taught early on that it's not nice to leave any viewers out. You're trying not to talk down to people and saying things in a way that talks to lots of different levels of golfers or viewers."
Pet peeves: "We all like a good laugh doing television, but it's wrong to have inside jokes. I don't think it's polite. A good laugh needs to be able to be shared. Another would be getting too technical with how to swing the club, unless you have the necessary time. It needs to be something people can see, admire, think they can do, and try."
Top tourney: "As much as I love the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open, and admire the players disciplined and tough enough to win them, I'm so glad I got to experience all those British Opens. It's just different. Those are the most special big events that I've seen."
Favorite moment: "My very first British Open [as a broadcaster], in 1989. I went out with Greg Norman on Sunday. He birdied the first six holes. I've played a little good golf myself, but I don't remember making six birdies in a row. It was some start to a major-championship final round. And on the 16th hole, he hit a driver from a tough lie to reach the par 5 in two - that was as pure a golf shot as I've ever heard or seen."
Her underrated status: "It may not be shouted from the rooftops, but people are kind to me all the time about my work. I don't have a complaint, I really don't."
DESTINATION: ENGLAND'S GOLF COAST
Too many traveling golfers reflexively scratch their links-golf itch by booking a trip to Scotland or Ireland without giving a thought to England. Sam Baker, founder and CEO of Cincinnati-based luxury golf travel company Haversham & Baker Golfing Expeditions, calls this an unfortunate oversight.
"From my perspective, England's Golf Coast is the best concentration of championship links golf anywhere in the world," Baker says. "It is all about playing a different superb links golf course every day for a week or more with very little driving and only one accommodations change or not at all."
Here is a slightly truncated recent H&B itinerary for just such a trip:
Day 1: Arrive Manchester Airport. Drive 45 miles west, play West Lancashire Golf Club, founded in 1873 and co-host of the 2009 British Amateur. After your round, drive 14 miles north to the Vincent Hotel, Southport, for your overnight stay.
Day 2: Drive two miles southwest to play Royal Birkdale Golf Club, site of Arnold Palmer's 1961 British Open win that restored the tournament to prominence. Overnight: the Vincent.
Day 3: Drive four miles southwest to play Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club, designed by the legendary James Braid and twice a Ryder Cup host in the 1930s. Overnight: the Vincent.
Day 4: Drive 35 miles north to play Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, venue for the 2012 British Open. Overnight: the Vincent.
Day 5: Drive two miles southwest to play Hillside Golf Club, sandwiched between Royal Birkdale and Southport & Ainsdale, with "perhaps the best closing 12 holes we
have played anywhere," per Baker. Overnight: the Vincent.
Day 6: Drive 8 miles southwest to play Formby Golf Club, which has hosted most of the major U.K. amateur events, as well as the 2004 Curtis Cup. After your round, drive 24 miles southwest to the Hillbark Hotel, a 19-bedroom luxury property in Wirral that features a 1527 fireplace from the home of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Day 7: Drive four miles northwest to play Royal Liverpool Golf Club (aka Hoylake), which returned to the British Open rota in 2006, won by Tiger Woods, and will host again in 2014. Overnight: the Hillbark.
Day 8: Depart Manchester Airport. Start planning next U.K. golf trip.
Today we have drivers that can be adjusted umpteen ways. But when teaching pros Randy Henry and Jim Griffitts launched Henry-Griffitts almost 30 years ago, only Tour pros used modified clubs that weren't simply "off the rack." Their company helped pioneer the use of fitting carts and interchangeable clubheads and shafts. Now they focus on fitting amateur golfers to bespoke gear via a network of on-course HG-certified teaching pros working with them al fresco on the range. The company's latest offering: the Praxis HY hybrid ($220-$235), adjustable for weight, face angle, and lie angle.
APPAREL BRAND: TRAVIS MATHEW
If you'd asked almost any serious golfer about Travis Mathew before this year's Masters, the likely answer would have been, "Who's he?" Then Bubba Watson doffed the green jacket over his hip Travis Mathew apparel. While it isn't yet adidas, FootJoy, or Nike, the clothing company's fortunes have since started to rise like one of Watson's drives.
"We hit a home run with Bubba, who's a laid-back, cool guy and one of a kind, from game to personality," says company president and creative director Chris Rosaasen.
Travis Mathew launched in Southern California in 2007, seeking to fill what its founders saw as a void in the marketplace for clothes players could wear on and off the course. These clothes aren't just meant to be well-fitting and fashionable but also performance-oriented without feeling technical, thanks to an emphasis on the latest fabrications. Travis Mathew had a cult following pre-Augusta; now the brand looks primed to become this generation's Ashworth - SoCal-cool, sport-authentic, and a game changer.
What's new: In July, the company launched Travis Mathew by AG jeans ($195), a collaboration with the high-end, American-made denim maker.
GOLF RULE: NO. 20-2C
We asked the USGA Rules Department for the regulation more commonly infringed by even better, well-schooled players. Here is its reply: "When taking relief from a water hazard or lateral water hazard, many good players think they must re-drop the ball when their stance is in the hazard. Rule 20-2c (‘Dropping and Re-Dropping - When to Re-Drop') specifies seven instances where a player must re-drop his ball. The first case covers when the ball rolls into a hazard, but there is no allowance for re-dropping when the ball gets so close to the hazard that the player would have to stand in the hazard. This is different from the player taking relief from an obstruction such as a cart path or ground under repair. In these cases, if the player's stance was on the cart path or in the ground under repair after the drop, case 5 requires him to re-drop the ball. One way to remember this is if you are getting free relief, you must take complete relief; but if there is a penalty, you aren't entitled to complete relief."
YOUNG GUN DOPPELGANGERS: HARRIS ENGLISH VS. HUDSON SWAFFORD
They're both 2011 University of Georgia graduates, 6-foot-3, average 300-yard tee shots, and have first names that sound like last names. You should learn to distinguish Harris English from Hudson Swafford, because they're both likely to star on the Tour in the coming decade. The former is having a stellar rookie year on the PGA Tour, making 16 of 21 cuts, with six Top-25 finishes; the latter won his first Nationwide Tour title with a final-round 62 on his former college course at the Stadion Classic and looks guaranteed to join his ex-teammate in the big show next season.
THE BLOG: GEOFFSHACKELFORD.COM
Geoff Shackelford's eponymous golf blog doesn't get nearly the attention it merits ... except from the game's insiders. It's funny, feisty, and fearless - Tiger Woods, Tim Finchem, Augusta National members, slow Tour players, and Rees Jones are among Shackelford's favorite targets of ridicule.
"I wasn't schooled as a journalist, which at times I regret but at other times allows me to approach things a bit differently than some of my peers, who thankfully are more cautious in their judgments because their first job is to report the facts," Shackelford says.
On his blog, Shackelford, who has designed and restored many well-known courses, including Rustic Canyon in Moorpark, Calif., gives equal space to design-related posts, Tour news, general interest golf stories, and what he calls "news of the weird."
"I've tried to keep it simple so it's an easy one-stop experience for those interested in coverage of the game's big stories that's also thought-provoking."
STAT: STROKES-GAINED PUTTING
What it is: A measure of how many strokes a player gains or loses putting to the field in an average round, based only on putting performance - and, as such, the best way to measure the PGA Tour's best putters.
How it's computed: By calculating the average number of putts a PGA Tour pro is expected to take from every distance, based on ShotLink data from the previous season.
For example: It takes an average of 1.5 putts to hole out from 7 feet, 10 inches. A player who one-putts from this distance gains 0.5 stroke; a two-putt loses him 0.5 stroke; and a three-putt, 1.5 strokes. The player's lost or gained strokes are next compared to the field.
Overall: Last year's PGA Tour winners outperformed the field by +1.426 strokes per round in their victories, while Top-10 finishers were +0.868; players who missed the cut lost an average -0.652 stroke per round.
The king: Luke Donald. He's led the PGA Tour in this stat ever since its inception three years ago. In 2011, when he was named Player of the Year, he outperformed his peers by +0.844 stroke per round, or +3.376 per four-round tournament.
The anomaly: Last year, 37 of 38 PGA Tour winners gained strokes putting on their way to victory. Only Sean O'Hair lost strokes to the field (-0.304) and came out on top, at the RBC Canadian Open.