Tag Archives: Farmers Insurance Open

More Honors for Top 50 Staff

“What happened?” asks a reader from North Sydney, Australia. “You were covering the tour event in San Diego, and then … nothing. Is this your idea of ’24/7 tour coverage’?”

Not exactly, Sid.

First of all, as Steve Allen used to ask his studio audiences after a joke failed, “Who paid to get in?” The Top 50  is still working on a plan to monetize its award-winning tour coverage, but at present we’re laboring for zip. We do have corporate sponsors — Sports Illustrated generously paid for my California trip, and my pressroom lunches were catered by Flemings and Souplantation — but no Top 50 reader, as of yet, has sent in a check for twenty or thirty thousand dollars along with a note of appreciation for our in-depth coverage of Sang-Moon Bae’s California swing.

Secondly … well, actually, that first explanation is enough.

Here’s what actually went down at the Farmers Insurance Open. We had just posted Tokyo correspondent Duke Ishikawa’s report on the Japanese PGA Tour when word came that our course rating director, Gary Van Sickle, had won three of the top writing prizes at the ING Media Awards in Orlando, Fla. That good news called for a non-alcoholic celebration, which lasted well into the early-morning hours.

Stanford U

Garrity's U-Day victory will benefit Stanford's golf team. (John Garrity)

So I was already a bit groggy when I arrived at Torrey Pines Golf Club, a little before noon on Sunday. Nevertheless, I had gotten halfway through a Flemings steak, medium rare, when FIO communications director Rick Schloss pulled me away to share more good news: “Congratulations, John. You’ve won the University Day competition* for Stanford University.”

*He may have said “drawing” instead of “competition.” The conversation was not recorded.

I don’t have to tell you how big this was. For the third round of the tournament, players and media who wore their school colors competed for a share of a $70,000  charitable pot put up by Farmers Insurance. With Saturday’s low round of 65, Jonas Blixt earned $20,000 for the golf team at his alma mater, Florida State University. Cameron Tringale’s 66 was worth $10,000 to his former team, the Bulldogs of Georgia Tech. Every other player who wore their college colors got $500 for their team.

My triumph in the media division, Schloss informed me, was worth an additional $500 to the Stanford golf team. Furthermore, I, personally, had won a PING golf bag and a sand wedge, which would be shipped directly to Top 50 headquarters.* He then dragged me off to the interview room for a round of prize-accepting handshakes in front of a University of Farmers backdrop. (I’m still blinking from all the camera flashes.)

*Note to Catch Basin staff: The bag and club had better be in my office when I get home.

Anyway, two big honors in two days was more than this veteran scribe could handle. I wisely bagged my final-round coverage and spent the afternoon spamming the good news to the world’s major media outlets.

For the record, I have a second alma mater, the University of Missouri, where I labored as a freshman and for one semester of graduate school. I thought I was covering all bases by wearing a Stanford-logoed black polo shirt, black being half of Mizzou’s color scheme; but my cardinal-colored, Rick Santorum-style sweater vest gave the Farmers judges the impression that I was an all-Stanford entry. But don’t worry, Mizzou golfers. I’ll send you the wedge.*

*If it doesn’t fit my specs.

Top 50 on TV: The AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach (Golf Channel, CBS) is finishing up at 9th-ranked Pebble Beach Golf Links near Monterey, Calif. If anything of interest happens there, I’ll let you know.

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Van Sickle Scores Trifecta at ING Media Awards

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — The awards have started to pour in, reflecting the Top 50’s recent emphasis on 24/7 tournament coverage. Yesterday, our director of course rating and chief tour correspondent, Gary Van Sickle, dominated the 19th Annual ING Media Awards in Orlando, Fla., taking three of the top writing awards, including the coveted Outstanding Achievement Award for “Remembering Pittsburgh’s Needle.”*

ING Media Award Plaque

Catch Basin's trophy room is getting crowded, but we can always stack the plaques.

* Our man also took two first places for Sports Illustrated stories: “The Trials of Jobe” (Competition Writing) and “Get Real, USGA” (Opinion Writing).

Asked for a transcript of his acceptance speeches, Van Sickle writes, “You don’t get to talk, but there were glorious cupcakes, imprinted with the ING logo in the frosting. Best cupcakes ever.”

I’ll try to get Gary to sit down next week for an extended interview (not a contract renegotiation). In the meantime, stay glued to this prize-winning site for continuing coverage of the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Bus” to Tokyo Was Bae’s Ticket to Torrey Pines

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — As I write this, the second-round leader at the Farmers Insurance Open is PGA Tour rookie Sang-Moon Bae (65-67–132). I know very little about Bae, beyond the fact that sang is Sino-Korean for “benevolence” and moon is a variant of myung or myeong, which mean “clever” or “bright,” the secondary meaning of which provides a clue to the Anglicized spelling, as in “bright moon.” (Bae, of course, is Korean for “inspiration” or, if you favor the b-y-e spelling, “goodbye.”)

Knowing so little about Bae, I sent an emergency e-mail to the Top 50’s Director of Japanese Course-Rating and Chief Asian Correspondent, Duke “No Relation to Ryo” Ishikawa.

Duke immediately shot back a splendid e-mail informing me that Bae is the Korean who won last year’s Japan Open and topped the money list on the Japanese PGA Tour. “The same story was written in the year 2010,” Duke added, “but the player was different.

“For Koreans,” Duke explained, “the Japanese tour is just a bus stop on the way to Broadway or Hollywood. You get off the bus with 14 clubs in Tokyo. Then you beat all the Japanese and make enough money to buy a bus ticket to the next stop, which is the world’s strongest and richest tour.

Let’s continue in the popular Q&A format that relieves me of the responsibility of crafting sentences:

JG: Why are Korean golfers so successful in Japan?

Duke: One reason is our weak fields. The Japan tour doesn’t have good-enough players. That’s why many of our old-timers still have playing privileges on the regular tour. Massy Kuramoto and Kiyoshi Murota (who finished second last year at the U.S. Senior PGA Championship) will be 57 this year, but Murota still plays 16 regular tour events and Kuramoto plays 12. Isao Aoki, the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour, will be 70 this summer, but he played six tournaments in 2011.

JG: Senior events?

Duke: No, regular JPGA events. We ought to call it the “Old Timers Tour.” Aoki is older than my old friend Hale Irwin; he’s the same age as Tom Weiskopf. Murota and Kuramoto, they’re the same age as the Shark and two years older than Sir Faldo.

JG: Sir Faldo is here at Torrey Pines.

Duke: Playing the tournament?

JG: No, cracking wise for CBS.

Duke: That’s O.K., he’s old.

JG: Any other reasons why Korean golfers go to Japan?

Duke: The bigger reason is we have too easy courses almost every single week. Many of the courses were designed by a Japanese architect whose results have never been good. He gets the re-design job for many Japan Open courses — not because he’s good, but because he’s a director of the Japanese Golf Association. It’s all under the table, the negotiations are on the dark side. But that’s why many foreign golfers agree with the Australian, Paul Sheehan, who complains that the Japan Open plays similar courses every year.

JG: I know that golf is popular in Japan, but is it treated as a serious sport?

Duke: No, and that is the third reason. When you play at a Japanese private club, one female caddie still carries four bags the whole 18 holes.

JG: You don’t mean “carry,” do you? They’ve got those motorized trollies that rattle along over buried tracks.

Duke: Yes, but one female caddie for four players. Then we have to stop for lunch after nine holes.  You eat steak and drink a big glass of beer, like you’re at Octoberfest in Munich. It takes nearly an hour. How can you keep your concentration for the afternoon round?

JG: Do you have to have a caddie?

Duke: I carry a PING Mantis bag myself, because it saves time and I make better scores. But most courses still charge me the normal caddie fee. I tell them that in England even Winston Churchill and Lloyd George carried their own bags, but Japanese never understand. The courses provide caddies to all golfers because they believe that’s the best treatment.

JG: You sound pretty glum. Do you think the Japanese tour will bounce back in the years ahead?

Duke: I don’t know. Ryo Ishikawa is still twenty, but we see so many younger and better players like Tom Lewis, Patrick Cantley, Bud Cauley, Harris English, that whole bunch. It’s because many old courses here don’t like to open their doors to local kids. Plus there are no municipal-type courses in Japan. I’m very pessimistic about the future of golf in Japan.

Duke concluded by writing, “Anyway, I really want to see the Korean, Bae, win at Torrey Pines this week. Because he is our recent champion.”

Post Script: Duke might get his wish. The second round of the Farmers ended with Sang-Moon Bae in a third-place tie with Martin Flores, two strokes behind the leader, Kyle Stanley. Asked about his chances of winning, Bae said, “Well, first time on the PGA Tour this year, and there are many good players. I will try to be aggressive tomorrow and Sunday.”

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Mickelson 77 Disappoints at Torrey

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — Phil Mickelson’s walk around 51st-ranked Torrey Pines South didn’t go so well this morning. He chunked a chip on one hole, failed to get up and down on several others, and generally F-gamed his way to a first-round 77. Phil’s a three-time winner of what we’re now calling the Farmers Insurance Open, but he hasn’t won here since the South got a total makeover by Rees Jones in preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open. Last year, Phil came close, finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson.*

* I’ve got my golf-writer hat on, as you can see. This is classic first-round reportage — i.e., obsessive attention paid to a star golfer who has blown himself out of the tournament before the dew is off the grass.

Phil Mickelson

Good form in Wednesday presser didn't help Mickelson in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open. (John Garrity)

Mickelson’s close call in 2011 was memorable for the way he played the 72nd hole. Needing eagle to force a playoff, Phil sent caddie Bones Mackay up to the green to pull the flag before he hit his wedge from 72 yards. The grandstand spectators and the television audience ate it up, but there were skeptics — Philistines, if you will — who rolled their eyes. “He’s good,” they muttered, “but he’s not that good.”**

** I haven’t lost my touch with that old golf-writer standby, the totally-made-up quote. I can get away with it because it’s transparently bogus. Phil’s “skeptics” obviously didn’t mutter those seven words in unison, unless they were seated together in a greenside skybox, chanting under the direction of a skeptics-conductor — which you rarely see.

Or is he? Asked at his Wednesday press conference*** if he had really thought he might hole that wedge shot, Mickelson replied that, yeah, he did, because he practices a lot. “I practice flying my wedges to a specific yardage three days a week,” Lefty said. I hit over 1,500 golf balls and try to fly it within a yard or hit a target, and, for the most part, I’m able to fly it within a yard 90 percent of the time.****

*** This is one of the perks of golf writing. You can draft off another reporter’s good questions, and you don’t even have to credit that reporter. Sweet!

****Another golf-writer blessing. I can meet my assigned word count by simply quoting golfers and their caddies, throwing in an occasional “he said” or “he recalled” to prove that I’m “writing.” I don’t even have to attend the press conference; transcripts are provided in the press room and on line. I just have to make sure that the transcript is accurate.

I once puzzled over a transcript of my own interview with baseball great George Brett, which said that he “planned to rent a Vada house.” Turned out he was planning to “renovate” a house.

“So the fact that it landed close to the hole,” Mickelson continued “– it was supposed to. I mean, I work at that. That’s what I practice.

Elaborating, Mickelson said,****** “About a dozen times a year, I hit the pin with a wedge, and I end up getter a worse result because of it. [Dave} Pelz wants me to have the pin removed on every wedge shot.” Mickelson said he doesn’t do that******* “because it just looks bad. But the fact is that I hit the pin a dozen times a year, and probably eleven out of those twelve, the ball ends up in a worse spot because of it.”

******My three words, entirely.

******* I paraphrased here. Mickelson actually said, “which I won’t do because it just looks bad.”

“So two things,” Mickelson said. “I wanted to give it [the wedge shot] two chances to get in — one, trying to fly it in, and two, trying to back it up into the hole. And it came close.” He shrugged.******** “It didn’t go in, so what does it matter? But it came close.”

******** In golf writing, a shrug doesn’t necessarily mean shoulders. We count lifted eyebrows, a dismissive wave — even a backward-twitch of the ears.

So that’s my Mickelson report from Torrey Pines. If time and inclination permit, I’ll run over to the locker room to see if he has anything to say about today’s awful round. Or maybe I won’t. He might bite my head off!

Gotta go now. I smell burgers.

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Free-Lunch Reprise for Top 50 CEO

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — As you probably have heard, I paid something less than a hundred grand last year to have the consulting firm, Mackinsay & Company, find ways to enhance reader satisfaction while cutting costs at our Kansas City headquarters. Mackinsay, after making certain that my check had cleared, recommended that I fire forty staffers at Catch Basin and plunder the pensions of those lucky enough to keep their jobs.*

*Having just re-read A Christmas Carol, I rejected Mackinsay’s advice and gave every employee a Christmas goose and a copy of my latest book, Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game & Beyond, available as an e-book on all iPads, Kindles and Nooks.

Highland Links, Cape Breton Island

Top 50 courses like Cape Breton Island's Highland Links (above) could suffer if consultant's advice is followed. (John Garrity)

Mackinsay’s second recommendation called for a de-emphasis of golf course reviews (“because they’re closing more courses than they’re building”) offset by a boost in tour coverage (“because pro golfers get a lot more air time than golf architects do”). This advice made more sense, but I pointed out that qualified golf writers, such as I used to be, are paid immensely more than the quasi-galley slaves who work in my basement computer room.

Mackinsay’s rejoinder: “You only paid for two recommendations. A third will cost you forty thousand.”

So now that Mackinsay is out of the picture, I’m wrestling with a decision: Should I spend more time at pro tournaments, trying to extract something quotable from sweaty guys who spend most of their days in the hot sun? Or should I spend most of my time in the hot sun, playing the world’s greatest golf courses on behalf of my readers?

To help with that decision, I’ve put on my old reporter’s hat — the fedora with the press pass sticking out of the band — and planted my laptop on a black-fabric-draped table in the media center at the Farmers Insurance Open. I’m working for my old employer, Sports Illustrated, but I’m also here for you, my Top 50 readers. If something pops into my head that I am not contractually or ethically obligated to share with SI, I promise to share it with you.

Fortunately, nothing like that has yet popped into my head. And since it’s been a long day, I think I’ll pack up and drive over to the Del Mar Driving Range for a sunset bucket of balls.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Phil Mickelson praised a couple of courses at his post-pro-am presser. “My favorite golf course out here is probably Hilton Head,” he said, referring to Pete Dye’s 51st-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links. “And I don’t even play there any more because it’s the week after the Masters.” Reminded that the U.S. Amateur was returning to 52nd-ranked Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Col., site of his 1990 Amateur triumph, Lefty said, “I loved that golf course. I thought it was spectacular. There is so much history there, from Palmer driving the green on 1, to Hogan backing up his wedge on 17 … you can’t help but feel it.”

Until prodded, Mickelson modestly left out his own contribution to Cherry Hills lore: his jaw-dropping concession of a 30-foot par putt on the first hole of his second-round match with perennial New Jersey amateur champ Jeff Thomas. “I’ll never forget the look that he gave me,” Mickelson recalled with a smile. “I ended up making a three- or four-foot birdie putt to win the hole.”

Those of us who were there remember that Mickelson minimized the length of his birdie try after the match, saying, “I wasn’t going to try to lag a two-footer. I thought it was a gimme.”

My contemporaneous account of Mickelson’s memorable week at Cherry Hills is in the SI Vault. Check it out.

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