Tag Archives: Gary Van Sickle

Van Sickle Ties Swing Guru En Route to Second Shivas Invitational Title

A reader in Texas wants to know if the Top 50 blog has morphed into a stable of tournament golfers. “You hardly ever write up a new golf course or devote more than a few lines to a classic layout,” he writes, “but every time I pick up the paper I read about some Top 50 staffer winning the Masters or something. What are you doing in your underground complex at Catch Basin — cloning tour players?”

Philadelphia Cricket Club

The former U.S. Open venue doubles as an outdoor wedding chapel. (John Garrity)

The reader exaggerates. No one on our payroll has yet managed to win a major, and I can’t think of anyone at our Kansas City headquarters who could beat Tiger Woods straight up. But I can see how a Texan might overestimate our tournament success, given the near-constant media drumbeat for our best players.

Just this past weekend, for instance, career-amateur Gary Van Sickle won the 24th Shivas Invitational on the 50th-ranked St. Martin’s Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club. Van Sickle, our executive vice-president and chief course rater, shot a first-and-final-round 69 on the surviving nine at St. Martin’s, a two-time U.S. Open venue, matching former PGA Tour player and $300-per-hour swing coach Dewey Arnette.* It was Van Sickle’s second Shivas title in as many tries, and it won him another brass plate on the hard-to-ship Shivas Trophy.

*Tournament chairman Michael Bamberger ruled that Arnette was “co-champion” on a technicality — the technicality being that he shot the same score as Van Sickle.

Van Sickle’s latest win (along with my own top-20 finish at the Shivas) caps a string of Top 50 playing triumphs, including a couple of high-dollar victories (West Penn Open, Frank Fuhrer Invitational) and a tournament-best 66 at the New England Open by our social-networking coordinator, Mike Van Sickle, who has already qualified for the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School.

Nevertheless, the Top 50 rates courses, not players. Philly Cricket has two other tracks — the 37th-ranked Wissahickon Course, designed by A.W. Tillinghast (currently being renovated by Keith Foster and Dan Meersman) and the upstart Militia Hill Course, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry — but it’s the Chestnut Hill track, behind the PCC’s cricket pitch and sprawling red-brick clubhouse, that hosted the 1907 and 1910 Opens, won by Alec Ross and Alex Smith, respectively. (Ross’s brother Donald designed an eye-opening seven courses in the current Top 50, including Royal Dornoch, Seminole and Hillcrest.) And here’s a great bit of trivia from Sal Johnson’s book, The Official U.S. Open Almanac:

Entering the 13th hole of the final round [in 1907], A.W. Tillinghast was the low amateur in the field. At that moment, however, , he was overcome by the heat, forcing him to withdraw …. Tillinghast, of course, went on to become one of America’s finest course designers. Some of his famous courses, like Baltusrol and Winged Foot [plus Bethpage Black and Swope Memorial] have been tapped by the USGA as sites for its championships.

“Philadelphia Cricket Club,” Johnson points out in his 1910 notes, “was the first host club to allow the professionals into the clubhouse and to give them locker room privileges.”

These days, the top pros tend not to congregate in the Chestnut Hill shower room. But it’s not because they’re not welcome; it’s more a case of the St. Martin’s layout no longer being U.S. Open compliant, in that nine holes have gone missing. The Shivas Invitational turned this into a virtue by formatting the competition as two nine-hole rounds, the first played from the forward tees to front hole locations with a maximum of four clubs, none longer than 39.5 inches. (The winner of this first lap was Simon & Schuster editor Jofi Ferrari-Adler, who shot a stunning four-under-par 31 with a 3-iron as his biggest stick.) The second nine, played from the back tees to back hole locations, was a conventional 14-club competition.

The playing conditions, it must be said, were superb, it being one of those rare autumn days when shirtsleeve temperatures and abundant sunshine amplify the glory of fall foliage at its colorful peak. The greens were slick and maddeningly-hard to read, corrupting the scorecards of a celebrity-laden field that included Top 50 course-designer Gil Hanse (fifth-ranked Castle Stuart and the incipient Olympics Course in Rio de Janeiro); head professionals Scott Nye (18th-ranked Merion GC, site of the most-recent U.S. Open) and Graeme Lennie (33rd-ranked Balcomie Links); and award-winning actor Richard Kind (Spin City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife).*

*Unable to perform due to injury — but diligent in their roles as cart-companions and spectators — were Drama-Desk- and Obie-award-winning actor David Morse (Treme, The Negotiator, John Adams) and legendary links writer and author James W. Finegan (Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas).

Tournament play concluded on the ninth green at 4:58 p.m.. At five, a wedding ceremony began between the green and the starter’s shed. That’s so Philadelphia.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour continues it’s inaugural head-start season with the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course in Sea Island, Ga. At 7,055 yards, the par-70 layout has a robust 141 slope rating and a designer line that starts with Harry Colt and C.H. Alison (original nine), runs through Joe Lee (Marshside nine) and culminates with Tom Fazio, who directed a 1999 revision. The Seaside Course, aping Merion, uses red wicker baskets instead of hole flags, the difference being that Seaside is public and Merion not so much.

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Top 50 Staff Blanketed Merion

“I see that Merion Golf Club has soared in your course ranking since the U.S. Open,” writes a gentleman from Pabst Blue Ribbon, Nev. “Is that because Merion looked good  on TV, or did you actually have a course rater on the ground?”

John Garrity at Merion

Top 50 founder and CEO John Garrity led the course-rating team at Merion. (Darren Carroll)

Great question, PBR. I was in Ardmore, Pa., following every shot, and so was Top 50 vice-president and ratings chief Gary Van Sickle, who led a team of qualified second-raters from Catch Basin, our Kansas City headquarters. To insure that we could carry out our mission without undue friction, the USGA assigned us a work station just off the first tee. Believe me, there was no chance that our staffers would nod off with those Pro V1s and Bridgestones whistling past their noggins.

So no, Merion didn’t jump from No. 32 to No. 18 because it looked good on TV — although it did look very, very good. “Merion is no regular track,” Van Sickle wrote in his 82-page post-tournament report. “Better looking by the minute … the course. A number of holes are on high ground, they’re … all right. The course drains … and the grounds crew has done a phenomenal job. I’m upgrading the course … Should be … brick-hard … this week. Merion will … rise up …”

I usually recuse myself, relying on our Cal Sci algorithm (and a little-known NSA program that monitors country-club budgets) to properly weigh the data, but I fully support our team’s conclusions. Specifically, I liked that Merion’s woodsmen had felled hundreds of trees since my last visit.* Many of those trees had been on the golf course for decades, cluttering the view, clogging the lanes of play and wreaking environmental havoc on Merion’s tees and greens. The cutting of all those trees, along with their removal, gave stately old Merion a fresh, clean look. 

*I covered the 1989 U.S. Amateur for Sports Illustrated.

Merion's 15th hole

Merion’s 15th hole charmed Van Sickle’s platoon of second-raters. (John Garrity)

Was Merion too difficult? Did the USGA cross the line with its punitive setup of skinny fairways, ungraduated rough,treacherous greens and tangly collars?

No.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Tour, minus a weary Justin Rose and an injured Tiger Woods, will cavort in the AT&T National at 51st-ranked Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Meanwhile, our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, reports that preparations for the 1914 World Amateur Team Golf Championship are not going smoothly. The WATGC, better known as the Eisenhower Trophy, will be played in Karuizawa Prefecture, Japan, on the 51st-ranked Robert Trent Jones-designed Karuizawa 72 course owned by the Prince Hotels chain. Duke writes:

In the middle of February, this year, we visited the Karuizawa Prince Hotel and talked to the general manager, who told us, “We have reserved our facilities for two weeks during the championship, but no budget from the Japan Golf Association has come yet. That makes for us big trouble, because of uneasiness about the future. We only have a year and a half for preparation.”

“The Eisenhower Trophy is not the Olympic Games or World Cup soccer,” Duke continues, “but it is still a world-class event. The host country has a big responsibility to the other 80-or-so countries. However, the JGA has a very limited income.” Citing “unbelievable rumors,” Duke describes a JGA board of directors riddled with personal agendas and conflicts of interest that render it incapable of properly staging a big-time competition.

We need to know where the money is coming from. Otherwise the JGA is very irresponsible indeed. But the golf business has been so bad in Japan because of big deflation and the bad economy. I interviewed several local golf course managers recently, and all of them said, “We are not going to cooperate with the Eisenhower Trophy in 2014.”

Citing the “low ability” of JGA directors, Duke concludes: “We are just afraid the Eisenhower Trophy will not be successfully held in September, 2014, in Japan.”

Recognizing the seriousness of these concerns, I have forwarded Duke’s Karuizawa-72 file to Catch Basin’s Reassessment Department. Any changes to that course’s ranking will be posted without delay.

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Cal Sci Algorithm Gets Moisture Adjustment

“Has it occurred to you,” begins an email from Death Valley, Ariz., “that Aquaman isn’t real? That he is a character from a comic book? That his opinion on course rankings is worthless because, I repeat, HE ISN’T REAL!!!”

Highland Links

Nova Scotia’s lovely Highland Links gained .0069 points for its many water hazards. (John Garrity)

Well yes, DV — may I call you DV? — yes, that has occurred to me. I’m familiar with the Aquaman comics, but I know the difference between a cartoon character and a first-class course rater, and it’s not as big a difference as you might think. Anyway, I had our Top 50 ratings chief, Gary Van Sickle, look into Aquaman’s background, and he assures me that our scaly friend is strictly above-board (if not above ground). As a further precaution, we require that Aquaman file his reports via Gary’s email account to guard against hacking, spamming and, most importantly, phishing.

Coincidentally, Gary has just forwarded a fresh (not frozen) report from our man in Atlantis:

Dear Mr. Garrity,

I use the title “Mr.” reluctantly. You’re just another annoying air-breather to me. I figure we denizens of the deep can wait you out, though. You’ll pollute the air and die from global warming long before the ocean temperatures rise enough to bother me down here in the air-conditioned Marianas Trench, site of my vacation home. It’s way cool, brother.

I am writing — well, telepathing my thoughts to a dolphin, who then transcribes them to what you earth-breathers call Microsoft Word — to point out a flaw in your ranking system. Two flaws, actually. One, they’re just stupid. But that’s kind of a technical point.

Second, since water is the most important thing on earth and makes up 90 percent of you annoying air-breathers’ body bags, you clearly don’t put enough emphasis on water hazards in your rankings. Courses with more and bigger water hazards are better than courses without. Ever played a really good course in the desert? Didn’t think so.

I have to interrupt Aquaman’s otherwise-cogent analysis to point out that 20th-ranked Desert Hollow in Hurricane, Utah, is a desert course, as is 27th-ranked Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., the 44th-ranked Mission Hills Tournament Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.,  and 51st-ranked Coyote Springs, north of Las Vegas, Nevada. But back to Aquaman.

In fact, if you, Mr. Garrity, could get your CalTech Forbin Project 800X off its lazy digital ass, you could probably reprogram it to rank courses by the amount of water in their hazards, by cubic meters or fathoms or, as we use to measure here in Atlantis, aquabergs. (It’s a little larger than a cubic meter. You can barely fit two inside a seahorse, let’s put it that way. And that seahorse is not very happy about it, let me tell you, sir!)

Measuring the total amount of water actually on a course is going to completely reorganize your thus-far lame rankings. Since I haven’t played all 15,000 courses on your dirtpile, I don’t know what course would rank No. 1. Obviously, the water hazard will have to be surrounded (or at least 80% so) by the course for its contents to count. Pebble Beach, for instance, couldn’t lay claim to the entire Pacific Ocean just because it’s got a few holes along the shoreline. That would be a lot of saltwater volume to boost it in the rankings. The water has to be inside the course boundaries to count.

I believe this numerical and logical renumbering is the best way to rank your courses. I think we all agree that the courses that contain the most of my finny friends — which I can command to do my bidding, by the way — are obviously the best golf courses.

Which reminds me, if you don’t mind a small plug, I’m beginning a new side business besides my mundane duties as King of Atlantis and Father of AquaBitch. I’m getting into the ball-retrieval business. You lose a ball in a water hazard that has live underwater denizens, and I order them to retrieve it for you. Simply sign up for an online account at AquaBalls.com, pay an annual service fee, and then we invoice you for each individual retrieval. We can also sell you other balls that have been deposited in the water and remain unclaimed. That’s an extra charge, however, plus a service and handling fee. It’s all very reasonable, and as part of our contract you need only worship me for a prescribed few minutes each day.

I look forward to seeing your computer’s revised rankings. I hope it happens soon because I’d hate to see a brigade of killer whales go ape-shit on you the next time you play in Kansas City. That would be tragic.

As usual, all the best.

Aquaman, King of Atlantis (Father of AquaBitch and that no-good, lazy AquaLam-o-Lad)

Persuaded by Aquaman’s reasoning, we have tweaked the Cal Sci algorithm to account for water-hazard capacity and adjusted the rankings accordingly. To our surprise, the rankings remain exactly the same, with one exception: Kansas City’s Hillcrest Golf Club moves up one spot.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Crowne Plaza Invitational begins today at 51st-ranked Colonial Country Club in Forth Worth, Texas. Known as “Hogan’s Alley” (because the popular TV show, Hogan’s Heroes, was shot there in the 1960s), Colonial has been ranked Fifth Best Course We Play on Tour by PGA Tour players. (Courses No. 1 through 4 in the survey were Augusta National GC, Harbour Town Links, Riviera CC and Pebble Beach Golf Links, all of which have been in the Top 50 at one time or another.)

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Disgruntled Reader Tees Off: “Fraud!”

“You were giving me golf-course recommendations for a trip between Mobile and Pensacola,” writes a pissed-off reader from Argentina, “and you suggested Hilton Head Island, 525 miles from my destination. If that wasn’t bad enough, you didn’t finish your post. I was so frustrated that I left my clubs at home, spent my days in America at the beach, and lost all my savings at Gulf Coast casinos. I’m telling my friends in Rosario that the Top 50 is a big, fat fraud, and they should go back to Travelin’ Joe Passov if they want honest golf-travel advice.”

Chechessee Creek

Chechessee Creek’s par 3s are plenty challenging, even for course raters. (John Garrity)

Wow.

My first impulse is to remind this overheated reader that I told him that golf itineraries were Travelin’ Joe’s specialty, not mine. (My exact words: “The Top 50 does not recommend golf courses; it ranks them.”) My second impulse is to ask Mr. Rosario for an apology. I went out of my way to help him out, but I don’t feel much love from his “big, fat fraud” crack. I talked to my close friend, Vijay Singh, and he thought I should consult a lawyer — his lawyer, to be precise — regarding defamation and libel issues. I’m not ready to take that step, but Rosey should consider the fact that the Top 50 has never lost a court fight.*

*Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course v Garrity was settled amicably, and I have never violated the restraining order. 

My third impulse is to withhold the final recommendation for our gaucho’s Gulf Coast golf tour, but that would be a disservice to my Top 50 subscribers. So, for their sake, Roseman, not yours, I’m recommending the 51st-ranked Chechessee Creek Club in Okatie, S.C. Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Chechessee Creek is probably the finest example of swamp sorcery this side of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

The minimalist philosophy is at work here, although I prefer the term “understated.” There are no waterfalls, no tabletop tees, no fairway-bunker complexes that rival the Sahara. It’s simply a challenging, well-constructed golf course that just happens to be situated in a backwoods setting where the plunky notes of Dueling Banjos filter through the pines.

“Chechessee Creek Club is a throwback to the times when golf was simpler,” writes a blogger who calls himself Golf Club Atlas’. “The absence of artificial mounding harkens to the Golden Age of course design when dirt wasn’t pushed around just for the sake of ‘framing’ holes.”

Michael Bamberger

Blurbmaster Bamberger was deeply moved by the Creek. (John Garrity)

Obviously, some dirt is necessarily pushed around in the playing of golf. My foursome of clod connoisseurs included Top 50 v.p. Gary Van Sickle, southeast ratings chief Dave Henson, and Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger, who moonlights as blurb superintendent for the Top 50 book division. (Full disclosure: Caddies were compulsory, so we actually paid something for our rounds. The Golf Writers Association is weighing whether we should be suspended for the infraction.)

Anyway, we scored Chechessee Creek as follows: Van Sickle, 4½ stars. Henson, 8 out of 10. Bamberger, “a rollicking trek through the Faulknerian recesses of the marginal South … shade-dappled, mossy … It’s magical!” Garrity, 11.94.

Your loss, Rosey. I hope you enjoyed the beach.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but we added to our already-stuffed trophy case when our founder and CEO, John Garrity, won the amateur long-drive contest at last week’s Time Warner Cable Long Drive Championship Pro-Am at 50th-ranked Eagle Bend Golf Club in Lawrence, Ks. His winning drive, had anyone bothered to measure it, would have been well over 250 yards.

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Gulf Coast Golf Trip of a Lifetime

“I was about to submit a query to Travelin’ Joe Passov,” begins an e-mail from Rosario, Argentina, “when it occurred to me that you know more about golf courses than anybody in the world. What courses do you recommend for a budget-conscious tourist driving from Mobile, Ala. to Pensacola, Fla.?”

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger attacks a sucker pin at Palmetto Dunes’ RTJ Oceanfront Course. (John Garrity)

Normally I would hit the delete key — or better yet, forward the query to Travelin‘ Joe, just to rile him up. The Top 50 does not recommend golf courses; it ranks them. Sometimes, as with Askernish or Carne, we both rank and recommend a course, but only under exceptional circumstances and with the understanding that we can play there for free. To do otherwise would compromise our integrity.

This time, because I’m feeling generous, I’ll waive established policy and create a golf itinerary for our thrifty Argentinian.

Let’s start with the fact that Mobile to Pensacola is a journey of roughly 60 miles. Assuming that one has a week to kill and that one’s rental car can achieve speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, I’d start with a round at sixth-ranked Augusta National Golf Club, site of last week’s Masters. But if that is not feasible — either because our impecunious friend doesn’t know a member or because, as happens to be the case, the club has closed for the summer — I can enthusiastically recommend 50th-ranked and almost-as-good Orangeburg Country Club of Orangeburg, S.C.

I played Orangeburg last Monday with Top 50 executive vice president Gary Van Sickle and Global Golf Post correspondent Ron Green Jr. and found the Ellis Maples/Richard Mandell layout to be in tip-top shape. The very-green greens were deceptively slick, and the waste areas were pristine, thanks to a pinecone-picking program that is the envy of the South. Best of all, our threesome played 18 holes in less than three hours — slightly better than the average pace of play at the 2004 South Carolina Four Ball Championship, hosted by the OCC.*

*Orangeburg is a private club, so you may have difficulty securing a tee time. The guest green fee is apparently negotiable; we paid nothing.

Since our route has taken us a bit north and well east of Pensacola, it only makes sense to drive 114 miles further to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean from Hilton Head Island, S.C. The golf choices here are extensive, topped by the 36 holes at 51st-ranked Palmetto Hall Plantation Club, home club of Dave Henson, our Southeast Region Ratings Coordinator; but we think our penny-pinching Rosarian will get the most bang for his buck* on the 51st-ranked Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course at the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, voted “2003 Golf Course of the Year” by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association.

*The April green fee with cart and taxes is $170.33, but our sunburned traveler can play after 2 p.m. for $105.53. (We paid nothing.) He might also consider the Arthur Hills and George Fazio courses at less than a hundred bucks each, leaving him enough for dinner at the acclaimed Hilton Head Diner

Palmetto Dunes flag

The winds at Palmetto Dunes are maintained at 12 mph or less, except for tournament play. (John Garrity)

Van Sickle and I played the RTJ course last Tuesday with Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger, and we found it to be a fair, fun test with a seafront appeal that puts it in the top rank of American resort courses. “The par-4 seventh was my favorite hole,” said Bamberger, extolling the wood-bulkhead-enhanced grandeur of the lakefront fairway. “I could hit that tee shot over and over again.” Van Sickle swooned over the beachside green complex on the par-5 tenth, which blends white-sand bunkers and tuft-topped palms to unique effect. “I’d like to play this in bad weather,” said Van Sickle, mildly put off by the sunny, 75-degree conditions.

Hilton Head is 525 miles from Pensacola, so our weary traveler will want to bunk overnight at the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa, which is a mere drive-and-a-pitch from RTJ’s eighteenth green. I could use a little rest myself, so I’ll complete my Gulf Coast recommendations next time.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the RBC Heritage is being played 525 miles from Pensacola on Pete Dye’s 52nd-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links. It’s the course with the lighthouse.

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“Where’s Gary?” Asks Top 50 Fan

“Your chief course rater has been notably absent lately,” complains a reader from Leh, Ladakh. Or should I say “asserts,” since the reader goes on to unfavorably compare Gary Van Sickle’s work to that of our under-the-sea specialist, Aquaman. “Judging from your persistent overlooking of incomparable Pine Valley,” writes the man from the moonscape, “it’s Van Sickle who’s all wet.”

Srinagar golfer and caddie

The golfer in Kashmir will find Srinagar’s Royal Springs Golf Course more attractive than mountainous Ladakh’s Indian Army course. (John Garrity)

Do I need to defend Gary? He’s covered the PGA Tour for several decades, he’s won countless writing awards for his work at Sports Illustrated and the Top 50, his son Mike is an aspiring tour player, and he’s a scratch golfer himself. Short of getting a degree in landscape architecture or actually designing a course himself, what more can Gary do to enhance his credentials?

Besides, Gary had nothing to do with Pine Valley Golf Club’s 52nd-place ranking. Nor am I responsible for the New Jersey landmark’s inability to crack the Top 50. (How could I be? I’ve never set foot on Pine Valley’s “sacred” soil, or even changed shoes in its highly-regarded parking lot.) The Top 50 is based on the informed judgement of entire teams of course raters, most of them over the age of 18, but no one person dictates the daily ranking. That task belongs to the Top 50 Algorithm, created by the renowned Cal Sci math genius, Charles Eppes.

As for Gary’s whereabouts, he’s neither “absent” nor “lost.” He dropped out of sight for a few months to tackle a really challenging assignment — rating fictional golf courses. He started with The Majesty in Rock Harbor, Wisc., a lakeside stunner that features prominently in the John Haines novel, Danny Mo.  “Couldn’t find it,” Gary reported after a week on Door County’s 24th-ranked highway system. He has had subsequent difficulty finding Michael Murphy’s Burningbush Golf Links, Dan JenkinsGoat Hills Golf Course, and Caddieshack’s Bushwood County Club.

“I was starting to think these golf courses weren’t real,” Gary told me in a recent call, “until I flew down to Texas to rate Turk Pipkin’s Pedernales Golf Club. It’s a 9-holer in Spicewood, and the locals call it Willie Nelson’s Cut-N-Putt. I give it four jalapeños!”

But as I pointed out above, Gary doesn’t get to assign the actual rankings. Pedernales currently languishes at No. 51.

Ladakh, by the way, has only one ratable course, the 9-hole Indian Army Coffee-Can Links on the road between Leh and Thiksey Monastery. Rock-strewn and grassless, it is one of the few courses ranked below the Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course of Ft. Meade, Fla.

Gary didn’t rate that Ladakhi course, either. I did.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Duke Ishikawa sent in this report on the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.: “Cherry blossoms are in full bloom! Beautiful time of the year!”

Okay, Duke’s covering the API from Tokyo. But that makes sense, since Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa shot an opening-round 69 to tie Tiger Woods and eight others for fifth place. “This is Ryo’s eighth start of the season,” Duke continued. “He only made two cuts, but one was at Puerto Rico. His scoring average is 175th, his money is 183rd, both nearly at bottom. But he still keeps special invitation to next month’s Masters, which is unfair.

Simon Clark works for Ryo this week because Ryo’s regular caddie, Kato, returned home for a while. Another Japanese worked for Ryo the last three tournaments, but he did not work out. Simon worked for Ryo two tournaments last year in Japan. Ryo finished 35th in the Japan Open and sixth in the Casio World Open. Some Japanese media say, ‘Ryo’s fifth place in the first round at API must be the result of Simon.’ I don’t know yet. Ryo has been playing pretty bad in his second round. I really hope he will make a cut this week.”

Duke signed off in his inimitable way: “That’s all my basic information about the Ryo and Simon (not Garfunkel) relationship. Hope this makes you fill up of your curious stomach.”

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O’Neal Cracks Sand Save Ranking

“If I had access to a Bomar Brain, I’d do more than rate golf courses,” writes a follower from Deer Antler, Mont. Why don’t you put your technology to better use?”

The reader can’t see me, but I’m smiling indulgently. If he were to tour the basement computer room at our Kansas City headquarters, he’d see that less than half of its vast expanse is devoted to course rating. The white-coated technicians in the southeast corner work around the clock to crack the recipe for the no-longer-available Newly Weds Ice Cream Cake. The cubicled nerds in the center of the floor are trying to hack the Google search algorithm so that Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game and Beyond  will be the default answer to all internet queries. And that windowed office with the shades pulled down? Let’s just say that you’d merely have to touch the doorknob to find yourself surrounded by NSA security types with weapons pointed at your head.

But it was golf that lured me into the scientific community — specifically my ability to rate things associated with the ancient game. My latest project, funded by Golf Channel, is an authoritative ranking of the best golf shots in history, cumulatively and by category — i.e., best putts, best drives, best provisional drives, etc. We’re weeks away from releasing the initial rankings, but I peek at the data from time to time.

Jim O'Neal bunker save

Jim O’Neal knocks it close on No. 4 at Streamsong Blue for one of the Top 50 Sand Saves of all time. (John Garrity)

These, I hasten to add, will be up-to-the-minute shot rankings. Last week, for instance, an American club pro cracked the Top 50 Sand Saves list. Playing in the prestigious Renaissance Cup at central Florida’s Streamsong Resort, Jim O’Neal got up and down from a buried lie beneath the lip of a greenside bunker on the fourth hole of the 48th-ranked Streamsong Blue course, a Tom Doak design.

“It’s probably the best up-and-down of my career,” said O’Neal, who is head professional at the Meadow Club, an Alister MacKenzie course in Fairfax, Calif. (O’Neal is also a former co-owner, with his brother Rupert O’Neal, of Colorado’s 51st-ranked Ballyneal Golf  Club, another Tom Doak design.)

O’Neal added, “It’s amazing that you would be here to photograph my shot. Or that you would even bother, considering that you had just hit your own career-best 3-wood to five feet for birdie.”

Hey, that’s how we operate here at Catch Basin. If our Montana reader wants us to put our technology to better use, he’ll have to show us how.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Gary Van Sickle, our chief course rater and award-winning PGA Tour correspondent, has filed this remarkable Golf.com feature from the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. It’s about “the biggest hero at the Phoenix Open,” burn victim and scratch golfer Jason Schechterle, and it will blow your mind. Great work, Gary.

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